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.
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.
“$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.
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?
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.
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!”
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.”
Other 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..
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.
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 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 Perlin’s sketches.
Teodor 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.
Few 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.
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.
Thanks 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.
An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
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.
I am not alone in saying that I always take comfort in the annual repetition of the holidays – revisiting holiday-themed music, film, television… and now internet posts as well. This feeling is in overdrive this year, as I occupy myself at home and skip other annual holiday traditions that involve leaving my apartment. The Rockefeller Center tree looks very nice on my television – and that view will have to suffice this year, thank you very much.
I feel bad for this year’s Rockefeller Center tree – sacrificed to become the most famous Christmas shrub in the world at a time when nobody is allowed to actually go near it. It’s the Just Sam of Christmas trees, which makes the displaced owl Ryan Seacrest.
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, Bing Crosby, Brenda Lee and Johnny Mathis are rock stars from Thanksgiving through New Years. Are any of them on your 4th of July playlist? They aren’t on mine.
The film A Christmas Story has an even shorter (Elf on the) shelf life. We binge-watch the repeated broadcast for exactly 24 hours each year. I own it on Blu-ray and I’m not sure why: I have never opened it. To pop it in at any other time feels like a betrayal.
In keeping with this revisiting, blog posts of Christmas past are back to haunt you like A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge:
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 the radio show – hopefully only temporarily, as I find a work-around.
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 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 many 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 14 hours of holiday tunes. I recommend listening on shuffle – there’s something to irritate everyone. Enjoy!
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.
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.
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. Note that, although cropped here, all of these photos contain a visible U.S. Navy / St. Mary’s Pre-Flight School placard.
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.
“Our country is so fine, it will really be divine, when we get everyone but us to move away.”
Ladies and Gentleman, it is time once again to revisit that late great dynamic lady of song, Madame Spivy LaVoe (1906-1970), also known simply as Spivy. A lesbian entertainer, nightclub owner and character actress, Spivy has been described as “The Female Noel Coward” – to which I add “…. if he had been born in Brooklyn as Bertha Levine.” You can read earlier posts about her here: Madame Spivy’s Alley Cat, The Tarantella and Auntie’s Face.
Given the current political climate, it’s a perfect time to have a listen to 100% American Girls, a stinging satirical composition by Charlotte Kent which reminds us that nationalism, xenophobia and gentile racism have been marching hand-in-hand across this great land for generations. God Bless America.
The opening line addresses the “Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812…” – a not-so-subtle swipe at the exclusive, ultra-white & conservative Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).
The line “You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall…” refers to the Washington DC concert hall owned by the DAR. In 1939, they denied African-American singer Marian Anderson the opportunity to sing before an integrated audience, causing First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to resign her membership in protest. The Roosevelts then arranged for Anderson to perform on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939. The result was an historic performance before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.
Some notes on other references in the song:
Westbrook Pegler was a columnist at the time who opposed labor unions and The New Deal.
Note that Consuela – the only ethnic name mentioned – is directed to be “the rabble,” or disorderly crowd.
Alfred M. Landon was the Republican presidential candidate in 1936 who lost to FDR in a landslide vote.
First Lady Dolley Madison was a world-renowned hostess who, according to lore, was the first to serve guests ice cream at the White House.
100% American Girls
Members of the Daughters, Aunts, Mothers and Second Cousins of the War of 1812, form into double file.
Stop twitching at that bunting Carrie and smile. Take off that feather boa, Mary Louise this is a parade, not a charade.
Vera, you go right back to Washington, you’re not supposed to be marching at all! You’re supposed to be keeping THOSE people out of Constitution Hall.
Please… you on the float there. Lord Calvin is sagging. Yankee Doodle is flat. Your powder is wet. And your Mayflower is dragging.
Oh thank God here’s George III. Alright Lizzie, stand right there and sneer.
Please Consuela, someone has to be the rabble. You throw the Boston tea right in this little box over here.
Remember the things we said we’d never abandon. Remember we’re still true to Alfred M. Landon.
