Friday, July 29, 2011

New Book About Louis Wain, the Cat Artist Who Went Insane

by Stephen J. Gertz

Cat lovers have something to purr about with the release of Louis Wain's Cats, a new book on  the celebrated cat artist who went 'round the bend but, before and afterward, created some of the most memorable and endearing anthropomorphic cat images ever produced; there are Louis Wain cats and  all the others, jealous not to have been drawn by him. 

Published to accompany an upcoming exhibition, Louis Wain and the Summer Cat Show, August 14 - September 4, 2011, at Chris Beetles Art Gallery in London, the book includes over 300 beautiful color images, many shown for the first time, brought to life with text by Chris Beetles, the leading authority on Louis Wain.

This book comprises a comprehensive survey of the life and work of one of the best known cat artists of the Victorian and Edwardian period, including a new biography, and catalogue raisonné of Louis Wain’s Lucky Futurist Mascots, his unique ceramic creations.

The book is a companion piece to Louis Wain The Man Who Drew Cats by Rodney Dale, published by Chris Beetles in 2006.

The first 1000 copies of this first edition will be signed and numbered by Chris Beetles.

BEETLES, Chris. Louis Wain's Cats. London: Worth Press, 2011. Square quarto (260 x 260 mm). 255 pp. 411 plates, over 300 in color. Hardcover. £25.00 ($40.80) plus shipping. To order contact Chris Beetles Gallery.

Of related interest:


Serendipity Books Is For Sale

by Stephen J. Gertz

Serendipity Books, the Berkeley, California landmark and legendary rare book shop owned and operated by the late and equally legendary Berkeley landmark, Peter B. Howard, is now publicly on the block.

The entire shop may be purchased. Alternatively, the inventory and fixtures are being offered separately, as is an option to purchase or continue the lease on the building.

A separate page with details of the sale is now on Serendipity's website.

The Howard family is also talking to auction houses.

A private deal to sell the shop fell through earlier this year after negotiations broke down.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wild Ride of a Hollywood Bookseller, 2d Series, Episode 7

by Arnold M. Herr

Just thought I’d mention this:

I crouched and crab-walked my way into Mickey’s store one day to find he had cleared a flat space on his front counter and was flipping through a copy of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque by Combe and illustrated by Rowlandson.  It was an early 19th-century edition with hand-colored plates.  He was also eating Alpo dog food and drinking Reunite wine mixed with mineral water (for a little fizz) and soy milk (for the goodness in it).  Christ only knew why he was eating dog food.  “Aren’t you afraid of slopping some of your meal on the book?  It looks like a nice copy.”

“Nah,” said Mickey, “I can always attribute the food and drink stains to William Makepeace Thackeray.  This was his copy.”

“Yeah,” I said, “But who’s gonna believe Thackeray ate Alpo?”

And this:

One day in the late 1970s, Mickey was driving along one of the narrow back streets of Hollywood in his 1963 Buick station wagon and clipped the open driver’s door of a parked car.  Actually, he did more than clip it; he ripped it clean off its hinges.  The door flew off the parked car, sailed across the sidewalk and landed on someone’s lawn.  It appeared no one was hurt – no flying bodies or body parts – so Mickey did what he considered to be the only sensible thing:  he raced straight to Earl Scheib on Santa Monica Blvd. and had the car painted a different color.

But do I really deserve to take a day off?

The phone rang.  Better judgment told me not to pick it up.  I picked it up anyway.  Mickey couldn’t decide about opening the store on Memorial Day. 

Me:  What did you do last year?
Mickey:  I don’t remember.

Me:  How about the year before that?

Mickey:  If I can’t remember what I did last year, how could I possibly remember what happened two years ago?

Me:  Do you have any recollection of any Memorial Day?

Mickey:  There was one when I was tied to a ducking stool.

Me:  Do I want to hear this story?

Mickey:  Not now.  I still can’t decide whether I should open today or not.  What do you think?

Me:  Are you going somewhere, or are you planning to be in the store anyway?

Mickey:  I live here, where would I go?

Me:  Then as long as you’re here, you may as well open the shop and give someone the opportunity to come in and steal something.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Homer and the Fabulous Foulis Brothers Top the Charts With "Iliad" and "Odyssey"

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1756-1758, Robert and Andrew the Younger, the Foulis brothers, printers in Glasgow, hooked up with Homer, a poet from Greece, and produced a number one hit, one of the great antiquarian golden oldies, critically acclaimed upon its release and since as one of the most esteemed volumes to ever make the rare book Top 40 - Printing.

"I give it a ten. It has great typography and you can dance with it" (Dick Clark, American Bookstand).

I'm with Dick, though I don't recommend swingin' 'n swayin' it to the Lindy Hop. The layout, margins, line spacing, font -  I can't understand a word on the page but I can't take my eyes off the leaves; drawn in and spellbound, at times I feel like I'm actually reading them. Aesthetically and practically it's  very easy on the eyes. It's no wonder people can't stop talking about it.

"Robert Foulis (1707-1776) and Andrew Foulis (1712-1775) were at the forefront of the print trade in 18th century Glasgow and they contributed greatly to the development of Enlightenment print culture in the city…The editions of the classics produced by the Foulis brothers were renowned for their textual accuracy and the beauty of their type. Their greatest publication achievement is said to be that of a folio edition of Homer (1756-58) which contemporaries recognised as a masterpiece of literary and typographical accuracy" (Young, John R. The Glasgow Story).

"The partnership of the Foulis brothers marked the most significant period for Glasgow in publishing and printing during the eighteenth century. They printed some 586 editions together during their active partnership, 1744–75, producing books at a rate which varied from nine in 1764 to forty-three in 1751, an average of almost seventeen a year. Their connections with the university formed the basis of their success, with works written or edited by Glasgow professors such as Francis Hutcheson, George Muirhead, James Moor, and William Leechman dominating the British authors, and classical texts required for studies in the college such as Cicero, Xenophon, Epictetus, and the poets of the Anacreonta, frequently reprinted or re-edited by the brothers...

"Of greatest significance, however, were the four volumes of the works of Homer issued in 1756–8 in folio...The Homer was financed by an informal group of professors at Glasgow led by William Rouat...The texts were printed in a new fount of Greek type designed and cut by the Glasgow typefounder Alexander Wilson. After three sets of corrections at the printers' expense, the text was proof-read, sheet by sheet, by professors Moor and Muirhead: the corrected proofs are now in the National Library of Scotland. Despite the importance of the edition for classical scholarship and the history of printing and publishing in the Enlightenment, the venture was a financial disaster for the brothers" (Oxford DNB).

"Edited by [University of Glasgow] Professors James Moor and George Muirhead, whose prefaces are dated Ides November 1756 (Illiad) and Ides May 1758 (Odyssey)...{It was] awarded the Silver Medal of the Select Society of Edinburgh in 1756 and 1757" (Gaskell).

