Irving Klaw (1910–1966) was an American photographer, director, and pioneer of the BDSM film industry. He is best known for his erotic, fetish-oriented photos and films of Bettie Page, who worked for him from 1952 to 1957 and became the world's first famous bondage/fetish model.
The Pin-Up King
Klaw opened a used bookstore in lower Mahhattan in 1939. After discovering that still photos of movie stars and lobby photo cards were more lucrative, he changed the store to Irving Klaw Pin Ups (and later to Movie Star News). Business thrived and the self-named "Pin-Up King" added an international mail-order service that sold cheesecake photos of movie stars.
By the early 1950s, special requests for "Damsel-in-distress" photos of actresses being bound, gagged, spanked, and whipped became more frequent. Finding enough film stills to meet this growing demand was difficult so, Klaw decided to produce his own photos. He hired models, including an unknown Bettie Page, and popular burlesque dancers such as Tempest Storm and Blaze Starr to pose. Mindful of the strict obscenity laws of the time, Klaw did not show any nudity. His models posed in their underwear or skimpy lingerie, with stockings and high heels. To further avoid any sexual connotations, the sessions are all female. There are no men in any of his risque photos or film loops. However, this unwittingly added a lesbian tone to his work that many found alluring.
Klaw used the sparsely decorated photo studio above Movie Star News and occasionally a rented loft space. The photos, mostly taken by Klaw's sister Paula, covered a broad range of fetishistic subjects. From innocent cheesecake shots of leggy models and foot fetish images of spike-heeled shoes to whip-wielding dominatrices. Klaw produced thousands of photos depicting every type of bondage position, hand and hairbrush spanking, slave training, and other scenes of dominance and submission. The Klaws had no personal experience with the BDSM lifestyle. Around this time one of their clients, a prominent lawyer known only as "Little John", became a sort of bondage consultant for their photo sessions.
Klaw also created Nutrix Co. (changed to Mutrix Corp. after he sold the business) for publishing and distributing adventure/bondage serials illustrated by well-known fetish artists. Customers could purchase complete sets or individual 8x10 cartoon drawings for fifty cents each. Collectors could choose from such titles as Sweet Gwendoline by John Willie, Bound in Leather and Mrs. Tyrant's Finishing School by Eric Stanton, Prison for Women and Ladies in Rubber by Eneg (Gene Bilbrew), and Boarding School Diary by Morey.
Klaw also put out a biannual mail-order catalog, Cartoon and Model Parade.
Fetish film loops
There were also weekend movie sessions where Klaw produced scores of silent 8mm and 16mm black-and-white film loops (5 to 10 minutes in length). Titles such as Jonnie Initiates Barbara into Bondage, Enslaved Brunette, Manacled Slave Maiden, and Leather Sheath Bondage, all depict dominatrix-and-slave S&M scenarios of bondage and spanking. In Domineering Roz Strikes Again, Roz Greenwood is an angry mistress who vigorously spanks her maid played by Bettie Page. The roles are reversed in Second Initiation of the Sorority Girl with Bettie punishing Roz, who is in shackles and wearing a bizarre metal cone-bra and chains outfit.
Exploitation films about female wrestling (cat-fighting) were popular in the early '50s. Klaw produced many short films on this subject such as Booted Amazon Fights Again and Pin-Up Fight (with Page) featuring underwear-clad models wrestling and spanking each other.
Two notable featurettes with Bettie Page (Rumble Seat Bondage and Jungle Girl Tied to Trees) were filmed outdoors at secluded locations. A biographical film, The Notorious Bettie Page (2005), faithfully recreates the Rumble Seat Bondage session.
Still photos taken during the movie sessions were also sold at Movie Star News and through their mail-order catalog. In 2004, photos were used to recreate six lost films (including Jungle Girl Tied to Trees) in the low-budget biopic from Cult Epics, Bettie Page: Dark Angel. Paige Richards, a BDSM model-actress who appears in many videos for GwenMedia, plays the title role.
The story scenarios, costume details, and types of bondage and punishment frequently came from personal requests made by his clients. However, Klaw did not allow any nudity or sexual content and always used an all-female cast. His films often have a playful, lighthearted quality much like a vintage French postcard come to life. But unlike the underground film industry he would soon inspire, Klaw's depictions of fetishes exist in a harmless fantasy world free of sadism and misogyny.
Klaw also produced a few feature length burlesque films: Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955) with Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm, and Bettie Page, and Buxom Beautease (1956), without Page. These were mildly risque revues with dancing and comedy skits that contained no nudity or overt sexual content.
In 1957 Klaw closed his New York business due to political and social pressures resulting from the notorious Kefauver Hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency. The McCarthy-style hearings branded Klaw as a degenerate pornographer and ushered in a new wave of censorship. Bettie Page also chose to retire from modeling at this time. (Parts of the hearings are recreated in the film The Notorious Bettie Page.)
After the Senate hearings and the ensuing legal difficulties with State authorities, Klaw moved his Nutrix Publishing Company — along with associates Satellite Publications (Stanley Malkin & Pat Martini), and Ed Mishkin's Mutrix Publishing Company — to an office building in Jersey City, New Jersey. All three companies sold similar fetish-oriented photos and magazines. (Diana Press Inc. was also based in Jersey City.)
To further avoid prosecution, Klaw's Nutrix publishing imprint was restricted to a mail order-only business. For several years he published a number of small 5" x 7" illustrated bondage/fetish photo-booklets. Titles such as Girl Psycho Handled with Restraint (1960), which includes old photos of Bettie Page, Girls Punishment at School of Discipline (1962), Tortured Models in the Wax Exhibit (1962), and Paddled Severely During Sorority Initiation (1963), are typical examples. Eventually he sold this business to Ed Mishkin, whose reprints often bear both names, Nutrix and Mutrix.
