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The Weekly Blague

What's in a Name?


I launched this blog February 10, 2010, with an announcement that the Italian edition of my John Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, was going to be published by Coniglio Editore, and that I was going to celebrate with a pizza and a bottle of Chianti. I don't remember what I called the blog back then. I changed the name every few weeks. I do know that over the past 13 years and 5 months, as I posted sometimes daily, sometimes weekly, and sometimes monthly, I changed the name many more times.


If you logged on here four days ago, I was calling the blog "Flatbush Flashback," a reference to my most recent book, A Brooklyn Memoir. The blog served as an illustrated postscript to what I'd written about my old neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. Before that, my posts about Beaver Street were an addendum to my analysis of the political, technical, and sociological ramifications of the pornography industry. I called the blog "The Daily Beaver." Scroll down the left-hand column (on a computer) and you'll see a list of all the other topics I've written about since 2010.


Lately I've been writing about whatever catches my interest on any particular day. So, if you've tuned in recently, you've read about legal cannabis in New York City, a 350-year-old tree in Washington Square Park, tenement buildings (which did, coincidentally, touch on Flatbush), and a visit to Uvalde, Texas, on the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.


It was time to change the name of the blog.


I stole "The Weekly Blague" from an Agatha Christie book I've been reading. There's a reference in Death on the Nile to a gossip column in a newspaper called the Daily Blague. The name made me laugh. I looked it up and was surprised to see that "blague" is a real word, though a bit archaic. I'm not going to tell you what it means, but I will say I'm using it ironically.


I don't know how long I'm going to keep that name. But for the time being, I am going to keep posting to The Weekly Blague about whatever's on my mind.


Conventional wisdom has it that people no longer read blogs, that they're very 2010, that readers want only microposts on social media. I don't buy it. A good blog is no different than a good newspaper. If you write about things people want to read, they'll find it. This blog has proven that many times.


Welcome to The Weekly Blague, however long it may last.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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A Journey Through My Consciousness

Nowhere Man, Beaver Street, and A Brooklyn Memoir, three books about seemingly unrelated topics, are connected by my voice—they all have the same sound. It's almost as if they're a trilogy or a journey through my consciousness. The interviews I've done over the years usually focus on only one topic: John Lennon, pornography, or Flatbush. But occasionally somebody wants to explore the complete Rosen oeuvre, and that was the case with the podcast Conversations With Rich Bennett. Rich wanted to hear it all, and he allowed me to ramble on for more than hour, taking a deep dive into each of my books.


I hope you'll give our conversation a listen.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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Sonja Wagner on Beaver Street


The first edition of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, published only in the UK in 2010 (it's now a collector's item), contains an eight-page photo section. One of those pages, above, has a picture of art director Sonja Wagner in her 1980s prime. She shares the page with some of the greatest porn stars of her generation (clockwise from top right): Dick Rambone; detail from Wagner's painting "Single Girl in Motion," based on a layout in D-Cup magazine; Wagner; Paul Thomas; a page from the 30th anniversary issue of Swank magazine, November 1984; Seka; John Holmes.


Sonja died March 3, after a brief illness, leaving a hole in the social fabric of New York City. As we continue to mourn her passing I will continue to write about her. Call it a vigil for Sonja.


You can read more about Sonja's life and art in The Village Voice and, of course, in Beaver Street, though the later editions, published worldwide, have no photo section.


All my books are available on Amazon, all other online bookstores, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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The Rosen Oeuvre


Talking with Emerson Souza, host of the Hear Some Evil podcast, is kind of like hanging out at a bar and getting into a stimulating conversation with the knowledgeable stranger sitting on the barstool next to you. Souza originally told me that he was interested in discussing Beaver Street, my book about the history of pornography. But we ended up talking for two hours about my other books, too: an updated edition of my classic John Lennon bio Nowhere Man, which was just re-released, and A Brooklyn Memoir, a darkly comic tale about growing up in Flatbush in the 1950s and 60s, surrounded by Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who fought the Nazis. In short, Souza and I covered the entire Rosen oeuvre, and you can listen to our conversation if you click on "Play," above.


My latest book, A Brooklyn Memoir, is available on Amazon, Bookshop, all other online booksellers, and at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


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Rosen Remembers, Part II

Rosen Remembers, Part II, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography

The Beaver Street Interview


In the second part of my interview with author Marshall Terrill, we talk about Beaver Street, my book about the pornography industry. The conversation has been edited for clarity. Our discussion of A Brooklyn Memoir, scheduled for publication in July, will follow in part three.


Marshall Terrill: Your second book, Beaver Street, chronicled your years in the porn business. What was the impetus for that memoir?


