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

Yes Virginia, There Is A Spotify Playlist (2022)

NYC Santas photographed in the late 1970’s by Susan Meiselas

I know I am not alone when I say that I take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays: revisiting holiday-themed music, films, television shows… and now internet posts. Dave Holmes’ account of Patti LaBelle’s disastrous performance at the 1996 National Christmas Tree lighting is worth an annual revisit. Trust me.

In fact, the post that you are currently reading has been reworked and updated from the past two Christmas seasons, not to get meta or anything.

I find it interesting that we immerse ourselves in certain pop culture favorites for exactly 6 weeks of the year and then pack them up in mothballs with the ornaments until next year. I mean, Brenda Lee’s “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” is currently at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. Burl Ives and Andy Williams are also in the top 10! Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.

Gabe Pressman (left) with Marilyn Monroe (1956)

I used to look forward to the annual Christmas Eve tradition on NBC New York’s evening news when reporter Gabe Pressman would read “Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus.” I taped it in 2011, knowing that the tradition wouldn’t last forever. The self-described “little Jewish kid from the Bronx” was 87 years old at the time and continued to work at NBC until his death at age 93.

NBC New York reporter Gabe Pressman’s annual segment on Virginia O’Hanlon’s 1897 letter to the New York Sun Newspaper.

In keeping with this revisit, my other blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:

My Canine Christmas Tail is a true story about my dog Sunshine, a basset hound with an appetite for tinsel.

Here is my take on the 1987 Motown Christmas Special – which featured very few Motown acts.

I recently updated my post of 10 Things You May Not Know About March of The Wooden Soldiers, the Laurel & Hardy classic holiday film.

Have you watched Christmas In Connecticut yet this year? How about that delivery woman?

Here’s a little backstory on that classic holiday tune “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” & Augie Rios, who sang the original version.

Unfortunately, due to copyright issues all the links are broken on my 60 Degrees Girl Group Christmas piece. This also keeps me from posting other episodes of my old radio show – hopefully only temporarily. However… I have this to share:

Way back in 2002, when Limewire was a thing and people listened to music on silvery discs, I started creating Christmas CD mixes that I would mail out or give to people. These were received with a heartwarming combination of feigned delight, veiled indifference and deafening silence. None of these CDs had a pressing of more than 20 copies. I’d like to call them “much sought after” – but no, that’s not really the case, although every once in a while, someone really got into them and would ask for copies of other volumes.

And so, I’m offering this simple playlist…. for kids from 1 to 92. Unfortunately some of the tracks on these dozen CDs are not on Spotify, but I keep adding songs that would be on the current CD volume… if there was one. And now the playlist is over 16 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!

Here’s one more nugget to stuff in your stocking: This vid went viral in 2011. Choreographed and performed by Alex Karigan & Zac Hammer of the Amy Marshall Dance Company, it was filmed in one continuous take at the New 42nd St. Dance Studios. There’s something infectious about it: the joy, the corniness, the celebratory queerness of it all. It makes me want to dust off my jazz shoes. Once a year.

¿Dónde Está Santa Claus (& Augie Rios)?

When I was a child in the 1970’s, one of my favorite pastimes was playing my parents’ old discarded 45s on my Fisher Price record player. One single that received considerable airplay was a Christmas record by Augie Rios called “Ol’ Fatso,” which featured a sassy child giving Santa Claus a hard time with the repetitive chorus of “Don’t care who you are Ol’ Fatso / keep those reindeer off the roof.” What was not to love?

The flip side of this blue Metro 45 with the lion on the label was another Christmas song: “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” I would later learn that this was actually the “a” side of the record. At that age, I had to rely upon my own underdeveloped musical tastes to figure out which side was the hit. For this reason, I am still partial to Dusty Springfield’s self-penned b-side “Something Special” over the faux-Spector bombast of “Stay Awhile.”

As you can imagine, the rather un-PC “Ol Fatso” does not get covered a whole lot. Or at all. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” on the other hand, has some other versions that have become favorites of mine.


Toni Stante (aka Antoinette Binastante) released a version on the Parkway label in 1965. This single has been the highlight of my Girl Group Christmas playlist for many years.

