Larry Gomez is betting that tall, dark and handsome will be in vogue any time of the year--especially in Southern California where the Latino population is booming.
Gomez is the force behind "Bravo--The California Latin Male Calendar." He has taken 12 Latin-lover types honed in health clubs from West Covina to Pico Rivera, put them in Speedo swimsuits and other scant attire and dropped them onto the glossy pages of one of the first beefcake calendars for Latinas. The 1987 cover features Arthur Nichols, 29, of Hacienda Heights, an "unknown" who works out at a gym frequented by Gomez.
The 33-year-old Gomez, a free-lance photographer, came up with the idea several years ago, about the same time that women began scooping up calendars featuring everything from dancers from Chippendales and students from USC to muscle-bound Los Angeles firemen.
Somehow, the Latin lover was all but forgotten.
"I was shooting a friend of mine to build my portfolio up, and it just hit me it's too bad no one is doing a calendar featuring Latin models," Gomez said. "Especially with the large Latin population" in Southern California.
So Gomez and Rick Rodriguez, both of Whittier, teamed up to produce "Bravo" for 1985. Gomez shot the photos and arranged production, while Rodriguez provided the financial backing.
The first calendar and the two that followed all feature amateur models, who are usually in their mid-20s to early 30s. Some were born in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Puerto Rico, but most are from Southern California, Gomez said. He pays them about $85 for one to two hours of modeling.
"They're guys walking down the street, at the mall, at the gym I go to," Gomez said. "I've had friends on the lookout for me."
Nichols had never modeled when Gomez approached him at their gym and asked if he wanted to be in the 1987 calendar.
"I was shocked," said Nichols, who also is Mr. June. Nichols added that he was happy to be in Bravo "so I can look back a few years down the road and say, 'I did a calendar.' "
He said his wife, Laura, "kind of pushed me into it. She saw it as kind of a reward for all the work I'd done at the gym,"
The calendars, priced at $7.99, are sold by mail order and in independent book and record stores, gift shops and beauty salons, usually on a consignment basis, Gomez said. They are available mostly in local shops, but bookstores as far away as Massachusetts and Chicago also carry them, Gomez said.
About 3,500 of the calendars were sold the first year. Sales jumped to about 4,000 the next year, and about that many already have been sold this year, Gomez said.
Mr. August, Mike Garcia, and Nichols recently autographed 1987 calendars at the Heavenly Choice gift shop in Montebello.
"I've had offers, women telling me where they're staying at a motel," said Garcia, a 27-year-old construction worker from La Habra. "They tell you to write your phone number on the calendar. It's really crazy."
Garcia, who had some experience modeling suits, was looking at cars at an auto dealership when he was discovered last year by a friend of Gomez. Garcia said he received several calls from agents after he appeared as Mr. January in the 1986 calendar. He went to acting school and numerous "cattle calls," but has yet to receive any solid offers.
"We're hoping to get the same reaction this year," he said.
Although the calendar was primarily intended for Latinas, Gomez said it has sold well in some stores with an Anglo clientele.
"Surprisingly, I get a lot of orders from stores that aren't in Latin areas," Gomez said. "I think there's a Latin appeal, a crossover appeal to women who just like Latin guys."
Gomez said the reaction to the calendar also seems to dispel the stereotype of the Latina as shy, submissive and sheltered.
"When we did the first calendar," Gomez said, "I was trying to make sure I didn't offend the Latin woman because I thought in my mind they were more conservative and wouldn't buy it.
"The funny thing about it was the most reaction I got was that the guys had too many clothes on."