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c. 1961

Hunting for male models in New York City

The Harkrider Male Model Agency had more than 1,700 men on its books

Are you a man? If so, do you have a tattoo? Or a beard? Or an eye-patch? According to LIFE magazine in 1961, had you been able to answer “yes” to any of these three attributes, you could immediately be identified you as a “rugged type” and therefore a potential recruit into a brand new industry -— male modeling. And should such a career be of interest, there was no one better placed to chaperone you to the very top than Mr. John Harkrider.

For John Harkrider was the founder, owner, talent scout and agent of the Harkrider Male Model Agency. In 1961, to be a male model was still very much to be in the modeling minority. Ad agencies believed that a woman in a picture remained the fastest route to a sale. A man might appear in the background, as a reassuring presence, but it was women who posessed the appeal.

Harkrider bucked the trend, big time. The Harkrider Male Model Agency had more than 1,700 men on its books, and Harkrider himself was personally responsible for recruiting most, if not all. Each and every day he trod the streets of New York City, panning for facial gold.

John Harkrider himself was a balding stocky man, born in the 1890s. At 14 he had acted in silent movies alongside Mary Pickford, Theda Bara and Rudolph Valentino, and later became a producer of the Ziegfeld Follies — all of which may go some way to explaining his vast confidence.

Catching sight of a fellow with just the right look, Harkrider wasted no time. He marched right up to his quarry, brandishing his business card and loudly declared: “Sir, you’ve got a million dollar face!” Around 60 cards were handed out every day.

Harkrider’s bold recruitment policy spilled over into his general ethos. He insisted his models “Never say no” to a request from the client. “If they ask you if you can be there tomorrow afternoon in a suit of armor, say yes. I’ll get it.”

And such a request would be by no means out of the ordinary. On the contrary, Harkrider prided himself on his ability to procure the very obscure. Among the outliers of agency requests: a man entirely covered with freckles, a teenager happy swimming with sharks, and a man who would gladly be filmed taking out his false teeth. This was all, please note, requested on a single morning. And Harkrider fulfilled all those requests — inside 30 minutes.

This set of pictures shows Harkrider approaching complete strangers on the city streets, eager to snap up as many million-dollar faces as feasibly possible. And, as you can see, Harkrider’s reputation went before him and after him. He was accompanied wherever he went by men eager to join his ever-increasing roster.

1961
Male models recruited by John Harkrider
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Harkrider instructs a group of male models before taking them to the office of a prospective client
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Walking the streets of New York followed by male models
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Harkrider shows off fashion photos of male models
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
A group of Harkrider recruits
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Harkrider scouting for male models talking to construction workers
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
John Harkrider posing with male models
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Walking briskly across New York
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Seeking to close a deal
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images
1961
Stopping the traffic
Yale Joel / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty Images

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