Tag Archives: Forgotten Heroes

Gay History – December 11, 1945: John Preston; Journalist, Activist, and Father of Leather S&M Gay Erotica Is Born

John Preston the award-winning writer, essayist, and journalist is born on this day in 1945.

Preston best known for his Leather S&M gay erotica was proud of his work believed it made him a better, more honest writer. As he explained in his 1993, Harvard lecture, which he titled “My Life as a Pornographer” (and which he later published in an essay compilation by the same name) “Pornography has made me be honest, about myself and some of the most intimate details of my life and my fantasies. … Once I had exposed my own sexual fantasies, my most intimate desires, I feared little else about self-exposure as a writer.”

Leather S&M porn activism may seem like an odd field of endeavor, but activism came naturally to the Medfield, Massachusetts native, who by age fourteen had already volunteered as a Freedom Rider in Alabama and a tutor in Chicago’s projects. He graduated from Lake Forest College in Illinois, was certified as a sexual-health consultant by the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Medical School, and he also studied theology at the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and Northwestern Lutheran Seminary in St. Paul. After moving to Minneapolis in 1969, he founded Gay House, one of the first gay and lesbian community centers in the country. He served as its first director until 1972, when he founded Gay Community Services.

mister-bensonBy the mid 1970’s, Preston moved to Los Angeles and became the editor of The Advocate (when it was actually a good media outlet). Then at about 1978, he moved to New York and took up fiction writing with a short pornographic story about a young man, Jaime, who becomes the sexual property of a Master named Aristotle Benson. He sent the story to Drummer magazine, which asked him to write an entire series on the exploits of Jaime and Benson. Those monthly episodes exploring Manhattan’s Leather and S&M scene were immensely popular. T-shirts reading “Looking for Mr. Benson” — some with a question mark, some without — began appearing in gay bars across the country. Mr. Benson: A Novel was eventually published in book form, where it set a new standard in pornographic fiction. Other titles followed, including his “Master” series: I Once Had a Master (1984, which became the subject of a Canadian customs court case), Entertainment for a Master (1986), Love Of A Master (1987), and In Search Of A Master(1989).

Mr. Benson is the compelling story of a young man’s quest for the perfect master. In a West Village leather bar, he finds wealthy, sophisticated, exacting Aristotle Benson, who leads him down the path of erotic enlightenment, teaching him to accept cruelty as love, anguish as affection, and ultimately, Mr. Benson as his master.  Its unabashed celebration of male sexuality made it a cult favorite among gay men, many of whom wore T-shirts declaring that they were “Looking for Mr. Benson.”

But S&M porn was far from his only literary interest. Working as a journalist and essayist, he wrote for a number of gay magazines and penned a column about gay life in Maine after abandoning Manhattan for a refurbished warehouse in Portland. He wrote straight men’s adventure novels which, in a bizarro-world twist, his publisher insisted on publishing under a pseudonym lest his straight readers find out who wrote them. He then took what he learned from writing those books to write similar action adventure novels featuring gay characters, with story lines that addressed the difficulty gay teens experienced. When AIDS came along, Preston quickly adapted and became among the first to popularize safe sex stories by editing a safe sex anthology, Hot Living: Erotic Stories about Safer Sex, in 1985. He co-wrote, with Glenn Swann, a badly-needed safe-sex guide, Safe Sex: The Ultimate Erotic Guide, and two other rather unorthodox advice books: 1984’s Classified Affairs: A Gay Man’s Guide to the Personal Ads and 1994’s Hustling: A Gentleman’s Guide to the Fine Art of Homosexual Prostitution.

Preston edited several critically acclaimed anthologies, including Hometowns: Gay Men Write About Where They Belong (1992), Personal dispatches: Writers confront AIDS (1990, which he began compiling soon after his own AIDS diagnosis), and Flesh and the Word: An Anthology of Erotic Writing (1995, with two stories by his friend, Anne Rice). Two of his anthologies, Member of the Family: Gay Men Write About Their Families (1992) and Sister and Brother: Lesbians and Gay Men Write About Their Lives Together (1994) were honored with Lambda Literary Awards.

John Preston died of AIDS in 1994, at the age of 48. His papers are housed at the John Hay Library at Brown University.

