Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes (2024) Movie Script


-He made his fantasies
into reality.
-I think he was truly original.
-There's such a breadth
to his work.
-He created magic
with his camera.
-The legacy he left with
these pictures is so profound.
-I really came to think of him
as the archetype
for an out gay American artist.
He is such a complicated figure.
The task at hand is to
understand the human being
as a really full artist
and as a person of his world.
-We see this world that's gone.
It's passed.
It's lost, but we see it
through George's eyes.
-George Platt Lynes
isn't an household name,
and the story of his life
as a little boy from New Jersey
ending up going to France,
knowing all these
incredible people,
producing some of the most
important photography
ever done,
and then tragically,
being somewhat ostracized
and dying penniless--
I mean, that's a story
worth knowing about.

-George felt that his male
nudes were the best
of his work.
None of it was done
at the behest of any
commercial entity.
He was entirely dependent on
his own sense of inspiration.
It all came out of him,
so he was free.
-That was his art, and he
wasn't able to practice it
-George tells us that it wasn't
always the way it is now.
He's this great creative genius
who was propelled
by his aesthetic imagination,
by his need to suppress
his gay identity
and his need to express it
at the same time.
That just ground him down until
he expired of a broken heart.
-I'm not sure why
George Platt Lynes
still to this day
does not receive the acclaim
that I think the work should.
-Toward the end of his life,
George destroyed
an enormous number
of his portraits of people.
-George was very ill
and conscious of what he wanted
or didn't want to survive
as his legacy.
-Could you imagine
if this legacy was lost?

[ Ship horn blows ]
-George Platt Lynes was
a very young, aspiring writer.
-When George was 18 years old,
his family sent him
off to Paris.

-This ambitious kid
from New Jersey
who wanted so much to be part
of the cultural scene
of his moment.

The romance of the 1920s
in Paris.
It was the summit of all
that anyone
who was interested in culture
could possibly have
lived through.
-That expatriate scene in Paris
was laced through
with queer relationships.
-These modernists, all sorts
of writers, visual artists,
and dancers interacting
with each other.
-They all seem to be connected
by Gertrude Stein.
She is the red thread that
runs through this world.
-The family took George
to meet Gertrude Stein.
She thought he was adorable.
And he was part of
Gertrude Stein's salon.
-What an influence on George.
-He's mentioned in her infamous
of Alice B. Toklas"
as "Baby."
-George came back
to the United States.
He was accepted at Yale.
He wrote to Stein and he said
that Yale was boring.
It had no interest for him.

Stein snapped back at him,
and she said that he was
supposed to go back to school.
He told her that he wanted
to go to salons in New York.

He dropped out of Yale in 1926.
What was he going to do?
-George connected with
the literary and art world
in New York.
He was introduced
to Monroe Wheeler
and to Glenway Wescott.
Monroe and Glenway
were expatriates
who were part
of the Stein circle.
-Glenway was, in his day,
the most famous writer
in the United States.
Early on, he acquired a lover
who would be with him
for the next 60 or 70 years--
Monroe Wheeler.
Monroe went on to be
one of the founders
and directors
of the Museum of Modern Art.
Monroe and Glenway
were famously,
I would say, serial polygamists.
They had an open relationship.
In their relationship,
they came usually three
or sometimes even four.
But the two of them had
a bond that never failed.
When Glenway came to New York,
George went over to the hotel
down in the Village
where Glenway was staying.
On the table,
Glenway had a photograph
of his lover Monroe.
George picked it up, whistled.
And we still have Glenway's
journal that said, "Uh-oh."
[ Chuckles ]
George went into that mnage
and was with them for about
30 years of his life.
So, he was the first,
and I was the last.
Glenway went back to Paris
and encouraged George to visit.
George had started a little
bookstore in New Jersey.
He sold it six months later.
He had just enough money
left over
from the proceeds of that sale
to buy himself a steamship
ticket back to Paris.
By then, Glenway and Monroe
were living
in Villefranche-sur-Mer,
which is on the Riviera,
and they lived in a nice hotel
above a popular sailors' bar.
And upstairs,
Jean Cocteau lived.
One of George Lynes'
first photographs
was of Cocteau with a spyglass
because Jean would like
to sit up in his window
and wait for the fleet
to come in.
George lived with them
for another year there.
-While in France
in the late '20s,
they made the so-called
Travel Albums--
these very, very
intimate snapshots
and some early portraiture
of George Platt Lynes,
Glenway Wescott,
and Monroe Wheeler.

George set his sights
on Monroe Wheeler.
Whatever George went after,
he invariably got.
-George decided that
he was going to love Monroe
and that Monroe should love him,
and that Glenway
just had to be thrown in
because that was
all part of Monroe's life.

-George packed up
and came back to New York.
George would send Monroe
and their correspondence
brought them closer.
-At Yale, in the Beinecke
Rare Book & Manuscript Library,
they have the papers
of George Platt Lynes.
I spent a very steamy summer
in the library
reading the correspondence
between Lynes,
Glenway Wescott,
and Monroe Wheeler,
Lynes is in America,
and Monroe Wheeler is in Paris.
And the letters
early in their relationship
are really erotically charged.

Desire is something
that survives time.
It feels very fresh.
It feels,
when you're in the archive,
that it is as new
as the day he wrote it.
"I have loved no one but you.
I dream of you.
I will do everything in my
power to make you happy,
to make you glad you came,
to make you love me more.
Believe in me."
There are also these telegrams.
There's one that says,
"Your love has made me strong.
I fear and regret nothing."
I mean, some of them
are so poetic.
"All here is wind and wisteria,
and I long for
your shadowy beauty."

