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DefinitionSmut is a derogatory term for obscenity in speech, film or writing. It is often applied to erotica and pornography. Literally it means dirt.
Times Square Smut
Text © Jay A. Gertman, 2004
By the end of World War II, Times Square was a general entertainment area in which tourists, young people on dates, gamblers, con men, street preachers, taxi dancers, frequenters of bars, prostitutes, panhandlers, readers of smut and fans of movie sex and violence all mingled. It had become a rival of Coney Island in providing energetic and raffish amusement for a mass audience. The media, politicians and clergy deplored the “honky tonk” atmosphere just as strongly as they did the hard core sleaze of the late 70s and 80s. Even in its most sinister state, many imaginative people–artists, predators, thinkers, even mystics--went to Times Square, with the promise of victims, converts, comrades, the release of sexual tension, and an escape from “should” and “ought to” very much on their minds. It was the outsiders’ America, and from it you could look up at the hard driving, busy, fashionable one as at a oversized billboard proclaiming gratification of the successful citizens’ needs. Down at street level, amidst the noise, con men, greasy food odors, and street people of many countries, colors, and social classes, you looked around, checked out what you were here for, wondering what you might experience, whether you wanted to or not. In that mood, you might duck into one of the bookstores or back date magazine shops.
"I love this dirty town" -- J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in the powerful 1957 film Sweet Smell of Success.
What does "dirty" mean? It means that thinking about sexual desires, or engaging in intercourse without the sacrimental sanction of priests or rabbis is  prurient and degenerate. It also means that selling sex is, in the words of Anthony Comstock, who wrote the original anti-obscenity statues and got them through Congress in 1872, "indecent" and "immoral." His prohibitions include "every obscene, lewd, lacivious, indecent, filthy, or vile article, matter, thing, device, or substance." Each of these snarl words was and still is an accepted synonym for sexual explicitness.
Nietzsche: "Christianity gave Eros poison to drink; he did not die of it, but degenerated into vice."
The consequence of the identification of sex with shame and guilt is repression, furtive desires, fantasies, and the need for "pornographic" outlets. Of course, popular culture in general contains plenty of these. But mainstream (or [ugh] "family friendly") amusement centers, magazines, films, novels, and posters selling clothing, automobilies, hair styles, cigarettes, or fad diets are not prosecuted. These items are necessary both for the economy and as outlets for sexual frustrations. As for the pornography, what a boon the smut merchants are for the "reformers," who could not keep power without maintaning the cynical illusion of stymieing the enemies of decency:
"We [the candidates on the Albany machine's mayoral ticket, 1946] must protect our soldier boys and young people against goatish lust and illicit smut. We raid the after-hours strip clubs, mother's, the Blue Jay bar, we nail Broadway Books for pushing pornographers like Henry Miller, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, and those dirty Cuban comic books, then we sweep the newsstands and confiscate every girlie magazine that shows more titty than is absolutely necessary in a virtuous society.
"That's a freedom of speech issue. How do we get away with it? "We don't indict anybody, and after the election things go back to normal." --William Kennedy, Roscoe
In the 20th century, it was the borderline erotic (not legally obscene, i.e. pornographic) materials that were described as "dirty." Their purveyors, often immigrants and first generation Americans doing dangerous jobs more secure citizens would not touch, were ostracized and prosecuted as pariahs. "We're in the forbidden fruit business," said David Friedman, legendary sexploitation film producer. The Billy Grahams, Rabbi Wises, Mayor LaGuardias, and the DA's and police chiefs went on crusades (Graham's 1957 campaign to make New York safe for his version of Jesus climaxed with a rally in Times Square). Like bootleggers, drug dealers, and extortionists, erotica merchants were said to be the polluters--cancerous invaders of an otherwide healthy nation and its clean-minded leaders. Getting beyond this useful, elitist lie, going to the roots of what smut really is and why it sells, means understanding what it meant to be alive in the 20th century American city.
"Now I see it. When I came to this city, hoping that my money would bring me joy, my doom was already sealed. . . . I was the one who said, 'Everybody must carve himself a piece of meat, using any available knife.' But the meat has gone bad. The joy I bought was no joy; the freedom they sold me was no freedom. I ate and remained unsatisfied; I drank and became all the thirstier. Give me a glass of water." --Bertold Brecht, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1927)
"[The citizens'] boredom became more and more terrible. They realize that they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates out of them. . . . Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies. "--Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust (1933).