*Mr. Benson is available through Amazon.com

**Sources: Back2Stonewall and Box Turtle Bulletin

Forgotten Heroes – Remembering David: “DRUMMER” Photographer and Activist David Sparrow

Forgotten Heroes

Jack Fritscher the founding San Francisco editor-in-chief of the iconic  Drummer Magazine remembers his longtime spouse and partner in life and gay leather and BSMD history David Sparrow.

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David Sparrow Fritscher, spouse of “Drummer” editor Jack Fritscher from 1969-1979, shot covers and hundreds of interior pictures from March 1977 to December 31, 1979, when the entire founding San Francisco staff of the 1970s Golden Age of “Drummer” quit for lack of payment by publisher John Embry.

On July 4, 1969, David and I met at Chuck Renslow’s Gold Coast where he worked. My honeymoon photos of David in bondage. were published in the coffee-table book “Jack Fritscher’s American Men,” collected and introduced by Edward Lucie-Smith (Gay Men’s Press, London, 1994).

For ten years, from 1969 to 1979, we were lovers and creative partners, moving together to San Francisco in 1970. On May 7, 1972, the leather priest Jim Kane married us two Catholics on the roof of 2 Charlton Street in New York, and when we divorced, David rented a Pearl Street apartment owned by landlord Kane who also rented to Society of Janus founder, Cynthia Slater. In the novel, “Some Dance to Remember: A Memoir-Novel of San Francisco, the character “Teddy” is fictively based on David.

David Sparrow FritscherBorn in Evansville, Indiana, on May 7, 1945 the freckled strawberry-blond David, 6-1 and 170 pounds, joined the Air Force in 1963 and when he admitted being gay, he was locked in a psychiatric unit for five horrifying days while his “dishonorable” discharge was processed. The experience increased his insight into BDSM. Working together, credited under his name and mine, he and I alternated snapping single frames on our rolls of film to produce hundreds of “Drummer” photos for interior spreads, and for covers such as: 1) “Drummer” 21, the most perfect issue of “Drummer” (March 1978); 2) “Drummer” 25 featuring future Colt model Ed Dinakos (December 1978); and 3) “Drummer” 30 showcasing “Mr Drummer” Val Martin and Bob Hyslop arm-wrestling (June 1979). To shoot the cover of “Drummer” 21, I piled David and two of our friends, John Trowbridge and David Wycoff, into my Toyota Land Cruiser, and drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, north to the Marin Headlands bunkers where, later, I also drove Robert Mapplethorpe for his famous piss-and-jockstrap shoot when he asked me the location of our “Drummer” 21 photographs.

In 1970, David and I appeared balling together as two of San Francisco’s first leathersex models. The magazine was “Whipcrack” (Vol. No. 1). Our 34 photographs, including the back cover, were shot by the straight Walt Jebe who owned Castro’s first gay-friendly camera shop (1963), predating Harvey Milk by nearly ten years. The immigrant Milk, in fact, so envied native San Franciscan Jebe’s 19th and Castro Street location—where David worked the dark room and counter for a year—that he opened his Castro Camera a hundred feet away, usurping and destroying the business of Jebe who for years had developed gay rolls of film no one else would print.

On November 28, 1978, David was in City Hall at the moment Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone, and, during the lock-down, he witnessed the bodies being wheeled out. As editor in chief of “Drummer,” I regretted that the SFPD confiscated his film from our camera the way the LAPD had confiscated all the “Drummer” photographs shot at the Slave Auction two years earlier. My latest issue was almost out the door to the printer. I had always wanted to shout, “Stop the presses!” I told publisher Embry that even minus David’s newsworthy photos, I needed a couple hours to write a new last page for “Drummer” 26 (January 1979), “Harvey Milk and Gay Courage.”

A City Hall insider, David worked as a personnel analyst for the City and County of San Francisco’s Civil Service Commission, Public Utility Commission, and Department of Public Health from 1979 to his final illness.

David passed away on February 20, 1992 of AIDS and is buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, Evansville Indiana.

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Jack Fritscher also holds a Ph.D. is an noted American author, novelist, magazine journalist, photographer, videographer, university professor, and social activist known internationally for his fiction and non-fiction analyses of popular culture. As a pre-Stonewall activist he was an out and founding member of the American Popular Culture Association. You can read more his works and our history at Jack Fritscher.com