Robert Rosen: I'd spent 16 years working in the adult entertainment industry, as it's politely known. I was the editor of a bunch of porn magazines. Between 1983 and 1999, I had a ringside seat to a lot of things that nobody had written about. Virtually all the books about the porn business were either porn-star memoirs or unreadable academic dissertations. So I thought that a mainstream book about porn was the thing to do. Beaver Street is a history of late-20th-century culture, technology, economics, and politics as seen through a pornographic lens. It's a serious history that reads like a comic novel. And like Nowhere Man, I ran into a brick wall as far as getting it published. Editors said it wasn't a history, it wasn't a memoir, it wasn't an academic book, and it was neither pro- nor anti-porn. It was an unusual book that didn't fit neatly into any category. Headpress finally published it in 2011, first in the UK, then here.


MT: One of the more ironic things that struck me in reading Beaver Street was the workers were smoking pot during the day while putting together an issue on deadline. Yet there was a rigidity that I can't quite put my finger on because of the fact that the publishers were afraid of criminal prosecution. Did you find that ironic as well?


RR: I worked for three publishers. The first was Carl Ruderman, who published High Society, the magaine that invented free phone-sex, the first fusion of erotica and computers. Ruderman was very controlling, a very ugly personality. He was schizophrenic in the sense that he wanted to be Hugh Hefner and he wanted High Society to be as famous as Playboy, but he also wanted to be anonymous. He didn't want anybody to know that he was publishing porn magazines, so his name wasn't in the masthead. But everybody who worked for him had to use their real name in the masthead. He was worried about the consequences of doing porn, and after I left the company, sure enough, federal marshals extradited him to Utah to stand trial on phone-sex charges—underage people were calling the phone-sex lines. He managed to get off on that particular charge, but that's the kind of thing porn publishers were worried about.


"After Ruderman got out of porn, he went into the securities business, and his company, 1 Global Capital, defrauded their clients out of $320 million."


After Ruderman got out of porn, he went into the securities business, and his company, 1 Global Capital, defrauded their clients out of $320 million. It was a Ponzi scheme; he was like mini–­Bernie Madoff. Though some of the company's executives went to jail, he didn't, but he was responsible for personally paying back more than $49 million.


After High Society, I moved to Swank, published by the late Chip Goodman. Chip was more liberal than Ruderman. For the first couple of years, Swank was kind of a loose, fun place to work. As long as the magazines came out and Chip continued to make money, he didn't care what we did. We'd get stoned at lunch. Then we'd come back to the office, look at dirty pictures, and pick out the best ones. It wasn't difficult to do this when you were stoned. It might have even helped. But then the Traci Lords thing happened and the atmosphere changed. Lords was the most popular porn star of her generation—until the FBI found out she was underage. There was at least one picture of her in every magazine we published for about three years—I'm talking about hundreds of issues and scores of titles. They all had to be destroyed. And that's when Chip decided he wanted to get out of porn. In 1992 he sold all his porn magazines to Lou Perretta, and the staff went to work for Perretta.


Perretta was a printer who started buying up porn magazines as fodder to keep his presses running 24/7. It was like working on an assembly line in a Chinese dildo factory. At one point Perretta owned everything except Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. He was an awful guy to work for. He was a bigot. I'd never worked in a place where there was anti-Semitism, but it was there. He eventually got sued for age and sex discrimination, and the whole porn-magazine business went down the tubes.


These three men were as wealthy as Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, or Hugh Hefner. But nobody outside the business knew who they were because they went to extreme lengths to portray themselves as legitimate businessmen.


"It's not like I was doing a large-breast magazine and I suddenly developed a fetish for big silicon breasts."


MT: The other thing that struck me about the book was the porn industry seemed to take all the sizzle out of sex. Did working in the industry impact you in some way?


RR: Well, it didn't impact me personally in the way I think you're suggesting. It's not like I was doing a large-breast magazine and I suddenly developed a fetish for big silicon breasts, or I was doing a shaved magazine and I developed a fetish for shaved heads and genitalia. It was work. And the main effect it had on me after 16 years was that by the time I finally left the business, I couldn't stand looking at pornography. And I didn't look at it for the next five years. I was sick of it.


"Porn is not about sex. It's about using sex to separate people from their money."


MT: The book seems to underscore the fact that the porn industry is a business built solely on money, and caters to people who have issues with intimacy.


RR: The people who were the best porn editors were the ones who created the magazines for themselves. They put together the kind of magazines they bought before they became professional pornographers. Before going to work at High Society, I was familiar with Playboy, Penthouse, and Hustler. I really did buy Playboy for the articles, and my roommate in graduate school subscribed to Penthouse. We both liked the Penthouse Forum letters. I didn't realize how many niche porn magazines there were until I started working for one. I'd never heard of High Society, but I needed a job, I applied for the High Society job, they hired me, and I was able to do it. And you are correct. Porn is not about sex. It's about using sex to separate people from their money.


MT: What's the state of the porn-magazine business today given that everything seems to be going towards streaming?


RR: It's pretty much over. I think Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler still publish a print magazine. The other ones, as far as I know, are gone. It's completely Internet-oriented now.


