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I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life
by Al Goldstein


Book Review by Rob Hardy



Among the most outrageous of our contemporary American outlaws, and among the funniest, is Al Goldstein, the co-founder and lightning rod for the infamous, gleefully tasteless semi-underground sex tabloid Screw, which he describes as "the most notorious, uproarious, and influential pornographic newspaper in the world". Through his publication (and through his cable television show "Midnight Blue") Goldstein chronicled any sort of sexual story, and maintained a forum for his famous editorials which were the prose equivalent of a raised middle finger to politicians, religious leaders, feminists, and to any lawyer, restaurateur, movie producer, or airline who happened to irritate him. ("Irritate him"? Thatís not the phrase Goldstein would use.) He became a multimillionaire, and a celebrity, and it was a wild ride through the 34 years of publishing his magazine. He descended, however, back to rags from riches as the lawsuits and divorces took their toll. He has now written (with Josh Alan Friedman) the autobiography I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life (Thunderís Mouth Press), a foul-mouthed, absurd, ribald, and thoroughly entertaining account of an influential life that may truly be called unique.

Here is the dedication at the front of the book: "To No One". Goldstein tells us right off the bat, "What motivates me is not love, but hatred. Without my many enemies, I would not be able to get up in the morning... I got up every morning to face my enemies and I loved it." He does not spare himself from his own scorn, referring to his younger self as a "bed-wetting stutterer from Brooklyn" and constantly referring to his own cupidity in, if they had come from anyone else, anti-Semitic terms. Surely his aggressively hilarious style of writing has been a way of making up for his own self-loathing and doubt. He had trouble with girls when he was growing up: "My faÁade of amorality and detached sex has always been a cover for being afraid of being hurt. So what else is new. Screw was such an antiromantic publication as compensation for that." His father was a photojournalist who had shown some bravery in World War II, but was so timid that he addressed elevator operators as "sir". Goldstein as a kid enjoyed going out on his fatherís shoots, and became a photographer himself. His mother "... thought I was God and could do no wrong," and told him later that she had been having an affair with the diet doctor who treated the adolescent Goldstein because Goldsteinís father was so inadequate. Goldstein muses, "Years later I accepted that even my mother was entitled to pleasure. I turned feminist in order to process this," a declaration that will surprise most feminists. (Among the many names Goldstein drops throughout the book is that of Gloria Steinem: "I won the right to take Gloria Steinem out to dinner once at an auction. She reneged.")

He joined the army, where he was trained as a photographer in the Signal Corps. "A year in the army did little to toughen me up. I was a whining Jew faggot." After an honorable discharge in 1956, he went on the GI Bill to an accounting college where he was "the schoolís resident beatnik." He never got his degree partially because he kept falling asleep in class, due to his nighttime work for the Daily Mirror. He drove the nocturnal radio car for none other than Walter Winchell, whom Goldstein credits with inventing the gossip column. "He broke the taboo against exposing the private lives of public figures, permanently altering the shape of journalism." In 1960 Goldstein won $1,000 in a contest for a story he wrote for a menís magazine, but he continued in photography. His agency sent him to Cuba where he took enough photos to alarm the militia, and when he was obnoxious upon questioning, he was thrown into jail. When he got back, he was on the television show Who Do You Trust?, telling Johnny Carson about Cuban jails (but he mentions that after Screw, he never got invited to Carsonís Tonight Show). He was the photographer for Jackie Kennedyís Goodwill Tour to Pakistan in 1962, and ten years later Screw would print its hottest-selling issue ever featuring telephoto pictures of Jackie sunbathing in the buff. He drove a taxi, sold life insurance, and was a carnie barker. He worked as an industrial spy against workers at the Bendix Corporation, and is ashamed of it. He wrote an exposť on his spying for a free press paper in New York, and there met Jim Buckley, an editor and typesetter, a conservative who came from an upstanding Catholic background and never had any sexual dalliances except with his wife, but nonetheless went on to co-found Screw.

