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.”
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.
It’s that time again… due to popular demand, it’s our fourth installment of WWII-era photos featuring the jockstrap-clad pre-flight training school cadets at St. Mary’s College in California. You can view the first one here. Part II was from last Christmas. Part III was the boys of summer. And now here we are with another look at these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – photographed as they trained to go to war during the holidays.
I first became aware of these black and white 5″x7″ triptych photos through posts on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook group. Listings also turn up on auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by the index card used to record the physical training progress of the cadet.
The earliest photos (from June 13, 1942) feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fencing to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.
There is still some confusion between these photos and the Yale / Ivy League posture pics, since the Navy photos were sometimes used to illustrate stories about the Yale pics. Note that all of these images contain a visible U.S. Navy / St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School placard, even if they have been cropped out in some posts. Similarly the Yale University photos are identified as such within the frame of the photos:
Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:
And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there are a variety of body types.
My collection now includes close to 600 jpegs of different cadets. While some of these men did perish during WWII, the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages.
Any surviving cadets would now be close to 100 years old. I recently discovered one who passed away a few months ago at the age of 103.
One thing these young men have in common, as they were documented in timeless photos of their physical prime: they were far from home during the holidays, training to fight for their country.
At this time of year, nearly 80 years later, we again salute The Greatest Generation for their fine forms and dedication.
Three years ago, I posted two collections of artist / photographer Don Herron’s Tub Shots, a series of photographs featuring the famous and near famous posing in their bathtubs. This coincided with an exhibition of 65 of the images at the Daniel Cooney Gallery here in NYC. My blog posts (Pt. 1 and Pt. II) still garner a considerable amount of traffic, so I thought I would share more of these photos – ones that didn’t make it into those original posts and others that have resurfaced since that time.
Pat Loud (1926-2021) was the matriarch of the Loud family, subject of the first reality series on American television. She later recalled that she only agreed to Don Herron’s request for a photo shoot if her friend and interior designer Richard Ridge posed as well. NYC (1978)
Welcome to our third installment of photos celebrating WWII-era men of U.S. Navy pre-flight training at St. Mary’s College. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at the school in Moraga, California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. You can see more photos in our previous posts here and here.
Only the earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. An anonymous person offers a helping hand as the men are photographed in profile.
All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps. In all of the photos, the men stand behind some sort of grid fencing to better illustrate misalignment and spinal curvature.
The photos were taken to measure the fitness progression of each recruit as they underwent extreme physical training. Each picture was accompanied by an index card containing body measurements and physical achievement test results over the course of several months.
This allows for some contrasting images that Weight Watchers might want to consider emulating.
This installment focuses on photos of cadets as they underwent summer training in the California sun. The results speak for themselves. #tanlines
My collection of photos gathered from around the internet now includes close to 500 different cadets. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching the origins as well as the fates of these brave men. Those featured in this post passed away as young as 22 and as old as 94.
Whether the photos of these handsome young men are literal snapshots near the beginnings of their lives or tragically close to the end, all of the subjects are equally, timelessly captured here in prime physical condition, sun dappled as they trained to serve their country. Nearly 80 years later, we salute and admire their fine forms and dedication.
The fabled Ivy League nude posture photos have been written about but seldom seen. Incoming college students were photographed fully nude to gauge posture, detect scoliosis, and address other correctable body issues… all while emotionally scarring the participants. Talk show host Dick Cavett joked about it in his early stand-up routines but had a much darker view of the experience 50 years later in a New York Times Op Ed piece.
In recent years, the Yale photos have garnered the most press, with tongues wagging at the possibilities of seeing our country’s best and brightest in the buff. The photos in question were so rare that most online articles on the subject did not actually feature any of them, opting to show similar medical textbook illustrations or military posture pics such as the WWII-era St. Mary’s College Navy Pre-Flight School photos, which I have written about here and here.
In the past year, choice examples of the photos featuring male freshman Yalies from 1937-1960 have begun to trickle out on eBay. It was only a matter of time before some familiar names began to pop up. Writer Calvin Trillin‘s photo went for a little over $100, while the pic of late actor James Franciscus pulled in a whopping $1,225.