It was understandable why general interest bookstores were part of Times Square, with its proximity to bus terminals, subways, counter restaurants, bars, hotels, and round the clock “grinder” movies. Passersby wanted “how-to” and civil service preparation manuals, horoscope pamphlets, joke books, romances, war stories, westerns, and scandal and gossip items, as well as sexually oriented materials of many varieties. Erotica could be furtively scanned by readers whose body language indicated that they liked the anonymity the bookshops provided. On the streets outside, sexual adventurousness was part of the vibrant atmosphere. In the midtown night clubs, theatrical agents introduced wealthy men, often garment center executives, to glamorous dates with whom they visited swank East Side apartments to enjoy “sex circuses.” That cost a bundle. Men and women of modest means had to substitute the disreputable, more heavily policed entertainments of the bright light zone. Since the Crash, prostitutes had strolled the area, and a gay subculture had existed in rooming houses which had once been expensive homes. Booksellers learned to cater to the compulsions of the Johns and the “inverts.” Their stores were another phase, like the night clubs and prurient movies, of the “commercialization of sex” and the “eroticization of leisure time” which mark the business of popular culture in the 20th century.
The first book shop in the Times Square area was Concord, which opened in 1933, next to the Paramount Theater on Broadway. Allan J. Wilson (not the original owner) shepherded this well-respected place (in 1965, the New York Times did it the honor of a eulogy) through most of World War II, the gray flannel suit era, and the heady de-censorship period of the early 1960s. Allan was able to carry the first legal editions of Lady Chatterley, Tropic of Cancer, Fanny Hill, and, earlier, the books of the “pinko” Citadel Press, which featured socialist analysis of American politics. Concord was one of the first shops to feature publishers’ remainders. Movie and theater patrons, and office workers, had visited steadily until paperback book stores drew them into their nets. Another discouraging factor was the increasing number of predatory types among the street people hanging out at the movie houses, and at the book and magazine stores specializing in sex and beginning to carry the new peep booths.
In the late Forties, Allan Wilson and his partner, Aaron Moses (“Moe”) Shapiro, were the editors of the Jack Woodford Press; Citadel was their distributor. A prolific writer of soft-core erotica with a deft sense of plot construction and scene setting, Woodford wrote of free spirited and well traveled young men, with jobs and ambitions similar to the heroes of popular films, who bedded adventurous and spirited women. Both parties were raring to go on page one.
Shapiro and Wilson’s books, many by Woodford himself and others by Clement Wood, his wife Gloria Goddard, the glamorous Fan Nichols, Joe Weiss (a good writer in the urban naturalist tradition who liked to incorporate his spanking fetish into most of his works), sold especially well in drug stores and near army bases, as well as in general shops in Times Square and other cities. The titles alone--How Rough Can it Get (Weiss), Pawn (Nichols), Illicit, Here Is My Body, Savage Honeymoon (all by Woodford)–were enough to get the reader “under cover,” and Wilson and Shapiro issued dust jackets featuring busty women in dresses with low décolletage for these inexpensive hardbacks. Moe was known as a hard-edged, tough-minded man who knew the compulsions of his customers and how to entice them to come back for more.
Moe Shapiro's Waron Press 1961 reprint of George Riley Scott's treatise, Into Whose Hands. The British edition had a much less provocative dust jacket.
With his partner Philip Lewis at P. Lewis and Company on East 23rd, he had run a library of classic under the counter titles for which wealthy patrons may have paid up to $100 a rental, with much of that rate being returned when the book itself was. He had several publishing ventures, including Gargoyle Sales. His Gargoyle books were available on Times Square, in porn kingpin Eddie Mishkin’s shops.