"'One of the most splendid editions of Homer ever delivered to the world' says Harwood, 'and I am informed that its accuracy is equal to its magnificence.' The reader, on perusing the preface, will see with what pains this sumptuous work was executed; each sheet, before it was finally committed to the press, was six times corrected by various literary men" (Dibdin).

The copy at Cambridge appears to be that submitted for judgment as an example of fine typography. Within it is a manuscript note stating: "We are of the opinion this edition of Homer's Odyssey is entitled to the prize for the best printed & most correct Greek Book," apparently signed by two of the judges.

I had a copy with marvelous, eye-popping provenance pass through my hands. It had been originally owned by William Danby (1752-1833), the extravagantly wealthy, accomplished scholar and writer of Thoughts, Chiefly on Serious Subjects (1821), Ideas and Realities, or, Thoughts on Various Subjects (1827), Extracts from and observations on Cicero's dialogues De senectute and De amicitia (1829), and a translation of his Somnium Scipionis, with notes (1829), and Thoughts on Various Subjects (1831).

Later, Bloomsbury member, biographer and literary critic Lytton Strachey (1880-1932) possessed it.  The next owner was head of publishing house Secker & Warburg, Roger Senhouse (1899-1970),  who possessed Lytton Strachey.

In The Letters of Lytton Strachey, edited by Paul Levy (2005), it is revealed that Strachey and Senhouse had a torrid, long-term sado-masochistic love affair. With Senhouse the sadist, the two would enact an erotic recreation of Christ's crucifixion, Strachey blissfully absorbing the wounds. (Levy, Paul. Bloomsbury's Final Secret, in the Telegraph, March 14, 2005).

A video of that twisted tune has yet to surface on YouTube.

HOMER. [Works in Greek] Tes Ton Homerou Illiadae… [et] Tes Tou Homerou Odysseias… [Transliterated from the Greek]. Rurus, Quid Virtus, et Quid Sapientia Possit, Util Proposuit Nobis Exemplar Ulyssem. Glasguae: In Aedibus Academicis, Excudebant Robertus et Andreas Foulis Academieae Typographi, 1756-58.

First edition. Four tomes in two folio volumes (12 7/8 x 8 in; 200 x 325 mm). [2, blank], 312; 336, [2, blank]; [2, blank], 297, [1]; 336, [2, blank] pp on fine laid paper watermarked Pro Patria. Separate title pages. Commonly lacking the general title ("Rarely found" - Gaskell).

Gaskell 319. ESTC T090250. Dibdin I, p. 385. Rothchild 2674.

Images courtesy of Blackwell's Rare Books, with our thanks.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

391: The Rare and Always Provocative Art Journal By Picabia

by Stephen J. Gertz

PICABIA, Francis. 391. No. 3. Barcelona, 1 Mars 1917.
Flamenca. (Cover).
Mechanomorphic plate heightened in silver and copper metallic inks.
"Every page must explode, whether through seriousness, profundity, turbulence, nausea, the new, the eternal, annihilating nonsense, enthusiasm for principles, or the way it is printed. Art must be unaesthetic in the extreme, useless and impossible to justify" (Picabia, on 391).

Three numbers of  391, the Dada  art review edited by  artist Francis Picabia  recently  came into the marketplace.  It is a measure of how influential, scarce (with original print runs of approximately only 400-500 copies), and desirable issues of 391 have become  that these three numbers were priced at $8,000-$9,000 each. They were snapped up immediately upon offer.

Published 1917-1924 in Barcelona, New York, Zürich, and Paris in nineteen issues, Picabia modeled 391 after Alfred Stieglitz's 291, a review to promote the photographer's 291 Gallery and his artistic circle, and which had devoted an entire issue to Picabia, a French citizen of Spanish descent.

In 1916, while in Barcelona and within a small circle of refugee artists that included Marie Laurencin, and Robert and Sonia Delaunay, he established 391. He continued the influential review with the help of Dada big-daddy, Marcel Duchamp, in America. In Zurich, while seeking treatment for depression and suicidal impulses, he met Tristan Tzara, whose wild  Dada ideas thrilled Picabia. Returning to Paris with his mistress Germaine Everling, he was in the city of les assises dada where André Breton, Paul Éluard, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon met at Certa, a basque bar in the passage de l'Opera. Picabia, the provocateur, was back home.

Picabia continued his involvement in the Dada movement through 1919 in Zürich and Paris, before breaking away from it.  He denounced Dada in 1921, and issued a personal attack against Breton in the final issue of 391, in 1924.

"Picabia's paintings and drawings reproduced in the first numbers of 391 are still very close to his New York work of 1915, although the titles reflect his Spanish surroundings: Novia and Flamenca. They vary, broadly, from composite fantasy machines with sexual dry copies of machines or machine parts presented as portraits...

PICABIA, Francis. 391. No. 3. Barcelona: 1 Mars 1917.
Mechanomorphic plate, heightened in blue.

 "...In 391 no. 3, Marie (presumably Laurencin) is symbolised by the fan belt of a car, an object that Picabia particularly liked. Also in no. 3 Apollinaire (deliberately juxtaposed with his former mistress) is a motor-pump, with the inscription 'he who does not praise time past" (Ades, Dawn. Surrealist Art. The Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago, p. 138, 151).

PICABIA, Francis. 391. No. 5. New York: Juin 1917.
Ane. (Cover).
Totemic pastel.

391 no. 5 was the first of three issues to be published in New York; nos. 1-4 were published in Barcelona, no. 8 in Zürich, and nos. 9-19 in Paris. The New York issues reflect Picabia's growing interest in typography.

PICABIA, Francis. 391. No. 5. New York: Juin 1917.
Page five.
La peinture moderne by Albert Gleizes.

"[Picabia] went to town in no. 5 in the setting of [Albert] Gleize' La peinture moderne, a text solicited by Picabia which is mostly a reworking of the theories of Du cubisme, but is also full of hostility toward futurist excesses and collage. To show his dislike of the article, Picabia sandwiched it neatly between two machine drawings of a kind uncongenial to Gleizes, chose for it a typeface which is almost illegible, and had the lines set very close together to increase the reading difficulty" (Ades, p. 151).

PICABIA. Francis. 391. No. 6. New York: July 1917.
Américaine. (Cover).
Half-tone photograph, retouched.

Number 6 is second of the three New York issues of 391. Ades notes that "Picabia had never intended to stay long in Barcelona. Nostalgic for Paris, Apollinaire, and 'Les soirées de Paris'...but unable to go to France, he returned in 1917 to New York, where numbers 5, 6, and 7 of 391 appeared monthly from June, taking over from The Blind Man. A chess game had apparently decided which of these two reviews was to function as the organ of the group of American and European artists gathered around  [art collector, critic, and poet] W.C. Arensberg...

"...The covers of these three issues depict objects strikingly 6 has a photograph of a light bulb as a portrait of a young American girl on the front. It was retouched by Picabia, who also wrote 'Flirt' and 'Divorce' on the highlights. [This issue contains a poem by Picabia], Métal, an extraordinary poem written after a visit to an opium den in Chinatown [yes, there were opium dens in New York as late as 1917]: 'delirium without a frame / careless rhythm without length / painting juxtaposed with a bell ringing...'"