Younger readers might not remember Franciscus – the dashing star of half a dozen television series and over 30 films. There is a fan site that dubs him The Patron Saint Of Cool. He was not afraid to show some skin over the course of his career, particularly in Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).
In her memoir and in a recent segment on The Tonight Show, Jane Fonda remembers him as her first love…and the best kiss she ever had.
They met while working together in summer stock when she was 18 and he was 20.
“He walked me out to the end of a pier and he kissed me,” she recalled. “The stars began to whirl and the pier began to shake, and my knees gave way and I slid down to a pile at his feet…. I’ve never had a kiss like that ever since.”
As for his Yale photo, which was taken the year before…. unfortunately, we don’t get to see the full Franciscus. The image posted for the public auction has a strip of paper blocking the view. For just $1,225, the high bidder is now enjoying the unedited 8″x10″ all by themselves.
Artist / writer Adam Donaldson Powell asked if I would contribute to his latest project, in which he invites artists, writers, musicians, and other performing artists from around the world to contribute essays about their work and lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and aftermath. Here is my contribution:
Photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis have recently come to light that are raising some eyebrows. A nude shot of the duo showering together sold on eBay for nearly $4,500 this past week, while a steam room photo sold for a modest $375.
These photos appear to have sold at Sotheby’s in 2018 as part of a collection belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant.
The auction description listed “4 candid photographs (8 x 10 in.) of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”
While I originally thought the guy on the right was comedian Morey Amsterdam, a reader wrote:
The guy on the right in the sauna photo is Mack Gray, who was Dean’s assistant, and later in life arguably his closest friend. Dean and Jerry met him when they first came to Hollywood; they attended one of George Raft’s parties, and Jerry referred to Gray as Raft’s ‘Man Friday’. (It’s also worth noting, by the by, that Raft and Gray were in a relationship.)
Cropped versions of a couple of these photos can be found on Pinterest, although in poor quality jpegs, apparently scans of photos that ran in a magazine or newspaper at the time. I wouldn’t exactly call Pinterest a reliable source, but if the captioning is accurate these shots were taken in 1952 at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel.
I’m the first to call “fake” on photoshopped images found on the internet, but these new photos are very clear. The only pixel anomalies are the results of my attempt to remove the eBay seller’s name, which was strategically plastered across key nether regions, including Dean Martin’s uncut dong.
UPDATE: Other photos have gone up for auction – see a more recent post about those here.
Dr. Lucas Murnaghan, a celebrated underwater photographer and orthopedic surgeon, passed away in his Toronto home on March 21, 2021. According to his longtime partner Antonio Lennart, Murnaghan succumbed to cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer).
In a Ted Talk posted last year, Murnaghan charted his path as an uptight overachiever following the family tradition by becoming a doctor, coming to terms with his sexuality and the circumstances that led him to become a full-time photographer and entrepreneur in recent years.
I started following Lucas on Instagram a couple of years ago. I knew nothing about him but his photographs spoke for themselves: stark, striking images that often played with what he described as “the balance between vulnerability and confidence, pride and shame, solitude and connection.”
When he began to promote his photography, his initial impulse was to hide his “day job” as a medical doctor, feeling that it prohibited him from being taken seriously as a photographer, or having an artistic point of view.
“I felt like I was entering the art world from the side door. Well, as it turns out, there is no front door. As an artist, that’s all we can do… gather up our entire lives and transmit it into our work. To do anything less than that is to not be honest with ourselves or our audience.”
I was a freshman theatre major at Syracuse University when I scribbled this in my journal one bright spring day in 1988:
I’m writing at Oakwood Cemetery, where we are sitting on the steps of the Brown Mausoleum. People might think it’s morbid to hang out in a cemetery, but I love it here – so beautiful and peaceful. If we were sitting in the Quad, with radios blaring and frisbees flying around, I couldn’t relax – it always feels like a fight is just waiting to break out. There’s no judgement here. Other kids walk by every so often but it’s very quiet. I’ve heard that drug deals go on here at night though.
