Appx 650 words
Beefcake before Blueboy
The Body Politic, Issue 90, Jan / Feb 1983
This article, originally titled "Beefcake with no labels attached," ran as a sidebar to "A Heritage of Pornography," the first of two articles by Tom Waugh on the gay film and still- photo collections of the Kinsey Institute. The second appeared in The Body Politic in March 1984.
I first encountered Physique Pictorial in 1960. Several issues were thrown amongst the magazine collection of Top's Barber Shop, hidden behind a variety store on Queen Mary Road in Montreal. The six barbers were -- or so I vaguely remember -- not the least bit embarrassed at having these things about, let alone that a young boy would be flipping through them.
Homophile publications such as One and Mattachine Review were available in the '50s and '60s, but were usually considered too political or too obvious (and of course not racy enough) for most gay readers. Even when blatantly erotic, physique magazines were excused (one is not sure how successfully) as works for those interested in bodybuilding, art or nudism -- anything to avoid labels being applied to the purchasers.
In the late '50s, there was a definite parting of ways between "physique" and serious muscle- building mags. In Montreal, for example, Joseph E Weider had been publishing Muscle Power: The Body Builder Magazine and Your Physique ("For men who want strength -- personality -- mental efficiency") since 1939; both managed to satisfy the two audiences. But by this time he'd gone on to publish obviously homoerotic magazines like Demi-Gods as well.
George Quaintance, the painter / photographer of gay iconography (whose postcards of cowboys, sailors and Greek soldiers are now famous) was Your Physique's art director in 1948, and in fact later moved on to Physique Pictorial.
Physique: A Pictorial History of the Athletic Model Guild, just released by Gay Sunshine Press, was to be the first retrospective of a single physique company. Beware! The subtitle tells it all -- what you get for $18.95 (US) is 88 pages of photos and (only) three pages of text, in which Timothy Lewis gives a very brief sketch of the Guild's history.
We find out that in Los Angeles in 1945, editor Bob Mizer and two friends decided to enter the mail-order physique field, using things like washtubs and vacuum cleaner hoses as makeshift photography equipment. At that time, apparently, LA claimed its share of eager boys and anxious kids just dying to be discovered.
"Bob," Lewis writes, "did all his initial recruiting personally, visiting local gymnasiums and muscle beaches, setting up his tripod in athletes' sporting hang-outs.... Flattered with the attention, men and boys were quite willing to flaunt their athletic prowess for the camera."
Disappointment set in as few made it in the harsh competition, yet many stuck out the years in the California sun. Lewis gets it right when he describes the models as "dedicated bodybuilders... husky men muscled by hard labor, movie star hopefuls, drifters and an assortment of boy-next-door types."
Lewis claims that the magazine featured a healthy variety of types of men, unlike the muscle-bound and over-endowed models in modern soft-core magazines (though the boys next door to me never looked this hunky!).
Until the late '60s, the territory for erotic male imagery was divided between under-the- counter hard-core publications and the relatively "innocent" physique magazines. But the latter faced serious competition when mainstream magazines like Playgirl and Viva began providing unabashedly erotic male nudity; perhaps because they were catering (officially) to a heterosexual clientele, they were not subject to the stringencies magazines like Physique were forced to adhere to.
The later emergence of straightforwardly gay erotica like Mandate and In Touch proved to be the last straw. Physique Pictorial has now become nostalgia.
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