By the early Sixties, censorship restrictions began to loosen. Underground nudist films and so-called "nudie cutie" exploitation comedies became popular at grindhouse theaters and drive-ins. Klaw briefly returned to filmmaking in 1963, producing two exploitation films: Larry Wolk's Intimate Diary of an Artist's Model and Nature's Sweethearts. Unlike his earlier work, these films included nudity.
Klaw died a few years later on September 3, 1966 due to complications from untreated appendicitis. His nephew, Ira Kramer, currently manages Movie Star News, located on 18th Street in New York City.
The most detailed account of Klaw's life can be found in the book The Real Bettie Page by Richard Foster (Citadel Press: Secaucus, NJ, 1999).
Legacy and influence
Irving Klaw appears to be the first director of fetish films in the United States. No one before him made films centered around bondage, pony play, foot fetishes, slave training, or eroticized spanking. However, in France a number of whipping and spanking stag films (some with pornographic sex scenes) were made dating back to the 1920s and '30s (see pornography and Ostra Studio).
Klaw's only notable contemporary was George Weiss, a Hollywood producer of lurid exploitation movies. Weiss produced Ed Wood's first film, Glen or Glenda (1953), and added some surprising scenes of bondage and whipping (taken from another unfinished production) to the climactic dream sequence montage.
A decade later, Weiss spearheaded the "roughie" exploitation genre with the notorious "Olga" films about a cruel dominatrix who runs a white slave prostitution ring. Olga's House of Shame, White Slaves of Chinatown, and Olga's Girls (all from 1964) were inspired by Klaw and pick up where his film-loops leave off. They contain explicit scenes of nudity, whipping, spanking, pony training and sadistic torture.
Tortured Females (1965) is another sexploitation roughie with an obvious Klaw influence. Abducted women forced into prostitution have to perform humiliating striptease acts for clients. These segments closely resemble Klaw's risque exotic dance short films with Bettie Page and others.
Silent film-loops similar to Klaw's depicting bondage (with lots of spanking, whipping, and nudity) were churned out for the underground market from the mid-Sixties until the home-video revolution in the early Eighties. These crudely made films contain more violence and explicit content, but lack the smooth style and charm of Klaw's work.
Bringing Back Betty (from Harmony Concepts, c. 1989) by Chelsea Pfeiffer, pays homage to Irving Klaw with recreations of some of his most famous bondage scenes. Kiri Kelly (wearing a black wig to resemble Bettie Page), along with Allison Brach (aka Greta Carlson) and Rachel Wells (aka Julia Parton, June Bauer), wear classic lingerie to capture the style of their bondage model predecessors.
The 1970s to the present
In the late seventies bondage/spanking magazine publishers rediscovered and reprinted Klaw's photographs. Special issues entirely devoted to his work began to appear starting with A Nostalgic Look at Bettie Page (Eros-Goldstripe, 1976). This was followed by Betty Page in Bondage (Lyndon Books, c. 1977-79), the multi-volume The Bound Beauties of Irving Klaw 1947-1963 (London Enterprises Ltd, 1978), and Betty Page, Private Peeks (Belier Press, Inc., 1980).
The popularity of these publications effectively returned Klaw – and especially bondage superstar Bettie Page – to the world of erotica. A few years later Klaw's BDSM stag films would be reintroduced to a new generation as well.
The rapid growth of the videotape market became part of a rebirth for Bettie Page and Klaw's all-but-forgotten films. In 1984 BDSM film producer London Enterprises released the two-volume video Irving Klaw Bondage Classics with music and narration added to the silent footage. Page appears in half of these featurettes. For the first time in 30 years, Klaw's films were available to a mainstream audience.
In 2005, Cult Epics re-released both videos on a single DVD entitled Bettie Page: Bondage Queen. That year they also put out Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen, a DVD compilation of her burlesque dance performances from Striporama, Varietease and Teaserama. This also includes 12 black-and-white film loops of exotic dances and a wrestling-spanking featurette.
A few more of Klaw's rare bondage loops, including two with Page, are on Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 4 and Volume 20. These are part of a long series of compilations of vintage bondage shorts from the 1950s-1970s released by Something Weird Video.
The DVD release of The Notorious Bettie Page includes a brief bonus feature that was most likely filmed by Klaw. A rare color film of Page undressing and striking nude poses for the camera.
- Striporama (1953)
- Varietease (1954)
- Teaserama (1955)
- Buxom Beautease (1956)
- Intimate Diary of an Artist's Model (1963) - producer
- Nature's Sweethearts (1963) - producer
- Irving Klaw Bondage Classics, Volume I& II (London Enterprises, 1984)
- Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen (Cult Epics, 2005)
- Bettie Page: Bondage Queen (Cult Epics, 2005)
- Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 4 (Something Weird Video)
- Bizarro Sex Loops, Volume 20 (Something Weird Video, 2008)
Bettie Page spanking videos on YouTube
- Captured Jungle Girl (F/F)
- Second Initiation of the Sorority Girl
- Rumble Seat Bondage - with Page as a dominant mistress
- untitled catfight wrestling loop (F/F)
- Montage of Irving Klaw films
- Video montage of Klaw's still photos set to music
Videos on Internet Archive & xHamster
- Irving Klaw: Bondage Classics (38 min.)
- Shackled Slave Girl Spanked with Bettie Page.
- Pin Up Beauties Fight - Bettie Page and June King wrestling and spanking.
- Teaserama - entire film (67 min.)
- Irving Klaw on Wikipedia
- Irving Klaw on Wipipedia
- The History of spanking in film
- Beyoncé music video that recreates Klaw's Bettie Page films
- Beyoncé & Bettie Page montage match-up of vintage clips that inspired the Beyoncé video.
- Stag reel