Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack

While scrolling across the internet in search of photographs by George Platt Lynes, I came across one that I had never seen before – a handsome shirtless young gent sitting cross-legged on a bed. Initially I was dubious of its authenticity, as the subject looked so casual and timeless. There is nothing dated about the guy or his surroundings: the image could have been captured at any point in the last century.

I decided to do a little investigating and found that it was, in fact, an authentic Lynes photo. The handsome subject was a fellow named Randy Jack, Lynes boyfriend circa 1947-48. A new Lynes biography also helped to fill in the blanks.

Homer Randolph Jack was born on April 5, 1926 in Lake Clinton, Illinois. He attended Waukegan High School where he enjoyed singing and performing. As a senior, he starred in the high school’s production of the comedy Best Foot Forward. Upon graduation in 1944, he joined the Navy.

After WWII, with his Naval tour of duty completed, Randy Jack settled in Los Angeles, where he embarked on a relationship with ice cream parlor impresario Wil Wright Jr.

Californians of a certain age still swoon at the memory of Wil Wright’s frozen delights, decades after the last shop closed its doors.

In the recently published George Platt Lynes bio The Daring Eye, author Allen Ellenzweig refers to Randy Jack as “Wil Wright’s favorite.” In August of 1947, the two of them rented a room in Lynes’ Hollywood home. The New York-based photographer was in the midst of his “Hollywood period” working for Vogue magazine. Lynes – who always lived beyond his means and was notoriously bad with money management – decided to take in roommates to share chores and expenses.

Randy Jack with George Platt Lynes (1947)


This arrangement did not last long because, as Lynes wrote to a friend, “Wil can’t bear not to be boss and that is one thing he can’t be. Not here.” Wright also resented George’s influence on Jack, encouraging him to pursue a career as a dancer. When Wil moved out after a couple of months, Randy stayed…. and found his way into Lynes’ bed as well.

Randy Jack committed himself to a vigorous regimen of ballet classes. Although Lynes was aware that Jack was a bit long in the tooth to start training for a career as a dancer, he supported his efforts nonetheless. He wrote to his friend Monroe Wheeler; “He’s too old, 21, but he has a ballet dancers body and a ballet dancer’s soul.” 

Randy Jack’s protruding ears – called “bat like” in several accounts – were viewed by Lynes as a further hindrance to attaining success as a ballet dancer. While he could not erase Jack’s advanced age, he could do something to remove this obstacle, so the cards would be “stacked in his favour, to remove whatever flies there may be in the ointment.” He agreed to barter with a plastic surgeon: Lynes would photograph the surgeon’s glamorous wife in exchange for the operation to pin back Jack’s ears. Lynes wrote to his mother at the time: “…I can’t leave things alone but redecorate or remodel anything I can lay my hands on, people as well as houses.”

The photos of Randy Jack taken in Lynes’ library are understandably the most popular.

Ears firmly clipped, Lynes photographed his roomie en tenue de danse at Vogue studios, creating this striking series of photos:

In May of 1948, Lynes’ contract with Vogue ended and he returned to New York City with Randy and their dog Bozo in tow.

Portrait of Randy Jack by Bernard Perlin, June 5, 1948

As mentioned in our profile of Ted Starkowski, Lynes and his artist friends often shared models. Like Starkowski, Randy Jack was the subject of several other artists’ work, including Bernard Perlin.

Soon after their move to New York, Jack abandoned his ballet studies and began to find work as a fashion model. This proved to be a far more attainable and lucrative goal.

In mid-summer, George wrote to Katherine Anne Porter that he was troubled about the young man, “… I wonder what New York has done to him, or what I have done.”

Whether or not Randy left George or their cohabitation ended by mutual consent is debatable. The fact remains that he moved out in the Fall of 1948… and Lynes’ next boyfriend and muse, Chuck Howard moved into the apartment 10 days later.

David Leddick writes “Jack became one of the most successful fashion models in an industry that was just becoming big business, posing for both photographers and the many illustrators of the time.”

When I look into the life of an artist’s muse from the past, there is always a point in their story that brings to mind the Kirsty MacColl song “What Do Pretty Girls Do?” The answer, she sings: “They get older just like everybody else.”

As his modeling career waned, Jack began his third act as an interior designer. His work with commercial / hotel spaces led him to the Middle East, where he settled on the island of Bahrain and became a restaurateur, opening the Upstairs Downstairs restaurant in 1977.

In 1982 Jack published Upstairs Downstairs Cookbook, featuring favorite recipes from the restaurant’s menu alongside his own illustrations.

