The Mystery Model

One of my goals in creating posts about artist’s models like Chuck Howard, Randy Jack, and Ted Starkowski is to clear up misinformation posted online by galleries and auction houses. Whether the inaccuracies are intentionally deceptive or the result of laziness, the errors spread across the internet, with subjects misidentified and photo dates sometimes off by decades.

Recently, a series of nearly 30 nude model study photos were auctioned off in lots labeled “Jared French Nude Study of Tennessee Williams” or “Studio di nudo Tennessee Williams.” One set of two 8×10 photos sold for over $650. These should have been credited to the PaJaMa collective, which Jared French was a part of, and unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the lean muscularly defined model is certainly not writer Tennessee Williams.

Tennessee Williams was the subject of several PaJaMa photos in Provincetown and at Jared French’s New York City studio at 5 St. Luke’s Place. In one of these photos, Williams strikes the same pose in the same place as our mystery model.

So who was the thin young chap with the low-hangers?

In another corner of the internet, I found two of these photos in PaJaMa exhibit, dated 1943 and identifying the subject as dancer/choreographer John Butler (1918-1993). In the early 1940’s, he earned money working as an art model while studying dance with both Martha Graham and George Balanchine.

He was also photographed by George Platt Lynes:

AP article (1955)

Butler danced on Broadway as Dream Curly in the original production of Oklahoma! He appeared in a string of Broadway musicals throughout the 1940’s including Hollywood Pinafore, Inside U.S.A. and On The Town, where he dated cast mate Cris Alexander.

He began to transition into choreography in the late 1940’s. The combined influences of Balanchine and Graham gave his work unique elements of classical ballet as well as modern dance. He was one of the first to create works specifically for television, which was still considered a new and inferior medium. He choreographed variety show segments (The Ed Sullivan Show, The Kate Smith Show) as well as for Omnibus and full-length ballets and operas. His 1951 staging of Amahl and the Night Visitors was recreated annually for the following nine NBC holiday specials.

Butler performs as one of the Three Dancers in this 1955 broadcast.

Life Magazine profiled Butler in the April 25, 1955 issue:

In addition to his work choreographing for Broadway and television, Butler founded The John Butler Dance Company in 1955. It was later renamed American Dance Theater and toured Europe until it disbanded in 1961.

John Butler & Carmen de Lavallade rehearse Portrait of Billie, his dance meditation on Billie Holliday (ca 1960)
John Butler & Melvin Dwork (1963)

His most celebrated work was the staging of Carmina Burana (1959) for New York City Opera, which has been revived with over 30 companies.

In 1961 he met celebrated interior designer Melvin Dwork, who has called Butler “the love of my life.” They remained companions and friends until Butler’s death in 1993. Dwork was instrumental in preserving Butler’s dance legacy.

As he matured, Butler’s voluminous eyebrows became something of a trademark of his appearance. He appears to have embraced this with a level of zeal that surely inspired George Whipple.

Over the next several decades, Butler continued to choreograph throughout the U.S. and around the world. The Hague, Munich, Sydney, Spoleto, Montreal, and Warsaw were part of his regular rotation with occasional work in Italy and South America. Back in New York City he choreographed Medea, the first dance for Mikhail Baryshnikov after his defection to the West.

John Butler photographed in April of 1993. He died of lung cancer later that year at the age of 74.

In 1993, author Camille Hardy interviewed John Butler for Dance Magazine shortly before his death. As they sat in his Upper East Side apartment, surrounded by his artwork collection and the walls lined with the works of Warhol, Avedon and Lynes, he said “I’ve done everything in my life I ever wanted to do.”

New York Times Obituary (12/13/93)

See also:
Fire Island PaJaMa Party
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard

In the profile Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack, I wrote about his relationship with photographer George Platt Lynes, which came to an end in the Fall of 1948. Just 10 days after Jack moved out of the apartment, another former military man named Chuck Howard moved in as Lynes’ next boyfriend.