Later in the 60’s, The Thomas Sisters recorded what is now my favorite version. It is harder to find, though: It’s not on Spotify and keeps getting removed from YouTube. We’ll see how long this link remains active:

Other notable covers of the song: Charo’s 12″ disco version and the band Guster’s 2004 take of the tune.

But back to the original version and our titular question: ¿Dónde Está Augie Rios?

Augustine Rios was born in 1946, the son of Puerto Rican immigrant factory workers living in New York City. He began performing at a young age and had made some local television appearances before being cast as Lena Horne’s little brother in the 1957 Broadway musical Jamaica, which also starred Ricardo Montalbon and Ossie Davis. The role was originally only a few lines but Augie was such a standout in the out of town performances that it was expanded. By the time they hit Broadway, he was sixth on the cast list among the well established stars.



New York Age, Sept. 21, 1957

Broadway cast recording of Jamaica with Augie Rios, Ricardo Montalbon and Ossie Davis (1957)


Augie had been in Jamaica for over a year when he cut his first single for Metro records. “¿Dónde Está Santa Claus? was co-written by his manager, George Scheck and released just before Christmas, 1958.

Jamaica continued its run on Broadway for a year and a half, closing in April of 1959. Despite having a hit record and making television appearances during the run of the show, the press noted that Augie had never missed a performance.

Augie Rios with Carol Lawrence and Howard Keel in Saratoga (1959)

In December of 1959, Augie appeared as “Shorty” alongside Carol Lawrence and Howard Keel in the Broadway musical Saratoga, an adaption of the Edna Furber novel Saratoga Trunk with music & lyrics by Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer. Although Cecil Beaton did win a Tony award for costume design, the show was not a success and closed in April of 1960.

Meanwhile, Augie had two follow-up singles released on Metro in 1959, followed by another bilingual Christmas single on MGM in 1960: “Felice Navidades (Merry Christmas To All)”:

Augie continued to work in theatrical productions on tour and in summer stock. He also made numerous television appearances. By 1963, he was performing with his own vocal group, Augie Rios and the Notations. They released a single on Shelley Records followed by two additional solo singles credited to Augie in 1964. Of course there have also been numerous reissues of his original Christmas classic single through the years.

Back in the early 2000’s, I came across an internet post about Augie Rios on a 1950’s music website. Augie himself had responded in the comments section, thanking everyone for their continued interest and also giving an update on what he had been up to in recent years. Unfortunately, the website is long gone, but he does appear to still live in the tri-state area and is now retired from his post-performance career. There is also this video on YouTube, which seems to feature an audio recording of him singing in 2019 with a photo montage of his life.

¡Feliz Navidad Augie Ríos! Gracias por la música.

Julius: The Bar That Never Changes Is Officially A Historic Landmark


I recently posted a review of Bette Midler’s Thighs and Whispers LP from the February 1980 Blue Boy Magazine. We are revisiting the same issue of the magazine with a profile of Julius, the oldest continuously operating gay bar in New York City.

In April of 1966 – three years before the Stonewall Riots – a protest took place at Julius’s that became known as the “Sip-In.” This action established the rights of gay people to be served in licensed premises in New York and paved the way for gay establishments to obtain state liquor licenses.

The article below also recounts an earlier lesser-known challenge to the bar’s liquor license alleging that the owners “permitted the premise to become disorderly” by permitting homosexuals to “remain on the premises and conduct themselves in an offensive and indecent manner…” Apparently a patron had propositioned a plainclothed police officer. The courts ultimately decided that the charge was not supported by substantial evidence.

In 2016, Julius was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and on December 6th, 2022 the bar was officially recognized by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The article below states that the bar opened before 1860, although the wikipedia page notes different sources claiming 1864 or 1867. In any case, it’s ancient, but it did not gain its gay reputation until the 1950’s.

Some highlights from the piece below:

“The typical Julius’s person is almost always a doctor/lawyer type, though he may well be unemployed. He generally drinks too much – too early and too many.”

“The decor… is High Dirt.”

…and the hamburgers are still legendary.

You Picked The Wrong Fat Guy.

