The Tin Man and the Lion: Unanswered Prayers

Every once in a while I find myself accidentally humming a Garth Brooks song called “Unanswered Prayers.” The gist of this 1991 country hit is that the singer runs into a girl he was in love with back in high school. At the time, he prayed to God Almighty that they would be together for the rest of their lives. Now he sees that time has not been kind to his old flame. He compares her to the hot babe he’s now got on his arm and thanks the Lord that he wasn’t saddled with that old mess for all those years. It’s really quite touching and heartfelt…. unless you are the first Mrs. Garth Brooks. He divorced her to marry Trisha Yearwood.

My life was at a crossroads when this little ditty was all over the radio. I was touring the country in a children’s theatre production of The Wizard of Oz. Previously, I had been working at Tower Records on Long Island and feeling rather lost after being cut from two different drama schools in the previous two years. I felt like I had twice slipped off the launchpad of my illustrious theatrical career. So there I was at 22 years old: depressed, living at my mother’s house, treading water in the old familiar pool of a record store.

One day at work I got a phone call from a former classmate who was now stage managing children’s theatre tours. He called to say that they needed a last-minute replacement for The Cowardly Lion in a Wizard of Oz tour, and could I be in Philadelphia to start rehearsals, tomorrow?

I had just come out of a meeting with my supervisor in which he told me I was doing an excellent job and if I kept up the good work, I would be moving up the record store hierarchy very soon. Now I had to go back into his office to clarify that the pro-company bullshit I had just shoveled at him was no longer relevant, and that he should start spreading the news, ‘cuz I’m leaving. Today.

I took off my polyester vest with the yellow and red name tag, headed down the yellow brick road and never looked back.

The 10 days of rehearsal were a blur. This was my first paying theatre gig, hired sight unseen and thrown in with people who actually auditioned and were cast in this show. I was a wreck. I hadn’t sang or danced in almost a year. I felt like I would be discovered as a fraud and fired before we even left Philly. Luckily I was playing the Cowardly Lion, so channeling that nervous energy wasn’t a broad stretch. I didn’t exactly transform into Bert Lahr, but I held my own. I worked my ass off to prove I belonged there. And it worked. Nobody had a clue how I got the job.

We hit the road and I soon learned that traveling in a non-union theatre tour is quite a unique experience. You get to know each other intimately in a very short period of time. Relationships develop. Alliances are formed and broken. It has all the drama of a reality show like Survivor or Big Brother, but in a van. This can be a nightmare situation with the wrong combination of people, as I would find out on subsequent tours. But this cast gelled well, onstage and off.

There were 9 of us floating from town to town – a microcosm in Glinda’s bubble. Together we weathered bad hotels, truck-stop food, common colds passed around the cast. We went to museums in Chicago, partied on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, broke down outside of Memphis, hit the beach in Miami, and got drunk… everywhere. We played venues ranging from a church basement in North Carolina to the opera house in Cleveland. I had never been to any of these places – some I still wish I could revisit, others I have no desire to see again.

The Tin Man caught my eye from the first day of rehearsal. Beneath the silver makeup was a golden boy: a blond-haired, blue-eyed dancer with a perfect rack of sparkling teeth. Truth be told, the boy couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag, and his singing voice…. well … it was kind of amazing: he had this uncanny ability to sound both sharp and flat at the same time.

But the boy had charisma. And when he started to dance, he lit up the stage. Your eyes would just go to him. It didn’t matter who else was there.

Besides his moves and physical appearance, he really was a golden boy in every way – a  positive energy that just lifted me up and made me feel good. I tend to dwell in darker places, so this rather simple ray of sunshine totally captivated me.

Yes, he was simple. That needs to be mentioned. There was no deep thought process going on there. Let’s just say he was unencumbered with a lot of brain activity. I tend to get stuck in my own head so this was the breath of fresh air I needed.

It’s such a cliché – the blond hair, the blue eyes… I’m sorry but I totally fell for it. Given my dark coloring and more cerebral tendencies – not that I was curled up in the back of the van reading poetry, but I knew the difference between Proust and Juliet Prowse – the whole “opposites attract” factor worked in my favor.

