Ted Starkowski: Artist’s Muse

Although photographer George Platt Lynes passed away of lung cancer at age 48 in 1955, it took another 30 years before the majority of his male nude photographs were celebrated and widely released. Virtually every collection of his work now features photos of a model named Ted Starkowski. His nude image is featured on the covers of several collections of Lynes’ work – in solo shots or posed with Mel Fellini:

So who was Ted Starkowski?

Lynes biographer David Leddick wrote: Ted Starkowski George Platt Lynes

Ted Starkowski worked the streets. Hustling by night, he regaled  Bernard Perlin and George Platt Lynes with his adventures while he posed for them during the day. They created unique images with his cat-like face and lithe body.

 

(Above) George Platt Lynes photographed Ted Starkowski flanked by Bernard Parlin’s sketches.

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothed2Teodor Francis Starkowski was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 4, 1927- the eighth child of Polish immigrants. His Army registration in September of 1945 indicates that he had attended three years of high school and was working at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

After his stint in the military he relocated to New York City, where he became a favorite subject for Lynes and his circle of artist friends, including Paul Cadmus and Jared French.

(Above) Three images of Ted Starkowski by Jared French.

Thomas D. Baynes of The Univeristy of Western Ontario wrote extensively of one particular George Platt Lynes 1954 photograph in his thesis More than a Spasm, Less than a Sign: Queer Masculinity in American Visual Culture, 1915-1955:

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothedFew other photographs by Lynes do as much to cast the model as an actor. In his tight jeans, bulging conspicuously at the crotch, fisherman-rib sweater worn without an undershirt, and workaday watchman’s cap relegated to the status of an ornament, Starkowski looks like a longshoreman snatched from the imagination of Tom of Finland … Lynes’s studio provides only the minimum furniture required to support Starkowski in a posture that manages to be solicitous and pensive at the same time, welcoming an evaluating view despite being absorbed in thought.

This photograph extends rough trade as a portable structure of fantasy that discovers erotic opportunities in ambiguities of dress and pose…. Evidently, Starkowski had a knack for acting like a straight man, or at least like a fantasy version thereof.

Ted Starkowski as drawn by Paul Cadmus (Male Nude, TS5, 1954)

Another model who posed for many of the same artists was fellow ex-military man Chuck Howard, George Platt Lynes’ live-in boyfriend. After their split in January, 1951, Howard and Starkowski became involved in what David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French: artists who called their collective photography work PaJaMa, an acronym of the first letters of their first names.

Ted Starkowski by Paul Cadmus 1963Thanks to a wealthy benefactor, Starkowski traveled extensively in the second half of the 1950’s. Leddick relays a story of Starkowski showing off his new diamond ring – a gift from his wealthy friend. He asked artist George Tooker if he thought it was too big. Tooker replied “Yes, it is too large for a woman to wear.”

The Paul Cadmus drawing on the left shows Starkowski at age 36 in 1963.

And then… the trail goes dark for the next 14 years. If more images or information come to light, I will update this post. What we do know is that on Friday, May 13, 1977. Ted Starkowski was leaving a New York City bar when he was struck and killed by a car. He was 50 years old.ted-starkowski-obit

An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

z-ted_starkowski-grave-1

It was a sad end to a man who had inspired many artists.

You can see my earlier post about George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here.

Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, LA
But it’s December the 24th
And I’m longing to be up north…

That’s the rarely heard opening verse to Irving Berlin’s classic song White Christmas – originally released in 1942. The song popped into my head as I gathered these Christmastime photos of jockstrap-clad cadets in pre-flight training school at St. Mary’s College in California. Never mind that the school is actually several hundred miles north of Beverly Hills. It is still sunny California, where these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – were training to go to war during the holidays.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group.

Listings also turn up on auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by the index card used to record the physical training progress of the cadet.

The earliest photos feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.

Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:

Before / After 8 weeks of training: Fall, 1942

And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there is a variety of body types.

Before / After 3 weeks of training: December, 1942

My collection now includes over 300 jpegs of different cadets. Some did perish during WWII, but the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.

One thing these young men have in common, as they were documented in timeless photos of their physical prime: they were far from home during the holidays, training to fight for their country.

At this time of year, 75+ years later, cue up White Christmas as we again salute their fine forms and dedication.

END SES 12_29_42 copy

The Men of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

One of my socially distant pastimes of 2020 has been searching for jpegs of WWII U.S. Navy Pre-Flight Training photos. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at St. Mary’s College in California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group. Listings also turn up on eBay and other auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by an index card which was used to record the physical training progress of each cadet.

It has been speculated that this was tied to a study on race purity/eugenics, as were the infamous Yale student posture photos. I choose to believe that it was merely a matter of recording alignment and physical fitness as part of the overall medical examination process.

