The Sporadic Beaver

Who Is Ruby Leggs?

May 1, 2013

Tags: Sonja Wagner, art, Ruby Leggs, Beaver Street, Chip Goodman, New York

Readers of Beaver Street should be familiar with Sonja Wagner, whom I described in the book as my "dyslexic, spliff-smoking freelance art director," and whom I gave some of the best lines, such as the one on pages 123-124, when she asks our esteemed publisher, Chip Goodman, "Is something wrong, Chip, dear? Didn't Bobby and I put enough incest into your filthy little book?"

If you haven't read Beaver Street, then you can read about some of Wagner's erotic artwork on this blog.

Last night, over a couple of shots of vodka in her studio, Wagner got into talking about Ruby Leggs, a character she created more than 30 years ago, and in that time has produced dozens of Ruby paintings, mostly documenting her curious New York City life. Now Wagner has decided that she wants to publish the complete Ruby Leggs story in a book.

So she asked me to answer the following question: Who is Ruby Leggs?

I’ll give it a shot.

At her most basic, Ruby is three pairs: a pair of full, scarlet lips mounted on a pair of long, shapely legs, who’s always wearing a pair of high heels. Though lacking a head, arms, and a torso, she still manages to radiate erotic heat. This, then, makes Ruby a fetishist’s delight, a woman reduced to two body parts and a fashion accessory. In the above painting, Ruby is arousing a subway car full of men who ogle her through the peepholes they’ve cut in their newspapers. But the title of the painting, “No One Ever Looks at Me Anymore,” shows that Ruby is also a naïf on the loose in the big city, a creature unaware of her erotic power.

And New York is full of women like that, which makes Ruby Leggs somehow real, a recognizable character, somebody you’d like to meet, sit down with at a cafe, and over a couple of drinks ask her about herself. Because you know, behind those perfect red lips and white teeth, Ruby Leggs has a tongue, and she can do a lot of things with it, including tell you herself who she is, if she’s so inclined.

A Night to Remember

June 18, 2012

Tags: Bloomsday, Beaver Street, A History of Modern Pornography, Killarney Rose, Joyce Snyder, Pam Katz, Bernhard Goetz, Mary Lyn Maiscott, Hoop, Sonja Wagner, Byron Nilsson

Saturday night, Bloomsday, a whole lot of people came to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street to celebrate the New York launch of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. My family was there. My neighbors were there. My friends were there. People from my high school and junior high school, who I hadn't seen in more than 40 years, were there. Some of my former coworkers, notably Joyce Snyder ("Pam Katz" in Beaver Street) and Sonja Wagner, were there. A few members of the media were there. Gary “HooP” Hoopengardner and my wife, Mary Lyn Maiscott, provided live music, with a little help from our friends and neighbors. Byron Nilsson, a writer/actor/singer/pornographer, did an amazing job as MC. And, of course, I read from the book--the so-called "dirty part," that I've been reluctant to read in certain bookstores, but read without hesitation for Bloomsday on Beaver Street. And then, as you may have noticed, there was the surreal appearance of Bernhard Goetz--yes, that Bernhard Goetz--who had asked to read from Beaver Street, but instead refused to read from the book and--how shall I put this?--delivered a disjointed dissertation that seemed to have something to do with Beaver Street.

Many things were spoken of at the Killarney Rose on Bloomsday: literature, pornography, book banning, censorship, Amazon, Watergate. In future postings, I’ll write in greater detail about this night to remember. But for now, as I sort out my thoughts and await photographic evidence of some of the things I mentioned above, I simply want to thank everybody for coming to the best Bloomsday party in New York City and reminding me why I became a writer.

We Were Talking About Shameless Grounds

April 13, 2012

Tags: Shameless Grounds, St. Louis, Beaver Street, Kendra Holliday, Sonja Wagner

Last night, over a couple of shots of bourbon with former D-Cup art director Sonja Wager, who’s a "character" in Beaver Street; my brother, Jerry, who’s also my attorney; and his wife, Cindy, the subject of my St. Louis sojourn came up, and I started talking about the reading at Shameless Grounds.

“What’s Shameless Grounds?” my brother asked.

“It’s a sex-positive coffeehouse,” I said.