When Olivia Newton-John passed away and I was revisiting her oeuvre, I listened to “A Little More Love”, a minor hit from her 1978 Totally Hot LP. At 9 years old, I didn’t realize how dark the song was. There is a line “Where did my innocence go?” which my sisters and I always sang as “Where did my Anacins go?” We thought she had a headache and couldn’t find her aspirin.

I thought of this song again this morning as Toby was laying out some Advil for me to take. And then I had to Google “Anacin” to see if they still make it. They do. But nobody asks for it by name anymore.

The Advil is for a broken bone in my foot. It’s the hallux sesamoid, a stupid little bone in the ball of the foot that some people don’t even have. Apparently the tiny chip that showed up on the X-ray could have been there for years, but the fact that my foot is swollen and purple indicates a recent trauma.

On Saturday we attended a wedding on the Upper West Side – a very nice affair even though they did not play any Olivia Newton-John. The subway system was not cooperating with us on the way to the event. The A train was on the C track and running local but only to 59th street, where it went express on the D line headed into the Bronx. The trains were clogged with puzzled slow-moving tourists. Typical of weekend mass transit. You really can’t blame visitors for being confused. The Google map prediction that our subway ride would take 8 minutes was off by about half an hour and the wedding ceremony was in progress when we arrived. Four hours later, apprehensive of further subway drama, we boarded the downtown C train headed back to Penn Station.

At Times Square / 42nd Street, the doors were just about to close when a guy snatched my iPhone out of my hand and ran out of the train. I was looking at my phone as he did this. I don’t remember saying “What the fuck?” but that was what Toby heard me say as I bolted out the door after the thief.

I wasn’t even sure if Toby got off the train before the door closed – I was focused on getting my damn phone back. On the platform, the guy slowed for a second before he realized that I was right behind him. He sprinted for the stairs but I kept up with him. As he darted up the steps, I thought “Here we go…”

I have never tackled anyone in my life. Well, outside of the bedroom, anyway. I had no idea that I had a football tackle in my arsenal. But I dove at this guy, who was not a very big man. In the cartoon version of this, my suit-clad 220 pound frame completely flattened him on the stairs. With only his withering hand sticking out from under my girth, he let go of my phone and it clattered onto the steps.

I remember saying “Betcha didn’t think I could run, did ya? Asshole.” I grabbed the phone off the stairs – it couldn’t have been more than 20 seconds since he took it out of my hand on the train. And now Toby was on the guy too, pulling him by the legs and just about to land a punch when an undercover police officer grabbed his arm. Suddenly we were surrounded by police. We soon learned that they had just finished issuing a summons nearby when this unfolded.

Our little felon was taken away and Toby and I got to spend the next 2 ½ hours in the transit police station filling out forms and repeating our story over and over. EMT checked out my bruised hand and swollen foot. We collectively determined that rather than sitting in an Emergency Room for hours on a Saturday night with non-emergency injuries, I should go home, apply some ice, and see how I felt in the morning.

The next day, Toby and I had a couple of additional bruises and minor soreness… except for the foot, which still fucking hurt. I went to the hospital where my superhero sister works as an ER nurse and X-rays confirmed that there was a broken bone.

Although I have lived in this city for over 30 years and I have never actually been robbed, there are plenty of comparable actions that one can easily get tired of putting up with. The unfairness, inconveniences, and the feeling that you are being ripped off can be dismissed as things to deal with in exchange for being allowed to live in The City So Nice, They Named It Twice. If you don’t like it, you know what you can do: Leave. Period. Nobody cares. The End. Another hundred people just got offa the train.

But on this day, a fine Saturday afternoon, instead of feeling beaten up by the city, I felt pretty good. I landed on top, literally.

I would feel very differently if I didn’t get the phone back.

I have to add this:

New York City is not the crime-ridden hellscape that Republican politicians want you to think it is. Crime is still lower here than at any point during “the good ol’ days” of the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. And the people whipping everyone into a frenzy about rampant crime also tend to be against any kind of gun control. Don’t even try to figure that one out. Media saturation does not improve the optic. There is surveillance footage of everything now – not to mention phone footage. So the nightly news can report on every crime with a clips of it actually taking place.

There might be footage of the tackle but I’m sure that my cartoon visualization is much more satisfying.