Remember when the Bill of Rights…. HMMMM ….. tried to get fresh with me!
My Westbook Pegler ’tis of thee. Ah ha! The bugle! Formation girls:
Nelly pull your belly in – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.
Oh aren’t you excited? And isn’t this a binge? Lets unfurl every curl in our lunatic fringe.
Tilly, Queenie, Magnolia, Hillaire… to arms!
Nelly pull your belly in and hold your chin up high. We’ll give the crowd a treat as we pass by.
The Pricker unit forward, the Bilbo club behind….And Bessie you keep waving what your grandpa signed.
All together now: Comb your hair for California, wash your neck for Io-way.
Our country is so fine, it will really be divine when we get everyone but us to move away.
Take a Benzedrine for old Virginia, where our daddies sniffed their snuff with dukes and earls.
We are for the human race, which is lovely (in its place). We’re 100% American Girls!
What? Do I see one of you lag when before you is marching the flag?
Did Washington crossing the Delaware say “Let’s call it off, boys – I’m not in the mood for rowing”?
Did Betsy Ross say “Fold up the banner girls – I hate sewing”?
Hmmm. Really girls! Eyes up! Curls up and away!
Annie pull your fanny in – it’s for the U.S.A. We’ve got to be adorable today.
When Valley Forge was icy and up to here in snow… did Dolly Madison say “No”?
Myrtle, Cissy, Prissy, Mamie – to arms!
Annie pull your fanny in – it’s for the U.S.A. We’re 100% American Girls!
This song – along with Madame’s Lament – were the two Charlotte Kent compositions featured on Spivy’s 1947 album An Evening With Spivy. Kent had several songwriting credits in film and on Broadway throughout the 1930’s. In 1939, she contributed to the book & lyrics of the musical Sing For Your Supper along with John La Touche, another composer with whom Spivy collaborated. We will get to those recordings at a later date. Stay tuned!
In May of 1991, I completed my first professional theatre job – playing the Corwardly Lion in a national children’s theatre tour of The Wizard Of Oz. It was a whirlwind experience full of laughter, adventure and romance that ended as soon as I was dropped back into my parent’s house on Long Island. I felt just like Dorothy – unsure if what I had just experienced was real or a Technicolor® dream.
While Dorothy may have felt that there was no place like home, if you think about it… the Lion, with his newfound courage, remained in the Emerald City.
I was determined to stay connected with New York City – my Emerald City – and continue my life as a working actor. I purchased a Long Island Railroad ticket for the month of June to ensure that I would go into the city to audition, search for a job and find a place to live.
The Wicked Witch from the tour had mentioned that her sister was curating an evening of performances called Homo Alone in the East Village on June 3rd. She suggested that I go see it and be sure to introduce myself.
So I hopped on the LIRR, a homo alone, to go see Homo Alone.
My own journal from the time reads:
Just went and saw 3 performers – somewhere between single-person one acts and stand-up comedy…. I’d love to do it. This journal would serve me well up there. Hmmm…
I then continued to write for 6 pages pining for the tour that had just ended and planning out my transition into NYC. But I remember how the performances that night made me feel: this was where I belonged, in a little theatre in the East Village, getting up in front of people with a notebook full of stories. To speak in my own voice with confidence and… yes, courage. To trust that what I have to say is unique and worth sharing and maybe even funny or touching or meaningful. Hopefully some combination of all those things.
By the following month, I had found a job and was sharing a leaky 5th floor walkup on East 6th street with Glinda The Good Witch. By the end of the summer, I had lost the job and Glinda turned out to be a clinically depressed nightmare person, but another tour loomed in the Fall and I was on my way. I had made the move to the big city and the life that I was looking for.
Fast forward to 1998: I read David Sedaris’s Naked and absolutely loved it, so I picked up his previous book Barrel Fever, which I had somehow missed. A few pages into “Parade,” the first story in that collection, a light bulb started to flicker on: I know this story. How do I know this? I didn’t read this… I have heard this. Where did I hear this? Wait. This was the guy from Homo Alone. Back in 1991. That was David Sedaris reading onstage that night.
