A couple of weeks ago I went to see 1965's Who Killed Teddy Bear at Anthology Film Archives. In it, there's a scene in which Sal Mineo visits an adult bookshop in Times Square. It's a rare view as the camera pans a wall of books that include, amongst the straight-up porn, titles like William Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, and Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis.
Sal Mineo cruising the bookstores
Of course, adult bookstores (with books) have vanished, replaced by adult video and then DVD shops, which will in turn vanish eventually, as they have been year after year, from the streets of Times Square.
It's interesting though, to think of them, those shops full of dirty books. So quaint. Almost innocent.
Mick Dementiuk, author of Times Queer (which Susie Bright calls "Harsh, real, and yes, erotic, in a stomach-churning way. Genuine whoreporn") points us to J. Gertzman's history of New York's adult bookshops and a list of the Pre-Gentrification Bookshops in Times Square, a roster of shops run by Italians and Jews: Finkelstein, Mishkin, Feingold, Brochinni, Schonacher, Sparaco--all names in a mid-century mood.
According to Gertzman, the first such bookshop to open in Times Square was the Concord in 1933. Located next to the Paramount Theater, they lasted until 1965 and carried "the first legal editions of Lady Chatterley, Tropic of Cancer, Fanny Hill." Maybe that's where Sal Mineo was browsing.
In the 1950s, these bookshops were often raided for selling obscenity when S&M became more popular. A little stapled pamphlet called "Nights of Horror" caused a stir when it was linked to the crimes of the Brooklyn Thrill Killers. The illustrator was Joe Shuster, co-creator of Superman and a secret fetish artist.
recreated smut shop, The Notorious Bettie Page
Throughout the 1960s the many bookshops along the Deuce continued to provide homes for increasingly racy titles like Perverted Lust Slave, Dance with the Dominant Whip, The Spanking Lovers, and Krazy Kittens.
Mick also points us to Hangfire Books and their posting of a don't-miss clip from a 1972 documentary entitled "Pornography in New York." In this amazing video, you'll see shots of Times Square and take a visit to an adult bookshop on Christopher Street. Seriously, you don't want to miss this clip (NSFW).
By the 1970s the bookshops went hardcore. Writes Gertzman, aside from books and magazines featuring "illustrations of intercourse positions (with a variety of positions and partners); materials on gay, transvestite, bondage, sadomasochistic, and water sport themes," bookstores had also begun selling sex toys and rubber goods. Their peep booths now came outfitted with glory holes.
two rubber vaginas, 1972
"By the mid 70s," writes Gertzman, "the Times Square of midnight cowboy Joe Buck and taxi driver Travis Bickle had made the Times Square of the V-girls, shooting galleries, penny arcades, and funky museums look quaint."
In the 1980s, video peeps took over.
photo: Joe Vasta, Vasta Images
Still, up into the 1990s, the porn shops of 42nd Street advertised "Books, Mags." I remember places along 42nd St. and 8th Ave. that sold nothing but magazines out of cardboard boxes and milk crates. There were occasional pulp novels. Other shops carried racks of saddle-stitched pamphlets on "How to Pick Up Girls" and similar topics.
my flickr, 1994
Even as lately as 2007, the Funny Store sold these odd books. Some were about sex (Woman's Orgasm), but most were about growing marijuana and devising a secret identity. It's quite possible that the Funny Store's rack was the last of its kind, the last selection of adult books--not magazines--in Times Square.
It was demolished to make room for a new hotel.