This is 1928.
I guess he was 21 years old.
And he looked incredible.
-George really, originally,
hoped to be a writer.
-Over a dinner with Glenway
and Monroe
when they were visiting back
in New Jersey to see him,
he was in despair
because he had realized
he didn't have the talent
to be a writer.
Now what?
That evening, they told George,
"Let's look
at your photographs."
The travel photographs
that George had been making
when the three of them
had traveled around Europe.
And it was Glenway who said,
"George, why don't you see
if you can make a living
doing this?"
-Their encouragement got him
serious about photography.
-He gave himself an exhibition
in his former bookshop,
of his first portraits
and some of the landscapes.
His father giving a rare
edition of "Huckleberry Finn,"
and so he sold that and that
was his next steamship ticket
back to France.
George, by now,
was fascinated with photography
and was taking photographs
of some of the artists
and the writers
and the musicians
that clustered
around Glenway and Monroe.

-With Gertrude Stein's portrait
for "Four Saints in
Three Acts,"
he became a hotshot.

-The fact that Platt Lynes
was self-taught is incredible
to me.
-He managed,
by dint of sheer willpower,
to learn
how to be a photographer.
-Photographers in those days
were vying to--
"I want to be
considered an artist."
Like, photography is art--
is it?
-There were very few outlets.
I mean, there were
very few galleries
that showed photography.
Almost no museums.
-On the third steamship trip
that George made over
to France,
he had a very fortuitous voyage.
He met the New York gallerist
Julien Levy
over a bridge game,
I think it was.
A year later, George was being
invited by Julien
to show his photographs.
And that was really
one of the first
photography art exhibitions
in New York.
And then off he went,
like a meteor.
-Julien Levy pairs
George Platt Lynes
with Walker Evans in 1932
for an exhibition.
It was noticed. It was reviewed.
George is included
in the first exhibition
at the Museum of Modern Art
that features photography,
in 1932, called
"Murals by American Painters
and Photographers."
-I think that was
a monumental event
in the early part
of George Platt Lynes' career.
-That sort of made him a name.
People knew who he was.
-Suddenly, the entire art world
was looking at George.
-George started to get
fashion assignments
in New York,
and he started his first studio.
-George's first assignment
for Saks
was photographing the feet
of famous women.
-Within a few more years,
he became the most important
fashion photographer
in New York.
He became the top of the game.
We're talking now about a boy
that's 26,
and that was his time,
that was his day,
and he was very successful,
made a lot of money,
and lived well.
-I love George Platt Lynes'
fashion pictures.
I think they're so odd
and beautiful.
There was always an edge,
something that made you think
a little, that had a story.
-There was Lynes
taking these women,
and taking these clothes,
and putting them in
the most fabulous settings
that could've been out
of a surrealist painting.
He is creating a world
that looks like the world
of nobody else,
especially at a time
when fashion and advertising
was trying to make
everything look real.
From George Platt Lynes,
we get to see a whole new way
of looking at the 1930s.

-It was fascinating
watching my uncle work,
and I remember going to
his studio on Madison Avenue.
-It's a lively studio.
-Totally unpretentious.
-He wore workman's overalls
cinched at the waist.
-Usually he would have
his shirt off,
and sometimes he'd be
smoking a little Cherub.
-He moved like poetry,
like a dancer.
-It was New York in the summer,
so it was hotter than hell, and
there's no air conditioning,
but you've got to
photograph a fur coat
for, you know, the winter line.
What are you going to do
to make it happen?
So, he went and got
close to 50 ice blocks,
and he made an ice-block wall.
Which was also problematic
because then they melted,
and so it had
all this water damage.
-He did have a few innovations,
like he had a ring light.
Sometimes you see the circle
in the eyes of the model.
-He created a way of working
that is kind of a template
for a lot of photographers
who came after him.
-George Platt Lynes really,
really excelled in portraiture.
Someone who's really
a master of studio control.
-He just had an instinct
about how to light things.
-George devised
a way of lighting
as if it came
from nowhere and everywhere.
-A volume of light
without intensity.
George also loved
the large-format camera
because it could see with
greater clarity than the eye.
And so that's why you see
incredible detail and clarity
in his images.
That's also why he had
to put perfect subjects
in front of the camera, too.

-The diversity of influences
was so strong.
It was mythology,
surrealism, and theater.
-They're very sensuous
but also electrically charged.
-He had a gay sensibility.
-There is a lot of emotion.
There's a lot of
authentic sexual energy.
-At Harper's Bazaar,
Diana Vreeland
in the editor's letters
is talking about,
"Not everybody has a jukebox
in their studio,
but Lynes does."
-He did stuff that people
weren't supposed to do,
and he wasn't
ashamed of doing it.
-You don't see an antecedent
to his style.
He invented it.
-There's nothing like it
anywhere else.
-He was a genius at it.
-He created a way of seeing.
He created a way
of photographing.
-He just wanted
to get that moment.
And suddenly he'd click.
-In 1934, Europe was moving
towards war,
and Glenway and Monroe
moved back to the United States
and set up an apartment
with George
at 89th Street
off of Madison Avenue.
-Monroe and George had
their own bedroom.
-It was three guys
living together.
That worked as a beard
for Wescott and Wheeler.
-It was a threesome, as much
as threesomes usually are.
I don't think
they're ever perfect.
-All of them had lovers.
Sometimes they were two,
sometimes they were three,
sometimes there were
a mnage of four.
-Monroe and Glenway's
relationship was like US Steel.
Nothing was going to
change that.
But also, George was part
of the relationship.
They had no rules.
I think they're to be credited
for that.
We're still pretty stodgy
thinking about relationships,
I think.
-They made a triumph
of their trilogy.

