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September 02, 2016

Dan O’Connell Discusses Legacy of Irving Klaw?

This article appears in the September issue of AVN Magazine. Click here to view the digital edition. LOS ANGELES—One of the most unique series in Girlfriends Films’ library pays homage to a classic era of photography and the pioneering shooter that defined it. Irving Klaw, whose pictures and movies of the legendary Bettie Page proved instrumental in establishing Page as an American icon, helped inspire the creation of Pin-up Girls. Girlfriends Films founder Dan O’Connell started the one-of-a-kind, all-girl line in 2010, producing and directing nine volumes with an eye for detail and commitment to authenticity. The ambitious O’Connell, whose elaborate series have been known to bring entire societies back to life, tackled Pin-up Girls in signature fashion, setting out to transport viewers to the 1950s with vintage period wardrobe, careful production design and throwback storylines. “A lot of people don’t understand when you say Irving Klaw,” O’Connell says. “He did pretty much tame stuff by comparison to today. But he was really almost like a Max Hardcore of his time as far as going overboard and doing stuff that nobody ever had the nerve to do.” Klaw distinguished himself as one of the first fetish photographers, becoming known for operating a mail-order business from New York selling provocative photos of attractive women. Some of his so-called “damsel-in-distress” photos showed women being bound and gagged, spanked and flogged. Klaw also published and distributed illustrated adventure/bondage serials by various fetish artists. While he gained national notoriety for his work, he also was branded a degenerate pornographer and faced tense political and legal pressure as well as media censorship. Because of that, Klaw eventually closed his storefront business and burned many of his negatives. But his sister Paula secretly kept some of the better images, which still can be seen today. To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Klaw’s death on September 3, 1966, O’Connell granted AVN an exclusive interview about how Pin-up Girls has been a labor of love that allows Klaw’s memory to live on. AVN: How would you describe Irving Klaw’s legacy? Dan O’Connell: Klaw was the first pornographer who was commercially successful and enjoyed wide distribution through photos available by mail order. While his photos were tame by today’s standards, he got heat from the U.S. government, which held McCarthy-style Senate hearings in an attempt to establish a direct link between juvenile delinquency and Klaw’s photos. What Klaw endured in the mid-1950s would be similar to a producer of today being slapped with a Justice Department obscenity lawsuit. I’ve heard people say that his stuff was pretty tame, unaware that it was outrageous and groundbreaking for its day. Klaw was the first real pornographer and built the platform upon which all pornographers still stand. Today, the industry that Klaw started is still strongly shaped by public condemnation and the legal dangers. How did his career inspire you to create the series Pin-up Girls? My earliest inspiration behind creating the Pin-ups series was the lingerie sections of the Sears and Montgomery catalogs that were delivered to our house in the 1950s and 1960s. That was really my first porn and I was fascinated. Somehow I knew it wasn’t something my mom would want me lustfully viewing so it had the added excitement of being taboo. Being from a small, religiously conservative town, I wasn’t exposed to anything similar to Klaw’s work at the time but was overjoyed when I finally discovered that it was commercially available and that I wasn’t the only one interested in lingerie-clad women. Without Klaw’s body of work as the final cornerstone of inspiration, there never would be a Pin-up series. As such, everything that goes into a Girlfriends Films’ Pin-ups movie is done to uphold Klaw’s honor and not desecrate the history he established for us. What was your original vision for Pin-up Girls? My original vision for the Girlfriends Films’ Pin-ups series was exactly what we ended up producing. But the first year was spent acquiring costuming and props, almost all of which come from eBay and are the genuine thing. There are no Victoria’s Secret or other such modern-day ‘vintage-style’ items in the movies. You can imagine the hundreds of items that we had to stock so as to fit a wide variety of performers’ physiques. Not only is the clothing authentic, but so are the many props such as still cameras, movie cameras, home-movie footage, magazines, hair dryers, purses, vibrators, suitcases, telephones and the like. The cut-off year was 1957, which was the year that the Senate Subcommittee hearings marked the end of Klaw’s heyday and hence the first era of pornography. Girlfriends Films’ prop and costume collection is very unique and likely worth quite a bit of money. In the same spirit of authenticity, we have not used performers with breast implants or tattoos. How has the series evolved from the first one in 2010? In the first episode, the central storyline is established when a lingerie model played by RayVeness gets a group of fellow models together and shows them how they can make money by selling photos and eventually stag movies through ads in the backs of men’s magazines. It’s the production of stag movies that often give rise to our movies’ sex scenes, most of which are shown as taking place behind the scenes. As the episodes progress, more women are brought into the business and more and more drama arises. From the standpoint of a timeline, we never get past 1957. It is like a television series in which every episode builds on the last one. What are a couple of your favorite moments from the series? Many of my favorite moments from the series center around the production quality and authentic details depicted in our productions. Small touches such as slang terms and the careers of the models are very emblematic of the era. For example, Jelena Jensen works ‘down at the train station’ and is a trophy girl at the local drag strip. We’ve gotten many beautiful outside shots with backgrounds that look right out of the 1950s, albeit in color and high definition. I’ve purchased dozens if not hundreds of old home movies and I got a kick out of including short clips from those. Each one adds a great frame of reference and flavor of the time. While Pin-ups is a series and each episode was released with much the same fanfare as our other movies we released in the same months, each of the episodes is on a caliber of what our industry refers to as a feature film. The most recent one, Volume 9, came out in summer of 2015. When do you plan to do the next one? Not sure. We are very limited in shooting locations. L.A. has very few period houses that remain much the same as they were in the 1950s. Why did you decide to hold onto one old Pin-ups scene? Because we didn’t have three more to make a full movie. Cast of Pin-up Girls 10? No idea. Photo of Prinzzess Felecity Jade courtesy of Girlfriends Films.

 
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