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#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

#TBT: The Mid-Century Paradise of George Quaintance

Despite the absence of real cowboys and livestock at the Rancho, the casual and abundant nudity — though never frontal — of Quaintance’s paintings was a reality. Quaintance sketched his models in the nude, Victor photographed them in the nude, and as stated in the previous chapter, at least two sources claim that Quaintance himself painted while nude. In the photographs Quaintance advertised and sold, either the models wore posing straps or they were positioned so that their genitals were concealed. Victor did indeed take photographs showing full frontal nudity, but these were never publicly advertised, being reserved for a private customer list. Surviving examples are both scarce and valuable.

During Quaintance’s lifetime, the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to come up with the Miller Test for obscenity, and nearly anyone who was offended by an image could declare it obscene. It was permissible, but daring, to show a man’s buttocks, but frontal nudity was a big no-no, as was any suggestion of homoeroticism. Even if a man wore the obligatory posing strap, “excessive genital delineation” — or even a stray pubic hair — could be cause for legal trouble. The Postmaster General, who was then a member of the President’s Cabinet, vigorously pursued and prosecuted anyone who used the U.S. mail to send images displaying frontal male nudity. Courts of the day still adjudged penises to be obscene. One of Quaintance’s former neighbors wrote that “GQ would never sell the full nude photos b/c he was too scared of being arrested, so he would give them away to friends.” There is no evidence, however, that Quaintance gave such photos away, and his shrewd business sense argues that he probably did not.

Existing preliminary sketches for Quaintance’s paintings, however, show the models without attempting to conceal their genitals. Quaintance would eventually add a censoring flourish in the finished canvases. While he was working, however, he would paint the penises as he would any other detail. Sometimes he or Victor would take a snapshot of the canvas at this intermediate stage. A few of these snapshots exist, but they are extremely scarce. There exist photos of Island Boy before the seagull’s interfering wing was painted; of Thunderhead without the cowboy boot masking George Coberly’s crotch; and of Morning before the cascading soap suds covered the bather’s crotch. Others probably exist.

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Above: Full-sized sketch transferred to the canvas for Bacchant.

Among their friends, members of the Quaintance household counted Zaro Rossi and Jim Glasper, who modeled for several paintings each. Quaintance claimed that young Glasper had themost ideally shaped buttocks possible for a man to have. Glasper posed for all four of the foreground figures in Saturday Night. A friend of Quaintance, who lived nearby, reported that Tom, Victor, George and Edwardo “were very quiet and never part of the bar crowd.” Even Victor’s nephew, who was still a boy in the 1950s, remembers George as being “not terrible sociable.” This conflicts with stories of others, such as Rusty Warren, who knew Quaintance at that time. The same friend also claimed that photographs of his own home (whose previous owner was the Maricopa County Sheriff) were later “used for background to some of [George’s] paintings — the Indian rugs on my living room floor match [the ones pictured in After the Hunt].”

When entertaining guests from out-of-town, Quaintance liked to take them to the Stockyards Restaurant. The restaurant still exists, and it still serves food. Now 67 years old, it is the oldest continuously operating restaurant in Arizona. The Stockyards offered perfect local color for a Rancho Siesta experience, being located adjacent to a massive stockyard, where cattle were penned before being shipped off to slaughter, and just north of a meat rendering plant. The aromas must have been powerful! The Rose Room of the Stockyards is flanked by period murals and one is compelled to wonder whether George ever offered to “improve” on them. The Reverend Bob Wood has vivid memories of dining there with George during his visits.

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Parr of Arizona (catalog ad pictured at right) was a Phoenix-based business that sold swimwear and “Muscle-Man Gear” to guys who were not afraid to flaunt it. It was started as a mail-order business in 1955, by an enterprising fellow named Ralph Parachek, who needed money for college. His philosophy was “to offer something that can’t be found anywhere else.” In its heyday, Parr of Arizona had physical stores in Los Angeles, West Hollywood and San Diego. Parr of Arizona advertised in many of the same physique publications as did the Quaintance Studio, even at the same time. Parr and Quaintance were practically neighbors, and they used some of the same models, such as Jim Shoemaker. So it seemed an inevitable assumption that they would at least be on each other’s radar. That, however, may never be known. The Parr owners were happy to meet and talk with the authors of this biography, but no one currently employed at Parr had a memory that went back far enough, and the hand-written records of the company’s early days were destroyed in a fire. Parachek himself died in 1980, but his company lives on. Today, it calls itself Nu-Parr.

Quaintance continued to travel back and forth between Los Angeles and Phoenix. He augmented his income by painting portraits of Los Angeles matrons and socialites, and sometimes their children. In a 1952 letter to his grandmother, Quaintance mentions that he is still painting portraits. He says of his painting in general, “I love my work. This is what I should have been doing all my life.” By the end of 1952, in which year alone he created 14 new male physique canvases, in addition to portrait commissions, Quaintance had produced 30 paintings in his male physique series, but not sold a single one. Yet he could still write, in an April 1953 letter to the Reverend Robert Wood, “Business has grown to fantastic proportions in the last few months and truly I’m practically out of my mind trying to keep up with it.”

George wasn’t exaggerating. Much of what kept him busy was marketing. Although his paintings — apart from portrait commissions — were not in demand, there was a huge demand for other output from the Quaintance Studio. You couldn’t pick up a male physique magazine in the 1950s without seeing ads for Quaintance’s catalogs, model photo sets, paintings, chromes and sculptures. His mailing list, which was meticulously kept by hand in that pre-computer age, was said to contain more than 20,000 names. Quaintance’s business acumen was keen, and he did a brilliant job of exploiting the niche that existed in the consumer marketplace for gay beefcake. He advertised in dozens of physique and muscle periodicals, including some magazines whose lifespan was but one or two issues. He advertised in foreign language publications in Europe and South America, as well. To many of those magazines he offered photographs of his paintings or his models, or feature articles, in trade for advertising.

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