All Man: The International Male Story
83 min | Feature | 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.
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 with Gene Burkard and Gloria Tomita