As part of the "Legends Project", Irving Klaw has been recognized as an BDSM Icon
for the work they have done to make the BDSM/GLBT/Leather communities what they are today.
Klaw is best-known for operating a mail-order business selling photographs and film of attractive women (sometimes in bondage) from the 1940s to the 1960s. He was one of the first fetish photographers, and his model Bettie Page became the first famous bondage model.
His Nutrix books started as a mail order magic trick company, but morphed into a mail order company selling these photos and bondage art sets.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York. His family business, which eventually became Movie Star News, began in 1939 when he and his sister Paula opened a struggling used bookstore at 209 East 14th Street in Manhattan. After he discovered teenagers were frequently tearing out photos from his movie magazines, he started selling movie star stills and lobby photo cards. Customers could leaf through various catalogs of sample photos and order what they wanted by item number. These sold so well that he stopped selling books and moved the store up from the basement to the street-level storefront and renamed it Irving Klaw Pin Ups. Business thrived and the self-named "Pin-Up King" moved again to 212 East 14th Street and took on the name Movie Star News. Klaw also had a brisk international mail-order business selling cheesecake photos of movie stars.
By the late 1940s he was receiving frequent requests for "Damsel-in-distress" photos of actresses being bound and gagged, spanked, and flogged. Because of the difficulty of finding enough film stills to meet this growing demand, Klaw decided to produce his own photos. He and his sister Paula, who actually posed and took most of the photos, started selling bondage and fetish photos using burlesque dancers like Baby Lake, Tempest Storm, and Blaze Starr as models. Klaw always went to great pains to make sure his photographs contained no sex acts or nudity, which would make the material pornographic and hence illegal to sell via mail.
After the surprise success of the B-movie Strip-O-Rama, a 1953 burlesque revue with famous striptease artists and model Bettie Page, Klaw quickly duplicated the formula for his own burlesque features. Using a professional camera crew and richly-saturated Eastman color filmstock, Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955) featured Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, and Bettie Page (and were released on DVD in the U.S. in 2000). He produced and directed a third film in 1956, Buxom Beautease, without Page.
Also during this period, Klaw set up weekend home-movie sessions where he produced scores of silent 8mm and 16mm black-and-white film loops. These featured striptease acts and an assortment of fetishistic subjects based on special requests from his clientele. Titles such as Riding the Human Pony Girl, Bondage in Leather Harness, and Booted Amazon Fights Again depicted women in skimpy lingerie and high heels engaging in elaborate bondage, cat-fights, spanking, and slave training. Nearly all of the film loops were shot on a single, sparsely decorated set, either in the studio above Movie Star News or at a nearby loft space. At least two films with Bettie Page (Rumble Seat Bondage and Jungle Girl Tied to Trees) were shot outdoors at secluded locations. Still photos taken during the movie sessions were also sold at the store and in the biannual mail-order catalog Cartoon and Model Parade. (Source: The Real Bettie Page by Richard Foster, Citadel Press: Secaucus, NJ, 1999, ISBN 0-8065-2075-2)
Due to the revival of interest in Bettie Page that began in the 1980s, various compilations of these featurettes have been released on video and DVD. Background music and narration was added to the silent footage for the definitive two-volume video Irving Klaw Bondage Classics (1984) by London Enterprises. In 2005, Cult Epics released both volumes on one DVD under the title Bettie Page: Bondage Queen. Also in 2005, Cult Epics put out Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen, a DVD compilation of her burlesque performances from Striporama, Varietease and Teaserama—plus six black-and-white film loops of dancing and a cat-fight. Another set of Klaw's bondage film reels, including one with Bettie Page, are in Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 20, a compilation of vintage fetish films produced by Something Weird Video (2008).
Klaw returned to filmmaking in 1963, producing two films: Larry Wolk's Intimate Diary of an Artist's Model and Nature's Sweethearts, co-directing the latter. Unlike his previous works, both pictures featured a lot of topless women.
The "Kefauver Hearings" of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency marked the beginning of the end of Irving Klaw's mail-order photography business. The investigation attacked comic books citing the fact that many juvenile delinquents had read them. It also tried to link pornography with juvenile delinquency.
Because of the political and social pressure he faced, Klaw eventually quit the business, and burned his negatives. (It is estimated that more than 80% of the negatives were destroyed.) Paula Klaw secretly kept in her possession some of the better images which can be seen today.
Irving Klaw died on September 3, 1966 due to complications from untreated appendicitis. He was survived by two sons, Arthur and Jeffrey. His nephew Ira Kramer, son of Paula and Jack Kramer, currently runs the family business, Movie Star News, which is now located on 18th Street.
In 2005 Klaw was portrayed by Chris Bauer in the biographical film The Notorious Bettie Page.
A Personal Note from Robin
The "Kefauver Hearings @wp" were officially named "The Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce".
I still remember watching "The Hearings" on television. Almost every person called before the committee used their "Fifth Amendment Rights" to avoid answering any questions of substance. Many Americans of the time were waiting to see "The Crooks" being sent off to jail but the hearings had no judicial powers.
Irving Klaw was one of dozens of people called before the committee. Personally, I have never been able to fully understand why, unless:
- Klaw hired burlesque dancers from several clubs "potentially owned by the Mafia" and the committee was trying to establish a link between the Mafia and Burlesque, or;
- Kehauver was trying to add sexuality to his otherwise boring hearings, although no pictures or exhibits were ever shown.
Betty Page was also subpoenaed but was not sworn in. She was never questioned, nor did she testify before the committee.
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