“What’s a sex-positive coffeehouse?”

“Uh, you know,” I said, realizing I couldn’t quite explain it, “they’re positive about sex.”

“What do you mean ‘they’re positive about sex’?”

“I guess it means anything goes, everything’s okay—you know… gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, asexual, straight… whatever you’re into. Everybody’s welcome.”

“They have a place like that in St. Louis?” said Cindy, who grew up in St. Louis.

“Surprised me, too,” I said. “A couple of days before the reading, we went there to check it out. It’s a really nice coffeehouse in an old factory building in an offbeat neighborhood. Spacious, comfortable, art on the walls, friendly staff, good coffee and food… and a free library filled with nothing but books and magazines about sex. There were two lesbians sitting at a table, knitting. And that seemed typical of the vibe—warm, mellow.”

“Really?” said Sonja.

“Yeah, it was a great place to read. Very enthusiastic crowd… and inquisitive, too. And very mixed—gay people, some people who worked in the porn industry, men, women, black, white… it was cool.”

For the record, Sex-Positive St. Louis, co-founded by Kendra Holliday, who organized the Shameless Grounds reading, describes itself as “a safe environment for sexuality questions or concerns, no matter your gender, race, age or orientation.” And that’s a good thing, no matter what city you’re in.

What Did the Tea Party Congressman Know About the Porn King and When Did He Know It?

February 23, 2012

Tags: Scott Garrett, Tea Party, Congress, Lou Perretta, hardcore pornography, New Jersey, Republican National Committee, Sonja Wagner, politics

According to a former staff member of Louis Perretta's X-rated magazine, Internet, and DVD empire, the people who worked for ultra-conservative New Jersey congressman Scott Garrett (Republican, 5th district) were aware that their second-floor neighbor at 210 Route 4 East, in Paramus, produced hardcore pornography. But the staff was apparently unaware that Garrett had been accepting campaign contributions from Perretta since 2006 and the Republican National Committee had been accepting contributions from him since 2000, soon after the company switched to a hardcore format from a softcore format. In that time, Perretta or members of his immediate family had donated over $10,000 to Republican candidates and committees.

The former staffer, Sonja Wagner, 74—a graphic artist who, like many of her colleagues, saw pornography as a “survival job”—was for 16 years a freelance art director on scores of Perretta’s X-rated titles before he stopped giving her work in 2009. She said that it was common knowledge among Perretta’s employees that female members of Garrett’s staff had complained about Perretta’s company, apparently to building manager Vornado Reality Trust, which maintains offices in the building on the second, fourth, and fifth floors. According to Wagner, Garrett’s staff did not want to share the second-floor bathroom with pornographers, and soon after raising the complaint they began using the bathroom on the fifth floor to avoid them.

The staff complaint illuminates one of the darker corners of Garrett’s political philosophy—one that seems to mesh with Perretta’s. Garrett, a Tea Party icon and a “birther” who, citing states’ rights, was one of only 33 representatives to vote against the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006. The act prohibits voting discrimination based on race, and 390 house members voted to renew it.

A 2010 survey by the University of Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexuality indicated that Tea Party supporters have a 25 percent higher probability of being racially resentful than those who do not support the Tea Party.

Garrett’s staff apparently harbors a reflexive segregating impulse reminiscent of the pre-1965 Jim Crow laws enforced in all southern states of the former Confederacy. These laws demanded racial segregation in public facilities, notably “white only” and “colored only” bathrooms. In this peculiar 21st century case, Garrett’s staff wanted “separate but equal” facilities for pornographers and Republicans.

Ironically, Perretta’s company also produces a line of magazines marketed to an African American audience, including Hype Hair, Today’s Black Woman, Black Men, and Word Up. Yet Perretta has referred to his minority employees as “animals,” and in one instance said to an African American art director, “Shrink that photo—like your ancestors shrunk heads.”

Among the hardcore magazines and websites that Perretta controls are Club, Gallery, High Society, Swank, Gent, Genesis, Fox, Velvet, Just 18, and Cheri.

“It’s against house ethics for me to comment about Garrett’s campaign,” said Ben Veghte, who works in Garrett’s Washington office.

