Peter Jarman will never disparage the chance encounter. His life and career trajectory were forever altered by a brush with fate on the corner of Lexington and 48th Street in Manhattan.
“After serving four years in the Air Force during Korea, I was taking classes at Columbia by day and working nights at a Doubleday Bookshop. One day I was crossing the street when someone yelled out, ‘Mister! Mister!’ and told me I ought to be a model! He handed me his card and told me I’d make $25 an hour. I quickly realized that for two hours of modeling I’d make as much as I did working five nights a week at the bookstore.”
Jarman soon garnered national attention as the subject of a controversial ad.
“At the time, Fidel Castro was about to overthrow Batista, and they put me in a watch ad where I wore a Castro-styled beard. It became a full-page ad in the New York Times and was banned in Cuba. Time and Newsweek wrote about that, and all of a sudden everyone wanted to know, ‘Who is that guy?’”
Jarman dropped out of Columbia and spent the next four years modeling full-time and running with the underground gay community. “A lot of interesting people ran in that circle in New York. I played charades with Lena Horne and met Rock Hudson. I heard and chatted with Barbra Streisand at a Village supper club, The Lion, before she became famous. That’s where I met my first boyfriend, a successful TV director.”
Summers were spent on Fire Island, where a veritable who’s who of the gay community flocked for privacy. “The famous French actor Jean Marais made a pass at me at the grocery store. Fire Island was a hideaway that a lot of gay celebrities retreated to.”
But for all the fabulous trips, cocktail parties and supper clubs, what Jarman most wanted was to settle down. “I saw this guy on the deck of the Sea Shack that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. So I quit modeling because the lifestyle wasn’t conducive to having a relationship.”
Jarman moved into advertising. He had an uncle who was a Vice President with J. Walter Thompson and his aunt was a super secretary with McCann Erickson. Jarman is often asked about whether the series Mad Men was true to life. “Yes, it was and I was one of the Mad Men, but the only thing I had in common with Don Draper is that I drank too much. It prompted me to join AA in 1971 and I’m proud to say that I haven’t had a drink since.”
A conservative man by nature, Jarman took a big risk by branching out to start his own agency out of his apartment. He built it into a successful business and eventually sold his interest in 1979, when he and his life partner Tom decided to move to San Diego.
Tom has since passed away and Jarman moved into Vi at La Jolla Village five years ago. He keeps an active social life and fits right in with his other neighbors who call the community home.
Looking back on the path that led him from New York City to San Diego, Jarman said, “I’ll never disparage the chance encounter, because it really changed my life.”