Guy Strait

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Guy Strait (March 25, 1920-March, 1987), founded the first gay newspaper in San Francisco in 1961. By 1977, he had "cornered the market on the production of 'kiddie porn'".

It is belittling to dismiss Guy Strait as a child pornographer, or excuse him as a pornographer who strayed over the bounds into children, or explain him as a product of the San Francisco sixties counterculture. In some ways that counterculture was a product of Guy Strait. He published the city’s first gay newspapers in 1961. He defined that time and place: his 1967 essay “What is a Hippie?” is on college reading lists today.

Early Life

Guy Strait was born in Texas in 1920, the tenth of eleven children. At the age of 18 he traveled across the Yucatan Peninsula photographing the unclad natives and passing out Bibles; in World War II he served in the Army; and in the early 1950's studied fine art at the Chicago Art Institute. He had a photography studio in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district in the 1960's. (Children in Chains, Clifford L. Linedecker, 1981)

Appearance

The Illinois prosecutor who sent Strait to jail said he "appears to be an intelligent, kind and affable cherub." The author Clifford L. Linedecker, who interviewed Strait in prison, describes him as having "a barrel body, thinning white hair that sticks straight out from his hair in clumps, a hearing aid, and reading glasses that slide down his nose disclosing watery blue eyes. He looked every bit a mischievous old troll."

San Francisco

In 1961 he organized a gay rights group, The League for Civil Education (LCE), and began to publish newspapers and magazines.

"In 1961, Guy Strait began publishing the first gay newspapers in San Francisco — the League for Civic Education News, the Citizen News, and Cruise News and World Report — from his offices on Minna Alley. These newspapers were available by subscription, but were also distributed free in gay bars and were sold openly at newsstands. These publications fostered a greater sense of gay visibility and laid the groundwork for gay political mobilization later in the decade." [1] Another source confirms that he "sought to politically organize gay bar patrons by distributing the paper for free." [2] One historian calls him a "bar-based activist". (Wide Open Town: A History of Queer San Francisco to 1965. Nan Alamilla Boyd,University of California Press, 2003)

Other Strait publications include a 1963 guide called The Lavender Baedeker and in 1967 the Haight-Ashbury Free Press and the Bar Rag. He signed some editorials as "the DOM", short for "Dirty Old Man".

(Illinois Legislative Investigating Committee. Chicago, Ill. August 1980, p. 167.)

Strait himself later unpretentiously described Cruise News as "earthy" and "muckraking" and said it was not very profitable. (Linedecker)

Mr. Strait's interest and publications were not confined to politics, however. "Through his political publications, Guy Strait advertised his photographic enterprise as well as his political views. He eventually renamed the paper "Cruise News and World Report" and devoted most of the back page to a section titled "Models Galore for Sketch Artists, Sculptors, and Others." Readers could order 8x10 photos of two dozen young men, all between the ages of 15 and 23" (p. 138, Strapped for Cash: A History of American Hustler Culture. Mack Friedman, Alyson Publishing, 2003)

Guy Strait, Pornographer

Strait later said he got into the pornography business when he was offered $2,000 each to lay out two magazines. The money was easy, the competition was low quality, and he already had "thousands of negatives". Robin Lloyd claims Strait was responsible for the "first of the commercial chicken magazines, Hombre, Chico, and Naked Boyhood were among the titles."

Strait told a Senate subcommittee that he wouldn't photograph children under fourteen for pornography. "Over fourteen, I don't consider them children. They're sexually mature. Let's say fourteen is not a child, thirteen may or may not be, and fifteen sure as hell is not." He claimed to have no trouble finding models. "No one jumps in front of a camera for money. These kids do it for ego. Take a youngster who has never been appreciated. You tell him he's good looking enough to be in front of a camera and people will want to see him and be interested." According to one of the reports of the Illinois Legislative Investigating Committee, he claims never to have filmed children in sexual activity with adults. (Sexual Exploitation of Children, a report to the General Assembly. Illinois Legislative Investigating Committee. Chicago, Ill. August 1980, p. 167.)

It is worth noting that at Strait's prime in the pornography business, the age of consent in many states was fourteen. While accusations involving pornographic films were bandied about in the press in the 1973 scandal, none of the 90 indictments were for pornography, and Strait was sent to prison not for filming three Rockford boys, but for taking one of them to bed afterwards.

Los Angeles and Lyric

An on-line source [3] claims Guy Strait moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and lived in a house on Roderick Place, a dead-end street next to the Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale. Linedecker says he lived in the Hollywood Hills and maintained a house trailer for editing film in Redwood City, south of San Francisco.

In Los Angeles he formed a distribution company, DOM-Lyric, in partnership with Lyric International. Lyric, whose most ambitious work was the full-length mainstream film The Genesis Children, featuring Peter Glawson and other young actors. Lyric produced only "physique" photography, never pornography, but apparently found Strait's distribution network useful, however.

