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  JERRY HALL
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DJ SPOOKY

Dian Hanson,2002

WITH MICHELLE GOLDEN
PHOTOGRAPHED BY KEVIN HATT


SHE GOT HER START TESTING SEX TOYS FOR PURITAN. SHE MADE A NAME FOR HERSELF AS THE EDITOR OF LEG SHOW. NOW SHE'S RESEARCHING A HISTORY OF PORN.
Before Dian Hanson was the editor of two of the most successful fetish magazines in America, she was A) a precocious adolescent who hung out at the Burien, Washington, library reading Psychopathia Sexualis, B) a devotee of hardcore comics, and C) a serial dater who preferred men fifteen years her senior. She ran off with the hippies, happy to pretend to care about the Chicago Seven as long as cute guys and fun drugs were involved.
When she got to New York, she fit right into the porn industry, which, in the '70s, was a carnival of oddballs and eccentrics. She moved through the ranks of publications like Big Butt, Outlaw Biker, and Tight, until she got hired to run sister publications Leg Show and Juggs, which she edited brilliantly for fifteen years.
Now Hanson is hard at work on a project tailor-made for her astute understanding of male desire, her talents as a researcher, and her love of madcap adventure: a two-volume global history of sex magazines for the German art book house, Taschen.


MICHELLE: After twenty-five years of working on publications about butts, breasts, bikes, and legs ­ have you ever thought about starting your own magazine?
DIAN:
It's not as if there's one perfect magazine that I've always wanted to do. I just love the challenge of taking a difficult subject, figuring out the psychology, and managing to get exactly the right tuning and material so that every single person who is attracted to that subject buys that magazine. That's what made Leg Show such a great project for me.

MICHELLE: I know Leg Show and Juggs were floundering when you got there. You must have had your work cut out for you.
DIAN:
Both of those magazines were published by MMG, which put out the majority of the gay magazines in America in the mid '80s. Juggs and Leg Show were put together by an all-gay staff, who didn't really care about them, but had lots of fun doing them. You could hear the hoots of laughter and derision. I thought, "Oh, these poor orphan magazines deserve more attention." I really understood the potential for Leg Show once I read the letters that came in. I saw how seriously the men took this subject, and how literate they were. I begged to be allowed to try my hand, and I increased the sales immediately.

MICHELLE: So how did you get a handle on the psychology of the Leg Show readers and know what to put in the magazine?
DIAN:
I'd always been interested in sexual, psychological peculiarities. My father was a naturopath, a sort of weird holistic doctor, so we always had lots of medical and religious books around the house when I was growing up. In Leg Show, I recognized an obsessive readership who would actually guide me in making the magazine. I really put myself in there, photographing myself and writing directly to the readers. They were the perfect audience for that approach ­ men who were at least fifty-percent submissive, eager to be explained to themselves, and absolutely ready to be led by a woman.

MICHELLE: What kinds of things did you write about?
DIAN:
My columns were serious. Quite often I'd talk about the roots of fetishism, and I'd explain the different varieties. I was drawing from scholarly writing, as well as my own conclusions, which had been drawn by reading their letters.

MICHELLE: It's interesting that you went so far as to psychoanalyze your own readers in the magazine. Did you see yourself as providing a special kind of service to your audience?
DIAN:
Oh, always. I was so deeply touched by their plight, by their self-hatred, their fear, confusion, and isolation. So many people wrote in that they had spent years in therapy trying to rid themselves of their fetish, that they had attempted suicide, or that they had never dared to tell their wives. They said they had denied themselves sexual pleasure because they thought their sexuality was unacceptable. And a lot of them felt that they were the only one. So that was a service that I wanted Leg Show to provide ­ to let these people know how many others there were. What the readers really wanted was to know that there was a sympathetic woman out there, who wasn't sneering at them. That was the purpose the models served ­ they eroticized contempt. So for my part, I gave them love. Because they wanted it, it made them loyal readers, and it made me feel good.

MICHELLE: And how did you determine what sorts of images the Leg Show readers were looking for?
DIAN:
The magazine dealt with multiple fixations. But I started from the standpoint that the readers had at least some obsessive-compulsive component. That meant the stockings should never be wrinkled, and the seams should never be crooked. The shoes always had to be exactly the right size, the panties fitted just so around the buttocks. The poses had to be precise. You couldn't have sloppiness because the o.c. personality needs everything absolutely right or he's not going to be able to masturbate. Even the proofreading had to be perfect!

MICHELLE: And what about your other magazine? How was the Juggs reader different?
DIAN:
The Juggs guy, it doesn't matter. "Aw, wrinkled stockings, so what. Look at her big breasts. They may not be the kind of breasts I usually like, but they're breasts. And they're big!"