Anytime a rare anything sells instantly, the dealer has to wonder, Did I under-price it? Answered, depressingly, in the affirmative with a bell ringing, a visit to an opium den in Chinatown is in order but, alas, they no longer exist.

Images courtesy of Ars Libri Ltd, with our thanks.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Another Fine Mess (Considering Its Age): Wacky Rare Book Condition Reports

by Stephen J. Gertz

In the world of rare bookselling, nothing says amateur like a condition report that leaves your head spinning as Linda Blair's in The Exorcist.

Horror stories are routinely spinned into prospective date reports from high school: "doesn't look like much but, wow, what a personality!" Or, as a status update from Kabul or Karachi: "going to hell,  and with warm breezes, tropical temperatures, and sultry nights, the perfect winter vacation spot."

Somehow, the age of a book has become, to many, alas, a mitigating factor in its condition. People new to the passion and naive must be careful. Caveat Neonate Collector: if you read a condition report that contains the phrase, "fine for its age," or "fine, considering its age," run. A rare  book is in either fine condition or not; age has nothing to do with it, though other factors may.

Actual condition reports harvested from the Net:

"All I can say is WOW! This book is in awesome condition. I was half tempted to rate it Very Fine considering its age [1954]. This is the only copy I ever saw of this. When I had a chance to make it part of my collection I jumped on it. [Note to collectors: don't jump on your books]. The book is completely flat [from jumping on it] and has good vertical alignment. It has minimal tangential stress lines near the spine. There are no tears or missing pieces. The only notable flaws on the cover is a bearly noticeable-diagonal pressure line across the "o" and through the "y", and a similar vertical through the "c".  The book looks close to newstand [sic], considering newstand at the time. It looks awesome on the display shelf. It does not appear to be a crease line and it is more like a hairline fissure. T is a minor pressure artifice near the upper right corner which does not break the color. The colors inside are spectacular and the pages are white! The inside of the front cover has some oil transfer from the ink on the adjacent page, which is generally unavoidable over time. The rear cover is white and in substantially the same condition as the front. Don't miss out on this."

Now, once you wade through all the gobbledygook the copy actually sounds like it is, indeed, in fine condition, but the report written by a building-code inspector - "tangential stress lines," "minor pressure artifice," "good vertical alignment," "diagonal pressure line" - and part-time paperboy: "The book looks close to newstand [sic], considering newstand at the time". After considering newsstand at the time I still have no idea what this person means. The book looks like a newsstand? What is meant, I presume, is that the book, a paperback, looks as fresh as when originally displayed at a newsstand in the 1950s. But you'd never know it from this condition report.

Excuses, Excuses:

"It has some very rough edges and the cover has come away from the book, but this is a very vintage childrens book and looks fine considering its age." [Father Tuck's Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, c. 1900].

Good Job Thought:

"New and used Antique Book The History Of Canada - W.h.p.clement 1897 up for sale. Although listing them seems like there are many [issues], it looks fine, considering its age and use over the past 114 years. The top and bottom edges of the spine are worn and there are 2 small holes in the cover on the spine. The corners of the cover are turned down and worn and there are marks on the cover. A previous owner's name (actually mine) has been written on the inside of the cover and blacked out with ink. The fly leaf is missing. On page 184 someone (probably me as a child) colored the beaver with pencils. Did a good job thought!" [sic].

Bound to Displease:

"This is a vintage hard cover book. Book has some wear to it. Pages are starting to come away from cover but are still bound. some dirt on inner cover pages. Book looks fine for its age." [Poems of Wordsworth, 1888].

Minutely Separated From Reality:

"I would consider it near fine for its age but it looks as if someone tried to remove a name written in red ink and left a stain on the upper part of the inside facing page and the inside cover has minutely separated from the next page." [Untold History Stories, 1927].

Finally, two apocryphal examples from the early nineteenth century, rare book catalog descriptions  written, apparently, under the influence of a certain British poet.

That though its radiance which was once
so bright be now forever taken from your sight;
though nothing can bring back its hour
of splendor on the shelf, glory in its flower;

we will grieve not, rather gain strength in what remains behind:
a woe, but wow, what a copy, what a find.

This Copy, while I was yet a Bookseller Careless
of books with one foot in the grave,
thus living on through such a length of years
...distressful tidings...
A sole resource to sell at once portion of  patrimonial fields:
these are things of which I need not speak but must
before this volume crumbles into dust.
And so, a book, once strong and hale,
appears now moldered, as buried in a morbid dale.
Yet death cannot despoil its enchanting charm,
a glorious mess that bought the farm,
another victim of cruel book attrition,
on its tombstone gamely states this first edition:
I'm fine, considering my rotten condition.

That final sentiment, while completely inappropriate as a report on a rare book's fitness, is, however, an entirely appropriate epitaph for a rare book dealer or collector.

If you would like to know more about how to write effective catalog descriptions that sell books please read Always Lead With Bestiality.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Important New Book on Modern Poetry and Visual Art

by Stephen J. Gertz

Cover painting Untitled #12 (1960) by John Altoon.

Between 1974 and 1976, Kevin Power, on a fellowship from the American Council on Learned Societies, interviewed eight modern American poets about the relationship between painting and poetics in postmodern American poetry.

The interviews - with poet and art critic Bill Berkson, Robert Bly, Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Michael McClure, David Meltzer, George and Mary Oppen, and Jerome Rothenberg - were originally published in small literary journals in the mid-70s through 1980s. Those issues of Texas Quarterly, Vort, Spanner, Line, and Niagara, are now extremely difficult to come by.

Poltroon Press of Berkeley, California, now celebrating its thirty-six birthday, has,  fortunately, gathered the interviews together into a just-published collection, Where You're At: Poetics & Visual Art.

The poets that Powers interviewed were directly involved with painters or American Art, or highly influenced by them, bringing the aesthetic of modern American art to their writing.

"They were all part of a prolific range of American writing that was opening up new possibilities for poetry and poetics: literally exciting times," Powers declares.

Here, Jerome Rothenberg discusses the deep image, "perception as an instrument of vision," an attempt "to bring the ojective and subjective world together and to try and eradicate the differences between them."

Robert Bly makes a distinction between "the picture, on the one hand, in which there are simple objects from an outer world, and an image." The former is a fairly straight and objective visual metaphor or simile, the latter, a subjective visual with qualities of surrealism.

Michael McClure talks about the nature of the exchanges between poet and painter in San Francisco during the '50s and 60s, the ideas that flowed back and forth, and the mutual influences.

Creeley relates how, in college during the '40s, he was influenced by Paul Klee's Notebooks in which the painter talked of taking a visual line for a walk; the verbal analog is obvious. (Yet one could strongly argue that the visual/verbal line takes the artist/writer for a walk; the difference between leading and following, between control and abandon). "The whole imagination of art interested me." When he moved to France he became closely involved with art, particularly with painter René Laubies, introduced to him by Ezra Pound.

