What Made Peter Berlin Famous? It’s All About the Package

Written by | Entertainment, Screen

erotic artist Peter Berlin

Gay sex symbol Peter Berlin may be the first man to understand personal branding in the modern sense. Some say he created the selfie.

He was born in German-occupied Poland in 192 as Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene, But by the 1970s, Berlin was internationally renowned as a provocateur, photographer and filmmaker whose sole subject was himself.

Overnight, Berlin became a walking archetype, a kind of Tom of Finland drawing come to life. His signature look revolved around a Dutchboy haircut, preposterously tight pants (which he designed and sewed himself without patterns) and a lanky Aryan swagger. Call it EuroTrash elevated to art form.

While the fight for LGBTQ equality was still in its infancy, Berlin (the name he eventually settled on as a pseudonym) and his image seemed to be everywhere in gay culture. Passersby would see him out on the streets of New York, San Francisco, Paris or Rome and become instantly transfixed — or horrified. Berlin’s response: to flirt with his eyes and his body — to preen, strut and seduce. But whenever someone would approach him, he’d make his displeasure clear. He wasn’t interested in sex. He was focused on being a sex object.

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He’s responsible for two films created in the low-tech DIY style popularized by Andy Warhol and John Waters. Both Nights in Black Leather (1973) and That Boy (1974) further fixed his mystique in the popular imagination. He was the gay male progenitor of more contemporary luminaries like Angelyne and Amanda LaPore. Like Paris Hilton and the Kardashians, Berlin was famous mostly for … being famous.

His movies, modest as they were, put him in the company of other erotic filmmakers of the day — Wakefield Poole and Jack Deveau paramount among them. Later, he was sketched by Tom of Finland and photographed by Robert Mapplethorpe.

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Berlin slipped quietly from public view in the late ’80s, but in 2005 a documentary called That Man (currently streaming on Here TV) reignited interest in his work and career.

Here’s a taste, courtesy of a pair of very unlikely hosts:

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Last modified: August 9, 2019