Working for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company was my first real job after I graduated from high school in 1977. My mother was so happy when I called to tell her that had I passed the telephone operator test and was starting a job that had a paid vacation and a health insurance plan. She said, “Boy, you got a good job with benefits. Don’t mess that up.” Once I started with the company, day in and day out I would see the faces of the “lifers” who worked there, people who hated the job but stayed on for those glorious benefits. I couldn’t imagine staying twenty years at a job I hated, as my brother would end up doing. Still I tried, Lord -- I tried to stay with it.
I did love people, but giving out telephone numbers all day wasn’t my idea of relating to them. I loved the attention I got the day the cameras arrived and took the picture of me for the advertising campaign. The cameraman flashed his bulb, capturing me in a moment as I flipped through a huge paper directory. Then, as quickly as it had happened, it was over and I was back to the real world of being just like everyone else. “Hello, directory assistance -- may I help you?” That was my standard, never changing phone greeting.
Directory assistance operators were “programmed” to sound alike, and if you knew what was good for you, you’d better stick to the script or risk being canned. You were to answer the phone quickly and correctly, then get the person off the line as soon as possible so you could pick up the next call. Speed and accuracy were crucial, while imagination was taboo. I spent almost three years with the company, confined to a desk, answering 411 calls. Even though I spent the second year in a mental hospital, that year still counts because the company still employed me. So I say that I had one year off in the middle, with good behavior.
Male operators were relatively new at that time, and their voices took callers by surprise. Often, people wanted to engage me in conversations. Unfortunately, frequent compliments on my “wonderful speaking voice” only delayed my getting calls turned around as quickly as possible. I knew that if I continued working for C&P, I could expect to do the same thing for eight hours a day, for the rest of my life. It was not an enticing prospect. One day in 1979, I called in sick and never went back.
I needed to find a job that made me the center of attention, just as I had been that day during the photo shoot. I got the idea to become an art model after seeing an episode of Alice, a television sitcom based on the 1974 movie Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. In one particular episode, Alice and her sassy, man-hungry waitress co-worker, Flo, (the character who popularized the catchphrase “Kiss my grits!”), take a break from their jobs at Mel’s Diner to attend an art class. When they arrive, to their surprise, they are given the assignment of sketching a naked male model. The sexual tension and innuendo that ensues makes for great humor between the two ladies; Alice is uncomfortable with the nudity while Flo, true to her character, overtly gives the male model “dirty looks.”
I envied the position of being desired, admired, and yet untouchable. My interest in art had led me to enroll in a night course in photography at the Maryland Institute College of Art, (MICA), and while taking class one evening I saw a flyer that read, “Seeking nude art models.”
It seemed like the perfect fit. I loved being naked. As a child, I was always comfortable wearing as little clothing as possible. During the hot summer days in Portsmouth, Virginia, my siblings and I ran around in our white cotton underwear. In high school, my best friend Bruce Melvin and I ran naked across the auditorium stage one day, during a play rehearsal when the drama teacher was not there.
Back in 1975, they called such a stunt “streaking.” There was even a song made about it called “The Streak,” by Ray Stevens. Being naked in public gave me such a rush. During my summers as a teenager, when I would spend time in Baltimore at my father’s apartment, I would walk down Gwynn Falls Parkway to the park at night and take my clothes off. Hiding them in the bushes, I would run naked through the park. How I never ended up running into the police or a rapist is testimony that God looks out for fools and babies. I eventually stopped my nude runs at night when I lost my house keys in the park. Not that I had my address on them, but I was scared someone would find them and come after me. It was a rude awakening, but I still enjoyed nudity.
MICA was looking for male models, in particular. It was my chance to be naked and get paid for it. The flyer said to ask for “Pat” in the mailroom. I ventured there and found that Pat was a very pretty, blonde, pale young girl, who kept two huge greyhound dogs at her side. I had not known what to expect during the impromtu meeting, so I wore a suit and tie in case it ended up being a formal interivew. The thing I remember most about Pat was that she never seemed to smile. She handed me an application and simply aksed, “Are you available next Thursday night?”
