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It all started I guess around 1973 in the offices of Where It's At downtown on Downing Street in Manhattan. At the time Where It's At was a well-respected Gay magazine published weekly by Michael Umbers .
Michael had made a name for himself by, among other things, supplying the guns to the "Dog Day Afternoon" bank robbery, allegedly. We won't go into his buying huge printers then printing the magazine upside down and backward.
John Devere was the editor of the magazine. He wanted desperately to publish his own version of After Dark . After Dark was known in the Gay community as "Closet Queen's Monthly". After Dark was run by guys who believed it was chic to be in the closet. They had a policy of barring the use of the word Gay unless it was used to mean happy. It was from its birth in 1969 a highly respected magazine covering theatre, film, dance, etc., with lots of pictures of hot performers showing lots of flesh-as this was the time of nude scenes in plays and film. My friend, the legendary Kenn Duncan , was the star photographer of After Dark with his breathtaking photos. Everyone, except the staff, knew it was a Gay magazine. When the publisher accepted that times had changed she decided to fold it. It was only Editor-in-Chief William Como, After Dark's founder, who saw the light & returned to Dance magazine out of which After Dark sprang. The staff loons bought the magazine. For issue after pathetic issue they kept it going. The purchase debt, cost of publishing & a large loss of advertisers created a vast debt. They'd gather funds to put out an issue then the creditors went after them for what was owed. Then they'd sally forth again from their chic closets so it was no longer monthly and they were no longer living in reality. It was a losing battle that took some years to sink in & bring to an end.
John Devere wanted to do a magazine with the same quality but not the closet. He was able to find a backer and Barbara Ross, the extremely talented art director at Where It's At, agreed to quit her job there and join him. John was able to get internationally-renowned photographer Jürgen Vollmer and New York's beloved Roy Blakey (who also contributed to After Dark) to be the new mag's primary photographers. Along with his lover, Joe Arsenault, they set out to create a new magazine called Dilettante (Devere Enterprises, Ltd.). They took up residence in a small storefront at 163 West 10th street, a short distance from the legendary Ninth Circle bar . It was a small space packed with a Compugraphic composer (typesetting machine) and the tools of layout.
Devere loved the office because it had a nice store front window. He held all meetings down the street at a Gay bar and former speakeasy named Julius (still there) as there was little room in the office. The first issue of Dilettante appeared in the summer of 1974 with a facial shot of Rudolph Nureyev (a very white face in make-up) on the cover. It was very striking. The distributor was one George Mavety (Trojan Distributing Company). George was a distributor of porn magazines and had come east from California (run out of town by the mafia for not following the rules, something George was really good at.) He was a tough businessman but had the vision and talent to get things done, and he was able to get Dilettante on prominent newsstands. At that time there were no Gay newsstand magazines. Our publications were sold in porn shops like we were trash not good enough to be with the hetero big boob mags read by hetero boobs. It was in fact on my favorite newsstand, 42nd Street and Broadway, that I saw the cover from a good distance away (that big white face like a reverse Al Jolson could have been seen from space)
I was the first openly Gay Rock photographer in the music business and wanted to connect to Gay mags in the U.S. I was already contributing to and representing the French Gay publishing house, S.A.N. In Touch magazine had started in California in October of 1973 as a mail order-only magazine. I was their N.Y. rep. from 1975 to the end of 1979. The older and very much loved QQ (Queen's Quarterly) was sold only in porn shops, and we rarely got the San Francisco magazine Vector in the East. There was The Advocate, a highly respected newspaper (until Goodstein got his filthy hands on it & ruined it) that a few newsstands carried. So seeing Dilettante was amazing.
I wrote to John Devere that I was interested in contributing. It took quite a while to get a reply. John said he'd like to see my work and set up a meeting at Julius. He was very impressed with my Rock images and asked me to provide him with prints he could select from. I did a few days later and he asked questions, from which text was then created to go with the photos.
