The Sporadic Beaver

American Sociopaths: The Rise and Fall of the Mini-Trumps

January 17, 2017

Tags: Donald Trump, Carl Ruderman, Lou Perretta, High Society, Swank, Scott Garrett, politics

Plastic-Pussy Grabber: Mini-Trump Carl Ruderman, publisher of High Society, shows his secretary an artificial vagina, early 1980s.
Fran Lebowitz described Donald Trump as a poor person's idea of a rich person. But Trump is hardly the only rich person who comes across as vulgar, bigoted, and megalomaniacal. There's an entire subspecies of extremely wealthy men, some perhaps wealthier than Trump, who admire his lifestyle and all he stands for. In an effort to be like Trump, they do their best to emulate him.

I worked for two such people—both of whom happened to be porn-magazine publishers (and both of whom went to extraordinary lengths to hide the fact that pornography was their primary source of wealth).

Carl Ruderman owned the company that published High Society. Lou Perretta owned the company that published Swank. I wrote about them both in Beaver Street—long before Trump had become a threat to the country and the planet. Though Beaver Street looks at 20th century history, politics, and culture through a pornographic lens, I made no effort to draw a comparison between these two prominent sleazemeisters and the man who will soon have the power to start a nuclear war. Between 2004 and 2009, when I was writing Beaver Street, Trump, to me, was an easily ignored ignoramus whose self-aggrandizing horseshit was generally confined to the pages of certain gossip rags. I didn’t even know he had short fingers.

But now that reality has shifted so radically, I thought it might be instructive to look at the similarities between my former overseers and America’s about-to-be-installed overseer.

Born Rich: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump, though all born on third base, suffer from the belief that they hit a triple and got to where they are due to their own innate superiority. Trump, however, does admit that he was helped along by a “small loan” of $1 million from his father.

Thy Father’s Business: Ruderman took over Drake, his father’s lucrative publishing company that specialized in how-to and home improvement books. Perretta took over Great Eastern, his father’s printing plant, once the largest employer in Poughkeepsie after IBM. Trump, of course, took over his father’s real estate empire.

The Porn Connection: It seems that men of a certain ilk who inherited their wealth find the pornographic milieu irresistible. Though Trump did not literally go into the porn biz, as the two Mini-Trumps did, it should be noted that the first-lady-to-be, Melania Trump, has posed in a pornographic lesbian pictorial and Trump himself has appeared in a Playboy Video Centerfold.

Transformers: Ruderman and Perretta apparently chose the porn biz because it’s illegal to print money. Between High Society magazine, “free” phone sex, and “Celebrity Skin,” Ruderman turned Drake into a bigger cash cow than it was under his father—free phone sex alone (he made two cents every time somebody called the number) generated $70,000 in profits per week at its 1983 peak. Like Trump, Ruderman published a luxury lifestyle magazine, Elite Traveler. Perretta, who never seemed to grasp the difference between being a printer and being a publisher, enhanced his fortune by buying up virtually every porn mag in existence, using them as fodder to keep his presses running 24 hours a day, and turning a profit on a 15 percent sale of any press run when his competitors needed to sell 30 percent to do so. In between bankruptcies, Trump transformed his inheritance into a branding empire, notably Trump University, an overt scam for which he recently agreed to pay a $25 million fine to settle fraud allegations by former students.

All in the Family: Ruderman didn’t believe in nepotism, though perhaps he should have. He hired and fired with impunity, to the extent that anybody who survived at High Society for more than a year was considered an old-timer. Perretta, like Trump, believed that loyalty is far more important than competence, and filled all key positions with relatives (preferably blood relatives) whenever possible. Trump’s offspring Eric, Donald Jr., and Ivanka are all executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization and have played key roles on his transition team. His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in violation of nepotism laws, has been named as a senior White House advisor.

Greed Is Good: Ruderman, Perretta, and Trump are all driven by the desire to enrich themselves and their families at all costs while lording it over everybody else, especially their employees.

Bully Boys: Ruderman was a quiet bully who rarely raised his voice but took pleasure in humiliating his employees. At staff meetings he’d call on anybody, from a top editor to the mailroom boy, and ask, “What have you done this week to make my magazine a household name?” If the employee didn’t have a satisfactory answer, Ruderman would say, “Do you want to be standing on the breadline?” Perretta was a classic screamer who routinely berated his employees for the most trivial mistakes. The more trivial the mistake, the louder he screamed. Trump’s Twitter feed, a litany of insults and intimidations, serves as a perfect illustration of two of his most pronounced character traits: pathological bullying and a reflexive need to destroy anybody who criticizes him.