-To talk about George's circle
is to talk about
a remarkable moment
in cultural history.
George was allied to some
of the great transatlantic,
cosmopolitan figures,
many of whom were gay,
or lesbian, bisexual.
-This is the social and
cultural milieu of New York,
of the United States.
-A circle of people
who were, you know, central
to the cultural life
of their time.
George lived in
an avant-garde moment.
-All those people sort of
became like a collective.
There's this fantastic
-The friendships,
the intimate relationships,
the love affairs, the fights.
The success stories,
the failures.
-People, I think,
don't always appreciate
how key that period
of between the wars was
in developing American culture.
-These artists suddenly
are ripe for rediscovery,
for relevance to our
contemporary moment.
"The Young and The Evil"
was an exhibition about
this group of artists
who were in New York
in the '30s and '40s
and who were friends
with each other
and were influencing each other
with a lot of fluidity
between their
intellectual projects,
their artistic projects, their
social and their sexual lives.
-When you look at the art
that these guys were making,
they were addressing it
to each other.
They're a model
for a group of friends
who are creating
culture together.
And I think what's happening now
is there's, like,
a lot of gay artists
who are in their 20s
and early 30s
who are making work
which, in their mind,
is coming out of new
and untold freedoms
around representing
gay sexuality,
but had this precedent
that in many cases
they're not even aware of
that was nestled into
the early part
of the 20th century.
In the case of Lynes
and his friends,
they're like the first
gay American artists
in a full sense.
-"Oh, before Stonewall,
everyone was in the closet."
Not true.
-It was an age in which
cocktail parties were common.
-If you were at a gay
cocktail party,
you were very likely to meet
some gay creative types.
Now, people don't have
cocktail parties anymore.
[ Laughs ]
They don't know
what they're missing.

-There are some people
whose special task in culture
is almost like a bee.
They're like
the cross-pollinators.
And Lynes was clearly that.
-Everything floated
around George,
his parties, his connections.
-Lynes lived
somewhat luxuriously.
Not even "somewhat"--
he was an extremely
luxurious man.
He wanted to, like,
be surrounded
by sumptuous, beautiful people
and things.
-He wanted to live,
you know, a glamorous life,
in some of the best years in
the history of New York City.
-He had dinners
and cocktail parties.
And then...
[ Laughs ]
...people went into the bedroom.
[ Laughs ]
The party kept going.
-It was opulent and exciting
and very sexy.
-He was drinking.
He was cavorting.
He was enjoying
everyone's snappy patter.
And there was probably a lot
of snappy patter,
you know, in New York
in the '30s and '40s.
-They're a group of people
that were extremely modern
and asking questions
about what relationships
can be on every level,
and how they could be different.
Part of what looks
so contemporary
about George Platt Lynes,
and about this group
of artists in general,
is the way that their art
that deals with sexuality
seems fun.
One of the things
that's really deadly
about looking at
this group of artists,
and about this time in history,
is to try and be way
too serious about it,
in which it's like, "Oh,
these incredible masters,
which have been
forgotten to time."
It's like, you know,
when Paul Cadmus and his
bisexual boyfriend,
Jared French,
and Jared French's wife,
the painter and photographer
Margaret French,
started a collaborative,
they called it PaJaMa,
which was short for the first
letters of their names--
Paul, Jared, Margaret.
And PaJaMa is silly.
Like, it's a silly name.
And the work that they did
was take pictures
of their friends, like,
naked in Fire Island.
Like, this is not,
like, the society
for contemplating
existential dread.
Like, this is funny.
These are people who were
pushing homoeroticism in art
to a very far point,
as far as it had ever been done
in art since antiquity.
And at the same time,
it's important to acknowledge
that they are buoyed
on all this whole current
of privilege.
You know, they are white men
who are more or less affluent.
They were not outsiders.
They were not on the margins.
So, I think that all of these
forces kind of lifted them up
so that they were free to go
so far in this one way.

-George was as beautiful
as a Greek statue.
-He was so spectacular-looking,
you know.
I was overcome by it.
-I remember him always
with a suntan,
which became more
and more pronounced
as his hair
became whiter and whiter.
He was obsessed
with beautiful people
because he knew
he was one of them.
-He didn't like not being
the center of attention.
He would charm the birds
out of the trees if he could,
usually to his own advantage.
-Very self-centered,
Very loving, at the same time.

-George could be extremely
wicked, extremely catty,
extremely devilish,
didn't mince words.
-You can just imagine this
person behind the typewriter
just popping off his letters
with incredible wit,
with incredible humor,
with incredible innuendo.

-He had a canary, and he only
taught him to speak one thing,
which was when somebody
walked into the room,
the canary always said,
"Get a load of you."
-George was never hidden.
George's brother Russell
was asked at one point
when it was that George
came out of the closet,
and Russell has always said
that George never came
out of the closet--
he was never in it.
-George wanted it to be
a perfectly normal
thing of life.
Okay, fine. So what?
Everybody is different,
thank God.
[ Bell tolls ]
-George had come
out of this really
straitlaced Episcopalian family,
with a minister father
and a high-society type mother,
and here's flamboyant,
fearless, unfiltered George.
Oh, my.
[ Laughs ]
-When Monroe left and went home
to Europe with Glenway,
George was devastated and cried
on his father's shoulder
at some point
and made it quite clear
that Monroe was the most
important person in his life.
-His father was
a Victorian gentleman.
I mean, he knew
the Oscar Wilde trials.
He couldn't believe that George
was stuck in this mess.
George didn't think of it
as a mess.
He thought of it as
a really wonderful situation.
-Russell Lynes, who was George
Platt Lynes' younger brother
just by a couple of years,
did everything the straight
way, in every sense of
that word.
He went to Harvard.
He got married.
He was an editor
of Harper's Weekly.
-Russell loved his brother,
and George loved Russell.
They were deeply devoted
to one another.
-He was my favorite uncle.
My memories of him are,
of course, very fond.
Uncle George loved
to be in the sun.
And once we were out
in the middle of this lake,
he stripped down to a jockstrap.
That was all he had on.
And though I was
a fairly young teenager,
I knew that
Uncle George was gay.
And I was brought up in a family
where it didn't matter
who you were
unless you were, you know,
a right-wing Republican.

-Lincoln Kirstein and George
were classmates
at the Berkshire School,
which is a prep school.
But it wasn't really
until later,
after George moves
to New York City
with Glenway and Monroe,
that they really form a bond.
Lincoln was a great,
great supporter
of George's work early on.
-The thing I remember
about Lincoln
was that he was
astonishingly handsome.
I mean, he walked in a room
and everybody's, "Mm?"
[ Laughs ]
We have to thank Lincoln
for the fact
that we have a major
ballet company in this town.
-With his passion for dance,
Lincoln Kirstein brought
Balanchine to
the United States.
Started the American
Ballet Company,
which became
the New York City Ballet.
That gave George
a lifetime position
as the official photographer
for the ballet,
which he did for about 30 years.

