Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sexed-Up Literary Classics

by Stephen J. Gertz

Amongst the rare book trade, rare book librarians and curators, and educators at large  a constant chorus bemoans the sad fact that today's younger generation is not being exposed to or reading the classics of literature from bygone eras.  Classics Illustrated, the usual, traditional entry-points, are too tame, alas, to provoke the interest of  modern teens.

Perhaps the approach of publishers and educators should be tweaked, taking into consideration the current cultural zeitgeist, 21st-century mores and manners, and adolescent endocrinology.   Coincidentally, a  curious and appropriate to the task body of work from the 1960s-early 1970s exists that can be instantly integrated into the high school and college syllabus to jump-start a renaissance of the great books of yesteryear, stimulate today's younger readers - and horrify their parents.

"Do you remember when you were amazed by the exploits in 'Around the World in Eighty Days,' one of the most enthralling of all adventure tales? Now Calga Publishers brings you the new and very adult version of the same tale. Everything is as close to the original as possible except that our adaptation has been written as it might have been originally if the author had the literary freedom of expression of today's mores and standards. In this version of the famous saga you will get a literary view of the sexual escapades the hero enjoyed on his famous trip around the world."
The Adult Sexual Version of Around the World in 80 Days.
[Los Angeles]: Calga Publishers 813, 1971.

The Adult Sexual Version of Around The World In Eighty Days. A Historical Classic Written As It Might Have Been If The Author Had Today's Literary Freedom.
Chapter One

In Which Phileas Fogg And Passepartout Accept Each   
Other, The One As Master, The Other As Servant. And
In Which The Wager Is Made.      

'All right, now let's see the size of your cock.'

Jean Passepartout, being interviewed by Phileas Fogg for the position of man servant, looked at his would-be employer with shock and surprise.

An opening line for the ages, and, notwithstanding issues of sexual harassment, the paramount consideration, of course, when hiring a valet, good help being so hard to find. Speaking of which...

Poor Passepartout needs the gig so he meekly drops his drawers and, under Fogg's direction, manipulates himself to full  glory. Then Fogg pulls out a  ruler. "Nine and three-eighths inches...excellent dimensions."

Hired, reiterating Mae West's dictum, "A hard man is good to find."

And so the two embark on the journey, circumnavigating the world and investigating, for anthropological purposes only, mind you, the sexual behavior of the women in each country they visit, who, in the true spirit of international relations, throw themselves at Fogg, the irresistible. And Passepartout? Well, you never know when an extra cock'll come in handy for these inquiries and, Fogg being a graduate of the English public school system, when a little buggery is just the thing to pass idle moments in the caboose - or other conveyance.

The Adult Version of Robin Hood.
Adapted by Robert Elgin (pseud. of Robin Eagle).
[Los Angeles]: Calga Publiishers 802, 1970.

Calga Publishers of Los Angeles had an ambitious release schedule devoted exclusively to "Adult Sexual Versions" of twenty-eight classics of literature including, The Adult Version of Robin Hood, (When Robin made Marion, and oh, those merry men!), The Adult Version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Adult Version of Frankenstein, The Adult Version of Dracula, The Adult Version of The Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Adult Version of Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Adult Version of The Sea Wolf  (don't ask), etc.

The Adult Version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Adapted by Terry Stacy (pseud. of Terrea Lea).
[Los Angeles]: Calga Publishers 801, 1970.

Calga Publishers was part of 1960s Porn King of the South Michael Thevis' Atlanta-based Peachtree News organization,  sharing a small office building at 5585 W. Pico in Los Angeles with Thevis’ Pendulum Books  editorial offices, which had moved to L.A., CAL from Atlanta, GA in late 1968, the imprint's name derived from contemporary Post Office state abbreviations.

The Adult Version of the Escapades of Caesar.
[by Robin Eagle].
[Los Angeles]: Calga Pubiishers 805, 1970.

Calga was also a publisher of periodicals for the urbane and debonair gent, with titles including Lesbo Lassies, Hit & Fun, Belly Button, Love Me, Skin & Bones, and Sextrology, The Magazine of Astrological Sexuality, and was run by Thevis' partner in the venture, Bernie Bloom,  who had been a contract packager of downmarket-swank girlie magazines such as Pussy Willow, Body & Soul, Wild Couples, Swap, Orgy, Balling, Roulette, etc., for Pendulum and had operated out of the same office space.
The Adult Version of the Three Musketeers.
Adapted by John Farrel (pseud. of Terrea Lea].
[Los Angeles]: Calga Pubiishers 804, 1970.

