Out and proud Emmy and Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jones has a new project that will resonate with many gay men.
All Man: The International Male Story is a documentary covering the popular mail-order catalog and its history for over three decades. Narrated by Matt Bomer, Jones' film spotlights a unique time in history for the community, and features of wide array of characters.
International Male is no longer in print. It's acquisition by Hanover Direct in the '80s marked the beginning of a long decline. But the legacy of International Male lives on, thanks to the memories of gay men who were there, and movies such as Jones'.
Gay creator of International Male Gene Burkard passed away during post-production of the film on December 11, 2020, but his contributions continue as the UC San Diego HIV Institute received $400,000 in October of 2022 from the Eugene R. Burkard Charitable Remainder Trust.
Jones is both writer and executive producer of All Man, and worked with Burkard to uncover a vast amount of footage for a documentary that is quickly gaining traction after successful screenings at Tribeca Festival, Outfest and Provincetown Film Festival. His past work includes Judy Garland: Beyond the Rainbow and Stardust: The Bette Davis Story. His production company has created 85 profiles for A&E Biography, and he has taken home the Producer of the Year Award from The Producers Guild of America for two years.
Jones shared stories over a virtual call from his home office.
Windy City Times: Hi, Peter. Happy Pride!
Peter Jones: Thank you. Check out my master's degree on the wall from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. I loved being in Chicago, and lived on Clark Street back then.
WCT: What led you to All Man: The International Male Story in the first place?
PJ: I was working on a historical series about aerospace for PBS. My editor for episode four was Bryan Darling, and I asked him about his other projects. He told me he had been doing interviews with his friend Jesse Finley Reed for International Male, and asked if I had heard of the catalog. I told him I had a black fishnet tank top and leopard print tights that I had worn for over 10 years that I bought at the International Male store in West Hollywood.
I encouraged them to include the founders of the company to make the movie successful. The founder Gene Burkard had turned them down previously. Gene was from Sheboygan, Wisconsin and a self-made guy who wanted legitimacy as a key part of the story. He was an out and proud gay man, but his catalog sold clothes to all men.
He wanted the documentary to focus on the entire enterprise and all men, even though 70% of the market was women buying clothes for their partners. I flew down to San Diego to meet with Gene and Gloria Tomita, his second-in-command, to convince them that I would tell the story correctly.
I told him I would pay for it and he looked at Gloria and said, "Peter is just as crazy as we are!" Gloria described it as a fairytale, and Gene started singing, "Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you if you're young at heart." At that moment I knew what the credit song would be for this film and that we would make it. We were all crying!
WCT: Gene passed away in 2020, didn't he?
PJ: Yes, he passed away 11 months after that meeting. I remember thinking that history would have been lost forever if he hadn't talked. He had never told the story before this, and I am so happy he did. We had fabulous interviews with Gene and Gloria to make the movie, which is dedicated to Gene. The emotional center of the film is their relationship.
WCT: What were the other obstacles in making this film?
PJ: COVID quarantine happened and we had just done an interview with Tony Ward, who was the model who had an affair with Madonna. We finished a few interviews with a photographer and then we were done. We spent the next three months putting the film together during quiet time.
WCT: I traveled on a press trip in the past with one of the subjects of the film, Deon Brown.
PJ: Deon is adorable and so expressive. I told the team to not cut away during his interviews because he is so passionate. He was both a fan and an employee of International Male.
WCT: Was it hard to land big names for the documentary such as Carson Kressley?
PJ: Bryan [Darling] and Jesse [Finley Reed] both had a fanboy passion for International Male, and it was so powerful that people jumped on board once they heard about it. Everyone in the movie was so eager to talk about the catalog after waiting for something like this for 30 years.
Valerie Steele, who is at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, was so articulate talking about the fashion of the 20th century and how International Male gave them more choices.
WCT: The film is so nostalgic for gays like me who remember the catalog and the hot pictures.
PJ: For gays like me too! There was a whole masturbation section in each issue and people were excited for the catalog to arrive. There were ways to use that catalog other than buying clothes…
WCT: It happened in the straight world too with the Victoria's Secret catalog.
PJ: There were two documentaries last year with similar subjects Victoria's Secret: Angels and Demons and White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch. The difference is they were run by psychotic CEOs. This one is about Gene Burkard from Wisconsin who became an unlikely father figure to all of the kids kicked out of their homes for being gay.
It is a feel-good story about a company that really was a family.
WCT: The International Male catalog stopped printing in 2007. Was it difficult to find printed copies?
PJ: Gene had a bunch of them. Gloria had many things including a jock sock that was framed and hanging in her bathroom! It meant a lot to her as is launched her career and International Male.
WCT: I work in healthcare, and to see the suspensory jock transformed into underwear was fascinating.
PJ: It was a medical item that we animated to show Gene's way of thinking, by showing a man looking in a store in London, [who] wanted to make it more stylish. He came back to San Diego and did just that. He pulled together $3,000 for an ad in Playboy Magazine, and all hell broke loose because it was a hit. They began sending out jock socks when he had only one employee who was stoned half the time. That made him hire Gloria Tomita to work for him.
Hugh Hefner was a huge inspiration for Gene, who wanted International Male to be his stamp of creativity, just like Hefner did with Playboy.
WCT: Why didn't the catalog expand into other things such as autograph tours of models or possibly an act like Chippendales?
PJ: AIDS knocked out the first generation of International Male employees. Gene was very afraid that he wouldn't be able to continue the company without the original people who started with him. I think that is a big reason he sold the company and didn't expand things more.
WCT: That's a good point and it is important to acknowledge that fact during that time period with this documentary.
PJ: This is not in the movie, but Gloria said Gene was really afraid to pull this off without the original crew. She regretted not sending him on a trip around the world to have him calm down after being so burnt out during that period.
Gloria could have run the company and could have continued to. She had no experience in retail but could have kept it going. That's a whole other story to tell.
WCT: That is another problem during that time period, women were sometimes not considered for leadership positions like that back then.
WCT: What would you like LGBTQ+ people and straight people to take away from this documentary during Pride month?
PJ: Sometimes people think a feel-good movie is shallow, but not in this case. This catalog was made in La Jolla, California and people came from all over the country to work there. The people purchasing from the catalog were straight women like I said, but the effect on the gay community was huge, because the models were gorgeous and wore outrageous outfits.
They showed men being beautiful and healthy during a time when so many gay men were sick. International Male offered some sunlight during the darkest time in LGBTQ+ history.
WCT: What are you working on next?
PJ: I am working on a documentary about my upcoming high school reunion next year. People were getting together on Zoom and I could record it on Zoom for free, much like this interview. I recorded 50 classmates for my 50th high school reunion. It started as an all-boy military academy, then became a progressive co-ed prep school. The documentary is asking what happened to the class of 1974 and these privileged white boys after 50 years. Life happens to everyone and no one is spared. Good and bad things happen to everyone. I was surprised by what happened in their lives.
WCT: Did any of them come out of the closet?
PJ: You know what? I am the only one. That is very interesting because, with a class of 90 people, there should have been more. That will be addressed when I meet with that team later today!
All Man: The International Male Story comes out on June 6, 2023, in select theaters and digitally. Visit internationalmalemovie.com for more information.