So young. So innocent. So little insight. Then again, I was 19 years old and this was before that kid boiled John Crouse’s head.
Oakwood is an 160 acre cemetery adjacent to the Syracuse University campus. Their website advertises “a grand array of monuments and mausoleums which form a virtual outdoor museum of funerary sculpture and architecture while mirroring the lives of Syracuse’s Victorian families.”
The cemetery was an alternative hangout for us – actors and artists clad in vintage chic attire, toting journals, sketchbooks and cameras. We didn’t come to SU for the sports or fraternity life. The typical campus hangout spots weren’t always the best places to relax so we went to the cemetery. We were respectful, but not everyone else subscribed to the ‘Take only pictures, leave only footprints’ credo and this is why we can’t have nice things.
In October of that year, freshman art student Kevin McQuain thought it would be a good idea to steal a human head from a mausoleum “to use as a model for sculpture class.” He brought it back to his dorm – the nearby Flint Hall – and proceeded to try and clean the odious noggin by boiling it with bleach in a trashcan placed on the stove of the 3rd floor common area. Residents were alarmed by the stench and even more so when they discovered the source. McQuain and two of his friends were arrested.
Two factors helped this to become a national news story:
a) It was Halloween season.
b) It wasn’t just any old skull in the trashcan.
The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John J. Crouse served as the mayor of Syracuse. All of the coffins in the tomb were vandalized, but the cranium in question belonged to John Jr.
From The Syracuse Herald, 10/21/88 and a 1920’s postcard for Crouse College:
By the time McQuain and his friends went to court in early 1989, national news outlets had lost interest, leaving reportage to the local Syracuse papers. McQuain pled guilty and was properly contrite under advice of council. The charges against his accomplices were dropped, yet all three received the same sentence: 200 hours of community service.
From The Syracuse Times, 1/26/89:
Universities tend to frown upon students who cook the heads of their benefactors. Following McQuain’s sentencing his scholarship was revoked. Follow up newspaper articles state that he left Syracuse due to a lack of funds, but he did complete his undergraduate education at Alfred University, which is not exactly the Dollar Tree of higher education. Perhaps it was best for all concerned that he made a fresh start outside of Onondaga County.
There is a 2002 follow-up piece from the Syracuse Post Standard that keeps getting… ahem… dug up… every few years and reprinted around Halloween. It’s about how poor Kevin McQuain got stuck with a nickname that he could not shake. His friends dubbed him “Skully.” And he decided “to embrace it.” He went on to form a Goth/Rockabilly record label called Skully Records, which he apparently still runs himself as a side hustle to his every day technical services job.
In 2015, he self-published a vampire/punk novel under the name Kevin Skully McQuain. He also designs t-shirts.
Somehow this unavoidable handle does not force itself onto his professional resume: it just leaks into his side projects when the macabre notoriety might help bump things up a notch.
But oh, how the nickname plagues him! He CANNOT escape it.
Here’s the thing: I’ve been called several things throughout my life that I have hated. I assume that you, dear reader, have had one or two nicknames as well. But I don’t know yours and you don’t know mine… because we did not hyphenate them into our names.
How contrite is a person if he is still trying to milk the last ounce of notoriety out of something he stupidly did over 30 years ago? If you made a mistake at 18 – and who hasn’t? – would you allow that thing to be the defining moment of your life? Would you still call yourself “Farty” because you once let one rip in gym class? Is that all ya got?
McQuain is married and a father now, and I can’t help but wonder: at what point in the dating process does one explain the origin of “Skully”? Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did boil the mayor of Syracuse’s head, but listen…. that was a bad idea, ok?”
Back in 2002, McQuain said “That was a mistake I made when I was young, and I’m fortunate that it didn’t stigmatize me for the rest of my life.” And yet, at 50 years old, he still holds on to the “Skully” nickname, with the backstory tucked into the pocket of his aging punk-rock jeans, ready to whip out and exploit whenever he has a new artistic endeavor that might need a little publicity boost.
In 1988, Kevin McQuain walked out of Oakwood Cemetery with the head of John Crouse in a paper bag, intent on using it as a prop for his art. Over 30 years later, he still finds it quite useful.