MICHELLE: Doesn't the need for the Leg Show reader to be in control contradict their submissive behavior?
DIAN:
Submissives don't really want to be out of control, they just want to be victimized in a very precise way. It's called topping from the bottom ­ "Dominate me just like this." I don't know if you've ever had a sexual experience with a masochist, but if you hit them harder than they want, or in a different place than they want, they'll stop you right away and correct you. And if you continue to treat them in the wrong way, they can go into a panic. It's a set piece. It may be a very complicated, ornate piece of theater ­ but it does have a script.

MICHELLE: And what about the dialogue?
DIAN:
Of course, every sexual preference has its special buzzwords. Sometimes I'd get complaints that we'd used the wrong word for foot, the wrong word for stockings.

MICHELLE: Which would be?
DIAN:
Ped and tootsie are unpleasant. Floppy is a good one for breasts. Floppers.

MICHELLE: I assume the Juggs readership was more forgiving.
DIAN:
Juggs was a big old mosh pit of sweaty, hairy sexuality. I always had a soft spot for Juggs, like you'd have for your drunken old mom or something. It wasn't a high-class publication, but it was warm and loving and real. We got more photo submissions for that magazine than any other I've done. A lot of women look at Juggs because it shows women like themselves. It gives them hope for being a sex goddess.

MICHELLE: How did you end up in this industry in the first place?
DIAN:
In the early '70s, I was working as a respiratory therapist in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I was seeing a guy who was doing publicity for a man with a string of adult bookstores in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. This gentleman had a dream, which was to have his own Hustler-style magazine. He didn't know how to do it, or who could do it for him, so he tapped this advertising guy I was dating. At that point I was getting tired of being a respiratory therapist, tired of getting up at 6:00 AM when I was hung over. So I decided to begin working with him on the magazine because I always liked pornography. It was sort of a dream.

MICHELLE: What was that magazine?
DIAN:
Puritan. My boyfriend and I moved to New York in 1976, got a duplex apartment at 75th and Lexington at the publisher's expense, and started it up. I was writing, editing, testing sex products, and directing photo shoots. It's the same at any sex magazine ­ you have a very small staff, so you do everything. That lasted about two years.

MICHELLE: Where did you land next?
DIAN:
I went to work on a magazine called Partner with a man named Peter Wolff, who was my true mentor in this business. He had done Bachelor, Dude, Topper, Caper ... Like me, he was a hippie pornographer. He was a child prodigy who had graduated high school at fifteen, got his college degree by eighteen, and his master's by twenty. He was an excellent writer and journalist, but completely obsessed with pornography. Peter was the first person to recognize the importance of reader participation in pornographic magazines, when he ran amateur pictures of readers' wives.

MICHELLE: He understood the readers' urge to share.
DIAN:
Peter would say, "These pictures are better than the ones we're running. Here are genuine women who clearly like sex ­ smiling at the camera." Peter liked real women better than the tired strippers who were the usual fodder at that time. And he liked older women, too.

MICHELLE: What was Partner like?
DIAN:
Partner was before its time. It came out with an accompanying video every month, and of course it was a failure because not enough people had video decks in 1979. I was nominated to travel around the U.S. with fifty pounds of gear strapped to my shoulder, videotaping swinging housewives, topless bakers, swing clubs for the elderly ...

MICHELLE: So Partner was about real sex.
DIAN:
Right. The other highlight was naked celebrities ­ another of Peter's great ideas. Whenever we heard about a B movie in which a star appeared naked prior to becoming famous ­ let's say there was some tiny scene where Demi Moore flashed her breasts when she was eighteen ­ I'd contact the producer and say I was the president of his fan club. It was shocking to see how easy it was, if I played to the ego of an unsung producer, to get him to send a 35mm print at his own expense. Whenever one arrived, we'd buy a bottle of vodka, go into a cheap editing room on Times Square, cut out the piece we wanted with a pair of scissors, tape the film together again, and ship it back.

MICHELLE: Wasn't Peter one of the first pornographers to hire a female editor-in-chief?
DIAN:
Yes. When he started High Society, he put Gloria Leonard at the helm. His idea was that men want women to be interested in sex. He thought a lot of men would rather have a female editor who spoke to them directly, whose picture they could see, and who appeared to like sex the way they liked it ­ someone they could come back to see month after month, like a mistress. He was absolutely right. I used what I learned from him when I went to work at Leg Show.

