Photography by Dan Monick
Dian Hanson, a 6-foot-tall hay-bale blonde with a buoyant, purposeful stride, bellies up to the bar of a quiet saloon on a chalky yellow afternoon in Hollywood and touches my forearm to emphasize a point.
“It should give you a boner,” says Hanson, 61, who exudes a particularly cerebral brand of warmth, between bites of a goat cheese salad. “Walking down the street and a skateboard kid goes by and you smell his fragrant perspiration, you should be able to get it up over a whiff.”
On the saloon’s numerous very large televisions, Tiger Woods (an example, perhaps, of an exemption from the whiff decree) flubs a putt on the Golf Channel, causing the bartender—a blocky, rugby-like specimen with sweaty auburn locks (certainly not exempt) — to resume his casual eavesdropping.
“People today want perfection,” Hanson continues. “They’re demanding in a way that negates that strong, powerful gift of sex drive you have when you are young. It’s not very masculine.”
Today Hanson is immersed in a simpler era of masculinity — one before the politics of the 1960s, ’70s, and beyond flushed questions of sexual identity into the mainstream.
As “sexy books editor” at Taschen, she has been responsible for, among other titles, Bob’s World, a collection of the work of homoerotic, mid-century male physique photographer Bob Mizer; Naked as a Jaybird, after the 1960s nudist magazine; The Big Penis Book; Tom of Finland XXL; The Big Book of Breasts; The Big Book of Pussy; and Dian Hanson’s History of Pin-Up Magazines. Her latest project is a collection of 450 candid photographs of nude soldiers taken during World War II, titled My Buddy. The book’s namesake, a popular song of the time that symbolized the uncommon closeness between men during the horror of war, was actually a love song to a woman written two decades earlier.
“They are everything, probably, but gay,” she says of the soldiers in the book. “They do prefer the company of men. They do feel uncomfortable around women. And that’s the allure. Let’s not take it the extra step. Let’s just say, ‘We like straight guys. Straight guys turn us on.’ ”
As Hanson sees it, the strong sense of male sexual identity during World War II, before it was commonplace to question identity, made men freer in their behavior because they felt so completely secure.
“It made it easier,” she says, “so that when they got blown by a gay guy while on furlough in Hawaii, it didn’t necessarily make them feel like they had to beat the guy up because something good had happened. It wasn’t a bad thing that threatened them and made them scared about themselves.”
The images, obtained from a private collection, are bizarre by today’s compartmentalized standard of male sexuality; there’s the one of a bullheaded, stark-naked German officer being ferried across a stream on the shoulders of a young enlistee (the Germans seemed particularly willing to get naked and display an inclination to photograph one another urinating).
There are also plenty of nude Allies in combat boots and helmets (the enemy might have been near), a few dicks pushed back between the legs to mimic vaginas, and lots of naked buddies horsing around on the beach, building shelters, or flashing big grins while they shit.
“I think it’s going to be one of the great World War II photo books of all time,” Hanson says.
There is also a series of penis inspection shots, in which young enlistees, before debarking to any number of U.S. government–funded whore houses, were required to milk down their cocks in front of an inspector, who’d check for discharge indicating venereal disease.
“When you look at these World War II guys, their lack of consciousness about their appearance, about their beautiful young bodies, is very splendid,” Hanson says, ladling that last word up as though from the bottom of a cauldron.
She takes a sip from her beer. “America is going sissy,” she says. “There are too many straight guys now who are looking in fashion magazines and are concerned about getting everything perfect. On the other hand, this is probably a necessary stage to bring about the cultural revolution that’s going on now, with people accepting gay marriage. We are absolutely on our way to having countrywide legalized gay marriage, and it requires the straight world to have some kinship. And maybe the sissy-fication of straight guys is helping that kinship along.”
Hanson’s books, from left: Tom of Finland XXL (2009); Bob’s World: The Life and Boys of AMG’s Bob Mizer (2009); La Petite Mort: Female Masturbation, Fantasies & Orgasm (2011); Terryworld (2008)
Hanson rose to pornography superstardom in the late 1980s, when she took over the magazine Leg Show as readership was faltering. Under her leadership, Leg Show became the top-selling fetish magazine in the world (it went out of print in August 2012, 10 years after Hanson left for Taschen). Hanson’s other editorial credits include the magazines Juggs and Puritan. She appeared in the documentary Crumb, about her former boyfriend, cartoonist Robert Crumb, and is currently married to British novelist Geoff Nicholson.
Through her years in the sex industry, Hanson has learned a thing or two: Men are not evil; women love showing off their breasts, but when it’s time for the pussy spread the mood always changes; the only time anyone ever looked truly happy in porn was in the 1970s, when, newly freed from obscenity laws, it was revolutionary; and the 2000s, with the industry frantic over the rise of online video streaming and Viagra bursting onto the scene, was a very rough period.
“That was the point where the guys were just trying to kill their partner with their dick, because they could,” she says.
The last 10 years at Taschen have been a period of introspective gratification for Hanson, quite different from the fast-paced, perpetually redeeming, fan mail–littered world of magazines. These days, she also takes care of her friend David Hurles, now in a nursing home, known in the industry as “Old Reliable,” the photographer with a cult following who made a career, of sorts, of his desire to fuck and photograph only straight criminals and psychopaths.
Back at Hanson’s office inside the Crossroads of the World, a former mall built in 1936 with the Tomorrowland whimsy that still peppers much of Los Angeles, she clicks through slide sets of another project, a photographic retrospective of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“Everyone’s going to buy this book,” she says with an image on her computer screen of a shirtless Schwarzenegger in the late ’70s standing in a doorway, resting his elbows against the frame.
She circles the cursor around his sweaty gym shorts. “You can see it totally outlined here. He’s uncut.”
Hanson is in talks with the Governator to include at least one nude in the book, scheduled for release in 2014.
“Everyone wants to think that with guys like this it’s small. But that’s not true,” she sighs, in defense of Schwarzenegger’s penis. “Arnold was so beautiful.”