Not Safe for Work: How Hollywood Helped Mr. Skin Become a Porn Empire

"We're living in the Golden Age of celebrity nudity," founder Jim McBride says

Mr. Skin
Courtesy Mr. Skin
Mr. Skin
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"Scarlett Johansson finally did a nude scene," mild-mannered entrepreneur Jim McBride says gleefully from his home in Chicago. "She did it in this sci-fi art-house flick called Under the Skin, where she plays an alien who comes down to Earth and goes after Scottish hitchhikers or something. I don't know." He refocuses. "But the bottom line is, she went full frontal, and coming from an actress that had never been naked before in a movie or television show, that was huge. People are very excited to see Scarlett Johannson naked."

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So many people are excited, in fact, that Johannson – who recently told a press conference, "You have to assume [a nude scene] is going to be a screenshot for someone" – is the most searched actress on McBride's website, Mr. Skin. Currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, the site lists 23,000 actresses who have disrobed for cinema; rates the quality of their nude scenes; and, with the price of a monthly subscription, includes viewable clips and pics of what it calls the "good scenes." McBride founded the site in 1999 with a database of just 1,000 actresses. Since then, Mr. Skin site has served as a plot device in the 2007 Judd Apatow flick Knocked Up, and McBride has appeared as a repeat guest on Howard Stern's show. With mainstream acceptance, the site had its most profitable year ever in 2013, despite the fact that pictures or clips of practically any celeb au naturel are a Google search away. It's all proven so popular that last year McBride launched a male-nudity-focused website called Mr. Man.

Along with Mr. Skin's mainstream acceptance, film studios and publicists have also embraced the site, helping it become somewhat of a tastemaker (so to speak). According to McBride, more than 75 movie studios, including majors like Universal and Fox, send screeners and content to the company each month. In the past year, McBride claims that Fox Home Entertainment gave the site an exclusive clip from Fright Night 2, and IFC gave the site a clip of a ménage-à-trois in 24 Exposures. McBride says the studios have figured out the influence Mr. Skin could have on viewers. (Representatives for Sony Pictures and Universal replied, "No comment." Other studio reps did not respond in time for publication.)

"If we put, 'Hey, check out Paz de la Huerta and Katrina Bowden naked in Nurse 3D,' on our website, that's incredible publicity for their movie with the number of people we get to the site," McBride says. "We don't care if a movie is good or bad; we just care that an actress got naked and we celebrate that. So we have a really great platform for studios and PR companies to promote these films that have nudity."

McBride employs a staff of about 40 people, eight of whom skim through the screeners for scenes to file in categories like "breasts," "bush" and "butt" for Mr. Skin and "balls," "penis" and "bulge" for Mr. Man. (He also has a "skintern" who does data entry; she just happens to be his mom.) "Occasionally a director or someone will say, 'Hey, heads up, I'm gonna have a great lesbian scene in this upcoming movie,'" McBride says. "But my guys don't miss anything. So if there's a scene, we'll get it when the disc gets to our office."

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In McBride's opinion, maintaining Mr. Skin is not just advantageous to him or the movie studios; it's beneficial to the actresses on the site, too. His most notable recent example is Margot Robbie, a 23-year-old Australian actress who had appeared in soap operas in her home country and in the ABC series Pan Am, among other roles, prior to landing a breakout role in The Wolf of Wall Street as the wife of Leonardo DiCaprio's character. "She gets this role in this movie and does these amazing nude scenes, and now if you go to IMDb, she's one of the Top 10 actors," McBride says, though at the time of this posting she has since slipped to Number 12. "She was the Number One most-searched actress at IMDb, ahead of Jennifer Lawrence, ahead of everyone. Her career has blown up, and it's because she played this incredibly sexy role. She did nudity."

Another example is True Detective actress Alexandra Daddario. "I saw her nude scene on our website," he says. "I think it's the best nude scene of 2014; I don't think anything's gonna beat it. She had done a few things prior to that, but now guys have awoken to the fact that she's gorgeous, has these amazing breasts and all this other stuff. I know her Twitter followers went way up. My position is: If you have it, show it off."