My odds of nabbing the Tin Man were certainly helped by our situation. But we did have an undeniable rapport – everyone could see what was going on between us before anything physical actually occurred. And it did. Before long, The Tin Man and I decided to take ourselves out of the cast’s hotel roommate rotation and shacked up together full-time. 

As the tour moved on and we passed through state after state, I began to meet different people from the Tin Man’s life. Ex-boyfriends, a potential new boyfriend he had put on hold until after the tour, the best girl-friend from home who had been in love with him since 8th grade…. with each new appearance, I’d get pushed aside until we headed to the next town. I’m afraid I did not react well to these situations, as I was reminded that the boy could have anyone he wanted, so why stick with me, other than the fact that I was on the tour? 

The thing was, he played the helpless card pretty well. There was a dependence on others that worked like a charm, whether counting change or picking out clothes to wear. He needed to have someone there to pay attention, to help, to do things for him.  I mistook this for a dependence on ME until I realized that this parade of people that passed through had all been in the position I currently held, and they were only too happy to jump back into that role when given the opportunity.

One day, I was having a conversation with the Wicked Witch, fairly oblivious to the feelings she may have had towards me. She was incredulous when I expressed my envy of our Tin Man. She was thoughtful for a minute and said, “Don’t you see? He is like… dessert. He’s strawberry shortcake. It’s delicious. Everyone wants it. But you can’t live on that. No nutritional value. You are……… a baked potato. It’s sturdy. A staple. It’s good for you. It’s not as showy as the strawberry shortcake, and people might not think to go for that initially – they want to go right for the dessert, but the baked potato is better for them.”

Now… I have repeated this to people through the years and it is always interesting to gauge the different reactions it elicits. Some perceive it as a total insult. Others “get it.” At the time she told me this, I got it. I understood what she was saying. It was not what I wanted to hear. I just wanted to continue gorging on the fucking dessert. But I got it.

Ah, the pain of hearing things you know are true but don’t want to hear. I remember, toward the end of the tour, we were in some Super 8 dive bar and the Tin Man slipped some money in the jukebox, which then started playing the aforementioned “Unanswered Prayers.” He was laughing and boozily sharp/flat singing it to the Wicked Witch. And she’s looking at me. And I realized that, as painful as it was to admit, the tour was ending and the golden boy would be gone. There was never any delusion that we would continue on together after the tour was over.  He had another theatre job lined up and I was…. what the hell was I going to do? Go back to Tower Records?

I was scared to death. This band of friends, this lifestyle that I had grown accustomed too, making a living doing what I loved… well, a children’s theatre version of it, anyway… it was all about to go away. This trip to Oz had opened my eyes to the possibilities of my life. And very soon I was going to land back in my own black and white Kansas. I didn’t want to wake up from my Technicolor dream. Wasting time in a suburban record store was no longer an option.

The tour ended, as they do. I got an apartment in New York City with Glinda the Good Witch – you can read more about that transition here. I was hired back for a Babes In Toyland tour with the same company that fall. It was a total nightmare. But while in rehearsal, I did meet The Scarecrow from another Wizard Of Oz tour. He was not a golden boy, but he did have a certain glow… He also had a brain and appreciated the value of a baked potato. We were together for 9 years. 

The Tin Man and I did end up working together again in summer stock the following year. By then, the spell had been broken. I had grown a lot and he had not. I saw him for the shallow, needy person that he really was. Yes, my heart would still flutter when he would gaze with those baby blues and smile that thousand-watt smile, but now they just seemed like tools in his arsenal: tactics to lure in the next “devotee du jour.” It was not necessarily calculated – just second-nature for him. I don’t think he had the capability to put that much thought behind it, even if he wanted to.

So he turned his attention elsewhere. And as I watched him work his golden magic on someone else, I’d hear the faint strains of a familiar song…. “Some of God’s greatest gifts… are Unanswered Praaaayers.”