Charles “Chuck” Howard was born in Cochran, Georgia on March 4, 1927. After graduating from high school during World War II, he joined the Naval Air Force and became a tail gunner. While stationed in Miami Beach, he met New York artist Bernard Perlin and the two would “reconnect” whenever Chuck was in New York City. After the war, Howard studied fashion in France on the G.I. Bill before moving back to NYC to live with the artist. When Perlin was offered a residency in Rome, he threw himself a farewell party, and Chuck was introduced to Lynes.

Three sketches of Chuck Howard by Bernard Perlin

Chuck Howard and George Platt Lynes, ca 1950

“Another twenty-one-year-old has moved in on me bag and baggage, almost without being invited..” Lynes wrote in a letter to his friend, author Katherine Anne Porter.

Howard was viewed favorably by Lynes’ friends and was said to have a grounding effect on the photographer. The relationship lasted for just over two years.

Although Howard had previously posed for Bernard Perlin, it was after his introduction to Lynes and his circle of friends that he became a favorite model for the artists. He posed for George Tooker, sculptor John LaFarge, and Jared French, with whom he also had a physical relationship.

Paul Cadmus also sketched him several times and used him as the model for the central figure in his painting Architect (1950).

Architect by Paul Cadmus (1950) Chuck Howard was the model for the central figure with George Tooker reflected behind him.

When Lynes’ nude photography became more widely exhibited decades after his death, photos of Chuck Howard were among the most celebrated. Howard downplayed the photos, describing his work modeling for Lynes as “primarily lighting tests.” Collectors disagree.

Chuck Howard also had a film career of sorts when he participated in Dr. Alfred Kinsey’s famous studies, performing sexual acts with poet Glenway Wescott in front of the researchers’ movie camera. Howard later remarked; “It wasn’t Hollywood.”

Lynes and Howard parted ways in January, 1951. “Chuck has decided to go off and live by himself;” Lynes wrote to his mother. “I shall miss him but I don’t disapprove… I’m afraid that my influence is too often all-pervading, all-inclusive.”

In an earlier blog post on Ted Starkowski, I mentioned that he and Chuck then embarked on what author David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French: aka The PaJaMa Collective.

Lauren Hutton modeling a dress by Chuck Howard. (1965)

Act II: Chuck Howard’s career in the fashion industry began to flourish in the late 1950’s when he sketched for several designers, including Bill Blass. He worked for David Crystal before moving on to Anne Klein’s Junior Sophisticates. In 1965, he joined Townley, working his way up to become chief designer and head of business operations. The company was then renamed Chuck Howard, Inc. His design style was noted for its sense of humor with sporty, colorful coats, tunics, pants and jersey shirts.

Around this time, a Parsons student named Donna Karan began working for Howard and he eventually introduced her to Anne Klein.

After Klein’s death in 1974, Donna Karan succeeded her as designer for the Anne Klein studio. Chuck Howard then closed his company and became a designer and creative coordinator there, where he was responsible for several of its collections. He departed with fellow designer Peter Wrigley in 1976 to form their own company.

Howard and Wrigley operated their business out of Chuck’s townhouse at 412 W 47th street – formerly the infamous party house of New Yorker editor Harold Ross and Alexander Woolcott.

Chuck Howard (r) with his partner Ed Vaughan in their restaurant (1981)
New York Daily News, (1/15/81)

Act III: In 1980, after his departure from the fashion industry, Chuck Howard opened his self-named restaurant on Restaurant Row at 355 W 46th St. Assisting him in this next chapter was his partner Edward Vaughan. A young Anthony Bourdain headed up the back of the house. While several sources call the restaurant successful, a review from the Daily News suggested that it wasn’t destined to last. By the end of 1982, the restaurant had closed.

The couple retired to the island of Saba in the Netherlands Antilles where they lived for several years before settling in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

On October 5, 2002, Chuck Howard died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 75 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was survived by his long time partner Edward Vaughan.

Chuck Howard, ca 1950 / 1997

Chuck Howard’s life had a similar trajectory as fellow Lynes paramour Randy Jack: A WWII military man who became a artists’ muse before moving on to the world of fashion and finally ending as a restaurateur. In their twilight years, both enjoyed a bit of recognition for the work they inspired in some of the great American artists of the 20th century.

