WWII Boys Of Summer: St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

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.

Comparative photos from June 13 & August 18,1942

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.

Before and after a summer of training: June 26 & September 8, 1942

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 Yale Posture Photos: James Franciscus

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.

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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.

On The Life Of Brian… During The Pandemic

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

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

Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis Let It All Hang Out

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.

Sothebys 
 
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.”

Martin & Lewis have a schvitz and a smoke. And who are their co-horts?

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.)

Dean Martin sharing a meal with songwriter Sammy Cahn as assistant Mack Gray attends. (1958)
Jerry Lewis smooches with Mack Gray.

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.

Martin and Lewis in Sailor Beware (1951)

Photographer Lucas Murnaghan Has Died at 45

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a) It was Halloween season.

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

The vandalized mausoleum contained John and Catherine Crouse and their two sons. The Crouse family was a wealthy philanthropic clan that loomed large in the area for generations. A fair percentage of the city of Syracuse bears the Crouse name. John created the University’s Crouse College to honor his wife. Their son, John 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.McQuain court 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”?13221477_10156961022720441_5205862542119871686_n Third date? Over dinner? And what is the appropriate age to sit your child down to explain that you once desecrated a corpse? “Yes, Jayden, Skully-daddy did 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.

Ted Starkowski: Artist’s Muse

Although photographer George Platt Lynes passed away of lung cancer at age 48 in 1955, it took another 30 years before the majority of his male nude photographs were celebrated and widely released. Virtually every collection of his work now features photos of a model named Ted Starkowski. His nude image is featured on the covers of several collections of Lynes’ work – in solo shots or posed with Mel Fellini:

So who was Ted Starkowski?

Lynes biographer David Leddick wrote: Ted Starkowski George Platt Lynes

Ted Starkowski worked the streets. Hustling by night, he regaled  Bernard Perlin and George Platt Lynes with his adventures while he posed for them during the day. They created unique images with his cat-like face and lithe body.

 

(Above) George Platt Lynes photographed Ted Starkowski flanked by Bernard Parlin’s sketches.

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothed2Teodor Francis Starkowski was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 4, 1927- the eighth child of Polish immigrants. His Army registration in September of 1945 indicates that he had attended three years of high school and was working at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.

After his stint in the military he relocated to New York City, where he became a favorite subject for Lynes and his circle of artist friends, including Paul Cadmus and Jared French.

(Above) Three images of Ted Starkowski by Jared French.

Thomas D. Baynes of The Univeristy of Western Ontario wrote extensively of one particular George Platt Lynes 1954 photograph in his thesis More than a Spasm, Less than a Sign: Queer Masculinity in American Visual Culture, 1915-1955:

Ted Starkowski Lynes 1950 clothedFew other photographs by Lynes do as much to cast the model as an actor. In his tight jeans, bulging conspicuously at the crotch, fisherman-rib sweater worn without an undershirt, and workaday watchman’s cap relegated to the status of an ornament, Starkowski looks like a longshoreman snatched from the imagination of Tom of Finland … Lynes’s studio provides only the minimum furniture required to support Starkowski in a posture that manages to be solicitous and pensive at the same time, welcoming an evaluating view despite being absorbed in thought.

This photograph extends rough trade as a portable structure of fantasy that discovers erotic opportunities in ambiguities of dress and pose…. Evidently, Starkowski had a knack for acting like a straight man, or at least like a fantasy version thereof.

Ted Starkowski as drawn by Paul Cadmus (Male Nude, TS5, 1954)

Another model who posed for many of the same artists was fellow ex-military man Chuck Howard, George Platt Lynes’ live-in boyfriend. After their split in January, 1951, Howard and Starkowski became involved in what David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared and Margaret French: artists who called their collective photography work PaJaMa, an acronym of the first letters of their first names.

Ted Starkowski by Paul Cadmus 1963Thanks to a wealthy benefactor, Starkowski traveled extensively in the second half of the 1950’s. Leddick relays a story of Starkowski showing off his new diamond ring – a gift from his wealthy friend. He asked artist George Tooker if he thought it was too big. Tooker replied “Yes, it is too large for a woman to wear.”

The Paul Cadmus drawing on the left shows Starkowski at age 36 in 1963.