John Waters In Blueboy Magazine (1977)

Back in January of 2020, I posted an article written by Armistead Maupin for the September, 1980 issue of Blueboy Magazine. I mentioned that this magazine was part of my collection of vintage male erotica that is large enough to choke a horse – file boxes full of smut that were gifted to me by an old friend when he vacated his New York City apartment after 30 years. I was slowly selling them off on eBay, but that door slammed shut earlier this summer when the company decided that they did not need all the unholy illicit dirty sticky revenue generated by adult items. As of July, they have completely eliminated their adult section.

Sidenote: If anyone can recommend a halfway reputable website to peddle my gay wares, I would be very grateful.

As the end of this selling opportunity drew near, many vendors starting unloading their products at a discounted rate.1Cover I went in the opposite direction: Rather than listing these publications for less than their worth, I chose to buy up even MORE magazines at a discount

One of these recent acquisitions was the November, 1977 issue of Blueboy Magazine which featured an interview with The Pope of Trash: filmmaker John Waters.

This interview was conducted just as Desperate Living was about to be released.

Madame Spivy: A Tropical Fish

This is the plea of a poor little tropical fish. It’s very sad and we must be very quiet, please.

Ladies and germs, it’s time once again to visit that celebrated lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe. To the uninitiated, allow me to get you up to speed:

Spivy (1906-1970) was a lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here:

The Alley Cat

The Tarantella

Auntie’s Face

100% American Girls

Today we will focus on A Tropical Fish. As with the previously mentioned Alley Cat, this song was co-written by Spivy with Jill “Billy” Rainsford. Both songs were featured on the 1939 78 record album Seven Gay Sophisticated Songs By Spivy.

As with Auntie’s Face, Spivy begins this song with her trademark “It’s very sad and we must be very quiet” spoken intro before launching into the tune, which tells the story of a tropical fish writing a letter of complaint to Fiorello LaGuardia, the Mayor of New York City (1934-1945).

A Tropical Fish

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, the clerk and the trombone player,

The child on the street and the ultra-elite all write letters to the mayor.

La Guardia’s most conscientious – he tries to grant everyone’s wish

But they went him one better when he got a letter from somebody’s tropical fish.

 

Dear Mayor,” the letter began, “I’m writing as fish to man.

Our tank’s overheated and we’re being treated like common sardines in a can.

The way people watch us is quaint. Our privacy’s something what ain’t.

So be a good fella, my dear Fiorella and hear a poor fish’s complaint.

 

To be quite specific, the food is terrific.

We’re on the hay diet – you really should try it.

It tastes like the hook – gee, I wish we could cook.

The service is lousy – we have no back-housey.

And it’s some spot to be in with no pot to … cook in.

 

The innocent faunas are hiding in corners

Their love life is wearing with human eyes staring…

Why can’t we have covers like those birdcage lovers?

They’re hidden each night ‘til the morning sunlight

Then brought out to bath with no questions asked.

 

Dear Mayor, I’ve been very frank… but you don’t know life in a tank.

Believe me, it’s hellish and you wouldn’t relish to sleep in the water you drank.

Now here’s what we tropicals wish: Some bedrooms to give us ambish.

Less public relations and more comfort stations.

Yours truly,

A. Tropical Fish”

Lastly, here’s a syndicated article about Spivy that ran in newspapers across the country in late November, 1948. Note that her last name is mispelled “Devoe” with no mention of Bertha Levine.

Spivy Church 1948 full

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.

More Dean Martin / Jerry Lewis Shower Pics Surface

Who would have thought that 2021 would be the year that nude photos of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis would drop… and keep dropping?

Well – I guess the guy who is selling them on eBay knew, but the rest of us continue to be surprised by the release of these playful pics. I first wrote about them here in a post that was picked up by a dozen websites around the world, including the Advocate. Since then, two other pics have surfaced.

This photo, which I added to the previous post, sold on eBay for a whopping $1,600:

The pictures were part of a 2018 Sotheby’s auction of items belonging to Frank Branda, Jerry Lewis’s driver and assistant. The auction description listed “4 candid photographs of Lewis and Martin in a steam room and shower, Lewis posing modestly, Martin less so.”