I mean, how do you forget the tale of a guy who breaks up with his boyfriend Charlton Heston to start dating Mike Tyson and then one night after strenuous sex, he accidentally swallows Mike’s gold teeth?
Something like that stays with you.
In 2017, when David’s selected diary entries were released in book form as Theft By Finding, the first thing I did was flip to June of 1991 to see if there was any mention of that night, but it skips from May 15th to June 22nd. It was interesting to read about this period of his life though: he had moved to NYC the previous October and worked at SantaLand in Macy’s that Christmas. In 1992 he would gain national exposure reading “The SantaLand Diaries” on NPR.
Later in 2017, my partner Chris and I went to see David read at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in a sold-out multi-night engagement. He is known for meeting and autographing books for every single person who is willing to wait in line to see him after his readings. This can take hours.
When it was my turn to get my book signed, I stepped up and launched into the statement I had waited 20 years to say: “In June of 1991 I saw you at some little place in the East Village in an evening of solo performances called Homo Alone and you read the story about Mike Tyson out of a notebook….”
He said “Oh. It wouldn’t have been a notebook.”
I redirected. “Uh… it might have been a notepad. Or some papers. I’m not sure but I always remembered that night.”
He didn’t. “You have a really good memory.” He said without looking up from signing my book.
I mean, what did I expect to happen? Was he supposed to throw his arms around me and exclaim “My GOD that was a magical night! Your laughter and applause meant so much to me! And here you are! My biggest fan! After all these years!”?
And yes, my memory might be good, but it’s not GREAT, or I would have also remembered that “the little place” was The Club at LaMama and another one of performers that night was Lisa Kron, who would go on to win two Tony Awards for the book and score of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.
The third performer, Dominique Dibbell, has also had an impressive career. Kudos to Heidi Blackwell for collecting this trio.
I only know all this now because I unearthed the original program & promotional postcard from my mother’s basement this summer. And while I cannot say that I have a flawless memory bank, I will accept being called “A pack rat with decent recall.”
Note the “Thank You” to David’s partner Hugh Hamrick. According to Theft By Finding, they had only met three months prior. “This spring” David wrote, “I am, if I’m not mistaken, in love.” 29 years later, they are still together.
Had I unearthed this program sooner, I could have gone up to Lisa Kron at the 2015 preview of Fun Home that I attended – one of the most memorable Broadway experiences I ever had – where she and Alison Bechdel were sitting two rows in front of me. I could have said “I saw you with David Sedaris in 1991 and I don’t remember what you did but I know I really liked it and now I think you’re awesome!”
But I didn’t. And again, what is the anticipated reaction? What do we expect of people we admire when we reach out to them? When the shoe is on the other foot and someone mentions that they were moved by something that I did or wrote, I am grateful… but I don’t have a proper response other than to just say “Thank you.” It can easily become an awkward exchange, but the impulse is strong to make a connection with someone whose work motivates us and/or makes us feel something.
The next time I attend a David Sedaris reading, I will bring that old program along to show him and say; “I was at this show. You read Parade and I never forgot it. You inspired me to write. Thank you for all your work over the years.”
Maybe then I will get a different reaction. Then again, maybe not:
Last week I posted this photo on the Vintage Workingmen Beefcake Facebook page and people lost their minds: Over 2,200 likes and 200 comments from members young and old, tripping over their tongues… and not a negative post in the bunch, if you can believe that. “Who is he?” many wanted to know.
It’s hard to place the date just by looking at the photo – the hirsute young man looks modern – this could be taken today and filtered in sepia tone. And while many a vintage photo of presumably heterosexual men are co-opted by gay men who like to spin fictional tales speculating the circumstances surrounding an image, there are a few clues here that give the subject away: The artwork – on the wall and nightstand – seem to corroborate that this guy is very well aware of who he is and why you are looking at him.