-George was at his best working
with a group of dancers.
-He seems very, very intuitive
in exploring the body,
exploring corporal form.
-You think about dance
as being something in motion.
And how do you convey
the magic of that experience?
-Highly structured, very
classical, very sculptural--
that's what Balanchine used
to love about George's work.
-Balanchine said that
George Platt Lynes' photographs
would be all that would
be remembered of his work
in 100 years.

-Once George found the ballet,
he found the guys.
-Many of the dancers
were people
who ended up posing for him
without clothes.
-You didn't really often
see photographs
of the male nude from the 1930s.

-There were a lot of other
people who were doing
fashion work, portrait work
at that time.
But in terms of doing
the male nudes,
George Platt Lynes
is singular in that regard.
-The nudes were an essential
part of his work.
They were the heart,
the dynamo that ran everything.
-This was the most important
work to him.
-His true intent was
the creation of art.
-He loved the male body,
and it shows.
It's the energy, it's
the tension of the photograph.
He brought drama,
he brought theatre.
Good photographs
are always demanding.
You want to spend time
with them.
You want to flirt with them.
You want to look at them,
"Hmm, gee,
wish I was in that room."
-The art that he valued
the most,
these nude photographs,
was being made
in the same studios,
in the same spaces,
with the same props,
as the advertising
and fashion work.
And you see the same props
showing up again.
-It is genuinely erotic
and, at the same time,
really sophisticated.
This is where his strength was.
This is where he is unique.
This is where he stood out.
-George Platt Lynes'
strongest work
were his male nudes.
I think it's inevitable that
that's the work
that he will be remembered for.

-From the very beginning,
George photographed the nudes.
-The first subject was himself.
His first nudes
were self-portraits.
He made a valentine that he
gave to his new boyfriend,
Monroe Wheeler,
of self-portraits
that were nude.
Late in their lives,
still in Monroe's room,
next to his bed,
was that valentine.
He kept it forever.

-His brother, Russell, was one
of his first portrait models.
-The next series
were Yale friends
of his younger brother Russell,
who were willing
to take their clothes off,
and George practiced on them.

-A lot of this material
that I was finding
came from the papers
of Monroe Wheeler,
from his personal holdings
that are now
in the hands of a man
named Vincent Cianni.

-It's an amazing documentation
of not only
their love for each other,
but the kind of very physical
sexual relationship
they had with each other.

-So, I was going through
these archives with him,
and he pulled out these
little folder of photographs.
And in it was a brown paper
envelope that they had come in,
and on one of them
it said "Intimacies,"
and on another, it said,
"MW-GPL Private."
Sounds good.
The images that were inside
them were photographs
that have never been reproduced
of George Platt Lynes
and Monroe Wheeler
in the early '30s, having sex.

-They were basically selfies
that they made of each other
at the time.
-What really struck me
about them was the intimacy,
the real gentleness
of the sexuality in them.
It was so sweet.

-George Platt Lynes felt
that the word pornography
was too loosely used
in describing male nudes--
they were immoral
or somehow wrong.
They came out of a lineage
of the male nude
in the history of art
going back to antiquity.
-The definitions between art
and pornography, to me,
it lies in the intent.
If it's not meant
to be pornography,
I don't think that it is.
Lynes, I think saw himself,
rightfully so,
as a fine artist,
which isn't to say
that fine artists
cannot also make pornography.
-That line between pornography
and eroticism is very fine.
-They're intimate.
And are we to say that every
intimate photograph
is pornographic?
-George did not like
That didn't mean
he didn't eroticize
a lot of his photography.
But it never went over the edge
into pornography, ever.
It was always more elegant
than pornography.
-We did discover a few pieces,
-I suspect.
[ Laughter ]

-Part of what I love
about Lynes' work,
it's the first time
you really see the male body
in an art photographer's work
without the excuse of physique
or classicism.
It's just people as they are.
At the time that Lynes
was making this work,
it was completely
groundbreaking even to show
the male nude
or to have, like, an erection
in a photo.
And you see people in a way
that they wouldn't have been
able to express themselves
publicly at the time.
-You had to be very chary
and wary about anything gay.
-These images are still
dangerous and provocative.
We can only begin to imagine
what this was like
in the 1940s and '50s,
during the McCarthy years,
when one could be jailed
for this material.
And yet, George did them.
-The times were, um...
[chuckles] problematic
in terms of people
within that circle
not really sort of understanding
the power dynamics
that were going on.
George Platt Lynes
considered himself modernist.
it was their duty, really,
to break social
sort of artistic taboos.
Of course, interracial
relations were taboo during
the period.
Same-sex relationships
were also taboo.
So, they really loved this idea
of mixing the erotic,
the homoerotic with the racial
as a means of showing
that they're modernist,
that they're a sort of vanguard
you know,
against the status quo.
But at the same time,
there's a very exploitative
aspect to that.
-It was not written about.
The work was never published.
It was never shown in museums
or galleries.
-When you know you're making
work to share with the world,
there's a different kind
of energy that goes into that.
When you're making work
for yourself
and for maybe a very
small circle of friends,
it can be whatever you want.
And it can be as daring
as you want to be.
But it must have been difficult
for him to be making work
that he knew no one
was going to see.
And maybe that's part of what,
the reason why
it's so potent still.

