"What avails it a man to give his soul for the whole world? But for [Halliburton]?" --A Man For All Seasons
"Put enough distance between a crime/victim and the perpetrator(s) and there is no end to the evil that can be perpetrated." --from a review of
The Constant Gardener

Times Square, 1940-1996

by Jay A. Gertzman jgertzma@earthlink.net
Author, Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 (U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1999).

Text © Jay A. Gertzman, 2004

Please contact me with comments or corrections
This page is best seen with Netscape 7 or Microsoft 5 or higher (sorry!)

last update: Sept. 2006 (click on "Artists and Writers ...", scroll down to "Two Dramas")

    By the end of World War II, Times Square was a general entertainment area in which tourists, young people on dates, gamblers, con men, street preachers, taxi dancers, frequenters of bars, prostitutes, panhandlers, readers of smut and fans of movie sex and violence all mingled. It had become a rival of Coney Island in providing energetic and raffish amusement for a mass audience. The media, politicians and clergy deplored the “honky tonk” atmosphere just as strongly as they did the hard core sleaze of the late 70s and 80s. Even in its most sinister state, many imaginative people–artists, predators, thinkers, even mystics--went to Times Square, with the promise of victims, converts, comrades, the release of sexual tension, and an escape from “should” and “ought to” very much on their minds. It was the outsiders’ America, and from it you could look up at the hard driving, busy, fashionable one as at a oversized billboard proclaiming gratification of the successful citizens’ needs. Down at street level, amidst the noise, con men, greasy food odors, and street people of many countries, colors, and social classes, you looked
around, checked out what you were here for, wondering what you might experience, whether you wanted to or not. In that mood, you might duck into one of the bookstores or back date magazine shops.

Three king-sized images that sum up the history of Times Square (1940s, 70s, and 90s).

Artists and Writers on pre-Disney Times Square


"I love this dirty town" -- J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) in the powerful 1957 film Sweet Smell of SuccessClick on the image for a discussion of the film.


What does "dirty" mean?

Image from Brecht's opera about the archetypal "Suckerville."
 He used American settings and characters, knowing European
 mass popular entertainment was modeled on both the
upscale and honky-tonk  busineses of  Coney Island, the Bowery,
the  lower west side Tenderloin, Soubrette Row, Broadway, and Times Square.

"Now I see it. When I came to this city, hoping that my money would bring me joy, my doom was already sealed. . . . I was the one who said, 'Everybody must carve himself a piece of meat, using any available knife.' But the meat has gone bad. The joy I bought was no joy; the freedom they sold me was no freedom. I ate and remained unsatisfied; I drank and became all the thirstier. Give me a glass of water." --Bertold Brecht, The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (1927)

"[The citizens'] boredom became more and more terrible. They realize that they've been tricked and burn with resentment. Every day of their lives they read the newspapers and went to the movies. Both fed them on lynchings, murder, sex crimes, explosions, love nests, fires, miracles, revolutions, wars. This daily diet made sophisticates out of them. . . . Nothing can ever be violent enough to make taut their slack minds and bodies.
"--Nathanael West,
The Day of the Locust (1933).


Click on the red-backgrounded title for information on Times Square as honky-tonk carnival  (1930s to mid-1990s) vs Times Square as corporate office tower and entertainment complex (mid-1990s to date)

  It was understandable why general interest bookstores were part of Times Square, with its proximity to bus terminals, subways, counter restaurants, bars, hotels, and round the clock “grinder” movies. Passersby wanted “how-to” and civil service preparation manuals, horoscope pamphlets, joke books, romances, war stories, westerns, and scandal and gossip items, as well as sexually oriented materials of many varieties. Erotica could be furtively scanned by readers whose  body language indicated that they liked the anonymity the bookshops provided. On the streets outside, sexual adventurousness was part of the vibrant atmosphere. In the midtown night clubs, theatrical agents introduced wealthy men, often garment center executives, to glamorous dates with whom they visited swank East Side apartments to enjoy “sex circuses.” That cost a bundle.  Men and women of modest means had to substitute the disreputable, more heavily policed entertainments of the bright light zone. Since the Crash, prostitutes had strolled the area, and a gay subculture had existed in rooming houses which had once been expensive homes. Booksellers
learned to cater to the compulsions of the Johns and the “inverts.” Their stores were another phase, like the night clubs and prurient movies, of the “commercialization of sex” and the “eroticization of leisure time” which mark the business of popular culture in the 20th century.

Times Square movie marqee, 1940.  "Mutint," "Forbidden rendevous," "mystery,"  "Paree," girls, Mickey Rooney, two-gun Hart: "stupendous."  Two features 15 cents. Photo by Andreas Feinnger for Life Magazine, copyright Andreas Feininger. Source: http://photography.about.com/gi/dynamic/offsite.htm?site=http://www.geh.org/fm/feininger/htmlsrc/feininger%5Fsum00009.html

    The first book shop in the Times Square area was Concord, which opened in 1933, next to the Paramount Theater on Broadway. Allan J. Wilson (not the original owner) shepherded this well-respected place (in 1965, the New York Times did it the honor of a eulogy) through most of  World War II, the gray flannel suit era, and the heady de-censorship period of the early 1960s. Allan was able to carry the first legal editions of Lady Chatterley, Tropic of Cancer, Fanny Hill, and, earlier, the books of the “pinko” Citadel Press, which featured socialist analysis of American politics. Concord was one of the first shops to feature publishers’ remainders. Movie and theater patrons, and office workers, had visited steadily until paperback book stores drew them into their nets. Another discouraging factor was the increasing number of predatory types among the street people hanging out at the movie houses, and at the book and magazine stores specializing in sex and beginning to carry the new peep booths.

                                The Jack Woodford Press
                                   hardback sex pulps, 1946-59
[please click on the image for more information]


The Main Stem's "Tourist Book Stores"
locations of some stores, matetrials sold, the stores' settings
 [please click on the image for more information]

                            Bob's Bargain Books
[please click on the image for more information]

                                a brochure issued by Bob Brown, c.late 60s

                            Two Pariah Capitalists
                                  [please click on the image below for more information]

                                         Irving Klaw with model Bettie Page

                           The Times Square Book Stores Before Gentrification
                                 [please click on the image below for more information]

special note: click on this link for Earl Kemp's magnificent fanzine issue about West Coast erotica publishing in the 1960s and 70s. Images and text of  the unique significance for twentieth century publishing history.


click here for A list of  bookstores in Times Square, 1940-1996
                           Hard Core
                                        [please click on the image below for more information]


                         Underworld and Upperworld Symbiosis
                              [please click on the image below for more information]
                                      Sammy The Bull Gravano, who on orders of John Gotti murdered
                                                  Robert DiBernardo, one of the owners of Star Distributors LTD, a
                                                  New York based publisher-distributor of hard core (but not legally obscene)
                                                 paperbacks, magazines, films, and videotapes. DiBernardo was a member
                                                 of the Gambino crime family, and through his connections was able to get
                                                 pornography-related products nationally distributed.   


(Earl Kemp's electronic fanzine on paperback erotica.
Click on the image for the issue with my article
"1950s Sleaze and the Larger Literary Scene")

Also: "Milton Luros' Times Square Wise Guy" (click here) 

My article is "There Has Been No Sexual Revolution"



All Night Surfing

Jahsonic.com: A Vocabulary of Culture
(image from Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" [1960],
a classic film about voyeurism and the nexus between
sexual desire, violence, and substitution of the fetish
for trust and human contact)