If you love pin up girls then the name Irving Klaw will be known to you, if not then you can learn something new today. Irving Klaw is the name behind a great deal of Bettie page pictures you see. You know the ones, play-fighting in her lingerie? Yes, I thought you had seen those. Bettie was a real natural beauty and pretty much wipes the floor with some of the models these days. No orange skin, she didn’t have a plastic fantastic body and she was being herself at all times and having fun with it. Bettie was the real deal. This is how I discovered the curious world of Irving Klaw.
Klaw was born in Brooklyn, New York to a Jewish family. He opened up a business in 1935 with his sister, first as a bookshop and then they went onto opening Movie Star news. He realised that people wanted pictures of their favourite movie stars, whether on the walls of their bedrooms or hidden under their beds so he decided to start selling stills and lobby photo cards. This became so popular he ended up putting the bookstore to bed and opened up the store front as Irving Klaw Pin Ups. The business became so popular he was named the Pin-Up king and they moved to another shop.
For some people, their favourite movie star posing wasn’t enough and people began requesting “damsel-in-distress” stills but Klaw realised that this was going to be a difficult task and came up with a new idea. He and his sister were going to employ models to pose for them so he could sell the photos. Before you jump to conclusions, they weren’t getting into the pornographic industry as we know it. They went to great lengths to make sure the photographs did not contain sex acts and nudity as this would have made the act of selling these illegal. His sister Paula was responsible for taking the majority of the photographs featuring such burlesque stars as Tempest Storm, Blaze Starr and of course, Bettie Page.
Inspired by the success of the photographs, Klaw decided to move into film – Varietease (1954), Teaserama (1955) and Buxom Beautease (1956). Alongside this, Klaw made home movies usually silent and in black and white. His models would wear lingerie and would often be involved in acts of bondage. This was all to come to an end in 1957 when the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency was attempting to link pornography to juvenile delinquency. Klaw was in the firing line and he closed his storefront business, many images were destroyed but Klaw’s sister saved a great deal of them. From here he moved his company that was restricted to mail order, this was to avoid further prosecution. He went on to create several booklets that included photographs of Bettie Page. In 1963 he started to get back into filmmaking and produced films that were quite different from his previous, these were more erotic in the sense they featured topless women.
Klaw died in 1966. His nephew now runs the family business and it is back open as a storefront shop. His legacy lives on.