David Meltzer recalls the role of artist Wallace Berman's L.A.-based Semina in providing a home for visual poetics; indeed Wallace Berman pops up more than once in the collection,  which was thirty-five years in the making; estate clearances prevented Powers from publishing it sooner.

The interview with Robert Duncan, at forty-five pages the longest, is worth the price of the book. Deeply immersed in the art scene of the 1940s and '50s, he was particularly attracted to Miro's busy canvases with lots of objects in them. "I liked the whole feeling of a mosaic going to pieces and that's what I wanted to happen in poetry." His goal was "writing that would be like painting."

"The important thing to understand is that the picture we had of a possible painting or possible poetry is not the painting we saw but the painting we could imagine from what we saw." 

In short, the grammar of modern art - collage, surrealism, abstraction, chance, visual puns, assemblage, typographical design, etc., was co-opted by and informed modern poetry in an attempt to short-circuit objective language and subvert its superficialities toward deeper understanding and insight. It was also, at times, an exercise in throwing words up in the air and seeing where they landed, with the  hope of unexpected revelation. The overarching aim seems to have been a desire to break-up objective reality and put it back together in such a way that the line between the objective and subjective became blurred if not erased. Objective reality was over-rated and not all it was cracked up to be; it was time to make that deeper reality manifest in the work: objective reality as a subjective construct.

Along the way there's a lot of personal anecdote and revelation. Creeley talks about putting a drunk Willam de Kooning to bed, then checking out his studio; McClure mentions his encounter with still-inebriated De Kooning 3000 miles away when the artist makes clay animals with his daughter. The Oppens admit they don't approve of Ben Shahn because he began to imitate himself. They tell startling stories about the expatriate Jewish community in Mexico City. Berkson discusses the New York School in relation to painters like Philip Guston, Alex Katz and Larry Rivers, while Meltzer brings Berman, George Herms and Bruce Conner to the discussion. And Robert Duncan, a close friend of Anaïs Nin and an intimate member of her circle of artists and writer friends in Greenwich Village in the early 1940s, admits that he turned against her work, as well as Kenneth Patchen's.

"I'd actually been lost in admiration for them as only an 18 year old could be...[But I later] realized that, as artists, they weren't responsible for their art, that their art was sort of a plaything for their personalities."

To some readers the influence of modern art on postmodern American poetry will come as no surprise; you may have read these interviews (or any of Berkson's critical prose, i.e. Sudden Address: Selected Lectures 1981-2006) when originally published. The magazines they appeared in are no longer, and copies have become quite rare. To have these interviews brought together to read as a whole is a gift.

I don't think it an exaggeration to assert that this fascinating collection of interviews is required reading for any student and/or fan of the arts and poetry.

POWER, Kevin. Where You're at: Poetics & Visual Art. Berkeley, CA: Poltroon Press, 2011. Octavo. 209, [1], pp. Pictorial wrappers. $19.95. To order contact the publisher.

Images courtesy of Poltroon Press, with our thanks.

Poltroon Press' "Alastair Johnston and Frances Butler, who provoke each other to ... pyrotechnic abandon, conceal a real sense of the outer edge potential of letterpress" (Nicolas Barker in The Book Collector, London, Summer 1990).

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Wild Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller, 2nd Series, Episode 6

by Arnold M. Herr

I may lose sleep over this:

Was I being evil?  Maybe so, but it was irresistible.  Since I’m now semi-retired, Mickey figured I have all the time in the world on my hands and that I would jump at the chance to help him out at his bookstore.  I actually had some free time when he phoned me last week and asked me to spell him on Thursday because he had three doctor appointments that day and no one to open the store and man the counter until he returned around 5:00 PM.  So when the store phone rang while I was behind the counter trying to find a place to plant my feet and avoid being crushed by the ever-shifting, ever-falling heaps of debris, I was feeling a bit malevolent.

The caller was a guy named Franklin, one of Mickey’s steadfast suppliers of shlock.  Mickey had come to rely on him to come by once a week to supply the store with about five or six boxes full of old mass-market paperbacks, book club fiction, VHS tapes, raggedy sweaters, an assortment of shoes, broken toys and mute eight-track tape decks.  Franklin said he’d like to come over right away, but I told him Mickey was being examined by his doctors and wouldn’t be back until around five o’clock or so.  I didn’t know what kind of deal Mickey had going with Franklin and I was reluctant to involve myself in any of their horse trading.

Franklin didn’t want to wait that long and asked if I knew where Mickey’s doctor was located.  I figured he was at doctor number two by this point and I knew him to be Dr. Glass on Olympic Blvd. in Beverly Hills. 

I later learned that while Dr. Glass had Mickey’s testicles in his hand in one of the examination rooms, there was a brief commotion outside the door, some yelling, the door flew open, and Franklin ambled in wheeling a dolly with five boxes of miscellaneous detritus which he quickly emptied on the floor and examination table.  The doctor was a bit stunned but was still gripping Mickey’s balls.  Mickey was studying the scattered mess doing some mental calculations.  He was trying to figure out what to pay Franklin.

Dr. Glass (to Franklin):  How much for those Woody Allen cassettes?

Mickey:  Just a minute, Doc.  I haven’t settled with him yet.   I get first dibs on this stuff. 

Dr. Glass:  But I saw those Woody Allen movies before you did.

Mickey:  Doesn’t matter, he brought this stuff over for MY perusal.  He’s MY supplier.

Dr. Glass (tightening his grip on Mickey’s fuzzy little gonads):  Yeah, but he’s in MY office.

Mickey (his voice up three octaves):  Yes, but I’m conducting business here.  You have to deal with the middleman and that’s me.

Dr. Glass (tightening his grip a little more):  And I’m still holding your balls.  Surely that gives me some bargaining power.

Mickey:  That isn’t fair.  Don’t you adhere to a hypocritical oath?

Dr. Glass:  That’s a Hippocratic oath and you can blow it out your ass.  I want those Woody Allens.

Franklin:  C’mon Mickey, let him have them.  I’ll get you some more.

Mickey:  Blow it out your barracks bag.  It’s the principle, not the tapes.

Franklin (grimacing at Mickey’s obvious discomfort):  No Mick, it’s your nuts.

Dr. Glass twists Mickey’s scrotum several degrees without loosening his grip.

Mickey (his face and balls empurpled):  OK, OK!  You can have them. 
Dr. Glass releases the Mickster’s testicles and Mickey doubled up in anguish.   After several minutes Franklin and Mickey came to terms on the rest of the swag and he helped Mickey cart the stuff to Mickey’s car.
When Mickey returned to the book shop he was a little bowlegged walking to the counter.  He told me what happened and he looked kinda sick and deflated and winced when he gingerly sat down on his favorite milk crate.  To soothe his rattled nerves I tuned the radio from the static he usually listened to, and set the dial on some classical music.  But Mickey wasn’t soothed; they were playing Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite.


Next: William Makepeace Thackeray eats Alpo, Mickey hits and runs, and a Steal-This-Book Memorial Day Sale.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

On 19th Century England's Master Thespian - and Acting!

by Stephen J. Gertz

Master Thespian.

