|Raw Dames by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Woman Impelled by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|The Violated Wrestler by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
Everyone paid the nut and everyone had a price. The average annual income of a writer in the mid-1950s was a blip above nothing, and few made it to the big time. So for some, a quick hot read might be pounded out and turned in for cash while waiting for the big break. When your great American novel found a real publisher, no one wanted the blurb to read "by the author of "Mistress of Leather" after all. Use a fake name.
Justin Kent did just that, but they caught him anyway. Tracked down and rounded up by investigators working for the Senate who wanted to grill Eddie Mishkin, publisher of overpriced soft-core bondage fiction with sexy covers. Kent's story, and his real name, come to us courtesy the U.S. Government.
Kent was one of the more prolific writers paid by Mishkin. I suspect no less than ten books were written for Eddie and friends, and he also churned out a few spicy novels published by other New York sleaze publishers around the same time, including Mavis and Fast Curve for Gil Fox and his curious line of hardcovers under the imprint of Vixen Press. Kent used other pseudonyms as well, and surely other works will be identified in the future.
Mishkin was a mob-connected perv who helped spread the infamous "Nights of Horror" digests with Superman illustrator Joe Shuster doing the dirty drawings. The books here published by Mishkin are every bit as scarce as the Nights of Horror titles. Miskin figures in other places here, and will figure prominently in Times Square Smut.
As a government subcommittee investigating Mishkin in 1960 revealed, Justin Kent was the pseudonym for Kenneth Johnson. Johnson was an unsuccessful writer living in Harlem and Mishkin paid well. There is speculation Kent was African-American (like one of Mishkin's favorite illustrators Eugene Bilbrew, who did half the covers here.) When introducing Kent's deposition to the Senate he was described as "..a man who came from the South with a considerable writing ability and settled in Harlem."
|The Strange Empress by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Eyewitness by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Frustration by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
Jay Gertzman, a scholar I admire and author of Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica 1920-1940 wrote in an essay a few years ago saying Kent was "held as a material witness for over a month" but I don't really know what that means. Literally held? When is the last time you read about an author imprisoned for writing words in America? Well, apparently it happened, and for books Barnes and Noble could even store on the bottom shelf today.
His words were turned into tripe for digests which would be paired with sexy drawings, printed in the boroughs at night, wrapped in cellophane and trucked into quasi-legal operating bookstores in Times Square, Pittsburgh, PA and other industrial towns with ham-fisted readers. With no real imprint and with few illustrations other than the super racy cover, the books were priced ten times over cost and sold to fellows looking for the rough stuff...but of course they got gypped.
Justin could follow orders. As the transcript to a Supreme Court ruling five years later reveals, Eddie Mishkin had specific instructions for his writers. Mishkin "insisted that the books be full of sex scenes and lesbian scenes... the sex had to be very strong, it had to be rough, it had to be clearly spelled out. I had to write sex very bluntly, make the sex scenes very strong. The sex scenes had to be unusual sex scenes between men and women, and women and women, and men and men. He wanted scenes in which women were making love with women. He wanted sex scenes in which there were lesbian scenes. He didn't call it lesbian, but he described women making love to women and men making love to men, and there were spankings and scenes—sex in an abnormal and irregular fashion." Another unnamed author testified that Mishkin instructed him 'to deal very graphically with the darkening of the flesh under flagellation."
|Queen Bee by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Run Girl Run Hard by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Mavis by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
|Fast Curve by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
OUCH! Rough stuff indeed for the 1950s, but then not today. Some dozen of Kenneth Johnson's potboilers were published under his fake name by various made-up publishers as directed by Mr. Mishkin. Some are a bit more graphic than others, but for the most part his books were tame and lame...they would hardly raise the hackles of a watchdog today. Sleazy but soft. Kent didn't write all the 70 books listed in the Supreme Court case which upheld Eddie's New York State conviction ...but he did write quite a few.
I hesitate to call Justin Kent a failed author, as his books DID make it to the Supreme Court in a way. But I don't think he could share his success with his mother back home. One title, Strange Solace, was even printed in a paperback in the UK.
The books here are all by Justin Kent and for the most part written for Eddie Mishkin. As they were printed in small editions and frequently confiscated, they are quite scarce today and shown here for the first time. Nearly all are digest-size. These are some of the most scarce paperback books existing today, and represent censorship by the United States Government which seems absurd today. It should be a far better known story. Unseen relics of a time and place Dangerous Years, Satin Satellite, Queen Bee and Eyewitness appear on the list of some some 70 Mishkin (and other) books which were entered in testimony for his trial.
As the books here are all in the private collection of Vintage Sleaze and quite scarce, please leave credits and a link to this article if you quote or share. It's only fair! Thank you.
© Jim Linderman 2012 All books Collection Jim Linderman
|Strange Solace by Justin Kent Collection Jim Linderman|
ANYONE WITH ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON JUSTIN KENT / KENNETH JOHNSON should please get in touch, it would be much appreciated.