Some of My Best Jews Are Accountants: Ruderman acted as if women were pieces of meat fit only for display in pornographic magazines, but he was smart enough to not express any overt racial or religious bigotry in front of his employees. Perretta, however, couldn’t help himself. On one occasion he said to an African-American art director, “Shrink that photo, like your ancestors shrunk heads!” On another occasion he referred to his African-American employees as “animals.” On a third, he told three Jewish employees, all of whom were sporting facial hair, “This place is starting to look like a Yeshiva.” He was eventually sued for age and sex discrimination. Trump’s vile remarks about minorities and the opposite sex are so ugly, my inner 20-year-old punk-self wrote a song about it, “Don Vicious,” which includes the lines, “You hate Muslims/You hate Jews/Women, black skin/Brown skin too.”

Imagine More Possessions: Ruderman, who was chauffeured around in a Rolls Royce that once belonged to Queen Elizabeth and lived in mortal fear that he’d be barred from the most exclusive country clubs if they found out he was a pornographer, was the most nakedly obvious Trump-lifestyle emulator. When Trump bought a helicopter, Ruderman bought one, too. Though lower-key than Ruderman and Trump, Perretta owned a yacht and a Mercedes and strove to insure that grandchildren yet unborn would also ride in their own Mercedes cars. Trump’s private-jet-gold-plated-spare-no-expense luxury lifestyle is as famous as his bigotry, his lying, and his compulsion to humiliate.

The Beauty, the Splendor, the Wonder: The once silver-haired Ruderman now dyes his coif an unnatural shade of jet-black rather than choosing Trump’s unnatural regal gold. Perretta, meanwhile, sports a hairdo of all-natural gray.

Make America Hate Again: Ruderman has despised Larry Flynt ever since he made him Hustler’s “Asshole of the Month” and did not support Flynt’s run for president. But he kept his other political views under wraps, at least in front of his employees. This was undoubtedly a good decision. Perretta, like Trump, is a staunch supporter of right-wing causes and has donated money to his former New Jersey Tea Party Congressman Scott Garrett, one of the most radical members of the House of Representatives. A “birther” who was finally defeated in November after 14 years in office, Garrett was anti-woman, anti-worker, anti-minority, anti-voting rights, anti-environment, and anti-poor—positions that meshed perfectly with Perretta’s own political views.

American Sociopaths: I think Trump and the Mini-Trumps would all agree that empathy is an emotion for losers and women only.

Lock Them Up: In the late 90s, as free Internet porn became ubiquitous and sales of High Society were headed for oblivion, control of the company was given over to an organized crime family who tried to turn things around with a credit card scam that defrauded consumers of approximately $730 million dollars. Prosecutors soon caught on and charged the “X-Rated Mobsters,” as they were called in the tabloids, with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, extortion, and money laundering. Though Ruderman, claiming he was a “silent partner,” escaped prosecution, some of his Mafia colleagues went to prison, and the company, in a judgment reminiscent of what happened to Trump University, was fined $30 million. Ruderman then sold the smoldering ruins of High Society to Perretta. Ultimately, though, both the High Society and Swank pornographic empires went belly-up amidst collapsing sales and criminal and civil legal actions. As for Trump, so rabid is his disdain for the Constitution and so myriad are his conflicts of interest, impeachment seems inevitable. Uncorroborated as they may be, recent claims that the Russians have videos of Trump “employing a number of prostitutes to perform ‘golden showers’” (among many other bits of damning and salacious information) indicate that blackmail resulting in treasonous acts is a distinct possibility. Perhaps Trump will be indefinitely detained in Guantanamo Bay while awaiting trial. Like all sociopaths large and small, Trump believes that the law does not apply to him. This may very well be his ultimate downfall.

I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter.

Taking it Personally

July 1, 2014

Tags: Hustler, Back Issues, Larry Flynt, Michael Lee Nirenberg, Bill Nirenberg, Al Goldstein, Carl Ruderman, High Society, Screw, Swank Publications, Penthouse, Michael Musto, Gail Dines, Supreme Court, Beaver Street, pornography

I tend to write about movies that have a direct, personal connection either to my life or my books--see About Cherry, Magic Trip, and Chapter 27--and the latest such film to fall into this category is the generically titled Back Issues, a documentary about Hustler magazine. (Why not just call it Hustler?)