The office of Scott Garrett for Congress has so far not returned calls and so has neither confirmed nor denied that Garrett was aware that his staff had complained about Perretta’s company, one of the largest producers of hardcore pornography in America.

Vornado Realty Trust, as a policy, does not comment on tenants, and so has neither confirmed nor denied that members of Garrett’s staff had formally complained to them about having to share a bathroom with employees of a company that produced hardcore pornography.

When Academics Attack (Each Other)

September 12, 2011

Tags: H-Net, Beaver Street, Perversion for Profit, Whitney Strub, Patrick Glen, pornography, Sonja Wagner

Nasty business, academia. Imagine what it must be like to say something inconsequential about an obscure theory only to have 14 other professors in your department, all of whom are competing for the last remaining tenured position, drag you into a metaphorical dark alley and viciously pummel you to within an inch of your professional life.

I got a taste of this kind of scholarly brutality when I sent to the so-called anonymous professor who once edited Swank magazine (I call him “Jack”) the H-Net review comparing Beaver Street to Whitney Strub’s Perversion for Profit. (Jack had previously weighed in with his opinion about Beaver Street.)

At the time I sent it to him, I was still not aware that a revised version of the essay, by Patrick Glen, PhD candidate at the University of Sheffield, had been published on H-Net, and I lightheartedly suggested that “Jack” had written it himself, on a sojourn to England.

Here is the anonymous professor’s response to “Free Speech and Competitively Priced Smut: Pornography in the United States,” an essay that I thought was brilliant, and that another reader has lauded as “the first scholarly paper to refer to the ‘insertion of fifteen billiard balls into a man’s anus followed by an elbow-deep fist-fucking.’”

Hey Bob,
I may have been a bit slow in responding to this for a reason—it is a gargantuan pile of silliness. First, from the spelling and punctuation, it is safe to assume the review is from the UK (or perhaps Oz.) Second, its possibly valiant attempt to merge a post-mod theoretical study (meaning it is largely improvised according to political need) and your authentic and gritty memoirs is sad and strained. I wouldn’t be the first to compare the former to a type of mental masturbation that aligns reality with the titillating prospect of a “reasonable” theoretical outcome, no matter how outrageously this interferes with perceived facts. I’m afraid I don’t have the energy or inclination to respond more fully, but I’ll add that the stylistic errors throughout attest to a desire to put the message before the medium, to the certain detriment of both.

Frankly I enjoyed best Sonja’s comment—“I’m one of those women that worked as an art director for D-Cup. I assure you I am a feminist.”—which simply blew apart the absurd posing of both the “academic” study and the review itself. Pfft.

Jack

PS—I’d probably give him a C-. He’s fairly articulate, though makes stylistic errors that a grad student should not. (Was there no editor?) The main problem is that his approach is simply wrong-headed—it follows a construct that is largely improvisational and therefore less than useful. He does (perhaps by accident) make some useful observations.


Do we have a genuine, take-no-prisoners academic controversy brewing? One can hope.

Deconstructing Sonja

August 9, 2011

Tags: Sonja Wagner, art, smut, Beaver Street, Steve Colby, John Lee-Graham, Falcon Foto, D-Cup

They're rioting in England! The economy's melting down! Everything's out of control! So let's talk about art again.

The other week I wrote about the erotic paintings of my former art director Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street who goes by her real name and has some of the best lines in the book. Her paintings, I suggested, served as useful illustrations of the ongoing debate about what is art and what is smut. And I said that even her most overtly pornographic images, ones that I wouldn’t risk showing on this website, are still, clearly, art—because of the skill and imagination with which they were created, and their emotional impact.

I’ve also come to realize that Sonja’s paintings, based on her D-Cup layouts, are a parallel narrative to Beaver Street, though to appreciate this you had to be there, either when the photos were shot or when Sonja and I put together the layouts.

Her paintings remind me of the photographers who shot them—Steve Colby, John Lee- Graham, and Falcon Foto—of being in London or California and directing the shoots, of interviewing the models, or of simply standing in Sonja’s cubicle and watching her place the photos down on boards, and slice them with her X-acto knife to achieve a perfect fit. All of which I wrote about in Beaver Street.

