Vixen Press Gil Fox and Hardback Vintage Sleaze from Greenwich Village in the Fifties
I am somewhat surprised no one has posted a bibliography of Vixen Press and a good biography of the apparent founder Gilbert (Gil) Fox. Especially considering Gil not only was friends with Bizarre fetish illustrator John Willie (from whom nearly all subsequent kinky drawers came) but also because he reportedly was involved in some most unusual and nefarious Greenwich Village sexual antics...including the earliest LSD experiments carried out on behalf of Uncle Sam. You can read up on that particular aspect of the story HERE in "Sex, Drugs & the CIA" by Douglas Valentine. I get spooked when spooks are involved, so you are on your own if you want to pursue this area of research! It falls out of the perimeters of my own sleaze borders..suffice to say it is a story worth pursuing.
Perhaps no one has paid attention to the Vixen books because they are hardbacks. Most of the vintage sleaze action is in lurid covered paperbacks. But this line of spicy stories certainly qualify as well. Though hardcovers, they are still cheap, tawdry and one hundred percent grade a certified sleaze. They are also, when and if you can find them, quite affordable since no one has bothered to collect them. All are now nearly 60 years old, so certainly they must be getting harder to find, even more so with the dust-jackets intact. This post is intended to finally give them all the respect they do not deserve!
Gil Fox seems to have been one of the most prolific of sleaze writers...from his early books around 1950 to a massive output of Midwood sleaze books in the 1960s and 1970s. Under numerous pseudonyms such as Peter Willow, Leda Starr, Kimberly Kemp, Dallas Mayo, Paul Russo and Violet Loring and more I am sure. There is a fine, if scanty interview with Gil done by paperback scholar and dealer Lynn Monroe HERE. I hope someone gets to him again, as he certainly has tales to tell.
Fox was born in 1917, knocked around in the Air Force during the big one and married a female swinger whose swing went both ways. Some guys have all the luck. Next thing you know, he's living in Greenwich Village and it is 1950. Certainly the most cool and most hip era to be in the neighborhood.
At some point Gil met John Willie (whose real name was John Alexander Scott Coutts) Willie also published the Bizarre series of slicks, had his drawings published by Irving Klaw and is even rumored to have been responsible for asking Bettie Page to pose in bondage get-ups. Willie has been called "The Rembrandt of Pulp" but do NOT look him up, you'll be offended. Wait! Click...well, I warned you. Belier Press has reprinted his work (along with a CD of him speaking!) in a quite striking volume, but again, i'm writing about Vixen!
Not long after meeting Willie, Gil Fox began writing his own sleaze for Woodford Press. Jack Woodford is a curious fellow in his own "write" and somehow managed to mingle with the sleaziest of sleazes, yet achieve a considerable degree of literary respect as well. Another Pandora's box for you.
Not long after, likely 1953, Gil set up Vixen Press at 125 Christopher Street in New York City. 125 Christopher Street was also the location of the Alfred Hitchcock's film Rear Window (!) At least before they changed the address to 125 West 9th Street in the movie. There is an understanding in the film business that murder films use phony addresses. There is no 125 West 9th Street, but Gil's place sits there still at 125 Christopher. Today apartments in the building rent for several thousand dollars a month and it remains a pre-war 6 story residential building. You can find real-estate listings on-line if you would like to relive the glory days of Greenwich Village...but it looks to me like they re-did the floors and I don't see any of Gil's ink stains.
It is, however, nice to think of Gil pounding them out while peering into same courtyard as James Stewart and Grace Kelly.
So Vixen Books was an apartment operation and seems to have been primarily an outlet for writers other than Gil. Barry Devlin, one of the most prolific Vixen writers, was selling work which was published as Beacon paperbacks at the same time. Another was the mysterious Justin Kent, the pseudonym of a writer who testified against Mobster Eddie Mishkin in an obscenity case. (Discussed in my modest and typo-ridden book The Dangerous Years) They apparently put out a book a month or so. They were likely distributed in the sleazy Times Square bookshops, but they were also distributed by Associated Booksellers in Westport, CT. and at least one other outside of the tri-state area, Indianapolis Distributing Company. Several of my copies have a stickers from "Capitol Book Store" in Indiana, so they got out to the Midwest too. No wonder New York City has a reputation out here. The cover price was $2.50. Each title, regardless of who receives credit for writing, has a hoity-toity quote from Shakespeare or an ancient learned philosopher following the title page, and each is dedicated to a dame or a couple. Hmmm.
