Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Jack Wrangler...Anatomy Of An Icon

Hello dear readers,

Its been awhile since I've done anything like a movie review so I think its due. Yesterday Jay and I were lamenting the lack of good t.v. shows to watch so we dipped into our netflix stash. Now Jay has a bit of a standards problem when it comes to movies...and especially movies with gay content. If it self labels as gay, he gets it. This has exposed us to some real awful movies...but also some real hidden treasures. It turns out that Jays movie addiction can occasionally be a good thing. It was under these circumstances that we discovered "Wrangler, Anatomy Of An Icon".

The movie is a documentary about the life of porn icon Jack Wrangler and his beginnings in an upperclass Hollywood Family under his real name of Jack Stillman and his journey to find himself as a man, apart from his family and domineering father. His journey eventually leads him to the porn industry where he crafts the persona of Jack Wrangler and begins to live out a fantasy that doesn't end when the camera's stop filming.

While there will be nothing explicit in this blog post, if you are uncomfortable with the topic of is your chance to turn back.

Teaser Trailer for the movie: get the idea...the typical 70's porn cheese fest. But the important thing about this movie is not so much what Wrangler made, as who he was and the effect he had on the rest of humanity. You may think.."what kind of positive effect can porn have on anything?"...well...some back story..

Born Jack Stillman, Wrangler became aware during his teen years that he was gay. He was the Youngest of three siblings and the only boy. The movie goes into detail about his less than stellar relationship with his father, who wanted a more masculine son, and Jack's attempts to win his love through his achievements. Wrangler talks at great lengths about being seen as a "sissy" in his fathers eyes. One of the major themes that runs through the entire movie is Jack's attempts to prove himself...first in his fathers eyes...then when that failed, in his own. It was actually his thirst for approval that ends up landing Wrangler in Porn.

Spiralling downward in the entertainment industry, Wrangler ends up being a gogo dancer in a stripclub. From there he is offered a part in a play where he plays and ex-prostitute from Arkansas who goes to California to become a bad GoGo dancer. This part resonated with the life that Wrangler was living so he took on the part...and its heavy nudity. This brought him to the attention of producers for Magnum films who cast him in "Eyes of A Stranger".

It was here that Jack Stillman, realising the affects working in porn would have in the rest of his life, took the last name Wrangler from the label of his flannel shirt...and Jack Wrangler was born. Filming as Jack Wrangler allows Jack to express a part of himself that he hadn't been able to before and it isn't long before the persona he crafted for the movies begins to become his real life identity. Jack Stillman is insecure and unsure of himself, deeply craving love and approval. Jack Wrangler on the other hand, is confident in his homosexuality, self assured, and desirable. The line of fantasy and reality begins to blur for Jack. As Jack Wrangler, he is credited with producing some of the first and most ground breaking films in the adult film industry, gay and straight.

Also shown, is Wranglers move into making straight pornography and his marriage to singer Margaret Whiting, who was 20 years his senior. Both of these events rocked the gay community, who accused Wrangler of never really being gay in the first place. Wranglers relationship with Whitting is shown in all is complications...the odd, the akward, but also the beautifull. It is shown as a relationship between two people that are more alike than they are different....and more importantly...that love defies all our attempts to define it....What the movie does not cover, is that Jack Wrangler recently passed away at the age of 62.

Heres where his story resonated for me personally...

You may recall when I discussed coming out and coming to terms with what I had always been taught "gay" was. Like alot of people I grew up with nothing but bad stereotypes that gays were pedophiles, sexual predators, alcoholics, and effeminate. I am not unique in growing up this way. The thing that changed my view and opened up my world was actually going to places where gay people were and seeing the truth. Many of the men that I saw completely epitomized the concept I had then about what a man should be. Strong, self assured, tough looking, hyper masculine. I found all of those traits and more in the men I saw in my first hesitant trips to places like the Castro...or my first pride parades. It may be funny to look back on now...but then, it blew my mind.

