All Man: The International Male Story (2022)

83 min   |   Feature   |  Tribeca Film Festival 2022

ALL MAN: The International Male Story journeys across three decades of the catalog’s unlikely but lasting impact on fashion, masculinity, and sexuality in America.  Gene Burkard, a once-closeted Midwesterner and GI, found freedom in San Diego, where he transformed men’s fashion into something cosmopolitan, carefree and trend-setting.  International Male reached gay and straight customers alike as it redefined images of masculinity in American culture, generating revenue and circulation in the millions.  

 

This character-driven documentary crafts a portrait of a band of outsiders who changed the way men would look - at themselves, at each other and how the world would look at them.  This is their story - a modern day fairy tale about a dream that really did come true.  

Origin Story 

In the summer of 2019, I had wrapped up a 4-part series on the history of aerospace for PBS stations, when one of my editors, Bryan Darling, brought up International Male.  He and a collaborator, visual artist Jesse Reed, had shot a number of interviews with former models, employees, fashion experts and well-known fans of the iconic mail-order catalog.  The catch: Gene Burkard, International Male’s almost 90 year-old founder, had turned down their interview request.  This meant that Gloria Tomita, Gene’s 93 year-old second-in-command, would also not talk.  Without them, I told Bryan and Jesse, there could be no film.  

 

In October, 2019, I drove to San Diego to meet with Gene and Gloria at his home. Thirty-three years had passed since he sold International Male to Horn and Hardart, the direct-mail and automat behemoth.  Gene asked me, “So why the hell would anyone give a damn about a long-gone mail order catalog?”  I informed him that an IM Instagram account set up by Bryan and Jesse had 12,000 followers.  “There are fans that care about the catalog,” I told Gene.  “But I’m here because this is your story; it’s Gloria’s story.  It’s about the International Male family you created together.”  

 

At this point, Gloria reflected, “You know, when I look back on it now, the whole thing is like a real fairy tale.”  Without missing a beat, Gene, deeply familiar with the Great American Songbook, gently began, “Fairy tales can come true, it can happen to you, if you’re young at heart.”  

 

I left knowing how this story would be told and what song we would use for the end credits - "Young at Heart".

Peter Jones

writer/producer

Peter_Jones_Gene_Gloria.jpeg

Peter Jones with Gene Burkard and Gloria Tomita