Each time John did an issue he had a 3' x 4' poster made of the cover photo and displayed it in the office window. After publication it was changed to a poster of the actual cover. So when I dropped by a couple weeks later and saw my photo of Rick Springfield shot at Max's Kansas City in the window I was stunned. I had no idea he thought enough of my work to make it the cover story. It turned out to be the first major layout on my friend and hero Jobriath , the first openly Gay Rock star signed to a major label. It was the only big layout in a Gay magazine which should cause great shame in the Gay community. The Gay press almost totally ignored him and then we wonder why Gay performers didn't come out. If you don't support your people as the Black community did & does their artists then why would the non-Gay press.
John wanted me to be the magazine's third house photographer. "The Rocky Horror Show" had opened at the beautiful Belasco Theatre , and being young and gutsy I took shots during the show (I went twice), giving Dilettante unique shots of Richard Kim Milford as Rocky in action. My friend, Broadway's legendary director Tom O'Horgan , was in rehearsals for his new play "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band on the Road" at the Ukrainian National Home (140 2nd Avenue where Tom rehearsed all his shows.) I was invited there by Tom to take shots and asked Tom if he would do an interview for Dilettante. He agreed. I brought John Devere down and during a break he interviewed Tom for a layout to coincide with the Fall opening of the show.
Publishing is a rough game. Often publishers have to wait months to get paid by the distributor, which means financing three or four issues before receiving any income, if they can make it that far. It's the reason many magazines fail and why distributors are rich. Anyway, Dilettante's publisher did not have the cash to survive those early crucial months. Devere and his co-workers went back to Where's It's At to resume their jobs. But that was not the end of the story.
George Mavety was a visionary. He could see that After Dark magazine's time was coming to an end due to the birth of Gay rights in those early post-Stonewall years. Gay people were getting stronger and the laws against published nudes were weakened. It was time for a magazine to evolve and he thought it could be Dilettante. John Devere had no vision, just a desire to be another Bill Como. George said the time was right to take After Dark's coverage of the arts and combine it with beautiful explicit nudes from studios like Colt (George was Colt's distributor). George had tried to talk Devere into the new format to no avail so (in a low whisper) he withheld the money from the sales to prompt the magazine to fold, allegedly. (hopefully Kathy Griffin won't sue me for unauthorized use of her phrase.)
In January of 1975 George called John Devere and said that he would back a new magazine, after letting Miss Devere sweat having found no new backer . The magazine would be called Mandate, a name picked by Devere by looking through a dictionary. He thought it was a strong name that fit this new kind of magazine. The public always thought it was just a word play, "man" and "date." It would use the spectacular black and white design style of Barbara Ross. Barbara said that quality depended on the purity and depth of the black in the picture. The influence of her talent and vision helped make the new magazine a success. Unfortunately, she didn't share in that success. She had foolishly trusted Devere and showed him the skills she had learned to work with the printer to produce a quality magazine. Devere wanted to be the star so he had George pay her a pittance and booted her. She returned to Where It's At and lost her ability to trust. The first in a long line of people who trusted Devere and got a knife in the back.
Mandate made its debut in March of 1975 (April cover date) with Colt's photo of Bill "Stoner" Cable on the cover-long before Playgirl used him. It was on all of the important Manhattan newsstands, a first, thanks to George Mavety, and was a hit. Mandate was the talk of the male Gay community. It sent shock waves through the offices of After Dark (all the wire clothes hangers fell on them.) They were no longer the only newsstand magazine for Gay advertisers to go. Mandate offices were at 233 West 26th Street on the same floor as the printer.
John Devere asked me once again to join Jürgen and Roy as the house photographers. Even though it was too late for the Sergeant Pepper play, he was using my Rock and Sergeant Pepper layouts. He wanted me to come up with another great layout. I was also the magazine's connection to the record labels.
