In 1953 The Wild One was released. It starred Marlon Brando, looking for all the world like a Tom of Finland drawing come to life, as the leader of a rough-and-tumble motorcycle gang. In 1955 James Dean became the icon of troubled youth in Rebel Without a Cause. And at the same time Tom of Finland was working on his iconic drawings of leathermen that he would submit to Physique Pictorial in 1956.
The mood in America was taking a rebellious turn. The leather and motorcycle zeitgeist was in full bloom. Gay men had become a part of the post-World War II biker culture in the '40s. Leather bars were springing up in major cities and simultaneously, it seems, pioneering gay motorcycle clubs were formed: the Satyrs, established in Los Angeles in 1954; Oedipus, also established in Los Angeles, in 1958; the New York Motorbike Club and early San Francisco clubs, including the Warlocks and the California Motor Club, started as well. Leather clubs for gay men opened in Amsterdam and Berlin in the 1950s.
This was a counterculture within a counterculture. The men who were drawn to the scene weren't so much into camp, show tunes, and cashmere sweaters. The soul of the scene was a masculine independence.