Scandal, flight, prison and exile

Strait was arrested in the fall of 1973, in the scandal that brought down Lyric and which the Meese Commission later called "the first child pornography ring [...] brought to public view." (Attorney General's Commission on Pornography (1986) PART 3: Law Enforcement Recommendations. Chapter 3, paragraph 5. [4])

Strait and an associate were arrested before the others twelve accused in the scanal. Samples of Strait's work had turned up when a "sex ring" was broken up in Houston, and an unedited film was found by police in the Redwood City trailer. Strait says the film showed three boys and a girl, while Sgt. Lloyd Martin of the LAPD (who seems to be fixated on boys) mentions only the three boys. But apparently the Holiday Inn mirror reflected Strait with a 16mm camera on his shoulder.

Strait says he jumped bail and the charges were later dropped. Linedecker says he "became something of a cause celebré for a time." Robin Lloyd quotes one of Strait's magazines as saying he was in Turkey or Greece but that police thought he was in New York. He was actually in Rockford, Illinois. He was arrested in Phoenix, Arizona on April 23, 1976 and charged with a "nearly four-year-old incident in Rockford." (Something's wrong here, since that would be before he left California.) He served three years in prison in Illinois, first at Statesville Prison and then at Vienna Correctional Center. He was released in 1980, just after his sixtieth birthday. Online rumor says he left the country and died in exile in Europe. The Social Security Death Index Search on rootsweb.com (ssdi.rootsweb.com) gives his date of death as March, 1987.

Size of the market

According to the Chicago Tribune, Strait "was one of the nation's leading pornographers ... he had cornered the market on the production of ‘kiddie porn'."(Chicago Tribune, 17 May 1977, p. 1-8.)

Strait's actual volume of business is hard to be sure of. The Chicago Tribune ascribes to "police" an estimate that he made $5 to $7 million in his career. The high figure would average to just under $300,000 per year over his twenty year career. Linedecker's numbers are the unsupported figures of Lloyd, who claims DOM-Lyric put out ninety magazines with a wholesale price of $2.50, retail of $5.00, and initial print runs of 10,000, making a quarter million dollar gross. The print run is based on "distribution lists taken in police raids". Linedecker says the Illinois prosecutor told congressmen that Strait's distribution list had at one time 50,000 customers, but that Strait says there were 942 names. Strait's films were mail-order only, so the size of the distribution list is the upper limit for sales.

These numbers are skimpy, unverifiable, and inconsistent. Making sense of them is beyond the scope of this article. It seems clear however that if Guy Strait, the man with a "corner on the market" was averaging less than $300,000 a year total from many kinds of pornography, of which child porn was only a part, it's just not possible that child pornography was a multi-million dollar business in the 1970's.

The boy who killed himself

One of the few online sources on Strait mentions "the boy who killed himself in the affair involving the arrest of the photographer Guy Strait." Apparently one of the boys in Rockford committed suicide after testifying against Strait. Strait attributes the suicide to testifying; the various authors who mention him seem to take that attitude that if the boy had to testify the blame was all Strait's. However, the "affair" was not the scandal that brought down Lyric, and the boy was not one of the Lyric boys seen around the pool with the cinderblock walls at the Lyric studio.

Guy Strait and J. Edgar Hoover

Anthony Summers' J. Edgar Hoover biography, "Official and Confidential", says that an older associate of Lyric's owner took two boys from the Lyric studio down to Hoover in San Diego. Strait was the oldest of those arrested in the 1973 scandal. Linedecker says Strait "claims to be the first person to accuse Hoover of being a closet queen." Strait may have been the unidentified "older associate"; Summers and other clearly knew the name.

Further Information

There is an excellent chapter on Guy Strait in the 1981 Children in Chains by Clifford L. Linedecker. Linedecker, who has written a number of "true crime" popular books, mostly lets Strait have his say, as he explains on page 228: "This account is based on his version of his life and activities except where another source is specifically quoted or credited." Linedecker also corrects some of the wilder errors made by Robin Lloyd when discussing Strait in his highly unreliable 1976 book For Money or Love, that triggered the 1977 kiddie porn panic. He includes information on the models of cameras Strait used; the costs and raw-to-finished ratios of twelve-minute film loops; and means of avoiding piracy, such as lowering the quality of 8mm product and salting the mailing list with rabidly anti-porn clergy. Except where noted this account follows Linedecker, whose book is recommended to anyone with a deeper interest in Mr. Strait.

The report of the Illinois committee is also recommended; the committee actually did quite a bit of investigation. It deflates a lot of the wild numbers bandied about in the press, and exposes some of the McCarthyesque assertions of the anti-porn crusaders.

The Chicago Tribune articles are reprinted in Sexual Exploitation of Children, Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Crime of the House Comm. on the Judiciary, 95th Cong., 1st Sess. (1977) pp 428-42. The "statement of Guy Strait, producer of child pornography" appears in the same volume on pp 23-28.