The preservation of an essential piece of gay history has been assured by the purchase of nearly one million Athletic Model Guild negatives, slides and movies by Californian AMG fan and photographer Dennis Bell.
He's bought the entire estate of Bob Mizer, founder of AMG, for an undisclosed sum and will reform the company. Mizer and AMG were immortalised for a new gay generation in the book and film Beefcake, which dramatised the rise and fall of AMG who specialised in all-male physique and erotica in the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Dennis Bell (right) is a male photographer in his own right, and founder of the Bob Mizer Foundation website which celebrates vintage gay erotica.

Now an icon of gay history, AMG founder Bob Mizer was a trailblazer in fighting the strict censorship laws of the mid twentieth century which permitted female, but not male, nudity in photography. Since Mizer's death in 1992, the slides, negatives and other assets of his estate have been in the custody of Wayne Stanley, one of Mizer's legal advisers and friends. During that time, licenses have been given periodically to publish, reproduce, sell or exhibit some of Mizer's work.

The commercial release of the mainstream film Beefcake introduced Mizer and his work to millions of moviegoers. But for thousands of service men and others, Mizer was no stranger. "Soldiers, sailors and marines knew that if they came through Hollywood, they could pick up an extra fifty bucks by posing for Bob," said Bell. In addition, Mizer photographed thousands of gay and straight men of all descriptions. His subjects included motion picture and television actors, waiters, motorcyclists, college men, construction workers, California surfer boys and mid-Western farm hands just off the bus and searching for fame and fortune in Hollywood.

"Bob Mizer's photographs span the entire gamut of masculinity," says Bell, "and the alphabet as well, from George Abagian to Dick Ziglar. There were names we may recognize: TV Star Glenn Corbett went on to star in 77 Sunset Strip after Bob photographed him; Ed Fury was in a number of films and TV shows (including Columbo, South Pacific and The Wild Women Of Wongo) Dick Dubois was pictured in Life magazine as a member of the Las Vegas cast of Mae West's show. Estimates are that Bob photographed more than 10,000 men over his forty-five year career."
Bell has the difficult but enviable task now of cataloguing the negatives, prints and slides. "I expect it will take three years or more," Bell adds. "It will be a massive undertaking to assure these irreplaceable treasures and relics of gay history and male photography are preserved and treated with the respect they deserve."
Bell is developing a plan to exhibit and market the photographs, many of which have never been seen by the public. "Even in 2020, we Americans have tremendous hang-ups about frontal male nudity in photography. But remember, at the time Bob was taking some of these photographs, this kind of photography wasn't the subject of a 'hang-up' -- it was illegal. Some physique photographers did prison time for a single pubic hair visible in their work," Bell says. "I think there will be a number of pleasant surprises as this imagery resurfaces into modern gay culture."
The reborn Athletic Model Guild will soon be re-releasing the classic 8mm films on DVD together with new productions too. "In the new films we'll be connecting the innocence of Mizer's past work with the expectations and ideals of today's gay audience." The new company will keep the historic name. According to new owner Bell, "It is far too important a name, with the attendant mythology, to give up."
For more about the era of the Athletic Model Guild and a gallery of original physique photos click here.

For more about the Bob Mizer Foundation website click here.

Beefcake(18) is available from Amazon and at your local DVD stockist.

The book Beefcake is also available direct from Amazon.


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