I enjoyed Back Issues in part because it adds an additional dimension to much of what I write about in Beaver Street. And Beaver Street, with its tales of High Society publisher Carl Ruderman trying to pattern his magazine after Hustler, only to end up as Hustler’s "Asshole of the Month," adds an additional dimension to Back Issues.

But the primary reason I’m writing about the film is because Bill Nirenberg, whom I used to work with at Swank Publications—the company at the center of Beaver Street—is at the center of Back Issues. Before landing at Swank, Bill was an art director at Hustler during its glory days, from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s, and watching the film with two of my former colleagues filled me with the disorienting sense of being back at Swank and listening to Bill regale us with his Hustler and Larry Flynt stories. Bill’s demeanor, his tone, his vibe, as well as the stories themselves are exactly as I remember them.

Capturing somebody on film just as they are in life is not an easy thing to do. But the reason Bill comes across so realistically—in fact the reason this film exists at all—is because his son, Michael Lee Nirenberg, directed it. And because of the intimate connection between subject and filmmaker, Michael was able to gain access to all the key Hustler players, including the often-inaccessible Flynt, as well as former editors Paul Krassner and Allan MacDonell, whose memoir, Prisoner of X, covers the same time period as I do in Beaver Street.

Michael also managed to unearth a number of documents that illustrate some of the most notable moments in the history of a polarizing magazine whose impact on American popular culture was profound. The most outrageous document is an audiotape of Flynt ranting at the Supreme Court justices, in 1983, when they were considering a libel case that Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione’s girlfriend, Kathy Keeton, had brought against Hustler. The language Flynt uses, a series of gratuitously racist and sexist slurs, is so inflammatory it transcends the realm of mere obscenity and serves as a sublime demonstration of a man rendered paraplegic by an would-be assassin’s bullet, who now thinks he has nothing to lose, speaking the truth (as he sees it) to power.

Among the people Michael speaks to who didn’t actually work for Hustler but still offer valuable insights about the mag, its founder, and the porn biz are Screw magazine publisher Al Goldstein, who is at death’s door and giving what would be his last interview; writer Michael Musto, who does an excellent job of explaining how the Internet destroyed the porn magazine business; and professional anti-porn activist Gail Dines, who, uncharacteristically, comes across as a sane person.

But it’s the segments where Michael interviews his father, who’s now retired from the porn biz, that give the film a homey, intimate feel, which is unusual (if not unheard of) for a documentary that covers this kind of gritty and often offensive material. This intimacy also helps to make Back Issues an essential document for anybody who wants to understand not only Hustler’s place in the history of modern porn, but how, in the late 20th century, pornography was able to supplant rock ’n’ roll as the premier symbol of American pop culture.

Gloria Leonard: 1940-2014

February 4, 2014

Tags: Gloria Leonard, Carl Ruderman, High Society, phone sex, Hustler, Larry Flynt, Beaver Street

Gloria Leonard
The news is all over Twitter and Facebook, but has yet to penetrate the mainstream media: Gloria Leonard, a popular adult film actress of the 1970s, and the former figurehead publisher of High Society magazine, passed away last night, in Hawaii, after suffering a massive stroke. She was 73.

Leonard, whom I'd met on numerous occasions when I worked at High Society in the 1980s, was a skillful public relations professional who was instrumental in selling "free phone sex"--the first fusion of erotica and computers--to America. As I say in Beaver Street, she presented High Society to the media as "visionary corporation" run by "a media-savvy porn star/publisher who was now making millions of dollars with phone sex, an explosive new business that hadn't existed two months earlier." And the media bought into it with a vengeance.

Leonard made tens of millions of dollars for the real publisher, Carl Ruderman, who, terrified of being publicly identified as a pornographer, “hid behind her skirt,” as Hustler publisher Larry Flynt put it.

Leonard, however, was no fan of Beaver Street, and vehemently objected to her portrayal in the book as a “figurehead” publisher. She threatened to sue me unless I told the story the way she wanted it told. It was a forceful PR gambit that, unfortunately for Leonard, failed. I didn’t change a word and she didn’t sue. Still, it saddened me to find myself in an adversarial relationship with somebody I’d once admired.

Leonard has many fans and admirers in the adult entertainment business, and I’ve no doubt that they’re feeling her loss deeply. To them, and to her family, I extend my condolences.

Pornography and Capitalism

January 8, 2014

Tags: The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, David Edward Rose, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Carl Ruderman, High Society

I've always believed that the pornography industry is a microcosm of the capitalist system, and that looking at capitalism through a pornographic lens is a legitimate way to gain insight into that system. One purpose of my book Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is to offer such insights in an entertaining and humorous manner. And with the exception of one critic, a former pornographer who dismissed the book as "smut," most readers and critics "got it," as the pull quotes on this page and my home page attest.

