By Scott Ross
Actually, the articles on theatre, movies and literature were often quite good. But I discovered After Dark magazine, at 17, because my best friend, with whom I was desperately in love, turned me on to it. (He also, through my intense attraction to him, helped me codify what I’d been feeling about other boys for so long. It was not a self-revelation he relished, but that’s another story, as they say, for another time.)
Michael and I bought our copies of After Dark at the newsstand (anyone remember those?) across from the North Carolina State University campus, and compared our reactions to the (many) photos of hot young guys in various states of undress. Michael liked the athletic ones; I preferred the boyish boys. I still do.
The June 1978 issue featured piece on Bob Fosse’s Dancin’, which I was lucky enough to see a year and a half later, on my first trip to New York. Anne Reinking was out that matinee, as was her wont. But there were plenty of great dances to watch, and gorgeous dancers. Especially Timothy Scott. Who would, alas, be dead 9 years later.
Although After Dark was not specially gay — it evolved, curiously enough, from Ballroom Dance magazine(!) — each issue was chockful of homoerotic photos, and its subtitle, The Magazine of Entertainment, certainly made it of interest to a gay male audience. Some have said that the emergence of an unfettered gay press (The Advocate, Christopher Street) made After Dark, begun in 1968, a victim of its own times, and timidity. But there was plenty to recommend it to teenage gay boys like Michael and me. Where else, at our age, could we have gotten our sweaty hands on a magazine with so many sexy, gorgeous (and undressed) young men in it? After Dark, like my well-thumbed paperback copies of The Front Runner, The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckenridge, fueled my 17-year old’s masturbatory fantasies quite nicely, thank you.
Among my favorite After Dark images, which still reside in a clip folder in my filing cabinet:
Accompanying an interview with “Toby” Bluth (brother of the animator Don) was this beautiful sketch. Three or four years later I would be in love with another young man, allegedly straight, who looked very much like Toby’s sexy boy, right down to the long blond mane.
This ad for David Vance’s lithographs ran in issue after issue. I wanted this boy badly at 17.
Kenn Duncan’s photos of divas and beautiful young men appeared often. Above, Peter Reed, principal dancer with San Francisco’s Pacific Ballet.
Kenn Duncan’s incredibly erotic portrait of American Ballet principal dancer John Meehan was an instant turn-on for me. I used his magnificent ass for fantasy fodder more times over the years than I can count.
A Kenn Duncan portrait of another principal dancer of the period. I’ve lost the caption, so I don’t know who he is, or with which company he danced. But his laughing face, and the position in which Duncan photographed him, so indicative of how I wanted to find this boy in my bedroom, revved my adolescent engine into overdrive.
There’s a great deal to be said for openness, in life, in art and in glossy magazines; I wouldn’t go back to those days of fumbling subterfuge for anything. And yet, After Dark, for all of its reticence, was the right publication at the right moment for a generation trembling on the cusp of full sexual integration. It served its purpose. It certainly provided a safe erotic outlet for this anxious adolescent. However coy it may have been, it holds a special place in my heart for that.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross