Dec 072013
 

After the war, a generation of men returned home to peacetime. Whether due to awakened homosexuality in the all-male society of the military, or just a distaste for the new American dream of job and family, many of these men created an alternative culture that continued the outdoor homosociality and initiatory experience of military life.

Samuel M Steward describes his early life in S/M before there was a Scene:

…in the 1930s, I had become interested in S/M [….] In those days there were no leather shops, no specialty stores; and leather jackets were unheard of and unavailable except in police equipment outlets that would generally not sell to civilians. I finally found my first one in Sears-Roebuck’s basement in Chicago. And I had unearthed– literally, for his saddlery shop was in a cellar on North Avenue– a little man who braided a few whips for me, and even found a “weveling” Danish cat-o’-nine-tails crocheted from heavy white twine, and located also a handsome crop of twisted willow wood.

My introduction to S/M had begun with my answering a personal ad in the columns of the Saturday Review of Literature, a weekly publication out of New York City. In those days some of the wordings and contents of the ads were mildly outrageous for the times, growing wilder until the publishing of them was entirely stopped by the guardians of our American purity. The one that caught my attention [in August 1947] ran something like:

Should flogging be allowed? Ex-sailor welcomes opinions and replies. Box…i

Answering that ad put Steward in touch with Hal Baron, a former sailor dedicated to connecting every S (sadist) with an M (masochist) he could, who connected Steward with other men who had answered the ad.ii

Steward, then a college teacher, was interviewed by the controversial Dr. Alfred Kinsey, and became an unofficial collaborator on Kinsey’s sexual research. The two men share an interest in sexuality and record keeping; Steward kept a comprehensive list of his many sexual encounters in his “Stud File”, often noted as “sadie-maisie” or “sad-mashy”.iiiKinsey invented the term “S/M” (pronounced “ess-em”) as part of his group’s elaborate alphanumeric code for discussing sexual topics discretely. In 1952, Kinsey arranged a meeting between Steward and Mike Miksche, a freelance illustrator and erotic artist under the alias “Steve Masters”, as M (masochist) and S (sadist) respectively. Kinsey filmed this two-day encounter, the first homosexual encounter so recorded for the archives, as if documenting the mating habits of a rare species of lemur.iv (The film was financed by funds earmarked for “mammalian studies.”v)

Later in his life, Steward pursued many other men whom he hoped would be the “S” of his fantasies, often to great disappointment. Having to instruct the young hustlers sent by Chuck Renslow, Chicago-based publisher of beefcake magazines and owner of the Gold Coast leather bar, in how he was to be (mis)treated, Steward typed up a numbered “handout” which he had each new arrival read before the session. Titled “WHAT THIS PARTICULAR M LIKES”, it included instructions like “Please remember: his is your absolute slave” and “Piss in his mouth (a little, not too much…)” and “Give him a few whacks on the ass with your belt. Or use whip if one present.”vi Like Sacher-Masoch, Steward’s desires were so insistent he wanted nothing left to chance.

When leatherman culture began formalizing in the late 1950s, the aging Steward couldn’t adapt. His ambivalence about other homosexuals made him solitary and antisocial, and he believed that his desire, for rough, working-class or criminal-class, heterosexual men and sex that was always on the brink of real violence, could not be domesticated. He wrote an essay called “Pussies in Boots”:

An artificial hierarchy, a ritual, and a practice have been superimposed over a very real need of the human spirit [to locate that which is authentically masculine]… [but] the entire affair has become a ritual, a Fun and Games sort of thing, and in essence there is no difference today between a female impersonator or drag-queen and a leather-boy in full leather-drag. Both are dressing up to represent something they are not…

It is difficult to say at what point in such a “movement” the degeneration sets in, and the elements of parody and caricature make their first appearance. Perhaps the decay began when the first M decided that he, too, could wear leather as well as the big butch S he so much admired. And so he bought himself a leather jacket…vii

In Steward’s day, the closest thing to gay literature were hand-written or typewritten stories circulated in the homosexual underground. In America, no publisher or printer would touch the stuff. When Steward managed to get access to a hectograph, a device that could make maybe fifteen or twenty copies from a single master sheet, to reproduce his own stories, it was a huge leap forward.

Steward’s life also shows that what later generations of kinksters lionize as the “Old Guard” were once the new radicals.

iSteward, Samuel M. “Dr. Kinsey takes a peek at S/M: A reminiscence” in Thompson, Mark, ed. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice. Alyson Publications, Inc., 1991 Pg. 83

iiSpring, 2010, Pg.102-103

iiiSpring, 2010, Pg.189

ivSteward, Leatherfolk, Pg.85-89

vSpring, Justin. Secret Historian: The life and times of Samuel Steward, professor, tattoo artist, and sexual renegade. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010 Pg.139

viSpring, 2010, Pg.288-289

viiSpring, 2010, Pg. 302

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Nov 282013
 

Weighing in at 6,100 words, “The Velvet Underground” covers roughly 1945-1970, including the gay male leather culture; the fetish porn production business centered around NYC with artists like John Willie, Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew and models like Bettie Page and Tana Louise; and a little bit about the contact-service-based heterosexual kink scene. I would like to do more about the heterosexual scene as it existed then, but I just don’t have the references yet. Thus, the chapter is a little shorter and rougher than I would like.

