Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Shockingly Honest Book



A Shockingly Honest Book
Reading Lisabet’s post reminded me of a time when I was young and poor and couldn’t afford to buy books; most of what I read came from the library. Not surprisingly there wasn’t a deal of erotica to be found in the hallowed halls of Aberdeen (Scotland) Public Library, so my knowledge of such fare was very limited —by limited I mean nonexistent. Later, in London, I took to trolling the second hand bookstores that practically lined both sides of Charing Cross Road. 

While  browsing through a table outside one of these stores I was standing next to a woman who was thumbing through a paperback when she suddenly gave a disgusted snort and threw the book down. Intrigued, I sidled over and picked it up. The cover was a bit strange – a painting by Luca Signorelli – The End of the World – and depicted men in medieval clothing, codpieces to the fore, trampling on other men, also with codpieces. The title was All The Sad Young Men, not the F. Scott Fitzgerald version, but by a chap named Anonymous. At the lower edge of the cover were the words –
One day he was a married man with a family…The next day he was plunged into the half world of homosexuality. How did it happen? “It can happen to anyone,” says the author of the book, and tells how…and why!

Now, even more intrigued, I opened the book and couldn’t believe what I was reading—a love story about two men. Wow! I was nineteen, horny as hell and this book made me glad it was a cold day and I was wearing an overcoat. Within minutes I owned the book, the hell with the cost, and hurried to catch the next train on the Tube home. Of course, I didn’t open it on the train. Good Lord no! Everyone around me would be craning their necks to see what I was reading and soon the air would be filled with cries and snorts of disgust, echoing the sentiments of the woman at the bookstall.
Over the years, of course, I have read quite a bit of erotica, I have even been known to write in that genre, and when I reflect on All The Sad Young Men, it just doesn’t seem that exciting as it once did. Have I become jaded? I don’t think so—maybe a little more discerning. Here’s an example of the prose…
I was not alone. The thrill of knowing that my love was still with me almost made my heart jump from my body. A Love that knew no limitations—a Love that had come to me in all its glories with a challenge that could only make our Love stronger because we had to fight the world together with its narrow moral confines.
I sighed deeply and reached out to feel the warmth of my Love’s body. I am at once filled with desire and all the beauty it represents to me. I move closer and take Love into my arms and it is at suddenly awakened with passion, the same as mine. Suddenly we are both alive with the awareness of being one on some astral plane. We seem to be one piece of flesh molded together by a sculptor’s hand.
Here is a review of the book when it was released in 1962:

A Shockingly Honest Book! The author of this book is a well-known TV and Hollywood actor, though not a star. Like so many homosexuals, he began life as an average, normal young man repulsed by the very word "homosexual." In Hollywood, he had many women as his lovers, and the movie star he married also had many lovers. It was a sad, gay, crazy world in which the star today is the has-been of tomorrow. As age reached out and touched him, this man, too, felt the fear that clutches everyone who sells a face and a body to the public. He turned to writing, became successful. Alone, lonely, finding no satisfaction with the many women with whom he had affairs, he found himself in a Third Avenue bar one night, being picked up by a young boy. From there on in, he was caught, trapped, in the world of the homosexual, the world of all the sad young men who are neither men nor women, only lost souls.

Very pre Stonewall…

The interesting thing of course is that All The Sad Young Men is obviously a memoir of some kind. Anonymous goes on to describe parties in Hollywood that soon became orgies. Beautiful young men served the guests ‘aphrodisiac drinks’ that inflamed them with passion to such a degree that all propriety went out the window. He finds himself tucked between ‘a blond Adonis’ and ‘a dark eyed beauty’ who turn out to be the host’s (a movie director of considerable fame) protégée and his gardener. Lying next to him is a famous actor just returned from his honeymoon in Europe with ‘Hollywood’s sexiest actress’.
Gay erotica in its infancy still has its fascination. A friend loaned me a DVD of Song of the Loon, telling me it wasn’t as good as the book. After watching this boring black and white mess, I searched for the book. Boy, was my friend right. Written in 1966, four years after All the Sad Young Men, Richard Amory’s book is an amazing leap in the gay erotica genre.

Song of the Loon tells the tale of a mountain man enthralled by the beauty of Native Americans he meets at every turn.

Ephraim let the blanket fall to the ground as he stood up. He smiled down at Tslasohkah and untied his loin cloth. His cock sprang free; he felt proud of its size and thickness, its rushing fullness, and of his coppery belly hair that glinted in the firelight. He held out his hand to Tslasohkah, “Show me the way my love, and I will possess you with all the force that is in me.

Oh, yeah…

Ephraim also has his way with another ‘Indian’ — Singing Heron. His mother must have known where her son was going when she named him that. Amory prefaced his story by admitting he never knew any Native Americans like Tslaohkah or Singing Heron and the likelihood of their existence was indeed extremely doubtful, but the book was wildly successful for its time.

There is a website www.gayontherange.com that lists a number of vintage gay erotica complete with covers that leave you in no doubt as to their content. Time marches on, everything changes, yet everything stays the same.

3 comments:

  1. I don't remember if the books I was introduced to even had the mainstream moniker of erotica at the time, except in the underground scenes who were 'hip' to erotica through Miller, Nin, Durrell, DiPrima, and other mid-century bohemian writers. I'm certainly not surprised that the gay sub-genre was explored as well underground. I do know that the old Grove/Ophelia Press stuff often featured bisexuality, both male and female, as well as a bit of "pegging". Unfortunately, many of those books were also quite violent, in way not consistent with our contrived bdsm play today.

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  2. i love the story of the book's discovery. probably part of its allure to you was that secret discovery in a public bookstore.

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  3. Wonderful bit of personal history, Jim!

    Where would we be if not for serendipity? I picked up the book that got me started publishing erotica on a book swap shelf in an Instanbul hotel!

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