Alas, Calga only issued twelve of the projected twenty-eight titles before dropping the series. Let tears pool into an ocean.

The Adult Version of the Escapades of Cleopatra.
[by Terrea Lea].
[Los Angeles]: Calga Pubiishers 806, 1970.

•  •  •

Sexing-up established literary works is something of a tradition in erotica. Novelist Bernard Wolfe, anonymously writing privately commissioned erotic manuscripts for the erotobibliomaniac  Roy Johnson for eleven months during the early 1940's, bored out of his gourd and a lover of German literature, wrote one based on an early novella by Bruno Frank and another, an erotic adaptation of a then obscure German novel by a then somewhat  obscure German author who would  win a Nobel prize a few years later.

Somewhere out there is Wolfe's sexed-up adaptation of Hermann Hesse's Steppenwolfe. And had Hesse had the freedom to do so he certainly would have considered having Henry Haller, struggling to overcome his social and sexual inhibitions, engage in a little unusual and explicit activity in The Magic Theater. Wolfe's adaptation, under who-knows-what title, has, unfortunately, not yet surfaced, and is probably buried somewhere deep in the stacks of the Kinsey Library where Johnson's collection went after his death.

Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, one of the premier novels of the late 19th century's Decadent period in literature, would seem to lend itself ideally to eroticization, and, indeed it did. Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray,  a German sexed-up version of the classic, was released in Paris during WWII (with false date, 1930) for the entertainment of the occupying German troops. It was translated into English and issued in two volumes by Brandon House Library Editions in 1970 as The Erotic Picture of Dorian Gray. It is quite good, well-translated, and explicitly depicting what was only suggested in the original.

Michael Gall's A Bedside Odyssey,   written under the pseudonym, Homer & Associates, and originally published by Olympia Press, Paris in 1962, is an amusing sex-up of the ancient Greek classic. It was reissued during the era by Olympia Press, New York in 1967 as Traveller's Companion #206, and by Collectors Publications.  

The Sexual Life of Robinson Crusoe, also written by Michael Gall under the pseudonym, Humphrey Richardson,  was originally published by Olympia Press, Paris (1955), reprinted under its original title by Olympia Press, New York in 1967 as Traveller's Companion #205, and by Collectors Publications under the title The Secret Life of Robinson Crusoe by H. Richardson (ca. 1967-68).

Continuing the tradition, Olympia Press, New York published The Sexual Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by J. Watson (pseudonym of Larry Townsend, the noted  non-fiction writer and novelist of Olympia Press - N. Y. classics The Leatherman's Handbook and Run, Little Leatherboy) in 1967 through  its imprint for homoerotica, The Other Traveller.

Each of these sexed-up classics is well-written; they remain fun reads, as does Houses of Joy by Wu-Wu Weng (pseudonym of South African Beat poet Sinclair Beiles) originally issued by Olympia Press in 1958 and reprinted during the pornucopia years of the 1960s. It is Beiles' version of an early seventeenth-century (1609) Chinese erotic classic by Xiaoxiaosheng, Chin P'ing Mei (aka The Golden Lotus, The Plum in the Golden Vase), a light reworking of orientalist Arthur Waley’s (not, as Girodias has written, the occult writer A. E. Waite) 1939 English translation  under the title Chin P'ing Mei The Adventurous History of Hsi Men and His Six Wives, a delightful fraud by Beiles who sold it to Girodias as his own translation.

