Southern Brooklyn

Inventors Of Pinup Girl Photography, Discoverers Of Bettie Page, Lived in Sheepshead Bay

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Bettie Page, who the Klaws brought to mainstream audiences. (Source: http://lornagrl.blogs.com)

Sure, it’s pretty darn easy to find a sexy photo of your favorite celebrity these days. You just go online, type their name in Google, and start scrolling through the image results. But there was a time when it was much more difficult. Once upon a time, you had to purchase entire magazines just to obtain pictures of your favorite actors. Oh, the horror!

In between magazines and the internet, though, there was a third option – pinup photos of famous gals, all scantily clad.

And it just so happens to be that Irving and Paula Klaw, the inventors of pinup art, discoverers of Bettie Page, and owners of the renowned Movie Star News in Manhattan, were residents of Sheepshead Bay.

According to our reader and resident guru Lisanne, the Klaws lived on Homecrest Avenue; though Lorna Keuning, who writes the LornaGrl blog, and unknowingly became a tenant of Paula Klaw’s when she first moved to Brooklyn just a few weeks before she died, said Paula lived on Shore Parkway.

After decades of serving the pre-tabloid classes with unique art, pictures of movie stars and some of the earliest bondage photography professionally produced, this “one-of-a-kind” store in Manhattan packed up all of its inventory after having sold it off to a collectibles company in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reported. Beginning next year, the collection, which includes art of 5,000 actors and 11,500 movies from 1939 through 1979, will be auctioned off and sold in a sequence of sales. According to Stuart Scheinman, co-owner of Entertainment Collectibles, the company that purchased the collection, the art includes tens of thousands of negatives and images that have never been replicated or exposed to the public eye.

This revolutionary pin-up art all began when the two Sheepshead Bay natives opened a used book store in Manhattan. While working there, it was Irving Klaw who noticed that several young adults would often rip out photos of stars from movie magazines. To spare them from purchasing entire magazines for pictures, Klaw decided to start selling still pictures of movie stars.

Since these sold extremely well, the Klaws stopped selling books and renamed the store Irving Klaw Pin-Ups. The duo booked appointments with movie stars, and Paula shot the photos. More success followed, so the Klaws moved their store, and renamed it again, this time to Movie Star News.

In addition to celebrities, the Klaws took a suggestion from a customer and produced photos of girls tied up, or wielding lassos, or gagged – and they became an early progenitor of bondage photography. Their most famous subject was Bettie Page, and the Klaws’ photography helped catapault her career from scuzzy “camera clubs” to mainstream, pop-culture celebrity. A bondage video of Page made by Irving Klaw can be seen here – and it’s more or less safe-for-work; Klaw never featured nudity in his videos or photography.

According to a 1977 interview with Village Voice, “politicians, judges, prime ministers” were all frequent customers – until a scandalous pornography bust ended that, and, according to Paula, ended up killing her brother Irving from stress.

Now, too, the era of selling pinup art has come to an end.

“Today, if you want a picture of a star you can go on the computer and download it. So what do you need me for?” said Ira Kramer, who took over the business that his mother, Paula, and uncle, Irving, began.

And, as you read this online and not in a newspaper, he just may have a point.

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