My latest book, A Brooklyn Memoir, is available for pre-order on Amazon and all other online booksellers.


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With the passage of time, I've come to think of my three published books as an interconnected trilogy. Though the subjects appear to be unrelated—John Lennon, pornography, Brooklyn—they're bound together by voice, tone, style, and sensibility. To me the books are a natural progression.


The seeds of Bobby in Naziland, to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir, can be found in the opening pages of Beaver Street, where I describe the scene in my father's candy store in 1961. And I wrote much of the John Lennon biography Nowhere Man while working in the purgatory of "adult entertainment," living the material that would become Beaver Street.


I've been appearing on a number of podcasts lately, and the hosts all recognized the thematic connections between my books. On each podcast I spoke at length about all three of them.


In my latest interview, on Politically Entertaining with Evolving Randomness, the host, Elias, from the Bronx, expressed boundless curiosity about everything I brought up, even Brooklyn. The interview begins at 1:34:11 and runs for an hour. (If you click on the above link, you can fast-forward on the podcast site.)


My latest book, Bobby in Naziland, to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir, is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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A Deep Dive Into John Lennon

Matthew Nathaniel, host of the L.A.-based podcast Evolved Idiots, wanted to talk about John Lennon and my book Nowhere Man. "Perfect," I said, as Saturday, October 9, would have been the ex-Beatle's 81st birthday—a number 9 (8+1) that Lennon would have found significant. So Nathaniel and I took a deep dive into all things John Winston Ono Lennon, covering such subjects as his private diaries, his relationship with Yoko Ono, his rivalry with Paul McCartney, his involvement with the occult, and his desire to put the Beatles in the past and move forward with an identity that transcended "ex-Beatle."


And that was just the beginning of our wide-ranging conversation. We also talked about the porn industry and my book Beaver Street; Brooklyn in the aftermath of World War II and my book Bobby in Naziland (which Headpress is re-releasing next year with a new title, A Brooklyn Memoir); and the as yet untitled book I'm currently working on, about the 1970s, the underground college press, and hitchhiking.


Finally, Nathaniel asked me about my work habits. How did I go about writing these books? "Do you wait for inspiration?" he inquired. I'd suggest that my answer, whether you're a writer or not, is worth listening to.


You can watch Evolved Idiots on Youtube, above, or listen on Spotify, Apple, Soundcloud, and all other major streaming platforms.


My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Talking “Beaver Street” and “Nowhere Man” With a Right-Wing Guy

I've made it a point, over the past two decades, to speak to anybody who wants to interview me about any of my books. It's a simple philosophy: If I'm going to spend years writing a book and placing it with a publisher, then I'm going to do everything I can to get people to read it. So it was an easy decision to go on the right-wing Electile Dysfunction Podcast. The host, Ashton Cohen, an attorney, wanted to speak to me about Beaver Street, which examines 20th-century history, politics, and technology through a pornographic lens. I wrote the book after spending 16 years working as an editor of "adult" magazines, and I describe Beaver Street as an investigative memoir.


Cohen and I covered a lot of ground, including free speech, the First Amendment, and cancel culture; how computerized phone sex revolutionized the porn industry; my X-rated experiment in participatory journalism; and the connection between porn and Marvel Comics. Then we somehow transitioned to John Lennon's final years and my book Nowhere Man. So we got into Beatles, drugs, and music. (He likes them.)


Cohen is a Trump supporter and we disagree on just about everything political. But our conversation serves as a demonstration that people at opposite ends of the spectrum can have a rational, respectful, entertaining discussion. That in itself may be the most notable takeaway.


You can watch the interview on Youtube, above, or listen on Apple Podcasts.


My latest book, Bobby in Naziland (to be re-released in 2022 as A Brooklyn Memoir), is available on Amazon and all other online booksellers, as well as at your local brick-and-mortar bookstore.


I invite you to join me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter or my eternally embryonic Instagram.

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Yes, I Read My Reviews

On a site called "Vintage Erotica Forums" (VEF), somebody asked, "What book(s) are you reading currently?" A correspondent, "Pinkpapercut," posted the review, below, which I've lightly edited for clarity. The two books preceding Beaver Street in the forum are The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, by Edgar Allan Poe and The First Socialist Schism, Bakunin vs Marx in the International Working Man's Association, by Wolfgang Eckhardt. Silas Marner, by George Elliott, follows.

Back in the 1990s I regularly used to read Headpress, the self-described "Journal of Sex, Religion and Death," which was published in my home city, Manchester.

Headpress [journal and Headpress books] moved online and to London well over a decade ago, and I lost track of them and the man who was the engine behind Headpress, David Kerekes.

A couple of weeks ago I decided to check out whether they are still around. They are, and they’re still publishing material that fits best under the heading of Sex, Religion and Death, and one of their books, Robert Rosen’s Beaver Street, caught my particular interest.

