PHOTOS: Vintage Pics Of Hitchhikers Amassed By Closeted Gov. Official Is Subject Of New Documentary

IMG_5976[October is LGBT History Month and to celebrate, Queerty’s gaying up each day with our 31 Days of Queerstory.]

The history of the LGBT communities isn’t carried solely on the backs of the acknowledged founders and leaders of the modern queer movement such as Harry Hay and Harvey Milk. Sometimes people we’ve never heard of have also left a lasting legacy. For example, take the story of a closeted scientist at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The unnamed man befriended dozens of hitchhikers along the Pacific Coast Highway between Venice Beach and Santa Barbara and convinced the young men to let him take photographs (some were artistic, some erotic) of them.

After the photographer passed away, the collection landed in the hands of a friend who later handed them over to L.A.’s indispensable ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.

After filmmaker Paul Detwiler discovered the cache of images, he found the inspiration for his next project. His documentary short 24 Hitchhikers, described as “equal parts meditative memory piece and bearded-beefcake bonanza,” will be shown this Sunday as part of ONE’s Queer Film Fest.

Detwiler offered Queerty an exclusive statement about his film:

I was captivated by the young man standing in the doorway; his canvas knapsack and torn jeans a testament to time spent on the road; dark, brooding eyes conveying a quiet intensity still palpable as it was the day 40 years ago when his photo was taken.

The moment I opened the storage box of photographs proffered by ONE Archives curator Michael Oliveira and saw the stunning faces of dozens of hitchhikers from the 1960s–70s staring back, I felt like the photographer must have: intrigued by the untold stories of these men and attracted to their casual physicality; but unlike him, I felt compelled to share their beautiful images with others.

I was struck by a number of questions: who was the photographer, whose longings and desire for connection brought him and his roadside pickups together—first into his car, then into his studio? Who were the hitchhikers, what did they seek on their journeys during those tumultuous times of possibility, when personal re-invention and self-discovery awaited along the open road?

IMG_5969 - Version 2Without answers, but with the determination that these images were too brutally awesome to ignore, I tried to imagine myself as the photographer to create a memory piece, although I didn’t know where this would go. Essentially, I immersed myself in the photos, let them speak to me, and let myself respond. It was a fascinating process. A month later, the piece had created itself.

Nothing is known about the hitchhikers immortalized through the photographer’s camera lens. Though their stories will remain untold, whatever longings and desires those young men once held on the road, in bygone encounters, they’re still affecting and haunting, across the decades.


The 4th annual ONE Institute Queer Film Festival will take place October 13 in Los Angeles. For more information and tickets, go here.


See more photos below.









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  • Mr. E. Jones

    Hope this comes to DVD. It looks pretty interesting.

  • Ogre Magi

    Too hairy

  • mlbumiller

    maybe some might come forward and tell thier story.

  • balehead

    Very well composed and natural …hopefully there will be a book.

  • Teleny

    This is kind of creepy.

  • Mr. E. Jones


    I was thinking the same thing. See what these guys were up to, and how their lives were after the 1970’s.

  • dharmapupil

    Well, the bike/scooter has a registration expiration date of July 1980. That might give someone a lead…

  • scotshot

    Creepy? Not really. Only a tile from a mosaic. There’s tons more out there. There’s that old line: Those that forget history…..Except here they’re literally snapshots.

  • Cyn

    People are going to see themselves, and their brothers and their friends in this.

  • Bomo Queebo

    these are the Stonewall guys of the late 60’s & early 70’s – this is what adventurous young white boys looked like then – by the mid-to-late 70’s we cut our hair close & kept our big mustaches – I remember it vividly – sadly, most of these guys probably met their deaths in the AIDS 80’s

  • queertypie

    Reminds me of “My Private Idaho”.


    Of the ones who are still around, I think it would be fascinating if these guys recognized themselves in these photos and came forward as a sort of follow-up to this film. It’s be interesting to hear their side of the story about how they met up with the photographer and what prompted them to be photographed. Some of them are really quite handsome/cute; I’d love to see what they look like now in their 50s and 60s… ;)

  • J.c.

    Fascinating photos! Soulful and natural. Love the one of the kid on the motorcycle with the flirtatious smile especially.