According to Wilson, every Christmas until his retirement in 1950, the wily Shapiro sent John Sumner, erotica watchdog for the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a case of whiskey. Moe also sent Sumner the Woodford Press titles to read, and Sumner saw nothing wrong with them. But in 1957, police detectives visited both P. Lewis and Concord, as well as nine other Manhattan stores (and many more in Brooklyn), impounding Woodford titles, by then also published in paperback. Msgr. Joseph McCaffrey of 42nd Street’s Holy Cross Church had suggested action be taken. He must have hoped that without the Woodford line, many of the “tourist book shops” one block east of his church would have had trouble staying afloat. By then, these included Louis Finkelstein’s Time Square Book Bazaar, 225-27 W 42nd. The largest orders in New York for Jack Woodford Press titles came from Finkelstein, whom other booksellers regarded as a pioneer exploiter of the smut-hungry reader when he opened in 1940 as the first Times Square location which focused on erotica, mostly the varied girlie and nudist magazines of the era.
But soon other shops supplemented how-to books, astrology, and adventure fiction with above and under the counter erotica. Many, as did the back date magazine places--which were sure bets for racy photos and "art studies" photo books--stayed open until the wee hours.
White-collar and office workers, whose needs had been shaped and sanctioned by many showcases of mass spectating, and especially by the commercialization of sex on Times Square signage, store windows, movie marquees, and newsstands, were especially entertained by the erotic.
For over a generation, the Times Square area, in the words of one investment banker, had been “a staggering machine of desire."
Men, and their dates, browsed in more privacy than the street could offer in any book store in which they could find a variety of prurient titillation. Where but in the prime entertainment zone of the country’s largest city could book publishers, distributors and sellers who served the general public learn in more detail about the ingenuity with which sex was insinuated into the “staggering machine of desire” which drove the economy? And where else could bookmen get better acquainted with the boundaries beyond which sex became illicit, and therefore more dangerous, and more lucrative to exploit?
These tourist book and magazine stores met the general-interest needs of the enormous crowds at the Main Stem. The hoi polloi wanted entertaining and practical books to read: historical novels, “how-to” (dance, hypnotize, play the stock market, win at the gambling tables, improve your vocabulary), civil service preparation manuals, horoscope pamphlets, joke books, romances, war stories, biographies of contemporary politicians and film stars, science fiction, speculations on alien life forms and their visits to earth past and present, westerns, and scandal and gossip items. A standard item was the “Dream Book” for policy players, a long-popular astrology booklet which attached number combinations to items in one’s dreams. For over a century, dreamers–and day dreamers–had played numbers and hoped to win the day’s jackpot). The general bookstores, often by retailing Max Padell’s items, provided these various steady sellers.
Examples were one of the two Broadway Book Shops (at 1543; the other was across the street), Midtown Books (Ben Friedman, 1105 6th), G & A Books (251 W 42nd), Harmony (112 W 49th), Abbey Books (259 W 42nd, later a pioneer in peep booths with film loops), Publisher’s Outlet (Edward [“Eddie”] Mishkin, at 254 W 42nd, was a partner of Finkelstein), Peerless (38 W 42), and Bob’s Bargain Books. The latter, near the corner of 6th Ave and 42nd, was special.
Bob's Bargain Books Bob Brown was an important bookman from the mid-50s through the mid-70s. He started by trying to sell very cheap, practical books which publishers had remaindered to people in need of technical know-how to keep their businesses viable. This did not exactly pay the rent. What did was soft core erotica. The midtown gay subculture wanted relevant books and magazines. Patrons liked girlie pictures, whether in calendars, playing cards, slides, magazines, and books. Apparently, the closeness of “the Deuce” to bus terminals and cheap hotels meant that there were many newly arrived young women available to pose. Brown himself did not take advantage of this, but many neighborhood photographers did; the pictures appeared in books and magazines. The store also had some primitive peep show machines. One popular loop showed people having intercourse–from a discreet distance.
The scene down 42nd Street from Bob's Bargain Books, 105 W42nd, in 1967: to the right of the theater and Tad's is the Bee See Book Shop, at 117 W42nd, target of police raids in the late 1960s.
Some of the most resourceful Times Square book people, like Wilson and Shapiro, were involved in manufacturing, distributing, and wholesaling, for that was where the real money was. GI Distributors, founded by two veterans after World War II, was one of these. Bob Brown was another. In 1968, the Brown Book Company published remainder copies of Joe Weiss’ Bitter Pill, touted in the “socio-psychological foreword” by one Dr. Hugo G. Beigel as “stand[ing] for and dynamically illustrat[ing] the entire sexual revolution!” The story involves campus free sex, lesbianism, spouse swapping, water sports and spanking. Weiss dwelt in loving detail on the latter in this and other books. A “forthcoming” work was to be entitled The Spanking Lovers, to which Dr. Beigel would contribute a “clinical study.”