You can also read about my friend Kenneth’s incredulous iPhone snatching incident from the summer of 2021 here.

Revisiting Bette Midler’s Thighs and Whispers (1979)

I was recently perusing an old issue of Blueboy magazine (as one does) when I found an in-depth review of Bette Midler’s 1979 LP Thighs and Whispers. Single-monikered reviewer Dallas certainly had strong feelings about the album. The review is quite a roller coaster ride, describing different aspects of the LP as “a knock-out”, “third-rate disco,” “disco at its finest,” “gives the impression that she has no taste,” “borders on genius,” and many breathless adjectives of adulation and despair.

Bette had been going full steam throughout the late 70’s. This was her third studio LP released in three years, plus the live double album Live At Last, a concert special on HBO, and her TV special Ol Red Hair Is Back, which won Bette her first Emmy award.

I should probably take Dallas’s advice to smoke a joint and listen to the song “Hurricane” again, because unfortunately my weed-free opinion is that the track is utterly forgettable.

Bette spoke about Thighs and Whispers during a 2021 interview with Jim Farber in Parade Magazine. Reflecting on her career, she admitted that she had recorded “some stinkers.” Of the song “Married Men,” she joked; “Please, God, shoot me now!”

Bette Midler sings “Married Men” on the SNL 4th season finale, (5/26/79). Among her backup singers were Katie Sagal and Luther Vandross.

She also mentioned the song “My Knight In Black Leather,” saying “Save me! That was the label saying, ‘You have to record this.’”

Bette has been using “My Knight In Black Leather” as a punchline for decades – not just in interviews but also during her live shows. Reflecting on her career back in 1987, she told an interviewer that she had no regrets:

“I’d do it all over again, just as I did.”

“What about ‘My Knight In Black Leather?'”

“Well,” she said, “that’s the exception. That’s one thing I don’t think I would do again.”

Bette and her Harlettes (Linda Hart, Paulette McWilliams and Franny Eisenberg) performed “My Knight In Black Leather” on the German television show Musikladen (10/18/79)

In defense of the song: it was not supposed to be taken seriously. Should it have been a single? Probably not, but they were trying to get a hit record by tapping into that “Village People *wink-wink, nudge-nudge* we-know-it’s-gay-but-Middle-America-doesn’t” disco energy.

Mister D, head of the BootlegBetty fansite is fond of the LP: “…great album, great cover, great orchestrations, and one cut, ‘Cradle Days’ which I thought is probably her greatest vocals on an album.”  


Thighs and Whispers was considered a commercial failure, but ultimately, it was water under the bridge. The film The Rose was released the following month, earning Bette a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nomination. The accompanying soundtrack LP (for those keeping track, that’s 6 albums released in three years) placed her firmly in rock and roll territory. It should be noted that one of the highlights of The Rose – the song “Stay With Me” – was written by Jerry Ragavoy, composer of… “My Knight in Black Leather.”

With an eye towards the 1980’s and the rise of New Wave music, Bette told an interviewer “I think I should jump on every musical bandwagon and really drive people mad, just irritate them to shit so they say ‘She’s such a cow – she’ll jump on any musical bandwagon.’ Why not? I’ll bleach my hair and rip my clothes. I think it’s fun. I’m getting silly in my old age.” This would have to wait 4 years until her next studio album: 1983’s No Frills.

On October 8, 2016, Bette was the special guest at a Forest Hills Stadium show called Nile Rogers’ FOLD (Freak Out Let’s Dance) Festival – a show also featuring his group Chic, The Village People and Earth, Wind, and Fire. Given the theme, I thought Bette might dust off a song from her disco period – 1976’s Strangers In The Night, perhaps. But she didn’t. Her set consisted of her classics: “Friends,” “Do You Want To Dance,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” and “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Her final song was a nice surprise: “Route 66,” which she said she had never sung before and had just learned the day before.

This issue of Blueboy also features a full page ad for Elton John’s foray into disco,Victim of Love, which was released the same month as Thighs and Whispers. The album is widely considered to be the low point of his career.