See also:
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Fire Island PaJaMa Party
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

Fire Island PaJaMa Party

During vacations from the 1930’s through the mid-1950’s, artists Paul Cadmus, Jared French, and his wife Margaret Hoening French photographed each other on the beaches of Fire Island and later Cape Cod. Usually nude or donning simple costumes, they would also use found objects as props to create stark, surreal and/or erotic images. They passed Margaret’s Leica camera around, taking turns as subject and auteur. This collaborative authorship was reflected in the umbrella name they chose for this work, utilizing the first two letters of their first names: PaJaMa.

Years later Cadmus explained, “After we’d been working most of the day, we’d go out late afternoons and take photographs when the light was best. They were just playthings. We would hand out these little photographs when we went to dinner parties, like playing cards.”

The dynamic was complicated: Cadmus and Jared were lovers – a relationship that continued during the marriage. All three lived and worked in a townhouse at 5 St. Lukes Place in Greenwich Village.

A 2015 New York Times review of a PaJaMa exhibition noted that their photos “breathed eroticism.” While some of the hundreds of photos are masterpieces of magical realism, others appear to be figure studies for their painting. And then there are simple snapshots of nude men frolicking on the beach, enjoying the sun and surf.

Right: Jared French on Fire Island (1940) Left: Paul Cadmus’ etching “Youth With Kite”, 1941

Jared French and his considerable wares are the most frequent subject of the photographs, with entire rolls of film devoted to his nude poses and posturing. Cadmus and Margaret are slightly more demure although we do not know who was giving direction from behind the camera at any given time.

These three artists were joined by various friends and lovers through the years, fellow artists and writers that were part of their New York social circle.

Dancer/Model José Martinez appears in PaJaMa photos of the late 1930’s with Paul Cadmus

1938 PaJaMa photos of writer Glenway Westcott sometimes appear online mislabled as Paul Cadmus or Ted Starkowski.

Writer Donald Windham (with Cadmus & French), 1938

Photographer George Platt Lynes was a frequent guest with his own camera.

Jared French in Saltaire after the devastating hurricane of 1938.

West of Saltaire, the Fire Island Lighthouse served as a frequent backdrop.

Jensen Yow, Bill Harris & Jack Fontan, ca. 1950

Now well into his 90’s, Alexander Jensen Yow recently recalled the circle of artists, as well as his participation in PaJaMa photos of the early 1950’s. “Paul posed us and took the pictures. I was never out there with Jerry (Jared). There were plenty of personality conflicts all scattered around with these people, but I never knew what they were or anything… Jerry was always nice to me though. But his and Margaret’s was a strange relationship… She was crazy about Jerry but she was always in the background, you know. Always there. Jerry did what he wanted to do, and she tagged after him. I was so green when I met these people that I didn’t know how to act…. I tried to be discreet but it wasn’t easy.”

Paul Cadmus, “The Shower”, 1943
Margaret French, “The Moon by Day”, 1939

As with George Platt Lynes’ male nude photographs, the PaJaMa collection did not receive much notice or recognition until the 1990’s. They are now frequently exhibited in galleries and selections are a part of the MOMA collection.

PaJaMa, Nantucket, 1946

See Also:
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

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.

See Also:
George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart & Buddy McCarthy profiled here
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Fire Island PaJaMa Party

Circle In Monkeyshines, Winter 2022

As some of you may know, my partner Toby Hobbes, aka dudley ghost is a musician / artist who frequently contributes mixed media to Jonathan Russell’s quarterly Monkeyshines zine. I have joined him in contributing to the hot-off-the-press Winter 2022 issue. Here is my contribution:

Circle

In a Queens, New York row house
a mother and her infant begin their daily stroll.
She pushes the carriage forward embarking on their route
in these trying times.

She turns right into the kitchen
then right through the living room
another right into the dining room
where mother and child are momentarily bathed
in a sunbeam through the skylight.

Another right turn and it’s
back through the kitchen again.

There’s a rhythm to the carriage wheels
rolling on and off the area rugs.
The mother chants along in a sing-song voice:
Right turn, right turn, right turn, sun!
Right turn, right turn, right turn, sun!