Of all the actors to have ever graced the stage none have surpassed the bravura performance of he who  won the World Acting Association's Ultimate Acting Smackdown with Omlet's  soliloquy from The Existential Egg. ("I am darkly, starkly poached. O Gott im Himmel, to be sunny side up in S. Hoboken, New Jersey? Or not? How now, what gives?...").

Reviewers who were in attendance swoon at the mere recollection. Afterward, Meryl Streep, Sean Penn, and Robert De Niro announced their retirements; there was no point in continuing as long as the floodlights shone on the one who, having kicked Barrymore, Garrick, Gielgud, and Olivier to the curb, needs no name beyond that which captions his portrait in Theater's Grand Lobby: Master Thespian.

Master Thespian: [sitting st his desk, writing] Dear Diary: I am awaiting the arrival of my mentor and acting teacher, the great Baudelaire. Today's lesson is The Greatest Actor of All Time. Knowing Baudelaire, he will come over and try to fool me, as if there could possibly be another actor greater than I, Master Thespian. But today, it will be I who fools him. I hope.  [A knock is heard at the door] Yes?

Voice at Door: [mimicks trumpet fanfare] Make way for Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth II!

Master Thespian: One moment! [jumps up] Thank God! The Queen to see me! [at the door] Enter Your Majesty!

Baudelaire: [enters, disguised as the Queen] Thank you! I am looking for the greatest actor of all time! The theatrical community of all London told me I might be able to find him... here!

Master Thespian: Yes, your Majesty! The man you speak of stands before you!

Baudelaire: Ah-ha! Then you must be the great... Edmund Kean!

Master Thespian: [insulted] Don't be silly! I'm Master Thespian. Kean is merely a legend, and a very dead one. at that.

Frontispiece to The Life of an Actor.

Baudelaire: The dedicatee to Pierce Egan's The Life of an Actor,  the Poetical Descriptions by T. Greenwood, Embellished with Twenty-Seven Characteristic Scenes, Etched by Theodore Lane, Enriched also With Several Original Designs on Wood, Executed by Mr. Thompson, London: Printed for C.S. Arnold, 1825, merely a legendary actor?

Master Thespian: Yes! And barely one at that. An actor, that is.

Baudelaire: Oh, really? Why don't you try saying that... [removes crown and robe] his face!

Master Thespian: Oh! Something is rotten in the state of Denmark: the ghost of Edmund Kean portraying Baudelaire playing Elizabeth II! You fooled me!

Edmund Kean: Acting! 

Master Thespian: Oh, please, forgive me..

Edmund Kean: No!

Master Thespian: Oh, please.. I beg you...[kneels]...on bended knee, from the very depths of my heart.

Edmund Kean: Oh, get up. I have already forgiven you, I was merely... acting!

Master Thespian: [fuming] Again?! You fooled me again! 

Edmund Kean: Thank you! Now, then.. what is the Question du Jour?

Master Thespian: Oh, Edmund Kean... Benjamin Franklin said, "The art of acting consists of keeping people from coughing." I've been offered to play the most difficult part of my entire career. I am to portray a dry cleaner with a wet nurse to satisfy his lactation fetish, trapped in the body of a woman with a hunchback seeking a female-to-male sex-change operation, playing the part of a five-year-old spayed chihuahua with a club foot who thinks she's a two-year-old neutered Persian cat with a ruptured left anterior cruciate ligament! My question is: How can I keep the audience from coughing?

Edmund Kean: [intensely considering. Then] Dose them with opium!

Master Thespian: Genius!

Edmund Kean: Thank you! And the audience will be spared the pain of your performance, too!

Master Thespian: [insulted] Oh, really? Riposte! The great Katherine Hepburn said, "acting is the perfect idiot's profession" -

Edmund Kean: - And you are perfect!

Master Thespian: Thank you! Wait a minute -

Edmund Kean: - Too late! Timing is everything. You really DO need to read Pierce Egan's The Life of an Actor, Dedicated to moi, Edmund Kean, Esq., The Poetical Descriptions by T. Greenwood, Embellished with Twenty-Seven Characteristic Scenes, Etched by Theodore Lane, Enriched also With Several Original Designs on Wood, Executed by Mr. Thompson, London: Printed for C.S. Arnold, 1825, the story of Peregrine Proteus, an actor forged on the anvil of Egan's imagination, and detailing the challenges facing the intensely stage-struck youth; the vicissitudes of an actor's life, and the world of the theater and its environs in early 19th century England. A British journalist on the popular culture scene, Egan is best known for Boxiana (1812-1828), Life in London (1821) and Sporting Anecdotes (1824); he coined the term, "the sweet science" to describe boxing. His was the best sportswriting since Pindar's coverage of the wide world of ancient Greek games.

[As Pindar, declaiming in the theater at Delphi] "The fame of Pelops shines from afar in the races of the Olympic festivals, where there are contests for swiftness of foot, and the bold heights of toiling strength..."

 Master Thespian: You really captured Pindar. I felt like I knew the man. Genius!

Edmund Kean: No. Acting!

Now, then... have you prepared the fencing scene from Hamlet?

Master Thespian: Yes! [grabs fencing foils] Here is your foil.

Edmund Kean: Thank you! Very well, then. You shall play the part of  Hamlet. And I shall play the great...Edmund Kean! By the way, you were brilliant in  You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown as Linus in crisis.

Master Thespian: Oh, thank you. And, may I add, you were a perfectly raging queen! Elizabeth II, of course.

Edmund Kean: [an octave lower] Of course! [an octave higher] Now!

[They begin to fence furiously. Edmund Kean staggers backwards as Master Thespian swings his foil near him]

Edmund Kean: [covering his chest with his hand] Oh, Master.. M-master, you've cut me.. look how the blood gushes from my very veins!

Master Thespian: Oh, please forgive me, it was an accident..

Edmund Kean: Don't be silly! [opens his jacket to reveal no cut] Acting!

Master Thespian: Oh, you fooled me!

Edmund Kean: Of course I fooled you! I am the greatest actor of all time! I am...Kean! 

Master Thespian: [thrusts foil] En-garde!

[They begin fencing again. Suddenly, Master Thespian drops his foil and falls gracefully into Edmund Kean's arms]

Edmund Kean: Master? Are you hurt?

Master Thespian: Oh, Kean, I'm afraid we've played this acting thing too far. You've made worm's meat of me! Adieu.. adieu.. remember me. Look! [points] The face of death is near! And so.. I flail! [his legs kick before his body falls limp]

Edmund Kean: Master! [cries] I have killed my protege! How... how... how will you ever forgive me?

Master Thespian: [stands] Very good! I was merely acting!

Edmund Kean: So was I! I've fooled you again!

Master Thespian: No! It is I who fooled you! For I am dead... and merely acting alive!

Edmund Kean: Genius! Yet I've been dead, mort, cadaverous, extinct, deceased and defunct for over a hundred and fifty years! It is I who am the genius!