Bob Brown won an important legal battle in 1967, with the help of now-legendary First Amendment attorney Herald Price Fahringer. The FBI seized 419 cartons of books flown to New York from Minneapolis. The cartons contained glossy photos of female nudes, and nudist and male art magazines, which did not meet obscenity criteria. The titles represent what a reader would see on the shelves of Times Square book shops in the sixties: Hombre, Rugged, Bronco, Nudist European Women, Coquette, KrazyKittens. Brown also offered paperback versions of Fanny Hill and of Victorian pornography, probably the Collector’s Publications piracies or the Grove Press or Brandon House editions. In another brush with the law, Bob, remarkably, pled guilty to selling “obscenity” of much the same nature. He therefore waived his right of appeal, and even more remarkably, was sent to Sing Sing. Perhaps he had run out of money, and did not want to burden his family with legal costs. And possibly, his plea would have removed from prosecution one of his sons, against whom charges also had been brought. He wanted both his sons to carry on in bookselling without being singled out as “smut kingpins” by a police captain or district attorney with a mind to do so.
Two Pariah Capitalists
During the 1950s and early 60s, the most notorious pornographer on the Deuce was Edward Mishkin. He owned outright several stores (Harmony, Midget, the Little Book Exchange, Kingsley Book Shop, Esther, and Main Stem), and was silent partner in others. His headquarters was Publisher’s Outlet; at least, that is where, in August 1962, a sailor from the Queen Mary arrived with a key to a Times Square IRT station locker. He asked for Eddie, who wasn't there. He gave the clerk the key and said “Here’s something for you from the boys in England.” The locker, Customs agents determined, contained twelve copies of a British magazine entitled Thrashed in Many Ways. Sadomasochistic and fetish books, photos and magazines were a facet of erotica which Times Square democratized. Before World War II, the material was available in booksellers’ back rooms, and of course to the wealthy, trusted customers of Manhattan’s high hat dealers. The Mishkins, the Browns, the Shapiros and the Finkelsteins made it available to the hoi polloi–through the mails, despite the risk of federal prosecution-- not just in bookstores. So did Lee Brewster at Lee’s Mardi Gras, a large second-floor store on 10th Ave. between 41st and 42nd.
Thus the swelling moral indignation from the clergy at Holy Cross Church and from Operation Yorkville, an influential East Side organization.
And not just from clergy. The Kefauver subcommittee investigating the effects of obscenity on juvenile delinquency subpoenaed Mishkin in 1955, as they did Irving Klaw, a publisher whose fetish photos included thousands of those of the era’s super model, Bettie Page. Both men’s photo sets and booklet-sized illustrated stories, with their themes of flagellation, bondage, transvestitism, and passive men forced into women’s clothing, were alleged to “get into the hands of small limited minds, and they . . . [get] worked up to a fever pitch, and some poor soul is the victim. Do You get what I am saying?” The words are those of those of the judge sentencing Mishkin for smuggling in those copies of Thrashed in Many Ways.
Mishkin, Klaw, and other booksellers to whom they distributed their materials, not only in New York but throughout the East Coast, did not get it. In 1957, Miskin’s Nights of Horror booklets caused a major outbreak of indignation in Mayor Robert Wagner’s New York.
Five bookstores were forced to surrender their copies. In 1960, powerful D. A. Frank S. Hogan,whose boiling point regarding erotica was just above absolute zero, prepared a 198-count indictment against Mishkin, calling him “the largest producer and purveyor of pornographic material in the U. S.” After that, most of the retail outlets to which Mishkin and Klaw distributed may have restricted sales of the materials to trusted adult customers. Mishkin was convicted in 1962, but he persisted. Klaw did too, albeit only for a few more years.
One of the side-stapled, typewritten booklets used (with over 70 others) as evidence in People v. Mishkin, 1960 (over 70 were cited). This one is about flagellation and female domination; others featured lesbianism, bondage, and torture, and clothing fetishes. The prosecuting attorney argued that such material "deal[s] with the most vicious type of physical abuse in which human dignity is completely besmirched; all morality is done away with."