I don’t want to spoil the book by giving Rosen’s story away so I’ll just say that after being cheated by a well-known person as an aspiring writer in early 80s New York, just to keep some money coming in, Rosen applied for a job with a publisher through a classified ad and ended up working for and eventually editing porn magazines for the publisher of some well-known skin mags.

The book is promoted on its cover as “a history of modern pornography,” which it isn’t. But what it is is a fascinating tour around the personalities of the U.S. porn scene in the 80s and 90s; an insight into the practices of the publishers and video makers and the contempt in which very many of them held their customers; the influence of porn publishing on mainstream publishing including forgotten connections between porn and the origins of Marvel Comics; and the story of the decline of the porn magazines in the face of the rise of the Web.

Given that every member of VEF is here because they have an interest in some aspect of porn or—amongst the VEF VIPs—have worked in porn, there’s something in Beaver Street to interest every one of us.

Beaver Street isn’t a deep or deeply analytical book but it is an easy, informative and entertaining read from a porn insider.

Very much recommended.

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On Newsworthy Books, Richard Nixon, and John Lennon

A promo in the German tabloid Bild for the Ozy story “How Nixon Shaped Porn in America.”

Before Ozy called to talk about the history of pornography in America, I'd never heard of them. But that's not surprising. So fragmented and expansive is the media today, even a high-profile news site can slip beneath my radar.

In any case, adhering to my philosophy of treating like Oprah everybody who wants to talk about my books, I spoke at length to Ozy, and when they ran the story, "How Nixon Shaped Porn in America," about the connection between Watergate and Nixon's efforts to ban the film Deep Throat, I was amazed by the results.

Not only was Beaver Street prominently featured, but the story was shared a respectable 1,760 times (and counting) on Facebook; was published in the popular German tabloid Bild as “Mister President wollte eigentlich das Gegenteil ... Wie Nixon dem Porno zum Durchbruch verhalf” (roughly translated as “Mr. President wanted the opposite of it... how Nixon helped porn to its breakthrough”); and was cited in the Washington Post and Baltimore City Paper.

That Beaver Street has remained in the news for more than four years in an environment where just about everything is forgotten within 24 hours is nothing short of miraculous. But apparently, that’s how long it’s taken the media to catch on to one of the book’s central themes: The biggest crooks—notably Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating—cry “Ban pornography!” the loudest.

And speaking of books that people keep talking about long after publication, on Tuesday, July 21, at 10 P.M eastern time, and Saturday July 25, at 2:30 P.M. eastern time, the Reelz channel will broadcast the John Lennon episode of Hollywood Scandals, in which I discuss my Lennon bio, Nowhere Man. Click here to find the show on your cable or satellite system.

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The Brown-Paper Curtain

You know that Beaver Street review, by Peter Landau, on Goodreads, that I posted about yesterday? Well, today it's migrated to Fleshbot. So, if you neglected to read it yesterday, please read it today on Fleshbot. They have much better pictures than Goodreads, just in case you need a little more incentive to click here now.

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The Epic Fleshbot Interview

I've done a lot of interviews since Beaver Street was published, but the 5,000-word epic, conducted by Peter Landau, that was posted on Fleshbot today is one of the most comprehensive and far ranging.

If you haven't read Beaver Street yet, our conversation serves as a fine introduction to both the book and to my entire career, in and out of porn. It's also a very nice birthday present. I'll say no more and simply ask you to click here and enjoy.

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Blast from the Past

Marcia Resnick's shot in StorErotica magazine.

It took a year and a half, but my interview that ran in the print edition of the December 2012 issue of StorErotica, a glossy trade mag for sex-shop owners, has finally found its way online. The print edition was unusual; it was two issues in one, featuring two “front” covers--one on the front and the other on the back. In the online version, which is now available as a downloadable PDF, the second issue begins with the front cover on page 27; my interview begins on page 46.

I was in good form the day I spoke to StorErotica, and the interview is one of my better efforts. I hit all the right notes, I think, especially if you happen to own a store that sells adult novelties. The article also features some photos of me and a couple of porn stars, including Traci Topps, and a great half-page shot taken by Marcia Resnick. So, if you haven’t already seen this interview—and if you’re not in the sex-shop business you probably haven’t—I invite you to check it out. StorErotica and I were on the same wavelength, and they were indeed able to fully appreciate the myriad charms of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography.

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It Was 110 Years Ago Today

James Joyce, a writer banned in America for obscenity.

Happy Bloomsday to all those who are celebrating the 110th anniversary of the day that James Joyce's Ulysses takes place. Joyce chose June 16, 1904 because that was the day he had his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. The novel, in part, depicts protagonist Leopold Bloom's--hence Bloomsday--activities in Dublin, which include such things as voyeurism and public masturbation. That's why Ulysses was banned in America, and that's why, two years ago, I chose June 16 to celebrate the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, at the Killarney Rose, an Irish bar on Beaver Street in downtown Manhattan.