In the mid-90’s, Intimate Companions author David Leddick reached out to Randy Jack to talk about his early years with George Platt Lynes. Leddick recounts being tipped off that Jack was living in Bahrain, and that he was able to simply call the local information to get his phone number. Strangely, Jack’s birth name in the book is listed as Randolph Omar Jack, as if the author misheard “Homer” on a poor telephone connection.

A current photo of Randy Jack appeared in Leddick’s 1997 book Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes. Shortly after the book’s publication, on June 5, 1997, Jack died in Bahrain. He was 71 years old. The Upstairs Downstairs restaurant is still in operation today. The restaurant’s Facebook page has comments from patrons recalling Randy Jack’s hospitality and the good times they had there.

The kid from Waukegan had come a long way.

You can see my post about George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here, and Ted Starkowski is profiled here.

Tom Ammiano Gets His Letter

Tom Ammiano is nearly 80 years old and recently dyed his hair blue. Not your traditional “grandma’s rinse” – it’s a punk-ass electric blue. It suits him.

If you don’t follow California politics, you may not be familiar with the name of this San Francisco legend who served for years on the city Board of Supervisors as well as the State Assembly. But you may remember him from the Academy Award winning documentary The Times Of Harvey Milk. Or perhaps you caught the documentary See How They Run, about one of his two San Francisco mayoral campaigns. Or his appearance in the documentary To Be Takei. In Gus Van Sant’s movie Milk, he portrayed himself. In the miniseries When We Rise, he was played by Todd Weeks.

Suffice to say he has been in a lot of documentaries. Although he did not make the final cut of the groundbreaking 1977 film The Word Is Out, his 30 minute pre-interview surfaced online several years ago:

“I’ve never taken much shit but I do get the shit beat out of me because of it.”

In short, Tom the school teacher turned activist, politician, stand-up comedian, and pothead is always a compelling interview. His recently published memoir is titled Kiss My Gay Ass – a phrase he once yelled at then California Governor Schwartzenegger. The book reads like a private uncensored conversation with the author.

Tom AmmianoThere’s a story from the memoir that has garnered Ammiano a surprising amount of attention as of late. 63 years ago, he was a 106 lb. effeminate teen trying to fit in at a Catholic High School in Montclair, New Jersey. Although unsuccessful at contact sports, he excelled at track – running from bullies had trained him to be fast. Among those bullies – the football coach who would physically assault him in the hallways along with the other jocks.

By the end of the school year, Ammiano had performed well enough to qualify for a varsity letter. But before the ceremony, the rug was pulled out from under him. The letter sweater – that symbol of athleticism and masculinity – could not be allowed on the back of faggy Tommy Ammiano. The powers that be – namely, the football coach – would not let that happen. So they moved the goalposts: The track meet that garnered him those last few points towards his letter was suddenly disqualified. And Ammiano’s dream of acceptance through that symbol of “normalcy” went unfulfilled.

He writes of the humiliating experience in his book; “Shame. I hate that. I think shame was a very big deal growing up. During those years everything was about controlling you through shame. Then struggling against that shame – knowing, somehow, it was all wrong. But what are your options?”

Ammiano chose to bury it away and move on with his life – getting as far away from New Jersey and the innumerable aggressions and slights that many a “weird” gay kid suffered while growing up. He moved to San Francisco – “Oz” he calls it – and seldom looked back.

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But when you write your memoirs, you have to.

Ammiano recounted the story during a radio interview while promoting the book late last year. “It’s something that still hurts,” he said, “even a hundred years later.” A listener decided to try and correct this situation. He wrote to Immaculate Conception High School to request that they award Ammiano his long overdue varsity letter.

Unaware of this , Ammiano was floored when he received a letter from his alma mater in February of this year. “We most certainly would like to ‘right’ this ‘wrong’…… You truly posses the ‘heart of a Lion’…. You are an inspiration.

Last month, the cameras rolled as Ammiano was presented with his sweater. At age 79, the man of many documentary appearances has one of his very own. Granted, it’s 7 minutes long, but it’s beautifully done. And it’s on ESPN. He must have had a laugh over that.

ESPN also has an excellent article here. See the documentary here:

http://www.espn.com/core/video/iframe?id=31622926&endcard=false

https://sfist.com/2021/06/14/watch-excellent-espn-mini-documentary-shows-tom-ammiano-getting-his-long-overdue-varsity-letter/

Remembering his time on the track team, Ammiano wrote; “I especially liked the long distance runs… I got really good at those.”

He had no idea.

More Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis Shower Pics Surface

Who would have thought that 2021 would be the year that nude photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would drop… and keep dropping?