“Sure, I guess so,” I said. “Do I need a time card or do I sign in when I go to the class?”
“No -- if you don’t show up, trust I’ll hear about it,” Pat assured. “Just keep track of your hours and compare it to your paycheck. You get paid twice a month.”
She scribbled down a building and classroom number on a piece of paper and handed it to me. I learned later that when models didn’t show up for a class, she usually had to step in and pose. I don’t think that made her too happy. I was surprised that there wasn’t more to my interview. She never even asked if I had any ugly birthmarks.
That next Thursday night, I arrived half an hour early for my modeling assignment, just to make sure I would find the right room. A buddy came with me because he could not believe I was about to pose naked, and wanted to see it for himself. It was a night class for alumni students, and they ranged in age from late thirties to early fifties. Another model was also scheduled for the class, and when he arrived he started undressing right there in the middle of the room. I found that odd, because when I thought back to that episode of Alice, I remembered that the model character had a dressing room. I remained sitting in the corner of the classroom, feeling very much overdressed in my vintage winter coat, Calvin Klein designer jeans, and ankle boots. Then my buddy looked at me as if to say, “Your turn?”
The instructor asked me and the other model which of us wanted the long pose and which wanted the short pose. The long pose would be the same pose held for the duration of the class period, while the short pose would change every twenty minutes, after each rest break. Poses were usually twenty minutes on and ten minutes off, to rest. I opted for the long pose so that I could study what the other guy was doing on the short poses, then duplicate that the next time around.
On my ten-minute breaks, I slipped into my jeans and wandered around the classroom to admire the work of the artists. The alumni class students were not required to work in any specific media, so I could be rendered in charcoal, oils, acrylics, pastels, or even clay. I became a favorite among teachers, and a few helped secure private assignments for me, recommending me to pose at the homes of local artists or at other art schools. Many of the art teachers themselves would also approach models to pose for their own private work. From there, word of a good model would get around. Sometimes I posed for high school students, but for them I was required to wear swim trunks.
When I told my mother what I was doing, it did not surprise her. She seemed pleased that I was doing what made me happy. She moved to Baltimore during my second year of working at MICA and when people asked her what she thought of her son modeling nude, she told them, “It’s not like I have never seen Dale naked. I changed his diapers. It ain’t nothing new to me.”
I loved being watched. I prided myself on being able to zone out and hold a pose without moving. Standing still, my mind would drift to songs in my head, my favorite movies, grocery lists, and things to do later. When you are twenty-one years old, you feel young and fearless and never question the dangers that could be out in the world. I never thought that the artists who hired me privately might be crazy or be sex fiends. I never once felt I was in any kind of danger. One time, I caught the bus to a late night assignment at a huge, creepy mansion that had been used in the horror film The House on Sorority Row. Instead of worrying about being alone with a stranger in the dark house, my biggest concern was the cold draft coming from the fireplace.
Posing nude for private sessions invited sexual attention, and I was hit on twice during my nude modeling days. A traveling instructor once asked me to pose for him at his apartment in a temporary dorm next to the college. Halfway through the session, he confessed his deep desire for me, threw his arms around me, and then pushed his tongue down my throat. I was surprised…but not turned off.
The second incident occurred when a very frail, old, white gentleman was drawing me at his home. He lived with his twin brother. I had posed for both of them during an alumni art class, but his brother was not present during our appointment. As the session was ending, he asked if he could put his arms around me before I redressed. I thought to myself, “He’s so old -- he probably hasn’t touched a naked body in a long time. What harm could it do?” He embraced me with the passion of a grandfather and was so gentle that it never felt awkward, although there was still a slight sexual undercurrent present. This honored and flattered me. He did not undress and never crossed that line again. I felt sad for him because I believe he was so far in the closet that even his twin brother did not know about his desires.
As much as I loved working at MICA, posing during classes wasn’t always a breeze. There were times I stood in a pose so long that I would pass out. I learned early on that part of a model’s traveling kit included a comfortable robe, flip-flops, a blanket to stand on, and a space heater. Sometimes the drafts made posing an extremely frosty experience -- I figured I’d have arthritis before I turned thirty! The most frequently asked question by my friends was, “Do you ever get a hard on?” The answer: “Yes.” That usually happened while in a sitting or reclining pose, and once during a wrestling pose with another guy.