In November, I wrote about a college textbook, published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled The Ethics and Politics of Pornography, by David Edward Rose. The book had come to my attention because it references Beaver Street in a chapter called "'I Can’t Do It by Myself!': Social Ethics and Pornography." But I didn't know exactly what the book said; I only knew that I was listed in the index atop French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

I’ve since received a copy of the book, which I plan to write about at length in a future posting, along with another textbook, also published by Palgrave Macmillan, titled Pornographic Art and the Aesthetics of Pornography, edited by Hans Maes. But for now I’d like to share with you what The Ethics and Politics of Pornography says about Beaver Street.

The reference is on page 214, in a section about capitalism called “The real enemy,” and it comes from my chapter about working at High Society magazine in the early 1980s.

“The aim of capitalism is not to make good art,” Rose writes. “Nor good products. It is not interested in the product per se, but only in the product as a means to satisfy other desires, as capital in motion. As one insider in the industry astutely observed, ‘The product, as well as my job, was anything but transgressive; it was corporate moneymaking at its most cynical, conservative, and tightly controlled. It wasn’t even about sex; it was about using sex to separate people from their money.’”

And that is indeed a spot-on description of what it was like to work in Carl Ruderman’s smut factory, a place where the most exploitative face of modern capitalism was on display daily.

From Another Carl Ruderman Fan

May 14, 2013

Tags: Carl Ruderman, High Society, Amazon, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, reviews

The following review, written by "Another Former Porn Worker," appeared on Amazon yesterday. It speaks for itself.

Your book was amazing! I downloaded it to my Kindle and could NOT put it down last night. You perfectly capture the atmosphere of the office, that slight paranoia, tinged with smarminess, with the forced insistence that everything around here is perfectly normal. I too worked in the industry, though far more recently, but it seems nothing has changed.

Your assessment of Carl Ruderman is priceless. I, too, have sat in front of that exquisite Victorian desk, surrounded by his priceless artifacts that invariably feature naked women or abstract genitalia, patiently waiting my turn for him to say, “...And Ms. XXXX, what good news do you have for me today?” From your description of him, I could hear his voice leap from the page. I could see him as I saw him in his office at 801 Second Avenue, a bit more shriveled version than the one you saw, but in that same beautifully cut, tasteful gray pinstripe suit, pocket square, and genteel sneer.

Also, in the short time I was there, I know the company was sued multiple times. Weirdly, it was never mentioned at the meetings. It was simply like it didn’t matter. Also, by the time I got there, the porn down on the lower floor was never mentioned. Ever. People on the 19th floor did NOT speak to any of the people down there. I only knew about them because I had skills he needed for both floors.

I loved the part about “the founder.” After he lost the lease on the 19th floor and we were moved to the far less glamorous 11th floor, that bust was placed directly outside my door, so it would stare at me day in, day out. It was rumored that there was a camera in it, but that was probably just conjecture.

He was elderly by the time I worked for him, yet he was insistent on never dying. He kept a personal chef with him at the office, a woman he paid far less than she was worth, peanuts really. She would prepare his daily vitamins and medications, dozens in all, and his breakfast and lunch in the office’s formal dining room. All upper management was expected to attend, but as a woman and a low-level techie I was fortunately denied that privilege.

I liked your Maria. It explains his current secretary while I was there. She was a mid-fiftyish battleaxe of a hag who would agree with him if he said the sky was green, and spent much of her time repeating back anything he said in different words as if she had just thought of that. She, and the other woman before her, trained themselves to expect and indulge his every whim. The woman before at least seemed to see the humor in the situation, as Maria seemed to. I would have been stoned all the time, too.

There was a whole host of crazy characters there who, like me, had no other options at the time, and those of us who got out sometimes get together and talk about it, because no one else would ever believe us. They are a crazy bunch, but those who survived, many are people I really like, cause as you and Maria were, we were witness to a legend being written. Like you, I walked out of that office with no job but that “incredible lightness of being.”

All in all, you reminded me that despite everything, Carl Ruderman has charisma. A sly, slithering sort of charisma, but charisma just the same. I can’t even say I dislike him. He is the sort of man who will do anything for money, and it seems that he did.

In the end, those of us that got tangled up in it have one hell of a story to tell at cocktail parties.

Marvelous work!