Comparative fitness photos for a cadet taken on 6/27 & 8/31 1942

Call me naïve, but if we are to appreciate the photos of these fine young men who were training to fight for our country, it’s a lot less icky to ignore a potential ulterior motive on the part of those taking the photos.

Comparative fitness photos for a cadet taken on 7/27 & 9/29 1942

The earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. When the subjects were photographed in profile, they appear to be holding hands with someone off-camera – presumably to help them obtain proper… positioning?

All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect misalignment and spinal curvature.

Most of the photos shown here were gathered from various sources around the internet with the subject’s name cropped out: God forbid someone ran across a picture of near-naked PeePaw and suffered conflicting feelings.

My collection includes nearly 200 jpegs of different cadets with the names intact. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching who these men were and where they ended up. As expected, some did perish during the war – just a year or two after these photos were taken. Others reenlisted for the Korean War and did not survive that conflict. But the largest majority went on to successful careers, families and lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.

Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition as they trained to serve our country. 75+ years later, we salute their fine forms and dedication.

Mme. Spivy: 100% American Girls

“Our country is so fine, it will really be divine, when we get everyone but us to move away.”

Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here: Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat, The Tarantella and Auntie’s Face.

Film Spivy Manchurian Candidate2Given the current political climate, it’s a perfect time to have a listen to 100% American Girls, a stinging satirical composition by Charlotte Kent which reminds us that nationalism, xenophobia and gentile racism have been marching hand-in-hand across this great land for generations. God Bless America.

The opening line addresses the “Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812…” – a not-so-subtle swipe at the exclusive, ultra-white & conservative Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

Grant Wood’s 1932 painting Daughters Of Revolution.

The line “You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall…” refers to the Washington DC concert hall owned by the DAR.  In 1939, they denied African-American singer Marian Anderson the opportunity to sing before an integrated audience, causing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership in protest. The Roosevelts then arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. The result was an historic performance before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

Some notes on other references in the song:

Westbrook Pegler was a columnist at the time who opposed labor unions and The New Deal.

Note that Consuela – the only ethnic name mentioned – is directed to be “the rabble,” or disorderly crowd.

Alfred M. Landon was the Republican presidential candidate in 1936 who lost to FDR in a landslide vote.

First Lady Dolley Madison was a world-renowned hostess who, according to lore, was the first to serve guests ice cream at the White House.

100% American Girls

Members of the Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812, form into double file.

Stop twitching at that bunting Carrie and smile. Take off that feather boa, Mary Louise this is a parade, not a charade.

Vera, you go right back to Washington, you’re not supposed to be marching at all! You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall.

Please… you on the float there. Lord Calvin is sagging. Yankee Doodle is flat. Your powder is wet. And your Mayflower is dragging.

Oh thank God here’s George III. Alright Lizzie, stand right there and sneer.

Please Consuela, someone has to be the rabble. You throw the Boston tea right in this little box over here.

Remember the things we said we’d never abandon. Remember we’re still true to Alfred M. Landon.

Remember when the Bill of Rights…. HMMMM ….. tried to get fresh with me!

My Westbook Pegler ’tis of thee. Ah ha! The bugle! Formation girls:

Nelly pull your belly in – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.

Oh aren’t you excited? And isn’t this a binge? Lets unfurl every curl in our lunatic fringe.

Tilly, Queenie, Magnolia, Hillaire… to arms!

Nelly pull your belly in and hold your chin up high. We’ll give the crowd a treat as we pass by.

The Pricker unit forward, the Bilbo club behind….And Bessie you keep waving what your grandpa signed.

All together now: Comb your hair for California, wash your neck for Io-way.

Our country is so fine, it will really be divine when we get everyone but us to move away.

Take a Benzedrine for old Virginia, where our daddies sniffed their snuff with dukes and earls.

We are for the human race, which is lovely (in its place). We’re 100% American Girls!

What? Do I see one of you lag when before you is marching the flag?

Did Washington crossing the Delaware say “Let’s call it off, boys – I’m not in the mood for rowing”?

Did Betsy Ross say “Fold up the banner girls –  I hate sewing”?

Hmmm. Really girls! Eyes up! Curls up and away!

Annie pull your fanny in  – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.

When Valley Forge was icy and up to here in snow… did Dolly Madison say “No”?

Myrtle, Cissy, Prissy, Mamie – to arms!

Annie pull your fanny in  – it’s for the U.S.A. We’re 100% American Girls!

This song – along with Madame’s Lament – were the two Charlotte Kent compositions featured on Spivy’s 1947 album An Evening With Spivy. Kent had several songwriting credits in film and on Broadway throughout the 1930’s. In 1939, she contributed to the book & lyrics of the musical Sing For Your Supper along with John La Touche, another composer with whom Spivy collaborated. We will get to those recordings at a later date. Stay tuned!