From Gangs to Glory – Joe Leitel

Stump Keith , History Comments
From Gangs to Glory – Joe Leitel

Every AMG model had a history or made history, and Joe Leitel was no different.  

One of the most popular and enduring models at Athletic Model Guild, Joe Leitel was discovered in late 1956 by an AMG talent scout while Joe was buying a physique magazine.  Bob Mizer first met Joe in January 1957 when the scout brought him by the studio to pose.  Bob initially thought that the 6'1" 180 pound model was a bit too white to photograph, but a little Max Factor solved that problem during their first session.

Summer 1957 Physique Pictorial

In May of that year Bob was already pasting up the Summer 1957 Physique Pictorial which would feature Joe on the cover.  Images of Joe appeared in at least fourteen Physique Pictorials, and at one time Bob estimated there were more than 500 photos of him at the studio.

Joe appeared in a number of AMG films, including Bathroom Athlete with Charles Butler and Joe Pagart, Cowboys and Indians with Dick Dearwester, Dick Collier and George Savage, Cowboy and Sailor with Bob Saputo, I Was a Teenage Bum with Kelly Mangum and Walt Bowman, and the Richard Fontaine collaboration Ben Hurry with Alan Parker and Bruce Reed.

Some of Joe’s best friends or roommates during his early years at AMG were other top models from that era - Bill Milhorn, Johnny Jolcin, Dave Wiler and Don Fuller.

Joe was a daily visitor at AMG and frequently helped on AMG films and projects.  Bob and Joe were friends for more than 30 years. 

Joe Leitel

Chuck Renslow first met and photographed Joe during a visit to the AMG studios in June 1957.  In fact, in his first years of modeling Joe was photographed by Russ Warner, Spartan, Lyle Frisby, Ralph Kelly, Vulcan, Hombre, Pat Milo, Art Bob and Apollo.  He was very popular and very photogenic.

Joe was born Joseph Rick La Grasso on August 4, 1937 in San Pedro, California.  He was raised in Colorado before the family moved back to the San Bernardino area.  Shortly after his 18th birthday, Joe was arrested for being part of boy burglary gang.  Authorities easily identified each member of the gang by the matching tattoos on their hands.  He pled guilty one month later and spent six months in prison.

In August 1958 he married his girlfriend, Carol, who was also a regular visitor at AMG.  Carol's name is tattooed on Joe’s right wrist, which you can see in some of his photos.  They had two children.

Joe Leitel and John Stone

In addition to modeling, acting and raising homing pigeons as a hobby, he listed his original occupation as a truck driver.  He eventually owned his own blacktop company and his own bar, the Golden Nugget.  He appeared on television in two episodes of the TV Series I Dream of Jeannie.  Later in life he worked as a prop maker at a major Hollywood studio.

Joe Leitel - 1982

Joe’s first frontal nude in Physique Pictorial appeared in 1981, and in September 1982 he appeared in Physique Pictorial for the last time at age 44. He was last photographed and videoed at AMG with Peter Canavan in September 1989 when he was more than 50 years old.

Joe Leitel passed away in Cabazon, California on September 2, 2001 of a heart ailment at age 64.

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