The play Equus had opened to smashing reviews on Broadway but neither Peter Firth nor Anthony Hopkins wanted to do publicity and the show's press agency, the famed John Springer, was climbing the walls. The last thing you could do is ask them to do photos and interviews for this new kind of Gay magazine (new & not big readership, not Gay, was the problem). Peter was avoiding the press as much as possible and I'll be nice and not say why. He was after all running around totally naked on stage and what more could one ask of him. I called Lou Sica at the Springer agency to introduce myself and the magazine. Lou was great, he loved the magazine's concept and provided me with tickets but could do no more. I had a major thing for a member of the cast, Gabriel Oshen, which led me to the solution. I asked Lou if we could interview the actors playing horses for an article on "What It's Like to Be a Horse in Equus"-Lou was ecstatic. He set it up for the following week-and asked if I would also like to photograph and interview Divine and John Waters! They were promoting their new film "Female Trouble". So I delivered two more great layouts to Mandate.
Now the magazine was off to a promising start, BUT there was the problem of John Devere. his editorial skills were lacking, and his over-the-top flamboyant manner didn't always make a good impression. We arrived backstage after the Wednesday matinee which was devoid of personal. I saw the stairs up to the dressing rooms and not wanting to chance an encounter with Peter Firth I said we were not going up. There were stairs going down so I told John I'd go down and see if Lou and the "horses" were there. I got halfway down when I heard Devere shriek "Oh look, it's Peter Firth" and turned to see that Lou & Peter were descending the stairs. Peter bolted for the exit, making for a great first impression. I turned around to go back up when a red faced Lou Sica came up to Devere and angrily asked if he was John Cox. I said no I am and he could see I hadn't been involved in the incident the moron had caused. We shook hands and Lou took us below to meet Gabriel (ever more beautiful in person) & Everett McGill. The article was a success and from then till Equus closed we were in solid with the Springer office.
On a side note, Lou called me when Tom Hulce replaced Peter & said they'd like to have a spread in In Touch who I was N.Y. rep for. I was told Tom would pose nude for the layout & I said I thought IT was the wrong place as IT wasn't as prestigious as Mandate for the arts. Lou said the office wanted IT. Before the scheduled photo session date I was on a bus going uptown & Tom Hulce got on. Now it can be argued that I was stupid but my integrity & reputation was important to me. I needed to know Tom Hulce was fully aware of the situation rather than a possible blow up later when the pictures were published. He got off at Lincoln Center so I did too. I had a copy of IT with me so I introduced myself to Mr. Hulce who was clearly not happy about being spoken to. I explained who I was & that The Springer office had this photo session set up & I thought he'd like to see the magazine it was going into. He nodded & walked off . Next day Lou called me to say Tom Hulce had backed out of the session. I never got to photograph him naked, though I saw him on stage in the buff, but I was right about his not knowing the details of the session. I still think if it had been for Mandate he would have been more receptive. In those days doing artistic usually studio nudes such as Kenn Duncan's were popular with actors, singers etc.
Mandate had to survive some early editorial problems and bad decisions. For example, Devere's adolescent cutesy review of the new Broadway hit "Chicago" got the magazine dis-invited to a Central Park theater benefit show. Then there was the Alice Cooper / Warner Brothers Records ad fiasco. I secured what would have been a major coup for George. My friend, internationally renowned Rock photographer Dagmar, was good friends with superstar Alice Cooper. Cooper's label Warner Brothers was putting together the budget for the ad campaign for his new album, "Welcome To My Nightmare" (1975). Vincent (Alice) really loved one of the portraits Dagmar had taken. As a favor to me Dagmar got him to agree to a photo layout in Mandate with an interview . He agreed provided that photo was used and threw in okaying a full page 4-color back-cover ad in Mandate for his new album. George was thrilled. We were a black & white magazine then and I believe - not having the full run of issues anymore - that this was to occur in the second issue. For the prospects of getting future major ads he'd do the color. For an openly Gay magazine to be included in a ad campaign by Warner Brothers Records for a huge star like Alice Cooper would be a mega coup. Our ad dept. could use this to approach the big advertisers.
