Meet the Marlboro Man
by Bill Kauffman: The
Populist Patriotism of Gore Vidal
had lunch with my favorite model. Nah, not Cheryl Tiegs, pin-up
girl of many a 1970s lad, but Bill Clune, the fittest-looking 85-year-old
since well, since his dad, who lived to a hale 105.
Bill rode the
whirlwind for a decade, 1955-1965, as perhaps the highest-paid male
model in America. He worked with the chichi photographers of the
day: Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Mark Shaw, Frank Scavullo (whom
success renamed Francesco). Bill was televisions first Marlboro
Man, though he struck his cowboy pose sitting atop a split-rail
fence in the Elliot Unger Elliot Studio on West 54th Street, five
thousand martinis east of the lonesome prairie.
Bill had pedigree.
His father, Henry W. Clune, was the star of Frank Gannetts
Rochester newspaper and a novelist praised by the likes of Dawn
Powell. His mother, Charlotte, daughter of adventurer Joe King
of the Klondike Boyle, swam the 100-meter freestyle for the
1920 U.S. Olympic team at Antwerp.
however, was floundering. Hed been fired from his weekend
Rochester DJ job spinning Clunes Tunes
after a mike caught him uttering mild profanities during
a Mutual Network religious program. That was probably the last time
Lady Luck rejected Bill Clune.
At loose ends
in 1953, he climbed into his 1941 Ford and with $100 in his pocket
drove to New York City. Reversing that tired Frank Sinatra song,
Bill figured that if he couldnt make it in Rochester, he may
as well take Manhattan.
A friend introduced
him to John W. Harkrider, who had directed the 1929 Flo Ziegfield
extravaganza Glorifying the American Girl. Harkrider,
whom Bill remembers as a nut box, got him a job posing
as a rapist for Howell Conant in True Detective. Bottoms
barrel was being scraped, but Bill was on his way. (So was Conant,
who would be Grace Kellys palace photographer.)
long-nosed handsome mug was all over the place: Harpers
Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Esquire, Vogue, Life,
the Saturday Evening Post. He had the outdoor look prized
by Marlboro, which had been a ladys cigarette its motto
was Mild as May until undergoing phalloplasty
on Madison Avenue. (Bill was a stranger to the demon weed, so he
spent the weekend preceding the Marlboro shoot gagging his way through
a self-taught smoking tutorial.)
Dorothy Kilgallen gushed, Flicker scouts are excited about
the male model of the moment Bill Clune. Hes the son
of a Rochester newspaperman, and the experts think he may be another
John Wayne. Patrick Wayne was closer to the mark, though you
can glimpse Bill as the coalmine owner in Martin Ritts cave-in
The Molly Maguires.
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