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.
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.”
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.
A new book gives insight into a same-sex relationship in rural Canada a century ago.
If it weren’t for the advent of the self-timing camera, we would not know anything about the relationship between Len & Cub. There are no surviving notes, letters or documents to provide any further evidence. Luckily, Len had an interest in photography and documented their intimacy in a trove of images spanning nearly 15 years. These photos serve to illustrate their story in the recently published bookLen & Cub: A Queer History (Goose Lane Press) by Meredith J. Batt and Dusty Green.
Len & Cub features Len’s photos of the duo between 1916 and 1930 and tells the story of a relationship in early 20th Century rural North America. These photos provide the oldest known photographic records of a same-sex couple in New Brunswick, Canada.
The term “queer” seems a bit ill-fitting to describe the actions of individuals a century ago, when even the terms “homosexual” or “gay” were not part of the vernacular. The choice of language is explained by the authors, who dedicate the book to the queer youth of New Brunswick. As Green states in his preface, “… the record of their lives is a testament to the resilience of queer people and an affirmation that we belong in any place we choose to call home.”
Leonard “Len” Keith was born in 1891 in Butternut Ridge (now Havelock), New Brunswick. His family enjoyed a moderate amount of wealth as the owners of a match factory and later a grist mill. Joseph “Cub” Coates was born 8 years later, the son of a farmer who was a neighbor to the Keith family. Together Len and Cub shared a love of the outdoors and documented their outings in photos. The pictures taken during hunting and canoe trips with their arms around each other or lying in bed together make clear the affection they held for each other.
When Len was called to service during World War I, Cub signed up as well, and the two trained together in Quebec.
Photos of the duo are less frequent in the late 1920’s. Len’s camera captures several other unnamed male companions that accompanied him on trips and other outdoor adventures.
Len was also a car enthusiast and eventually opened a garage, which he later converted into a pool hall. Cub continued to make a living farming and then as a butcher.
In 1931, Len was forced to leave Havelock, allegedly due to his homosexual activities. He signed over control of his business and finances to his sister Lucy and headed to the United States. He later settled in Montreal, where he resided until succumbing to cancer in 1950. His sister arranged for his burial in Havelock.
It appears that Cub was not caught up in the scandal that forced Len out of town. He stayed in Havelock until 1940, when he married Rita Cameron, a nurse from the neighboring town of Chatham. After he served in WWII, the couple relocated to Moncton. He would go on to become a prominent figure in New Brunswick’s harness racing circles before his death in 1965.
The photos were donated to the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick by John Corey, a local historian who purchased them at a Keith family estate sale in 1984. Corey’s father had been a classmate of Len’s and knew both families. When he donated the collection, John referred to Len & Cub as “boyfriends” and also identified a photo of an individual who was instrumental in driving Len out of Havelock.
As some of these photos began to circulate on the internet several years ago, curiosity about Len & Cub’s story grew. In addition to the recent publication of the book, the BeaverBrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, NB is featuring an exhibition of the photos from April 2 – July 29, 2022.
He has a new book out. An award winning book. It’s called Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me (Red Hen Press). It is described on the cover as “linked stories” and won the Grace Paley Prize for short fiction. God forbid you call it a memoir or a short story collection. But we’ll get to that later.
This month, his two previous novels: 1989’s The Irreversible Decline of Eddie Socket and 2007’sWhat I Did Wrongare back in print with Fordham University Press. You can easily order any of these titles on Amazon or Barnes Ignoble. However, if you want to throw your business to an indie book seller, or more specifically a gay bookstore, it appears that you will have to go to one that he has personally walked into and asked them to stock his books. He’ll come back and sign them, too.
The Strand also does not have copies in their store. He went there and asked. Something to do with distribution, although you can order them from their online warehouse.
I have been a fan of John Weir’s work since Eddie Socket‘s original release. I purchased a copy at, uh, Barnes Ignoble, and was thoroughly captivated by this groundbreaking book – winner of the 1990 Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Debut Novel and one of the first to address the AIDS crisis.
