Uncollecting #2: VICE SQUAD Magazine

Phil dives into his collection again, this time surfacing with a 1950s magazine that’s the real life LA CONFIDENTIAL.

In 1995, I worked for a man whose good friend was REALLY into collecting things. This collector died, and my boss was hired by the widow of the deceased to sort through the collection and act as the sales agent for the literal tons of stuff the guy had. This was way before reality hoarding shows, so his tiny apartment was a new kind of wide-awake nightmare to my young eyes - the closest thing I’d ever seen to the legendary Collyer Brothers. Rooms filled to the ceiling with piles of film cans, projectors, books, things still in shopping bags on top of other things still in shopping bags. He made his living as a letterer for various magazines and comic strips, and obsessively collected piles of whatever publications in which his work appeared; he’d just take stacks of issues right off the presses and put them in boxes which, 30 years later, he’d yet to open. He also collected 16mm film prints, posters, lobby cards, anything he could get his hands on, from the looks of it. His daughter’s “bedroom” was a mattress on the floor, surrounded by walls made out of stacks of VHS tapes.

This was before eBay, which meant this stuff couldn’t just be dumped online, PowerSeller-style. It was all sold via conventions, private appointments, scores of the dead guy’s friends turning up to get their hands on coveted items from his collection. One day Jim Warren, publisher of Famous Monsters of Filmland, came to the office and bought an entire near-mint run of the magazine, which I later drove to his home in Philadelphia. The late collector had lived in squalor, his tiny apartment reeking of the vinegar smell given off by decaying film prints, and the whole place in a state of neglect due to his refusal to let the super inside to repair anything, lest anyone see the hoarding horror show behind his front door. But his collection was worth a small fortune: apparently there was an original King Kong one-sheet in the mix, and at least one film print (of some B Western or other) which had been thought lost was found in his stash. The collector was also an amateur photographer, one of those guys in the 50s who’d throw in some cash with other shutterbugs and hire a nude model for the day. So I was the only one surprised when we found a shoebox FULL of never-before-seen Bettie Page photos.

Alongside the gems there was plenty of dreck: a black-and-white silent reel with “Snuff?” written on the rim of the can turned out to be a creepy porn short from the 30s where a man picks up a string of hitchhikers, strangles them after sex, and buries them in his yard (icky, but way too traditionally shot and edited to be actual snuff, thank Christ). You never knew what you were going to find in that collection, and it took at least a year to sell everything. I heard the final take was somewhere around a quarter million dollars, enough to get the collector’s poor widow and daughter the fuck out of their one-bedroom apartment and into a proper house. But when the dust settled, there was also a lot of random stuff left over - as the estate mainly dealt with selling whole collections and true rarities, the occasional one-offs and random “non-valuable” items were mine for the plucking.

One of the weirder items I took home was this April 1964 issue of Vice Squad, a kind of scuzzy precursor to TMZ and News Of The World, where for 35 cents a likely all-male readership could get its thrills reading about sex crimes, perversions, and the sordid personal lives of people I had to look up on Wikipedia.

Alongside shocking accounts of the sex life of Christine Keeler (“She was shacking up with two Negroes and a white man - ALL AT THE SAME TIME!”), one could find scientific reports about how transvestism can be cured, and an exposé on how high school boys hire themselves out - “TO HOMOS!” And in the back of this rag are lots of ads, where for $12 you could buy a black and white stag film of “a very beautiful and voluptuous Negro Girl”, or for only $7.50 more, you could go ahead and buy a fucking HANDGUN.

In some ways, Vice Squad is a now-tame piece of “naughty” vintage men’s entertainment (not even any nudity), but 47 years have rendered it weirdly compelling and creepy in whole new ways. And it’s just a great glimpse into how men got their cheap thrills before the internet. Depending on your connection speed, today we’re usually no more than 45 seconds from seeing the nastiest stuff we can imagine, and usually in HD; it’s weird to picture a time when the only way to get one’s hands on something “dirty” involved mailing away for it, or interacting with another human in person. Cultural artifact, historical snapshot, nasty glimpse into what the guys from Mad Men were reading when their wives weren’t around - justify it how you like, but it’s fascinating stuff, and you know it would look AMAZING on your coffee table.

Want it? Tweet a link to this article with the hashtag #uncollecting and I’ll choose a winner at random. US residents only for now (unless you want to pay postage, then have at it!)

Last week’s winner of the LEGEND one-sheet is the awesomely named Clint Gooch (@clintgooch)!