At the time, Amazon had refused to make the print edition of Beaver Street available, and it was only after they got wind of the fact that the book-launch party was turning into a public demonstration against Amazon censorship that they managed to fix the “computer glitches” and “bureaucratic snafus” that had already cost me all pre-orders and three months of sales. “We would never censor a book,” an Amazon spokesman told me. (I’m pleased to report that sales have since recovered, and Beaver Street now routinely ranks among Amazon’s best-selling books on pornography.)

Bloomsday on Beaver Street was such a success that I decided to do it again last year, when June 16 fell on Father’s Day, and that, too, went rather well. It looked as if my literary celebration, featuring readings, music, porn stars, and theatrical performances, was going to become a New York City tradition.

This year, unfortunately, life (and a new job in magazines after a 14-year hiatus from the workforce) interfered with mounting Bloomsday on Beaver Street III. As much as I would have liked to, I just didn’t have the time to put together what’s become the equivalent of an Off-Off Broadway revue. This evening, however, I will raise a glass of something alcoholic (perhaps Guinness) and join in spirit all those who would have liked to gather in the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street and celebrate great books that were once denounced as obscene.

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Raw Talent

Video-box cover for Raw Talent.

That I've used pseudonyms for many of the "characters" who populate Beaver Street was an unavoidable concession to the fact that I was writing about real people, and it would have had a negative impact upon their lives to be portrayed as pornographers or former pornographers. One of those characters is "Pam Katz," and soon after Beaver Street was published, due to a variety of factors, it no longer was necessary to disguise her identity. She is Joyce Snyder, best known as the writer and producer of Raw Talent, parts I-III, classic XXX films from the 1980s that have recently been rediscovered by such sites as The Rialto Report and The Projection Booth, where you can listen to an interview with Joyce.

What Joyce has to say about making these films while she was working for Swank Publications should be of special interest to anybody who’s read Beaver Street. “Pam Katz” comes to life, veritably stepping out of the book.

The other people interviewed are the film’s director Larry Revene and its star, Jerry Butler.

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Listen to the Scatterbrains Podcast Here and Now!

Important update: This interview is no longer available.

No need to even leave this website to listen to my interview with Alia Janine, which was originally posted on OnMilwaukee.com. Just click on the player. Next thing you know, you'll be hearing Alia sing the theme from Rawhide. Apparently , if you live in Milwaukee, this song has nothing to do with cowboys and everything to do with Rosen. Read More 

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Scatterbrains Podcast with Alia Janine

Alia Janine, the former porn star, in her more subdued incarnation: professional journalist.

Important update: The Scatterbrains Podcast interview is no longer available.


Yes, I'm aware that The Sporadic Beaver has been more sporadic than usual lately, but I've been unusually busy with life, literature, and work. I will, however, break my silence with this bit of news: My Scatterbrains Podcast interview with former porn star and Milwaukee native Alia Janine is now live on OnMilwaukee.com, that city's premier arts and entertainment Website.

Alia, whose X-rated talents cannot be overstated, has developed (so to speak) into a first-rate interviewer. It’s her ability to put her subject at ease, and make an in-depth interrogation seem like a friendly chat that sets Alia apart in this competitive journalistic arena. Some of the people she’s previously interviewed include porn star Belle Knox, actor Joe Reitman, and comedian Gareth Reynolds. They’re all archived on OnMilwaukee.com.

Alia and I cover a lot of ground in a half hour, but mostly we talk about Beaver Street, deconstructing everything from the invention of free phone-sex at High Society magazine (which marked the dawn of the Age of Modern Pornography), to the Traci Lords scandal, to Edwin Meese, the rabidly anti-porn attorney general who was driven from office under a cloud of corruption.

And please stay tuned to The Sporadic Beaver for more big news. Read More 

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Pornography and Capitalism

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. Read More 

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No Porn Please, We're British

If I believed in astrology, I'd attribute the events of the past couple of days to the fact that, on July 23, the zodiac moved into Leo, the sign under which I was born. But since I don't believe in astrology I'll have to attribute these events to the fact that for more than two years I've been talking nonstop about Beaver Street to anybody who'll listen.

This morning, an article on CNBC about the U.K.'s Internet pornography ban, "No Porn Please, We're British," by Chris Morris, mentions Beaver Street. Morris asked me what I thought would happen now that anybody in England who wants to look at X-rated material on his computer will be asked by their ISP to verify his age and confirm that he wants to watch smut.

“Obviously people are not going to want to do that,” I said. “People just don’t want to come out in public and say ‘I want to look at porn.’ A lot of people who do look at porn are inhibited, shy people.”

And in response to Prime Minister David Cameron’s statement that online porn is “corroding childhood,” I added, “If kids want to look at pornography, they usually figure out how to do it.”

That’s the first time I’ve ever given a PM a piece of my mind.

