The Movie Nudity Maestro: Jim McBride on 15 Years of Mr. Skin and That Scarlett Johansson Scene
On Aug. 10, 1999, an ex-worker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange started a website that served as a database for actresses’ nude scenes in movies. And 15 years later, Mr. Skin is still going strong.
There’s a scene midway through Knocked Up, Judd Apatow’s seminal comedy about a man-child who’s forced to navigate the treacherous terrain of adulthood after a one-night stand, wherein Ben Stone’s (Seth Rogen) world is rocked to its core. Up until that point, he and his stoner friends—played by Jonah Hill, Jason Segel, and Martin Starr—have been working tirelessly on a website that will specialize in telling you exactly when you can see your favorite movie actresses’ nude scenes. Stone describes his upcoming site to Pete, played by Paul Rudd, who’s less than impressed.
“You mean like Mr. Skin?” says Pete. “Who’s Mr. Skin?” asks Stone. “You know, Mr. Skin!” Pete exclaims, before unleashing a demented smile—mimicking the site’s grinning man logo.
Mr. Skin, you see, is a website that serves as an IMDB of sorts for female nudity on film and television. It was founded in Aug. 1999 by Mr. Skin, a.k.a. Jim McBride—a former worker at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange who had, after years of viewing, developed an encyclopedic knowledge of nude scenes on film. The site attracts approximately 9 million unique visitors a month, and McBride is a regular guest on The Howard Stern Show, which is where Apatow first caught wind of him.
McBride is in town to celebrate the skin site’s 15th anniversary. And today, Mr. Skin is more popular than ever, employing a team of 35 people—including 10 that work out of their home base of Chicago, and a number of “Skin Scouts” who track down nude scenes in advance at film festivals and promo screenings. He’s also, he claims, sent advance screeners by the major film studios themselves, who wish to feature their nude scenes on his site for some extra publicity.
“Agents and PR people in L.A. are always on it,” says McBride. “Let’s say someone wants to direct a movie and they’re thinking about including a nude scene. They go on the website and check it out to see what she looks like with her top off instead of guessing.”
In person, McBride, 51, isn’t what you’d picture when you think of a movie nudity maven. He’s well dressed, tall, and has long, wavy black hair—like, say, Jon Hamm’s less attractive brother. He’s also married with three children. Over lunch, we discuss his nudity-filled career.
When did you first become interested in nudity on film?
Every teenage boy is into nude scenes on film—but I took it to the next level. Instead of missing it, I would record it. I had a Betamax back in 1980, and I’d tape the nude scenes in movies. So, I’d have these 5-hour Betamax compilation tapes of just nude scenes from movies. After doing that for a few years, I became pretty knowledgeable on the subject. And remember: Back in 1980-81, there was only a little over a 20-year window of nudity in movies, so there wasn’t as much to know. I continued to be a fan and research, record, and watch nudity in movies throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. But with the 5-hour tapes, I’d invite friends over and we’d watch them for an hour and pop a few beers before going out, and then we were ready to hit the streets. For me, you could see a porn movie and you don’t know who the person is and they obviously go a lot farther, but there’s a thrill when you feel like you know someone—like an actress, who you see doing interviews on television and photographed in magazines constantly—and get to see them naked. Who would you rather see naked—a total stranger, or someone you think you know and idolize?
Do you remember some of the early nude scenes that were favorites of yours? I’ll never forget it: One of the first movies I taped was a 1976 drive-in movie called Bobbie Jo and the Outlaw, which has totally been forgotten, but in the first 33 minutes Lynda Carter was naked four times. And in her final nude scene, she’s skinny-dipping with a Native American chief doing mushrooms, and you can see her breasts. I remember thinking: Gosh… I’ve been watching her Saturday mornings on Wonder Woman, I can’t believe she’s naked… I wonder who else is naked? So then I found Marcia from The Brady Bunch who’s naked in this movie called Texas Lightning. A year after The Brady Bunch ended, Marcia’s in a movie chain smoking, swearing, and showing her breasts. It was wild.
So when did you think of monetizing it?
