Censorship and a Bookstore Owner of the Fifties. Forgotten History from Vintage Sleaze in The Thousand Dollar Book
Posted on Dec 25 2010 at 04:34:34 PM in Books
Excerpt from THE THOUSAND DOLLAR BOOK: SMUT AND THE MILWAUKEE ARREST FOR OBSCENITY 1957 by Jim Linderman
Writer and collector Jim Linderman from the noted blog Dull Tool Dim Bulb finds yet another forgotten story. In 1957 Milwaukee, hapless bookstore owner Samuel R. Hochman is arrested and convicted of obscenity attempting to stock his shelves with sleazy digest books produced by criminal elements, hack writers using fake names and the startling illustrations of Eugene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton. With Court transcripts, vintage ads, scarce mail order catalogs and more, the unfortunate story is told here for the first time. INCLUDES a COMPLETE reprint of the ENTIRE BOOK for Which Hochman was convicted, THE SEX FACTORY by H. Tennob. Not seen for over 50 years, the book contains numerous Bilbrew illustrations which have never been reprinted. Of interest to legal scholars, book collectors and anyone who enjoys a true story with spicy pictures!
On the afternoon of May 13, 1957, Federal agents walked through the door of Samuel R. Hochman's "Avenue Novelty Shop" located at 733 West Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee. Federal agents of the FBI that is. Hochman sold books and other sundries in his store which was located in what was at the time an entertainment district and somewhat dicey neighborhood. Mr. Hochman had just received a shipment of books from the ABC Freight company he had ordered for his inventory, but had not even had time to open the box. After signing the delivery receipt, he left the carton on the floor of his shop. Three FBI agents already knew what was in the box. After introducing themselves, one being agent Julian Clark, they told Hochman that he was receiving an obscene book titled "The Sex Factory". They asked if they could open the box and Hochman gave his permission. Inside were 101 books. In addition to The Sex Factory (and Virgins Come High, which will figure later) there were some twenty titles including Silk Stockings,' 'Lash,' 'Flossie,' 'Spankee,' 'Straps,' 'Sadist,' 'Woman and Her Master,' ' 'Celesti,' 'Wheel of Violence,' 'Come-on Girl,' 'Justine,' 'French Pornographer,' 'History of Prostitution,' 'Bandit in High Heels,' 'Mistress in Satin,' 'Exotique #13,' 'Exotique #14,' and 'Bubbles Darlene.' It appears Hochman ordered four copies of each title and a few extras of The Sex Factory.
(For those of you who are interested, "Bubbles Darlene" was an exotic dancer, though she described herself once to Nashville police as a "strip teaser." Bubbles real name was Virginia Lachimia, a platinum blond with considerable talents originally from Minneapolis. She studied as a ballet dancer, but found burlesque paid more. However, she did more than dance. In 1955, while performing her act, someone broke into her hotel room and swiped her entire suitcase of risque photographs "including some nudes taken in Cuba" and she was forced to take out a classified ad in the local newspaper offering $500 for their safe return. She was "S.O.L." and they were never found.) Bubbles even claimed once to have danced with a 22 piece orchestra. Today, Bubbles is recognized as one of the classic burlesque dancers, and an often seen photograph of her posing in a hat made of ram's horns makes Lady Gaga look like a thrift store model.
The agents rustled through the box on the floor and retrieved two they either found most offensive, or were the titles they were sent to retrieve. The Sex Factory and another book by the same author, Virgins Come High. Both were written by one H. Tennob, a pseudonym. The Sex Factory was illustrated with line drawings by Eugene Bilbrew, and Virgins Come High was illustrated by Eric Stanton. The agents confiscated the entire box (though at a later date returned over half of them) and arrested the bookseller, charging him with violation of 18 U.S.C.A 1462, which among other things declares it illegal to accept through a common carrier any "obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy book, pamphlet, picture...of indecent character."
Milwaukee, Wisconsin may have "sin" in the state name, but the city was solid middle-of-the-road America. The Milwaukee Braves would win the world series a few months after Hochman was arrested. Despite the glut of beer (and beer guts) it produces, Milwaukee maintains strict vigilance against sleaze. 20 years after Hochman's book bust, comedian George Carlin was arrested in the city for his "7 words" routine. Despite being only an hour north of Chicago, Milwaukee has maintained a comparatively innocent profile, low on crime, low on mobsters and low on porn, although a recent study did find 46% of Milwaukee residents masturbate at work, not that it was too scientific. I am sure there is no relationship, but for interesting context, a former nun took an axe to a bikini wearing snow sculpture in Milwaukee in 1987. In 2005, a small group of zealots made a failed attempt to ban the display of thongs at a Milwaukee Victoria's Secret. On the other hand, cartoonist Denis Kitchen, founder of Kitchen Sink Press who worked out of Milwaukee says he never felt any pressure there, though he did found the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund anyway. I guess censorship can rear whenever and wherever. Milwaukee is probably no better or worse than any other city, and thankfully virtually all first amendment rights as it pertains to the printed word are protected these days, be it in Wisconsin or New York City.
Wal-Mart does the de-facto censoring these days, in Milwaukee and everywhere else. Of course, this will not matter for long as the entire format "book" is on the way out like the compact discs they refused to carry. All the action is on the web, and the law, by definition a long, reasoned procedure, is so far behind technology and the times that regulating it is impossible.
Where did the box of smut originate? It seems a salesman from the Max Padell book company in New York City had paid a visit to the Avenue Novelty Shop earlier in the year with sample book covers to show and a price list to study. Padell was a well-established publisher and vendor who had skirted the law before. Among their own titles were (and are today... moldy copies exist in every used bookstore in the country) "Fact about Nudism" from way back in 1935, "From Dance Hall to White Slavery" in 1943 and "Strange Loves: A Study in Sexual Abnormalities" in 1952. Their bread and butter was a ton of crappy rip-offs like "How to be a Detective' "How to Play Dice and Win and numerous magic trick and self-defense books. They ran mail-order advertisements in the 1940s which indicated they stocked hundreds of different titles, and listed the company address at 830 Broadway, New York City. Most were mere pamphlets, but they had also published serious writers like Kenneth Patchen...