Then, last night, at the 2A bar in the East Village—along with Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace; adult actress Brittany Andrews; Bobby Black, senior editor of High Times, and actor Jeffrey Emerson—I celebrated Hunter Thompson’s birthday (he was born July 18, under the sign of Cancer) by reading from “Mein Kar,” a Thompson parody about a Mercedes-Benz road test that I wrote for D-Cup magazine, and the opening pages of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which inspired the parody.

A huge thanks to everybody who came out to see us, and especially to Eric and Lainie Speiser, who put the event together!

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This Is Cool

John Mozzer was an information technology specialist who'd received security clearance from the National Security Agency. But in his secret life, one that he lived from 1978 to 1995, he was Alan Adrian, a pornographic actor who appeared in 67 XXX-rated movies, including such classics as A Taste of Money, Inside Little Oral Annie, Maid in Manhattan, Babylon Blue, Oriental Techniques in Pain and Pleasure, Centerfold Fever, and The Devil in Miss Jones II.

Now retired and living in L.A., Mozzer tends to an extensive archive of material related to the porn industry. He also knows many of the characters from Beaver Street, and he recently posted a review of the book on Amazon. I think the review serves as a perfect example of the kind of dialogue that I'd hoped Beaver Street would spark, and which I'd encourage people to continue.

This is what Mozzer had to say:

A Fascinating Read

My original reason for reading Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography is that my world overlapped with author Robert Rosen’s world during the 1980s. I worked as an adult film actor (under the name Alan Adrian or Spike), a representative for magazine distributing and printing companies that profited by serving the porn industry, and a freelance writer and photographer for some of Rosen’s colleagues.

It’s a shame that names have to be changed in non-fiction books like Beaver Street. I was hoping to recognize the colleagues whose names were changed by Rosen. But that didn’t happen. I suspect this means it will be all the more difficult for future writers on this topic to figure out who’s who.

To my surprise, in Chapter 4, Rosen describes Carl Ruderman, the person with the money behind High Society, as very involved with its day-to-day operation. Furthermore, his anecdotes about working for High Society came across as very credible. I found myself feeling, “I’m sure these things really happened.” Nevertheless, I think caution is in order, because Rosen’s stint at High Society is a small fraction of the magazine’s life, and the situation may have changed over time. After finishing Chapter 4, I decided the extent to which Ruderman involved himself with the day-to-day operation of High Society, over the long run, remains an open question.

Years ago, I heard about the murder of editor Bill Bottiggi. But I never knew about the circumstances leading up to the murder, as Rosen describes it. I find Rosen’s account very disconcerting. After all these years, I have to reconsider placing Bottiggi in the “all good” and “nice guy” category in my head. Initially, I believed Rosen’s account. Later, I found myself not wanting to believe it, and longing for accounts by other people who knew Bottiggi.

Rosen presents strong arguments against society for allowing Traci Lords to get away with hoodwinking the porn industry. In fact, his arguments made me very, very pissed off at her.

Beaver Street was truly a book that I couldn’t put down. I learned tons of stuff that I didn’t know. You don’t need to have been involved with the porn industry, like myself, in order to enjoy the book. You don’t even have to be involved with researching the subject. Beaver Street is a fascinating book to read. Read More 

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Summer Hours

I'll be posting here sporadically over the course of the summer. So go enjoy yourselves, read a good book, and don’t forget to use sunscreen.

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From Another Carl Ruderman Fan

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! Read More 
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The Rialto Report

Having written a book about the history of pornography, set mostly in New York City between 1974-1987, I take an abiding interest in all things having to do with the history of porn in New York. Recently, I've discovered a site called The Rialto Report, run by a man with a British accent who calls himself Ashley West and occasionally Benson Hurst, and who shares my abiding interest in the Golden Age of New York's adult industry.

Named for the now-closed Rialto Theatre on 42nd Street, the site has posted a series of podcast interviews with porn people from New York's past. Last night I listened to the interview with Carter Stevens, an actor, director, and producer, probably best known for a film called Lickity-Split. Though I didn't write about him in Beaver Street, he's one of those pornographers whose name you heard time and again if you worked in X; he was everywhere in the 70s and 80s.

The interview is over an hour, and Stevens, with his tough-guy voice, goes into great detail about New York in the days of Plato’s Retreat, Bernard’s, Jamie Gillis, Bobby Astor, Sharon Mitchell, and his ex-wife, Baby Doe.

As I write this, I’m listening to the provocative interview with Annie Sprinkle—she talks about rape and feminism. Sprinkle was a unique (to say the least) New York character whom I worked with when I was managing editor of Stag in the 1980s, and whom I did write about in Beaver Street. (I discuss Annie and some of her freaky predilections in this video clip from my interview with Kendra Holliday.)

Also interviewed on The Rialto Report are porn stars Jennifer Welles, George Payne, and Jeffrey Hurst, filmmaker John Amero, and photographer Barbara Nitke.

