Last year in Mimosa 26, we featured an article by Mike Resnick where he
recalled his brief career in the 1960s as a writer of adult books. One of the
people mentioned in that article was Earl Kemp, one of Chicago's (and the USA's too,
for that matter) best-known fans of the 1960s decade. One of the ways of the future
back then, at least to make money in the book publishing field, was the adult book
industry, and Earl, too, was involved in it. The following article is offered as a
response to Mike's article (and we'll have a final response from Mike in this
issue's letters column).
There were porno mills by the dozens all over the place in those halcyon times, pouring out material for various porno factories. I was the recipient, some times the target, of many of them, as they hustled their wares to the only market worth a damn: The Porno Factory, Greenleaf Classics, Inc. I knew of many of them, but many more were deliberately kept secret from me, as if it would have mattered. And, in some fashion, almost every one of those porno mills was related to science fiction.
In fact, I was personally involved with a number of those porno mills, and operated a number of different ones of my own for different reasons. By far the most successful one of those, and definitely the most fun, was the porno mill my porno buddy and I operated -- just the two of us. Ib Lauritzen, one of Europe's most honorable literary agents (A/S Bookman, Copenhagen) and my personal agent for years, and I, under various names and disguises, sold many Authentic Danish Sex Books. We came up with the idea in my house in El Cajon, California on one of Ib's visits. I would write the authentic Danish text in California or Jalisco. Ib would produce the rest of the package including original photography, and sell it from Denmark.
I always knew where the package could be sold as a last resort.
Every now and then we would get together and party outrageously around Europe and blow all the nonexistent loot in a couple of fantastic weeks.
Another personal porno mill that I perated occasionally involved extremely promising would-be writers who needed a push through the field in a hurry on toward where they belonged. Yet another involved charity cases where fledgling writers in extreme need of emergency money were quickly rushed to the head of the line for compassion's sake.
There were porno mills being operated from a number of European locations.
There were porno mills being operated by at least three of the editors working for me that were being fronted by others.
There was even one writer who deserves to remain nameless who thought of himself as being his own porno mill. He began selling the same manuscript to different publishers under different names. Three of them printed the same book before anyone caught onto his routine. Unfortunately we found ourselves with one of his manuscripts in inventory. I moved it into the next possible open spot and we published it under his real name. He also earned an honorable mention on our permanent blacklist.
There were porno mills being operated f rom literary agencies by underling clerks who saw the light and began moonlighting.
There were porno mills from the location of every significant science fiction fan organization. It turned out to be a major proving ground for fledgling writers, working their way into the real thing and paying their bills as they went along.
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The grandfather of all porno mills was the original science fiction mill operated by the ***** ******** Literary Agency. It was a simple matter back then to switch many of those writers over to a guaranteed steady source of income while they continued to try to sell an occasional science fiction piece.
It started out as a semi-secret, clandestine operation fronted out of a special mailing address -- the Black Box operation -- using special shipping cartons just for the 'adult' material so no one would suspect most of the pornography flooding the market originated with ***** ********. The actual operators of the Black Box, employees of ***** ********, changed from time to time, but it mostly fell upon ***** ******** and ******* ****** to keep shoveling it into those black boxes. Many of the original science fiction writers continued to write pornography (with or without their agent's knowledge) from that point in time until the field itself completely disappeared.
The second-best porno mill that I knew anything about, and by far the most exciting and glamorous, was the ultra-suave operation maintained by Dr. Donald H. Gilmore in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico. This one blew away all the stops.
There was an outgrowth of the Gilmore operation, much more of a social colony than a porno mill, in suburban Ajijic. This is where I had my own house and where I would encourage every suitable candidate to relocate. It was an extremely exciting artist colony with every kind of rather good expatriate talent available anywhere. Those were the very best times of all.
Several of the members of both those Jalisco groups were either science fiction fans or wannabe science fiction writers, and kept after me constantly to give them advice that would help move them in that direction.
And, best yet, the Guadalajara operation and the Ajijic operation (some 25 miles apart), being at a natural crossroads, hosted many science fiction people as they passed through. San Miguel de Allende was one of their popular destination spots, a somewhat upscale and better-developed artist colony. This one was the home of Dallas "Mack" and Jeanette Reynolds; science fiction hosts beyond compare. Their parties were famous all over the country: Ted Cogswell, Dwight Swain, Gary Jennings, Martha Beck, etc. trying to drink up all the tequila in Mexico.
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There is a misconception about royalties that keeps cropping up: "...royalties were never mentioned, and certainly never received..." Mike Resnick (and others) wrote.
Even I have to keep reminding myself of some things now and then, like the fact that while we did publish books that were better in numerous cases than book publishers published, we really published periodicals. They only looked like books; they were dated products with exactly a one-month sale life and nothing ever beyond that point. There were no reprintings. There were no bookstores clamoring for reorders.
