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Irving Klaw Mail Order Maven and Advertising Print Ads for Prurience

In one of the earlier articles written about Irving Klaw, in 1948, he was already promoting himself as "The King of the Pinups" but had not yet even met Bettie Page and the few dozen other less than beautiful (and less than reputable) woman he would photograph in his upstairs studio. Klaw was then selling Hollywood glamor girls. Sweater girls. Movie Stars who happened to show their legs. He even wrote a book titled "How to Become a Movie Star" and published it himself to at least a few good reviews! But his business was shifting...asked what sold the best, Klaw had already learned it wasn't mere bathing suits his customers wanted, it was "slinky black satin" "opera length gloves." and in another article from a year earlier "Black Lingerie is the biggest seller." At the time he was selling 500,000 prints a year.

Bettie Page was not the first model Klaw used as he moved towards bondage, sadomasochistic and fetishistic photographs (and larger sales) but she certainly grew the business. From 1952 to 1957 it was her photographs and the others bound and gagged which soon attracted more attention than the publicity proud Pinup King wanted. He was selling increasingly kinky material, and it was not unusual for him to purchase two full page ads in one issue of a magazine in order to do it.

No nudity at all. ALL his photographs and the bondage illustrated forerunners to the graphic novel by Eugene Bilbrew, Eric Stanton and others avoided nudity strictly. The themes, however, were increasingly troubling...the cheesecake had gone a bit rancid.

These ads were common in over the counter magazines of the time. Klaw even placed smaller, classified ads in Popular Science and Popular Mechanics offering "lady wrestlers, high heels, fighting girls, etc." It was easy enough to explain to junior why fellows might want pin ups of a movie star, but a "manacled slave woman in high heels" was pushing the envelope, especially if Dad only wanted diagrams of a birdhouse to make in the garage.

As far as I can tell, everything "Bettie Page" that Klaw sold has been picked and plundered by internet posters on thousands of websites. Far less common, if at all seen, are the early advertisements Klaw placed in dozens of pulps in the late 1940s and 1950s to promote his considerable mail-order business. Obviously a big fan of advertising effectiveness, his return rate must have been huge. Here is a handful.

See (and purchase) SMUT BY MAIL: Vintage Graphics from the Golden Age of Obscenity and Camera Club Girls the book.