It was a party trick throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s where friends would come up to me and quiz me about it. They’d come up to me and I’d be drinking a beer, and they’d say, “Has Susan Dey from The Partridge Family ever been naked?” And I’d say, “Yeah—First Love in 1977 with Beverly D’Angelo.” So I’d just do it for fun. But I was working at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and one of my friends invited me out for drinks, and this guy’s friend, Harry Teinowitz, had a radio show on WMVP in Chicago, and the quizzing starts. They’re firing off actresses and I’m doing my thing, and the radio show guy says, “You’ve got to be kidding me… you need to come on my radio show and do this to a live audience.” So I said, “If I come on your show I don’t want to use my real name”—because I worked for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange—“so let’s use a moniker.” The first one he suggested was “Mr. Naked.” I said, “You got any others?” And he said, “What about Mr. Skin?” It sounded good. This was back in 1996.
And how was your radio show stint received? It really caught on and the host said, “We’ve never received so many calls before,” so I’d go back on the radio show every couple of months and do my thing and then went on a few other radio shows, like The Steve Dahl Show, and it kind of caught on and I got a reputation throughout Chicago for this “gift.” With Steve Dahl, I became a regular, and they’d have these charity softball games that I’d officiate—“Mr. Skin officiates,” you know, like a gimmick. This guy comes up to me after one of these games and says, “Listen: I’ve been listening to you on the radio for the last couple of years, and I think you should put what’s in your head on a website.” I said, “What’s a website?” But he talked me into doing it. I raised $70,000—half from my brother-in-law and half from another trader at the Merc, and I took that money and we had one tech guy. I quit my job in March 1999 and we launched the website on Aug. 10, 1999.
How did you come up with the signature Mr. Skin logo?
I wanted the site to be a good, clean place where people could go and see their favorite actresses naked, so I didn’t want the logo to be dirty, or creepy. The guys that I was partnering with early on wanted the logo to be a guy opening his trench coat. But I said, “No. You want a guy from the ‘50s who’s raking the leaves with a smile on his face.” So we went through 1950s ads, and we got a designer to make the “Skin Head.”
MOST POPULAR NUDE ACTORS IN ‘14
1. Scarlett Johansson 2. Alexandra Daddario3. Miley Cyrus4. Eva Green5. Salma Hayek
1. Michael Fassbender2. Mark Wahlberg3. Zac Efron4. Jake Gyllenhaal5. Brad Pitt
What were the first nudes you uploaded to the website?
When I quit my job at the Merc in March, I hunkered down at my studio apartment in Chicago and felt I needed at least 1,000 actresses to launch because if it’s a pay site, you need enough content for a guy to stay around. So, let’s say I put in Jennifer Connelly. I’d enter her name, the photo, her place of birth, and then write a bio as it applies to her nude career, and then I had to list all the movies she was naked in, how far into the movie she’s naked, etc. I did all of that for the first 1,000 actresses between March and August 1999. Right now, we have over 25,000. Our goal has always been to chronicle every female nude scene in film or television in history—no matter how obscure, we want it in our database.
What were the movie studios’ initial reactions when you launched the site? Did they send you a cease-and-desist?
When I launched the site, I went to an IP attorney in Chicago and asked them whether or not the site would be shut down by the studio, and she said: “It has to be a review website,” so that the pictures and video clips support the commentary and criticism. So from the start, when a picture goes up you need to have a bio for the actress, a review of the scene, and a rating/commentary for the film clip. We’ve been doing it 15 years, and I’ve never been involved in a lawsuit from a studio. I’ve received letters from studios saying, “Hey, can you take this down?” but I tell them we’re a review website, and that’s the end of it. Also, well over 75 movie studios and PR companies send us screeners of movies so that we can promote the nude scenes on our site. And these are major studios. I can’t name them because then they might stop.
For example, last night I ran into Doug Ellin, the creator of Entourage. I said, “Good luck with the Entourage movie… is there anything I need to know?” And he said, “There’s going to be tons of naked girls.” I said, “Cool, I’ll promote the shit out of it.” Plus, I’m not hiding in a tree taking pictures of actresses tanning naked in their backyard. My policy is: If you’re naked in a movie that you willingly appear in, it’s fair game. And we’re also not mean about the pictures and don’t say stupid things like, “Oh, look at her droopy breasts.” We know that, somewhere out there, there’s someone who will enjoy seeing it. We celebrate nudity on film.
What specific actresses did the movie studios send you takedown notices for?
Well, it’s usually D-list actresses—like an actress who was nude in a movie in the ‘90s, is no longer an actress, and is trying to apply for a job as a teacher. I do feel for ‘em, but you can’t take some down here and there. You need to be consistent. It sucks, but that’s our rule. She didn’t have a gun to her head to do that nude scene, and if you’re going to have a database of all the nude scenes in the world, you need all the nude scenes in the world. In the first two years of my website, Alyssa Milano’s mother contacted us saying, “Hey, you have nude pictures of my daughter…” and we just said, “Yes, but it’s from a movie she did.” And that was that. Over our first 15 years, I’d say Alyssa Milano’s had the most searches and page views of any actress. Right now, Scarlett Johansson is very popular.