  • royster

    if a hitchhiker, though, one wonders if the motorcycle was a prop belonging to someone else, like the photographer? still, a then-and-now on these guys would be fascinating.

  • m-a-a

    William Anderson Rhoads was born in Amarillo, TX, 6 July 1917, the son of David D. Rhoads (Hummelstown, PA, 22 February 1890 – San Diego County, CA, 24 May 1957) and his wife Mable Newlin (TX, 29 October 1892 – Amarillo, TX, 10 March 1982).

    His father appears in the Amarillo city directories from 1915(about the year he married Mable) through 1927, usually described as a “stock man” or “cattleman”, although the 1920 census lists his occupation as “services car jitney lines”. The couple had 2 children, William, and a younger daughter, Joyce Elizabeth Rhoads (28 January 1920 – 23 August 1999), who in 1942 married Rueal Lee Curtis (1912-1987), owner of R. L. Curtis Auto Laundry in Amarillo. David Rhoads abandoned his family about 1925; he appears in the 1940 census, age 49, instructor, street car company, living at 3039 Royal Street, Los Angeles, with his sister Blanche Dunham, age 46. Mable Newlin Rhoads, calling herself a “widow”, and her two children moved in with her parents, William August (1858-1930) and Mary Elizabeth Winton Newlin (1865-1947).

    William A. Rhoads appears in the 1940 census as a sub carrier for the post office, living with his grandmother, mother, and sister, at 1822 Washington, Amarillo. On 6 August 1942, described as a mail carrier, with 1 year of college, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He almost certainly finished college, and attended graduate school on the G.I. Bill. I don’t know where he took his undergraduate degree (it’s in the the Vita attached to his PhD dissertation, which I haven’t yet seen), but in 1951 he appears as a graduate student in the Divisions of Plant Physiology and Entomology, University of California, Citrus Experiment Station, Riverside, CA. He earned his MA in Botanical Science from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1953, with a thesis on “The rates of phyotosynthesis and respiration of four ages of Eureka lemon and Washington Navel orange leaves”, and his PhD in Horticultural Science from the same university in 1958, with a dissertation on “The organic and amino acids in beans and avocados affected by iron chlorosis”. From his publications it can be deduced that from at least 1959 to at least 1966 he worked at the Department of Nuclear Medicine and Radiation Biology, University of California Medical School, Los Angeles, where he studied the effects on plant life of fallout from nuclear detonations at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). (He had in fact been engaged in such research since at least 1953: see Robert G. Lindberg, James T. Scanlan, James C. Watson, William A. Rhoads, and Kermit H. Larson, “Operation UPSHOT-KNOTHOLE, Nevada Proving Grounds, March – June 1953. Project 27.2. Environmental and Biological Fate of Fallout from Nuclear Detonations in Areas Adjacent to the Nevada Proving Ground”, Report to the Test Director [Ft. Belvoir: Defense Technical Information Center, 1954.) By 1968, he had taken a position with Edgerton, Germeshausen & Grier (EG&G, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EG%26G ), based in Goleta, Santa Barbara County, CA, where he continued to study the effects of radiation on plant and animal life. He died in Santa Barbara County (probably in Goleta), 7 November 1981 (Santa Barbara Cemetery, http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=89159873). His last published works were: (1) William A. Rhoads, Thomas Paul O’Farrell, and Mary L. Sauls, “Occurrence and Status of Endangered Species, San Joaquin Kit Fox, Vulpes Macrotis Mutica, and Large-Flowered Fiddleneck, Amsinckia Grandiflora, on Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Site 300, California” (Goleta, Calif: EG & G, Santa Barbara Operations, 1981); (2) E. Collins, Thomas P. O’Farrell, and William A. Rhoads, “Annotated Bibliography for Biologic Overview for the Nevada Nuclear Storage Waste Investigations, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada” (Goleta: EG & G Energy Measurements Group, Santa Barbara Operations, 1981); and (3) E. Collins, Thomas P. O’Farrell, and William A. Rhoads, “Biologic Overview for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Storage Investigations, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada” (Goleta: EG & G Energy Measurements Group, Santa Barbara Operations, 1982).

  • pauleky

    @Ogre Magi: Love the hair. Is hard for you to be a man, Ogre?

  • pauleky

    @Ogre Magi: Love the hair. Is it hard for you to be a man, Ogre?

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