celebrating the man behind ‘The Leatherman’s Handbook’
You might expect a biography of a man who wrote an S&M textbook and came out in the mid-1950s to be difficult, sad, and depressing. If you did, you would be wrong. The Life and Times of Larry Townsend: Saluting the 50th Anniversary of The Leatherman Handbook, by Jack Fritscher, is anything but a sad story. On the contrary, Larry Townsend’s story is a festive adventure, and the word that best describes his life and work is masterful.
In telling the Townsend story, Fritscher attempts to correct the historical record and ensure that the Townsend story is told and the history of Los Angeles leather is documented and included. Fritscher specifically mentions the lack of material on the leather and the S&M story in Lillian Faderman and Stuart Timmons Gay LA: A Story of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics, and Lesbian Lipstick:
“The à la carte portions of” LA History “by Faderman and Timmons have only evoked in passing Drummer while the enormous homosexuality of being a local magazine founded and populated in LA by local political activists, artists and writers, including local superstars like Larry and Jeanne [Barney]. “
The story of Townsend’s initiation into the world of leather and S&M is intrinsically linked to the underground history of LA that Fritscher documents in his book.
“Having been in the closet of his car since his teenage years,” Fritscher writes, “he stepped out with his own formal satisfaction in 1955 at the primitive LA bar, Cinema, on Melrose Avenue, which was arguably the world’s first leather bar. , predating the Argos leather bar founded in Amsterdam in 1957, Chuck Renslow’s Gold Coast leather bar in Chicago in 1958 and the Why Not and Tool box leather bars in San Francisco in 1962. Diving was perfect for him and new gay motorcycle clubs, like the Satyrs founded in 1954, hosting mixers for sadists and masochists who were also military veterans. “
It was a wild half-world that, due to its proximity to movie studios, had its fair share of Hollywood stars as well as the military, and Townsend came across some of them on a truly intimate level.
“Him and Hollywood star Montgomery Clift, who wore a nasty leather jacket in A place in the sun, shared a lover, ”writes Fritscher. “This romantic triad came to an end when Clift, fresh off the set Suddenly last summer, took the ham in their sandwich to Cuba for the wild New Years Eve before Fidel Castro made his revolution in Havana on January 9, 1959. “
It wasn’t just Townsend’s encounters with Hollywood stars or his forays into the world’s first leather bar that ultimately made him famous, though it does make his story even more interesting.
Townsend was already writing gay pulp fiction like Leather kiss and The Gooser (later reprinted as The Cheerful Adventures of Captain Goose) for Greenleaf Classics in 1969, the year Stonewall changed everything (and three years before the release of The Leatherman Manual).
He was part of the gay pulp fiction world documented by Michael Bronski Pulp Friction: Discover the golden age of gay male pulps and Ian Young Paperback release: a visual history of gay pulps (it should be noted that Bronski and Young are mentioned in Fritscher’s book and he also notes that Bronski thanked Townsend for his help in collecting research for his book).
Aside from his value in complementing the fantasy of leather with his pulps, Townsend was already a campaigner for sexual liberation long before Stonewall. Fritscher documents Townsend’s work with HELP, the Homophile Effort for Legal Protection, which was founded in 1968 as documented in the book “to bail out and defend gay men during and after arrests by the Los Angeles Police Department” .
Townsend was one of the founding editors of Newsletter AIDE inc., first published September 15, 1970. All of this is documented in Fritscher’s book, along with photos from the first newsletter (the book complements the text with over 50 pages of photos of everything from the cover of Cycle Sluts Drummer Townsend’s awards, his astrological chart and pictures of his King Tut trinkets).
The Newsletter AIDE inc., however, has a particularly important place in the history of leather. As Fritscher notes, “In 1973, the HELP Newsletter has been renamed HELP Drummer and became a prototype of the brilliant Drummer magazine founded in Los Angeles in 1975 by Larry’s lifelong nemesis John Embry, who in a smooth move removed Larry from his post as president of HELP.
“Avocado reported on April 25, 1973 that some members believed the election had been rigged and that it was inappropriate for a nonprofit legal aid organization to be used to create Embry’s business magazine. “
Internal struggles like this are rife throughout the book, with conflicts between Townsend and Embry, as well as between Embry and Jeanne Barney, the founding editor-in-chief of Los Angeles. Drummer. This makes for fascinating read.
Ultimately, however, it is the publication of The Leatherman manual, to which the book is devoted, which is central here. Originally published in 1972, it was an instant and wildly popular classic, with fan mail addressed to “Master of Masters, Larry, Sir” among others.
The book was collected before the word was invented, Townsend collating the oral histories of the men of leather by handing out a “leather fact sheet” to hundreds of men who informed his text.
Townsend used the same strategy when The Leatherman II manual was published in 1984. As he was also an apparent master of marketing, he reprinted the books several times with different covers to continue to attract readers.
Fritscher’s tribute to Townsend, who died in August 2008, is a captivating read, with writers like Didion, Foucault, Sacher-Masoch and De Sade all making appearances with the Drummer crew and all the LA stars who have crossed paths with Townsend throughout his life.
Aside from the story and the thrill of reading about the rise of the leather world, Fritscher manages to give advice that is both interesting and hilarious. Where else can you read: “When masturbation isn’t empowering, you are just jerking off”.
Preview and buy the book at www.jackfritscher.com
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