The model is Robert X. (Buddy) McCarthy – a WWII veteran described by author David Leddick as “a former gymnast from Boston with a sharp Irish wit.” The photo dates 1952 and was taken by George Platt Lynes in the boudoir of his own NYC apartment. The painting on the wall behind Buddy is Conversation Piece by Paul Cadmus (1940) and depicts Platt Lynes with museum curator Monroe Wheeler and writer Glenway Wescott, a couple with whom he was romantically involved. In the background is Stone-Blossom, the New Jersey farm the three of them shared for over a decade.
In his letters, Platt Lynes referred to McCarthy affectionately as “The Baby Blacksmith.” He writes to friend Bernard Perlin; “(He) does me the honor of declared infatuation. And I purr like a tiger puss.”
While it is McCarthy’s body hair that garners immediate attention in this and a couple of other studio photos taken by Platt Lynes, the photographer apparently was not happy with the results.
He wrote in November, 1952: “Months ago I took nudes of Buddy… told him at the time that all that hair, though fun to play around with, wasn’t photogenic and under it he (probably) had a beautiful body.
“We made a vague date to remove some and to re-photograph… I meant, of course, to strip him except for the armpits and pubic bush. IMAGINE MY HORROR when he turned up on Friday evening with his pubes shaved clean like a baby’s. It wasn’t pretty…. It took two hours to get all (the rest of) that fuzz off him… contrary to expectation, it was neither a pleasant or erotic occupation.
“Halfway through the job Johnny phoned… I asked Buddy if he’d be willing to pose with him. A little to my surprise he said yes.”
“Johnny” was John Leapheart, an African-American model who was equally familiar with Platt Lynes’ bed and photography studio. The resulting photos of Buddy and John are now some of the most popular of Platt Lynes’ work, although they were not published until decades after his death. David Leddick’s Pioneering Male Nudes notes “Their black and white bodies, interwoven, create strong abstract shapes. The photographs were particularly daring because they broke nudity, homosexual and racist taboos of the time.”
George Platt Lynes recounted the photo session in a letter:
“I photographed them together in all sorts of close-contact suggestive sentimental sensuous poses—-but no (what Dr. K. [Kinsey] would call) action pictures. (Leaphart) would have been willing, but I thought (Buddy) wouldn’t…But then we all went back to (the apartment) where everything did happen…and the sight of that big black boy screwing that super-naked little white bundle of brawn was one of the finest I’ve ever seen”
I was unable to find additional information about John Leapheart (sometimes spelled Leaphart), aside from his professional and personal involvement with Platt Lynes, where he is always described in the most flattering terms.
Buddy McCarthy is easier to trace, as there is a current (1997) photo in Pioneering Male Nudes along with an update on his life after his association with Platt Lynes, who died of lung cancer at age 48 in 1955.
In 1966, Buddy and his partner Ned Kell opened Treasures and Trifles, an antique shop on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village, where they stayed in business for 44 years. The website Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York covered their retirement in 2010.
The note in their shop window at 409 Bleecker Street read:
After 44 years in the village, East & West, and 26 Years at this location, we’ve decided to fold our tent and move-on to the next phase of our lives.
It’s not because of a vindictive, greedy landlord, nor because of a Shylock Attorney. On the contrary, our landlady is every storeowner’s dream come true! An honest, caring landlady, a true Villager -born and raised in the Village.
It’s too bad that this generation never experienced the Village of yore. Bleecker Street was world-renowned for its variety of antique shops, visited by the likes of Jackie & Ari, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler, etc. Bette Midler lived up to her name: “Divine!”.
We’re saddened at leaving our friends and neighbors such as Leo Design’s Kimo, John, Ed & Kyle, and Barry & Arlington. They all helped us, shoveling snow and lifting the gates.
Adieu, Ned & Buddy
Ned Kell died 2 years later. Buddy McCarthy passed away at the age of 91 on 11/19/2017. They are buried together in Peabody, Massachusetts.
You can see my post about Ted Starkowski, another George Platt Lynes model, here.