The book kept me company on a miserable theater tour in the fall of 1991. I strongly identified with the protagonist, and when he contracted AIDS halfway through the book, it scared the hell out of me.
I wrote some of my favorite quotes in my journal:
Though he didn’t think that God existed, still, it was nice to just sit somewhere with people who believed that he did.
My feelings are clichés and that bugs me, so I try to hide it with other slicker clichés, and with everything in quotes, at least I can remind myself that I know better than my feelings, which are really the drippiest, most sentimental, self-pitying things.
I pored over it for so long that one of my cast-mates finally said “What the hell is with you and that book?!”
John Weir was working with ACT UP on The Day of Desperation in January, 1991 when he and other activists (including fellow writer Dale Peck) interrupted the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather:
It’s interesting to hear him mention his mother in the clip above, as she is the subject of several stories in Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me, written 25 years later, after their relationship had evolved into an adult child/caregiver situation.
In the intervening years, Weir was Contributing Editor at Details magazine and published nonfiction pieces in The New York Times, Spin, and Rolling Stone, among other publications. In addition to his writing, he has been an associate professor of English at Queens College since 1993.
I have been following John on Facebook for years. He would sometimes post new material and share extended witty, hysterically funny conversations with his mother. I also followed Sukey Tawdry, Mrs. Weir’s beloved pooch who had his own Facebook profile and passed away just days after she did in 2018. (John’s tribute is posted here.)
For all of the platform’s faults, John’s connection to Facebook is evident: he dedicates Nostalgia to his 5,000 followers.
Weir has a crankier social media alter-ego, whom he refers to as “The 3am Guy.” This allows him to rant about various topics at all hours of the night and then perhaps soften the edges or clean up the mess the following day – a tactic more people should adopt, IMHO.
It was Weir himself and not The 3am Guy who posted the following – a stinging encapsulation of what it is like to be a gay author of a certain age, on the first day of Gay Pride Month, just trying to get his work in front of its target audience.
This is his entire post, which I have reprinted with his permission:
The Self-Pitying Author Asks: Why Are None of My Books on the LGBTQ+ Pride Table at My Local Groovy BKNY Bookstore, Next to *The Town of Babylon* and *The Guncle*?
It’s LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and I plan to spend the month ashamed! Mostly because I have this new book out and I haven’t done enough to promote it. Here’s a funny thing about the book:
What’s its genre?
Is that like asking a book its pronouns?
Well, *Your Nostalgia Is Killing Me* calls itself “linked stories” on the cover. That’d mean it’s a collection of short stories: fiction.
Somebody said maybe it’d get more notice if I had called it a novel, “because it reads like a novel” (presumably because the same dude is the narrator of all 11 stories, and the stories follow him – not in order! – from like 1974 to 2014); and the thing is:
It got published because I submitted it to a writing contest – the Association of Writers & Writing Program’s (AWP’s) Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.
I submitted to a contest, which I’d never done before, because: my agent wasn’t interested in the manuscript, which meant I no longer had an agent; and of the *12 agents whom I queried to see if they’d represent me* – well: None. Of them. Even. Replied. Not even their harried assistants wrote back to pretend they were the agent and say, “No thanks.” No one. Not an email, not even a form-rejection email.
Then in fear and self-loathing I sent the manuscript to a friend, who is also an agent (generally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to have an agent who’s a friend), and they said, “Love this, can’t sell it.”
So I submitted to a contest.
Which specified: “Short Fiction.”
Like the kind of stories Grace Paley wrote. A prize in her name! And I was all, “Well, I’m not Paley, and not that the judge has to pick a Paley-esque collection, but: I do sort of do the thing Paley does of writing stories as if they were just what happened that day.” (Not to put myself on her level of genius!)
A lot of Paley’s stories are written as if they were unstructured suit jackets, they fit fine but without the expected ribbing: her work feels impromptu, copied from everyday ordinary life (even if that ordinary life is extraordinary); and so but then you realize that every word is deliberate, she has a distinct aesthetic and a project, her writing isn’t random, nor is it cinema verité, though it’s often presented as if a quirky documentarian were given a camera to record whatever is in front of her.