Notes from Underground

April 30, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, High Society, Gene Gregorits, Carl Ruderman, pornography, New York, Necropolis Now, Ron Jeremy

On pages 37-38 of Beaver Street, I tell the story of the first time a porn magazine assigned me to go to the set of a XXX movie and write an article about it. High Society, where I was working as an editor, was the magazine that sent me. Adventure Studios, in Corona, Queens, was the location. The film--it was an actual film, not a video--was Succulence, starring Kelly Nichols, Rhonda Jo Petty, Little Oral Annie, and (of course) Ron Jeremy.

It was October 10, 1983. I know this because as I was interviewing porn stars in the Sewer Club, as the green room was called, Cardinal Cooke's funeral was being broadcast live on the TV playing there, and a quick Internet search just provided me with the date.

The article I wrote, “The Making of a Fuck Flick,” was published, uncredited, in the June 1984 issue of High Society, five months after the publisher, Carl Ruderman, fired me for calling HS a “porno mag” in the New York Post. (According to Ruderman, the only acceptable term for what we produced at his smut factory was “adult entertainment.”)

“The Making of a Fuck Flick” is an incredibly sleazy article where I describe such things as the mechanics of filming a “dogfuck,” and quote porn stars saying things like, “To sit with a camera up your twat all day—this is not normal.”

So, when Gene Gregorits, author of Dog Days, told me he was looking for “an essay, a story, an article, or an interview regarding the lowest of the low in NYC between 1975 and 1995” for the book he’s now putting together, Necropolis Now: New York Scum Culture, I sent him “The Making of a Fuck Flick.” “This seems to fit your criteria,” I said, and Gregorits agreed.

If all goes according to plan, the book should be out before the end of the year.

Look for it.

30 Years Ago Today

April 11, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, High Society, phone sex, pornography

Monday, April 11, 1983, 9:30 a.m.: I showed up for work in a suit, unaware that I was stepping into ground zero of a new age of pornographic wealth and joining a revolution that was changing the face of commercial erotica--as well as society itself. I did not grasp the profound, and far-reaching, implications of phone sex. All I knew was that I'd feigned enthusiasm during the interview and now I had a job, which I was determined to keep because my economic survival depended upon it. Having studied an issue of High Society over the weekend, I understood that the job was going to require a strong stomach, not to mention a few minor adjustments in my moral code. But I thought it was a small price to pay for a steady paycheck.

This is the first paragraph of Beaver Street's "High Society" chapter. The most shocking thing about it is the date. Thirty years have passed since I walked through the door of that magazine to begin my first permanent, full-time job, and embark on a career in pornography that would continue into 1999. Also, 30 years have passed since the dawn of the Age of Modern Pornography--"free phone sex" being the first fusion of erotica and computers.

These two anniversaries bring to mind the time I was 14 years old, and first heard that lyric on Sgt. Pepper. “Twenty years ago” sounded like an eternity in 1967. In 2013, 30 years feels as if it could have been, oh, I don’t know, 2010, maybe.

I really don’t have much more to say about this anniversary or High Society magazine. In fact, everything I have to say about High Society, I already said in Beaver Street. So, I’m going to celebrate by doing what I always do—working on another book. If you feel the need to celebrate, the best way to do that would be to read one of my books and join me in psychic communion. I’ll feel your energy. I always do.

NSFW

March 6, 2013

Tags: LA Weekly, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, High Society

Thanks to LA Weekly, I've learned a new acronym: NSFW. It means "Not Safe For Work." That's how the paper has labeled their extraordinary Beaver Street pictorial, "10 Sexy Photos From the History of Pornography."

The spread brings to life much of what I write about in Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography--like High Society magazine. Ironically, if you toiled for that esteemed publication in the 1980s, NSFW had an entirely different meaning: Employees were forbidden to read The New York Times, or any other newspaper, without special permission. Instead, the publisher demanded that everybody spend as much time as possible reading (and stealing ideas from) competing porno mags, especially Hustler, which he considered the "bible" of beaver books.

In the likely event that you don’t work in an alternate X-rated universe, then NSFW is indeed the correct designation for the Weekly’s Beaver Street spread. So, read it when you get home, and take a trip down the memory lane of 20th century men’s mags. It’s a world that’s fast disappearing.

AVN Reviews Beaver Street… and they like it!

