In honor of Al Goldstein, who passed away today at 77, here's an excerpt from the "Natural-Born Pornographers" chapter of Beaver Street. Names of all non-public figures have been changed.
Soon after I took over as FAO's managing editor, my good friend Georgina Kelly landed a 'prestigious' $15,000-per-year part-time position at Screw as an associate editor whose responsibilities included finding whores for publisher Al Goldstein and helping Goldstein's managing editor, Howard Nussbaum, put out the paper every two weeks. Kelly was thrilled about the job because people inside and outside the industry feared and respected Screw more than any other pornographic publication, including Hustler. Screw's utter audacity in the face of possible lawsuits and the quality of its prose were the principal reasons for this. Chip Goodman, for one, lived in mortal terror that Screw would run more stories written by former employees about his cocaine habit. Other people of a certain ilk shared a well-founded dread of waking up to find themselves the subject of one of the crudely constructed photo collages that ran in almost every issue. These collages generally consisted of huge penises penetrating the orifices and ejaculating on the faces of whatever high-profile decency advocates, aspiring censors, and porno competitors Goldstein had a hankering to infuriate. As of late, the objects of his rage included President Ronald Reagan, First Lady Nancy Reagan, Attorney General Edwin Meese, 'moral majority' leader Jerry Falwell, the Reverend Pat Robertson, radical feminists Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon, and Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
Unlike most people in the porn biz, who thought it prudent to seek employment elsewhere, Kelly wasn’t troubled by Goldstein’s fanatical commitment to the First Amendment, or by the daily bomb threats from assorted psychos and religious fanatics, or by the fact that the entire staff had been marked for assassination by a fundamentalist Islamic death squad after publishing ‘The Dirty Parts of the Koran’ in an April Fool’s issue. On the contrary, she was delighted to have finally latched onto a corporation that offered so much opportunity for advancement.
What made Screw great, Kelly explained, was that ‘Al’ understood his audience perfectly—because he was his own perfect audience. He knew that only a handful of readers bought Screw for the political satire or for the celebrity interviews he threw in when he could get them—like the one in 1972 in which Jack Nicholson admitted that he’d “jacked off to Screw.” The real readers—the ones who’d kept Goldstein in business since November 1968—were the desperately horny men who bought Screw for the hooker ads and the detailed guides to peep shows, whorehouses, and swinger clubs. It was universally acknowledged that Screw was the best and most reliable place to find out where to get laid, blown, jacked off, or lap-danced in the New York metropolitan area.
And that’s the way it had been since Goldstein, with an initial investment of $300, published his first issue, on the day after Richard Nixon was elected president, and then watched the tabloid explode on newsstands with a Beatles-like intensity that forever changed the way America perceived pornography. Now, after nearly two decades of hate mail, death threats, obscenity busts, high-profile publicity, and lawsuits, Screw had become an icon of American sleaze culture, the magazine that people loved to hate, even if they’d never seen it. Goldstein himself, who grew up in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in the forties and fifties dreaming about “tasting pussy” (and thinking he never would), had become a despised and admired gadfly smut-publisher who was tasting a lion’s share of pussy—and now had Georgina Kelly on staff, in part to ensure that he never went without pussy again.