So my collection got picked for the Grace Paley Short Fiction Prize, the reward for which was its being published by a small press that partners with the AWP: Red Hen Press.
So it won a Story prize, so it’s Stories.
I guess it was my idea to use the phrase “linked stories,” because short story collections don’t sell that well, and I thought maybe people would be more likely to buy it if they thought it was gonna feel like a novel.
I don’t think it’s a novel. I don’t really care if it’s a novel. I don’t know what it is; but then some people have been:
It’s a memoir. It’s autobiography. It’s a series of essays with a dude in the middle saying “Ow.” It’s nonfiction misnomered as fiction!
“How dare you misgenre me!” it’s thinking, sitting un-bought on a low shelf in the Fiction section at your neighborhood Barnes Ignoble.
Well, but back to Paley: I can’t call it nonfiction because I lied about stuff; compressed 6 real people into one fictional character; took scenes from real life and put them in a different month, with other weather; invented conversations; collapsed 8 different events into one; made shit up; gave all my best lines to other people; left things out that’d make me look bad if you thought I committed them; mis-remembered the past; manipulated my mis-remembered past to satisfy narrative arcs. Gave stuff tidy endings that, in real life, are never-ending.
I used techniques of fiction, in other words.
But I wanted it to read as if it were happening right in front of you, happening *to* you, right now, in this moment that you’re reading it.
I wanted it to read like nonfiction. Or like a Frederick Wiseman documentary, maybe.
I wanted you to think, “He must have just written down what happened.”
“Why not say what happened?” Elizabeth Hardwick said to Robert Lowell, when he was stuck on a poem; and then he emptied all her letters into his book! Her aggrieved, enraged letters about his leaving her for another woman.
Sleep with a writer, wake up in print.
So I can see a person’s assigning my book in a course in, like, I dunno, “Personal Narrative?”
Argh, I think the term these days is “Autofiction,” which I hate. I always hear, under that name, the accusation that all a particular writer ever did was obsess about themselves; and that an “auto-fictionalist” was deficient because they could not make shit up.
Is there a notion lately that a “writer” is a person who works entirely from “imagination,” and that to base a story on true events is somehow not to be as glorious as a person who works solely from imagination?
As if “saying what happened” did not involve using your imagination.
As if “autofiction” is somehow ethically suspect because you’re invading the privacy of people whose lives your work is based on. But there is such a thing as an emotional autobiography, where the arc of feeling is lifted from your own life, if not the events. And even a science fiction writer is surely modeling characters on people they know in real life (see Philip K. Dick’s books where one of the main characters is clearly based on Bishop James Pike of California).
And then there is this thing of, If you’re a homo-dude like myself over age like 55 and you’re writing about stuff that happened in the first 15 years of the global AIDS crisis, 1981 -1996, you are automatically *historical*, and your writing is going to have no useful application to stuff that is happening today, it’s gonna be retrograde at worst, merely “interesting” at best, yet another traumatized recounting of an era that properly belongs in a theme park, AIDSWorld.
O and alas. Call my book what you want, it doesn’t have a genre. But if it reads like nonfiction, that doesn’t mean it’s without an aesthetic; and if it reads like a novel, that doesn’t mean it’s not a series of stories carefully revised and assembled in a particular order; and if it reads like memoir, don’t expect it to be telling the truth about everything; and if it’s just some Wicked Aging Sodomite not letting go of the past, well:
Maybe we live in a country and moment when we are deeply aware of having *let go too quickly of the past*; and maybe the refusal to account for the past is a right wing strategy; and maybe the past is not even past, as Faulkner says; and maybe a book is not a weighted blanket, maybe it’s not meant to help you fall dreamlessly to sleep, maybe its point is to fling you into a stage of inconsolable grief at 3 in the morning.
Amy Sedaris is the queen of Instagram – her offbeat posts highlight the weirdly funny and/or oddly sweet. I am just one of her million+ followers. If you need a daily pick-me-up – and who doesn’t at this point? – check out her feed.