(There is an earlier English translation [reference: Scheiner 1293] from a German edition of Chin P'ing Mei (i.e. Kin Ping Meh oder die abenteuerliche Geschichte von Hsi Men und seinen sechs Frauen) clandestinely published in the U.S. by the "Library of Facetious Lore" (publisher, and bookstore owner  - with David Moss, Frances Steloff's ex-husband and partner in the celebrated Gotham Book Mart - Martin Kamin 1897-1976, who, in 1932, re-established Contact: A Quarterly Review, edited by Robert McAlmon, William Carlos Williams, and Nathaneal West,  in New York City) in 1927 as The Adventures of Hsi Men Ching "by" the non-existent Feng-Chow Wang, a book that would be seized by John Sumner's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1931 from Gotham Book Mart; Steloff was prosecuted (Gertzman, Smuthounds and Bookleggers, p. 155). Within, a fascinating though stinky fish story is told, relating that the book served as an instrument of revenge for the assassination of Wang’s father, caused by Yen, son of the then Prime Minister. Knowing of Yen’s love of erotic tales and his habit of moistening his fingers as he turned the pages, "Wang" composed this work to entice the assassin and soaked the corners of the pages in strong poison. That's rich,  preposterously so, the "facetious lore" part of the bibliographical equation. I am in the process of determining whether Beiles' Houses of Joy is, in reality and simply,  a transcription of the Library of Facetious Lore's The Adventures of Hsi Men Ching rather than the Waley translation, in which case, an even better fraud!).

Perhaps the most egregious sexing-up of pre-existing texts occurred during the era of An Amazing Kingdom Of Thrills*. It was perpetrated upon books that would seem to be the most unlikely, unnecessary, indeed absurd  candidates for pornification that balance is lost by the mere thought: the works of the Marquis de Sade.

In 1965 Holloway House released its two-volume Complete Marquis de Sade (HH-123, HH-124), "Translated From the Original French Text" by Dr. Paul J. Gillette. They are neither translated or otherwise based in any way upon the original French. They are, rather, reworkings and paraphrasings of the Richard Seaver-Austryn Wainhouse translations initially published by Olympia Press beginning in 1957 with pseudonymous translation credit, later reprinted by Grove Press in 1965 with Seaver and Wainhouse given open credit.

Gillette (according to an Editor's Note his doctorate was in psychology) has provided a "briskly readable rendition" (Introduction to Justine by John S. Yankowski aka Gillette). That's one way to express it. He's cut massive amounts of the text, leaving only 125,000 words to the Seaver-Wainhouse translation of 1,000,000+, the deletions primarily Sade's philosophical digressions which, though sometimes difficult to plow through and often downright boring, contain the system of moral/ethical principles that form the basis for Sade's thought and provide the entire justification for his writings.

Gillette, operating, apparently, under the brainsick delusion that what  Sade's books need is more sex, has added explicit scenes from his own imagination. He's totally dispensed with Justine's alter-ego, Therese; modernized the language to charmlessness; altered the narrative stream; and pushed Justine - always on the edge of Job-as-Pollyanna - over the line into a sort of Candide-ish  featherbrained twit who exclaims, "Oh Heavens!" to every brutal calamity that befalls her. Rather than sympathize with her, you just want to slap her upside the head with the admonition, "wake up, you ninny!" 

To be fair, the Editor's Note to Justine (reprinted in both volumes) signals the hatchet job: "…recent months have seen the appearance of several so-called 'complete' editions [Grove Press], by which it is meant the literal translation into English of Sade's exact language. Unfortunately, these 'complete' versions come complete with Sade's repetitions and redundancies, his dreary polemics and his use of syntactically complex Eighteenth Century idiom which is all but unreadable today. The present edition is an attempt to strike a happy medium…It retains all Sade's crucial philosophical points [not!], all his stark language and all his extraordinary action scenes while shedding those 'vices' which have long made reading the original works such an exercise in tedium."

In other words, Sade-Lite -  more zip, less lip.

Gillette discusses his method in a Note To Scholars adding the following counsel, "the reader who is interested in a less free approach is recommended to the Seaver-Wainhouse version." Take his advice.

With 120 Days of Sodom Gillette condensed, abridged, and paraphrased the Wainhouse translation. He then took the surviving fragments of 120 Days of Sodom's story of the whore, Francon Duclos, appended even more scatological material than appears in the original text (there is a scene involving corprophilia on almost every page; Gillette's up to his ears in scheisse), added connective tissue and weaved all into a continuous narrative that was separately published as Marquis de Sade's Francon Duclos The Memoirs of a Paris Madame (1967, HH-135).

