J.C. Leyendecker was one of the most influential commercial artists working in the early 20th century. His work graced many magazine covers, including The Saturday Evening Post, and his character The Arrow Collar Man was one highly recognized figure in advertising. He influenced how illustrators approached advertising and magazine art and was an early inspiration for Norman Rockwell. But perhaps more importantly, Leyendecker, a gay man whose lover Charles Beach was the primary model for his work, coded his art with homoerotic imagery that was both subtle and subversive.
Directed by Ryan White, Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker is a fascinating portrait of a lesser known LGBTQ icon. The documentary explores his work, his long-term relationship with his partner/model Charles Beach and the many ways he influenced advertising and popular culture through art. It includes interviews, examples of his art and animated sequences.The film tries to make a direct connection to the modern day representations of LGBTQ models in commercial photography but not very effectively. It’s 29 minutes long and I think it could be expanded into a feature length documentary to offer more biographical details and historical context.
Coded: The Hidden Love of J.C. Leyendecker premiered at the 2021 AFI Fest as part of their Meet the Press programming.