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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International Mr. Leather -- 34 Years!

It's always hard to believe when you start thinking about dates and chronologies and discover that 1979 was more than 30 years ago. Stonewall was more than 40 years ago! For me, I remember those years well. From the beginning of video, to all those bar contests, now there is the Internet with its fetish sites, and even Grinder. But International Mr. Leather, which is also known as IML, is still here; it's an event where you still meet like-minded people face to face. 

International Mr. Leather is the world's oldest international leather and fetish event on record. Started in the 1970s as a contest, "Mr. Gold Coast Leather," at a Chicago gay leather bar called the Gold Coast, under the aegis of its owner, Chuck Renslow, who still presides over this great event known as IML. In 1979, the event moved to a larger venue, and became International Mr. Leather, held at the Chicago Radisson Hotel. The first International Mr. Leather was David Kloss, one of twelve contestants.


Since that time period, the contest has mushroomed into an event of massive proportions. IML features a leather/fetish vendor market, the International Mister Bootblack Contest, and a multitude of sex/fetish parties hosted by various organizations, dances and socials, and related sexual, fetish, leather events. The contest reportedly brings in an estimated $10 million dollars to the city of Chicago in tourism revenue. In today's world gay culture has become more accepted and integrated into the larger society, this fetish event in itself has become more diverse with hardcore gay leathermen mix with "bicurious hipsters" and tourists.


But what really makes this year's event historic is the President's pronouncement on gay marriage. Related to this context, given that gay marriage is legal in several states, two of the contestants are married. Even more significantly, according to one source, two civil unions will occur this year at the event. This is exciting! 

Bijou Video and Theater this year once again will have a booth at the Vendor Mart. Stop by and check out our unique collection of vintage gay porn, some of which dates back to the 1960s, as well as to the origins of IML. As part of your Bijou IML experience, take a picture of yourself as a pornstar in one of our four porn scenes. To everyone this IML Memorial Day weekend, be safe and enjoy the party.





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