A couple of months ago, she posted this:
This clip has more than 300k views, 23,436 likes and 897 comments…. but apparently I’m the only one who doesn’t just click the heart, post “LOL” and move on. No. I’m the gay porn nerd spewing info that the general population really does not give a shit about, pointing out that it’s Eric Manchester & Billy London admiring Dean Chasson’s talents in Head Of The Class (1988). Music by Costello Presley!
The comment garnered no “likes” or “responses” – it just dissipated into the air like a public fart as crickets chirped in the distance. Whoooo cares?
I know I’m not the only one interested in finding out more about these videos. Amy Sedaris reposted this clip from Instagram user @homomacabre, whose followers also care about the minutia. His posts highlight the kitsch of old gay porn, with acting thinner than the flimsy sets, not to mention the tacky period clothes and hairstyles. And then there’s the music of Costello Presley.
I wanted to do a blog post about the mysterious synth-pop wizard who scored several dozen gay porn films in the 80’s and early 90’s, but have not successfully uncovered any info about him, including his true identity. I am not alone in my appreciation of Costello Presley: There are multiple soundcloud files and a reddit post with a filmography of approximately 40 titles that feature his music. A porn-adjacent friend of mine does not remember his real name, but assures me that Mr. Presley has left the building.
In 2017, synth band Parralox did a faithful cover of Costello Presley’s “Animal Reaction” from William Higgins’ Class of ’69.
In addition to Head of the Class, another Scott Masters/Catalina video in the Costello Presley oeuvre is John Travis’s Powerline (1989), which also starred Eric Manchester. This film features one of my favorite unintentionally funny scenes from that era.
I purchased a VHS copy of Powerline while on spring break from college. I had gone into New York City to see a Broadway show with some school friends and was about to head back to Long Island. I couldn’t manage to break away from the group and go into a porn shop, so I said my goodbyes at Penn Station and headed down to the train platform. Once the coast was clear, I ran back up to 8th avenue and went into the first smut shop I could find.
I made my way over to the video racks as a stripper in a silver bikini and stilettoes danced on the stairs to the upper level, beckoning shoppers to partake of something more tangible. I grabbed Powerline and headed to the register. With a $39.99 price tag, it was more than I would normally pay for a porn videocassette but my train was leaving in 5 minutes.
All the “acting” scenes are priceless but this one is my favorite, featuring gay-for-pay cover model Tom Steele as the cable guy with Lou Cass and Troy Ramsey as the couple from downstairs who catch him jerking off on the roof.
Porn legend and uber music fan Lou Cass was a frequent guest on The Robin Byrd Show in the early 90’s when he was dancing in New York. The Bay Area resident still has a strong social media presence and occasionally releases his own music. This is one of several versions of Pat Benatar/Nick Gilder’s “Rated X” that he has recorded through the years:
If and when I find out more information about Costello Presley, I will be sure to update the post.
It’s hard for me to believe that I am well past 5 years into this blog nonsense and I have never written a single post about Dusty Springfield. I am a huge Dusty fan – she’s my diva. When I had my public access show here in New York City, I ran performance clips of Dusty so often that I received condolence calls and letters from viewers when she died in 1999.
Back then, there was still much to discover: whole albums of unreleased material were unearthed and LPs that had been out of print for decades were remastered and reissued. But now the cupboard is bare, with even incomplete performances cobbled together to produce somewhat finished products.
With a career spanning close to 40 years and hundreds of recordings in genres from folk to disco and everything in between, it’s easy to forget about some of the lesser known Dusty performances. I was recently reminded of the time she covered a Kate Bush song.
Yes, Kate Bush.
And I’m also a huge fan of Kate Bush. But somehow, I had forgotten about this.
It’s like artists converging from different dimensions. Or maybe not. We live in an age where Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett duets are a thing.
