Bare bear poets in their youth

In a full-page ad (p. 11) in the 9/26/16 New York Review of Books (for a photography exhibition at the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco), celebrated fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon’s photo of poets Peter Orlovsky and Allen Ginsberg, naked and in a hairy phase, in New York on December 30, 1963. The ad is reproduced in AZBlogX rather than here, because Avedon chose to include Orlovsky’s (flaccid) penis in the photo. (Ok in a gigantic ad in an intellectual magazine, not ok in WordPress, Facebook, or Google+, where a minor might come across it.)

The photo is often reproduced with Orlovsky’s dick cropped out (ouch), but I won’t do that here, because I think that misrepresents Avedon’s intentions, which were to portray a pair of lovers. Without the dick, what we’ve got is two bearded hippie buddies hangin’ out together. The dick is a sign of sexual connection — by no means the two men’s only connection (they were together for over 40 years, until Ginsberg died), but still an important point.

Other photos from Avedon’s 1963 shoot show the men as lovers, but without any genitals. Here they are kissing:


Orlovsky as a beautiful young man in 1955:


From Bruce Weber’s obituary for Orlovsky in the NYT on 6/3/10:

It was Ginsberg who encouraged Mr. Orlovsky to write poetry, and though he published only a few slim volumes, his voice was singular, and his early work was admired by the likes of William Carlos Williams and Gregory Corso. It had an outsider-ish originality (the spelling and phrasing were eccentric), a blunt, innocent earthiness, especially about bodily functions, and a Whitmanesque exuberance that communicated glee in the process of making poetry itself.

“A rainbow comes pouring into my window, I am electrified,” he began his first poem, which he titled “Frist Poem,” in 1957.

Moving ahead to 1959, we have the couple engaging in a certain amount of Beat Generation outrageousness, in the movie Pull My Daisy. From Wikipedia:

Pull My Daisy (1959) is a short film that typifies the Beat Generation. Directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, Daisy was adapted by Jack Kerouac from the third act of his play, Beat Generation; Kerouac also provided improvised narration. It starred poets Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso, artists Larry Rivers (Milo) and Alice Neel (bishop’s mother), musician David Amram, actors Richard Bellamy (Bishop) and Delphine Seyrig (Milo’s wife), dancer Sally Gross (bishop’s sister), and Pablo Frank, Robert Frank’s then-young son.

Based on an incident in the life of Beat icon Neal Cassady and his wife, the painter Carolyn, the film tells the story of a railway brakeman whose wife invites a respected bishop over for dinner. However, the brakeman’s bohemian friends crash the party, with comic results.


Orlovsky and Ginsberg on the left, Corso on the right

Meanwhile, Ginsberg delighted some readers and deeply offended many with his poem Howl (written in 1955, first published in a book in 1956, and in 1957 the cause of a major obscenity trial). And Ginsberg and Orlovsky flaunted their homosexuality and presented themselves as America’s first gay married couple (in a sexually open marriage, but to their minds, clearly marriage). Heady times.

Ginsberg continued to find ways to twit the estabishment. In 1964 he was a contributor to the slim (19-page) volume Bugger:



(That’s Ed Sanders of The Fugs.) The trade edition came in only 400 copies, though there were very small runs of special printings. My first male lover (beginning in 1970) found a copy as a present for me some years ago; they weren’t cheap then, and now seem to go for $150 and up. The poems are written from the point of view of the buggerer, and in most of them the object of the buggery is a woman, but still, it’s an extraordinary object.

Orlovsky and Ginsberg in the 1970s, early in post-Stonewall days:


Notice Ginsberg’s hand on Orlovsky’s heart (or chest, or pecs, depending on how you look at things).

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