February 5, 2013

Tags: Beaver Street, Adult Video News, reviews, Lou Perretta, Scott Garrett, Swank, High Society, Larry Flynt, Carl Ruderman

One of the odd things about the Beaver Street promotional campaign, which has been ongoing for two years, is that despite the coverage the book has garnered all over the cultural spectrum, in such places as Vanity Fair, Bizarre magazine, an academic site called H-Net, The Village Voice, Erotic Review, and Little Shoppe of Horrors (to name but a few), there hasn't been one review in any of the men's magazines that I write about in Beaver Street.

I suppose the primary reason for this lack of coverage is that Lou Perretta, who now owns two of the titles at the heart of the book, Swank and High Society, as well as every other porn mag except for Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, is upset that I've blogged about the abysmal working conditions at his company and his campaign contributions to Scott Garrett, the Tea Party icon who represents New Jersey’s 5th congressional district. Perretta, apparently, has forbidden his merry staff, under penalty of termination, to so much as mention Beaver Street in or out of the office.

And I suppose that Playboy and Penthouse are not especially interested in books of any kind, and that Hustler doesn’t write about books unless Larry Flynt wrote them—though I’d think that Flynt would have gotten a kick out of my stories about his former rival, ex-High Society publisher Carl Ruderman.

Well, I’m pleased to report that a magazine read by everybody who’s anybody in adult entertainment has published a brilliant Beaver Street review in their February issue, which features a cover story about the “30 must-read books on the history of X.”

Adult Video News (AVN) has been called “the Billboard magazine of the porn industry.” It’s the mag that the mainstream media turn to when they need reliable information about smut. The review, “Walk on the Wild Side,” written by AVN editor Sharan Street, calls Beaver Street “brutally honest,” “compelling,” and says that it’s “a fascinating exploration of the common ground shared by [comic books] and pornographic magazines.” Street (Sharan, not Beaver) also does an excellent job of pulling out just the right quotes to give the reader a good sense of the book’s overall flavor.

I’d urge you all to read AVN’s review of Beaver Street. It made my day.

The Indictment of Carl Ruderman

September 27, 2011

Tags: Carl Ruderman, High Society, Gloria Leonard, phone sex, pornography, Beaver Street

Much of the time I spent writing Beaver Street was devoted to research. It took me about a year to unearth all the information I needed for the Traci Lords chapter alone. Though time consuming, the problem wasn't finding material. Between Lords and the Meese Commission, there was too much material, and the challenge was to sift through it all, figure out what was important, and then integrate it into my narrative.

Carl Ruderman, the anonymous publisher of High Society magazine, posed an entirely different problem. The “Invisible Man of Smut,” as Al Goldstein called him, hid behind figurehead publisher Gloria Leonard and went to great lengths to keep his name out of the media, at least in connection with anything having to do with porn. In fact, as I said in Beaver Street, “an internet or library search for any connection between pornography and Carl Ruderman produces little that’s concrete or substantiated.”

Well, that’s changed since the book was published. In the past year, much that connects Carl Ruderman to pornography has been popping up on the internet. One example that I wrote about a few months ago was an article in the New York Observer that bore the headline, “Porn’s ‘Invisible Man’ Prices His Condos at $13.5 M.”

Yesterday, I found something even juicer: the Justice Department’s 1987 appeal of the dismissal of an indictment against Ruderman for “various federal obscenity crimes in connection with the operation of a ‘dial it’ telephone service whereby persons could call a New York City telephone number and listen to a sexually suggestive, pre-recorded message.”

You can read the entire document by clicking here.

I’ve posted this link for my own reference and as a service to any future researchers who want to cast more light on a man who revolutionized the porn industry but has, for the most part, managed to escape being credited (or indicted) for what he did.

An Open Letter to Carl Ruderman

September 2, 2011

Tags: Carl Ruderman, High Society, Beaver Street, Google

Hey, Carl, Bob Rosen here. How've you been? I know it's been a while since you gave the order to fire me from High Society for "giving the magazine a bad name"--27 years to be exact. But no hard feelings, really. I was glad to be out of there, and you gave me some priceless material for Beaver Street. Thanks for that!

In any case, I’m writing to tell you about a Google search that brought somebody in India, of all places, to this blog a couple of days ago.

You can usually see where visitors to the site are located, and the search terms they used to find whatever they were looking for. Well, this particular query is a doozy.

Here it is, and it’s an exact quote:

“carl ruderman” fraud or launder or embezzle or crime or smuggle or ofac or judgment or jail or rico or terror or corruption or felony or trafficking or drugs or bribe or sanctions or extradite or subpoena or laundering

Wow! Talk about giving a magazine a bad name!

(OFAC, incidentally, is the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the Treasury Department. I had to look it up.)

