One of Roberts' earliest distinctions was working on the blacklisted film "Salt of the Earth," as music editor in 1952. He became involved in the newly formed Mattachine Society – one of the earliest political organizations of the gay movement, and lived as an openly gay man. Mel Roberts purchased his first Rolleiflex Camera in 1953 and began shooting his friends and lovers. In 1959, nearly at the end of the classic physique period, Roberts embarked on his professional career as a photographer with his first model shoot in Southern California's beautiful Pacific Palisades. In 1962 Roberts had his first photos published by "Young Physique" magazine, which began his critical and commercial success, quickly becoming one of the most prominent male photographers of the period. With his work being published extensively in the United States and throughout Europe, Roberts self-published his first book, Mel Roberts Boys in 1967.
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Mel Roberts was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1923. As a teenager in 1939 and 1940, he started creating his own imagery by shooting 16mm movies of his friends. Roberts was drafted in 1943 and served as a cameraman documenting World War II in the South Pacific. Following an honorable discharge from the US Air Force in 1945, Roberts moved to California to study cinema, graduating from the University of Southern California with a degree in filmmaking in 1950.