Devere always had an obsession with Rudolph Nureyev & After Dark pin-up Cal Culver (Casey Donovan.) Devere always was looking to include a layout on one or the other in every issue. Shortly before the issue was to go to press someone came in with a layout of Cal Culver naked getting covered with plaster for a mold for a statue. Yes that's right, she shrieked & possibly wet herself and I'm sure Peter Firth freaked wherever he was. Devere pulled the Alice Cooper layout which nullified the ad deal without discussing it with George. In went 8 count 'em 8 pages of Cal in plaster (you have to remember that mags then were only 48 pages so this was a HUGE layout) then sent the mag to press. When I came by after the fact he was beside himself with glee that he had gotten this Faaaaabulous layout on Cal & said he'd put Alice in next time. I franticly told him the layout had to run that issue as ad campaigns have set time limits, next issue was too late. He didn't care so I went into George's office & explained it to him. He was upset too but it was too late. It would be some time before record labels put in ads and then it was only for disco garbage.
Now before anyone writes the Vatican to canonize George as the patron saint of the Gay Press leave us take another side trip to a day George called everyone in to a meeting in John Devere's office. This was before George became the boogeyman who reeked terror among those unfortunate enough to be employed by him -which I never was. I was a contributor. George made an entrance via the door that led directly from his office to Devere's. Q couldn't have designed that office better for 007. In a stern voice he informed us that this was a business designed to make him money. It was not there to help the Gay community (though it did). He wanted us to keep that in mind and to be focused and he wouldn't tolerate any crap (But ya did, George, ya did. You foolishly tolerated Devere too long.) Then in that adorable way he had, after the color had drained from everyone's face, he warmly smiled and wished us a nice day (he never praised anyone's work or said thanks as he was afraid they ask for more money) and popped back into his office. Theater of the macabre.
Worst of all, there was the problem of sometimes running photos without model releases. Two professional photographers who were regular contributors each decided to become unprofessional. They would go out at night looking for sex & find guys who were perfect models and bring them back to their places for sex. There they suggested just for fun let's do a photo session. No payment (for the photo session) and no model release signed, They knew miss thing creamed her leather panties every time a photographer walked in with 11 x 14 b&w prints. Devere would be on cloud 9 for days showing such to everyone who came to the offices. So they would run off the prints the following day and present them to Devere who couldn't care less about model releases if not having such would prevent him from running this treasure (more like time bomb) he'd been handed. He'd take the prints to the art dept to put them into the issue being prepared & the photographers got paid which I'm guessing compensated them for what they paid for the non-photo session payment (nudge nudge, hint hint.)
The issue would come out, models would then call & demand payment or threaten to sue. George after confirming no model release had been signed paid. Now you say to yourself okay anyone can do something stupid but Devere was a career dope. This scene played out a number of times and the only thing that changed was that when an issue came out Devere locked himself in his office to avoid that phone call and the aftermath. Why did George allowed it to go on. George really didn't understand Gay people & had come from a field (the mafia & porn distribution) where problems were just a part of the business. Mandate was raking in money so I think he just accepted it as part of the cost of doing business.
Stupid to the max. I walked in one day when Mandate had added 8 pages of color and John Devere handed me the new issue just back from the printers. The cover was a picture of what looked like an underage boy with pierrot make-up cropped before the goodies. He explained the model wasn't of legal age but the photographer had the parents permission and release. I looked inside and there were no more images of him. I told John above and beyond being nuts to put an underage model on the cover he was going to damage Mandate's reputation. He felt that the cover was all important and it didn't matter if the model wasn't inside. In many places nude magazines were and I guess still are shrink wrapped. Readers must decide to buy a magazine based on the cover. Screw them over like this and goodbye readers. This wasn't a Jacqueline Livingston or Jock Sturges situation about legitimate, artistic nude photographs of minors. This was a truly stupid decision by a truly stupid man on all fronts. Devere's idiot policy was ended.