Well – I guess the guy who is selling them on eBay knew, but the rest of us continue to be surprised by the release of these playful pics. I first wrote about them here in a post that was picked up by a dozen websites around the world, including the Advocate. Since then, two other pics have surfaced.

This photo, which I added to the previous post, sold on eBay for a whopping $1,600:

The pictures were part of a 2018 Sotheby’s auction of items belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. The auction description listed “4 candid photographs of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

To recap – three of the four recently sold on eBay:

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the most recent photo popped up for auction, as it was partially visible on the Southeby’s website. SothebysCropped, low-res versions of this shot and a couple of others are also on Pinterest, with captions that they were taken at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel in 1952.

dean-martin-jerry-lewis-a-shower-el-mirador-hotel-1952-1

While I was able to clean up the sauna and first shower shots by removing the eBay seller’s watermark, which was strategically placed over Dean & Jerry’s nether regions, this time around the cheeky monkey has opted for a post-it note on Dean’s dong.

Damn Post-it Note.

Ah well. Nice pic nonetheless.

This appears to be the end of this lot of photos… but it is possible that there are others out there….

The Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

The fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Incoming college students were photographed fully nude to gauge posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues… all while emotionally scarring the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines but had a much darker view of the experience 50 years later in a New York Times Op Ed piece.

In recent years, the Yale photos have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The photos in question were so rare that most online articles on the subject did not actually feature any of them, opting to show similar medical textbook illustrations or military posture pics such as the WWII-era St. Mary’s College Navy Pre-Flight School photos, which I have written about here and here.

In the past year, choice examples of the photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have begun to trickle out on eBay. It was only a matter of time before some familiar names began to pop up. Writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in a whopping $1,225.

Younger readers might not remember Franciscus – the dashing star of half a dozen television series and over 30 films. There is a fan site that dubs him The Patron Saint Of Cool. He was not afraid to show some skin over the course of his career, particularly in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

In her memoir and in a recent segment on The Tonight Show, Jane Fonda remembers him as her first love…and the best kiss she ever had.

james+franciscusjane+fonda

They met while working together in summer stock when she was 18 and he was 20.

“He walked me out to the end of a pier and he kissed me,” she recalled. “The stars began to whirl and the pier began to shake, and my knees gave way and I slid down to a pile at his feet…. I’ve never had a kiss like that ever since.”

As for his Yale photo, which was taken the year before…. unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full Franciscus. The image posted for the public auction has a strip of paper blocking the view. For just $1,225, the high bidder is now enjoying the unedited 8″x10″ all by themselves.

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Let It All Hang Out

Photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis have recently come to light that are raising some eyebrows. A nude shot of the duo showering together sold on eBay for nearly $4,500 this past week, while a steam room photo sold for a modest $375.

Sothebys 
 
These photos appear to have sold at Sotheby’s in 2018 as part of a collection belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. 
 
 
The auction description listed “4 candid photographs (8 x 10 in.) of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

Martin & Lewis have a schvitz and a smoke. And who are their co-horts?

While I originally thought the guy on the right was comedian Morey Amsterdam, a reader wrote:

The guy on the right in the sauna photo is Mack Gray, who was Dean’s assistant, and later in life arguably his closest friend. Dean and Jerry met him when they first came to Hollywood; they attended one of George Raft’s parties, and Jerry referred to Gray as Raft’s ‘Man Friday’. (It’s also worth noting, by the by, that Raft and Gray were in a relationship.)

Dean Martin sharing a meal with songwriter Sammy Cahn as assistant Mack Gray attends. (1958)
Jerry Lewis smooches with Mack Gray.

Cropped versions of a couple of these photos can be found on Pinterest, although in poor quality jpegs, apparently scans of photos that ran in a magazine or newspaper at the time. I wouldn’t exactly call Pinterest a reliable source, but if the captioning is accurate these shots were taken in 1952 at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel.

I’m the first to call “fake” on photoshopped images found on the internet, but these new photos are very clear. The only pixel anomalies are the results of my attempt to remove the eBay seller’s name, which was strategically plastered across key nether regions, including Dean Martin’s uncut dong.

UPDATE: Other photos have gone up for auction – see a more recent post about those here.

Martin and Lewis in Sailor Beware (1951)

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 Perlin’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)
A reader sent a photo of this Paul Cadmus drawing titled “Ted Reading” – posted with permission.

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.

The year after George Platt Lynes’ death, Starkowski was photographed by Carl Van Vechten. These recently discovered photos are dated April 3, 1956:

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 the following Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

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

You can see my post about George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here, and Randy Jack is profiled here.