This is a rapidly expanding site, and a great resource well worth checking out.

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One Year of U.S. Beaver

Maybe you're celebrating Maundy Thursday, but I'm celebrating the first anniversary of the U.S. publication of Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, an event marked by a responsive reading of a review by Byron Nilsson, on a site called Words and Music, which ran one year ago today.

And quite a year it's been! The good news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again. The bad news about Beaver Street, one year down the road, is that it's sold out on Amazon. Again.

I’m not about to complain about a book selling out repeatedly. I will only say that when the book does sell out, as it’s been doing the past two months, I’d be happier if Amazon got it back in stock more quickly or kept more copies in stock so it didn’t sell out as often.

And I will express gratitude for the fact that one year after its U.S. publication (and two years after its U.K. publication) critics continue to write about Beaver Street and people continue to buy it.

And finally, I will extend an open invitation to all readers to come to the Killarney Rose on Beaver Street on June 16 for the Second Annual Bloomsday on Beaver Street celebration. The Very Reverend Byron Nilsson will be presiding, and he thinks I know how to “make words dance.” He said so in his review. I will be doing my best to make those words dance in public.

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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.

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It's Time to Play "The Next Big Thing"

Janet Hardy, whose latest book, Girlfag, I wrote about the other week, told me about this Internet "thing" that's currently making the rounds among authors. It sounded like fun, especially the question about casting the movie version of your book. So, I did it.

It's called "The Next Big Thing" and here's how it works: I post and promote a blog entry that answers ten questions about a work in progress. I then "tag" five authors who answer the questions in their own post and tag me along with five other authors. And so on.

Here are the questions and my answers.

1) What is the working title of your book?
I’m calling Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography a work in progress because foreign rights and film rights remain untapped, and I’m putting as much effort into promoting Beaver Street as I am into writing my next book, Bobby in Naziland.

2) Where did the idea for the book come from?
From working as an editor of “men’s sophisticate” magazines (as they’re euphemistically called) for 16 years and realizing from my first day on the job at High Society, in 1983, that I was witnessing something extraordinary: the dawn of the age of digital, or modern, pornography.

3) What genre does it fall under?
I call Beaver Street an investigative memoir, meaning it’s a combination of investigative reporting and autobiography.

4) Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
An incomplete cast in order of appearance:
Bobby Paradise: Garrett Hedlund
Joe Angleini: James Franco
Maria Bellanari: Michelle Pfeiffer
Ellen Badner: Janeane Garofalo
Carl Ruderman: Gary Oldman
Irwin Fast: William Shatner
Chip Goodman: Wallace Shawn
Susan Netter: Jane Lynch
Ralph Rubinstein: Shia LaBeouf
Izzy Singer: Paul Giametti
Henry Dorfman: Paul Slimak
Arnold Shapiro: Steve Carell
Pamela Katz: Scarlett Johansson
Sonja Wagner: Sigourney Weaver
Annie Sprinkle: Kat Dennings
Georgina Kelly: Courtney Love
Georgette Kelly: Ashley Hinshaw
Bill Bottiggi: Jackie Earle Haley
Al Goldstein: Byron Nilsson
Ron Jeremy: Himself
Buck Henry: Himself
Roberta Goodman: Agnes Herrmann

5) What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
An investigative memoir about pornography in the age of the computer, from the birth of phone sex to the skin mag in cyberspace.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
After two agents failed to sell Beaver Street, I sold it myself to Headpress, a London-based indie.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?
About three years.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Tropic of Capricorn by Henry Miller. Beaver Street has been called “a Tropic of Capricorn for the digital age.”

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?
My experiences working in the pornography industry.

10) What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The political angle: the fact that historically, the biggest crooks have always cried, “Ban pornography!” the loudest, and that the four greatest anti-porn warriors of the 20th century—Richard Nixon, Spiro Agnew, Edwin Meese, and Charles Keating—are either convicted felons or where forced to resign their offices in disgrace or face criminal prosecution.

And here are the five authors I’m tagging: Irv O. Neil, Eric Danville, David Comfort, Joe Diamond, and Antony Hitchin.

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Happy Anniversaries

Anniversaries are useful things when it comes to promoting books, and many books are published to coincide with particular anniversaries--because there's always an upsurge in media attention, especially when those anniversaries have round numbers. November of this year, for example, is (shockingly) the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. Beginning in the fall, you can look for a flurry of expensively produced volumes about John Kennedy, and don't expect to be able to pick up a newspaper or magazine--assuming you still physically pick up printed matter--without reading some kind of article about the latest book, TV show, or commemoration.

I've been conscious of the importance of anniversaries since Nowhere Man was published right before the 20th anniversary of John Lennon's murder. There's no question that the media attention surrounding that event was instrumental in putting the book on best-seller lists. Ever since, I've been seeking out anniversaries anywhere I can find them.