How have you seen tastes evolve from 1999 to the present? Who’ve been the most popular actresses on your site?
The biggest difference from the early days is how much nudity there is on television. Early on, it was all movie stars, but now, some of our most searched actresses are from television. If you’re on Game of Thrones or True Blood, you’re almost the equivalent of a movie star now. And since Hollywood is all about blockbuster family entertainments now, about half of our nude content comes from television. For example: WGN America has a show called Salem now, and they’re getting naked on it. They’re getting naked on WGN America! It’s good for me, but who would have thought?
So let’s talk about your team of helpers, because you can’t be finding all these nudes on your own.
I have a few “Skin Scouts” that go to film festivals. They usually don’t get paid a lot of money because they review movies for Internet movie sites—they’re not making Roger Ebert dough—so they live at their Ma’s, and I’ll pay their flight to Sundance with the caveat that, if you go to a movie and there’s nudity, I want you to write the time, what happens, and report back to me. So I can go on the radio and talk about Shailene Woodley’s nude scene in White Bird in a Blizzard in January even though the movie hasn’t come out yet. Or my guy saw Under the Skin in Toronto and it was like, “Holy shit… Scarlett Johansson full frontal! This is huge!” That was the most high-traffic scene we’ve ever put on the website. And my Skin Scouts also go to advance promotional screenings. Like I had a guy who saw Sex Tape a few days before it came out, and Cameron Diaz showed her butt in it. I was able to go on the radio on Thursday and say, “Sex Tape will be out tomorrow at the 20-minute mark, so don’t go to the bathroom then.”
In 1999, Jennifer Lopez was a Top 5 woman. She was naked in Money Train and U-Turn, the Oliver Stone movie. Then, Jessica Biel was very big around 2005-2010, and she had that scene in a bra in I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Also, Megan Fox was huge on our website. She’s never been naked, but we also feature women in their underwear.
Are there any actresses that your audience is clamoring for that haven’t gotten naked?
Jennifer Lawrence is one, for sure. But she’s really young, so she has a long future ahead of her. Jennifer Love Hewitt, surprisingly, has never been nude—but she’s always in our Top 10 Most Searched. So if she did a nude scene, our guys would be like, “Wow, it finally happened!”
You also recently started a site for men, Mr. Man. Was that because of Magic Mike?
It launched in October 2013. I resisted it for a while because work was so much fun that I didn’t want to have to start memorizing guy nude scenes, but then I realized that Mr. Man isn’t about having me out there as a spokesman. We have a lot of partnerships that target the gay community and women’s sites. And I have a good team, and my team convinced me. We figured we were going through all the movies and TV shows anyway, so if a guy gets nude, why not cap it? And if you’re doing Mr. Skin for 15 years, and you have that many members, you need to evolve.
How much does Mr. Skin pull down a month? A lot of money. It’s a multi-million dollar website. And 2013 was our best year ever in our history, and 2014 is blowing those revenue numbers away. We started Mr. Man, took over operations from Naked News out of Toronto, we acquired Fleshbot, which used to be owned by Gawker, and have a really great team of writers. We also have great relationships with Egotastic, Playboy, and all these other big boys on the Internet that we use to cross-promote stuff. I think the next couple of years are going to be even bigger. It’s pretty crazy that 15 years into this we’re having our best year. Can you name another adult website that’s 15 years old and thriving?
And you’re married, right? What does your wife think of your job?
She’s totally cool with it. I met her at a party where I was a guest for a radio show, so the night she met me, she knew I was Mr. Skin. This was back in May 1999, and we launched the site two months later. Yeah, it’s not the same job as our neighbor that’s a doctor, but I’ve still put 15 years of my life into this successful business, so she’s very proud of it. But she definitely has to have a sense of humor to be my wife.
I have three kids: a 10-year-old girl, 8-year-old boy, and 6-year-old girl. They know I’m Mr. Skin and know I do radio interviews, so they have to stay upstairs when I’m in my office doing interviews. They know my job involves nudity, but they’re too young to grasp it. I know I’m going to have to have that conversation with them when they’re older, but I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about it. I’m not uptight about nudity.