Around and around they go
through the sunlight every 37 seconds.
The child squints and laughs.
The mother smiles through her song.

This moment in time she will always remember
how she kept her baby safe.
This moment in time she will never recount
to a child too young to remember.

The mother’s efforts will not be in vain.
The child will live for 101 years.
Ultimately exposed by a grandson
who didn’t trust the science.

Lying in an ambulance headed to Elmhurst Hospital
There is some cellular recall.
A flicker of a memory:
Right turn, right turn, right turn, sun.

Monkeyshines | ˈməNGkēˌSHīnz | 1. pl. noun: Mischievous behavior.
2. noun What is probably the finest, best example of a zine in existence.

Subscribe to print edition: subscribe@monkeyshines.media

A little backstory….
I walk my dog in the alley behind a block of these row houses in Queens, New York. In the early months of the pandemic, I would see this woman pushing a stroller around inside her house. She would repeatedly pass by the dining room window, always entering on the right and exiting to the left, moving through a sunbeam from the skylight as she walked the stroller around and around. This image stayed with me as such an interesting symbol of the strange time we were living in…. this mother did not want to risk taking her baby outside, but infants are often calmed by the movement of a stroller, so she just kept circling around in the house, day after day.

My grandmother and her mother, Woodhaven, Queens (1918)

As comparisons were made to the 1918 flu pandemic, it occurred to me that my grandmother was born in April of that year in Woodhaven, Queens. This is just a mile or two from where I live now. My great-grandparents lived in a row house and, with the birth of my grandmother, had three daughters under the age of 6. And yet there was never a single story passed down about how they made it through or what life was like at that time.

Back to the present: my partner and I see this guy around our neighborhood who lives on the next block in the house where he grew up. When the pandemic hit, he was caring for his elderly mother and was especially concerned about her health.  As time progressed, it became clear that he was anti-mask and anti-vaxx. “For your mother’s sake, if nothing else,” I said; “you really should get vaccinated.” We started to avoid talking to him when we would see his stupid maskless face heading towards us.

His mother died last month. I am unclear on the circumstances.

Don Herron’s Tub Shots – Part III

Three years ago, I posted two collections of artist / photographer Don Herron’s Tub Shots, a series of photographs featuring the famous and near famous posing in their bathtubs. This coincided with an exhibition of 65 of the images at the Daniel Cooney Gallery here in NYC. My blog posts (Pt. 1 and Pt. II) still garner a considerable amount of traffic, so I thought I would share more of these photos – ones that didn’t make it into those original posts and others that have resurfaced since that time.

Signed poster for a 1991 exhibition in Provincetown.
Writer/Performer/Filmmaker John Heys as Diana Vreeland (1992)
Amos Poe, Filmmaker
Tales of the City Author Armistead Maupin – San Francisco (1978)
Cassandra, Photographer – Houston, Texas (1979)
Queer San Francisco performer Harmodious, aka Anthony J. Rogers (1947-1992) was photographed in the same tub at Fey Way Gallery as Robert Opel, his sometime boyfriend, and Christine McCabe, who later sued Herron and the Village Voice for publishing her photo.
Everett Quinton, Actor – NYC (1992)
Bill Dodd, Jeweler – Austin, Texas (1980)
Victor Bockris – author of many rock biographies who also wrote for Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
Warner Jepson (1930-2011), Composer – San Francisco (1980)

A selection of Tub Shots were featured in the April, 1980 issue of Christopher Street, with football player David Kopay’s photo on the cover.
Winston Fong, Performer – San Francisco, CA

After the publication of the 1980 Village Voice layout, one of the subjects, Christine McCabe sued Herron and the Village Voice. McCabe was working at Robert Opel‘s Fey Wey gallery in San Francisco where she posed for Herron in 1978. Although the signature on the model release was dubious, McCabe admitted that Herron did tell her that he wanted to publish a book of the photos. The suit was settled with McCabe receiving an undisclosed sum.

When the Village Voice Online edition posted an article about the Daniel Cooney gallery exhibition in 2018, they chose to post just 3 of the 23 photos from the original layout: Robert Mapplethorpe and McCabe’s photos were 2 of them. Whether or not this was a random occurrence or a belated turn of the screw towards McCabe is debatable.

