Centerfold

I am pretty sure that many of you are familiar with this iconic 1972 photo from Cosmopolitan magazine, as it turned Burt Reynolds into an instant superstar; or, as Helen Gurley Brown, Cosmo’s editor at the time would say of the photo: “He had been a movie star, now he was a celebrity.” Reynolds, would be less magnanimous in his remembrance of “the photo,” stating that after it first appeared he began to notice changes in the behavior of theatre audiences that went from “polite” to “boisterous,” and when standing ovations turned into “burlesque show hoots and catcalls.” In his 1994 autobiography he wrote: “They cared more about my pubes than they did the play.”

How this photo came to be is an interesting story. Reynolds was filling in as host for Johnny Carson on his nightly evening talk show and the aforementioned Helen Gurley Brown was his guest! Apparently, during the course of their conversation, she asked Reynolds if he would pose for the magazine, and he said yes. Not only did this photo make Cosmopolitan notorious at the time (and era) of its publication, but it also pushed the magazine across a threshold, at least in the public mind, from a mainstream magazine to a “sex” magazine. Hey, it was the 70s!  It was also responsible, in part, for spawning “Playgirl,” Douglas Lambert’s (owner of the Playgirl Club at the time) response to this photo after watching its popularity grow. The photo was taken by the celebrated Francesco Scavullo, who shot most of Cosmo’s covers over a 30-year period. This was not his only “controversial” shoot however, as he again took some heat with photographs of a young Brooke Shields that some people considered too sexual. While I understand that this may seem “quaint” given what we now have available to us on a vast array of platforms, at the time it was compelling, and in many ways groundbreaking.

I am almost certain that by now some of you are beginning to wonder: “Why the hell is he telling us all or any of this?” Fair question. The first reason, and I will venture to say the only real valid one, is that it is 2022, making this the 50th anniversary of the photo. I am not necessarily suggesting we need to have a celebration or anything like that, but what I am suggesting is that as a point of comparison of mores spanning fifty years, this does give one pause! The second reason for this little trip down memory lane is because of another photo, and to be completely honest with you, I have no clue as to why the hell I’m doing this!

Many years ago, when I was living in Vancouver B.C., I was dating a woman who happened to be a photographer. You’re way ahead of me! One afternoon in 1987, I was at my girlfriend’s photo studio hanging out and working on an essay I had to write (I had gone back to school after a seventeen-year hiatus and was finishing up my third year of a B.A.), while she was in the darkroom processing some photos, she had taken earlier that day. When she was done, we were just sitting around chatting when she asked: “Hey, how would you like to pose for some photos?” I had no idea what she had in mind, but I said: “Sure, why not?” We did some standard head-shot photos, and full body photos standing and seated, behind an assortment of backdrops with an array of facial expressions: Smiling, serious, pensive, matinee idol (hey, everyone is allowed one fantasy per day!). And then came the Question: “Do you feel up to doing something a little more risqué?” To this day I have a feeling that this was the plan all along! I said: “Hmm, what exactly did you have in mind?” “Well, it has been 15 years since Burt Reynolds posed for Cosmopolitan, so why don’t we commemorate that. I have some props from another shoot I did awhile back, it’s winter, let’s just do it!” How could I refuse. By the way, Cosmo, for some reason, wasn’t interested!

There was, however, interest from someone. My mother! On a trip to Montreal to visit her some years later, I showed her the photo and she said she wanted a copy so she could frame it. Once I got over my initial shock, I agreed to send her a copy when I got back to Vancouver, which I did. On my next visit, I was looking around her living room where most of her family pictures were hanging and I couldn’t find this particular one of me. So, I asked her if she ever framed that photo. Her response: “Of course, it’s hanging in my bedroom! After several minutes of hyperventilating, I managed to blurt out: “Why the hell would you put that in your bedroom, don’t you think that’s a little …no, make that very, very weird?” “Well,” she said, “I don’t want my bridge group to see it!”

Los Angeles 2022

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