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June 20, 2017

Colt Studio Founder Jim French Dies

PALM SPRINGS, Calif.—Jim French, the man who founded Colt Studios and whose work sparked a key image in London’s punk movement in the 1970s, died in his sleep at his Palm Springs home. The 84-year-old French died Thursday, June 15, according to his partner, Jeff Turner. French is the founder of Los Angeles-based gay studio Colt, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. French had not been involved with the company since 2003, when he sold his rights to Colt Studio Group, but his long history in the adult industry predated his time at Colt, which was founded on Dec. 5, 1967. French was born July 14, 1932, and was known for his taste in fine arts. He attended the Philadelphia Museum School of Art from 1950 to 1954, and originally planned a career in fashion illustration. After college, he enlisted in the Army, serving for two years before being honorably discharged. French worked for a time as a freelance advertising illustrator. As a hobby in the mid-1960s, he began creating romantic homoerotic illustrations using the pen name Arion. He did one mail-order mailing of his Arion illustrations from the New York City-based Arion Studio before he set out on his next venture. In 1966, French teamed with his Army buddy Saul Stollman to create the Luger Studio, a mail-order company also based in New York City. At that time, French used the pseudonym Kurt Luger when he created illustrations that featured more masculine subjects, including bikers, wrestlers, cowboys and the like. Legal restrictions at the time prevented him from drawing full frontal nudity, but the images were a hit among fans for their suggestiveness and erotic nature. French eventually bought out Stollman and partnered with Lou Thomas to create Colt Studio, which also started as a mail-order company that sold French’s drawings and photographs—now produced under the pseudonym Rip Colt. After operating Colt from New York for 15 years, French moved himself and his studio to Los Angeles to take advantage of better weather and a wider selection of models. In a 2016 blog post for the Huffington Post, writer Steve Drum said, “Under the pseudonym ‘Rip Colt,’ French created a sleek, visual language for worshipping the male body. “Today, French’s images have become icons of a singular moment in gay history: post-Stonewall and pre-AIDS, post-beefcake and pre-VHS. “‘Let’s face it,’ one user posted on a Jake Tanner fan page. ‘Before the advent of VCRs, we had Colt. Period.’” In an announcement about French’s death on their blog, Colt Studio Group noted the following: “Colt Studio would eventually grow into one of the most successful gay erotic photography studios of its time. The company was famed not only for its stable of male models, but for its long-running magazine brands which included Manpower, Colt Men, Spurs, and Colt Studio Presents, as well as its calendars. Jim French continued to run the company until 2003, when former Falcon Studios director John Rutherford purchased the Colt name and rebranded the company the Colt Studio Group. For a few years after his sale of the company, French continued to privately sell salon prints of his photographs, but he has since settled into a quiet retirement. The Colt Studio Group continues to feature much of French's work on their website.” In addition to his work in the adult industry, French is also associated with the Sex Pistols and the London punk scene. One of French’s images—Longhorns - Dance—was the basis for a T-shirt sold in 1975 at Sex, a King’s Road clothing boutique operated by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood. The image showed two cowboys, naked from the waist down save for their boots, facing one another. The original illustration was published in Britain in 1973, and McLaren used an unlicensed copy of the illustration and added dialogue before printing it on T-shirts. The shirts became famous when a friend of McLaren’s wore the shirt in public and was arrested and charged under the Vagrancy Act of 1824 for “showing an obscene print in a public place.” The shirts gained even more notoriety after members of the Sex Pistols, including bassist Sid Vicious, were photographed in tattered and torn-up versions. The arrest eventually led to a fine for the friend as well as McLaren, who reportedly continues to receive money from the shirts' sales, while French was never compensated. French is survived by Turner and several close friends.

 
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