David Middaugh – Painter

Jerry Burchard (1931-2011) Photographer, San Francisco (1978)
Liz Derringer – ex-wife of Rick Derringer, she is a rock journalist & publicist who also wrote for Interview, NYC (1979)
Ron Jehu (1937-2007) was a San Francisco gallery owner who also hosted avant-garde exhibitions and events featuring Sylvester, Divine and Robert Mapplethorpe.
Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002) was a surrealist poet, magazine editor, filmmaker, photographer, collage artist and diarist. He was also the partner of artist Pavel Tchelitchew. NYC (1980)
Cornelius Conboy was the owner of 8BC, an East Village nightclub, performance space and gallery. Although this print is dated 1987, he remembers that the photo was actually taken the previous year, as he then moved to Italy.
International Chrysis (1951-1990) was a transgender entertainer and protege to Salvador Dali. She is the subject of the 1993 documentary Split. NYC (1988)

Pat Loud (1926-2021) was the matriarch of the Loud family, subject of the first reality series on American television. She later recalled that she only agreed to Don Herron’s request for a photo shoot if her friend and interior designer Richard Ridge posed as well. NYC (1978)

Richard Erker (1945-2004) was an artist, sculptor and jewelry maker. He owned a shop in SoHo in the early 1980’s and later moved to Palm Springs, where he was the victim of an unsolved murder.
Richard Hartenstein, Makeup artist. NYC (1980)
Fashion designer Geoffrey Mac’s (unintentional?) homage to the “Tub Shots” series, as recently posted on Instagram.
Don Herron, Self Portrait (1993)

On The Life Of Brian… During The Pandemic

Artist / writer Adam Donaldson Powell asked if I would contribute to his latest project, in which he invites artists, writers, musicians, and other performing artists from around the world to contribute essays about their work and lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath. Here is my contribution:

https://adam-donaldson-powell.blog/2021/05/11/on-the-life-of-brian-during-the-pandemic/

Photographer Lucas Murnaghan Has Died at 45

Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, a celebrated underwater photographer and orthopedic surgeon, passed away in his Toronto home on March 21, 2021. According to his longtime partner Antonio Lennart, Murnaghan succumbed to cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).

In a Ted Talk posted last year, Murnaghan charted his path as an uptight overachiever following the family tradition by becoming a doctor, coming to terms with his sexuality and the circumstances that led him to become a full-time photographer and entrepreneur in recent years.

I started following Lucas on Instagram a couple of years ago. I knew nothing about him but his photographs spoke for themselves: stark, striking images that often played with what he described as “the balance between vulnerability and confidence, pride and shame, solitude and connection.”

Murnaghan’s photo Suspended Animation on the cover of Bruno Capinan’s 2018 CD.

When he began to promote his photography, his initial impulse was to hide his “day job” as a medical doctor, feeling that it prohibited him from being taken seriously as a photographer, or having an artistic point of view.

 

photo-mar-23-11-41-45-pm-1

 

 

 

“I felt like I was entering the art world from the side door. Well, as it turns out, there is no front door. As an artist, that’s all we can do… gather up our entire lives and transmit it into our work. To do anything less than that is to not be honest with ourselves or our audience.”

For more images and information regarding his book Beneath The Surface, please visit www.lucasmurnaghan.com/

Whatever Happened To The Kid Who Boiled John Crouse’s Head?

I was a freshman theatre major at Syracuse University when I scribbled this in my journal one bright spring day in 1988:

I’m writing at Oakwood Cemetery, where we are sitting on the steps of the Brown Mausoleum. People might think it’s morbid to hang out in a cemetery, but I love it here – so beautiful and peaceful. If we were sitting in the Quad, with radios blaring and frisbees flying around, I couldn’t relax – it always feels like a fight is just waiting to break out. There’s no judgement here. Other kids walk by every so often but it’s very quiet. I’ve heard that drug deals go on here at night though.

So young. So innocent. So little insight. Then again, I was 19 years old and this was before that kid boiled John Crouse’s head.

