In December, we posted about Dr. Kenneth Krauss’ California readings for the paperback released of his book, Male Beauty. The readings went swimmingly, and we are pleased to share with you the first review of the book, published in Gay/Lesbian Review for their Jan/Feb 2015 issue.
Male Beauty: Postwar Masculinity in Theater, Film, and Physique Magazines
by Kenneth Krauss
SUNY Press. 366 pages, $27.95
This book illuminates the changing image of masculinity between the end of World War II and the early 1960s. According to Krauss, an associate professor of drama at the College of Saint Rose, this change set the stage for a “prolonged period of social revolt” in the late ’60s and ’70s. Crucial to this transformation was an idea of male beauty. Before the 1950s, masculinity was anchored to such qualities as strength, loyalty, and wisdom, while “beauty was always regarded, especially from the male point of view, as dubious,” writes Krauss. His book offers a richly contextualized reading of plays of the era, including Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, Robert Anderson’s Tea and Sympathy, and Edward Albee’s The Zoo Story. Krauss explores the film careers of Montgomery Clift, James Dean, and Marlon Brando, whose sex appeal exemplified an image of masculinity that held an emotional complexity and contradictory impulses, in contrast to such actors as John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart. He also details the careers of three physique models—John Tristram, Glenn Bishop, and Richard
Harrison—whose images were iconic of the era’s beefcake and muscle magazine subculture, exemplified by Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild, founded in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. While Krauss’ larger arguments are not so fully developed across each part of the book, Male Beauty offers great biographical and historical details, intriguing rereadings of iconic plays and films, and compelling insights into the idea of male beauty in an era of changing codes of gender and sexuality.
— James Polchin