Sunday, June 5, 2011

Autobiography Pt. 26

At the time, I was splitting my residence between Detroit (the home of my family, and my print shop) and New York City, and since NYC had been Bettie’s home for many years, it was a terrific place to begin my research. The obvious first obvious stop was Movie Star News, the long-time Mecca for pin-up fans.
Movie Star News was located on the second floor of a building on East 23rd Street, just off of Second Avenue. It was easy to find if you knew all you had to do was spot the Jefferson Theater’s marquee and look immediately to the right, second story. There, in the glow of a hundred incandescent bulbs, Paula Klaw ran Movie Star News, one of the few places where you could purchase movie stills of your choice. The store had grown out of her brother Irving’s used bookstore business that, in 1939 was going nowhere, fast. One day Klaw heard paper tearing in the rear of his store and was shocked to discover a neighborhood girl tearing pictures of movie stars out of an old issue of SILVER SCREEN or MOVIE STORIES, or some other forgotten fan mag title. He chased her off and was disturbed to discover that his young customers had made mince-meat of his mags. Still, it was clear that people wanted shots of movie stars, so he roped-in a box of glossy stills and they sold better than anything he’d ever offered: Even magic tricks! Soon, the used-books were cleared out to make more room for file-cabinets packed with 8”x10” glossies.
By the late 1940s, Irving had developed a huge mail-order following and had several customer lists for specific material. Some wanted barefoot babes, some wanted bound beauties, and some wanted fighting females. Whenever a shot became available for a specific group from a studio release, they were notified. Unfortunately, Hollywood featured far too few stills that suited his needs, and Irving was forced to bide his time. Things hadn’t been going so well now that the serials were on the skids, and new bondage shots were hard to find.
One customer suggested that Klaw shoot his own specialty shots, and this customer would pay the cost of the shoot for a set of prints. Klaw’s empire exploded after that, and eventually he was employing dozens of New York’s top strippers and models to pose for cheesecake or bondage photos. Bettie eventually showed up and quickly became Klaw’s top seller.
Irving died during the early-1960s and his sister Paula took over the business. The tiny store was just wide enough to have two isles of filing cabinets. If a drawer was wide open on one side, you couldn’t open the drawer immediately across from it. A customer would often seem to be pinned against one row by a drawer from another, the trapped fan pawing desperately for buried treasure.
“This guy came all the way from Wisconsin,” Paula once pleaded, “There’s no room for the both of you. Can you come back another time?” Though I never visited the 14th Street location again, I made many visits to Movie Star News.

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