The Golden Age of Denial: Homoerotic Military Recruitment Art of the Last Century

Leyendecker Navy recruitment poster
More shirtless phallic stuff. Remember, this is made for men who want to be with other men.

BY CHRISTOPHER HARRITY at the Advocate

Leyendecker military art

Military recruitment art, and advertising that used military images was produced by men to appeal to men. Sweaty, shirtless men in intimate situations with other sweaty muscular men were rendered to attract impressionable men of age to enlist. So why do they look so homoerotic to the modern eye? Certainly artists like J.C. Leyendecker were openly gay. Pin up artist McClelland Barclay had his hand deep in the gay cookie jar. Also check out the Advocate‘s series on The Golden Age of Denial: Bible Porn.

Above: J.C. Leyendecker (March 23, 1874 – July 25, 1951): This prolific American illustrator was the creator of the Arrow Collar Man, and like the later illustrator Norman Rockwell, Leyendecker is almost exclusively associated with one publication: The Saturday Evening Post. Leyendecker produced over 400 magazine covers, 322 for the Post alone. Between the Post, his work for U.S. military campaign posters and promotions, and his art for men’s fashion companies — most notably the Arrow Shirt Collar Co. — Leyendecker created a gold mine of male beauty. His lucrative commissions financed a hedonistic Roaring Twenties lifestyle with his lover and favorite model, Charles Beach.

His renderings of American military men are almost worshipful in detail, and deeply sentimental. But past the heroic posturing, there is a sensual, sexual message that comes through, as above in this almost Byronic portrait.

For more of his work see  the Advocate‘s earlier article: Before the Dawn of Tom

Upon viewing military recruitment art of the last century, the whole “don’t ask, don’t tell” thing seems a little naive.

Collier’s magazine cover
With our post-Stonewall gaze, it’s hard to imagine this Collier’s cover not being sexual. The first of many images of bare-chested men thrusting giant phallic symbols.

Leyendecker Navy recruitment poster
More shirtless phallic stuff. Remember, this is made for men who want to be with other men.

Leyendecker military art
The lady seems remote and virginal, while the men have knowing smirks and grins. Check out the direction of the sight lines. She is an afterthought among randy military men working the rail.

Barclay Navy art

Gun Crew Loading a 5″ 38 Caliber Gun, McClelland Barclay, oil on canvas, 1940-42

McClelland Barclay (1891–1942) was an American painter of pinup art. Born in St. Louis in 1891, Barclay studied first at the Art Institute of Chicago, then later at the Art Students League in New York City, under George Bridgman and Thomas Fogarty. By the time he was 21, Barclay’s work had been published in The Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal, andCosmopolitan.

In 1917, during World War I he was awarded a prize by the Committee on National Preparedness for his poster Fill the Breach. The next year, he designed naval camouflage under the direction of William Mackay, chief of the New York District Emergency Fleet Corporation.

During the 1920s and 1930s, McClelland Barclay’s images were selected for use by art directors for the nation’s most popular periodicals including Collier’s, Country Gentleman, Redbook, Pictorial Review, Coronet, Country Life, The Saturday Evening Post, The Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, and a host of movie magazines. He began painting movie poster art for Hollywood studios during the 1930s as well and was considered a superstar in the film industry. (Wikipedia)

This really outrageous series of Cannon towel ads pushed all limits: a frat boy–South Pacific–all-male orgy scenario. For Ladies’ Home Journal?

Towel ad, detail
What war? We need to put on a show with Cannon towels! Naked. With no women.

Soap ad
Seems sailors have some unconscious connection with soap in the American psyche. Or mass nude bathing. Not sure.

Underwear style/brand is called Scandals.

Venereal disease poster
Besides the misogyny it looks as though these two swabbies may be in for a long physical struggle, or tango. See Paul Cadmus in Before the Dawn of Tom.

Popular Sports magazine cover

 

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