Buying Gay: How Physique Entrepreneurs Sparked a Movement
by David K. Johnson
Columbia University Press. 320 pages, $32.
In his history of early American physique photographers, David K. Johnson maintains that they were not just a byproduct of the early homophile movement, but a catalyst to it. These entrepreneurs supported the movement financially and by fighting the legal battles that liberated it. The story begins in Los Angeles with Bob Mizer (1922–1991) and his Athletic Model Guild. Mizer fought the postal authorities and went to prison for his work. He photographed well over a thousand models, with whom he had great rapport. In his best photos and movies, the models seem proud and happy to be displaying their bodies. Others in Buying Gay include Greenberg Publishers (founded 1931), which published early gay novels and The Homosexual in America, by “Donald Webster Cory” (pseudonym for Edward Sagarin). There were Randolph Benson and John Bullock and their Grecian Guild, which envisaged a comprehensive gay community. Lynn Womack built a gay empire and successfully took on the viciously anti-gay postal authorities. And there was Directory Services, Inc. (DSI), founded in 1963, which won a court decision against the Post Office—a landmark victory for gay rights. Johnson concludes: “The business of producing and disseminating homoerotic images helped forge a movement.” This book tells an important part gay history.
A longer piece on this topic will appear in a forthcoming issue of this magazine.