It was probably unconstitutional after the 1957 “Roth test” to deny to the general populace books and pictures which might stimulate a few sociopaths to sex crimes. But a Miskin and a Klaw did not get their backs up because of idealism. They were pornographers, that is, capitalists, albeit of the pariah variety. However small a portion of the general public indulged sadomasochistic fantasies, that subculture bought the material heavily. Thus Peggy’s Distress on Planet Venus, Arduous Figure Training at Bondhaven, Dance with the Dominant Whip, and Stud Broad. Mishkin instructed his hack writers that he wanted “an emphasis on beatings and fetishism and clothing,” on lesbian scenes, and on “sex in an abnormal and irregular fashion.” The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in 1966, but a month later, before serving his prison sentence, Eddie was back in business at Square books on 7th Avenue, where police found films on “female masochism” and novels such as Perverted Lust Slave.
The Adult Book Stores
By the late sixties, midtown erotica browsers would have satisfied their fantasies amid the configuration of shelves, peg-boards, and display tables which we remember as the “adult book store.” A sign out front often read, “Be 18 or be gone.” Display windows were arranged so that the passer-by, who might be underage, an offended citizen, or a plain-clothes policeman, could not see into the shop. On a platform near the entrance was the cashier’s desk and the cash register. A panoply of mirrors often allowed the clerk to discourage shoplifting. The premium items–magazines, paperback booklets often of a fetishistic nature, photo sets and “strip-tease” photos of nearly naked women touching their breasts or crotches--were displayed in a “highliner” or center table. Along the walls on pegboards were displayed more photos and magazines, 8mm films, slides, bawdy records, playing cards, and sex toys and devices. Racks of paperbacks and magazines were often divided into categories of kink. Except for the paperbacks on racks, printed materials were wrapped in cellophane. The more eye-opening bondage, flagellation, and “water sports” might be near the back of the store, as could be the group sex material, or the “beaver” or “spreader” illustrations of women displaying their vaginas. These might be under the counter items, along with “French decks,” if the models showed pubic hair. Any material depicting genital or oral-genital penetration was not displayed. There were also shelves for attractive art portfolios of nudes, marriage manuals, scholarly or “clinical” studies of sexual attitudes and customs, “physical health” books, the Kinsey reports, classical erotology such as the Kama Sutra, or the recently decensored sexually explicit novels. These might be trotted out for window display when a court ruling or clean-up crusade meant police action loomed–in fact the store owners had an electronic early-warning system set up.
The Eighth Avenue bookstores and those on 42nd between 7th and 8th were exclusively adult by 1970, and they were evolving into the sex emporia of the 1980s. Times Square was the scene of two key events in the history of commercialized sex which heralded the change. In the mid-sixties Martin Hodas, an inventive vending machine salesman, placed peep booths in several bookstores. As he put it, they attracted “doctors, lawyers, tourists, kids, fags. Everybody.” Landlords, knowing a bonanza when they saw one, raised rents, which forced out many of the delis, haberdasheries, “fascination” and pinball games, and small eateries–although it is important to recognize that even in the 1980s, Times Square remained a low-cost entertainment center for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds who could not afford more expensive restaurants, movie theaters, bookstores, clothing, or small appliances. Hodas bought the leases, and by 1967 was “King of the Strip,” with many adult stores, some of which he changed into massage parlors. He made the right mob connections to insure efficient distribution of his loops. Many of these were produced by the photographer George Urban–“Ugly George” of recent cable fame--who knew how to convince beautiful young women to appear in them. The second event occurred in 1965, when Robert Redrup, a Times Square newsstand dealer, sold to an undercover policeman two soft core sex pulp paperbacks. The ensuing case resulted in the Supreme Court, which was badly divided on criteria for obscenity, adopting a policy of reversing without comment (“Redruping”) all obscenity convictions which reached it.