Hanging out with friends at the mortuary chapel in Oakwood Cemetery (Spring 1988)

Oakwood-cemetery_1909_syracuseOakwood is an 160 acre cemetery adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Their website advertises “a grand array of monuments and mausoleums which form a virtual outdoor museum of funerary sculpture and architecture while mirroring the lives of Syracuse’s Victorian families.”

The cemetery was an alternative hangout for us – actors and artists clad in vintage chic attire, toting journals, sketchbooks and cameras. PICT0018 copyWe didn’t come to SU for the sports or fraternity life. The typical campus hangout spots weren’t always the best places to relax so we went to the cemetery. We were respectful,  but not everyone else subscribed to the ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ credo and this is why we can’t have nice things.

In October of that year, freshman art student Kevin McQuain thought it would be a good idea to steal a human head from a mausoleum “to use as a model for sculpture class.” He brought it back to his dorm – the nearby Flint Hall – and proceeded to try and clean the odious noggin by boiling it with bleach in a trashcan placed on the stove of the 3rd floor common area. Residents were alarmed by the stench and even more so when they discovered the source. McQuain and two of his friends were arrested.

Flint and Day Halls – two Syracuse University dorms – are adjacent to Oakwood Cemetery

Two factors helped this to become a national news story: John Crouse

a) It was Halloween season.

b) It wasn’t just any old skull in the trashcan. 

The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John Jacob Crouse, Jr. served as the mayor of Syracuse. All of the coffins in the tomb were vandalized, but the cranium in question belonged to John Jr. 

From The Syracuse Herald, 10/21/88 and a 1920’s postcard for Crouse College:

By the time McQuain and his friends went to court in early 1989, national news outlets had lost interest, leaving reportage to the local Syracuse papers. McQuain pled guilty and was properly contrite under advice of council. The charges against his accomplices were dropped, yet all three received the same sentence: 200 hours of community service.

From The Syracuse Times, 1/26/89:

Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors.McQuain court Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Later newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.

There is a 2002 follow-up piece from the Syracuse Post Standard that keeps getting… ahem… dug up… every few years and reprinted around Halloween. It’s about how poor Kevin McQuain got stuck with a nickname that he could not shake. His friends dubbed him “Skully.” And he decided “to embrace it.” He went on to form a Goth/Rockabilly record label called Skully Records, which he apparently still runs himself as a side hustle to his every day technical services job.

In 2015, he self-published a vampire/punk novel under the name Kevin Skully McQuain. He also designs t-shirts.

Somehow this unavoidable handle does not force itself onto his professional resume: it just leaks into his side projects when the macabre notoriety might help bump things up a notch.

But oh, how the nickname plagues him! He CANNOT escape it.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been called several things throughout my life that I have hated. I assume that you, dear reader, have had one or two unwanted nicknames as well. But I don’t know yours and you don’t know mine… because we did not hyphenate them into our names.

How contrite is a person if he is still trying to milk the last ounce of notoriety out of something he stupidly did over 30 years ago? If you made a mistake at 18 – and who hasn’t? – would you allow that thing to be the defining moment of your life? Would you still call yourself “Farty” because you once let one rip in gym class? Is that all ya got?

McQuain is married and a father now, and I can’t help but wonder: at what point in the dating process does one explain the origin of “Skully”?13221477_10156961022720441_5205862542119871686_n Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did once boil the head of the mayor of Syracuse, but listen…. that was a bad idea, ok?”

Back in 2002, McQuain said “That was a mistake I made when I was young, and I’m fortunate that it didn’t stigmatize me for the rest of my life.” And yet, at 50 years old, he still holds on to the “Skully” nickname, with the backstory tucked into the pocket of his aging punk-rock jeans, ready to whip out and exploit whenever he has a new artistic endeavor that might need a little publicity boost.

In 1988, Kevin McQuain walked out of Oakwood Cemetery with the head of John Crouse in a paper bag, intent on using it as a prop for his art. Over 30 years later, he still finds it quite useful.

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) Five 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. See more of their work here.

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.

z-ted_starkowski-grave-1

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

See Also:
George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
More on the PaJaMa collective here.