We move ahead a bit to my wanting to have a quality photo book like Modernismo was doing of Roy Blakey's nudes so I was in Devere's office one day and asked him to keep an eye on my nudes and when he thought there might be enough to do a book to consider doing it. A week later he called and asked me to bring in as many slides and b&w proof sheets as I could carry as he wanted to look them over. I did & he said George would do the book BUT I'd only get a flat $150.00 and 2 copies. It was nothing but when you're starting out getting something into print is more important than the money. The models he selected were all from The Gaiety (I was friends with Jimmy "Cricket" Mello who staged the shows there as well as performing & Larry who stripped as "Midnight Cowboy" and ran the film projector & many of the guys posed for me.) He said it was a limited budget and I'd have to run off the prints. Six bucks a print made it far too costly but George said he made a deal with Michael Umbers to use Where It's At's darkroom & Michael's girlfriend Dominique (she once sold drugs to a narc & gave him a signed receipt) would teach me. George paid for the materials. This is the good part, from this I learned how to run a darkroom & do b&w prints which saved me a lot of money when Dagmar dissolved her darkroom & gave it to me.
When it came out 1) it was a porn mag called "All American Boys" not a quality book so all the pictures were the wrong type. and 2) I gave Devere all the model's professional names. A performer's professional name is extremely important to his or her ability to find work. Devere whose taste was in his mouth had decided he didn't like their names so he gave them all new names. Needless to say the guys who had been looking forward to the "book" went through the roof. I became Persona Non Grata at The Gaiety & treasured friendships were damaged. It would be years before Jimmy Mello, Lee Richards & Tom Cat Louie would talk to me again, listen to what had happened and accept my apology. As with the releases, Devere never apologized or took any responsibility.
The dancers got together called George and threatened to sue for five million dollars. George called me into his office and asked if I had releases, he did it with a "/Here we go again/" voice. But I said "/of course/" and brought him copies the next day. I not only always got model releases, I had the best. Model's full real name, Social Security number, witnessed and dated. I had from the time I first took nudes researched the legal end of taking pictures and decided the standard model release photographers had been using for decades wasn't enough. I created a rock solid, properly done release and knew I needed to get the model's Social Security number for ID and when possible have the release witnessed. He said to bring them in the next day & when I did he lit up like a Christmas tree. From then on I earned his respect (didn't stop us from fighting) which lasted till his death. He also understood Devere was Modernismo's biggest liability.
From that point on things changed. He understood lawsuits were not just the price of doing business. Professional photographers got releases & were upfront with models. The photographers got the boot. Now each and every page had to be okayed by George & the lawyer had to clear all models. John Devere was no longer in charge and there were no more shrieks or layouts of Rudy or Cal. John Devere still had partial ownership in Modernismo & it's magazines (Mandate, Honcho, Torso, Playguy) but no power. He stayed on for a while, but eventually George bought him out and John started TNT which created Gay greeting cards. I saw him for the last time when I started Man-Age in 1978, a year after I had my last fight with George & left. I had gone over to the new offices to let them see a layout which they bought for Playguy. As I was about leave I heard Devere's high pitched laugh & asked the editor to tell him I was there. We had a brief talk and said goodbye. Years later I was told that after he sold TNT he had moved to Paris, France where he died via AIDS.
On one of my visits to the offices (90 West Broadway) in 1976 photographer Ron Larson Shubert (he was the photographer who put so much make up on his models they looked like they had been dunked in white paint) invited me to lunch. Like Roy he contributed work to After Dark and was a huge gossip. He said he wanted to tell someone about the goings on at After Dark who could be counted on to be discreet ( he wasn't aware that I had taken the After Dark Cover with Gwen Verdon holding a smoking gun and looking up - to promote "Chicago"- and created a Mandate cover with the caption "Is After Dark Dead". I was going to mail it to Bill Como but I showed it to Devere who had a screaming fit. He was trying to get George to back him on doing a dance magazine to complete with Danad's premier magazine Dance (from the movie Fat Chance.) He thought if I mailed it they would prevent his dance magazine. The fact that there was only room for one dance magazine and Danad had it locked up didn't enter Devere's reality.) Anywho at lunch he said that in March of 1975 when Mandate debuted After Dark had decided to go deep closet. They would no longer accept any advertising from openly Gay companies with the hope those outfits would see the light, embrace the closet & go out of business as there would be no magazine they could turn to.