Mr. Skin's official slogan is "Fast-Forwarding to the Good Parts" and, in keeping with that, the site includes HD clips of actresses' nude scenes. McBride says the use of the clips falls under fair use in copyright law because the site offers critical opinions of the nude scenes. Before he launched the site, he met with an intellectual property attorney, who told him, "Make sure that first and foremost, it's a review website." As such, each actress gets a bio, a review of every scene with commentary and lists like "Top 10 Babes Getting Nude in Cars" and "Top 10 Naked Girls Wearing Glasses." When Rolling Stone asks if movie studios have ever sued Mr. Skin over copyright issues, McBride says, "Nope. And don't encourage that."

Before McBride became a professional "porn Rain Man" (a term he's fine with), he worked as a clerk at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, amusing traders during downtime by telling them where to find TV's Wonder Woman, Lynda Carter, in the buff. But going back to his college days, he knew he his encyclopedic knowledge of nudity was a gift. "Everyone has a friend that is great at baseball trivia and a friend that knows all the Civil War battles or something," he says. "I just happened to have this knowledge. Thank God there was a way to monetize it, because it would have been kind of weird if I was sitting here knowing all this stuff and not having an outlet for it."

McBride launched Mr. Skin in August 1999 and within five minutes got its first paying customer, "a guy from Cincinnati." Traffic escalated after his first appearance on Howard Stern's show the following year and after the site was featured in Knocked Up, when the characters played by Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and more realized their nude-scenes website was a rip-off. "Product placement wise, I think only Reese's Pieces in E.T. was better," McBride says. "When I got the call from the lawyers about licensing our name to the movie, I knew that whether they were gonna rip the hell out of the website or celebrate it, it would be good publicity."

The site's biggest moment – even bigger than ScarJo stripping down now – came early on, when Janet Jackson flashed the world at the Super Bowl. "I had a high-res pic of that, and I put it up right after the game," McBride says. "It sounds crazy now, 'cause you'd probably be like, 'I could find that everywhere.' But that was before TMZ and Egotastic." McBride credits the site's consistency and focus – "We're just doing nudity from film and television," he says – as the reason Mr. Skin has not only stayed profitable, but gone on to top its own records.

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But there's another reason the site has stayed deep in the black. "We're actually living in the Golden Age of celebrity nudity," McBride says. "There are so many opportunities for actresses to do nude scenes, way more than there were in the Seventies, Eighties or Nineties."

Although he reports that nudity is largely on the decline in major theatrically released motion pictures, premium television has given scriptwriters new opportunities to test boundaries and waistbands. Shows like Game of Thrones, Californication and Masters of Sex regularly feature sex scenes. McBride contends that the prevalence of nakedness coming from HBO, Showtime and Netflix has also inspired network television writers to write similar scenes so they can keep up. "I just noticed a new show on WGN America called Salem, in which there was a doggy-style sex scene and a full butt from a girl," McBride. "Now when was the last time you saw nudity on WGN?"

The greater abundance of nudity on television, specifically male nakedness in shows like Game of Thrones and True Blood, prompted the launch of Mr. Man last August. "I was blown away – no pun intended – by the interest in the first couple of months," McBride says. He estimates the site's paying customers are 60 percent men, because "it's just common sense that males are more willing to pay for sex and nudity than females." Currently the Number One guy on Mr. Man is Michael Fassbender, whose most prominent recent role was playing a villain in 12 Years a Slave. But McBride can't explain the appeal. "It's hard for me to say, being a guy, but women love him — he's a bad boy but he's good looking," he says. "I don't really have a scientific response."

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McBride does not take Mr. Skin's success for granted. He met his wife at the onset of the site, so there was no need to explain what he does, and he now has three children ages 6, 8 and 10, who will learn all about the family business when they are old enough. "My kids know I'm Mr. Skin, they know it involves nudity, but they're still a little young to truly comprehend it," he says. But he says he hasn't lost sight of the big picture. "Having a business that does this well allows you to do things and be a lot more generous," he says. "The money's allowed me to do things financially that I am really grateful that I am able to do, and hopefully family and friends are also."

And speaking of family, what's it like working with your mother on a porn website? "Until you get an email from your mom that says, 'Hey, is that bush or a shadow in that picture?' you have not lived," McBride says.