Irving Klaw (November 9, 1910 – September 3, 1966), self-named the “Pin-up King”, was an influential American merchant of sexploitation, fetish, and Hollywood glamour pin-up photographs and films. Like his predecessor, Charles Guyette, a merchant of fetish-themed photographs, Klaw was not a photographer but a merchandiser of fetish art imagery and films. His great contribution to the world was to commission fetish art (with models like Bettie Page, June King, Joan Rydell, Jackie Miller, et al.) and sponsor illustrative artists (like Eric Stanton, Gene Bilbrew, and many others), and to indirectly promote the legacy of Charles Guyette and John Willie. Irving Klaw is a central figure in what fetish art historian Richard Pérez Seves has designated as the “Bizarre Underground,” the pre-1970 fetish art years.
Movie Star News
Klaw was born Isadore Klaw in Brooklyn, New York. His business, which eventually became Movie Star News, began in 1938 when he and his sister Paula opened a struggling basement-level used bookstore at 209 E. 14th St. in Manhattan.
After he discovered teenagers were frequently tearing out photos from his movie magazines, he switched to selling movie star stills and lobby photo cards, which sold so well that he stopped selling books and moved the store from the basement to the street-level storefront. Business thrived, and the self-named “Pin-Up King” moved to 212 E. 14th St., eventually taking the name Movie Star News. Klaw also had a brisk international mail-order business selling cheesecake photos and Hollywood glamour pin-ups.
In 1948, a collector/enthusiast known as Little John “inspired/sponsored Klaw’s full-blown entry into the fetish art business.” Irving Klaw was also influenced by magazine publisher Robert Harrison. Early Klaw fetish models included Harrison models Barbara Leslie, Vicky Hayes, Joan “Eve” Rydell, Lili Dawn, Shirley “Cici” Maitland, Kevin Daley, Roz Greenwood, and finally, Bettie Page.
Inspired by John Willie, Klaw also commissioned and distributed illustrated adventure/bondage chapter serials by fetish artists Eric Stanton, Gene Bilbrew, Adolfo Ruiz, and others.
Burlesque features and bondage film-loops
After the surprise success of the B-movie Striporama, a 1953 burlesque revue with famous striptease artists and model Bettie Page, Klaw quickly duplicated the formula and directed his own burlesque features. Using a professional camera crew and richly saturated Eastman colour filmstock, Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955) featured Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, and Bettie Page (and were released on DVD in the U.S. in 2000). He produced and directed a third film in 1956, Buxom Beautease, without Page.
Also during this period, Klaw set up weekend home-movie sessions where he produced scores of silent 8 mm and 16 mm black-and-white film loops. These featured striptease acts and an assortment of fetishistic subjects based on special requests from his clientele. Titles such as Riding the Human Pony Girl, Bondage in Leather Harness, and Booted Amazon Fights Again depicted women in skimpy lingerie and high heels engaging in elaborate bondage, cat-fights, spanking and slave training. These featurettes were shot on a single, sparsely decorated set in the studio above Movie Star News or at a nearby loft space. At least two films with Bettie Page (Rumble Seat Bondage and Jungle Girl Tied to Trees) were shot outdoors at secluded locations.
Still, photos taken during the sessions were also sold at the store and in the bi-annual mail-order catalogue Cartoon and Model Parade.