The funny bit, is that the film discusses the Jack Wrangler Character as being the first one to show gay men as a generall audience that they could be other than what they had been taught. According to the film, so many messages that gay men recieved about how to be were effeminate ones. Then came along Jack Wrangler and blew the doors off what people percieved as being gay. He offered a hyper masculinised view of homosexuality. Here was this guy that was hypermasculine and buffed (for the day). He was confident in his sexuality and had no problem being gay and he got what he wanted. Gay men got a new way to look at their possibilities and who they could be. They also got the chance to see that being gay isn't a predetermined set of traits...its what we make of it.

So...considering the films assertion that Jack Wranglers character brought about a type Masculinisation of the gay  community or at least a breaking of stereotypes....and considering that my own stereotypes where blown away by men that in all likelyhood where familiar with his films....did I owe my new outlook on being gay to Jack Wrangler as well even though I had not seen his films? Was his impact thus, that it rippled out a generation later?...that it continues to ripple outward?

I realise that its not as simple as that....but it may hold a grain of truth. Wranglers movies may have been cheesy porn...but there where times when that was all we had. And I dare you to say that the images that modern porn creates don't influence the gay community today. They still drive us to persue ideals of masculinity...even if they are unrealistic ones.

But that is my round up of "Wrangler, Anatomy of An Icon". I recomend the movie as a peak through the dark curtain of gay history and a view onto a unique man who defied stereotypes in every way imaginable.


  1. Wrangler was one of the first video performer I was immediately able to identify as more than just a pretty face (or other anatomical part). He indeed negated the current (60's) stereotype of what a gay man should be like. Many hadn't the foggiest idea who Whiting was when they married. Growing up in a 'post-Swing' era family, I couldn't believe it was the same Jack Wrangler. The video is excellent. Not something to show young ones, but definitely not the full blown porn that some might anticipated. I recommend it highly.

  2. Oooo I will have to watch it. I have always been interested in how gay sterotypes developed.

  3. Yea..he died of emphysema..too many smokes!! So many people of that generation did the same..sadfuly both of my parents included. Bryan..what I got from your brilliant blog is that..I think...society is changing for the better. Think about smoking?? The tobacco compnies here( in Ohio) said.."IF SMOKING IS BANNED IN BARS THEN NOBODY WILL GO AND PREOPLE WILL LOSE JOBS..BUSINESSES WILL CLOSE!" The smoking ban passed. The bars here in Ohio are thriving. The other side always injects fear. "IF GAY PEOPLE WERE ALLOWED TO GET MARRIED...THERE WILL BE MORE DIVORCE!" (that is the exact statement our Sen. Voinovich wrote back to me when I wrote him a couple years ago..too bad he hasn't seen the divorce rate in Mass. of the best in the nation)
    My problem is..and I am sure you are the same is that I want equality NOW!!! I a tired of waiting and being a second class citizen...


  4. Great entry. Who knew porn could be so educational? I realize more and more that the specific historical social processes and events have led us to our current culture and in the case of the open LGBT community, it's got its own very unique one to study. Just like other social groups, but for me I always imagined that there'd be less history to study just because a lot of people were in the closet and so diverse. How could a group of people have a common history just by having sexuality in common? Well apparently a lot! I didn't even know of this guy (before my time), but I wouldn't be surprised if he's impacted me life in some way that I've been unaware about> I would've liked to have taken a LGBT studies type class in school but I was too chicken to sign up for one of those knowing it'd basically out me

    "Like alot of people I grew up with nothing but bad stereotypes that gays were pedophiles, sexual predators, alcoholics, and effeminate"

    lol @ alcoholics. I believe you, I've just never heard that one as much.

    Last year I learned that in the past, bodybuilding was associated with being gay. Since guys cared about the male body and looks, apparently there was a time where hitting the weights was associated with homosexuality. Until Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then it seems as though the idea of taking care of your looks became more mainstream for men. To me a strong body was always associated with heterosexuality so I found that to be fascinating

    Funny how attitudes about the same topic can change dramatically within a short span of time, and how unaware most people are of history. I think it would change a lot of minds if the less popular histories were more widely known