There are plenty of Beaver Street anniversaries to celebrate, though for the most part the media tend to overlook them—even though they are events of genuine historical significance. 2011, for example, was the 25th anniversary of the Meese Commission on Pornography and the Traci Lords scandal. I don’t recall hearing anything about either one of those events. In fact, Edwin Meese, arguably the most corrupt attorney general in the history of the United States, has managed to squirm back into the news, his corruption unmentioned as he mouths off about ways to impeach Obama. And this month, January 2013, is the 30th anniversary of free phone-sex, the first fusion of erotica and computers, and the beginning of the Age of Modern Pornography. Please clue me in if you’re aware of any commemorations. And while you’re at it, please join me in spirit on April 11 to celebrate the day, 30 years ago, that I began working in XXX. (Yikes!)

Amid all these anniversaries, there’s one personal anniversary that somehow escaped my attention: On January 12, 2011, Beaver Street was mentioned in the media for the first time, in the February UK edition of Vanity Fair, the one with Justin Bieber on the cover. This is significant because here it is, two years down the road, and Beaver Street continues to garner media attention. How rare is it that people are still talking about a book two years after publication? Trust me, it’s rare. And it is cause for celebration. You are cordially invited to join me in spirit as I toast to my ongoing promotional campaign. Read More 

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Daddy Porn

The first story I ever wrote for my local newspaper, The Villager, was about The Pleasure Chest, an upscale sex shop that's been at the same Greenwich Village location for 42 years. It was the summer of 1976--the Bi-centennial Summer, as The Pleasure Chest staff preferred to call it--and my assignment was to spend an entire shift in the store and describe what went on.

What went on was that a lot of well-dressed and decidedly non-sleazy men and women came into the store and bought some very expensive fashion accessories, most of them made of luxuriously soft black leather--S&M hoods, corsets, bras, etc. The Pleasure Chest, I thought, was more akin to a clothing store than a sex shop.

When I walked by The Pleasure Chest a few weeks ago, the stark and simple window display stopped me dead in my tracks. It consisted of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy and a riding crop.

For those of you who’ve somehow missed the news, Fifty Shades of Grey is an overtly pornographic S&M epic and one of the best-selling books of all time. As I recently learned, an entire industry has grown up around it. Walk into any sex shop in the world and you can not only buy the complete trilogy, but you can buy any product mentioned in the books—ben wa balls, handcuffs, whips, you name it. The trilogy has made porn so respectable, it’s now being advertised on the sides of New York City bus shelters.

Because Fifty Shades of Grey is, essentially, a Harlequin Romance with explicit sex, it’s been dubbed “Mommy Porn.” And though it is an undeniable commercial mega-success, I’m unaware of any men who have read the book—probably because the average male is interested in reading something grittier and more sophisticated.

Perhaps, then, it’s time to offer an alternative to Mommy Porn. Let’s call it “Daddy Porn.” In fact, let’s call it Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography, a book that’s dedicated to my father and that opens in his Brooklyn candy store, in 1961, with a bunch of the “neighborhood regulars” hanging out and deconstructing the latest volume to appear in his “special rack,” a display of sophisticated pornographic literature that featured such classics as Tropic of Cancer and Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Or Daddy Porn, if you will.

I have a dream. Next Christmas, when I walk by The Pleasure Chest, I want to see Beaver Street in the window, alongside some of the products I mention in the book, like a “plug-in vibrator the size of a small baseball bat” or maybe a cat o’ nine tails, to name but two.

And I believe I’ve taken the first step to achieving this “dream.” The December issue of StorErotica, a glossy trade mag that goes out to every sex shop in the US and Canada (and will soon be available online), features an extensive interview with me, in which I discuss Beaver Street and the sex-novelty business in general.

Let’s call it the first shot of the Beaver Street Winter Assault. In fact, let’s call it a direct hit.

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The Dirty Part

This is my complete Bloomsday on Beaver Street reading of the so-called "dirty part" from the chapter titled "The Accidental Porn Star," pages 110-114. If you think it's easy to read this kind of stuff in front of your family, neighbors, and classmates from high school and junior high school, I suggest you try it sometime. I've posted a couple of more videos from the memorable night of June 16, 2012 here. You can find even more videos on Youtube.

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The Official Bloomsday on Beaver Street Video: Part 1

It has been almost six months since the Bloomsday on Beaver Street launch party at the Killarney Rose for my investigative memoir, Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography. This celebration of banned books, James Joyce, Ulysses, and all literature that has been branded pornographic, featured readings, rock 'n' roll, opera, and a surreal non-performance by a man who once ran for mayor of New York City.

Though I've posted a few truncated video clips of some of the performances, it's only recently that I've come into possession of the official Bloomsday on Beaver Street video--a complete documentation of every moment of the event. Here's the first excerpt: MC Byron Nilsson's masterful introductory monologue.

Stay tuned to relive the entire night, clip by clip.

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