Picture it: London, April 1979. Dusty has just turned 40 as she returned to the UK after living in the US for most of the 1970’s. Meanwhile, 20 year-old Kate Bush had released her first two albums within the previous year. Dusty was performing several shows at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Unfortunately there are no official recordings of the performances but we do have a couple of bootleg audio recordings. Dusty introduces the song:
“When I came here last year, I was surprised and mostly pleased at the musical changes that had happened here. I like things like (Ian Drury’s) ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ just as much as you do…. anyway the thing that impressed me most was that so much originality was around. In particular one young lady came through with a song called ‘Wuthering Heights’…. Kate Bush has an immense amount of originality and I was absolutely staggered by her. I’d like to sing a song that I think is one of the prettiest ones ever written, certainly by her. It’s called ‘The Man With The Child In His Eyes.'”
She then goes on to, as Neil Tennant would later say, “Dustify” the song. It’s a beautiful performance of an unexpected song choice:
Dusty was not alone in her praise of “The Man With The Child In His Eyes”. Besides reaching the #1 spot on the UK pop charts, the song also won an Ivor Novello Award for songwriting.
Later that year, Dusty’s performance at Royal Albert Hall was properly recorded for posterity. Unfortunately, by that time the song had been removed from the set list.
Today would have been Dusty’s 83rd birthday. She is still sorely missed and I’d trade my eye teeth to hear her sing a duet with Lady Gaga.
I recently came across a 1978 issue of Gay Times, East Coast Edition – Issue #69 (ahem).
The news section was dominated by California’s Briggs Initiative, aka Proposition 6 – the first attempt to restrict gay and lesbian rights through a statewide ballot measure. Thankfully, it was defeated that November with 58% of the vote, but the stakes were high when this issue went to press.
It was the importance of this vote which also inspired the centerfold:
The photo is from Robert Bresson’s 1957 film A Man Escaped, a WWII drama based on a true story of a French resistance fighter portrayed by Francois Leterrier (center).
Welcome to 2022, when it all seems painfully current, domestically and abroad.
Ah, but it wasn’t all politics and protests. Editor Pat Pomeroy interviewed The New York Man: Damian Charles. He’s described as an Aries ram, former school teacher, author of 49(!) books of erotica, and a centerfold model. He inspired orgasms in 17 countries! (I have to wonder who collects such statistics and where does one find the raw data?) And also – what quote could encapsulate the era better than “… as I have sex with a succession of lovers under the strobe lights at Studio 54”?
I reached out to photographer John Michael Cox, Jr. to see if he had any recollections of this dynamo. “Charles Herschberg was a very close friend & the writer I most used to conduct interviews – I didn’t like to transcribe interviews so I employed writers. For his nude modeling, he decided on the name Damien Charles, which I never liked. He never had the ambition to do much & mainly posed for me. He never did films but I did shoot some hardcore pix of him with his lover Richard Allan. Chuck died around 1990 in Florida.
“These photos are from the first session we did. I never worked for Gay Times, so Chuck must have given them the prints to use.”
I asked about Chuck’s work as a writer. “I met Chuck when he was writing a piece on (gay porn star) Roger. I came over to the Eros to photograph him and Roger’s manager Jim Bacon introduced us. Typical of Chuck – he never finished the article.”
Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe or LeVoe (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.”
Our latest offering is one of her signature songs: “I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s”. Curiously, on the recording Spivy introduces the song as “Intimate Memories of Buffalo In The 90’s.” This is the fourth side we have profiled from her 1939 album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs. The lyrics were written by Everett Marcy, who also co-wrote (with Spivy) “Why Don’t You,” another song from the album. Marcy also had a few Broadway writing credits including New Faces of 1936.
The music is credited to Prince Paul Chavchavadze (1899-1971), a writer, translator, and deposed Georgian royal living in New York City. And with that nugget of information, I have to say… whenever I look into the eclectic array of international bohemians associated with Spivy, I am reminded of the party scene at the beginning of Auntie Mame. This is also a fitting scenario considering Spivy later played Mother Burnside in the Broadway production.
Oscar Wilde plays a part in the lyrics of the song, as a guest in the home of our fictional hostess. It should be noted that he did conduct several lecture tours across the U.S., including speaking engagements in Buffalo. One of the topics was “The Decorative Arts.”
