To the uninitiated, the symbols may as well have well been Egyptian hieroglyphics – clusters of arrows, circles, squares, squiggly lines, and backward question marks that began to appear next to a pictured model in Bob Mizer’s Physique Pictorial in the early 1960s.
But to readers a bit more familiar with Mizer’s quarterly magazine, as long as they were armed with the photographer’s subjective character analysis code sheet, the symbols unlocked tidbits of information about a favorite model – some of it titillating, some of it more tame and muted.
“In 1963, Bob Mizer started including these odd little symbols next to photos of his models, and collectively, they actually said a lot about that model’s personality and traits,” says Dennis Bell, founder and president of The Bob Mizer Foundation. “For instance, a simple cross meant the model was strongly religious. An 'x' with prongs on all four ends marked the model as having a boastful and arrogant personality. A circle with a downward-pointing arrow denoted the model as having a dominant, forceful personality. An ‘x’ with a black circle above it marked the model as physically dangerous, and so on.”
It's in the stars
Original copies of the code sheet are housed within the Foundation, and Bell says that Mizer’s symbols are derived from astrology, a subject that fascinated Mizer his entire life.
“Even as a young boy, you can see this interest in symbols and the zodiac. Mentions of this are everywhere in his diaries,” says Foundation archivist Keith Foote, who has remained busy transcribing Mizer’s daily diaries, which he began keeping as early as his teenage years.
Several years ago, Foundation Vice President John Renner devised an analysis of each code’s components. Renner’s analysis modeled itself after linguists who have deciphered Mayan hieroglyphics, according to Bell.
The inclusion of something as objective, such as numbers and mathematics, in something as subjective as a work of art like Mizer’s photographs, harkens to works of literature such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which includes veiled references to algebraic lessons.
In his analysis’ overview, Renner lays out the basic components of a typical symbol cluster one might find within the photograph of a model.
“A model’s symbol cluster is usually composed of a ‘base’ ring/circle, to which is added one or more ‘arrows’ pointing outward from the ring,” Renner says in his analysis. “Additional symbols are written around this base and arrows group. “Mizer’s chart provided symbols that may appear to the right of the base and arrow cluster. His chart includes a few symbols that did not seem to be found in actually in use in printed Physique Pictorial magazines after a thorough survey.”
Likes: Nudity and nose candy
Brief articles from Bell in the early days of the Foundation profile some of Mizer’s models who were more heavily decorated with symbols, including Vietnam veteran Anthony Wilson, who appeared in the April 1973 issue of Physique Pictorial:
“In our extensive experience with Bob Mizer’s groundbreaking publication, never have we found a man with such a complicated collection of subjective character analysis symbols,” the 2010 article states. “A Midwest vet with an exhibitionist streak, Mr. Wilson is apparently also ‘Gay and Proud,’ slightly unstable, and a fan of the nose candy. He lifts weights and can apparently ‘clean and jerk’ 300 lbs.”
Wilson was apparently infinitely more exciting than Dennis Lavia, a model profiled in a 2009 article that examines Mizer’s codes.
“As his decoded character analysis will show, Dennis was a total snore,” the article opines. “It’s the sad truth, but a pert ass and a pair of bedroom eyes might get you through the door, but they won’t guarantee you a return visit. Let’s hope for Dennis’ sake that the same can be said of dull guys that is said of dumb guys - you know, that they do it good.”
A listing of Lavia’s traits as described by the character analysis reveal that although he was an orally inclined, masculine hustler, Mizer simply found him ‘dull.’
A brief analysis of Bob Mizer
One of the first of many steps in the Foundation's move to downtown San Francisco was to hoist a new awning above the front door at 920 Larkin St.
The red awning itself, which was completed late last year, includes a series of symbols that one might find on Mizer's subjective character analysis.
"We decided that our logo on the awning needed to include symbols that made a strong statement about Mizer," Bell says. "So, each of the symbols included there reveal something about Mizer's personality. The circle with one arrow pointing at 12 o'clock and one at two o'clock tell us that Mizer was a typical man with an agreeable personality. The pyramid identifies him as an intellectual. And the 'eternity' symbol reveals that Mizer was the type of man who forged lasting friendships. One such friendship included model Ed Taylor, who lived in Mizer's complex and assisted in some of the day-to-day tasks and operations there."
Mizer’s subjective character analysis remained peppered throughout the pages of Physique Pictorial until the last issue ran off the presses in 1990.
These days, it can still be found on merchandise sold by the Foundation itself, including t-shirts, coffee mugs, and in Taschen Publishing’s 2009 coffee table book, “Bob’s World.”
Bob was a very complex personality,” Bell said in 2006.”He loved to keep things a secret, and it shows in his publication.”