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Bettie Page, who the Klaws brought to mainstream audiences. (Source: http://lornagrl.blogs.com)

Sure, it’s pretty darn easy to find a sexy photo of your favorite celebrity these days. You just go online, type their name in Google, and start scrolling through the image results. But there was a time when it was much more difficult. Once upon a time, you had to purchase entire magazines just to obtain pictures of your favorite actors. Oh, the horror!

In between magazines and the internet, though, there was a third option – pinup photos of famous gals, all scantily clad.

And it just so happens to be that Irving and Paula Klaw, the inventors of pinup art, discoverers of Bettie Page, and owners of the renowned Movie Star News in Manhattan, were residents of Sheepshead Bay.

According to our reader and resident guru Lisanne, the Klaws lived on Homecrest Avenue; though Lorna Keuning, who writes the LornaGrl blog, and unknowingly became a tenant of Paula Klaw’s when she first moved to Brooklyn just a few weeks before she died, said Paula lived on Shore Parkway.

After decades of serving the pre-tabloid classes with unique art, pictures of movie stars and some of the earliest bondage photography professionally produced, this “one-of-a-kind” store in Manhattan packed up all of its inventory after having sold it off to a collectibles company in Las Vegas, the Associated Press reported. Beginning next year, the collection, which includes art of 5,000 actors and 11,500 movies from 1939 through 1979, will be auctioned off and sold in a sequence of sales. According to Stuart Scheinman, co-owner of Entertainment Collectibles, the company that purchased the collection, the art includes tens of thousands of negatives and images that have never been replicated or exposed to the public eye.

This revolutionary pin-up art all began when the two Sheepshead Bay natives opened a used book store in Manhattan. While working there, it was Irving Klaw who noticed that several young adults would often rip out photos of stars from movie magazines. To spare them from purchasing entire magazines for pictures, Klaw decided to start selling still pictures of movie stars.

Since these sold extremely well, the Klaws stopped selling books and renamed the store Irving Klaw Pin-Ups. The duo booked appointments with movie stars, and Paula shot the photos. More success followed, so the Klaws moved their store, and renamed it again, this time to Movie Star News.

In addition to celebrities, the Klaws took a suggestion from a customer and produced photos of girls tied up, or wielding lassos, or gagged – and they became an early progenitor of bondage photography. Their most famous subject was Bettie Page, and the Klaws’ photography helped catapault her career from scuzzy “camera clubs” to mainstream, pop-culture celebrity. A bondage video of Page made by Irving Klaw can be seen here – and it’s more or less safe-for-work; Klaw never featured nudity in his videos or photography.

According to a 1977 interview with Village Voice, “politicians, judges, prime ministers” were all frequent customers – until a scandalous pornography bust ended that, and, according to Paula, ended up killing her brother Irving from stress.

Now, too, the era of selling pinup art has come to an end.

“Today, if you want a picture of a star you can go on the computer and download it. So what do you need me for?” said Ira Kramer, who took over the business that his mother, Paula, and uncle, Irving, began.

And, as you read this online and not in a newspaper, he just may have a point.

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  • http://www.flickr.com/knightmare6 Knightmare6

    *sigh* Yeah, selling prints nowadays is pretty much hopeless

  • http://twitter.com/mikeyhorse Mike

    History Detectives (PBS) just did segment on her and Klaw. Apparently, almost all his negatives had to be destroyed as a result of a court order.

    • http://www.sheepsheadbites.com/ Ned Berke

      This is true, but Paula ended up saving a lot of it. 

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

    I’m trying to get a precise address. But Paula’s son said in an interview (the one shown on History Detectives) that many of the shoots were done in irving’s house on Homecrest Avenue.

  • Barkingspider07

    Paula Klaw, whose real name was Paula Kramer lived on Shore Parkway right off of Nostrand Avenue.  She used to get celebrity photo’s for me and my sister.  We were friendly with her daughter Audrey.

  • Models

    I take exception to the “scuzzy camera club” remark. There were many camera clubs around at the time including The Brooklyn Camera Club, which was founded in 1864 and is still in existence. Model shoots were one function of the club and the Brooklyn Camera Club was indeed one of the ones Bettie posed for. Unfortunately any members from back then are no longer with us and their photos are either lost or wrapped up someplace waiting to be discovered.

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

      Some were set up as legal obstacles to prosecution. They were “hobbyists” practicing their craft, not pornographers.

  • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

    It’s wonderful seeing a dedication to Betty Paige here.  There was a movie “The Notorious Betty Paige” in the mid 2000′s about her life, it was pretty good I remember. Betty got to see it shortly before she died I think.

    I must note however that while the Klaws made her famous (or infamous), it is not Sheepshead Bay that deserves original credit, but Coney Island. The story I know of is that some photographer just saw her walking the beach of Coney Island, and shot her nude on the spot and maybe that was the original “pinup art”.  Well, Coney or Sheepshead, it’s our neighborhood that made her famous!

    • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

       Many of the shoots were done in Irving’s home on Homecrest Avenue. It was Irving’s interest and Paula’s photography that promoted her into fame. Before that she was merely one of a number of models that worked in the NYC area.

      • http://www.brucebrodinsky.com Bruce B

        You know I just had to throw in Coney Island into the story!

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisanne001 Lisanne!

          One can probably find a Coney Island angle for any historical event which involved Sheepshead Bay.

          I found the HBO movie on line yesterday and watched it. Like most biographical movies it was a series of vignettes but it was well done.