What a summer. Between the broiling NYC heat wave of a few weeks ago and various personal things I’ve been dealing with, I’ve been too distracted to write here for several weeks. But the prodigal porn scribe has returned!
At least I’m able to escape from my stresses by reading vintage paperbacks, one of my true pleasures. The last few weeks were fascinating as I “time-traveled” via a novel back to 1945 Boston’s famous honky-tonk district Scollay Square, where hot dames cavorted with sailors during and after World War 2. Here is the district below, as seen in a photo I found here.
I was reading the late Pearl Schiff’s 1952 New York Times bestseller Scollay Square, in this beautiful 1953 Signet paperback with a wonderful cover by Stanley Zuckerberg…
This well-written and entertaining novel tells about an upper-crust Bostonian girl who tries to very independently make her way as a fashion illustrator, leaving her stuffy family life to get an apartment near the disreputable Scollay Square. She gets involved with a sailor and the first half of the book is about how she resists going to bed with him. When she finally does, she essentially becomes enslaved to her need for him and can think only of satisfying her hunger, tossing her career away.
The other main character is an Italian-American girl who, coming from a poverty-stricken background, hangs out in the Square, teases guys and let them buy her drinks, until she finally meets a Midwestern sailor to whom she wants to give herself in love and marriage–but who seems out of reach because of the difference of their religions and backgrounds.
I’d heard about Scollay Square from an older friend of mine who grew up near Boston, and I knew about it also because one of the most famous burlesque houses in America, the Old Howard, was located there. There’s a brief scene in the book where two of characters see a show at the theater. Here is a picture of the stage of the Old Howard that I found at this site.
Unfortunately the trip to the burlesque show comes at a time of emotional stress, and the characters don’t really enjoy the performance. What stands out in the scene is how the musicians in the pit read pulp magazines while the comedians are doing their sketches and schtick between the strip acts that obviously require music.
The uptight mid-20th century attitudes toward virginity and female sexuality pervade the novel and provide quite a contrast to today’s more relaxed erotic philosophies. But author Schiff is very modern and prescient in how she depicts, with compassion and without judgment, her characters’ struggles to deal with their physical desires and society’s expectations of what to do about them. I recommend this book, especially if you want to see and feel how differently women thought about sex and virginity in the 1940s.
As a porn writer who has been looking at models exposing their vaginas professionally for the last 40 years, I find it fascinating and even stimulating to look into the thought processes of long-ago ladies who kept their labia behind closely guarded curtains.
Pearl Schiff’s Scollay Square is definitely worth reading for its depiction of the era and a famously raunchy section of Boston that was demolished to make way for government buildings a half century ago.
Here’s one last shot of the Old Howard that I found here!
Stanley Zuckerberg was one of the best artists to work in the paperback field. I found the scan of the Scollay Square cover at this awesome Flickr page. Check out his other amazing paintings!