The Real ‘Masters of Sex’: LIFE With Masters and Johnson

TIME

On the heels of the Season 2 finale of Showtime’s Masters of Sex, LIFE.com presents an exclusive essay by Thomas Maier, author of the book on which the series is based, looking back at the revolutionary work of Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson—as well as their intensely fraught personal relationship—through the lens of LIFE photos from 1966.

Before Kodachrome and color television came along, reproducing the world in all its countless hues, most people encountered the famous and the notorious in black and white photographs—gazing as if the pictures were glossy X-rays that could reveal the inner essence of men and women of note. Certainly the pictures in this gallery of the real-life Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson—whose life together is told in my book, Masters of Sex, the basis for the acclaimed Showtime series—holds that same fascination.

Though these photos are mostly posed, they…

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