Here I am in front of the Barnes & Noble at 6th Avenue and 8th Street in the West Village–and that’s my book in the window!
Another tidbit from the Long-Lost Archives: a couple of vintage photos from Plato’s Retreat, the ne plus ultra of swingers’ clubs in the 1970s.
Though the conventional wisdom holds swinging to be an outre form of sexual expression from the ’70s, in the course of my book research it became clear that swinging was actually quite a tame enterprise. First, swinging (or “Westport Roulette,” one of my favorite euphemisms I found in a 1974 swingers’ handbook in the New York Public Library) was exclusively a heterosexual pastime, with the exception of temporary bisexuality on the part of the female swinger. Second, the majority of swingers were married couples, not singles–in fact, single men were never allowed into swingers’ clubs, but single women were always in short supply. Third, most swingers were suburban, middle class white couples. In many cases, the only radical thing about swingers was the fact that they swung. And they may have smoked a little “grass” when the mood struck.
Plato’s Retreat was the epicenter of the lifestyle in New York. Plato’s was located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel on 74th and Broadway, in the space previously occupied by the fabulously gay Continental Baths until 1975. Plato’s proprietor, Larry Levenson, didn’t have the smoking-jacketed panache of Hugh Hefner or the appetite for utter sleaze like Screw publisher Al Goldstein. But Levenson genuinely loved swinging, and hoped that Plato’s would let swingin’ gals meet swingin’ guys. He thought that would be “dynamite,” according to a contemporary Washington Post article.
I haven’t yet seen the new documentary “American Swing,” which looks at the swinging phenomenon and Plato’s Retreat, but I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, the film’s distributor Magnolia Pictures unearthed these rare images of Larry Levenson (with wife Mary) and the famous sign posted at the entrance of Plato’s. As I was researching my book, it was rather difficult to find factual accounts of Plato’s that weren’t sensationalized or dismissive of the lifestyle; locating images of Plato’s was even more difficult.
Even more exciting, the photo of the zebra-print mattress room was taken by Annie Sprinkle, the legendary 1970s porn star, “post-porn” performance artist and holder of a doctorate in human sexuality. She got her cinematic start in amateur stag reels in New York, and clearly spent some time at Plato’s. I was ecstatic to come across these images!
I’m going fast and furious on the airwaves here. Yesterday I recorded an interview for “Behind the News” with Doug Henwood, a great show that “covers the worlds of economics and politics and their complex interactions, from the local to the global…Since mystification is one of the tricks that power uses to maintain itself, emphasis is always placed on clarifying the complex.” I hope I clarified the complex when it comes to sex in New York, because frankly, a lot of the moves made by the anti-sex crowd mystified me.
Also yesterday, out of the blue I received an email from a producer at Newstalk, a national radio station in Ireland (!). I recorded a 10-minute interview with host Sean Moncrieff, whose show is simply called Moncrieff! No other explanation needed, apparently. I answered a few queries about the porn industry and its future. Sean and the nice Irish ladies who set up the interview all spoke at 100 miles (200 kilometres) an hour and I felt like I was drawling my responses like an uncouth American. Whaddyagonnado? It was 7:45am Eastern time.