So, Carl, enjoy your holiday weekend, and feel free to write anytime.

Yours truly,
Bob Rosen

PS—I’ll be sure to let you know when Beaver Street is being published in the US. If you come to the pub party, I’ll give you a free autographed book. You deserve one.

Great Moments in Porn Writing

August 4, 2011

Tags: Nicholson Baker, The Fermata, Beaver Street, High Society, Swank, D-Cup, Bizarre, Ben Myers, Canadian censorship, Chip Goodman

"Is there any piece of porn writing you're most proud of?" Ben Myers asked when he interviewed me about Beaver Street for Bizarre magazine. Due to space limitations, my answer wasn't published. Here it is now:

High Society and Swank Publications hired a lot of good writers to crank out mindless, disposable filth. But good writing was actively discouraged. At HS the editor occasionally threatened to do an issue with no words at all, just to prove how unnecessary writers were. At Swank, Chip Goodman, the publisher, explicitly told me not to write the kind of articles that would make people want to keep the magazines. He wanted his readers to throw out each issue and buy the new one.

But every year, as a matter of professional pride, I made it a point to write and publish at least one good story. An essay I wrote for D-Cup about The Fermata, by Nicholson Baker, comes to mind. It’s a novel about a man who has the power to stop time, and he uses this power to undress women in public places and occasionally masturbate. In the course of writing the piece, I ran into all kinds of problems with Canadian censorship—undressing women when they don’t know they’re being undressed is considered rape and degradation in Canada, even if the context is satiric literature.

What started out as a straightforward review evolved into an essay on the absurdity of Canadian censorship regulations. The illustration that I commissioned for the story was a picture of Baker sitting on a subway train with an enormous erection, jerking off while looking at a naked, large-breasted woman.

A few weeks later I went to see him give a reading at Barnes & Noble and I brought the mag with me. He’s signing everybody’s copy of The Fermata, and when it’s my turn I drop the picture of him jerking off on the table. He does a double take and breaks up laughing. But he signs it, gives me his address, and asks me to send him a copy.

Note: House of Holes: A Book of Raunch, Nicholson Baker’s latest pornographic opus, will be published on August 9.

Update: The Naked and the Dead

July 21, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, Izzy Singer, Carl Ruderman, Sonja Wagner, Pamela Katz, Steve Colby, Neville Player, Lou Perretta, High Society, X-Rated Cinema, Paul Raymond

In fiction, when an author brings a character to life, that character is said to take on a life of his own. In nonfiction, the characters are alive (except when they’re dead) and they do have lives of their own. Such is the case with Beaver Street, which is populated with real people who continue to lead vital and interesting lives outside the confines of the book’s covers.

Towards the end of Beaver Street there’s a section called “On the Naked and the Dead,” in which I give updates on some of the main characters. I’ve continued to do so on this blog, in the past week mentioning that Izzy Singer recently published a short story on Kindle, and that Carl Ruderman has divested himself of all his pornographic holdings and can no longer be called a pornographer.

Here are a few other updates of note:

Happily retired from the porn biz, Sonja Wagner continues to create her art, erotic and otherwise.

Former X-Rated Cinema editor Pamela Katz was fired from Swank publications after 30 years on the job and is now suing the company for age and sex discrimination.

Steve Colby, a photographer who helped launch the British Porno Invasion of 1987, is one of London’s last remaining “glamour” photographers, though now shoots almost exclusively in Prague.

Neville Player, whose name I didn’t use in the book but described as the "porno genius" who took over D-Cup magazine, has written a memoir (title TBA) about his long career working for British publishing legend Paul Raymond and his short career working for Lou Perretta.

Having recently acquired High Society, Lou Perretta now owns virtually every porn magazine of significance, with the exception of Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler, and has made Paramus, New Jersey ground zero for what remains of the dying men’s mag industry.

The Lifestyle of a Rich Pornographer

July 19, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, Carl Ruderman, High Society, phone sex, Gloria Leonard, Larry Flynt, Hustler, Al Goldstein, real estate, pornography, Lou Perretta, The New York Observer

In Beaver Street, I write at length about Carl Ruderman, the publisher of High Society magazine, who, in 1983, launched the age of modern pornography by giving the world “free phone sex,” the first fusion of erotica and computers.

Ruderman was schizophrenic in the sense that he didn’t permit the word “pornography” to be used in the office—“adult entertainment” was the acceptable term—and he wanted to be both anonymous and as famous as Hugh Hefner. “I want High Society to be a household name,” he’d often say at staff meetings. Ruderman’s name didn’t appear in the High Society masthead—he hid behind figurehead publisher Gloria Leonard, the porn star.

