Artist’s Muse: José “Pete” Martinez


In last summer’s post about the PaJaMa Collective – artists Paul Cadmus, Jared French and his wife Margaret – the focus was on their Fire Island photos of the late 1930’s. One of the friends who cavorted with the trio during that time was José “Pete” Martinez, a dancer from New York City who was involved with their friend, arts patron and ballet impresario Lincoln Kirstein.

In David Leddick’s book Intimate Companions, Martinez is described as “a droll and witty young man… Those who knew the two men in the 1930’s said he was capable of endlessly amusing his lover, and that of all the men in his life, Martinez was the man that Kirstein most likely loved the most. Kirstein loved gossip and other men’s tales of their sexual exploits, and this love of storytelling drew him to Martinez. In addition, Martinez was handsome, and many artists painted, drew and photographed him. “

Fire Island PaJaMa photos featuring José Martinez with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French, ca 1938-39

Besides The PaJaMa Collective, those artists included Paul Cadmus’ sister Fidelma and photographers William Caskey and George Platt Lynes.

The most memorable Lynes photo of Martinez is a studio shot with the dancer perched in a window frame wearing nothing but a wide brimmed sun hat.

George Platt Lynes photographs of José Martinez.

Pete Martinez (who sometimes used the stage name Pete Stefan) was born José Antonio Martinez-Berlanga in Mexico on March 13, 1913. His family moved to Houston, Texas when he was quite young. Mama Martinez had been a folk dancer back in Mexico and one of Jose’s sisters dreamed of following in her footsteps. Little José was drafted as her dance partner. The scenario is familiar to many boys who begin to study dance as children: the sister loses interest and drops out, but he continues on. It’s a page torn out of A Chorus Line. Later an uncle took him to see Ballet Russe, which further strengthened his resolve to dance. “I was going to set the world on fire,” he would later recount.

After graduating high school, much to the chagrin of his parents, José moved to New York City to study at the School of American Ballet, where he eventually gained a full scholarship. Upon graduation, he was invited to join the company.

Martinez caught the eye of Lincoln Kirstein, and the relationship progressed to the point that they moved in together.

The PaJaMa photo “After The Hurricane” features (l-r) Jared French, Lincoln Kirstein, José Martinez, Forrest Thayer and probably Paul Cadmus. Tragically, costume designer Forrest Thayer was killed in a Southampton single car accident in 1951.


Martinez became a member of The Ballet Caravan, a touring company founded by Kirstein to provide off-season summer employment to American ballet dancers. Here Martinez began to get more involved in the creative process: conceiving the ideas and librettos for ballets, if not choreographing them. He is most associated with the ballet Pastorela, although his exact contribution to its creation varies depending on the source.

As noted in the New York Times article below, Martinez also had several engagements at Rockefeller Center’s Rainbow Room with different dance partners.

New York Times, 12/1/40
José Martinez photographed by William Caskey
Lincoln Kirstein & his wife Fidelma Cadmus


Martinez eventually found himself in a triangular romantic situation similar to his friends in The PaJaMa Collective: Paul Cadmus and Jared French had a sexual relationship that continued after French married Margaret Hoening. The three all lived and worked together in a Greenwich Village townhouse at 5 St. Luke’s Place. When Lincoln Kirstein married Paul’s sister Fidelma, she moved into the apartment he shared with Martinez, who continued to live with them for the first year of the marriage.

Martinez was also photographed in the summer of 1938 sunbathing with Jared French and Paul Cadmus on the roof of their home/studios at 5 St. Luke’s Place.

The Ballet Caravan were on a South American tour through 1941 as the U.S. entered World War II. The troupe returned to a very different New York City than the one they had left. When Martinez was denied entry to the Army, he went to work at a hostel for Jewish refugees in Haverford, Pennsylvania where writer Christopher Isherwood was already working. The two were acquaintances through Kirstein but developed a close friendship that would sometimes turn physical, as detailed in Isherwood’s diaries.

For My Brother: A True Story By José Martinez As Told To Lincoln Kirstein original jacket designed by William Chappell.

Paul Cadmus photographed sketching José Martinez at 5 St. Luke’s Place.

In 1943, a book was published in the UK with the rather unwieldy title For My Brother: A True Story By José Martinez As Told To Lincoln Kirstein.

From the original dust jacket: “It is the life story of a young American of Mexican origin whose family has settled in a small town in Texas. It is at the same time a study in the contrast between two worlds, two ways of life: industrial, polyglot America, and the more primitive civilization of Mexico just over the border, where many of the hero’s relations still live. The story is told with great poetic feeling and a rare delicacy of perception in human relationships…”

The chronology on Kirstein’s website makes no mention of Martinez and lists For My Brother as fiction “based on a Mexican sojourn.”

The book jacket was designed by fellow dancer-turned-ballet designer William Chappell. For My Brother… is quite rare, as most of the 2,000 printed copies were said to have been destroyed in a warehouse bombed by the Nazis. A Canadian edition was later published by MacMillan.

Martinez was finally able to join the military in 1943 and remained in service until the end of the war.

Back in New York, he resumed his dance career with Ballet Society where he danced in the original 1946 productions of George Balanchine’s Four Temperaments and William Dollar’s Highland Fling.

And then…. to invoke A Chorus Line once again: “What do you do when you can no longer dance?”

A knee injury hastened the end of his performance career. A June 4, 1950 article in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot chronicled his coming to terms with the transition. He drifted for a year before settling into the next chapter of his life as a dance teacher in Norfolk, Virginia.

Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 7/27/47
Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 6/12/49


After Virginia, Martinez founded other dance studios in Ohio and California, where he retired from teaching in the mid-1960’s.

Lincoln Kirstein died at aged 88 in January, 1996. José Martinez passed away 16 months later in Pasadena, California at age 84.

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

Artist’s Muse: 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.

A series of 30+ nude model study photos are have recently been listed for auctions as “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 a 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: José “Pete” Martinez
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot