I have to give credit to Cinemax for giving me my first look inside a real-life nudist camp.
Most of us who grew up in the eighties referred to Cinemax as “Skinemax,” thanks to the network’s “Friday After Dark” lineup of adult programming. The programs were quite tame by today’s standards, and tended to be tedious, subtitled European art-house films or goofy, low-budget American sex comedies. My youthful curiosity about the human anatomy may have been strong, but not strong enough to sit through the unbearable dialogue of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” or endure the weak plot of some spring break exploitation film where brain-dead jocks chug beer and objectify bikini-clad coeds. Besides, with our new cable box, there were twenty other channels to watch. Twenty! MTV might be premiering a new Cyndi Lauper video, Comedy Central had all-night standup, and there was sure to be a lunatic of some sort on public access. It was an exciting era for television, nothing like today’s wasteland of “reality” shows that document the mundane daily routines of some of the country’s most loathsome families.
Though I mostly lost interest in “Skinemax,” the network did air a couple of programs that stoked my growing interest in nudism. The first was Randal Kleiser’s 1980 remake of “The Blue Lagoon.” I was too young to be interested in the syrupy romantic storyline, but I was fascinated by the film’s clothing-optional sensibilities. Why wear a loincloth when you’re going for a late-night dip in a moonlit lagoon? After about a dozen viewings of “The Blue Lagoon,” I was convinced that I was destined to live on a deserted island paradise. I figured I’d sleep in a hut constructed of bamboo and palm leaves, and spend my days doing little more than working on my tan. I’d dive for oysters and learn to catch fish with a spear. Maybe I’d have a mischievous monkey as a companion, or a wisecracking parrot. Perhaps I’d even grow a curly, platinum-blonde ‘fro, like Christopher Atkins’ character. Being a lost-at-sea beach bum seemed like a reasonable career choice, if my plan of becoming a video arcade manager didn’t pan out.
“The Blue Lagoon” inspired me to question the necessity of swimsuits, but a nudist camp documentary on a “Friday After Dark” series called “Eros International” made me ponder why folks felt compelled to wear clothing in any situation. A 1983 New York Times article claimed “Eros International” was Cinemax’s most popular original series. I thought most of the episodes were sort of silly, until I saw one that featured a nudist wedding in Kent, England. I was intrigued by these free-spirited, liberated people who saw no reason that a formal event should involve ugly bridesmaid’s dresses and itchy, rented tuxedos. “Lovely day for it!” a gentleman with a thick, cockney accent remarked, as he and his wife happily strolled through a chilly drizzle and into the crowded church. Nudists! These were my kind of people. No slaves to convention in this bunch!
It’s a shame that this rare glimpse into nudist life was buried in a series that featured exposes of Scandinavian brothels and Parisian strip clubs, but it just goes to show that inspiration can be found in unlikely places. I stumbled across the nudist idea while peering into the Pandora’s Box of late-night eighties cable television. A few years later, I was driving down a gravel road on my way to my first nudist gathering. Not as adventurous as diving for pearls in the lagoon of a deserted Pacific island, but still pretty adventurous.