Sunday, May 1, 2011
In 1992 Bill Clinton defeated George H. W. Bush to become the 42nd President of the United States, Prince Charles and Princess Diana officially separate, the Space Shuttle Endeavour lifts off on it's maiden voyage, the first Nicotine patch is introduced, the Summer Olympics take place in Barcelona, Spain and rioting broke out in L A following the acquittal of four white police officers accused of beating Rodney King.
The #1 movie of the year was Disney's Aladdin. Also on the Silver Screen, Sharon Stone gave a flash in Basic Instinct, Whoopi delivered in Sister Act, Jack Nicholson couldn't handle the truth in A Few Good Men and Whitney Houston never sounded better on The Bodyguard soundtrack. On television reality was nowhere to be seen with the half hour sit-com dominating the ratings. Cheers, Roseanne, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, Home Improvement, Coach and Full House all making the top 10 shows of the year.
I was in high school beginning the year in 11th grade and finishing it out in 12th. I was rehearsing for my role as Prez in The Pajama Game and in my second year of a long relationship with a wonderful girl and spent a lot of time worrying about whether I would get into University.
1992 was also the year Dirk Shafer became Playgirl's Man of the Year. This was not Dirk's first time in the magazine, the Illinois native first appeared in a pictorial a year earlier. Dirk is arguably one of Playgirl's most well known centerfolds. Playgirl's popularity was at an all time high in the early nineties and Shafer was one of it's most popular models appearing on numerous talk shows and making countless public appearances to promote the magazine. Dirk chronicled this time in the 1995 film Man of the Year, which he not only starred in but also wrote and directed. Man of The Year is described as a mockumentary about his time as a semi-closeted gay man in the role of a heterosexual sex symbol.
Dirk Shafer's Man of the Year issue was also the first issue of the magazine I actually bought. I had seen Dirk in the magazine before but up to that point most of the issues of Playgirl I saw were either quick peaks on store shelves. The only person I knew who purchased the magazine was my Aunt. Whenever we visited, I would sneak into her bedroom, frightened I would get caught, and take a peak. Thankfully she passed some of them on to my mother when she was done.
I was in a drugstore when I saw the cover.I remember the excitement and the panic as I put the magazine behind a Playboy (made sense at the time...)and an issue of Time and took all three to the check out. Thankfully there was no line and I breezed quickly through. I had this pattern of always grabbing a paper or some gum when the clerk was ringing in the magazines so no eye contact had to be made during the exchange.
Prior to his appearance, Playgirl also had an impact on Dirk Shafer. In 1990 he was was a film maker attending the University of Oklahoma focusing on film making and communications in the school of journalism.
'Playgirl became a great diversion and I was attracted to it, because as a sheltered lil ugly duckling skinny buck toothed boy in the sticks, it was the first time I had seen hot guys naked.'
I know that sheltered skinny ugly duckling well, I think we all do. It is a part of all of us to varying degrees. We don't all get a chance to turn that duckling into a swan the way Dirk did but thankfully with his work for the magazine his movies he took us along for the ride.
2 shots below by Jon Abeyta.
FH: You first appeared in Playgirl in 1990, tell me how it came about?
I used to sneak peeks of Playgirl as a kid whenever I could, and it came to represent what I believed at that time were the strongest most attractive guys on Earth. So once I moved to Los Angeles to chase after a film making career, I started doing every odd job under the sun to make money to survive. I was working a lot on movie sets, as a reader, in development, as assistants to producers and directors, even working in the art departments and transportation departments to get experience. My best friend Vivian suggested I pose for Playgirl for extra cash too and I was all for it, because if I were to be chosen, it would validate me as being attractive. And I had never felt like a sexy person until that point.
FH: Was it a difficult decision to decide to bare all for the magazine?
'It was tough at first, and I went back and forth saying yes and no to them many times. But once there is a seed of something planted in your head, it tends to grow... whether or not it's a weed or a beautiful flower. Well, it grew, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. They let me have a lot of control over the pics, the poses, the photographer, the location, everything.'
FH: What was the pay for a playgirl appearance in 1991?
It wasn't much and they still don't pay as much as they should, but in the end I wasn't doing it for money and never really do anything for money or I wouldn't have made two low low budget indie gay films. I did it for the experience, the validation, and the adventure and look where it eventually took me. It changed my life and I went in all sorts of different adventurous directions.
FH: What was the first shoot with Tom Clark like, were you nervous, any memories?
I love Tom and through the magic of facebook we have reconnected. He was and is very talented. I was scared to death, but he has a calm reassuring manner and he made me feel confident. And he worked with me on making choices which gave me a lot of trust in him. We shot at this old cabin up at Big Bear Lake, which was beautifully painted because it belonged to a gay art director. The location was fantastic. We spent the weekend there shooting and it was very chill. Just the two of us. No assistants, no make up, no hair, no intimidation. It was surprisingly innocent feeling at the time.
FH: In 1992 you were chosen Man of the year, how did you hear the news and what did you do to celebrate?
They called me on the phone, and I SAID HELL YES, without even thinking of the repercussions, because I love awards and trophies and I love to win, who doesn't? Then I called my gay lover and explained it to him and he made me aware of the potential mess I could be setting myself up for...