And it amazes me that these layouts, created decades ago to be nothing more than disposable trash and masturbation fodder, have been transformed as if by magic into enduring works of art.

Thy Daily Sonja

July 26, 2011

Tags: Sonja Wagner, art, smut, Beaver Street, Falcon Foto

The past few days I’ve been posting the erotic paintings of Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street and my art director when I was editing porn mags. I’ve used these images to explore the question: What is art and what is smut? The three previous paintings, “Reclining Girl,” “Single Girl in Motion,” and “Standing Girl,” are all, clearly, art, and for that reason I didn’t hesitate to post, uncensored, the entire image.

Today’s image is a detail from “Tropical Girl/Boy,” a startling 90" x 60" oil on canvas, based on a pictorial shot by Falcon Foto. Yes, this, too, is art. But I’m not posting the entire painting because it’s far filthier than any of her other erotic paintings—the “girl” is holding in her hand the semi-erect penis of the “boy.” Even if Sonja were as famous as Michelangelo and dead for 500 years, The New York Times wouldn’t post the entire image, and those are the unassailable standards we go by at The Daily Beaver, at least when it comes to art.

However, if you’re over 18 and you want to see “Tropical Girl/Boy” in all its naked glory, please click here.

Why? Because the art of Sonja Wagner is fun to look at. Do you need a better reason?

Reclining Girl

July 25, 2011

Tags: Sonja Wagner, art, smut, D-Cup, Beaver Street, John Lee-Graham, Danni Ashe

Between the massacre in Norway, the death of Amy Winehouse, the domestic terrorists posing as Republican Congressmen who are threatening to torpedo the US economy, and the 100-degree temperatures that baked New York City, all of which happened over one dreadful weekend, there’s a lot to recover from today. And one way to recover is to contemplate a work of erotic art.

To continue the ever-provocative Art vs. Smut debate, I’ll share another painting by Sonja Wagner, who was my art director on D-Cup and numerous other smut rags for 15 years.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog then you know that Wagner’s a character in Beaver Street, and the only “private citizen” who allowed me to use her real name in the book. And if you’ve read Beaver Street, then you know she has some of the best lines. (See pages 123-124, for example.)

The woman in “Reclining Girl”—based on a layout of a John Lee-Graham photo set that Wagner designed for D-Cup—is Danni Ashe. Ashe, whose career I discuss in detail in Beaver Street, was the first model to discover that it was possible to have a virtual career in cyberspace. She launched her website, “Danni’s Hard Drive,” in 1995. It made her a “dot-cum” millionaire and took her from the cover of D-Cup to the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

But is it art? Ms. Wagner, would you care to respond?

“One of the pornographer's stock images—the ‘single girl’—returns in this work, but turned to my own ends,” says Wagner. “Instead of a quick, crude, easily replicable photograph intended for physical release, I offer an intensively detailed painting that asks the viewer to look again and again: to take pleasure in line, design and color.”

I hope “Reclining Girl” brings you a moment of pleasure in these traumatic times.

Art vs. Smut

July 22, 2011

Tags: Beaver Street, The New York Times, Lucian Freud, smut, Sonja Wagner, Steve Colby, D-Cup

In these schizophrenic times, as ever more deranged Internet pornography reaches an increasingly wider mainstream audience, people who lead “respectable” lives live in mortal terror that somebody may find out that they enjoyed reading a “dirty” book, such as Beaver Street. In an atmosphere this repressive, it’s hard to know what’s considered “appropriate” to post on this website, hosted by the Authors Guild.

A partial answer to this question appeared in The New York Times today, in an obituary of the artist Lucian Freud. The so-called “Gray Lady,” which once refused to print the title Beaver Street in an article about the porn industry, ran a photograph of one of Freud’s paintings that showed breasts and pubic hair.

With that lofty standard in mind, I’ve chosen to share another uncensored image of a painting created by Sonja Wagner, a character in Beaver Street. (I ran one of her milder erotic images yesterday.)

The painting, “Single Girl in Motion,” is based on a layout of a Steve Colby photo set that Wagner designed for D-Cup magazine, which she art directed for decades. (A detail of this image appears in the Beaver Street photo section.)

Some people may call it smut. I call it art.

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.