In Memoriam: Chuck Renslow

 

 

Young Chuck Renslow


Chuck Renslow, a legendary figure in LGBTQ history, passed away on June 30, 2017, at the age of 87. 

The the whole leather contest circuit actually began in a leather bar, the famous/infamous Gold Coast founded by Renslow. I know one person who remembers this bar; he is in his eighties (hard to believe). 

Much has been written on this place of LGBT history already; I’ll just add that it seems to be the granddaddy of places where like-minded men could meet others who shared their sexuality. 

Much of what is perhaps now the traditional dynamic of gay leather bars originated there: the leather biker look, the rough sex and BDSM, the hypermasculinity revealed in the famous artwork of Etienne aka Dom Orejudos, lover of Renslow now displayed in the Leather Archives and Museum
 

Gold Coast Mural

The Gold Coast closed in 1988 (alas, I never went there) at the 5025 North Clark location, having moved from its original location at 501 North Clark Street. Renslow later opened the Chicago Eagle in the 1990s; I remember the entrance being the inside of a truck, and the basement Pit. 

I actually consider this place my “coming out” bar as a leatherman. I was flogged in public down there, my first big BDSM scene. The Eagle closed in the early 2000s; the last time I went there was 2007; by that time the totally hot Pit had closed. 

Without Renslow's pioneering efforts that date back to the times when homoerotic muscle magazines were considered obscene by the government, the LGBTQ leather community might not even exist; in fact, he always showed the courage to navigate and eventually surmount oppressive political and social systems in that pre-Stonewall time when to even operate a gay bar one had to pay off the Mafia, when gay sex itself was illegal, a crime against nature. 

I consider his immense legacy (just look at his obituary) an inspiration, not just to LGBTQ persons, but to any marginalized group fighting for the right to full human dignity. 

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Mars: The First Gay Leather Magazine

 

MARS:
THE FIRST GAY LEATHER MAGAZINE

 
Chuck Renslow

Chuck Renslow, gay activist and a pioneering figure of the gay leather community, founded Mars magazine in May of 1963. Renslow definitely pushed the homoerotic envelope of his time with this cutting-edge vintage gay physique publication that was instrumental in both creating and disseminating the image of the gay leatherman. 

The magazine combines the classic smooth muscle jock physiques of the physique magazines with what became the iconic image of the gay leatherman: a super- or hypermasculine look emphasizing a well-developed physique, oftentimes facial hair, a generous endowment, and motorcycle gear: heavy boots and jacket. 

It featured art by Tom of Finland and Dom Orejudos aka the artist Etienne and Renslow’s partner, among others. Several of the models hailed from Renslow’s photography or “physique house,” Kris Studio. 

Renslow discovered many of his models, such as Ralph Kleiner and Paul Ferguson (one of the murderers of silent film legend Ramon Navarro) at bodybuilding circuit competitions such as Mr. Chicago. 
 

Ralph Kleiner wrestling

Contents of one of the last issues, Issue 21, September 1966: 

Mars magazine, September 1966

 

This issue still offers an article on physical culture entitled “Exercising the Abdomen,” focusing on leg raises: short on text, larger on pics of a naked guy doing them (no posing strap in site, the genitalia deftly covered by the camera angle and the position of the legs; note the hint of pubic hair). Pretty desultory compared to the much more detailed articles that appeared in the more conventional physique magazines of the period. But the point is the picture, really, by this stage of the game! 


The editorial on page three and on pages 42-47 shows the still difficult issues with censorship, despite the MANual vs. O'Day decision in 1962. The text reports that Ralph Ginzburg, producer of the erotic magazines Eros and Liason (the text reads “artistically produced”) another covering term for these types of publications), was convicted on a charge of mailing obscene materials in 1963. The prosecutor was the late great Robert Kennedy; wow! 

The above tidbit shows how one is continually uncovering parts of history that change one's view of a famous personage around which certain myths develop. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a 5 to 4 decision. The text also gives detailed analysis of the different judges' reasonings for their decision. The argument's thrust here is the ruling's unconstitutionality, despite the nuances of the judge's interpretation of this First Amendment issue 

Guild Book Services, one of the few openly gay companies during this time period, offers their usual insert in this magazine. The review of the book Homosexual: Personal Case Histories of Homosexuals is most interesting, as it seems to offer, for the reviewer, a really wild gamut of deviations (including BDSM), distasteful but without an overtly moralistic commentary. Though the comments of the psychiatrists that accompany these stories probably endorse the gay equals sick hypothesis prevalent during this period, which one could definitely claim is supported by the unusual evidence here! 

This issue, focusing on a motorcycle theme, contains stunning homoerotic leather/fetish art by Luger, Orsen, and Tom of Finland. On pages 10-11, there is a classic Etienne,which he painted for a local bistro in Chicago (the legendary Gold Coast Bar?). 
 

Gold Coast Bar mural - Etienne

 

Pictures from the movie Motorcycle Hero (take of more of the clothes and one would have a gay porn movie, but then, in this case, the leather gear would stay on). A young man dons his sleeping friend's (what a woofy hunk) leather gear ... and ... much is left to the imagination. 


The magazine ceased publication in 1966 or 1967. 

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