I posed for anatomy, watercolor, sculpture, and photography classes, but “Drawing for the Clothed Figure” was my favorite class. It was during this class that I got to try out some of my costume designs. I would come up with interesting outfits for characters I’d invent, such as the suave gentleman wearing a tuxedo, an Arabian sheik, a prohibition gangster, or an English count. The instructor loved that I came up with my own ideas. I looked forward to those sessions, and often wished I were the artist doing the drawings.
During those years, some of the artists in those classes gave me paintings and sketches of myself that I still keep. I also became good friends with a small group of models, and we hung out at the local tavern on our lunch breaks. We would gather together and drink merlot, and discuss our own artistic ventures. I learned that many of them were visual artists too. We collectively approached the college about having a gallery showing called “Models Show All.” It was a showing of work done of us by students and instructors, as well as a showing of art we had created ourselves. On opening night, we erected a huge platform in the center of the gallery and held a twenty-minute pose to the Foreigner power ballad “I Want to Know What Love Is.”
With the help of some photography students, I put together a real modeling portfolio. I worked out deals where I would pose nude for them in exchange for headshots and photos of me wearing some of my original clothing designs. I had been given a sewing machine by a neighbor and had started teaching myself how to sew. I know it sounds so Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, but I rounded up some friends and said, “Let’s produce some fashions shows!” We ended up doing just that. It was all very fun, being actively engaged in all the things I loved. Sometimes I would pull my brother into my projects; he usually videotaped my events, provided music, or took pictures. However, Ricky never ventured too far into my creative world and kept his safe day job. I longed to venture into anything that interested me. Along with modeling, I took up acting, dancing, and musical theater.
I registered with the local Baltimore talent agencies, Central Casting and Taylor-Royal Casting. First, I started doing print work, but it was very homogenized. I wanted GQ but got Sears. They always cast me as a student or a young dad dressed in bland, boring, clothing. I longed to do high fashion, but I was one inch short of the required six feet. I did make nice money as a hand model, though, and I really loved doing commercials and training films. Ironically, I appeared in several training films for C&P, the company I quit to become a model. The films were called “industrials,” and they allowed me to shine in a lead role that I enjoyed more than the background work that the local movies and commercials offered. Background work, which I was not very fond of, mainly consisted of crossing back and forth behind the speaking actors who usually flew in from New York or California. Nevertheless, I got my union card and started working as a background extra on movies shooting in Baltimore. The money was nice, the work was relatively easy, but it was frustrating not being the center of attention. The first movie I ever did extra work for was The Bedroom Window. Afterwards, I did background work on The Accidental Tourist, Broadcast News, Clara’s Heart, The Distinguished Gentleman, and Boomerang. I got my first screen credit on John Waters’ film Hairspray, but it’s not as if I had any real lines. I just hollered unrecognizable words at a white woman getting out of a cab in a black neighborhood. In the credits, they listed me as “Street Hood #2.” Ever since then, I have been getting a residual check for that movie. Sometimes my residual checks have been no more than a few pennies, which used to make me laugh because more money was spent on the postage. However, since the release of the 2007 version of Hairspray, the amounts of the checks have increased, perhaps due to a renewed interest in the original version of the film.
I worked on and off as a nude model for eight years, but commercial model work started coming in so frequently that I had to start turning down assignments at MICA. As a nude model, I averaged about fifty to seventy-five dollars a day, but I could make that in one hour as a commercial hand model, and I could make more than that per hour if I booked a local commercial. It was around that time that I became a multi-entrepreneur. I was offered the position of Head Modeling Instructor at a John Casablancas franchise, (also known as Elite Model Management), in Towson, Maryland. There I taught runway techniques to rich, white, county kids. I critiqued their modeling headshots, taught diet and exercise, set up photo shoots and gave make-up tips for guys so they could look professional without looking like they had make-up on. It was more like a charm school, and most students at the school never went on to do anything in modeling or entertainment. However, I did have a couple of success stories. One of my students was Kevin Levrone, who went on to win an Arnold Schwarzenegger Bodybuilding Classic, then moved to Los Angeles and started working as an actor. Another student I had, Lawrence Davis, went on to become a personal celebrity hairstylist, and won an Emmy for his work on The Tyra Banks Show.