As you would imagine from the titles and covers, the Vixen line was not noted for their fine literature. All the books were written as and in fact are soft-core porno. I call it limp-core. The characters drank and had torrid sexual adventures, even if they were portrayed less graphically than a modern day soap opera on television. Remember, these were written in the early 1950s. Some have girl on girl action to presumably satisfy his wife. Plenty of lingerie too...sometimes you think all women did in the fifties was take their dainties off, over and over..and in these books with excruciatingly deliberate pauses.
Some of the original Vixen titles were subsequently published as paperbacks with new titles. Moon-kissed by Barry Devlin came out under the title Forbidden Pleasures as a Berkley book. Kim Savage also had a paperback titled Helen's House published by Beacon. Mark Tryon's The Fire That Burns came out as a paperback with the byline "Girls who pose for anything" on the cover. It is more than possible others were republished in paper with entirely new titles and authors credited. For that matter, and for all I know, ALL of them were written by Fox, but in particular I have seen a reference somewhere that Kim Savage was Gil Fox, though I am not sure.
In the notes to Girls Lie Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius by Edward de Grazia (1972) one Vixen book (Sweeter Than Life by Mark Tryon) was called "the forerunner of the sex pulp novels so numerous in the sixties; It contained a prominent lesbian theme and it seems to have had no appreciable literary value. (The book) is described in some detail in Felice Flannery Lewis, Literature, Obscenity and Law (1976) 180-181. Fair enough.
There WAS an obscenity case brought against Gil Fox...U.S vs. Gilbert Fox, Vixen Press et al, involving four of the titles. I am not sure the outcome, nor do I know if Mr. Fox spent any time in the steel bar hen house.
The list of Vixen books here is the first one compiled as far as I know...and I am sure I've missed some. I own a good number, but not all, so do NOT bid against me on the ones I don't have yet. I go ten dollars each and hope postage is free. Like early toys from japan, the sleeve they came wrapped in is worth as much as the item.
Which reminds me..the jacket illustrations are credited to "NJD" "de Persiis" "Patrika" "Don Rico" and sometimes nobody.
The list is here in no particular order (actually, the order in which I found them) so if you want them chronological or by author, cut and paste. I'm doing this for free.
Helena's House Kim Savage 1960
Madame Big Barry Devlin 1953
Chains of Silk Barry Devlin 1954
Golf Widow ? 1953
Boss Lady Rick Lucas 1954
No Holds Barred Barry Devlin
Carnal Cargo Barry Devlin 1952
Baby Makes Three Kim Savage (Gil Fox?) 1953
Desolate Sands Michael Norday 1955
The Sinning Lens Mark Tryon 1953
Joanne Scott Stone 1955
Mask of Night Michael Norday 1954
Dreamboat Rick Lucas 1955
Lazylegs Kim Savage 1953
Gold-plated Sin Barry Devlin 1953
Fire & Ice Barry Devlin 1952
Complex Mother Rick Lucas 1955
Take It Off! Mark Tryon 1953
Fast Curve Justin Kent 1953
Bent to Evil Kim Savage 1952
Weekend Kim Savage 1952
Rogues and Riches Rick Lucas 1954
Blaze Scott Stone 1954
Sweet and Twenty Don Morro 1955
The Fire that Burns Mark Tryon 1954
Devil's Web Scott Stone 1955
Other Loves Barry Devlin 1955
Countess Margo Scott Stone 1955
This Paris Barry Devlin 1955
Sweeter than Life Mark Tryon
Acapulco Nocturne Barry Devlin 1952
Mavis Justin Kent 1953
Dark Magic Michael Norday 1954
Strange Journey Rick Lucas 1954
On with the Dance Michael Norday 1954
Gold-plated Sin Barry Devlin 1953
Lovers and Madmen Barry Devlin 1953
Hellion Kim Savage 1951
Moon-kissed Barry Devlin 1953
Flashy Fists Michael Norday
Stage Struck Mark Tryon 1954
Shadow in Scarlet Scott Stone 1954
Stage for Fools Michael Norday 1955
Girls Dorm Kim Savage 1952
Joanne Scott Stone 1955
ESSENTIAL READING AND SOURCE FOR MUCH OF THE ABOVE: Jay. A. Gertzman 1950s Sleaze and the Larger Literary Scene 2004. Sometimes the stuff on the web is just too damn good. Gertzman's work and his article here is a good example. It appears on several sites, but you fan also find it published on Earl Kemp's wonderful fanzine. Gertzman also wrote Bookleggers and Smuthounds linked at right.
VINTAGE SLEAZE / DULL TOOL BOOKS NOW AVAILABLE AS $5.99 EBOOKS for iPad HERE