-Here I have a collection
of mostly vintage
George Platt Lynes pictures
from different eras.
Then a whole series of pictures
which are of three
different models together
and a series of them
sort of disrobing.
And what we discovered
once these were printed
in a large format,
was George had Scotch-taped
their eyes closed
to possibly have them
not become aroused,
or so he could direct them
and they would have to just
act on their own
without being nervous
around each other.
Or maybe because
the surprise being
that there's a third person
waiting for him
once he does arrive in bed.
And here's the one having
his underwear taken off
by the other,
and he's sort of grimacing,
not knowing
what's going to happen.
-George was charming.
He was able to get men
who sometimes didn't want
to remove their clothes,
to remove their clothes
and to sit for the camera.
-He could charm any model
into doing anything
he wanted them to do.
[ Laughs ]
-George would go
to the YMCA a lot.
Or if the fleet was in,
he would go down and meet
the sailors.
He can photograph
the toughest-looking guy
and make him look like
a million bucks.
He didn't care really so much
what you did in your life.
He cared about
who you really were.
You know, you can feel that.
-George's models
were lovers, friends,
the physically perfect ones.
-Some of the models
did come from ballet.
Some of the models
were hustlers.
Some of them were gymnasts
or athletes.
-There are so many people
in these photographs
that I don't know
and that I can never know.
We don't have much information
about them anymore.

-This is one of
the first photographs
he took of me
when I first met him
in the studio.

Yes, I did do
some modeling for him.
He filmed me
because he liked me.
He wanted to take my picture.
So, he took some nudes of me
and so forth.

-Glenway Wescott
introduced me to George
at a party of George's.
George was famous
for giving a lot of parties.
Glenway asked him
to photograph me.
And George scheduled not one
but three different sessions.
I was very happy with that,
I can tell you.
To be photographed by him
was as though we were
just chatting.
'Cause he always seemed to be
looking the other way
when he was taking a shot.
George wanted to catch you
at a moment
when you were
least expecting it.
I liked it. I loved it.
[ Gunfire ]

-George had fallen in love
with a studio assistant
of his, George Tichenor.
Tichenor went off to war
and was, unfortunately,
killed in the war.

George then took up with
Tichenor's younger brother,
Jonathan, famously declaring,
"If I can't have
the Tichenor I want,
I'll take the Tichenor
I can get."
This was circa 1945.
George decided to leave
the domestic arrangement
and move in
with Jonathan Tichenor.
And Glenway Wescott
was so mortified that--
that George would so openly
declare his homosexuality
in this kind of way, as though
all of New York society
didn't already well know
what the three men
had been doing all these years
living in a heap together.
-George had lunch regularly
at the Plaza Hotel.
It was right across the street
from his studio
on Madison and 60th.
And he invited
his sister-in-law, Mildred,
to lunch so that
he could introduce her
to his new boyfriend, Jonathan.
He pulled out a box
with a ring in it,
and he said to Mildred,
"Jonathan and I
are going to be married."
Well, Mildred tells us
that she was flabbergasted.
She said, "The homosexuality
was fine, it was one thing.
But the fantasy of
getting married
was something
completely off the wall."
There was a kind of
visionary quality,
a sort of genius,
to George's fantasies.
-George suddenly declares
that he has accepted a position
running the Vogue Studios
in Hollywood,
which everyone
in the circle thought
was a tremendous mistake.
-I think he rather imagined
that this was going to be
a terrific career boost.
-He goes out there after
going through not one,
but two bankruptcies.
He always lived
beyond his means.
He was always looking for more.
His lifestyle was never
rich enough.
-Money was the bane
of his existence.
He simply did not know how to
constrain himself financially.
-You know,
you have to admire people
who don't worry about
how to pay the rent
and just want to make art
and [laughs] somehow survive.
-George was enamored
of fortune tellers,
astrologists, numerologists,
and often consulted them
throughout his life,
at a moment when he kind of
was looking for
a way to make the next
decision, make the next move.
And I sometimes felt like
he was shopping around
for his future.
-He's trying to start anew
with Cond Nast in Los Angeles.
He does some remarkable
portrait work there.
-Despite photographing some of
the great beauties
and iconic male heartthrobs
of the period,
it was a bit of a shit show.
[ Laughs ]
Life in Hollywood, at the
standard George wanted to live,
was goddamn expensive.
He bought a house.
He had to have it decorated.
It had to be designed
to the nines.
He threw parties there.
It just ate up money.
-He soon finds himself
in financial straits again.
He suffers from living
beyond his means.
-And he kind of knew,
at a certain point,
that he should have
stayed in New York.
-George said this, that,
"It's one of the most
homosexual towns,
but it's so anti-homosexual."
He deeply missed New York,
and he missed his friends.
-He starts to suffer
He begins to lose interest
in even making photographs.
And if you look
at the correspondence,
especially with Bernard Perlin,
there's a futility,
and there's
a self-destructive...
or almost a, um...
a wanting for it to be over.
So, George comes back
to New York in '48, bankrupt.
He's forced to, you know,
borrow money from friends.
-The studio space that he left
in New York was taken over
by a young fashion photographer
named Richard Avedon.
-Here's a person
who's still relatively young.
He's only in his 40s.
One would think he still has
a lot to give, a lot to do.
But I think he lacked
the discipline
that some of the photographers
who really come to
the forefront in the '40s--
I'm thinking specifically of
Richard Avedon and Irving Penn.
-There was this real shift
in terms of what was
happening in magazines.

-Alright, Marcel!
-The movie "Funny Face"
with Fred Astaire
and Audrey Hepburn
is about Dick Avedon.
You look fabulous!
Stop! Stop!
-I can't stop!
Take the picture!
-That famous scene
where Audrey Hepburn's
running down the stairs
of the Louvre
is emblematic
of what fashion photography
had become,
and George Platt Lynes
had never taken pictures
like that.
His pictures were
much more classical.
They were quieter.
They were just more static.

-He was a has-been
by the late '40s.
-The high-living days,
the glory days are over.
He's been supplanted.
-George Platt Lynes,
he was embraced
by the titans
of New York modernism.
He was reaching a level
of success
very early on in his career.
In a way, he just
kind of burns out.
He wanted to show the work
that he considered his best,
which is the male nude,
and there were
no outlets for that.
I'm certain that added to that
futility, to that depression,
and, you know, he was just...
he was, you know,
painted into a corner.
-In the early '50s,
he was assessed for back taxes.
The IRS forced him to sell off
basically all of his
professional life.
-His brother Russell rescued it
by buying it back from IRS
and then lent it
all back to George.
-My father put up with him.
Though we loved him,
he was not easy.
-They had to bail him out
again and again.
They discovered that he had
given his Picasso as collateral
to someone else as well.
-It must have been
extremely demoralizing
to have this happen to him.