Long before television shows like America’s Next Top Model and Project Runway brought national media attention to modeling and designing careers, I was already posing nude, competing against other models for assignments, and designing original fashion outfits on a shoestring budget. My family and friends see these shows today and say, “This is nothing new. Dale was doing this back in the 80’s.” When I look at these shows, especially the modeling shows, such as TV Land’s She’s Got the Look, VH1’s America’s Most Smartest Model, Bravo’s Make Me A Supermodel, or Oxygen’s The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency, there is always a competition that involves posing nude. And there is always one contestant with drama issues around being naked. Television loves conflict and drama. In the real world, if you are comfortable in your own skin, wearing clothes just becomes an extension of that comfort.
In my lifetime, I have consistently reached for non-traditional jobs, not because somebody told me I could not but because I wanted to do them. I am glad I did. Through those jobs I learned anatomy, physical discipline, design construction, fashion show production, and how to market an image. I also learned how to take rejection and not take it personally. Each new artistic venture I embarked upon seemed to unfold before me, as if created just for me in mind. I spent ten years acting and modeling in the local Baltimore market and, by local standards, I was considered successful. I never for a day regretted leaving the phone company.
As if I did not have enough to keep me busy, around 1984 I met an actor at an audition who asked me to partner with him to form an exotic dance troupe called “M-Squad: Male Dancers For All Occasions.” He was heterosexual and felt that having a gay partner would get the troupe into more clubs. He was right. Our sexual diversity got us into venues that varied from gay to straight. Not only did I dance and choreograph, I designed costumes for the dancers. My stage name became “Aries the Ram,” and I got to be very good at creating G-strings and tear-away pants, (which were my favorite.) I turned some of the other dancers onto modeling at MICA, and used others as models in the fashion shows I was producing. I was really into cross promotion!
My favorite show that M-Squad staged was “Crime and Punishment.” Each dance number was performed to a song themed around some criminal offense, songs like “Armed and Extremely Dangerous” by disco singing group First Choice, or “I’ve Been Robbed” by the group Three Million. After the solo performances, the show’s finale was a huge court scene with a female judge, female prosecutor, and female police officer; I added female dancers for special occasions. All the male dancers were brought on stage in handcuffs, connected together like a chain gang. The female judge found them all “guilty,” then took off her robe to reveal herself scantily clad in a dominatrix outfit. Then the audience went wild as she set to punishing them; she pulled out a whip, bent them over, and started whipping their asses! Of course, I choreographed this finale off a Diana Ross song, “Surrender.”
Like M-Squad’s two founders, some of the dancers in the group were gay and others were heterosexual. It was nothing for a male dancer to bring a horny female into our dressing room during a show and have sex with her in a toilet stall. But homophobia set in whenever we danced at the gay clubs. The straight dancers were hungry for the tips from a gay audience, but fraternizing after the show was a no-no. They did not allow male guests in the dressing rooms during those shows.
One night, my business partner and I were booked to perform at a private party that some ladies were throwing in an after-hours basement club off Fulton Avenue. Imagine my shock when, during my performance, the hostess took my penis out of my G-string and masturbated me to climax. Across the room, another female was jerking off my partner, which I found exciting to watch. The huge tip I got that night made the performance worth it. I laugh sometimes when I hear people comment that a woman cannot turn on a gay man. I love sex and think of myself as a sexual creature, I just prefer to have sex with men.
Thinking back on my first print advertisement, I would change it today to read: Yes, Dale likes people, and that’s why he chose to be admired, desired, looked at and photographed. Look, but don’t touch. Well…sometimes.
“Look in the mirror, love the reflection that looks back at you and embrace the sexy.”