Every month, it's a naked display of ordinariness

'Nice' nude calendars give exposure to good causes

Pop Culture

January 11, 2004|By Carole Goldberg | Carole Goldberg,Hartford Courant

When the ladies of Rylstone, England, decided to take it off -- well, take it almost all off -- for a fund-raising calendar, they couldn't have foreseen the worldwide fallout.

The Rylstone Women's Institute 2000 calendar, which showcased not nubile young women but nearly nude middle-aged ladies discreetly posed behind gardening or homemaking equipment, sparked international interest and the movie Calendar Girls.

The calendar honored one of the institute's members, whose husband had died of cancer. The participants could not have known that the project, begun as a lark, would raise more than $750,000 for leukemia and lymphoma research.

Nor could they have known that gardeners in Texas (Dirty!), firefighters in Rhode Island (Hot!), accordion players in Newfoundland (Squeeze it!), wool spinners in Maine (Scratchy!) and the full-Vermont-y "Men of Maple Corners" would soon follow suit -- make that birthday suit.

And in Massachusetts, former Clinton Cabinet member Robert Reich posed for a 2004 calendar supporting Cambridge Community TV -- in the buff behind a shopping basket filled with greens from which pokes an impressively large baguette.

Men and women around the world have eagerly popped their tops and dropped their drawers to raise thousands of dollars for school projects, community centers, medical research and local charities.

Way out west, in Junction City, Ore., the 2004 "Men of the Long Tom Grange" calendar is a runaway success, having raised nearly $200,000 to date, well beyond the hoped-for $25,000. "We needed more than hot cinnamon rolls at the annual Daffodil Festival" to help support local schools, says the woman behind the project, Danuta Pfeiffer.

Some others, such as the "Vail Undressed Legends and Celebrities" calendar in Colorado, and the "Breast of Canada" calendar, which raises funds for breast-health research and includes women who have had mastectomies, are still flourishing.

Others had a shorter shelf life. The "Men of Maple Corner" calendar, based in Calais, Vt., raised upward of $500,000 for a community center and charities, but called it quits after two years. Similarly, Maine's wearingwool.com calendar ("celebrating the ancient art of spinning and the ageless beauty of women") won't be back for 2004. Despite its success, its creators say on its Web site, "we decided we liked spinning better than the business of calendar making."

In the United Kingdom, where it all began, some commentators are growing bored with the phenomenon. Annie Gunner, who writes an online column for Third Force News, a project of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organizations, laments that the world is "now awash, alas, with nude calendars. Anyone, anywhere, trying to raise funds has hit on the idea of getting their kit off and becoming Mr. January."

She quoted 19th-century German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who once said, "I have seen three emperors in their nakedness and the sight was not inspiring."

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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