Vintage Photos: Pioneers of the L.A. Leather and Biker Scene

By: Christopher Harrity
5.14.2014

Above left: The Satyrs Motorcycle Club; right: Marlon Brando (center) in The Wild One

In 1953 The Wild One was released. It starred Marlon Brando, looking for all the world like a Tom of Finland drawing come to life, as the leader of a rough-and-tumble motorcycle gang. In 1955 James Dean became the icon of troubled youth in Rebel Without a Cause. And at the same time Tom of Finland was working on his iconic drawings of leathermen that he would submit to Physique Pictorial in 1956.

The mood in America was taking a rebellious turn. The leather and motorcycle zeitgeist was in full bloom. Gay men had become a part of the post-World War II biker culture in the '40s. Leather bars were springing up in major cities and simultaneously, it seems, pioneering gay motorcycle clubs were formed: the Satyrs, established in Los Angeles in 1954; Oedipus, also established in Los Angeles in 1958; the New York Motorbike Club and early San Francisco clubs, including the Warlocks and the California Motor Club, started as well. Leather clubs for gay men opened in Amsterdam and Berlin in the 1950s.

This was a counterculture within a counterculture. The men who were drawn to the scene weren't so much into camp, show tunes, and cashmere sweaters. The soul of the scene was a masculine independence.

Above left: Marlon Brando (center) in The Wild One. On the right: the Satyrs Motrorcycle Club

For the entire month of May the Satyrs Motorcycle Club of Los Angeles will exhibit its historic archive collection, “Rumble — The Long Road to Equality."

“Los Angeles County once boasted more than 19 gay motorcycle and uniform clubs,” Satyrs president, Riley Black said, adding, “It was the ‘golden years’ of the ’60s following the death of U.S. senator Joe McCarthy. ‘Rumble — The Long Road to Equality’ displays in storytelling format more than 60 years of our community’s history from the archives.” This exhibit is more than just photos tacked to a wall; this is living history display and will also showcase various artifacts from long since dissolved organizations.

The exhibit will be on display at the Cultural Alliance of Long Beach, Bungalow Building at 729 Pine Ave., Long Beach, Calif.  The exhibit is open Wednesdays through Sundays. Admission is $3 and $5. Tickets can be purchased at www.rumbleLA.info

Click here for more information about the Satyrs Motorcycle Club.

And click here to see a documentary about the club when it celebrated 50 years.

Special thanks to Garry Bowie of the Satyrs for this article.

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