I want to cover Story of O (1954), but it doesn’t fit in a chapter largely about American pulp porn. I may need to do a chapter about high literary kink porn, like O and The Image.

The other problem I have to face is I kind of skipped over the 1910-1945 period, apart from a few bits in the fascism chapter, and I don’t have enough material to make a strong theme for a chapter. It would be a grab bag/”and then…” chapter. Friends have counseled me that it is better to admit the limited availability of source material and cover what I can than just skip over it.

Next up is chapter 10, roughly 1970 to 1990, which covers the first aboveground kink organizations and the articulation of the kink ethos; the professionalization of the kink porn industry; the punk-kink dialectic; and the influence on the mainstream, such as fashion and movies like Nine and a Half Weeks.

I think that pushing forwards to a complete draft by the end of the year might be feasible, but it has other values in that it shows me areas I need to research, and just having something I could show to prospective publishers with the caveat “It needs some work.”

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Sep 142012
 

Woman in black tight clothing surrounded by leather belts and straps

Vintage Sleaze has a post on Tana Louise, the premier fetish/bondage model before Bettie Page and girlfriend of bondage pioneer Lenny Burtman.

The post ends with stating that the 1940s/1950s porn/fetish/kink world is still largely unexplored:

There are thousands of untold stories from the golden days of sleaze, as this blog proves, and that there have been over 800 posts here already only indicates how many more are to be told.  Yet, from this writer’s perch, Tana Louise is the MAJOR untold story of the 1950s.  A story not even scratched.

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Jun 262012
 

Being Canadian, I’m always interested in Canada’s contributions to the sexual edge of culture. I was delighted to stumble across the story of Justice Weekly, a true crime tabloid newspaper published in Canada that frequently included fetish letters. “…popular topics were discipline, punishment and humiliation of males (especially ‘errant husbands’ and spoiled post-adolescent children) by authoritarian/domineering females, transvestites and authority figures such as school principals, judges and law-enforcement officials.”

 

Continue reading »

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Jun 252012
 

Jay A. Gertzman’s article “1950s Sleaze and the Larger Literary Scene: The Case of Times Square Porn King Eddie Mishkin”, in eI15 fanzine, provides an intriguing glimpse into the proto-BDSM scene of 1950s America, particularly the previously mentioned publishing empire of Eddie Mishkin.

Mishkin employed fetish artists like Eric Stanton and Gene Bilbrew, as well as writers, some of whom wrote pornography under pseudonyms or house names to pay the bills while working on above-ground books or television.

Continue reading »

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Jun 212012
 

According to a post on Vintage Sleaze, “Justin Kent” is a name that appeared on many American digests published in the 1950s, short novels with racy covers that promised more than they could deliver in terms of sex, bondage and sadomasochism. It was actually a pen name for an unsuccessful writer living in Harlem named Kenneth Johnson (possibly African American, but the record isn’t clear.) Johnson wrote at least ten digest novels, many with illustrations by Gene Bilbrew.

1950s pulp cover, shirtless man begging woman in dominatrix outfit

The Strange Empress by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman

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Jun 132012
 

The Vintage Sleaze blog has the story behind the Fads and Fancies fetish magazine, published in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and its signature artist known as Janine, actually a woman by the name of Reina Bull.

The astounding drawings by an anonymous artist known only as “Janine” who drew work for the sleazy Utopia magazine “Fads and Fancies” a British fetish magazine in the late 1940s and early 1950s.   The work is no longer anonymous. It was done by a woman all right, but Janine wasn’t her real name. Fads and Fancies was published by Utopia, who printed fetish material remarkably similar to Nutrix and Irving Klaw, and at roughly the same time.

[...]

Janine had an incredible, unique, eccentric and curious style likely developed to cater to the audience. Particular parts of the plump participants protrude depending on the proclivities she wished to portray. Which is an alliterated way of saying big boobs and big butts. Kinky and unreal, but then certainly enticing to the readers who must have been “big” fans (pun intended.) To the rest of us, they look hilarious…Dolly Parton on Steroids!   The work takes an “all-purpose” approach to fetishists.  The artist can not figure out if she is titillating a shoe fetish, a butt fetish, a fat fetish, a breast fetish, a stocking fetish…if the idea of a fetish is to focus on one particular object, there was something kinky for all in Janine’s curious drawings.  At the time, the fetish underground was not yet defined, but the publishers knew if they appealed to a handful of eccentricities, they would reach a market.

Fads belongs in a tradition of English fetish magazines that includes Photo Bits and London Life, and goes back at least to the 1870s when the Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine took a turn for the pervy. The business model seems to be, “give the punters what they want”.

Nowadays, Rule 34 is in full effect and every fetish has its own Tumblr.

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