There would be no Out magazine without J.C. Leyendecker — or any magazine in the modern-day sense, for that matter.
The German-American artist, who received training in Paris under the French Art Nouveau movement, imported some of that Moulin Rouge spirit into U.S. media. His ad illustrations, which leaned into sexualizing his handsome male subjects, made brands like Arrow shirts fly off the shelves while also defining the image of the early 20th-century American man.
Images courtesy of Paramount+ and the P&G Heritage and Archives Center.
Additionally, Leyendecker painted over 400 magazine covers in his career — over 300 alone for the The Saturday Evening Post — essentially creating the design template still in use today. His stock took a plunge along with Wall Street following the Great Depression, when shrinking wallets also meant a return to social conservatism. The public turned away from Leyendecker's eroticized male forms toward Norman Rockwell, a more traditional illustrator who was influenced by Leyendecker's style.
Leyendecker's life, career, and love is captured in a new film, Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker, out today on Paramount+. Directed by Ryan White (Visible: Out on Television), the documentary shows Leyendecker's enduring influence on American culture and LGBTQ+ representation in advertising, as well as the releationship with his partner, Charles Beach, the muse for Leyendecker's "Arrow Collar Man."
Voiced by Neil Patrick Harris, the film was a hit on the festival circuit, winning Best Short Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival and a becoming a selection on the DOC NYC Short List. The production makes clear that, even in an era with scant queer visibility, there were artists like Leyendecker sending coded messages of belonging to members of the LGBTQ+ community. It traces Leyendecker's influence to the present day by interviewing Jari Jones, a Black trans woman who broke barriers as a billboard model in Calvin Klein's 2020 Pride campaign.