Master Thespian: Curses! I see I shall have to read The Life of an Actor by Pierce Egan, dedicated to what's-his-name, to learn the secret to acting alive while dead yet still alive but actually a ghost.

Edmund Kean: Ah, yes! Have I mentioned it? The classic tome dedicated to moi,  a life on the boards scarce in original boards, no copy in the original printed and illustrated boards at auction since 1975, unrecorded by Tooley, whose copy was that issued in parts within wrappers.

Master Thespian: A pox on your house! I shall read it anyway, yet, bringing the method of the great acting coach from Brooklyn, Stan Islavsky, to bear, I shall only be pretending to read, for I am...Master Thespian!

Edmund Kean: Genius!

Master Tespian: No. Acting!

EGAN, Pierce. The Life of an Actor. Dedicated to Edmund Kean, Esq. The Poetical Descriptions by T. Greenwood. Embellished with Twenty-Seven Characteristic Scenes, Etched by Theodore Lane. Enriched also With Several Original Designs on Wood, Executed by Mr. Thompson. London: Printed for C.S. Arnold, 1825.

First edition. Quarto (10 x 6 1/8 in; 254 x 160 mm). xvi, 272 pp (a-b4, B-C8, D-Z4, Aa-Kk4). Twenty-seven aquatints with original hand-coloring. Nine text woodcuts. Printed and illustrated boards.

Abbey, Life 414. Prideaux. p. 308. Cf. Tooley 195.

This post freely adapted from a sketch transcript from the December 7, 1985 episode of Saturday Night Live.

Book images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, currently offering this copy, with our thanks. Image of Jon Lovitz courtesy of NBC.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Unrecorded Arthur Rackham Drawing Found in Unrecorded Louis Wain Edition

by Stephen J. Gertz

Anytime an unrecorded book illustration by Arthur Rackham comes to light, it's news. 

Buried within Cats At Play, a book illustrated by, amongst others, cat artist, Louis Wain, is an unheralded black and white text illustration, on page forty, of four chickens in various states of distress as they observe, in high dudgeon and with no little annoyance, a cat within their food bucket chowing down the chicken feed. This is commonly known as kitty chutzpah. And at the lower left of the bucket, as small as can be, are Rackham's initials as typically drawn. 

Latimore and Haskell, and Riall make no mention of this illustration in their Rackham bibliographies, and it was unknown to the Arthur Rackham Society when we inquired.

This edition (the copy I handled with a school prize label dated December 22, 1904), is, in the absence of contradictory evidence, the true first and unrecorded, with no copies in institutional holdings worldwide. It is not noted in Rodney Dale’s Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, nor in Ellery Wood’s bibliography within Dale. As noted above, it was certainly unknown to  Latimore & Haskell, and Riall. 

Note Rackham's "AR" at base of bucket, left.

At the time of this book's approximate publication, Rackham had already had work published, mostly under his name with credit on the title page, providing single or multiple illustrations for, amongst others, To the Other Side (1893); Isis Very Much Unveiled (1894); The Dolly Dialogues (1894); The Zankiwank (1896); The Money Spinner (1896); Two Old Ladies... (1897); Captain Castle (1897); Through a Glass Lightly (1897); Charles O'Malley (1897); The Castle Inn (1898); Evelina (1898); The Ingoldsby Legends (1898); Gulliver's Travels (1900); Faithful Friends (1901); More Tales From the Stumps (1902); The Grey House on the Hill (1903); The Greek Heroes (1903); Red Pottage (1904); and The Peradventures of Private Pagett (1904). 

That Rackham would accept a commission to provide a single text line drawing to this book with no more credit than his microscopic initials should not come as a surprise. Rackham was hustling for work wherever he could find it; good reviews and regular exposure were not enough to keep him fully employed with money in his pocket. And none of the other illustrators for the book received credit beyond their initials or full signatures to their contributions.

And so we have a previously unknown Rackham during his transitional period, when his fairies and goblins were emerging but had not yet fully vanquished the simple, pay-the-bills work of his early years.

This book was later issued by Blackie & Son, 1917, and Alexandria Publications, c. 1920, in what appear to be abridged editions; the Blackie & Son edition collates to only twelve pages. It is unknown to me whether these later editions contain the Rackham drawing.

WAIN, Louis. RACKHAM, Arthur. SMITH, H. Officer. GLADWIN, May, et al. Cats At Play. London: John F. Shaw, n.d. [c. 1900-1904].

First edition, unrecorded and scarce,. Small quarto (9 5/8 x 7 1/8 in;  245 x 180 mm). Illustrated throughout in black and white and color, with fifteen drawings by Louis Wain, and an unrecorded text drawing by Arthur Rackham (so initialed) on page 40.

Publisher's pictorial boards. Beveled edges. School prize label to front paste down endpaper dated Dec. 22, 1904. 160 pp with  advertising as endpapers.

Cf. Wood 34 and 35, as recorded in Dale, Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, p. 137.

Of related interest:

Two Very Rare Books For Cat Lover's Only (A Naughty Story).

The Riddle of Arthur Rackham's "Faithful Friends" Solved?

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks. The book sold instantly.

Monday, July 18, 2011

I Wrote For the Mafia

by Stephen J. Gertz

In late 1988, desperate for something green other than mold in my bank account, I contacted an editor at Pacific News, a periodicals distributor located in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, at the suggestion of a friend.

Pacific News had nothing to do with news. It was, rather, one of the major publishers and distributors of pornography in print, arguably the largest on the West Coast, one of the many wholesalers that, until his conviction in 1989 for income tax evasion (he refused to pay any. None. At all), had been a part of the infamous Reuben Sturman’s shady international porn empire. How shady was it? Sturman was  protected by the Gambino family of New York, soliciting their security services (read: partnership) after Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno of Los Angeles shook him down and beat him up. After Reuben’s incarceration, escape, and recapture - on the lam from everybody, he was nabbed with his girlfriend in a cheap motel room across the street from Disneyland in Southern California, his version of Fantasyland up for grabs - his organized-crime partners split up the syndicate he had created. Paul Wisner, who had been Sturman’s straw-man when he bought Pacific News in 1974, was still nominally in charge while the true owners remained in the background.

Reuben Sturman, behind bars.
This is one of the very few photographs of the man,
who, prior to his imprisonment, hated having his picture
taken and often wore Groucho glasses with rubber nose,
bushy eyebrows and moustache to vex photogs.

When I decide to write a porn novel I don’t mess around. I want a publisher with muscle in the marketplace.

I met the editor, Dennis Rodriguez, who had been working in the porn trade on and off since the 1960s. Without   benefit  of   writing   sample  he gave  me an  assignment and  informed me  of  the   basics.     "35,000 words; 150 pages, twenty-five lines to a page; a sex scene every three pages. All rights ceded outright." The fee? $500.

In 1968 pulp porn writers were earning upwards of $1200 per manuscript. That $500 in 1988 was worth $120 in 1968. With the visual supplanting the verbal the writers market for porn had drastically shrunk.