-It was a very important
between Bernard Perlin
and George Platt Lynes.
-From the late '40s
through the early '50s,
Bernard had gone to live
and paint in Rome.

-George's letters
were delicious.
Sharing updates on their lives,
certainly on their
sexual conquests.

-Right away, he arrives
in New York on the 16th.
He calls George instantly
while he's waiting on the docks
for them to unload his Vespa.
Goes right to George's
that evening,
and he's there
for months thereafter.
And you can see the parties.
They were both men
who were avid pursuers
of the sensual
pleasures of life.
Bernard moved into a spare room
at George's apartment
and was involved
in various all-boys soirees.
One story he told was of how
inventive George Lyons
could be,
and there was apparently
an evening alone together,
after one of George's
dinner parties
had broken up for the night,
that George got a fire going
in the fireplace, laid out...
Jared French designed
needlepoint pillows,
and on the pillows,
George produced an ice cube.
-George was incredibly
inventive, incredibly playful,
and highly exploratory
and sensual.

-He must have been very
charming because he got around.
-George was a hungry soul.
-Oh, he was in love
with a lot of people.
[ Laughs ]
-I think everything that George
did was fueled by
sexual energy,
and the boys
were fuel for George.
George loved the attention,
and I think he also
loved the conquest.
-As long as they were young
and good-looking,
he liked to photograph them.
Laurie Douglas--
was a fashion model
in the 1940s,
and in fact, became
George Lynes' favorite model.
He used her frequently in
his work, in his fashion work,
but also in his fine art
photography, to call it that.
They became not only
creatively collaborative
in his-- in his studio,
but they became very,
very close, very close friends.
Interestingly enough, George,
who was a devout homosexual,
fell into a sort of
on-again, off-again
sexual relationship with Dougie.
She was incredibly accepting
of this wild world
of these high-society gay men
and all of their
various exploits.

There was a certain kind of
sadistic element
in certain episodes.
-His behavior,
seen from today's standards,
might look, um... aggressive.
Let's put it that way.
-There was a moment
when Bernard Perlin
was staying with George
in his apartment,
and Dougie was there.
It's nighttime.
They're all asleep.
And all of a sudden,
Bernard says
he was awakened
in the middle of the night.
And it's George Platt Lynes
"Perlin, get in here.
Fuck Dougie."
And Bernard told me this story
about, you know,
how, you know, he has to get up,
he has to go in the bedroom,
he has to make love to Dougie,
and George is there,
basically, you know,
watching and recording.
The stories are quite bawdy
sometimes, very, very explicit.
On another evening
with a young model
named Gary Garrett,
and George likewise
pounded on the wall
between their bedrooms--
"Perlin, get in here!"
And on entering, the young man
was face-down on the bed.
George was in a chair,
and George instructed Bernard
to mount Gary
because Gary had
just had a hemorrhoidectomy,
and George's philosophy
was that he should
remount the horse
as soon as possible
and that Bernard just proceed
and do this young man
a service.
It seemed to me
somewhat, you know,
manipulative and sadistic.

-It's too darn hot
It's too darn hot
-Kinsey was introduced
to George Platt Lynes
through Glenway Wescott
and Monroe Wheeler.
-There was such admiration
for Dr. Kinsey.
Their literary circle,
they were just all in thrall
to the research that he was
doing, and they were so eager
to participate because
no one had done that
kind of focused study
on homosexuality.
It was a marvelous declaration
of hope and acceptance
for them.
-According to
the Kinsey Report
Every average man you know
-George and Kinsey hit it off.
-He needed an expert
on homosexuality among men.
-Kinsey became fascinated
with the world that George knew.
They got along famously.
-'Cause it's too, too,
too darn hot
It's too darn hot
It's too, too darn hot
-Dr. Kinsey had just
"Sexuality in the Human Male"
and was looking for more
and photographic representations
of the nude male, of gay men.
-Kinsey immediately started
collecting work from George.
-Kinsey would frequently
come to New York
and would attend some of these
all-male parties
at George Lynes'.
He was there as voyeur.
He would be sitting on the sofa
with his notebook, watching.
-Kinsey is known to have said
that he thought
that Lynes himself was one of
the most tender lovers
he'd ever had the chance
to watch.
-For him, it was taxonomic.
It was-- It was so-called
proof of homosexuality.
-It's too darn hot
It's too darn hot
-The conversations about
just how the hell they were
gonna get the photographs
from New York
to Bloomington, Indiana...
In some ways,
just takes you back.

-George was afraid that
this legacy of the male nudes,
which he considered
his most important work,
would disappear.
Who would want them?
Who would take care of them?
-Lynes is worried that
anyplace that they go,
these really erotic nudes,
something could happen to them.
-Are you a member
of the Communist Party
or have you ever been a member
of the Communist Party?
-This was the McCarthy era,
the Red Scare era,
and it was also
the Lavender Scare era.
-And there were witch hunts
for homosexuals.
-Gay men and lesbians
were also under suspicion.

-Homosexuality was
the biggest taboo.
Everyone was terrified of it.

-It was illegal to put the work
in an envelope
and send it across state lines.
-They could have been arrested
for the transport of these
"filthy" images.
It was hot and dangerous stuff.

-When Lynes started thinking
in a more sort of pointed way
about his legacy, it was really
his relationship with Kinsey
that I think made him realize
that the Institute
for Sex Research,
then to be called
the Kinsey Institute,
would be a safe space
for his work
to sort of be protected
and preserved.

So, that's how we are lucky
enough to have
this wonderful treasure trove.