Another very overlooked factor is, in those days early in the `60s, there were little or no records kept regarding any of this commerce. This was for self-protection for every person concerned. The last thing anyone needed to come up with was detailed payment records for anything. Most of the people involved pretended they weren't. Today, some of the people who wrote those books pretend they never did. This 'covertness' was abandoned in California where we were proudly up front and in your face about all aspects of our business.
When I first started asking for help and information about my memoirs, people turned up from all directions. "I'm one," they would say, "I wrote some of those books." "I'm one, too!" "Me..." It just amazes me who some of those writers were; though that was never any consideration when buying their manu scripts.
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When the 'photo illustrated' novels appeared, we hired many photographers to do work for us. In most cases we would assign a writer to do the written portion of the book and a photographer to furnish the stills. There were already a number of people working in related areas and some of them came to us with projects of their own. One old-hand at the business was Stan Sohler, a sunbathing and nudist advocate, who did a number of the earlier packages for us, plus turning us on to some of the greatest get-away naked nature spots within 200 miles of San Diego.
His son, Gary Sohler, next became one of our major big-time partiers and package suppliers. He was already a well-known Los Angeles nudie photographer at the time.
And, my personal choice and all-time favorite was Bill Rotsler.
With all of these photographers, from time to time, I would accompany their caravans, visit their studios, or whatever, and find myself up to my earlobes in the middle of whatever was going on (being the boss sure had some unique fringe benefits). Rotsler was by far the best at involving me -- the shy, retiring wimp -- as if doing so was fulfilling some form of challenge that he had accepted. And, Bill was by far the best entertainer among all the photographers.
There were many trips we took together, Bill and his cast and crew and me, into unknown outbacks or exotic Mexican locations, into sleazy cheap motel rooms with just enough room for Bill to stand while taking the pictures, on deserted beaches at sunset, etc. I have stacks of photos that I took of some of those exciting trips, sunburned focal points and all, and seed-burns in the fabric of my memory from all the joints, sniffles from the lines, that dominated those days. I haven't yet forgiven him for deserting me.
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While I'm on the subject of porno mills and pornography writers pretending to be science fiction writers, I should give you a glimpse into another side of the picture, one that you might not have ever had reason to think of. The amount of manuscripts that were submitted to us, unsolicited, plus the huge number of declined requests to do the same, were almost beyond our ability to handle. They just kept coming and coming from every direction, much like the heroes of the tomes themselves. It became a problem just handling them, returning them.
And every time any writer felt like putting the squeeze on me for any reason, some of them not related at all to anything ongoing, I'd think about that pile of unopened manuscripts and their quality and consistency which was already well-known to me. Then, just because I could, I'd cut the price per manuscript by $100 across the board. There was never even a momentary pause in the pace of submissions.
I had cut the rate to $300 per manuscript by the time I quit the company, and that didn't cover childcare, typing, and postage. We were the fifth largest publisher in the United States, right behind Bantam Books then; it was unbelievably difficult to walk away from that. Besides, I was already a national nuisance looking for someone new to inconvenience.
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My friend Mike Resnick wrote: "...Hamling was the former publisher of Amazing and Other Worlds." Mike has got it wrong, on all counts.
Bill Hamling shared similar science fiction experiences with most of us. As a youngster he produced a damned fine fanzine named Ad Astra. When he moved into prodom it was as an editor at Ziff-Davis in Chicago (you might know today's leftovers as the really excellent ZDNet), publishers of Amazing, Fantastic Adventures, and much more. He worked with fellow editors like Howard Browne, LeRoy Yerxa, and Raymond A. Palmer, who later became publisher of Other Worlds. After that, he worked at a small little magazine named Today's Man where a fellow editor was Hugh Marston Hefner. After that, Hamling was publisher of Imagination, Imaginative Tales, Rogue, Regency Books, etc., a good friend, and a consistent supporter of Chicago fan activity.
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Mike Resnick wrote: Rotsler "...was selling Earl just about as many of these illustrated novelizations as I was." Not quite -- Rotsler was photographing them for us.
"...and then they contacted all the photographers directly." Again, not quite. The photographers contacted us. All of them. Too damned many of them. There seemed to be as many professional-quality photographers as there were future writers out there.
In fact, I could tell you some real horror stories about photographers and/or models once the orgy ended. There was one photographer whose name I have forgotten who had a contract for Milton Luros to do a 'marital aid' photo book. It took him a few days to complete photography on the project.
And each day of those few days, as they would finish work, the photographer and his models moved to a second studio set up almost exactly like the first. They spent most of those few nights repeating, frame for frame, every shot they took during the day -- for an entirely different publisher. None of them worked for anyone in the industry after that. Despite being more competitors than colleagues, there was an incredible industry grapevine notifying everyone of anything truly noteworthy.
So you see, don't let anyone every try to fool you -- it's not just those writers you can't trust.
(In Memory of Bill Rotsler; I love you, I miss you.)
All illustrations by Steve Stiles