Speaking of the visual, Pacific's offices had my retinas working in overdrive. Three or four average-looking, to all appearances prim, secretaries sat at desks strewn with humongous upright dildoes. The women were blasé. One had a lampshade precariously balanced atop a particularly anatomically correct and ambitious latex proxy. Another used a Doc Johnson special as a paperweight. Just another day at the orifice.

O[y] Canada

Dennis made it clear that because the book would be distributed in Canada I'd have to follow a few special guidelines. He handed me a copy of a Canadian Customs Notice dated February 11, 1988.
Subject: Administration of Code 9956.

This is to provide further clarification of Customs guidelines with regard to the interpretation of the terms 'degradation' and 'dehumanization,' as they are applied in the administration of Code 9956 of Schedule VII to the Customs Tariff. The following examples from court jurisprudence are provided to assist Customs officials and the public in their understanding of how these terms may be defined in the context of applying the provisions of Code 9956:

1) Goods which depict or describe degrading or dehumanizing acts tend predominantly to deindividualize and impersonalize sexual acts by inciting the reader or viewer to look upon the     individuals involved as objects or means to be used for one's   personal gratification. In particular, the individuals are deprived of unique human characteristics in that they are portrayed as sexual objects whose only redeeming features are their genitals. For example, this type of degradation can be seen in potrayals of individuals as prizes or trophies for competitions where the winner uses the person as he/she chooses.

2) Goods which depict or describe an aggressive, powerful person who derives pleasure from inflicting pain upon a     weaker individual, degrading the victim by conveying the message that he/'she enjoys abusive anti-social behavior. An example of the manifestation of power used to degrade an individual is evident in pictorials, stories, films, etc., which show individuals who are in positions of power and/or authority who use abuse, force, coercion and threats to get their victims to perform sexual favors.

3) Another common theme which is used in sexually explicit material to degrade and dehumanize individuals is to depict them as having animal characteristics. The imagery of bars,     cages, collars, leashes, etc., is often used to reduce the individual to the status of an animal. In these instances, there is often an element of restraint (i. e., the person is being caged against his/her will) and the implication is that the individual is behaving like an animal.
4) Court jurisprudence has established that materials which depict or describe pregnant and/or lactating women in a sexually explicit context debases motherhood and are degrading to all women.
5) Further examples of acts which are considered to be degrading and dehumanizing are as follows: Group ejaculation on one person, excessive ejaculation on a person's face, double-penetration of an orifice and the insertion of objects that would or could cause pain, including the fist or foot, and submissive acts such as the licking of another person's boot in a sexual context. Depictions and descriptions such as these have been found by the courts to be obscene in that they exceed the standards of what contemporary Canadian society will tolerate.
Kinda gets the creative juices flowing (but, please, not on a person's face), yes?

Rodriguez further provided me with a company checklist: No force at all; No bondage and discipline; No dominance; No submission; No anal; No fetish; No incest.

I wrote the book in four days. It was difficult. I kept recalling the Canadian Customs Notice: "No lactating women, no pregnant women." It would never have occurred to me to include swollen damsels in my porn novel but Canadian Customs had infected my mind with images of debasing and dehumanizing sexual acts. Now they were all I could think about.

I wrote by the rules: Häagen Dazs™ vanilla bean  in a   hard-core cone. The novel's a snore, strictly scheiss und dreck. It was published by Lusty Library, distributed by Parliament News, and copyrighted by American Art Enterprises.

At the very top of the Customs Notice, a fax, ran the following: "9/28/88 [telephone number] TransMediaGrpUSA   Parliament News."

The Roots of Modern Porn

Pacific News was originally part of '60s porn-magnate Milton Luros' L.A.-based empire, which began in the late 1950s with American Art Agency (later Enterprises), a publisher of girlie magazines. Luros, who began his career as a respected illustrator for  science-fiction pulps during the  1940s - early 1950s,  soon moved into  publishing  nudist magazines, essentially full-frontal porn with legal blessing.  He was the master of the stretch, the cautious, incremental pushing of boundaries. With the U.S. Supreme Court obscenity rulings of the mid- through late-1960s, however, the walls came tumblin' down and hard-core came to town.

Science Fiction Quarterly, May 1951.
Cover by Milton Luros.
From cheesecake in space to
lord of porn: an artist's odyssey.

Early on, Luros established Parliament News (Paul Wisner was a staff-salesman, eventually running it for Luros), to distribute his wares and, over the years, had bought other, smaller, distributorships, including Pacific News, to consolidate his position as the largest, most respected publisher of pornography in the U.S. By 1974,  however, legal pressures had forced his retirement and he sold out to Sturman, who had been anxious to  add the Luros assets to his Cleveland (later L.A.)-based syndicate and extend his control of the East Coast trade to the entire nation. By 1988, Pacific News, under Sturman's arm's length leadership and brilliant (if typically unethical) business smarts (creating a massive, dizzying maze of interlocking corporations), had become  part of a global syndicate that vertically integrated porn across all media, including sex toys, manufacture to retail, and was corporately safe as milk. But still completely shady; the olive oil remained dark green and there was nothing virgin about it. Business methods often involved a little help from his friends, of the physically emphatic sort. The whole operation was creepy. Dave Gardner, who worked as an art director at American Art Enterprises during the 1980s, recalls:

"I worked under Jerry Pecoraro [who may have been the longest surviving staff member of American Art Enterprises, joining in the mid-Sixties] who was doing mostly old-style cheesecake stuff. I worked the softcore side, doing magazine layout and typesetting. They also published some crappy fiction (not porno but cheesey science-fiction, westerns, mysteries, action, etc.), to somewhat legitimize the operation…The 'other side' of the building was off-limits. It housed Paul Wisner's office, other administrative offices, and London Press…One of the other artists had a friend working in London Press, so I got to go over there just once to see the hardcore work they did, but otherwise it was an unwritten law to stay away from there, a separation of smuts, so to speak.

"I saw Paul only occasionally, as his office was on the 'other' forbidden side. Once in a while I'd see this small Italian guy come in and walk around like he owned the place. I asked one of the guys about him, who told me to cool it, that this guy was a serious Mafioso who came up to collect bags of cash, and not to ask any more questions about him."

Under Luros' ownership, American Art Enterprises and all of the Luros constituent division offices were typical businesses; just open the door and walk in. Not so now. Dave Gardner continues:

"At American Art, you had to get buzzed in after being scrutinized by the receptionist. One time, word went through the building that we were going to be raided by LAPD vice. I sure as hell didn't want to to jail, but the boss wouldn't let us go home. So all day, I sat there shaking and wondering when the cops were going to bust through the door and lead me off in handcuffs. It never happened, though. The overall feeling at American Art was crass; I learned how to be ashamed of my work. It had the air of true smuttiness about it. I got the feeling we were just a mob front at American Arts. It was not a very pleasant experience."

When Reuben Sturman entered the trade it was a business. When he exited it was an industry.

What has any of the above have to do with rare books?

