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Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow [Kindle Edition]

Tracy Baim , Owen Keehnen
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $24.99
Kindle Price: $9.99
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Book Description

B&W and color versions of this book available on
Note: The Kindle version does not contain the more than 300 images available in the print version of this book.

A prominent Chicago gay activist and entrepreneur is the subject of an in-depth biography, Leatherman: The Legend of Chuck Renslow, by journalists and authors Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnen. The book contains more than 300 images, including murals and drawings by Dom “Etienne” Orejudos, posters for International Mr. Leather (IML), and photos from the Gold Coast, Pride Parades, IML contests, physique magazines and more.

The book is published by Prairie Avenue Productions, 414 pages, $24.99 black and white (ISBN 1-46109602-2), $79.99 color (1-46111908-1). It is available on People can search for the title or link: It will also be available from Women & Children First and Unabridged bookstores.

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 di

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Tracy Baim is publisher and executive editor at Windy City Media Group, which produces Windy City Times, Nightspots, and other gay media in Chicago. She co-founded Windy City Times in 1985 and Outlines newspaper in 1987. She has won numerous gay community and journalism honors, including the Community Media Workshop’s Studs Terkel Award in 2005. She started in Chicago gay journalism in 1984 at GayLife newspaper, one month after graduating with a news-editorial degree from Drake University. Baim is the author of Obama and the Gays: A Political Marriage (Prairie Avenue Productions, 2010). She is also the co-author and editor of Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City’s Gay Community (Surrey/Agate, 2008), the first comprehensive book on Chicago’s gay history, and is author of Where the World Meets, a book about Gay Games VII in Chicago (2007,—Baim served as co-vice chair of the Gay Games board). Her most recent book is a novel, The Half Life of Sgt. Jen Hunter, about lesbians in the military prior to Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. She also has an essay in the book Media Queeried. Historian and writer Owen Keehnen’s fiction, essays, erotica, reviews, and interviews have appeared in hundreds of magazines and anthologies worldwide, including the upcoming Windy City Queer from University of Wisconsin Press. His newest novel, The Sand Bar, is due in autumn 2011 from Lethe Press. Keehnen is the author of the horror novel Doorway Unto Darkness (Dancing Moon Press, 2010) and recently published the humorous gay novel I May Not Be Much But I’m All I Think About ( His upcoming collection We’re Here, We’re Queer features more than 100 of his best interviews from the 1990s with LGBT writers, artists, and activists who helped lay the groundwork for the current LGBTQ world. He is also co-editor of Nothing Personal: Chronicles of Chicago’s LGBTQ Community 1977–1997 (Firetrap Press, 2009) and contributed 10 of the biographical essays in the groundbreaking coffee-table book Out and Proud in Chicago (Surrey/Agate, 2008). Keehnen is a founding board member of The Legacy Project and currently serves as secretary for the LGBT history-education-arts program focused on pride, acceptance, and bringing proper recognition to the courageous lives and contributions of international LGBTQ historical figures ( He is the former programming director for Gerber/Hart Library and has had two queer monologues adapted for the stage.

Product Details

  • File Size: 711 KB
  • Print Length: 414 pages
  • Publisher: Prairie Avenue Productions (May 9, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00507FTBI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #539,179 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chuck Renslow - Free Spirit March 24, 2012
Many have heard of Chuck Renslow, but few, I suspect, know the incredible depth of the man. That will change for those who read Baim and Keehnen's well-researched book. They will find Chuck Renslow the photographer, the biker, the lover, the family man, the businessman, the sportsman, the "mobster," the gay activist, the politician, the Mason, the leatherman, the caregiver, this historian, the host, the newspaperman, the philanthropist, the "daddy," the spiritual man, and especially, the free spirit.
Schooled on the values of the Great Depression but still too young to fight in WWII, Renslow came of sexual age during the short-lived period of hope, and liberalism, that marked the latter half of the 1940s. It was the era of Kinsey, and the early homophile organizations. It seems that the authors fall prey to the common myth that history advances linearly, "In the less than open post World War II era, homosexuality was treated as not only a perversion but also a mental illness, as well as a crime. Considered both illegal and immoral, gay persons were the lowest of the low." This became much truer by the mid-50s and lasted through Stonewall. As Renslow, himself, goes on to say about the bar scene of the late 1940s, "Things were wide open in those days. There were no laws governing them." Still, the point the authors make that Renslow's lack of conflict regarding his sexual desires was very atypical for that era is certainly true, but would also be atypical for any era save the most modern one, and even if he came of age today, his attitude towards his own sexuality would be healthier than most.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing October 2, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Despite its many flaws, this book has a lot to offer if the reader is willing to overlook them. It's an invaluable record of Chicago gay life from the 1950s to the present and offers a wealth of information about the events and people in the life of Chuck Renslow, entrepreneur, innovator, sexual renegade, and major mover and shaker in and around Chicago.

The book could have used the ministrations of a tough editor. Without one, the authors and their editors have allowed themselves full rein. The material is not particularly well organized, is often repetitive, and faced with a mountain of information, the authors have chosen to include it all on a superficial level rather than find the most important aspects of their subject and explore them in depth. It was especially frustrating that although I learned a lot about Renslow's accomplishments and was introduced to many of the people around him, I came away from the book never really getting to know the man himself.

Renslow was a sexual revolutionary who was an early explorer of gay BDSM. He was a subject of Alfred Kinsey and was recognized and commended by the Kinsey Institute. Yet, for some reason, the authors have glossed over much of his sex life. Why?

There are a couple of peculiar omissions, one minor and one major. For some inexplicable reason there is not a single italic in the entire book. Whether from ignorance or a weird desire to be different, the end result is to make the whole effort seem like an amateur one.

My biggest gripe with this book is that it has NO index. This is inexcusable! There is a wealth of information and data available, but no easy way to reference it. What were they thinking? Indexing software is not particularly expensive or that difficult to use.

Despite its shortcomings, Leatherman will still be a valuable reference book for some. They will have to dig to make the most of it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I ordered this book initially because I kept finding references to it in other LGBT Chicago histories that I have read recently. Initially, I thought the book might not interest me, since I have never grasped the world of leather.... However, Leatherman is far more than the tale of one man's successes, failures, passions, and survival through difficult decades. It magnificently vivifies and connects historical details about Chicago, its gay and lesbian community, its politics, and its place in our nation. I have new respect for the contributions and generosity of Chuck Renslow toward making the world a better place.

This book is a must-read for anyone who has ever lived in or visited Chicago. For history buffs not from Chicago, it provides an encyclopedic, honest, and insightfully captivating testimony of decades of evolution in our local and national story. The number and diversity of people that contributed insights and interviews to this work amazes me. Leatherman is a treasure trove of detailed facts, photos, art, divergent stories, opinions, and perceptions that somehow still manages to be a page-turner. The truth is sometimes stranger, more captivating, and far more complicated than the best fiction. Read this book and certainly recommend it to anyone interested in Chicago or LGBT history!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Chapter of Leather History December 9, 2012
By Joanne
Tracy Baim and Owen Keehnan have tackled a difficult project: Chuck Renslow. I found the depth and breadth of material presented to be fascinating. Chuck is a multi-faceted man, and this book illuminates those facets. Chuck is truly a Legend. Thank you, Tracy, Owen, and...of course...Chuck. Chuck has contributed much to the world, on so many levels; I'm glad to see his story told.
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