In one scene "translated" by Gillette, Duclos has not a coach or coachman but a taxi-cab driver waiting for her. Hopefully, the cab's meter isn't running; there's  a long night of orgasmic fecal feasting ahead. It's left up to the reader to determine whether the cabbie is an immigrant or the cab Yellow or Checker. I have not read Holloway House's edition of Sade's Juliette but Milton Van Sickle, a '60s porn trade veteran who worked for Brandon House, Holloway House, Pendulum Publications, and knew Gillette reported  to me that our shameless "translator" has Juliette in one scene leaning against a telephone pole, an amazing technological appearance in 18th century France.

On page sixty-five of Gillette’s "translation" (Holloway House 116, 1965) of The Satyricon by Petronius (of which only fragments of the original survive; Gillette has "reconstructed" the missing parts and the resulting work is 25% Petronius,  75% the product of Gillette's febrile imagination) we meet the corrupt epicurean Trimalchio while he's playing tennis (!) on his villa's tennis court (!!). Trimalchio also prizes his dining room clock "the sole purpose of which is to let him know how many minutes of his life he has lost thus far." Clocks and tennis: Rare sights in ancient Rome.

"Paul had no sense of history," Milton Van Sickle dryly recalled.

These bogus translations by Gillette call into question every other "translation" he did, including his "translations" of Casanova's Memoirs and Loüys Trois Filles de leur Mére for Award Books, etc.  They are all cut and paste jobs based upon existing English translations. Gillette bought some of these pre-existing translations from erotica dealer J. B. Rund in New York. "He was a dishonest and pretentious man," Rund told me. Later, Gillette got out of the ersatz porn-translation biz and, as a self-styled wine connoisseur, published his own wine newsletter - presumably a "brisk readable rendition" without sex scenes, though I would not be surprised to find The Rape of the Grape or She Was Savaged By Sauvignon Blanc within.

Dave Zentner's Bee-Line Books was a trailblazer 1966 with a series of books whose titles sometimes had something to do with the plot, but more often than not were just slapped on for humorous recognition value. Together, these titles form a sort of twisted Modern Library of sexed-up best-sellers: Peekin Place, "The secrets of the town refused to stay hidden!"; Dr. Yes, "He practiced his medicine in unconventional ways!"; Taffy, "She was even spicier than Candy!"; The Carpet Draggers, "Any man would have liked his job!; Simmer and Smoke, "She was strangely moved by the hot summer winds!"; Some Came Sinning, "They chose to walk a path that led to destruction!"; A Pussycat Named Desire, "She worked in the offbeat world of the carnival!" (and depended upon the kindness of carnys?); My Bare Lady, "She was a teacher in the world's most unique school!"; For Whom The Belles Toil, "He was surrounded by beautiful girls, girls, girls!"; The Naked and the Deadly, "He was a champion in the ring and in the world of love!"; and, inevitably, Lotita, "She was the mostest model who ever posed for glory!" The exclamation point was clearly this imprint's primary grammatical weapon of choice.

It is with profound relief that I report that Bee-Line never issued a homo-eroticized Dumas, The Count of Monte Crisco, nor a fetishistic, malodorous Tennessee Williams,  Scat On A Hot Tin Roof.

I remain deeply chagrined, however, that no publisher during the 1960s issued The Erotic Chronicles of Nuremberg - the lowdown on the hush-hush happenings in that tottlin' Teutonic town in 1493.

A Reminder to Readers:  Booktryst covers "the undergrowth of literature" as a public service. We read it so you don't have to.

My interviews with the late Milton Van Sickle, and J.B. Rund occurred in September 2000.

*An Amazing Kingdom of Thrills: American Paperback Erotica 1965-1973  is the author's unpublished (but not for lack of trying) manuscript ©2002.


  1. "Clocks... Rare sights in ancient Rome."
    He's in august company:


    Peace! count the clock.


    The clock hath stricken three.

    from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.
    However, spicing up Suetonius's Twelve Caesars woould require enormous depravity and imagination. There the "authors" probably had to tone down their alleged practises to suit modern tastes.

  2. Got a bundle of these for Christmas. Wonderfully awful stuff :)

  3. 'Clocks...Rare sights in ancient Rome.'

    1) In the original Latin text, Trimalchio is obsessed with time and refers to a clock.
    2) Trimalchio's dinner scene is not set in Rome.


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