Thanks in part to Hodas and Redrup, hard-core was to have its way. Not even Frank S. Hogan could do much, as the Lindsay administration knew. In 1968, it harassed bookstore owners by placing uniformed policemen in some shops to monitor any under-the-counter sales, but this tactic was quickly ruled unconstitutional. It was difficult in any event to know what was prosecutable as hard core. Browsers in the late 50s and earlier 60s will remember the paperbacks from such outfits as Nightstand, Pleasure Readers, Sundown, Pendulum, Merit, Brandon House, Midwood, or Lancer. There was the semblance of a plot between the bedroom scenes, and the latter were euphemistically described, with words like “joysticks” and “moist womanhoods” all too frequent. No four-letter words escaped the lips of panting revelers.
But in 1969, after the f-word and the images of oral sex and penetration in Donald H. Gilmore’s excellent study Sex, Censorship and Pornography (Greenleaf Classics) brought little protest, sex pulps were largely supplemented by “fuck books.” Click here for an excellent resource on Greenleaf and the soft core paperback publishers and writers of this period.
An adult book store in the early 70s was raunchier than had been the case only a few years earlier. One found sections devoted to swingers and group sex (with mostly fabricated ads); soft core “T and A” magazines; hard core “action” books and magazines, some labeled as sex education tracts, others featuring illustrations of intercourse positions (with a variety of positions and partners); materials on gay, transvestite, bondage, sadomasochistic, and water sport themes; sex toys (vibrators, and inflatable effigies of life-size females, were popular); photographs, including “cum shots,” of women with their pubic hair on view; and rubber goods. Some of the high priced paperbacks might be wrapped in plastic. This might indicate innovative and daring contents, or simply that the bookseller was stuck with the titles and was trying to get rid of them by tricking people into believing that they were hot stuff. The films and videotapes were kept in locked cases. There were also shelves or counters for the tabloid “underground newspapers” such as Screw. Peep booths with gay loops may have been connected to neighboring booths by “glory holes,” through which men could insert their penises. There may have been “rap booths” where one could talk to a young woman. Representative stores would have included G and A Books, Rector, Rage, Black Jack, Forsythe, Midtown, Kinematics.
The liberal obscenity laws of the 1960s made it possible by the end of the decade to issue not just printed erotica, but also XXX films, and adult video tapes with little risk of successful prosecution beyond the municipal level. Entrepreneurs added massage parlors, topless and bottomless bars, and live sex shows to vice zones such as Times Square, easily affording the higher rents and monthly leases the landlords held them to. In fact, in some establishments the area devoted to printed materials served both as a physical front section and as legal facade to provide First Amendment legitimacy for prosecutable film and live-action porn. Beginning with Mayor Lindsay’s administration, city officials faced a more complex dilemma than that posed by a set of honky tonk book and magazine stores which police could periodically and dramatically raid. Shops carried more shocking products than they had five years earlier, but lawyers’ insistence on new First Amendment protections had the collared owners and clerks back in their shops the next day. The frequent clean-up raids became, along with pimpmobiles, one of the standing jokes of Fun City. Erotica had become more lucrative than ever, certainly for distributors, but equally for real estate moguls, bankers, and investment speculators. As peep loops, films, and VCRs raised the financial stakes, organized crime began setting up its own version of corporate enterprise, the extortionate monopoly. In 1973, the precedent of Miller v. California made interstate distribution of pornography prosecutable according to the standards of the community into which items were sent. Afraid to risk federal penalties, publishers had little choice but to rely on organized crime to ship their products beyond the purview of New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Booksellers as well as performers knew that somewhere in the hierarchy of their industry lurked Mafia figures such as Robert DiBernardo of the Gambino family, John "Sonny" Franzese and Anthony, Joseph and Louis Peraino of the Colombo crime family.
Al Goldstein readily admitted that the mob distributed Screw Magazine; he could get no one else to dare do so nationally, or even in New York City itself, where no one wanted to displease crime bosses by competing with them. Martin Hodas, as we have said, developed ties to wise guys by 1970. Another example is Stan Malkin, who worked out of Liberty Gift Shop (later Forsythe Books) and owned a Times Square topless bar. He published Unique, Wee Hours and After Hours Books in the mid 60s. The paperbacks were soft core, but had covers by leading fetish artists Gene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton.
Malkin ran a distribution outfit called Satellite. He may have sold it to Cleveland pornography kingpin Reuben Sturman.