-He was staring down a barrel
without knowing it.
-I was supposed to meet him
at the Plaza Hotel.
I saw this old man wandering
around the lobby there,
and I didn't know it was George.
And he had on
a black, ragged raincoat
and long hair,
which he had curled.
He was obviously not himself,
not like he used to be.

-He wanted to relive
his youth in Paris.
He was as excited as could be.
-His trip to Paris,
which he hoped
would rejuvenate him,
but it didn't.

-By the time he came back,
he was almost
immediately hospitalized.
-The devastation of cancer, and
the devastation was monumental.
I mean, it started in his lungs
and eventually went
to his brain.
-What a waste.

[ Operatic singing ]

-We went to the ballet
a couple of times
after he got sick,
even from the hospital.
He was in bed at the hospital,
of course.
But he would get dressed,
we'd take a taxi from the
hospital and go to the theater.

-He got out of his
hospital gown,
put on his suit and tie,
and went AWOL
to go to the ballet.
-Only Uncle George would have
gotten out of a hospital bed
and gone AWOL, to the distress
of an entire nursing staff.
Not too many people would have
the balls to pull that one off.
Came back, took his clothes
off, and got in--
back into bed, and died
within the next few days.

-George was 47 when he died.

-I think about these things
now that I'm older.
It seems like
such a long time ago now.
But George reoccurs
in my dreams occasionally.

There was a large crowd
of people
that came to George's funeral
at Saint George's church.
-The funeral was
extremely well-attended.
All of his model friends,
all of his friends in fashion.
-There have been rumors
that there was an all-male orgy
that happened as a sort of
celebratory send-off to George.
-I went to the funeral.
I don't remember
there being any orgy,
but there could've been.
He had gang bangs.

-Near the end of his life,
George destroyed his
early work,
all of his fashion work.
-George was destroying so many
of those absolutely
wonderful portraits.
It was just George.

-When George passed away,
George had entrusted
his photographic negatives
and many of his prints
to Bernard,
and named Bernard
his artistic executor.
Bernard revered George,
he adored George.
In fact, Bernard passed away
in his bedroom
with a view of this photo.
-My name is Rebecca.
I'm the manager of
traveling exhibitions
for the Kinsey Institute.
I have been in the art world
for a long time.
I'd never heard of
George Platt Lynes.
And I was actually
really upset by that
because his work is
so phenomenally beautiful.
-I guess, somewhere
in your mind, you know about
that the Kinsey Institute
but I don't really think of it
being in the heart of Indiana.
One day, we went over
and met the folks
at the Kinsey Institute.
And because they knew we were
an art museum group, we said,
"Well, maybe there's a project
we could work on together."
And they said, "Well, we have
over 4,000 works of art here."
Which again, I was like,
"Well, that makes total sense,"
but I never knew
they collected art.
That's where I first
really learned
the story of George Platt Lynes,
his relationship
with Alfred Kinsey
that in some ways
saved his legacy.
And the story, to me,
was just so amazing
that it seemed logical that
we needed to do a show on it.

-The Kinsey Institute has
the largest collection
of George Platt Lynes' work.
This is a chance to elevate
an artist
who should be in the canon,
but is not.

-Why there hasn't been
a major exhibition
of George Platt Lynes' work,
at least not on this scale,
and to our knowledge, ever--
I think that's a really
deep question.
I think it has a lot to do
with his sexuality,
with his content.
-We've had some negative
feedback about this show.
-I did get some hate mail.
I got one magazine written back
across, it just said "smut."
But that, to me, makes it
all the more important
that we would be doing
an exhibition like this
because it's still
relevant today.
There's no better time
than absolutely right now
in a country that frankly
has discriminated
against a lot of different
groups of people
over its whole history and
still does today in many ways.
So, Lynes, even though he's
been dead since 1955,
is so relevant.
I mean, it would be
an ironic, horrible end
to his legacy to the world
to have it also
technically stay,
live in the darkness.
And we help him live again
and keep his legacy alive.

-This seems legendary
at this point, but it's real.
George entrusted a box,
a so-called secret box,
to the Kinsey Institute.
-I love trying to
push boundaries,
and so I think there was, like,
a moment where I was like,
"So, like,
how can we look in that box?"
-I know about the box,
and I've never seen the box.
I don't know what's in the box.
At one point,
some of the negatives
that I worked on digitizing,
I kind of thought,
"Oh, maybe these
are part of it," and no.
-Oh, gosh, you know,
there it is, languishing away.
What's in that box?
It's like the holy grail.
-There is a box
in the collection
that George Platt Lynes
had requested to keep private,
and we have kept it private.
I don't know that the box
will ever be made public.
I have not seen the contents
of this box.

-Why did we lose track
of George Platt Lynes?
How did he manage
to drop out of history?
-I don't know
why he disappeared.
Honestly, I don't know.
-Why do you think
George Platt Lynes disappeared?
-Well, I have no idea.
He was such an incredibly
amazing photographer.
And, I mean, I never
fully understood
why he seemed to become
so eclipsed for a certain time
until, in essence,
his rediscovery.

-My name is John Olsen,
and I worked for Frederick Koch
for the last 13 years
of his life.
He was the son
of Fred Chase Koch.
He had a tremendous fortune
and collected voraciously--
houses, art, furniture.
This is all
the Platt Lynes prints
that came from
Bernard Perlin's estate.
In 1985, Fred bought
the enormous estate
of George Platt Lynes--
the items that weren't given,
I think, to Kinsey--
and had it all carefully
catalogued and then boxed
and placed in shelves
in storage here.
And I don't...
We never looked at them.
And he never...
You know, he didn't really
discuss them much.
So, this is
the photography library,
and these are a lot
of the collection albums.
George Tichenor and Jonathan.
And these are two albums
of some of his best nudes.
-Fred Koch amassed
an enormous collection,
that when he died
last year, in 2020,
I was asked to go in
and appraise it.
And really, nobody knew
exactly what was there.
It was like walking into
King Tut's tomb.
-At the beginning of
the appraisal process,
we thought maybe
they were 8,000 items.
And by the time
she was finished,
she said it's close to 20,000.
All of these cases, boxes
are filled with cards,
each one representing
a different photograph
or a different album.
-When we look at archives
like this,
our worlds open up
and we realize anything
that has been written
about these photographers,
where they have been placed
in the course of history,
is this big.
-I've been visiting this house
for more than 30 years.
And today was the first day
that we really dug into,
you know,
the archives of what's here.
It's incredible.
Maybe Fred-- he didn't
even realize what was here.
The joy really was in
assembling the collections
more than, you know,
sharing them.
[ Chuckles ]

