No matter that a few of these boys would go on to TV fame for, oh, 7-11 robberies and the occasional murder spree. Beautiful people make their own rules, Tennessee Williams observed, and our bowling-pin-shaped shutterbugs were nothing if not slaves to beauty, trawling the shirtless hustler strips from Selma Avenue to Santa Monica Boulevard.
Innocent of history, innocent of TV and movies and popular culture — let alone anything approaching art — these amateur photographers made their livings through X-rated mail order.
It worked like this: They gave the magazine lurid homemade spreads, and we gave them photo credits and large ads at the back of the book for their so-called “studios”: kitchen-table mail-order operations that promised even more revealing glimpses of Josh, Kyle, or Scooter, the sort you couldn’t show in magazines. (Jism shots and penetration were forbidden in nationally distributed publications.) One guy even employed his mother to stuff envelopes. There was a boutique trade, as well, in soiled, preferably sticky underwear.
Southern California was, as it still is, the capitol of the porn film industry. Yet In Touch was the only magazine in the area providing a venue for gay 8-millimeter reels. So the film houses occasionally came courting as well, with their lush, sunshiney, utterly pedestrian product. When this happened, the publisher decreed that they get the cover and the centerfold. He was an unpretentious bar owner from the San Fernando Valley, and his taste reflected that of our paying customers. Mercifully, these antiseptic compositions were outnumbered by the raw efforts supplying the bulk of the issue and whose reckless, slam-bang style I preferred.
To our office then, they flocked, these dedicated enthusiasts of Nekkid Trailer Trash. At times it was like dealing with 101 clones of Weegee, the New York Daily News photographer who’d push his way into the middle of car crashes and fires to take ruthless, riveting photos. Our office, beside being a clubhouse for these sharpshooters of the Lower Depths, was also a magnet for their discarded models to whom I’d have to explain that magazines did not pay “royalties.”
Way too accessible to the street, with no security and a glass door seldom locked, the In Touch office was no more than a re-purposed garage off Western Avenue, at the top of a low-rent side street that was seamed with tarred-over earthquake cracks and littered with cars on cinderblocks.
By reputation, we drew in tumbleweed hitchhikers looking for “any kind of work;” felons, temporarily between prison sentences, who had scary neck tattoos and announced they were available for “parties;” and dazed oldsters just escaped from the lax nursing home around the corner who drifted dreamily into our entrance lobby in hospital gowns and flipflops. Particularly arresting was the occasional Silverlake detective flashing a badge: apparently one of our Shutterbugs in Residence was being tracked down for the sort of minor indiscretions that hobble the lives of the great — check forgery , mail fraud, cop fondling.