A final example of organized crime involvement in Times Square by the late 60s is the smuggling conviction of Leonard (“Lenny”) Burtman, an important publisher of fetish and sadomasochistic books and magazines with offices first on W. 46th Street, and later in the 50s. Times Square bookstores carried his fetish booklets and magazines extensively, and his distribution system was more far-reaching than those of Mishkin, Klaw, or Brown. Some of his corporate names were Burmel, Selbee, Exotica, Pigalle, and Epic.
In 1969 Burtman, his partner, and an employee of Satellite Distributors who himself may have had mob ties, paid $4,000 to Charlie “The Blade” Tourine, of the Genovese crime family, to bribe a customs agent to release two shipments labeled “cups and saucers” which actually contained pornographic booklets from Denmark. The second of these broke open and therefore the scheme was discovered. Burtman told police that Tourine had kept most of the money, and that he and his partner were afraid to ask for a refund. However, testimony showed that their concern was that the agent had not been not paid enough to keep silent once the scheme had failed. Burtman and his partner were sentenced to one year in jail and a $5000 fine. Angry that the publisher’s demand for a meeting allowed police, through an undercover agent, to learn of the scheme, The Blade was probably sorry he ever got involved with fidgety booksellers. His type was of a different ilk, with a more alpha-male concept of "the action." A decade later, they had replaced the older middlemen who got Times Square clientele their dirty books and related paraphernalia. A paperback "case history" (Star Distributors Ltd 1979); at that time most likely an over-the-counter item.
Underworld and Upperworld Symbiosis
By the mid 70s 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 80s the arsonists, crack cocaine dealers, chicken hawks (pimps who controlled boy hookers) and AIDS-positive muggers were terrifying. From the 40s through the 80s, however, there is a remarkable consistency to statements about the dirtiness and social degeneracy of Times Square by municipal authorities, the daily tabloids, and The New York Times. Their mantra was that it harbored criminal parasites who used it as a base from which to infect the healthy community. However, during the 20th century, such public places were part of the business of the city. Civic officials cannot afford to eliminate vice. Police and politicians limit access to it, keeping it out of sight of respectable citizens and allowing those who want it (who include many respectable citizens) easy access. The Mafia “kingpins” of the prostitution, gambling, and dirty-book rackets are confederate with not only police, politicians, and real estate moguls who provide them space, but also with those who provide financial backing, make loans, encourage money laundering, and give tips to the vice merchants about entering legitimate businesses and investing. These men easily trumped the booksellers of the 40s and 50s, just as Ford and Disney, with Mayor Giuliani’s help, were able to trump them. Thus 42nd Street vice finally gave way to the family-friendly environment the corporations needed for their offices, shops, and restaurants. Its executives can adjourn to upscale strip clubs with as little concern about embarrassing themselves as Garment District high rollers had when they reveled in Café Society’s night spots and the “sex circuses” in Midtown’s classiest apartment buildings. The elite always has its privileges. A classy working and playing environment is still one.
Until recently, the rest of us with prurient leanings had to shop under the disdainful gazes of Billy Graham, Father McCaffrey, or Donald Wildmon at the 42nd Street dirty book stores and sex-and-violence theaters. However, perhaps not any more. As book stores and movie theaters get condemned on the basis of the subjective criteria of their “negative effects” on surrounding businesses, bulldozers have been having a go at the vice areas of Boston, New York, Washington and Baltimore. Ironically, these developments further democratize, rather than suppress, sex-related businesses. Entrepreneurs now favor internet and phone sex, sex boutiques, hotel room cable TV, Hollywood’s NC17 films, day spas for men, and gentlemen’s clubs. It’s an Everyman’s “pornocopia.” Porn kingpins are no longer pariahs like Eddie Mishkin, Bob Brown, or Moe Shapiro. They are more sophisticated, and more respectable. With the mainstreaming of pornography into popular culture, sleaze is on the way out. Politicians, property owners, and media moguls can take a very dubious credit. They have eliminated the transgressive atmosphere of a Times Square, where criminality and creativity shared a common border, and where one felt guilty for being there, and yet free from the moral consensus which spurred him to visit. --accessed and copied from http://home.earthlink.net/%7Ejgertzma/BkshopsofTimesSq/index.html [Jun 2004]
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