-George never entered
the official photographic
He's not the kind of figure
that most photography
histories include,
and when they include him,
he's really considered
a secondary figure.
-It's really hard to know
the extent
of George Platt Lynes' work
because it was distributed
in such weird ways
and sold piecemeal.
-His legacy was sleeping
in storage boxes,
in file cabinets.
-If the works essentially
stayed in the closet,
that's where his legacy
is going to reside.
-Male nudes have never been
acceptable at the museum level.
-There is undeniably
a double standard
in the representation of
female nudes versus male nudes.
-With the female nude,
we're able to separate--
"this is art,
this is the naughty."
With the male nude,
I think it gets very confusing.
What did the male have?
A lot of dangly parts.
And what do you do with that?
-It is frustrating for me
as a woman to walk around
and see naked women
everywhere in art museums,
and, like, there's one penis
and everyone is freaking out.
The male body is much more
threatening to people.
-I think that there is
renewed interest
in George Platt Lynes now
because he's extremely relevant
to the kind of art that people
are making and the kind of
lives that people are leading.
-I think there's a way for him
to be appreciated now
that didn't exist
10 or 20 years ago,
certainly not
when he was living.
-George Platt Lynes perhaps now
is on the radar more than ever.
There's a kind of resurgence
of interest in his work.
-George Platt Lynes had
a tremendous influence,
both directly and indirectly,
on subsequent generations
of photographers.
-You sense his work
in the work of artists
of the '70s and '80s.
Shows that it still circulated
and had a lot of power.
-Lynes basically gave
the subsequent photographers
the freedom to explore
making work with the male nude.
-Peter Hujar and Mapplethorpe,
and there's a series
of photographs
that George Platt Lynes took
just of men's heads at climax,
which seemed to me
to prefigure Warhol.
-So, this is a great example
of a very obvious,
clear photograph
that Robert Mapplethorpe
would have been inspired by.
-I don't know why George
hasn't risen
to the mythological plane
of Robert Mapplethorpe.
I think it's only because
George produced his body
of work
at a moment in time
that is often overlooked.
-It would be fantastic to have
a major institution
launch a one-man-- a show
devoted to George Platt Lynes.
-It's crucial that there be
a major museum exhibition
of this work
because it really requires
sort of significant analysis.
-Why a major museum
has never shown
his nudes, I don't understand.
So, you know,
it's something to do with
American puritanism, I think.
For years and years, it was
impossible to show anything
that even hinted
at homosexuality
in American museums.
My museum would be delighted
to show his work
if we could access enough of it.
It fits perfectly
into our collection.
I mean, look around you.
What do I have here?
[ Laughing ] I have a pretty,
pretty targeted collection.
-We have to find a way
to make this collection,
his other collections,
accessible to the public.
Fred's will directed the
establishment of a foundation,
and it's in its infancy
right now.
It's a huge opportunity to be
able to share Lynes' work.
-What we'd like to do
is allow him to be seen
as he was seen
during the days in which he was
a successful photographer.
-We need to have that
overall contextualization
and get him back into the canon
of photographic art history.
-There are so many pictures
that we've never seen before
or have never been published.
So, that's kind of intriguing.
There's always more
of a mystery about
Mr. George Platt Lynes.
-His is a story that was
extinguished way too soon.
He was a man who was so driven,
not only as a liver of life,
but as a creator.
-With George Platt Lynes,
we have to realize that we're
almost doing
an archeology here,
that we're looking at fragments
of an enormous person.
I think to understand George
is to see him, not only his art
but his life,
in the context of his time.
So, step back and look and say,
well, where did he fit in
with Gertrude
and Alice, and why?
And who was this famous young
writer who was
fascinated by him
and ended up with giving him
to his boyfriend,
and they had to live together
for 30 years?
And who were the people
that they knew
and that they collaborated with
and who influenced them
and who they influenced,
this community
that moved through history?
And that's what is waiting
to be reassembled.
The bits that are here,
the bits that are there,
the museum that has this,
the collection that has that.
Put the puzzle back together
and be amazed at what you see.
It's more than he was
a wonderful photographer.
It's more than that he was
a gay hero.
It's more than he was
a fascinating person.
It's more than he was beloved.
It's all of those things.

It's the story of his life.

-Oh, my gosh.
I would have loved to have met
George Platt Lynes.
-We would have gotten on
[ Laughs ]
-Oh, I never met him, no,
but I wish I had met--
Oh, he's probably-- Yes, we
could have met, my dear.
-I would have loved
to have met him, of course.
-I don't know if I would have
been cool enough for him.
[ Laughs ]
He would have liked the hat.
You know?
-I'd like to take a walk
with him.
-I would have loved
to have been given a cocktail
by George Platt Lynes.
-I would've liked
to go to his parties.
-Wonderful, delicious stories
and gossip.
-I was always curious about
what he might've sounded like.
It's through the photographs
that we must reconstruct
this personality.
-I would have loved to have met
George Platt Lynes.
And I think that probably
within a matter of 10 minutes,
we would probably have
some kind of argument.
[ Laughs ]
-But I don't know if we would
be diehard friends for life.
-What would I ask him?
You know, "How did you do it?"
"How did you talk
all these people
into taking off their clothes,
including your relatives?"
-I think we would talk
about the things
that gay guys talk about now,
which is, like, hot guys
that you fucked, movie stars
that you think are pretty,
and, like, the books that
you read that are really good.
-I think it would have been
interesting to meet George.