LIFE Archives: The American Man {also, Nina Leen}

08/03/2011 § 9 Comments

For the August 26, 1946 issue of LIFE Magazine, photographer Nina Leen was tapped again to capture distinctly American characters.  After photographing the American girl for “The American Look” article in 1945, she then turned her lens on “The American Man.”  Leen’s European roots — she was born in Russia, and lived in Germany, Switzerland and Italy — and her seven years living in the US were touted as perfect credentials, as she had become “thoroughly familiar with American men without becoming used to them.”  Leen’s article is an amusing view on the character and habits of the “exotic” American man, coupled with beautiful images of postwar menswear.

“HE IS HUSKY, takes enormous quantities of physical exercise.
HE IS HANDSOME, but not so handsome as he thinks he is.
HE IS COLLEGIATE, manages to resmemble a Yale man for years.”

“HE LOVES SMALL ANIMALS, will often stop on the sidewalk to scratch the ears of a stray cat.
HE EATS ICE CREAM in enormous quantities, savoring it as a Frenchman would a vintage wine.
HE MARRIES EARLY, usually looks entirely too younge to be the father of his growing family.”
“HE DRINKS MILK when dining out.  In Europe only invalids or men with ulcers would do this.
HE IS TALL and likes to look taller.  He considers being six feet tall a personal achievement.
HIS SECRETARY is apt to be very pretty, something which European wives would not tolerate.
LEFT TO HIMSELF at the delicatessen, he runs amok, always buys too much beer, cold meat.”

“A BLUR is all one seems of him in the morning as he bursts from his house to make the train.
BUT HE DAWDLES, once in the city, stopped by excavations, shop windows, tennis matches.
HIS BUSINESS SUIT is his uniform.  With it he wears a four-in-hand tie, may carry a briefcase.”

“One thing that Miss Leen immediately noticed about the American is his legs…Their favorite position, particularly during business conferences, is on tables or desks, the higher the better.”

This last group of images of the “slouching American man” is my favorite.  Leen shot these at the New York office of Young & Rubicam, an ad agency founded in 1923 that still operates to this day at its original Madison Avenue address.  What we are treated to are photos of real Mad Men.

Did you notice he’s drinking milk?

I was able to dig up plenty of images Leen took for this article in the LIFE archives.  They are such a wonderful look at the 1946 American male, through the amused eyes of Leen.

How sweet is Hughie?!

Hey, mister suspenders — I really heart your anchor tattoo.

All images via LIFE.

Further reading: “LIFE: The American Man

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