AMG: When Rough Trade Was King


Back in the early '60's when all there was was Playboy, and gay guys had to make due with "physique" magazines, the closest anyone got to cock were photos of men in Speedos, strategically lit to show off right-slung outlines.

You had to flip to the back of the mag to find the good stuff -- the ads from the Athletic Model Guild. For a few bucks you could send away for these photo sets of "sailors" in posing straps or hard-knock kids in nothing but motorcycle caps or musclemen in "art studies" of Greco-Roman statuary.

It all came from the fertile mind and itchy camera-finger of Bob Mizer. He ran the entire operation from his home, placed -- also strategically -- a block or two from the Rough Trade Heaven that was Hollywood Boulevard.

In the coffee shops or hanging out at the magazine stands or just idling on bus benches waiting for something to break, the street trade that Mizer scouted out were often down on their luck, low on their cash and totally for sale. It just took money -- though not much. Mizer usually gave them a good meal as well, and a place to crash. He had a rep on the Boulevard for having a big heart and being an easy touch.

Mizer believed he was creating art, and there is a sweet air of low-brow kitsch to these photos. Like the man himself, the work is quite sincere in its aspirations to classical art and regal pageantry -- you'll note that the royal trappings, at top, are actually beach blankets and glitter fabric. This was Hollywood, after all -- not Versailles.

His photo sets spawned movie shorts, as well as a one-of-a-kind business that turned a reliable profit. Mizer eventually employed his entire family in the Athletic Model Guild. His brother was the accountant, and his mom happily ran up posing pouches on her sewing machine. She didn't mind the many house guests or their abrupt departures or even that they partyed near- naked in a yard full of props that resembled the blacklot of a movie set. Mom had only one rule, no total nudity around the pool.

The collected works of the Athletic Model Guild -- often neglected by scholars yet essential to the sexual history of generations of gay men -- was on the verge of being lost when Dennis Bell stepped in last year and bought the entire Mizer estate. (Mizer died in 1992.) A former Falcon photographer (and model), Bell has carefully catalogued AMG's more than one million black-&-white negatives, color slides, tapes, films, and magazines. He will present them gradually each month on his newly created Athletic Model Guild website.

"The site will never be complete," admits Bell. "Our goal is to add and update at least twice a week. At the moment we already have over 1,000 photos up." One of Nightcharm's favorite features on the site is the Gay Time Line:

"The time line covers the last 60 years," says Bell, "aligning events of major importance for us as gay men with the development of the Athletic Model Guild. I think it's particularly important now when we seem to be revving up for renewed censorship battles.

The time line shows how far we've come in breaking down the barriers for adults to view the things they want to view."

"Bob Mizer led the attack on those barriers," Bell adds proudly. "He served jail time. He fought the postal authorities. He should be honored as a hero by those of us who enjoy seeing beautiful men naked."