"Nudity and the Constitution"
When I first created Naked Age in 2020, I had the Masons in mind for an interview. I just had this vision of them both sharing their story in separate interviews, which I could weave together, editing their dialogue so that they fill in gaps for each other. I did not yet know what their story entailed, but I knew enough to believe that they would have something compelling to share. What I could not yet know, and which I would eventually come to learn, was that their story is more than merely compelling, but truly important for people to hear.
"Naturists cannot be in the closet... They're going to have to speak up one way or the other if they want their rights."
- Shirley Mason, Naked Age Episode 7
I'd heard Shirley interviewed previously on the Naturist Living Show podcast, and knew of her involvement with the BEACHES Foundation through its president Martin Novoa, who I once interviewed for The New Nudist Podcast. Both of those interviews touched only lightly on her work—along with husband Richard Mason—to establish Haulover Beach as a legal nude beach in the summer of 1991. I knew I would need to learn more about this before I could even write appropriate questions to ask them. I found some other short interviews with the Masons on YouTube, and I investigated the websites for BEACHES Foundation and South Florida Free Beaches, which were very helpful, but still only gave a part of the full picture. I hit paydirt when I finally turned to Nude and Natural magazine, which in its 40 year history has probably covered the developments of Haulover Nude Beach more than any other single publication. Luckily, there were a number of articles about the Masons and Haulover—a few even written by Richard and Shirley themselves.
Once I had a sense of the events, and written some provocative questions to help tell this story, I was finally ready to interview the Masons. Now it was a matter of connecting with them and finding a time that was convenient for all to participate. Due to a number of circumstances that were outside of anyones' control, this took a number of months. Finally, I was connected with the Masons through my friend Martin of the BEACHES Foundation in June 2022.
The interviews occurred over Zoom on two different days in July, 2022. The discussions were productive and exciting. First I spoke with Shirley for about two hours, then a few days later with Richard, a conversation that lasted almost four hours. I loved speaking with the Masons. Shirley is genuine and funny, and so warm. Richard is brilliant and foul-mouthed and hilarious. I was instantly charmed by them both, which may account for why our discussions went so long. We were having a great time!
Where the average Naked Age episode will consist of just one interview to edit, this one now consisted of two particularly long interviews, significantly more material than I'm accustomed to having to review and cut down. Luckily, because I'd done my homework by researching and writing questions in advance, I had a sort of accidental outline to follow, which made editing the interviews surprisingly quick (and very satisfying) work.
When I finally had the interview edited which would make up the bulk of the episode, I was next faced with with writing a historical introduction for the episode which would come before the interview. The way I saw it, this introduction would have to do some heavy lifting. First, to provide some historical context and background for the accomplishments of the Masons, one had to understand what they did that was so revolutionary. To grasp that, you'd want to do a sort of case study of successful nude beaches, to see where their actions differed from the average. While I knew some of the names of nudist figures from the Free Beach movement, my knowledge did not extend to the nude beaches themselves. Looking at all the research this would require for me to conduct just to write the introduction, I quickly realized that I needed some help.
Shannon Lewis has an impressive knowledge of American nudist beaches and clubs, and particularly spaces like this which have been closed or otherwise lost. As a vocal advocate for nudism, and a volunteer for the Naturist Education Foundation Research Library, Shannon has written history articles for NEFRL's newsletter "Pages of History", as well as for Nude and Natural and others. I knew from chatting with Shannon that he shares a passion for nudist history, and his interest in nude beaches and nude activism goes deep. He'd also been a helpful contributor to Naked Age in the past—I've often sent him rough drafts of episodes, seeking feedback or help identifying errors and omissions. For me, Shannon was an obvious person to seek help from for this difficult introduction. And to my great luck, he was willing to get involved.
Of course, Shannon didn't disappoint. His first draft was a thoughtful look at nude beach history. He had included three beautiful excerpts from various pioneers of the beach movement: Cec Cinder, Lee Baxandall, and Marianna Handler. When I first read through his draft, my brain started churning on the potential problem of who could read the excerpts that Shannon chose. In the past, I have actually hired voice actors to read some excerpts, such as in the introduction to Episode 5 ("Transgender Woman Extraordinaire"), in which I hired a talented voice actor perform a quote by my own great great grandfather, Rudolph Johnson. But I realized that in this case I had an opportunity to do something more compelling for these three quotes than to cast some anonymous actor to read these parts. When I presented to Shannon my idea to try and solicit recordings from the living children of these three beach activists, he responded with excitement and approval. He agreed, it was worth a try.
It took some investigation, but with a little effort and about two months time, I was able to find the living children of Cec Cinder, Lee Baxandall, and Marianna Handler. Respectively, they were Arden Williams, Phineas Baxandall, and Maureen Handler. I eventually reached out to each and pitched my idea one by one, and to my great delight, all three agreed. It was important to me to honor their parents—all of whom I admire as historic figures—and I told them so rather directly. Perhaps that helped sway them, I don't know. In any event, I'm very grateful for their generous contributions. I believe the result is an episode that not only provides important history and a roadmap for future beach activists, but a personal love letter to this movement and its pioneers, including Richard and Shirley Mason.
There is much to learn from the Masons. In their story they exhibit several specific traits that I think people can learn from. For one, they show that a little bit of savvy goes a long way. But they also show that with some perseverance and no small amount of bravado, one can accomplish almost anything. Another lesson I took away from their story is that if you care about something, you can't take it for granted. You've got to work to take care of it.
Finally, I also learned from the Masons that to fight for and preserve naturist spaces, we've got to get organized.
Not every naturist out there sets out to be an advocate or an activist. Some just want a place to safely and comfortably sunbathe in the nude. But if you want that, and you agree that people should be able to have that, then on some level, you've got to speak up if you want to retain your right to do so. Not everyone can be the Masons, but if you cherish these spaces, please consider supporting the organizations and groups that work to protect them. Without the people and groups who are doing the work, the spaces are likely to disappear.