Screwís first issue came out in 1968, and by the time of Goldsteinís first arrest, it was outselling Time and Playboy on Manhattan newsstands. The first arrest came because of a pedophilic personal ad, for which Goldstein apologizes; he hadnít screened the ad himself, and he has nothing good to say about pedophiles. He rejoices that the district attorney who prosecuted him fell victim (as have so many others) to "The Goldstein Curse", later spending three years in prison for tax fraud. The cops grew to be familiar near-friends. Goldstein remembers being driven in handcuffs to the Thirteenth Precinct where he was introduced to the desk captain because of an obscenity charge. When the captain is informed that before him was the publisher of Screw, the response is, "No kiddiní. Glad to meetcha," followed by handshakes all around. "If the City had left me alone and paid no attention," Goldstein admits, "I probably would have gotten bored and quit the magazine." The magazine "gave the worldís oldest profession an advertising medium" and became "the Consumer Reports of sex." Goldstein wrote reviews of porn movies. He cut-and-pasted pictures of the famous onto naked bodies for satirical effect. Pornographers usually keep a low profile, but he basked in his notoriety and dared anyone to make a First Amendment issue of it. He enjoyed the thrill of being arrested and disturbing the status quo of the state. "Acceptance of Screw would be the kiss of death."

He had a good time, and there are plenty of funny stories here. When the Polish Pope visited New York, Screw reported that he was making a tour of public bathrooms. The Polish pressmen who printed the magazine walked out, but "Iím prepared for printer walkouts at all times, and the plant brings in an alternate crew of Puerto Ricans. Or Italians or Slavs or whichever ethnic group is not too offended to handle that weekís subject matter." He depicted Poppiní Fresh the Pillsbury Doughboy shtupping a dough girl (she had a yeast infection, get it?), and Pillsbury hit him with a $50 million lawsuit, which was eventually dropped, permitting forever the use of trademarks modified for satirical purposes. At the time, the Japanese edition of Screw was just starting up, and its editors, not knowing Pillsbury, assumed that the depicted Doughboy was Screwís mascot, so they put it on every subsequent cover of the Japanese version. Goldstein had a unique workforce, including a cameraman who, "... for years the picture of blue-collar propriety, suddenly started sporting a dress to work each day." He got the first interview of Linda Lovelace after the debut of Deep Throat, and received her oral attentions, an experience which he describes as sad and pleasureless, but he had a better time getting a bet paid back by porn star Seka. He went to lunch with "Happy Hooker" Xaviera Hollander, and they "... are two middle-aged Jews who discuss and devour pastrami, gefilte fish, chopped liver, and a bowl of sour pickles. Neither of us utter so much as a syllable of sex the whole hour. We could care less when there is food on the table." Goldstein writes rather lovingly about pastrami, and with nostalgia about the great restaurants that are no longer in existence. A head chef at Katzís, which Goldstein says has the best pastrami in the country, says, "People donít realize what a wonderful man Al is. For every Pat Robertson and schmuck out there, you need an Al Goldstein to balance things out."

Goldsteinís fall was precipitous, landing him in homeless shelters and at the prison at Rikerís Island, which sounds straight out of the third world. "Iíve burned bridges. I have regrets," he says, and chief among these is losing contact with his son, who having been put through Harvard Law School with the aid of the pornographerís millions, has nothing now to do with his father. Goldstein mentions, with little trace of bitterness, one celebrity or pal after another that severed all connection with him once the money was gone. He also mentions with gratitude the friends who gave him money, or the restaurateurs who gave him free meals ("But I had to go early to make the homeless shelter by eight to sign for my bed"), or magician Penn Jillette who pays the rent for his Staten Island apartment. He is unrepentant, but he is disgusted by porn films of today, which he says are meaningless, with no tension, surprise, or human characterization. "Is this to be my legacy?" he asks, "I never dreamed Iíd ever say such a thing, but is there no taste?" He had, however, previously written, "Each weekly issue of Screw is one more strike against the world. If I ever lose it all, Iíll merely shrug, amazed to have even gotten so far." He might think of his book as yet another such strike. Crude, buoyant, angry, and funny, it is possibly as authentic as any autobiography can be.

Rob Hardy
May 2007


I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life
(Thunder's Mouth Press; September 12, 2006; ISBN-10: 1560258683)
Available at: Amazon.com†/ Amazon UK


_______
© 2007 Rob Hardy. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.



About the Reviewer:†
Rob Hardy is a psychiatrist who lives in Columbus, Mississippi, with his wife, two terriers, five cats, and goldfish.

He reviews nonfiction for The Times of Acadiana, but has been reviewing books as a hobby for years before that.
WebBio:  Rob Hardy



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