The New York Review of What?

I was the art director and co-publisher of a late-sixties underground paper titled The New York Review of Sex (& Politics), a curious mix of new left politics and sexual “liberationsploitation” that grew out of a socio-political paper called The New York Free Press. When it was discovered that the Freep, as it was known, only sold out an edition when nudes (preferably women) were put on the cover, we participated in the launch of the first underground sex paper, Screw (and I became the first art director). But after some internal disputes with Screw‘s legendary publisher, Al Goldstein, the Freep folks broke away and founded the NYRS, mostly out of “revenge.” (I wrote about that for the Daily Heller here.) Like other New York underground papers in 1969 (The East Village Other and Rat), the Free Press started a sex paper to subsidize our host publication. However, after a month or so of simultaneous publishing, we folded the Freep and devoted our energies to the potentially more profitable sex paper. Sex was political back then, we thought.

David Platzker’s recent “Screw You” exhibition at the Susan Inglett Gallery in New York, which opened in May and closes tomorrow, July 27, gathers together all the yellowing sex-oriented underground tabloids. Since its opening, people have asked me to see a complete run of my “infamous” periodical. Platzker has done a good job of digitally cataloging most issues of NYRS here, including “Our Especially Clean Issue,” for which my cohorts and I were twice arrested and brought to justice in New York State Supreme Court. We won because the above title was the truth: All the sexual content in that issue was innuendo (including a photo of a woman sitting on a fire plug, two lady bugs together in passionate embrace, and a sudsy naked woman taking a bath). Platzker did, however, leave out the very last issue (which I don’t have either) — the ultimately re-titled New York Review of Sex, Politics and Aerospace, our “screw you” to the porn world and its unsavory distributors.

The first issue: high-class porn

Here are most of the issues from Platzker’s site, starting with the elegant first issue (above), which my co-publishers and I wanted to come across as more “high-class” than Screw. We printed on whiter, heavier (50-lb offset) paper in full color from separation negatives. Yet for all the “class” we brought to the underground porn field, after the first few issues, we lost money and readers. Our unsavory distributor used to say about me in nasal tones, “He’s da only guy in New Yawk who could make a sex paper fail!” Hey, what did they expect from a repressed prepubescent kid, anyway?

Nonetheless, New York District Attorney Richard H. Kuh, who prosecuted Lenny Bruce and Claus von Bülow, arrested us and enjoined the NYRS twice for what amounted to two innocuous issues that today cannot compare with the sexual content on HBO, most R-rated films, and even many edgy magazines for currently acceptable prurience and pandering. We were all so idealistic, innocent, and youngish. Yet the government was afraid we’d corrupt society and the free world.

Subtle but provocative

In the end, between the D.A. harassment on the one hand (twice busted, legal fees, appeals, etc.), and the unsavory distributors urging more hardcore content (less “pinko-lefty” wit) than we were willing to include, the NYRS&P fell afoul of creditors. I moved on to a music tabloid called Rock, and then back to Screw as art director until getting my job at The New York Times. (Read more here.)

New York's guide to sex before Time Out

The only sex paper with full-color reproductions

Busted by the NYPD for obscenity

When the circus came to town

It's just a painting.

. . . and politics?

And politics!

The first of the brand-new looks. Cover by Brad Holland.

"So... where's the sex?" our distributor demanded to know.

The first NYRS&P cover by Brad Holland.

The only sex paper to fail in New York

The penultimate issue: We knew we were dying.

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8 thoughts on “The New York Review of What?

  1. Brat Holland

    Steve, you certainly dug up some oldies-but-goodies yesterday. I got a Heller Alert from someone who had seen your piece and asked if I had posters available of those covers.  In fact, I don’t even remember doing two of them, but like you, I’m proud of what we did back then and everything it led to.As for why we put women on the covers, that’s easy.  Heterosexual men tend to like women.The woman I put in all of those pictures is the woman I was living with. If I had been living with a guy, I’d have probably put him on the covers.

  2. LoriKay

    This is nothing but exploitation of women, the depravity of man, all in distasteful ways and it is perverse. You call it art and political protest. I call it perverse. Something beautiful meant to be intimate, meaningful and an expression of devotion and you exploit it and pervert it as an expression of politics and freedom. The really sad thing, you are proud of it. 

  3. Constance

    I’m a big fan and enjoy reading your articles about graphic design and typography, especially the vintage stuff. But, this time, I have to comment. The covers all feature women in some kind of nudity, but nowhere do we see an image of a man without his clothes. I know times have changed and these covers are “vintage,” but … well, you get my drift. Whenever there’s a discussion about sex, the visuals are nearly always women; unless it’s a gay audience, in which case it’s men. Go figure!

  4. vanderleun

    Oh, God, no!  WORKING for AL! and in some sort of voluntary way! The mind reels, the skin crawls. No wonder you have certain “issues.”
    You poor poor poor man. I weep for the wasted humanity!