With the exception of Larry Flynt crowning Ruderman Hustler’s “Asshole of the Month” in November 1983, very little about him ever appeared in the press. Al Goldstein called Ruderman the “Invisible Man” of porn.

However, I recently noticed that The New York Observer ran a piece about Ruderman in the real estate section of their September 8, 2009 issue. It said he was selling his “full-floor, 5,550-square-foot, 13-room, eight-bedroom” condo at the Bristol Plaza on East 65th Street in Manhattan for $13.25 million. The story quotes an architect, Frank Visconti, who’d done work for one of Ruderman’s neighbors, as saying that the former porn publisher is “a very nice man.” Referring to the bust of Ruderman, labeled “The Founder,” that once graced the High Society reception area (High Society is now owned by Lou Perretta), Visconti says, “You don’t see statues with glasses.”

Most surprising is the photograph of Ruderman that appears with the article. The ex-pornographer, smiling and tanned, now dyes his silver hair black. Photographs of Ruderman are so rare that Larry Flynt offered $500 for one to run in Hustler. But nobody who had a photo was willing to accept his offer.

The Beaver Correspondence 2

May 20, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, pornography, Swank, High Society, Martin Goodman, science fiction

This is the response to the e-mail I posted yesterday.

Hey Bob,

Thanks for the galleys. For some reason, I put aside the book I was reviewing, [title redacted], and got through your book rather rapidly onscreen.

All in all, a nice package. I would have preferred to see more broad history (no pun intended) and cultural hypothesis about porn—what motivates the consumers as well as the performers/creators—but that is either too obvious or too deep, I guess. You’re perched on a seat few share and in a real sense have authority to opine about porn as phenomenon; I woulda liked to have seen more. The blend of personal experience and general history overall works well, though, one buoying up the other.

Part of the game with those associated with your travails is playing who’s who, of course, and I was most surprised by the High Society stuff, which I’d forgotten. In any case, the portraits of both that operation and Swank Publications were pretty spot on. I understand the need to mix personas for privacy’s sake in a memoir, but I got lost with a couple of the characters. Not that that didn’t make them interesting in their own right; I was continually impressed with your ability to bring characters to life through detail, idiosyncrasies. By the way, I didn’t spot any doppelgangers—did I miss anything?

One factual point: recently researching the life of an author who wrote science fiction, CM Kornbluth, I came across mention of Martin Goodman’s 50s operations including first edition paperbacks of some sci fi classics (or near classics). It was the same profit setup as porn—crank out 200 manuscript pages per month for $x, publisher slaps on a lusty cover, repeat. I don’t have the book on hand anymore that references this (I borrowed it on interlibrary loan, being a poor academic), but it’s the only bio on CMK that exists. In any case, I thought this expanded the Martin story in a useful way—in his desire for profit and ability to sort talent, it’s almost as if he stumbled on these cultural pressure points (pleasure points?) and fostered entertainment industries (sci fi, porn, comics) that would loom large 50 years later. Maybe worth adding if you can.

I think you’ll understand why it’s best for me to refrain from public comment on this project, despite my enthusiasm. Thanks for the look-see and good luck.

Jack

To be continued…

The Beaver Correspondence

May 19, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, Swank, High Society, pornography

The following is the first e-mail I sent to a former editor who worked with me at Swank publications and also worked at High Society. He now holds a prestigious position in academia. That’s why I’ve given him a pseudonym and in future e-mails will disguise any details that could be used to identify him. I’m running this correspondence to contrast my perspective with the academic perspective and to give a sense of what an author goes through as he prepares to publish a book and searches for anybody who might be willing to give him a useful blurb.

Hi Jack,

As promised, attached are the (very) uncorrected (and long awaited) Beaver Street galleys minus the real cover and pictures. I’ve been sending this to a limited number of people, mainly a few “characters” in the book, and a few friends and journalists who I know are interested. Printed galleys with pix and cover are still a few weeks away. But I am interested in any feedback, possibly to use as promo copy.

Thanks.

Bob

Click here to read Jack’s response.

Beaver Street and The Beaver

May 6, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, The Beaver, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, High Society, John Hinckley



The author of Beaver Street categorically denies any connection between his book and the film The Beaver, starring Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson. There is, however, an interesting story in Beaver Street about how John Hinckley wrote letters to High Society magazine urging them to run more nude photos of Jodie Foster.