Then Mandate appeared and they were freaking out. They knew that if they carried out the plan, those businesses would give their advertising to Mandate (keep in mind that openly Gay businesses were the biggest advertisers in After Dark). This horrible out-of-the-closet abomination, Mandate, would get a huge infusion of income. So they had to dump their plan. Ron also added that while After Dark was deeply concerned over Mandate if someone were to go there & mention John Devere they literally wouldn't know who they were talking about. Devere wasn't on the radar. He was a joke with his giant ego & total lack of talent. In time After Dark did go into oblivion. Mandate did change over time. It ceased doing beautiful layouts & interviews of the arts and became just another male nude magazine. Playguy became the big seller. Playguy was an English magazine done by sleaze king Alan Purnell. In 1976 he went on a grand rip off tour of the USA conning everyone out of photographs he published without paying. He talked George into sending over a large number of his titles to England then never paid. In retribution George took the Playguy title & made it into a huge success.
John Devere considered classical music to be the only thing that was music but he knew he needed coverage of what others called music. Thus I became Music Editor with out portfolio or title. I had a music column & he ran my music layouts. We did the first Gay magazine layout of KISS who I photographed at the waterfall public spaces in Manhattan in 1975 after their Beacon Theater concert (Kiss was on Neil Bogart's Casablanca label - Casablanca & Private Stock were the only openly Gay owned labels. Their manager Bill Aucoin too is Gay.) I also did Rock layouts for In Touch. Devere who couldn't write without that annoying cutesy style that annoyed everyone re-wrote every single album review I wrote. He believed no one could write as brilliantly as he could with his bigger than Jupiter ego. Every time I sent tear sheets to Record labels I had to explain what he'd done since he knew nothing about Rock or pop & said the most unintelligent things. That my name was on the column & my reputation on the line didn't matter.
Another good moment was a historic first when we shifted to color. A Falcon Studios photo of real-life lovers Michael and Philip was put on the cover. Philip in Michael's arms. A very sweet romantic shot on the cover and it became the biggest seller in Mandate history to that point. First time for a romantic cover.
I had a first with STARS magazine with the cover of my discoveryTommy Wilde. First time a Gay magazine put a smiling guy on the cover & it too became the biggest seller till we did the cover with him & his lover Ron which had romance & smiles, that became the biggest seller in STARS history. All this I know sounds odd to those of you reading who didn't live through those times. Someone had to be first in order for things to be as they are now.
The success of Mandate was that just so much material poured in that George decided he had to add titles. There was Playguy, Honcho and Torso to start. It began George's publishing empire.
I did return to what was now Mavety Media in 1999 after a mutual friend of the current editor and I said it was time. I had been told over the years by those who dealt with him that George always asked about me and spoke fondly of me and the old days. On my first visit to the offices the editor got a call from George who told him I was sitting there. He asked to speak to me & welcomed me back and we spoke briefly of old times. Roughly a year later he had a massive heart attack & died. By the time of his death he was a highly respected publisher with loads of titles, some having nothing to do with erotica. I was there at his funeral service looking at the pretty gold vase wondering why it was on the floor. Then I realized that through the miracle of cremation George had finally lost weight & it was his urn. It was very surreal.
And now, sadly, just as I've had to say goodbye to so many friends & watch my world vanish I have to say goodbye to the place where I got my first big break. Mandate & the other titles have fallen victim to the ceaseless illegal scanning & Internet distribution of pictures. Blueboy went many years ago & In Touch a few years ago. The scanners have worked hard to kill the goose. Magazines & photographers have gone under and the scanners are too cheap to hire models & take pix so what will they steal now?