I was already a veteran magazine junkie at 18-years-old. I purchased my first copy of After Dark at a newsstand at Copley Square in Boston in late August 1972. It had the most arresting cover with a shot of Argentine ballet dancer Jorge Donn. It stopped me dead. I looked both ways before handing the guy at the kiosk my $1, and then I rolled the magazine up so no one would see the cover. I traveled briskly back to my dorm room, anxious and excited to study it.
After Dark (1968-1983) was a showbiz magazine that featured stories about Theatre, Dance, Film, Performance Art and Books, with a photograph of all sorts of singers, actors, dancers, and celebrities on the cover each month. It was first published in May 1968, succeeding something called Ballroom Dance Magazine, whose readership had been mostly older people and the country club set.
Besides the entertainment stories, issues had features on men’s fashion, restaurants and nightclubs, and a “Cityscapes” section containing brief blurbs about then-current items of interest in different cities around the planet, places as different as London, Paris, Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, but also Birmingham, Alabama, Kansas City, and Minneapolis.
The magazine contained lots of advertising for gay restaurants, accommodations, clubs, bathhouses, guides, books, and other gay-themed products. Some of the ads was not overtly gay; however, most were for establishments or products that were well-known to gay guys, or contained symbols used to codify gay-oriented material, like using the Greek letter lambda. There were ads for clothing companies like International Male that offered skimpy men’s underwear or swimwear.
The first editor, William Como, also Editor-in-Chief of Dance Magazine, knew that there were readers wishing for homoerotic eye-candy that wouldn’t, couldn’t be judged as porn. In the late 1970s, Patrick Pacheco took over the magazine and tried to make it over into a serious critical monthly with an emphasis on quality writing and reducing photographs to a just few inches square. Sales tanked. Louis Miele replaced him in 1981 and returned After Dark to its full-color full page photo format showing lots of skin. But, as actual soft-core gay porn started to show up at newsstands and bookstores, readers began to lose interest and Miels’s version of After Dark folded in 1983, this time for good.
But, in its time, the magazine brought a whole new level of homoeroticism to mainstream publications by featuring images of nude or partially nude men on its cover and accompanying articles. Occasionally, a nearly nude female would be included, but usually surrounded by bare guys. Most of the photographs related directly to the subject of the article, but others seemed to just to show hot guys nearly naked for no good reason. The articles were almost all well-written, brief, and informative.
I appreciate that I could read about upcoming plays and musicals or films, but also rely on seeing hot bodies in pictures taken by first-class photographers. The look and the layout made the entire enterprise seem legit; totally different than the body builder magazines of the same era.
Although After Dark never put itself out there as implicitly gay, each issue was filled of photos of hot guys, and its subtitle, “The Magazine Of Entertainment”, made it especially attractive to a gay males. I never had a straight guy or woman friend with After Dark tossed on their coffee table.
Yet, The Advocate and Christopher Street magazine soon made After Dark a victim of its own time and timidity. Still, in my late teens and early 20s, how else could I gaze on so many sexy, gorgeous undressed men? After Dark, like my well-worn copies of The Persian Boy, The Front Runner and The City And The Pillar were stashed under my bed with sticky pages and wads of tissue.
The talented Kenn Duncan’s photographs of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. He became my favorite. His incredibly erotic portraits of ballet dancers were a total turn-on for me. I also greatly admired the photographs of the recently departed Martha Swope who shot many features about Broadway shows. Duncan was taken in the first wave of the plague in 1986.
Among the cover subjects were Gay Icons Chita Rivera, Tommy Tune, Jerry Herman, Carol Channing, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli, Barbra Streisand and Angela Lansbury. But also, Richard Burton, Imogen Cunningham, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Robert Redford, Jon Voight and Paul Newman. A certain former-governor Republican of California was on the cover of the February 1977 issue. Inside was a feature titled Musclebound For Glory with photographs of bodybuilders. Relax, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan, but there were two shots of Arnold Schwarzenegger in the nude; one showing most of his terminator.
I am in favor of openness, in life, and in glossy magazines; I would never want to return to that era of having to use an unconvincing ruse for anything. Yet, After Dark, for all its reticence, was the right publication at the right time for a generation gay guys trying to understand their place in a society trembling on the verge of sexual liberation. It was valuable and it was loved. It may have been consciously coy, but I still feel a nostalgia for it. I lugged around my collection of 130 issues until once, in a move, I left them behind out of ennui. I regret that now.