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

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: José “Pete” Martinez
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Artist’s Muse: The Mystery Model
Fire Island PaJaMa Party
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot

Remembering Prolific Pornographer Robert Prion

I once heard Robert Prion described as “The Ed Wood of gay porn.” It makes a great punchline, but it’s not quite true. Prion was 69 years old when he passed away on March 28th at his home in Woodbridge, New Jersey. It’s a house that porn fans are well acquainted with, as he filmed over 70 full-length adult films there over the past 40 years.

Prion is survived by his lifelong partner, who appeared in his films under the name Jay Richards.

Robert Prion was born on July 1, 1952 and lived in Woodbridge his entire life. A 1970 graduate of Woodbridge High School, Mr. Prion was employed for many years in the meat department (how fitting!) at Foodtown.

In 1982 Prion released The Boys From New Jersey, the first of 12 films produced throughout the decade. The spirited performances of his skinny and hung cast shone through the muddy fidelity of the VHS home video recording. The films were also elevated by their kickass soundtracks featuring the songs of Depeche Mode, Erasure, New Order and other new wave hits of the day – copyrights be damned. There was plenty of spandex, stone washed high-rise jeans, crop-tops and mullets. Lots and lots of mullets. These movies act as a time capsule of 1980’s mall culture – you can almost smell the Drakkar Noir when you watch them.

Prion shot scenes in every room of his house, from the low-ceilinged basement to the vaulted attic. Additionally, he filmed in another structure on the property that appeared to be either an elaborate children’s playhouse or a bungalow for little people. Coupled with low camera angles, his performers always seemed to be in danger of hitting their heads in the claustrophobic spaces.

Jay Richards and Karl Thomas (1990)

And yes, there was the pool area – a New Jersey approximation of the traditional California porn set, although the sun never seemed to shine on Prion’s pool and the tiki cabana appeared to be a season away from collapse.

Prion was aware of his place in the porn world: his studio was called New Jersey Trash.

His motto seemed to be “more is more.” Rather than the traditional porn layout of 4 or 5 sex scenes per feature-length film, Prion would cram in 7 to 9 – often starting off with a quick group oral scene before the end of the opening credits.

Bijou Video Catalogue Ads for Suckulent and Men Who Dare (1987)

Prion with Chip Ryan in Powerdrive 500 (1990)

Whether or not his performers identified as straight, they put that aside when the cameras were rolling and gave performances that (for the most part) were far above average. It is the quality (and quantity) of these scenes that kept fans coming back for more, despite low production values and questionable design tastes. Many of the models appeared in over a dozen Prion films, indicating that they were treated favorably and/or well compensated.

Prion retired from performing in front of the camera by the mid-1990’s, but his partner Jay Richards continued delivering versatile, if perfunctory, performances in all 70+ Prion films.

In January 1995, Prion formed his own production company, Galaxy Pictures. His first film for the new company was Men Matter Most. With the advent of DVDs, Prion repackaged and re-released his earlier films. With those and subsequent releases, he would take advantage of the “multiple angles” DVD feature to include whole other bonus sex scenes. Unfortunately, these “easter eggs” are now inaccessible with today’s DVD viewing practices.

His biggest discovery was Rick Thomas, whose real-life older brother Dane also appeared in a handful of Prion films. They were among his stable of stars who always brought their “A” game, including Eric Carter, Vincent DeMarco, Bryon Rogers, Antonio Vegas, Jon Dante, Alex Turner, Wicked, Cody Marshall, Titan, and Chris Collins, aka “The Mystery Stud” who appeared in over a dozen films and never took off his sunglasses.

Prion benefited from his close proximity to New York City. Big name adult film stars making personal appearances in the city could hop on New Jersey Transit and earn some extra cash for a day’s work. Some porn stars who ducked through the low Prion doors: Jon King, Joey Stefano, Karl Thomas, Marc Andrews, Terry DeCarlo, Eric Stone, Todd Stevens, Rick Pantera, David Grant, Storm, David Thompson, Kevin Alexander, Jason Nikas, Scott Matthews, Ryan Raz, Scott Spears, Brandon Aquilar, Tommy DeLuca, Chris Stone, Kurt Morgan and Aaron Lawrence.

Terry DeCarlo on the old Christopher Street Pier in Put It Where It Counts (1993)

Prion’s dizzying output of films began to slow after 25 years although he continued to repackage and re-release older titles in online platforms, where many are still available for viewing. His last movie was released in 2014. See below for a list of all his films.

