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The ROLL CALL of Milo's Models
updated: Wednesday, May 07, 2008
JAMES PATRICK MILO
For a man whose profession was the public display of male nudity, Pat Milo was the most private man Ive ever known. For ten years I was his darkroom man, friend and confidante, yet it still amazes me how little I know about his early life. What knowledge I have comes from bits and pieces of conversation with Pat and his friends.
James Patrick (aka Pat Milo) was born into a very large, very poor Irish Catholic family in 1911. He was forced to drop out of school early to help support them. His interest in boys led to an interest in photography, a safe way for him to approach guys. Some of his semi-nude photos were discovered by his father and Pat was thrown out of the house with only the clothes on his back.
along the east coast working as a fry cook. It was there he met Lyle Frisby.
Together they opened a street front photography studio which quickly failed. Lyle decided
to move to Los Angeles after contacting Bruce Bellas (aka the photographer Bruce of Los
Angeles). Pat followed Lyle to California a year later. There Lyle had opened another
street front studio featuring nude male photos (which was not unheard of in the east), but
L.A. was not ready for this and Lyle was arrested and sent to jail for a year.
Pat continued working as a short order cook while learning the physique photography business, greatly aided by Bruce. Milo also enrolled in some UCLA extension classes to learn more about the use of the camera and the importance of light. Shortly after Lyle was released from jail he died of leukemia. Pat fell heir to not only his negatives but to his extensive customer list as well. And so Milo of Los Angeles was born.
In the early 1950s a small magazine called ,,Tomorrows Man made its first appearance. It featured not only photos of models but ads for the photographers with information about ordering prints. Soon other similar digest size physique magazines began to appear. The response of his ads, along with Lyles customer list, allowed Pat to give up his ,,day job and concentrate exclusively on photography.
It always Milos contention that an artist should be judged only by his work. Once, when questioned about his life and ideals, Pat shoved a photo of Larry Scott under the mans nose and announced: ,,Here... this is who and what I am. Its all you need to know about me! To this day I am in full agreement. In order to know the real Milo you need only to look at his work and the care with which he produced it. Pat kept very tight control over every aspect of his work, from the model, props and posing to the camera, lighting and the darkroom work.
His camera was
a Rolleiflex with a lens he adapted from a Hasselblad (he found the more
expensive camera too cumbersome). He always used stationary, diffused side light.
This ballet style lighting he confessed stealing from Kris of Chicago (Chuck Renslow).
Pat preferred to shoot indoors where he had more control over the lighting conditions. He always
used high quality silk finish double-weight paper for his prints, whatever the size.
But, more than anything else, Milos ,,look was due to the way the image was
deposited on the film.
Although he used Ansel Adams as a guide, Pat was most influenced by the work one of his teachers at UCLA, the well known MGM Studio glamour photographer George
Hurrel. The secret he learned was to use a soft fine grain portrait film, Verichrome Pan, which he underexposed and over-developed to achieve his instantly recognizable creamy, dreamy look.
In the post-war era models were easily found. At first Pat made trips to Vinces Gym to find eager young Mr. Americas-to-be who were only too happy to pose in exchange for copies of the photos. Other models were referred by fellow photographers or various ,,talent scouts and were paid from $ 5.00 in the early 50s to $ 25.00 in the late 60s. And many of the guys he photographed were referred by other models. Milo developed a reputation for being trustworthy, and for not having fast hands, which afforded him the opportunity to work with several title-winning bodybuilders like Larry Scott, Bernie Ernst and Lou Degni. But it was his photos of Scott which helped secure Milos renown. Larry was not only his best selling model, despite the fact that no frontal nudes were ever taken, but he remained Milos friend up until Pats death. And in an era when, in order to make any money, guys moved from studio to studio (readily referred by photographers who wanted to keep their models happy), Scott was a Milo ,,exclusive; something of a first.
But Milo was involved in another very important ,,first. In the mid-60s the east coast publisher DSI brought out a very fancy book of frontal male nudes all of which, cover to cover, were Pats work used without his permission. He was livid and quickly contacted the famous First Amendment lawyer Stanley Fleishman to bring suit against DSI. Fortunately, Fleishman convicted Pat to wait and see what happened, as DSI had already been indicted on obscenity charges regarding nudes. This became a landmark case in which these photos were found not to be obscene. Oddly enough, one of the photos in the book was one for which Lyle had been given a year in jail. Once the ,,not guilty decision was rendered Pat moved quickly to put out a catalogue featuring full frontal male nudes (but, upon Fleishmans advice, only those models featured in the DSI publication). No other photographer had dared to do anything so bold. But even Pat was startled by the immediate public response. There were frantic calls from his mail-drop begging Pat to come and pick up his mail; there were bags and bags of it! This rush of success finally allowed Pat to relax. He even bought a little get-away cottage in the desert which was his alone; no visitors allowed. That first catalogue was followed by two others. But at the very height of his success, in September 1969, Pat Milo died quietly in his sleep.
Pat got only a quick look at what was coming. He was astounded by the Stonewall Riots, as we all were. And he was worried about the rise of hard-core pornography which was just being hinted at as the next big thing. He observed that hard-core would be the end of the kind of work he did. This proved to be sadly true. In a very few years the era of the physique studios was over.
Though sad, perhaps it was for the best that Pat left us at the very top of his form, turning out these cool and elegant images of beautiful young men. His work was among the best we could hope to find. And though Im sure Pat would be amused to find avid collectors now seeking out his work and calling it ,,art, that is certainly exactly what it is.
Los Angeles 1998
THE ARCHIVE has been allowed to view the boxes of Pat Milo's b&w negatives which