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Book Review: Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography by Robert Rosen

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Ever wonder what kind of creature lurked beyond the green XXX door, helping create the $8 billion a year monster called the porn industry? Ever wonder how Marvel’s X-Men, the Incredible Hulk, and Spiderman himself were behind it all?

The superhero tale is revealed in the no-holes-barred Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography (Headpress) about men of steel, women of easy persuasion, and phone sex, the revolutionary fusion of computers and erotica.

The author is porn wunderkind, Robert Rosen, known to men’s magazine fans as Bobby Paradise. He studied under Catch-22’s Joseph Heller at New York’s City College in the ’70s. He spent the next eight years freelancing, and writing speeches for the Secretary of the Air Force. Between gigs, he drove a cab.

Then manna from heaven: after John Lennon’s assassination, a former classmate of Rosen’s, the Beatle’s personal assistant, dropped John’s New York diaries in his lap and asked him to ghostwrite an account of the star’s last days.

Before Rosen finished the manuscript, Lennon’s assistant ripped it off. The ’83 recession was in full swing. He now found himself back on the street with the 10 million other unemployed. So he sent his resume to a city PO Box for an “Editorial” job listed in the Times Help Wanted.

Days later, Robert, in suit and tie, was in a High Society cubical overlooking the United Nations building, writing “girl copy” and phone sex scripts, as well as brainstorming ideas for pictorials. His boss, Carl Ruderman, had started him at $17,000 to make the magazine “crazier” than its competitors. “I want to be a household name, like Playboy,” Ruderman told him, of HS. “And I want it yesterday!”

Tapping into his experience as a comic skit writer, the rookie cranked out his first HS pictorial feature: a Cool Hand Luke leather-and-lace lesbian chain gang.

Ruderman declared his new recruit a “creative genius” who “would not be standing in a breadline.” By this time, Rosen’s boss was clearing over a quarter million dollars a month from High Society’s phone-sex juggernaut. The computerized system logged over 500,000 calls a day, Ruderman made 2 cents per (the phone company made 7), and his best customer was the Pentagon.

Like his colleagues in the industry, Ruderman fancied himself a progressive publisher, not a purveyor of smut. So when Bobby Paradise described High Society to a New York Post interviewer as “porno,” the outraged smutmeister axed him.

Rosen landed an editorship with Ruderman’s competitor, Swank Publications, which published hundred of titles, including the iconic Swank and Stag.

Founded by Marvel’s Martin Goodman, Stag was run by his son, Chip. Robert and Chip had something unexpected in common: Yoko Ono. The writer was still trying to sell his Lennon book based on the purloined diaries; his new boss was being sued by Ms. Ono for publishing nude pictures of her and John.

Rosen’s distant predecessor at Swank Publications was Mario Puzo. Puzo had split after Putnam paid him $5,000 for The Godfather. Rosen, waiting for his own publishing ship to come in, collected $22,000 annually from fantasy tycoon Goodman, plus a 401K and full health benefits.

At Stag, Mr. Paradise worked with porno’s expanded Fantastic Four, “The Nasty Nine.” On the receiving end of the celebrity cocksmen were the likes of Wendy Whoppers, Candy Cantaloupes, Busty Dusty, Pandora Peaks, and Auntie Climax.

After fleshing out the death-defying deeds of these superheroes and heroines, Paradise got into the groove. “I’d not only become unmoored from all sense of conventional sexual mores … I’d ceased to think rationally about sex itself, “ he writes.

Next, he climbed the equal opportunity porno ladder and took over as managing editor at Stag’s sister mag, For Adult’s Only. Till now he had been a kind of Gulliver – a stranger in a strange land. At FAO, he went native with what he calls “an experiment in participatory journalism.”

He became the star of his own “$5 Blowjob” feature. But, in spite of the heroic efforts of his co-star, a Hungarian, the “newcummer” got stage fright. Otherwise known in the industry as the dreaded “waiting for wood.”

“I was too cerebral and self-conscious to ever be a great porno stud,” he admits. So he went home and prayed to God to forgive him.

But God didn’t. Neither did his significant other, Georgina, no matter how many Hail Marys. Georgina was a Screw dildo expert who boasted,  “I can have a good time anywhere there’s an electrical outlet.” So she dumped Rosen, going to work for a psychic Woodstock potter who had electricity and did past-life regressions.

By now, Robert had built up a resistance to the germs of the industry, the way one can by “drinking Mexican tap water.” So he moved on “to the supreme challenge of my pornographic career.”

He took the editor’s chair at D-Cup, also run by Marvelous Martin’s go-getter son, Chip.

Rivaling Dylan Thomas and his Adventures in the Skin Trade , Paradise became D-Cup’s poet laureate. He wrote of “bodacious bazooms,”“magnificent milkers,”“succulent saggers,” and “wobbling wazoobies.”

Sixteen years in the trenches, Robert Rosen witnessed the rise and fall of the industry: from its phone sex Golden Age, to the Traci Lord’s scandal (“the pornographic equivalent of a Chernobyl-size toxic spill”), to Reagan’s anti-Obscenity crusade, to the free internet porn which put the final stake through the heart of the men’s mag biz.

By 1999, “I was totally burnt out on smut … but I was trapped … my career options were limited,” he confesses.

But then his prayers seemed to be answered: his Lennon biography, Nowhere Man, was at last accepted for publication. He used this ticket to ride back to reality. Flying faster than a speeding bullet, leaping buildings with a single bound, he abandoned the man of steel fantasy world, sanity miraculously intact.

In Beaver Street, the defrocked Mr. Paradise leaves us with a new kind of X-File which creates its own genre: a confessional for-adults-only romantic comedy with a rare, thoughtful twist.

In explaining his reason for writing this riveting title, Rosen says, “I wanted to understand the cumulative psychic effect of having spent 192 months immersed in XXX and wondering if I’d ever get out alive. I wanted to understand what I’d witnessed, what I’d done, what I’d become.”

Beaver Street: A History of Modern Pornography (Headpress, 2012)
ISBN 9781900486767

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