Props, costumes added unique touch to Mizer's photos, films (Part I)

General Comments
Props, costumes added unique touch to Mizer's photos, films (Part I)

Author’s note: This is the first in a two-part series detailing some of the props used by Bob Mizer in his movies throughout the years. Part II will run on our blog on Tuesday, June 27.

The headquarters of the Bob Mizer Foundation is home to box upon box of Bob Mizer’s slides, still images, negatives, and films, all meticulously stacked in alphabetical order. But not many Foundation supporters know that the Foundation also houses set pieces, costumes, and props that feature heavily in Mizer’s films.

Students and interns from out of state have catalogued the items, which have been featured at exhibits across the country and around the world. Once the Foundation completes its move to 920 Larkin St. in downtown San Francisco, the Foundation’s staff will make all of the surviving items available to students and scholars who might wish to study them.

“Since these pieces are fragile and some of them show their age, obviously, these visitors will need some sort of supervision,” says Keith Foote, vice president and chief operations officer for the Foundation. “But to have them at your disposal for research purposes is something about which we hope our supporters will be excited.”

The 2009 book “Bob’s World” prominently features multiple props and costumes from Mizer’s decades in film. Foundation President and CEO Dennis Bell and TASCHEN Sexy Books Editor Dian Hanson photographed and captioned those pieces that might be more easily recognizable to fans of those movies. 

Set pieces: Majestic mountains

One of the backdrops seen most often in Mizer’s still images throughout the 1970s and ‘80s included the peaks of purple mountains. The original pieces, mostly lavender in color and made of plywood, are housed in the archives of the Foundation. Usually accompanied by a vast sunset, Mizer’s models were present in the foreground, wrestling or spanking one another; grinning in mid-strip; soaring through the air while bound in shackles; or baring their pink assholes. 

“The great outdoors was a present theme in the scenery appearing in Bob’s photos and films,” Bell says. “I think that has something to do with Bob’s efforts to portray his men as pictures of perfection, their beauty only matched by phenomenon occurring in the world of nature.”

The juxtaposition of naturally occurring scenery, such as mountains, with bright colors like purple is a combination that is uniquely Mizer. 

“It creates a real sense of fun that can be found in abundance in Bob’s works,” Bell observes. “Bob consistently took a simple object, character or idea, and was able to make it stand out in a really special way.”

Costumes and props: Heroes, mythical creatures and royalty

Bob Mizer’s costumes presented the ageless dichotomy of good and bad, virtue and evil, and always with an erotic twist. Especially in Mizer’s movies that had basic storylines, his celluloid heroes begin the film as the good guy but end up as objects of desire. 

“So many of Bob’s characters are symbols of masculinity to which we are exposed from a very early age,” Bell explains. 

In browsing the Foundation’s collection of costumes, one will come across the uniform of the sailor in Mizer’s “Go Go Sailor” (1971), featuring female nudity as well as male; an indian’s headdress and a cowboy’s holster and pistol, wielded by model Greg McFarland in 1970; the horns nestled atop the pretty head of a muscled woodland creature in “Afternoon of a Satyr” (1955); a crown and scepter featured in “Son of a Ding-a-Ling King”; scout caps such as those seen in “Voluptuous Scouts” (1975) starring Tico Patterson and Blue Max Hensley; and a collection of swords and tunics from movies that transport the viewer back to the days of ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, such as “Ben-Hurry” (1961), “Slave for a Queen” (1964), and “Days of Greek Gods” (1954). 

Mizer’s costumed heroes weren’t just of the historic variety, either. Viewers were just as likely to see Mizer’s models tossing or catching a football, wearing the all-too-short gym shorts that were a staple of 1970s gay porn, towling off in a locker room, or just posing in tube socks and sneakers. 

“Cowboys and Roman gladiators were masculine caricatures, yes, but for a lot of gay men, athletes could be seen as just as mythical and unobtainable,” Bell says. “How many gay teens lusted after the quarterback of the football team in high school or in college? Or the school’s star basketball player? When we were in school, they were the stuff of legend. Knowing this, Mizer used his costumes and props to make that connection, to a time that we all remember vividly.”

“These figures of masculinity are ones we’ve been familiar with since childhood,” Bell continues, “and every Roman toga, every cowboy hat, every military or police uniform was integral to the presentation of the fantasy he shot on film.”

Next week we will feature part II of this series, which will focus on the props and costumes that brought Mizer’s bad boys, villains, and hoodlums to life. Part II also will examine the metal nameplates used in photos and films to introduce Mizer's models to the viewer.