Ted Starkowski: Artist’s Muse
Although photographer George Platt Lynes passed away from lung cancer at age 48 in 1955, it took another 30 years before the majority of his male nude photographs were celebrated and widely released.
Virtually every collection of his work now features photos of a model named Ted Starkowski. His nude image is featured on the covers of several collections of Lynes’ work – in solo shots or posed with Mel Fellini:
So who was Ted Starkowski?
Lynes biographer David Leddick wrote:
Ted Starkowski worked the streets. Hustling by night, he regaled Bernard Perlin and George Platt Lynes with his adventures while he posed for them during the day. They created unique images with his cat-like face and lithe body.
Teodor Francis Starkowski was born in Hartford, Connecticut on April 4, 1927- the eighth child of Polish immigrants.
His Army registration in September of 1945 indicates that he had attended three years of high school and was working at St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield.
After his stint in the military, he relocated to New York City, where he became a favorite subject for Lynes and his circle of artist friends, including Paul Cadmus and Jared French.
Thomas D. Baynes of The University of Western Ontario wrote extensively of one particular George Platt Lynes 1954 photograph in his thesis More than a Spasm, Less than a Sign: Queer Masculinity in American Visual Culture, 1915-1955:
Few other photographs by Lynes do as much to cast the model as an actor. In his tight jeans, bulging conspicuously at the crotch, fisherman-rib sweater worn without an undershirt, and workaday watchman’s cap relegated to the status of an ornament, Starkowski looks like a longshoreman snatched from the imagination of Tom of Finland … Lynes’s studio provides only the minimum furniture required to support Starkowski in a posture that manages to be solicitous and pensive at the same time, welcoming an evaluating view despite being absorbed in thought.
This photograph extends rough trade as a portable structure of fantasy that discovers erotic opportunities in ambiguities of dress and pose…. Evidently, Starkowski had a knack for acting like a straight man, or at least like a fantasy version thereof.
Another model who posed for many of the same artists was fellow ex-military man Chuck Howard, George Platt Lynes’ live-in boyfriend. After their split in January, 1951, Howard and Starkowski became involved in what David Leddick described as “a tempestuous affair.” The couple were photographed together on Fire Island while vacationing with Paul Cadmus, Jared, and Margaret French: artists who called their collective photography work PaJaMa, an acronym of the first letters of their first names.
Thanks to a wealthy benefactor, Starkowski traveled extensively in the second half of the 1950’s. Leddick relays a story of Starkowski showing off his new diamond ring – a gift from his wealthy friend. He asked artist George Tooker if he thought it was too big. Tooker replied “Yes, it is too large for a woman to wear.”
The Paul Cadmus drawing above shows Starkowski at age 36 in 1963.
And then… the trail goes dark for the next 14 years. If more images or information come to light, I will update this post. What we do know is that on Friday, May 13, 1977. Ted Starkowski was leaving a New York City bar when he was struck and killed by a car. He was 50 years old.
An obituary ran in the Hartford Courant on Tuesday, May 17th. He was buried in Mount Saint Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield, Connecticut.
It was a sad end to a man who had inspired many artists.
You can see Brian’s earlier post about George Platt Lynes models/bedfellows John Leapheart and Buddy McCarthy here.
This post originally appears on Brian Ferrari’s blog.