MICHELLE: Today the porn industry is very professionalized. When you started out, it was more like the frontier.
DIAN:
Oh absolutely. After Partner, I worked at a magazine called Harvey/Hooker/ExposŽ. The publisher, Harvey, was a somewhat loveable but eccentric drunken man who liked to pick up hookers and bring them back to the office so that we'd find remnants of their night of passion on our desks. He would rewrite our cover lines with the help of the hookers. Sometimes he would even install one of them as a receptionist for a two or three week period!

MICHELLE: What else went on there?
DIAN:
We also made used panties in the office to sell in the back of the magazine. We had two women working full-time with cans of mackerel, paintbrushes, and glue. They would try out a new concoction, and it would be passed around the office like, "Does this smell like pussy to you?" We had no budget. We'd use pictures we'd cut out of other magazines. We'd scrounge behind the file cabinets on the day the magazine was supposed to go out to see if any slides had fallen down that we could possibly use. There was a fun, scavenger hunt feel to it.

MICHELLE: It must have been quite a jump from that kind of environment to art book publishing, but it seems like you've found your niche at Taschen. Can you tell me what you're working on there?
DIAN:
The first book is a history of nudism. It starts with Germany at the turn of the century, when people began to want to shed their confining Victorian clothes for a healthier life, with calisthenics and a balanced diet. It goes all the way through the hippie era in America, when nudism spun completely out of control, the laws changed, and pornographic magazines were allowed on the newsstands.

MICHELLE: That was the death of nudist magazines, I'd assume ...
DIAN:
Yeah. The working title for that book is Jaybird. Jaybird magazine itself was the ultimate hippie pornography. It was started by real nudists who wanted to change the old staid nudist magazines and have more fun. The term came from an Ann Landers column where a woman had written in and said that she enjoyed doing housework naked, and signed herself "Jaybird, anonymous." The young hippies took that as their name for nudism that wasn't confined to camps. It referred to nudism in backyards, on beaches, or hiking in the desert. So Jaybird photography always took place in wacky California locations. When the laws changed to allow pictures with genitals, it became heavily crotch-oriented, so what you got were these people in bizarre positions to show that area. And men were spreading just as much as women were. Of course, no one was shaving at the time, so there were some vast, hairy crotches on display.

MICHELLE: What's the second Taschen project?
DIAN:
I'm also doing a giant two-volume global history of sex magazines, from the 1940s until the 1980s. It seemed impossible to sort out at the beginning, but it's just the sort of challenge that I love. I began by finding out about all the porn collectors in America. Then I got on eBay and started collecting everything I could find. Now I'm taking it one country at a time. It's been like tiptoeing through my own twenty-five years in the business, and then back beyond that ­ getting reacquainted with lots eccentric publishers I'd forgotten all about. I'm writing the book from a sociological standpoint, comparing sex magazines in different countries at any given time.

MICHELLE: So if I were to ask you what men in Japan masturbate to ...
DIAN:
Bondage! And schoolgirls.

MICHELLE: You're not finding anything that breaks that stereotype?
DIAN:
Well, there's some glamour material. But in Japan, pornographic magazines that are sold on the newsstands can't show pubic hair or genitals, so panties have been fetishized enormously. The Japanese are the masters of panty eroticism. And don't forget the gorgeous precision of their ropes and knots.

MICHELLE: And in America?
DIAN:
After the War, pornography went very happy, cheesecake-y, healthy, Bettie Page-y. Whereas in Europe, there was a lot of eroticizing gas masks and rubber, because they were suffering and experiencing deprivation. These gorgeous European magazines from before the war, like Paris-Hollywood, took a long time to resurface afterwards, and they were never quite as elegant as they had been before it.

MICHELLE: So have you found that you have a favorite pornographic genre or time period?
DIAN:
The peak was clearly 1959. That's when the fins on the cars were biggest. We had fully recovered from the war, and we were coming up on a new decade. The space race was going on. There was such tremendous hope and excitement, and men's magazines were proliferating everywhere. Wonderful covers, great writers in all of them. Even Escapade and Caper had people like P.G. Wodehouse and Norman Mailer writing for them on a monthly basis. Of course I also love 1969-1970, the hippie period, because that was my own awakening period. Looking back at all the magazines, it was such a happy time ­ happy women, happy men. Black and white people together in a comfortable, nonexploitative way. Minimal misogyny. And that was when hardcore material first appeared in America ­ a friendly kind of hardcore that we have not seen since. I grew up in that period, and I enjoy sex, so I like to see everyone having a good time.

© index magazinegelatin1
Dian Hanson by Kevin Hatt, 2002
© index magazinetobias
Dian Hanson by Kevin Hatt, 2002

 
 
 

 

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