Apr 28, 2016

Burt Reynolds Naked on a Bear Skin Rug

The most famous male nude photos in history:
1. Johnny Crawford's full-frontal nude shot advertising The Naked Ape (1973).
2. Burt Reynolds's nude centerfold in the April 1972 issue of Cosmopolitan

The 36-year old actor specialized in serious dramatic roles, mostly Westerns about surly, downtrodden Native Americans (Navajo Joe, 100 Rifles, Sam Whiskey).  He had just finished filming Deliverance (1972), about four big-city businesmen who go camping in rural Appalachia, and encounter slack-jawed, gap-toothed hillbilly savages.  He expected it to get him a best-actor Oscar and acclaim as a serious actor.

Then Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown approached Paul Newman about doing a nude centerfold.  He refused, so she approached Burt.

Burt lay supine on a bearskin rug in a parody of the popular baby photos, grinning mischievously, coyly hiding his sex organs.  It was not an erotic photo.

But it was groundbreaking.  Nude male photography was still in its infancy -- only a few years ago, it was judged de facto obscene.  This was the first time that any man had ever appeared nude in a mainstream publication.

It was a victory for women's liberation.  Helen Gurley Brown reminisced: "Men liked to look at women naked.  Nobody talked about it, but women liked to look at men naked."  A few months later, Douglas Lambert was inspired by the photo to launch Playgirl magazine, featuring pictures of naked men: "It came to me -- that's what women want."

Both of them were disgustingly heterosexist, trying their best to pretend that they were unaware that  some men like to look at men naked, too.   But men were watching.  Burt Reynolds became a gay icon without ever playing a gay character.

The photo made Burt a celebrity, but kept him from being taken seriously as an actor.  Deliverance was snubbed at the Oscars, and he spent the 1970s in Southern-Redneck comedies like White Lightning (1973), Hooper (1978), The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982)and the Smokey and the Bandit series (1977, 1980, 1983), often with his bff Bert Convy.

It has been recreated by  many other celebrities, including Neil Patrick Harris and Mario Lopez.

See also: Bert Convy: Spending the 1970s Nude

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