Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Adult Bookstores

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.

my flickr


Sally Miller said...

Boy do you bring back a lot of memories!Though I never visited one in Times Square, I did visit adult bookstores elsewhere both in Iowa and NJ. And Sal Mineo -- I do remember that movie, having always had a crush on him. Kfafft-Ebing was part of my sex education in my twenties, and I went on to become a sex therapist specializing in fetishes and what I call "special sexual interests."

It was this background in sex therapy -- and some later writing of erotica myself -- that allowed me to edit and publish several of Mick's books, including a new one, "100 Whores: Memories of a John" due out this spring, with several references to adult bookstores in one of the stories.

Keep up the good work on your blog.

Sally Miller
Synergy Press
Flemington NJ 08822

EV Grieve said...

I didn't realize how large rubber vaginas were in the 1970s...

Anyway, fascinating read. Thanks to Mick for sending this along....

BrooksNYC said...

I adored this clip, although everything about it — the tone, the content, the scenery, the voices — makes the '70s seem like prehistory. I was halfway through college, so it can't have been THAT long go, right?


The repeated use of the word "homosexual" is jarring....kinda like "negro"!

Seedy, scary, porn-y NYC wasn't to everyone's taste, but I had the time of my life.

Jeremiah Moss said...

the clip really is fantastic. such a rare and detailed look at a lost world.

Dull Tool Dim Bulb said...

Jay Gertzman is a Hero...and anyone who enjoyed this article will like my daily blog VINTAGE SLEAZE which documents the artists, illustrators and sleaze merchants who figured in this dying scene.

marjorie said...

hey, look at that picture of dwight schrute holding two rubber vaginas.

BabyDave said...

Yet another terrific post. Not Ratner's, maybe, but still fine.

Jeremiah Moss said...

sally, thanks for the link. jim, love the vintage sleaze blog. if anyone else has photos of vanished adult bookshops from NYC, please add them to the flickr pool. would love to have them.

now, if ratner's also sold dirty books...

Unknown said...

Very nice look at Lost NYC. Thanks!

Susie Bright said...

Wow. I am so grateful you name-checked me because this kind of history is catnip to me... and so very sad and maddening as well. It's like a mini "End of Books"... the death of lit culture in America, from the Times Square pov.

I will now proceed to read your entire blog.

Jeremiah Moss said...

hey Susie, thanks for writing.

not to age us both, but you were one of my heroes back in college. hope you enjoy the blog.

Anonymous said...

There was a wonderful used book and magazine store on 6th Ave. just north of 42nd Street which sold pulp magazines at very low prices. I patronized it as a teenager, and I know many other pulp collectors who did also. It might have sold porn, but it also sold a lot of wonderful stuff.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

Last year I told EVG about Susie Bright in NYC but I guess never made it...maybe next year or the following year....

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ish said...

When I moved to NYC as a young lad of 22 back in 1981 I was fascinated by 42nd Street.

Although it was a mix of adult "book" stores and B movie theaters, I think I went in every porn shop just out of curiosity. The only one I really remember is this shop whose film booths seemed to specialize in bestiality flicks...burned into my mind and worth every quarter was the one showing a man fucking a goat. The camera panned back and forth from the, um, action view to the facial reaction...of the goat. Turns out goats really don't do facial reaction very well.

Josh Alan Friedman said...

They sure have come a long way in the technology of creating artificial rubber vaginas. They used to be made out of tire rubber.

rLs said...

jeremiah you forgot hosing on ludlow. remember the sleezy wet T shirts? someday that will be demolished as well. oh the memories..........

Elliot James said...

The clip was removed by Youtube, by the way.