FH: The 1992 shoot again put you back on a farm, this time shot by Robert Cuningham, any memories of this shoot? How many people were mulling around and was there more pressure given it was for man of the year.
There was a lot more pressure, but again I was with a photographer I trusted who made me feel confident. And his past work really spoke for his talent and made me feel like I was in good hands, so to speak. He was cold at first, and we were not fast friends like I had been with Tom. But once Doug and I warmed up to each other, the walls came down and I enjoyed the shoot and we collaborated on it artistically. Doug found the farm, and I have always thought I was best suited to being a cowboy or surfer type, so I was more comfortable there (growing up in Oklahoma I was on many farms). But of course I wasn't loading hay and feeding horses in the nude. Back then, there was a trend at Playgirl that the model must be engaged in an activity while he was naked. You know as in sailing a boat, working a fork lift, or knitting a shawl, lol. I was the first time around reading books in Adirondack chairs, and the second shoot, working on the farm.
FH: Did you have any say/clout on shoots given you make multiple appearances?
Yes, as I said, they always gave me a lot of creative freedom, primarily because I always came to the table with lots of ideas, probably more than their average model. Because I study film and directing, my mind works better behind the scenes than in front. And I think my ideas were fine with them, I never suggested anything nutty like setting myself on fire and jumping off a ledge in the buff.
FH: How did your family/friends react when you first appeared in the magazine?
I kind of just did it without telling them, so they all learned of it after the fact. Everyone was really good about it, and some not so much, this is all really detailed in my film MAN OF THE YEAR.
FH: Was there a point your sexuality had any impact on your relationship with the magazine or did you keep it quiet until everything settled down?
They had several different reactions at the time, worried which one would cost them the most readership. In the end they have gone completely gay friendly and I don't even know how much of it is for women at this point.
FH: Where was the first place you saw the edition on the newsstand?
It was at a news stand in Hollywood, on Cauenga and Hollywood Blvd. It was freaky for me and a weird moment, being both proud and embarrassed. Much like Gypsy Rose Lee must have felt when she became a famous stripper, I mean it's great, I'm working right?
FH: In the early 90’s, mainstream media was paying close attention to Playgirl and I know you made numerous appearances on daytime talk shows, meeting celebrities and discussing the shoots. Any specific memories from this crazy time?
Yes, literally thousands, and too many to go into here. I was on over 25 talk shows. Talk shows were like reality is now, completely over exposed (just like me). They were desperate for material and guests and I was a talking bod who could put sentences together and complete them and make a point. I had a pulse and pecs and that was all that was needed. It wasn't hard to pull off being straight, I had done it all my life growing up in Oklahoma (which is cousin to Matthew Shepherd territory). I think you understand what I am saying.
Above: Dirk with Phil Donahue
FH: What was fan reaction like? Any difference from men and from women?
At that time it was mostly women who came up to me on the streets, then when I came out, mostly men. The audience suddenly shifted. Most people were and always have been very nice to me and genuine. I like that energy and have been fortunate to receive that kind of attention for so many years.
FH: What was the best part of the experience?
It was certainly not the money, it was the people I encountered, the friends I made, the characters I worked with, the places I got to travel. Then when I "came out" it grew even larger, and I traveled with the film (both films, CIRCUIT as well) all around the world and worked like a little gay ambassador. I gave speeches at universities and schools, and encouraged people to come out, and be who they were and not be ashamed. I brought my mother and sister with me on TV shows and they were vocal and supportive. I have traveled through South Africa, England, Brazil, Canada, and everywhere in the US that has a gay film festival. Some of them twice. It's so cool to go to a smaller city and be treated with such respect and get to live with the locals and see their little gay worlds and the difference they are making step by small step. They have been like pioneers and have earned by greatest respect. It's easy being openly gay in New York and Los Angeles... not so much in Tulsa, Tampa, or Johannasberg.
FH: What was the worst?
I don't remember worst moments for the most part, I have been able to forget worst moments, it's a nice little gift. I let that stuff go, to dredge it up really doesn't do anyone any good, unless I can use it as a warning which is what my movie Circuit was all about...
Above: Dirk by D'Andre Michael
Dirk Shafer's impact on Playgirl readers, especially those of us who grew up sneaking peaks and nervously buying the magazine, continued long after his time as man of the year. Up until Dirk, the words Playgirl and gay were only said together in whispers. Dirk was not just a champion for coming out publically, but more importantly for letting the world know that us 'peakers' actually exsisted. I can understand the magazine not wanting to become solely a 'gay' magazine but combining the female and gay audiences has proved quite powerful for some... (Think Oprah, Desperate Housewives & Sex & The City).
I also recommend Dirk's follow up motion picture 2001's Circuit. The film garnered mixed reviews but won several film festival awards. In many ways, like Man Of The Year, Circuit was groundbreaking, bringing attention to a subject not generally covered at the time by mainstream media. Circuit went on to become one of the best selling gay DVD titles on record.
Dirk Shafer proved centerfolds are not just God like, distant, unattainable masses of hot flesh. Dirk's transformation from ugly duckling to 1992's Man of the Year and then to Man Of The Year brought both homour and humanity to the role. For many of us, it also for the first time brought relatability and a much needed direct connection to the publication so pivotal in many of our lives.
Thanks to Dirk Shafer for sharing with FH ,putting up with my far too long list of questions and for providing such detail.