I Brought Culture to Buffalo In the 90’s
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home I showed him all the glories I’d bought so cheap in Greece and all the wonders I’d brought home from Rome. He was spellbound at the splendor of my whatnot and the cigar butt Papa got from General Grant. He couldn’t tear his eyes from my bay window and the maidenhair beneath the rubber plants.
I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s – the year I took the iron dog off our lawn. In its place I put a Venus in a nightie and a rather naughty but authentic faun. I completely reproduced the Versailles garden though the Erie claimed they had the right of way. I swore I’d die before a tie was laid to desecrate Versailles. I made Buffalo the place it is today.
I was the first to have a Turkish corner though plenty followed suit, you may be sure. I produced a pageant based on Jackie Horner and the deficit was given to the poor. I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. I made the natives conscious of the nude. In my dining room I put “Boy Extracting Thorn From Foot” and my guests that winter scarcely touched their food.
The season that I gave my talks on yoga was one I felt I never could surpass. I had a negligee cut like a toga and all my candelabra piped for gas. I Brought Culture to Buffalo in the 90’s. When Wilde was there, he visited my home. Filled with all the treasures of the ages and a nugget Uncle Nate had sent from Nome.
I showed him all the house right through the garret and said “What one thing does it still require?” When Oscar looked at me, I could not bear it. “A match,” he said, “Madame, a match to set the goddamn place on fire!”
It’s not nice to stereotype. This may be especially true of homosexuals, who have borne the brunt of unkind pinpointing for so long that they believe it themselves.
…so begins an outrageously stereotypical article from the May, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine, titled “Is There A Typical New York Faggot?”
Now… before you lose your shit over the title, keep in mind that those were different times. The “F” word wasn’t taboo. Larry Kramer’s book by that name had been published just a year and a half earlier. So let’s put that sticking point aside. There’s plenty more to discuss.
Another caveat: This is from Blueboy. A gay porn magazine. It ain’t the Advocate or The Village Voice. Presumably author “J. Greller” was the pen name of a jaded queen with his tongue firmly planted in his own cheek and his head up his own ass. Who can say for sure? I wouldn’t want to, you know, stereotype… but Harold from Boys In The Band could deliver this piece as a monologue.
It’s mean and bitchy, but not in a fun way. It’s like the author had one martini too many and his New York City rant went to a dark place that was no longer funny or clever. The specificity of many of the “types” described gives the indication that he had an axe to grind with very particular unnamed individuals.
Have a read:
To be fair, the entire piece isn’t completely tone-deaf. There are glimpses that ring true, especially in the downtown neighborhoods. This is due in part to the quotes from others – Doley the Third’s observation on Harlem, for example.
I find the piece to be out of sync with the NYC neighborhoods as I have known them since the early 1990’s. But this is my perception over a 30 year period. I wasn’t there in 1980, but I have to wonder if the author has based his observations on, say, a 30 year period prior to that. Were there were really still old vamps & flappers on St. Marks in the CBGB era? Did 57th Street really have its own gay male type that needed dissection? Did nobody ever travel out of their own neighborhood to socialize? Were the streetcars not running?
Interesting to note that, for all this compartmentalizing of Midtown East neighborhoods: Kips Bay vs Turtle Bay vs. East Side… there is no mention of Murray Hill. At the time, according to older gay New Yorkers that I have known, it was referred to as “Mary Hill” due to the large number of gay bars and homosexual residents. J. Geller missed a golden opportunity.
Kudos to the graphic artist Favio Castelli, though.
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.
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.
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.
In August of 2020, porn star Koldo Gorantweeted about three fellow performers who had recently died. In one of those instances, Goran’s tweet remains the only public notice that the performer, Dani Rivera, had been murdered. “I realize nobody talks about it, we are unprotected and forgotten;” Goran tweeted “We are humans, people, enough of contempt.”
Most gay news outlets choose to ignore the passing of all but the biggest names in the adult film industry. Porn companies also seem reluctant to broadcast the death of a performer who is still on their roster, forever young and present in their website content. An obit is a real boner killer, ya know? Why jeopardize the profit margin?
Additionally, performers who abandon their porn personas and return to life under their real name often pass away unnoticed by former employers and scene parters.
