participating in the leather extravaganza called the International
Mr. Leather Contest, you can't help but be impressed by
its size, diversity, and power. The events comprising
the weekend, including parties, judging, and exhibits
generally run smoothly and efficiently, as well they should
for an annual event of its longevity.
1999 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in
any manner. For permission to reproduce this essay, contact
The "roots" of IML go back to pre-leather days
when Chuck Renslow's avid interest in photography and
men led him to start, with his friend Harry Mickelsen,
Kris Studios, which specialized in producing and selling
photos of the male physique.
Chuck had been involved in weight lifting during high
school and had continued his exercise program thereafter,
though he admits that it was as much to be around good
looking hunks as it was for the benefits of the exercise.
This interest also led him to get involved in the Amateur
Athletic Union. It also was a way for Chuck to find models
for his photography.
Chuck's lover Dom Orejudas had similar interests. Both
had experience in physique contests and he and Dom had
won some championships and state meets while in high school.
It was at this time, too, that they met Cliff Ottinger,
one of the noted physique photographers in Chicago. Because
of their interest in physique, Melv Gruberg of the AAU
turned over the physique contest part of the AAU to Chuck
and Cliff to run, including the Mr. Chicago and the Mr.
Illinois contests. It was a situation made in heaven for
Kris Studio and afforded Chuck the opportunity to meet
just the men he needed for his photographs. For similar
reasons, in May of 1958, Chuck and Dom purchased a gym
on Van Buren Street in the Chicago loop area, which they
re-named Triumph Gym. Chuck gave his models free memberships
in the AAU. The result, of course, was that he had all
these contest winners working out in his gym, as well
as a steady supply of models.
In 1959 the Pan American Games were held in Chicago. Once
again Chuck was involved in the contest both as contestant
(in some of the non-official events) and as a staff member.
The fifties saw the birth of what we now call Leather,
as gay men, seeking their self-realization and expression
of their masculine homosexuality, created small groups
to learn and experience "rough sex". Over the
course of the decade rough sex evolved into the style
and culture of today's leather community. In 1960, the
group was given the opportunity to purchase the bar where
they had begun meeting regularly. Eventually then, Chuck,
Dom, and two others bought the Gold Coast Show Lounge
on Clark Street.
With his background of physique contests, it was natural
for Chuck to host a Mr. Gold Coast Contest. The first
contest was held in October of 1972, where John Lunning
became the first leather titleholder.
The yearly contest became extremely popular, filling both
floors of the Gold Coast. Television monitors were installed
in the "Pit" so that the patrons could at least
watch the action going on upstairs. Audio speakers were
installed outside so that the overflow crowds on the street
could listen to an announcer describing the contest.
By 1978, the size of the attendance was so large as to
become a problem and the decision was made to hold the
event elsewhere. Chuck, though, was reluctant to move
it. Instead he suggested that he and Dom create a new
contest. Dom agreed, saying, "Let's create one for
the whole United States." They began going through
names, quickly eliminating ones already in use, such as
Mr. America, Mr. USA, and Mr. Olympic, finally settling
on Mr. Leather.
As the idea progressed, they decided to "get the
whole world in on it" and called it the International
Mr. Leather Contest and designed a poster to that effect.
Their first poster was also printed in German and sent
to bars in Germany in order to attract an international
crowd. There weren't any international contestants in
the first contest, but there were some attendees from
The First International Mr. Leather Contest was held on
May 20th, 1979. Dom recounted the evening in First Hand
Events magazine in 1988: "Although it was more modest
in scope than the powerhouse, high-entertainment extravaganza
the event would eventually become, that first contest
was nevertheless an exciting, eye-opining spectacle which
was presented with a confident lustre of professionalism
and already stamped with its own unmistakable character
"The evening's competition had been preceded by a
weekend of leather fun and festivities that had been successful
beyond our expectations, attended by an impressive number
of appreciative leathermen who had journeyed to Chicago
from far and near to participate in the revels.
"The lineup of contestants, only fifteen in number,
was more modest in size than what we are accustomed to
today.. Although fewer in number, the 1979 contestants
exhibited the same sterling qualities of leather manhood
and hot sexuality that have been notable and in such abundance
at every IML competition. From the very beginning, the
judges have not had an easy time choosing a winner from
among so many superlative contenders.
"That year, when the votes were tallied, we found
we had our first (and thus far only) tie for first place!
David Kloss of San Francisco and Durk Dehner of Los Angeles
had each captured the exact same number of votes. The
judges were called upon to vote out the tie and David
narrowly edged out Durk to become the first International
Mr. Leather. Durk contented himself with the first runner-up
The second IML winner, Patrick Brooks, Mr. Australia Leather,
confirmed the international status of the title. As Chuck
remembers: "That was very interesting because the
first prize that year was a motorcycle and we had to ship
it to Australia. The tariffs to do so were exorbitant.
Since it was a Japanese bike, and Australia and Japan
had reciprocal trade agreements, we shipped the bike back
to the factory, from whence it was then shipped to Australia.
"Shipping it cost more money than the bike did. I
tried to get Brooks to take cash instead, but he insisted,
'No, I want the bike that I won,' and he did."
The 1981 winner was Marty Kiker of the Phoenix Bar in
California. The next year the title went to that year's
Mr. Drummer, Luke Daniel, also of California.
As Dom recounted, "In 1983, muscular, blond Colt
Thomas from Texas arrived just as contest registration
was closing; a few more minutes and he would have been
unable to enter the competition. He won the title that
year. Had he arrived just a little bit later, someone
else would have been 1983 International Mr. Leather.
"To insure fairness in the selection, IML utilizes
the Olympic scoring method and endeavors to select judges
from a wide range of political, geographical and social
backgrounds. Among the many distinguished gentlemen who
have assisted me," wrote Orejudas, "in judging
the contest are my good friend and colleague,the world-renowned
artist, Tom of Finland, the Reverend Troy Perry of the
Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, and representatives
of Advocate Men, Honcho, and Falcon Studios, and the owners
of some of the world's best known leather establishments.
"And then there are our 'regulars': Bay Area Reporter
columnist Mr. Marcus, Lou Thomas, former Colt and Target
Studios entrepreneur, and Bob Lewis of First Hand publications.
And, of course, each year the previous year's winner joins
the panel of judges to help select his successor."
Seventeen years later, IML has well-earned its reputation
as the world largest and best Leather event. "These,
then, were some of the impressions left by the first ten
years of International Mr. Leather," wrote Orejudas
in 1988. "It has been a decade of wonderful experiences.
I cannot help but look forward with eagerness and anticipation
to the many years of IML weekends to come."
Neither can we, Dom. Neither can we.
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