To recap – three of the four recently sold on eBay:

It wasn’t a complete surprise that the most recent photo popped up for auction, as it was partially visible on the Southeby’s website. SothebysCropped, low-res versions of this shot and a couple of others are also on Pinterest, with captions that they were taken at the Palm Springs El Mirador Hotel in 1952.

dean-martin-jerry-lewis-a-shower-el-mirador-hotel-1952-1

While I was able to clean up the sauna and first shower shots by removing the eBay seller’s watermark, which was strategically placed over Dean & Jerry’s nether regions, this time around the cheeky monkey has opted for a post-it note on Dean’s dong.

Damn Post-it Note.

Ah well. Nice pic nonetheless.

This appears to be the end of this lot of photos… but it is possible that there are others out there….

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.

james+franciscusjane+fonda

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.

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)

About Simon Baker in The Devil Wears Prada…

Sometimes when I’m channel surfing I am convinced that there is a Devil Wears Prada channel – one station dedicated solely to repeating the 2006 film. It is always on.

There are a handful of movies that have enjoyed a tenure of constant cable repetition. Some other favorites: The Notebook, Office Space and The Purge (which seems like a reality show as of late).

The Devil Wears Prada has been the subject of seemingly endless Buzzfeed lists and articles with all sorts of pro and con opinions.

Sample takeaways:

  • Andy’s friends are ungrateful hypocrites.
  • She should have never been hired for that job in the first place… and Emily deserved to go to Paris.
  • The “Cerulean Sweater” speech is really about cultural appropriation.
  • “$8 of Jarlsberg” is nearly a pound of cheese on a single nauseating sandwich.
  • Her boyfriend is awful, and
  • Adrian Grenier is a terrible actor.
Does this burnt sandwich look like it has a pound of swiss cheese on it?

Note that none of these observations have anything to do with Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly, which is why we all watch the movie repeatedly and her performance is beyond criticism, ok?

There is one thing that has bothered me since I saw this movie in its initial theatrical release. It distracts me whenever I watch it and I have waited 15 years for someone else to bring it up:

In the party scene where Andy first meets writer Christian Thompson, what the hell is going on with actor Simon Baker’s face?

Picture that on the big screen.


For a movie that has undergone so much analysis and repeat viewing, I cannot be the only person who has noticed this.

This is only an issue in the first scene in which he appears. 3devil

When he comes back later, he has been color corrected and the Botox has relaxed.

This leads me to two theories:

A) Nobody realized what a terrible styling mistake had been made with the leading man until after they looked at the dailies for this party scene. The budget did not afford a re-shoot and they all thought “Well… it’s not THAT bad… onward and upward!”

OR

B) They HAD to re-shoot or add this scene after production was completed and Mr. Baker was off playing a bleached, frozen-faced alien when they called him back to set.

When I started to do some research for this post, I typed “Devil Wears Prada Simon Baker” into Google, which then auto-populated “eyebrows”. So… it turns out, I am not alone in this.

The Detroit Metro Times panned the film and mentions “Simon Baker, whose bushy sage eyebrows look like they might help him take flight and flutter off in search of a better role.”

2838d7ba5badf3e356885e569386a4c5Other comments I found around the internet:

“Simon Baker’s eyes/eyebrows, especially in his first scene…. there was some weird grooming/Botox mojo going on that really distracted from the narrative.”

“….overly metrosexualized with the strangest blond eyebrows I have ever seen.”

“Simon Baker plays Christian Thompson in The Devil Wears Prada. Good actor, horrible eyebrows. I couldn’t take my eyes off of those creatures.”

I also came across a 2012 interview with Simon Baker in which he says ” “I had despicable eyebrows in that film so I always get comments about that!”

As a person with ample eyebrows myself (although not bleached, as my author photo can attest), I don’t find fault with his voluminous caterpillars throughout the film. It is just that first scene, when they appear to be overly bleached and perched atop a curiously frozen face..

Simon Baker later in the film. I have no problem with this look.

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.

z-ted_starkowski-grave-1

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.