Robert Prion Films (including compilations):

  1. The Boys of New Jersey: 1982
  2. Friends Are Best: 1983
  3. Men Grip Tighter: 1983
  4. Cum and Get It: 1984
  5. Boys Do It Better: 1984
  6. Guy’s Just Can’t Stop: 1985
  7. The Young Stimulators: 1985
  8. The Wild Guys: 1986
  9. Men Who Dare: 1987
  10. Suckulent: 1987
  11. Addicked: 1988
  12. Raw Impulse: 1989
  13. Ultimate Desires: 1989
  14. Powerdrive 500: 1990
  15. X-Posed Images-The Naked Truth: 1990
  1. Untamed Seductions: 1991
  2. Uncensored: 1991
  3. Hidden Instincts: 1992
  4. Total Impact: 1992
  5. 19 Good Men: 1993
  6. It’s Raining Dicks: 1993
  7. Solid Intake: 1993
  8. Uncle Prion & His Young Men: The Best Of Robert Prion: 1993
  9. Up Close & Sexual: The Best Of Robert Prion 2: 1993
  10. What A Man’s Gotta Do: 1994
  11. Put It Where It Counts: 1994
  12. Men Matter Most: 1995
  13. Pushing The Limit: 1995
  14. Power Grip: 1995
  15. Everything A Man Wants: 1995
  1. Point Of Entry: 1996
  2. Natural Response: 1996
  3. Whatever It Takes: 1996
  4. Unexpected Persuasion: 1996
  5. Drive Shaft: 1997
  6. Every Man’s Desire: 1997
  7. Can’t Say No: 1997
  8. Nothing Else Matters:1997
  9. Don’t Hold Back:1997
  10. Pushover: 1997
  11. Stop At Nothing: 1998
  12. You’ve Got The Touch: 1998
  13. Make It Count: 1998
  14. Relentless: 1998
  15. One Way Or Another: 1998
  1. Shameless: 1999
  2. Any Way I Can: 1999
  3. Let’s See What Happens: 1999
  4. Aim To Please: 1999
  5. What Guys Want: 1999
  6. Best of Robert Prion 1 – Give and Take: 2000
  7. Best of Robert Prion 2 – Outdoor Seductions: 2000
  8. Best of Robert Prion 3 – Three In The Sack: 2000
  9. Best of Robert Prion 4 – Mix and Match: 2000
  10. Best of Robert Prion 5 – Video Virgins: 2000
  11. Best of Robert Prion 6 – Superstars: 2000
  12. Going Too Far: 2000
  13. Every Inch Of Him: 2000
  14. If You Dare: 2000
  15. So That’s How You Want It: 2000
  1. One Step Further: 2000
  2. Don’t Stop There: 2001
  3. Qualified To Satisfy: 2001
  4. I Want More: 2001
  5. Never Stop The Urge: 2001
  6. I’m Your Guy: 2001
  7. Over The Edge: 2002
  8. Take It All: 2002
  9. Natural Impulse:2003
  10. Doin’ The Nasty: 2003
  1. Return The Favor: 2003
  2. Teasin’ N’ Pleasin’: 2004
  3. From Every Direction:2004
  4. Access All Areas: 2005
  5. Standing Firm: 2006
  6. All Men Should: 2006
  7. Back Door Advances: 2007
  8. Prion’s 69 More To Cum aka That Sucks: 2007
  9. Can I See It?: 2008
  10. It’s Only Natural… Daddy: 2014

We extend our condolences to Jay Richards and the friends and family of Robert Prion.

See also:
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2021
Gay Porn Stars We Lost in 2020
Costello Presley and 80’s Gay Porn Guilty Pleasures

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 “Pete” Martinez appears in PaJaMa photos of the late 1930’s with Paul Cadmus

1938 PaJaMa photos of writer Glenway Wescott 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: José “Pete” Martinez
Artist’s Muse: The Mystery Model
Artist’s Muse: Chuck Howard
Artist’s Muse: Ted Starkowski
Artist’s Muse: Randy Jack
Buddy & Johnny: A Historic Photo Shoot