And then… the trail goes dark for the next 14 years. If more images or information come to light, I will update this post. What we do know is that on Friday, May 13, 1977. Ted Starkowski was leaving a New York City bar when he was struck and killed by a car. He was 50 years old.ted-starkowski-obit

An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.

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

You can see my earlier post about George Platt Lynes models / bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here.

Christmas At St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

The sun is shining, the grass is green
The orange and palm trees sway
There’s never been such a day
In Beverly Hills, LA
But it’s December the 24th
And I’m longing to be up north…

That’s the rarely heard opening verse to Irving Berlin’s classic song White Christmas – originally released in 1942. The song popped into my head as I gathered these Christmastime photos of jockstrap-clad cadets in pre-flight training school at St. Mary’s College in California. Never mind that the school is actually several hundred miles north of Beverly Hills. It is still sunny California, where these strapping young men – many away from home for the first time – were training to go to war during the holidays.

As I mentioned in a previous post, 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 feature the men completely nude, but all subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect posture misalignment and spinal curvature.

Fortunately for us, multiple photos of some cadets have surfaced, allowing for comparisons of their training progress:

Before / After 8 weeks of training: Fall, 1942

And while there is a lack of ethnic diversity, there is a variety of body types.

Before / After 3 weeks of training: December, 1942

My collection now includes over 300 jpegs of different cadets. Some did perish during WWII, but the largest majority that I have researched lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.

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, 75+ years later, cue up White Christmas as we again salute their fine forms and dedication.

UPDATE: Click here for the third installment.

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Guys with iPhones. In Masks. On Subways.

Earlier this year, I began posting photos I snapped around New York City – just as the pandemic was taking hold and then again when it started to reopen. As we teeter on the edge of another necessary lockdown, lets pay tribute to these intrepid commuters – men who have navigated the subways sporting face coverage while still putting forth a sense of style as well as a certain…. je ne sais quois.

This post goes out to KennethInThe212 blog, which recently celebrated its 15th anniversary. Prior to the pandemic, Kenneth Walsh (who lives in Manhattan so you don’t have to) regularly featured snapshots of stylish men photographed in transit. Alas, he doesn’t need to take the subway while working from home, so I began taking photos that I imagined would have fit comfortably into his oeuvre (despite a lack of mustaches and singlets).

Then again… who knows what facial hair grows behind these masks?

Congratulations to Kenneth on 15 years! Stay safe New York.

The Men of St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School

One of my socially distant pastimes of 2020 has been searching for jpegs of WWII U.S. Navy Pre-Flight Training photos. These images of naked or jockstrap-clad cadets were taken at St. Mary’s College in California when it was requisitioned for the war effort between 1942-1946. 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 eBay and other auction sites, where the photos are often accompanied by an index card which was used to record the physical training progress of each cadet.

It has been speculated that this was tied to a study on race purity/eugenics, as were the infamous Yale student posture photos. I choose to believe that it was merely a matter of recording alignment and physical fitness as part of the overall medical examination process.

Comparative fitness photos for a cadet taken on 6/27 & 8/31 1942

Call me naïve, but if we are to appreciate the photos of these fine young men who were training to fight for our country, it’s a lot less icky to ignore a potential ulterior motive on the part of those taking the photos.

Comparative fitness photos for a cadet taken on 7/27 & 9/29 1942

The earliest photos – dated June 13, 1942 – feature the men completely nude. When the subjects were photographed in profile, they appear to be holding hands with someone off-camera – presumably to help them obtain proper… positioning?

All subsequent photos feature the cadets in jockstraps, standing behind some sort of grid fence to better detect misalignment and spinal curvature.

Most of the photos shown here were gathered from various sources around the internet with the subject’s name cropped out: God forbid someone ran across a picture of near-naked PeePaw and suffered conflicting feelings.

My collection includes nearly 200 jpegs of different cadets with the names intact. I have taken my pastime a step further by researching who these men were and where they ended up. As expected, some did perish during the war – just a year or two after these photos were taken. Others reenlisted for the Korean War and did not survive that conflict. But the largest majority went on to successful careers, families and lived to ripe old ages. Any surviving cadets would now be in their late 90’s.

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 as they trained to serve our country. 75+ years later, we salute their fine forms and dedication.

UPDATE: See more photos here and here.