Military recruitment art, and advertising that used military images was produced by men to appeal to men. Sweaty, shirtless men in intimate situations with other sweaty muscular men were rendered to attract impressionable men of age to enlist. So why do they look so homoerotic to the modern eye? Was that the intent? Certainly artists like J.C. Leyendecker were openly gay. What about McClelland Barclay? Like this stuff? See the first in our series on The Golden Age of Denial: Bible Porn.
Above: J.C. Leyendecker (March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951): This prolific American illustrator was the creator of the Arrow Collar Man, and like the later illustrator Norman Rockwell, Leyendecker is almost exclusively associated with one publication: The Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker produced over 400 magazine covers, 322 for the Post alone. Between the Post, his work for U.S. military campaign posters and promotions, and his art for men’s fashion companies — most notably the Arrow Shirt Collar Co. — Leyendecker created a gold mine of male beauty. His lucrative commissions financed a hedonistic Roaring Twenties lifestyle with his lover and favorite model, Charles Beach.
His renderings of American military men are almost worshipful in detail, and deeply sentimental. But past the heroic posturing, there is a sensual, sexual message that comes through, as above in this almost Byronic portrait.
For more of his work see our earlier article: Before the Dawn of Tom
Hero worship from two generations. Aside from the fresh-faced innocence here, there is also a message of despair in the loss of a generation.
Verging on kinky, one can alomost hear the salesman whisper, "If the gentleman is paying, why not take the vicuna."
With our post-Stonewall gaze, it's hard to imagine this Collier's cover not being sexual. The first of many images of bare-chested men thrusting giant phallic symbols.
And what does it offer, exactly? Besides a spectacular view of a sailor rampant, legs spread, with an adoring swabbie gazing up at what we're fighting for.
More shirtless phallic stuff. Remember, this is made for men who want to be with other men.
The lady seems remote and virginal, while the men have knowing smirks and grins. Check out the direction of the sight lines. She is an afterthought among randy military men working the rail.
One marine straddling another marine, prone and vulnerable. Wanna join up?
Gun Crew Loading a 5" 38 Caliber Gun, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1940-42
McClelland Barclay (1891–1942) was an American painter of pinup art. Born in St. Louis in 1891, Barclay studied first at the Art Institute of Chicago, then later at the Art Students League in New York City, under George Bridgman and Thomas Fogarty. By the time he was 21, Barclay's work had been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies' Home Journal, and Cosmopolitan.
In 1917, during World War I he was awarded a prize by the Committee on National Preparedness for his poster Fill the Breach. The next year, he designed naval camouflage under the direction of William Mackay, chief of the New York District Emergency Fleet Corporation.
During the 1920s and 1930s, McClelland Barclay's images were selected for use by art directors for the nation's most popular periodicals including Collier's, Country Gentleman, Redbook, Pictorial Review, Coronet, Country Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies' Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and a host of movie magazines. He began painting movie poster art for Hollywood studios during the 1930s as well and was considered a superstar in the film industry. (Wikipedia)
Fight, Let's Go - Join the Navy, McClelland Barclay poster, 1941
Two Naval Officers Shooting the Sun by McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1941
The junior officer on the right is using a sextant to take a navigational reading, a task referred to aboard ship as "shooting the sun." Before the days of global positioning, sailors used a sextant to measure the angle between the horizon and the noontime sun and thereby help determine latitude.
The painting depicts a sun-drenched male ideal. Not shell-heaving shirtless enlisted men, these are refined, well-bred officers enjoying male priviledge.
General Quarters, Battle Stations, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1940-42
4" 50 Caliber Mark XII Gun Crew in Action, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1942
Sailor Loading Fixed Ammunition, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1942
Barclay's sailors are notable for their square jaws, well-defined muscles, and exceptional physiques. Theron MacKay, gunner's mate, recalls meeting Barclay in 1943:
"Me and another crew member were cleaning a gun, so we were bare from the waist up. Barclay had his sketchpad and was drawing us. Being an amateur artist myself, I took an interest in what he was doing and asked could I look over his shoulder? Well, he made us look like the finest human specimens that ever were! Really, we were skinny kids with our ribs hanging out. I said to him, 'I don't look like that!' and he answered, 'Well, if I sketched you like you are, it wouldn't make much of recruiting poster, now would it?'"
Protect Your Future — Learn a Trade, McClelland Barclay poster, 1941
Sailor Smashing Identification Models of Japanese and German Aircraft, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1940-42
The American sailor as a muscle-bound King Kong smashing the enemy raises his stature to superhero. McClelland knew how to appeal to men who wanted to see themseleves as invincible.
Drive Home the Punch — Join the Navy, McClelland Barclay, conté crayon on paper, 1942-43
This sketch shows the military man at his most animalistic and brutal — and sexual.
Jack Benny and McClelland Barclay. Barclay was evidently a sophiticated and elegant man, a little reminiscent of Frank Nelson, the perpetual floorwalker in Benny's TV show. Barclay also designed exquisite women's jewelry.
Other advertisements, besides recruiting posters, used military men for their easygoing appeal. Above: a cozy scene of bathroom intimacy.
This really outrageous series of Cannon towel ads pushed all limits: a frat boy–South Pacific–all-male orgy scenario. For Ladies' Home Journal?
What war? We need to put on a show with Cannon towels! Naked. With no women.
This ad would never make it past the pubisher at The Advocate. Hope it doesn't get censored here.
Seems sailors have some unconscious connection with soap in the American psyche. Or mass nude bathing. Not sure.
Please note: Underwear style/brand is called Scandals.
Besides the misogyny (Really? It's the woman who transimits the disease?) it looks as though these two swabbies may be in for a long physical struggle, or tango. See Paul Cadmus in Before the Dawn of Tom.
Get a room.
Marines love action, we hear.
What're you looking at, huh?
Because you need to see more shirtless men handling things that are longer than they are wide. Keep your eyes on the artillery, boys, and stop making goo-goo faces at each other.
The British also knew what men want: men.
Sometimes a giant flesh-colored rocket is just a way to appeal to men who want to serve their country. What? Are you unpatriotic?
Like this stuff? See the first in our series on The Golden Age of Denial: Bible Porn.