This is the fourth in a series of excerpts from the biographical introduction to Brooklyn Boys, the new monograph on Danny Fitzgerald and Les Demi Dieux.
In the early 1960s, Danny Fitzgerald and Richard Bennett also began promoting Fitzgerald’s photography under the studio name “Les Demi Dieux.” Working under an assumed name was not uncommon in the 1940s and ’50s when photographers were persecuted for their work. Bob Mizer had the Athletic Model Guild. Don Whitman, the Western Photography Guild. Bruce Bellas called himself “Bruce of Los Angeles,” and Douglas Juleff, “Douglas of Detroit.”
So, throughout the early ’60s, male nudes by Les Demi Dieux appeared regularly on the covers and pages of slickly designed Joe Weider publications like The Young Physique, Muscles a Go-Go, Demi Gods, and Era (the publisher’s compilation volume celebrating the best photographers of the 1960s). Les Demi Dieux photographs featured popular models like Bennett, Albanese, and Orest, and lent Weider’s publications a visual impact and artistic quality that surpassed the average male physique magazines of the period.
Fitzgerald and Bennett ran the Les Demi Dieux studio together, with Bennett often keeping the books and responding to the correspondence that Fitzgerald could never manage. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald often snuck away for hours to who-knows-where, never telling Richard where he was going, but returning with another crop of beautiful 11-by-14-inch prints of the poses they had shot only a few days or even hours earlier.
The mail correspondence saved from this time period tells the story of a service cloaked in subterfuge and marred by the lack of business savvy. There are the standard order letters, like those received by all of the “beefcake” photographers. Most request photos and catalogs, but some dare to inquire about the chance to speak to a model, or to see “undraped” frontal nudes—for artistic or scientific purposes, of course. A few even request a used posing pouch, explaining that they just could not seem to find them for themselves as they prepare to start a modeling career of their own.
But soon these letters taper and are replaced by inquires from customers who have not received their orders after several months without response, and letters from publishers requesting images, and re-requesting images, and ultimately inquiring about the images they were promised months or years earlier.
“It seems that time passes and I must ask you to see the practical necessities behind the above situation,” British publisher Rex Pinkering states in the last of many letters written to Fitzgerald, “and to appreciate that unless you submit some of your superior work to maintain the status of the muscle magazine I publish, it is not going to be possible ever to get our other venture even started. … Please, Danny, I am not trying to offend, but I myself have constantly to temper my artistic disposition to the harsh demands of practicality.”
More than once a publisher mentioned something of Fitzgerald’s artistic disposition and impracticality, and these may have been among the reasons why his photography ended as quickly and wordlessly as it began. Bennett notes that Fitzgerald was always at odds with Weider and the other publishers, feeling his work was of a higher standard and aesthetic than their publications and the other photographers they published, and bickering with them over design, placement, or text. Of Weider’s assistant who handled the magazine photography, Bennett commented, “he was one of those guys that turned everything into something lewd. He didn’t understand the artistry of the work, and Danny didn’t have any respect for him or the magazines.” In the end, it seems those who wanted to publish his work at the time were not the audience he wanted, and again he felt himself an outsider to the world in which he found himself maneuvering. The negatives and proof sheets, the last few of which dated 1968, were stored away, never to be shared with the public again until after Fitzgerald’s death.
Conclusion to the introduction, Part 5: The Photography >>>
See all the posts from the preface of Brooklyn Boys.