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.
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.”
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.)
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: Another photo has gone up for auction – nice butt, Jerry!
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 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.
Teodor 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.
Few 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.
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.
Thanks 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.
An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
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.