acclaimed Leatherman, founder of IML, passes away at age 87August 26, 1929 - June 29, 2017
A true pioneer in the Leather community, Chuck Renslow, photographer, publisher, gay entrepreneur, founder Second City Motorcycle Club, inductee into Chicago’s Lesbian and Gay Hall of Fame, founder of IML, co-founder of the Leather Archives and Museum, passed away earlier today.
I don’t honestly feel qualified to write a proper short biography for Mr. Renslow. His life was so very full of groundbreaking activities and achievements, it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m simply not qualified here to speak with any sort of authority. With that in mind, I’ll include a pair of short bios to try and sum up a life that
With that in mind, I’ll include a pair of quick bios to try and sum up a courageous man’s life. A life and legacy that truly stretch the boundaries of my imagination for what a Leatherman might accomplish.
Renslow’s first short biography includes:
He was the founder in 1950 and photographer of Kris Studios, one of the earliest and most durable of the physique houses. He published Triumph, Mars and Rawhide Male magazines. He was also a noted photographer of the Ballet. His dance photography is now in the Newberry Library dance collection as the “Chuck Renslow Dance Photographs”. He opened the first leather bar, the Gold Coast, in Chicago, in 1958. He was a founder of Second City Motorcycle Club, the first club not on the West coast, in 1965. He was the founder of many bars and clubs since the 1960s. Among his many clubs were Chicago Eagle, Bistro Too, Stages (now Metro) and the bathhouse, MansCountry, which has survived for more than 40 years.
He was among the earliest members, often among the founders, of many gay liberation organizations and movements. He was the publisher of GayLife Newspaper (having purchased it from Grant Ford.) He has sat on the Board of fourteen different LBGT organizations. He was the founder of Prairie State Democratic Club in 1980. He was the lover of Dom “Etienne” Orejudos for more than 40 years and, by encouraging him and publishing his work, he is partially responsible for the art of Etienne.
Chuck Renslow was inducted into the City of Chicago’s Lesbian and Gay Hall of Fame in 1991 and has received just about every honor and awards the gay and leather communities can give him, including the Leather Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2011. He was on the Board of Directors of the NGLTF twice, first from 1978 to 1985 and later from 2005 to 2007. He has served as a U.S. Representative to I.L.G.A. International Lesbian and Gay Association. He is the founder, in 1979, of International Mr. Leather, which grew out of his Mr. Gold Coast contest and the experience he had managing A.A.U. physique competitions. When Dom “Etienne”died,Chuck combined his Hugh collection of Etienne’s art with his own personal archives from his business and his life. These were the foundation of the Leather Archives & Museum. which Chuck co-created with Tony DeBlase in 1991. Chuck is the president of the Leather Archives and Museum and has been since it’s conception.
I know of no higher tribute than to simply write: The leather community, as it is today, simply would not exist without Chuck Renslow. Chuck the driving force behind a number of seminal institutions for leather, he’s also the reason we have a history.
Not only was Chuck the driving force behind a number of seminal institutions for leather, he’s also almost literally the reason we have a history. It’s incomprehensible that the Leather Archives and Museum would exist had Chuck Renslow not graced the community with his presence. Lacking that institution, much of our history would have disappeared, or be in real danger of disappearing.
I tip my hat (leather) to you, Mr. Renslow, in your memory. You touched this world in ways few men can claim, you have my sincere admiration. If there is such a thing as heaven, I’m sure there will be a new leather bar there tomorrow!
The following is from the Amazon.com description of the book Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow by Tracy Baim, Owen Keehnen:
Living as an openly gay man in 1950s Chicago was no easy task. For Chuck Renslow, that was only his first of many bold moves. Just out of high school he began what was to become a six-decade empire, starting more than two dozen businesses in Chicago, as well as a few in other cities. He has owned bars, discos, photo studios, health clubs, bathhouses, gay magazines and newspapers, hotels, restaurants, and bookstores. Throughout it all he dealt with Mafia and police payoffs, anti-gay political policies, harassment from censors, and even controversy within the gay community.
In the mid-1950s, after having a portrait and then cheesecake studio, Renslow began experimenting with beefcake photography and began Kris Studio. With his longtime lover, the artist Dom Orejudos aka Etienne and Stephen, at his side, Renslow created Kris Studio a leader in male physique photography, resulting in such magazines as Triumph, Mars and The Rawhide Male, producing thousands of erotic images as well as several films.
In 1959 Renslow took over the Gold Coast Show Lounge and transformed it into one of the most lowdown libidinous gay leather bars in the world. With Etienne’s murals adorning the walls, a leather/Western/uniform dress code for patrons, and a dark Pit that featured all sorts of goings-on, the Gold Coast set the standard for raunchy kink and gay sexual liberation. It was the birthplace of motorcycle clubs and sex groups, but above all a place for people to meet, connect, and explore themselves and their sexuality.
The Gold Coast was also the birthplace of the first leather contest, which in the span of a few short years evolved beyond the bar’s capacity and became International Mr. Leather in 1979. More than three decades later, it continues to be one of the world’s most popular gay events.
Renslow was also one of the pioneers in taking a bathhouse beyond merely the borders of a mere sex club. Man’s Country became something truly unforgettable in the 1970s – a sex-and-entertainment complex with a variety of rooms, shops, and a Music Hall that attracted top names touring in the “K-Y circuit,” from Sally Rand to Wayland Flowers to Rusty Warren and Charles Pierce.
Renslow was a dynamic force in Chicago politics under mayors starting with Richard J. Daley, and he ran as a delegate for Sen. Ted Kennedy’s 1980 presidential run. He danced with another man at a 1977 inaugural ball for Jimmy Carter. Renslow helped protest against unfair policies, fought censorship and entrapment, and battled Anita Bryant. He even served as a field contact for the pioneering work at the Kinsey Institute, as well as performing sexual acts for Kinsey researchers. He knew entertainment celebrities from Marlene Dietrich to Rudolf Nureyev, from Divine to Grace Jones, and from Sylvester to Quentin Crisp. In their heyday Chuck Renslow’s annual White Parties were celebrations beyond compare.
When Chicago’s gay community faced the loss of its newspaper, Renslow bailed out and ran GayLife. He gave the community a voice at the critical time when AIDS was first diagnosed.
He also co-founded the Leather Archives & Museum (with Tony DeBlase). Through it all Renslow has also been Daddy of the Family, a unique created group of lovers, tricks, and friends who were bound by sex and oftentimes love and by a goal of providing comfort and support to one another.
In Memoriam Edition – Annotated References
Chicago Gay History – Chuck Renslow biography
Wikipedia – Chuck Renslow entry
chuckrenslow.com – personal site
Pioneering Chicago Gay Activist and Leather Community Leader Chuck Renslow Passes Away At 87 – Back2Stonewall.com obituary by Will Kohler