Having ultimately written a handful of dirty books for Pacific News/American Art Enterprises, my contributions to the decline of Western civilization have become exceedingly scarce, if not extinct. Print runs for pulp porn had, by 1988, declined to 1500-3000 copies from a late 1960s high of 20,000-50,000, so there were not that many in circulation to begin with. Factor in that, once read, copies were tossed into the garbage, and unsold books pulped. Further consider that few cared to collect paperback DBs, a phenomenon that would not fully emerge until the 1990s, and they were most certainly not collecting mine; only pre-1973  dirty books, the genre charmingly known in the paperback collecting world as “vintage sleaze,” are highly desired. Hell, even I didn’t collect mine; I only have one copy of the four DBs I wrote.

BERMAN, Jay (house pseud., here of SJG). Tales of Lust.
North Hollywood, California: American Art Enterprises, April 1989.
Lusty Library LL-626. 16mo.154 pp. Photo-illustrated wrappers.

Introducing, in its first appearance in twenty-two years, the first published book by “Jay Berman." I submitted it under the pseudonym, “Jacques Toutight.”  My alternative was “Boris Whocutchyakokov,” presciently foreshadowing the John and Lorena Bobbitt story five years hence. (Though sorely tempted I resisted using "Jack Goff," a blue-ribbon porn pseudonym claimed, alas, by another during the '60s).

The plot line is simple: A pedantic, professorial blowhard with a soft spot for  sesquipedalian  exposition regales the patrons of the seedy dive he’s parked in with tall, highly apocryphal tales of his sexual exploits. Yes, it’s autobiographical. The blurb on the rear wrapper succinctly sums things up: “Hot pleasure was what he demanded of life and he was not afraid to walk on the wild side in search of it!”

Absolutely true. I demand  a nice, pleasurable  steam-bath every now and then and once dared to patronize a small, run-down, all-Jewish spa in the Pico-Robertson/Little Tel Aviv district of L.A. where you never know what's going to happen. You don't know from wild until you've witnessed smoked salmon swim Pico Boulevard upstream - during rush-hour traffic, yet  -  as I have.

I would have used the more appropriate Yiddish-Americanism, shvitz-bath, above but feared, given the context of the post, that some might  think it slang for a sexual act forbidden by Canadian Customs.

Factual information and interview with Dave Gardner referenced from An Amazing Kingdom of Thrills: American Paperback Erotica 1965-1973, the author's unpublished manuscript ©2001 (each rejection letter to my agent gushing before passing on it; Eric Schlosser's Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, which, in part, also dealt with the porn trade, was making the rounds at the same time and got all the attention, i.e. offers).

Readers who would like to learn more about the fascinating Milton Luros - an honorable man in a dishonorable business - should read Everybody Loves Milton: Rabbi Porn, the definitive story, extracted from An Amazing Kingdom... and published in 2004 on veteran porn-trade editor Earl Kemp's website.

Portions of An Amazing Kingdom... were adapted for Sin-A-Rama: Sleaze Sex Paperbacks of the Sixties.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Gone Fishing

by Stephen J. Gertz

The author on vacation, 2010.

I'll be off on a brief vacation this week, just like last year, wearin' breeches, waistcoat, full-brimmed hat, and takin' my rod n' reel, and a good book to the ol' fishin' hole.

I'll read the book then use it as bait to lure the four-eyed set with fins lookin' for somethin' to peruse.

See you next week.

Header image by Arthur Rackham for The Complete Angler by Izaak Walton, London: George G. Harrap, 1931. Courtesy of David Brass Rare Books.

Reading Fish image courtesy of CafePress.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Wild-Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller, Series 2, Episode 5

by Arnold M. Herr

Fast forward:

I got back to my store just in time to get a phone call from Lou, a guy who had sold me books in the past, mostly military stuff.  But his collection was pretty much tapped out.  Most of what he had to offer was dregs; nothing special, just shelf stock.  My sister said she’d mind the shop, so I walked about half a mile to meet Lou for a cup of coffee at the Farmer’s Market at 3rd and Fairfax.  He rarely came in the store anymore.  Whenever he was in the neighborhood, he would call and let me know he was doing some shopping at the Farmer’s Market and we would have a cup of joe at the food court.

I grabbed a coffee and a glazed doughnut at Bob’s and joined Lou at the table he had nearby.  Lou had the habit of speaking over his right shoulder and out the right side of his mouth.  I knew when he was about to say something because he would turn away slightly from me before talking.

Me:  You can face me Lou, I’m standing right in front of you.

Lou:  I drove a cab in New York for fifty-three years and most of the people I talked to were sitting in the back seat.  What can I say?  I’m a creature of habit.

Lou is also nearly blind, but he still drives in spite of his daughter’s efforts to hide his keys.  We talked about this and that…mostly that and very little of this.  He complained about the high cost of books and that he could no longer afford to buy as lavishly as he liked.

Me:  Well, you’re living on a fixed income aren’t you?

Lou:  There’s nothing fixed about it.  It’s in dire need of repair.

After maybe 20 minutes I got up to leave, telling Lou I had to walk back to the store and relieve my sister so she could have lunch.  Lou insisted on driving me.  I gave in too easily.  I got into his car.  In the back seat.  Lou slid behind the wheel.  In deference to me, he said he would drive slowly and carefully.  It was only about 10 blocks to my bookstore.  Did I mention Lou was ninety-two years old?  He wanted to reach ninety-three.  I think. 

He fired up the engine and revved it a few times.  “This is a ‘65 Checker.  Two and half tons of indestructible, honest-to-God Detroit iron.”  He dropped the gearshift into Drive and kicked the gas pedal to the floor.  The rear tires spun and smoked as they grabbed the asphalt.  He got right behind an exiting pickup truck whose driver had just paid the attendant who lifted the long plastic barrier over the exit lane.  Lou yanked the wheel to the right and we raced up Fairfax Ave. three inches from the pickup’s tailgate.  The carburetor sucked in 91 octane gas and sounded like a flushing toilet as Lou abruptly changed lanes.  I was sure he had clipped the front bumper of the Metro bus we cut off, but we were a block away before I had the presence of mind to say anything.

Lou:  I don’t pay to park anymore.  I’m ninety-two.  I paid enough.  Been driving for more than 75 years if you can believe it. 

I wasn’t sure what I believe anymore.

Lou:  Your store’s around here somewhere, ain’t it?

Me:  We just flew past it.  Slow to sixty and I can get out anywhere around here. 

Lou:  Did you notice this baby can really accelerate?  Raw power.  Cast-iron block.  Dual exhausts. 

I was gonna say something; my mouth was open and poised for speech when Lou slammed on the binders.  I flew over the top of the front seat and my face hit the windshield.  It tasted of nicotine.  Lou still smoked a pack and a half a day.  I jumped out as the car skidded to a stop.  Lou floored it before my door was closed and went fishtailing up Fairfax, through a red light at Melrose and weaving around traffic until he was out of sight.  He was dead within a week.  I’m not sure if it was the cigarettes or his driving that caused it.
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