Salute Your Undershorts

The secret Hollywood history behind No Pants Day

Salute Your Undershorts
Illustration by Kevin Peake

Conventional wisdom has it that No Pants Day (which takes place this Friday, May 2) had its beginnings in Austin in the mid-1980s and is little more than a good-natured lark free of any political or social intent – just a bunch of breezy young adults with nothing better to do than wander the streets in their underwear, scaring children and dogs. But the truth is actually much more sinister. New research has revealed that Trouser-Free Day was actually started in Hollywood in 1928 by a secret cabal of gin-soaked movie producers, writers, and actors interested as much in flaunting societal convention and toppling democracy as they were in making movies, a group that included such closet anarchists and degenerates as Norma Shearer, Conrad Veldt, Samuel Goldwyn, Adolph Zukor, Lillian Gish, Will Rogers, the entire cast of King Vidor's The Big Parade, and Wallace Beery (who, honoring the wishes of the other members of the group, kept his pants on). Rumor has it the party was the height of Roaring Twenties liberal immorality and political rabble-rousing (though no rabble were actually invited), capped off by a naked Buster Keaton reading aloud from Das Kapital and guzzling mulled wine while standing on Mary Pickford's shoulders.

Needless to say, the influence of Hollywood's Trouser-Free Day on the movies was immediate and pervasive, sullying a once-pure medium with dirty thoughts. Because of those first pantsless ne'er-do-wells, our decent, old-fashioned multiplexes are now packed with the most brazen and unnatural kind of lower-body nudity.

Here are some of the most prominent, and most shameless, moments in the long, dark history of pants-free filmmaking; they are all shining examples of the moral emptiness of our cinematic taste-makers and the continuing influence of socialist ideology and the underwear lobby on our teetering culture.

Greetings, Herr Duck (1934):

Following the success of the early Trouser-Free Day parties, honorary group member Walt Disney announces that several of his new animated characters will go without pants, including Donald Duck, Chip & Dale, and the entire cast of the rarely seen pre-World War II short film "Our Friend, the Nazi Propaganda Machine." Disney Studios mascot Mickey Mouse, who was originally drawn naked, is later clothed by animators when Disney realizes his star creation had been circumcised and was, therefore, possibly a Jew.

HUAC (1947):

The first draft of screenwriter Lester Cole's script for Objective, Burma! features Errol Flynn leading a group of American soldiers on a mission behind enemy lines wearing little more than olive-green jockey shorts. Though Flynn is lauded for his performance (and his legs), Cole is promptly arrested on suspicion of Communist sympathies, convicted, and jailed as one of the Hollywood 10 by the House Un-American Activities Committee. Cole maintains his innocence until his death in 1985, proclaiming in a 1978 interview with Life magazine, "I just thought Errol looked better in underpants."

The Seventh Seal (1957):

Ingmar Bergman, Swedish director and devout immoralist, thumbs his nose at tradition by putting Death in a robe in his famed 1957 comedy. Bergman claims ignorance when confronted by Pope Pius XII with a quote from the New Testament: "And yea and lo, I say unto you Death shall come at night wearing a pair of brown corduroys" (Mark 7:153b). Shocked by the resulting public outcry, Bergman assures his wary producers that Death will be clad in "stylish shorts" for the film's sequel.

Risky Business (1983):

Before becoming an American hero in 1986 by starring in Top Gun and then again in 2005 by schtupping Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise engages in car theft, the solicitation of prostitutes, elevated-train intercourse, parental hi-fi stereo-equalizer manipulation, and other acts of casual debauchery, all the result of his wearing little more than a pair of white briefs, proving once and for all that pantslessness is next to Godlessness and that Bob Seger belongs in prison.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008):

Producer Judd Apatow's one-man crusade to eliminate pants entirely from Hollywood reaches its nadir, with star Jason Segel fully exposing himself onscreen for no less than 90 seconds. At one of the film's early screenings, shots of Segel's genitalia lead to a riot in the theatre and the fainting-related injuries of at least two elderly women, inspiring one newspaper columnist to compare the movie to Stravinsky's

The Rite of Spring and Orson Welles' radio production of The War of the Worlds for sheer cultural impact. That columnist is promptly fired by his newspaper, The Poughkeepsie Morning Tattler, for unforgivable idiocy and later takes a job in television.

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