In 2021 we lost two of the biggest gay porn filmmakers: Wakefield Poole, who basically invented the genre with 1971’s Boys In The Sand; and Jerry Douglas, director of many critically acclaimed gay adult films that were story-based but incorporated hot sex scenes. Poole’s passing was marked with a New York Times article and Douglas’s death was also widely reported in the gay press.
In contrast, some of the porn star passings that we note here have no verification other than the crumbs of information posted on the IAFD database. We remember those that we lost in 2021 to prove Koldo Goran wrong – they are not forgotten:
1. Alex James, one of the most popular performers at Active Duty, passed away of a “heart attack” on 2/15/21, according to the menofporn blog. He appeared in several dozen scenes starting in 2018 with new content steadily released in the six months following his death.
2. According to the IAFD database, Eric Pryor was 38 years old when he passed away on January 12, 2021. No other details were given. The Michigan native primarily worked for Randy Blue from 2009-2013 and also appeared on Baitbus as Mikey McKenna.
Teyon Goffney with identical twin Keyon (l), and solo.
4. Flex-Deon Blake, aka Kevin Moss was a 2004 inductee into the Grabby’s “Wall of Fame” after a 10 year career in the industry. He was the long-term partner of fellow porn star Bobby Blake and founded a Dallas-based ministry to help people resolve any conflict between their spirituality and sexual orientation. He passed away due to ongoing medical issues at age 58 on 3/1/21.
5. Tattooed top Bo Dean, aka Michael Jensen worked primarily for Jake Cruise but also appeared in scenes for Raging Stallion, Lucas Entertainment and Next Door Studios between 2009-2014. In 2015, he was shot in the chest and left paralyzed from the waist down. His cause of death was not disclosed when he died on 3/30/21 at age 41.
6. Treshawn / Treyshawn Valentino appeared in films for various companies (including Bacchus, Lucas Entertainment, Titan, Thugmart and Latino Fan Club) over a jaw-dropping 15 year period. The Illinois native passed away on 4/2/21, according to his IAFD listing. No other details have surfaced.
7. Michael Watts was an Oregon security guard who also worked as a Freddie Mercury impersonator. He chose Freddie as his porn persona when he did two scenes for The Guy Site in 2019. The 37 year-old went missing on May 1st and was found in the Willamette river two weeks later. The investigation is ongoing.
8. Versatile blond Ty Thomas began his porn career at Jason Sparks in 2016 and went on to appear in 30+ scenes for Next Door Studios. According to the IAFD, he passed away on 5/6/21 at age 29.
9. The death of 22 year-old Alex Riley on 5/9/21 was widely reported in the gay press. The popular performer was best known for his work with Helix Studios but had previously worked for Men, FraternityX, RealityDudes, and Next Door Studios. Riley was nominated as Best Newcomer at the 2020 Str8UpGayPorn Awards, and he won GayVN’s Best Newcomer award. Rumors of suicide circulated but were unconfirmed.
10. Muscular Bryce Evans loomed large in the gay porn industry for close to a decade with versatile appearances in scenes for Lucas Entertainment, Men, Pride Studios, Dominic Ford, Men Over 30 and several others. The 46 year-old reportedly suffered a “heart attack” in early June but his death was not made public until three weeks later.
12. On July 22nd, Chi Chi La Rue tweeted “Tommy Ritter passed away. No details have been given. Tommy was a great guy who saved many a movie with his amazing performances, even before he decided to be fully on camera!” Ritter, a versatile Channel 1 / Rascal Video exclusive, appeared in a dozen films circa 2005-6.
14. Mel Grey, aka Elder Packer (missionaryboyz) aka Toby Muck (familydick) was only 24 years old but had been in the business for three years, working with the studios listed above as well as Treasure Island Media. IAFD reports that he was “shot by a random intruder when trying to protect other people present” on 12/11/21.
15. A reader alerted me to another passing: Hoody LaVaye, aka Justin Miley. His film work spanned 8 years, with scenes for FlavaWorks, Rawrods and several other outlets. The Virginia Beach native passed away of a “heart attack” on 12/3/21 at age 33.