May 3, 2018

Tony Sansone: Jazz Age Bodybuilder and Gay Icon

Born in 1905 in New York City, son of Sicilian immigrants, Tony Sansone began working out at age 14, and drew the attention of physical culturalist Bernar McFadden and early strength-and-health advocate Charles Atlas.  This was before the days of professional bodybuilding, but still, Tony was entranced by the "rags to riches" stories of the Jazz Age, and found a way to make money from his physique:  he began modeling for photographs and selling them via mail order.

Who was interested in photos of a muscular man in a posing strap, or fully nude?  Mostly gay men.

How did he get around the Comstock Act?  Apparently his body was so perfectly symmetrical that it looked like a sculpture.  Works of art could be nude.

He became nearly as famous as Charles Atlas himself, sought out by artists like Arthur Lee ("Rhythm," 1930), praised as "the most beautiful man in America," compared to film star Rudolph Valentino.

In the late 1920s, Tony began expanding his enterprises, publishing photo books like Nudleafs and Modern Classics.  He also performed in films and on stage and opened his own gyms, but his first love was always modeling, displaying his body for aesthetic and erotic appreciation.

He lived through the "man-mountain" era of bodybuilding in the 1940s and 1950s, but continued to pose in the old-fashioned lithe, limber style, to be admired for his beauty rather than his bulk.

He lived through the Gay Liberation Era of the 1970s, and into the age of AIDS, knowing that most of the men who collected his photographs were gay.

No hint of Tony's own sexual identity, although he did have a wife and two kids.

Later in life he moved to St. Louis to be close to his son.  He died in 1987.

There are nude photos on Tales of West Hollywood.

1 comment:

  1. Private shippers were another way. Near the end of its life, porno mags used private delivery to get around the Comstock Act.

    Most muscle models who posed nude included diet and workout tips. The nude photos could be anatomical education, or artistic, for costumed pics.

    There were photos of erections, mind, traded underground. (Many physique magazines functioned as agencies, where artists could hire the men as models or actors; often, this was a front for prostitution and erection photos.) More of that from the 50s on, though. Sex acts, of course, wouldn't show up in until the late 60s.


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