Well enough, in fact, for me to feel I can legitimately reprise it below as a companion piece to our November 2018 cover story on Richard Pérez Seves’ superb Stanton biography, Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground, for an audience that will mostly never have seen it before.
My original article is reproduced here verbatim, save for a couple of small updates that I felt were necessary in the interests of not perpetuating inaccuracies that were treated as facts at that time.
By coincidence, both of these corrections concern legendary fetish, bondage and pin-up model Bettie Page, whom Eric (who was very close to her) talks about in the interview.
At the time, her name always appeared in publications spelt Betty. But for a long time now, we’ve known that Bettie was actually her preferred spelling, so it has been updated accordingly below.
Also, I had believed that her enigmatic ‘disappearance’, when she suddenly quit the modelling scene, had occurred in 1964, and that date was therefore quoted in the original article.
However, again, it has long since been known that she actually ‘disappeared’ at the end of the 1950s, with last contact being in 1958/’59. So that error has also been fixed in the article. Now read on…
It was staged at New York’s prestigious Danceteria club and attracted thousands of people hoping to catch a glimpse of the man whose lovingly detailed depictions of women in bondage are unrivalled to this day.
In Europe, Stanton’s classic work from the ’50s was most recently revived by a French publisher called Editions Dominique Leroy, which in 1970 published three collections titled The Best of Stanton, complete with French translations. Surprisingly, however, these beautifully printed stiff-cover books were published without any kind of approval from Stanton himself.
Perhaps, like many of his fans, the French publisher assumed Stanton had gone to that great art studio in the sky!
But in fact he’s alive and well, and angry enough about these French books and various other unlicensed uses of his work to have made a flying visit to Britain and Europe at the end of October in pursuit of financial settlement, giving us the rare opportunity to meed this man who was the contemporary of John Willie, Irving Klaw and Bettie Page.
At 58, Stanton seems to have lost no enthusiasm for his obsession. He has his own publishing company, churns out illustrated fantasy books by the cartload, and produces an illustrated catalogue which is a highly collectable artefact in itself.
Quietly spoken, studious-looking and articulate, Eric Stanton has a fund of stories about that seminal Irving Klaw era, many of which seem to revolve around his being ripped off by unscrupulous publishers and by other artists.
Typically, it seems, publishers would pay him as little as $25 for an original illustration which they would later sell for as much as $1000. The fact that people are still trying it on 30 years later tends to confirm the impression of a man for whom business matters come as very much a poor second to job satisfaction!
But one thing he says he has learnt is never again to supply original artwork to anybody. “That way,” he explains, at least I’m going to be able to make provision for my kids.”
Coming to Britain he travelled light, bringing just a few individual examples of his current output. He’d heard that things had got a bit hot on this particular front at Customs and wanted to minimise the chance of any trouble.
“I do some of the most tasteless things in the world,” he confesses with a wry grin, “but I do it only because I’m commissioned to do it, and I have this inner feeling that I have to do whatever anybody wants me to do, because I satisfied myself for so many years — and I feel so rounded for it — that I feel people should be able to see anything they want. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, I think we’re entitled to our own sexual pleasures.
“I get letters from people all over the world saying ‘Thank God for you, Eric Stanton’ because I’ve been able to satisfy their inner desires. At the moment I’m producing seven or eight books a year — ten books this year. I do almost all of it myself though I do sometimes buy artwork if I feel it’s got something to say.”
It was New York publisher Irving Klaw who gave Stanton his first professional break. Somebody had done some poor drawings for Klaw, Stanton saw them and contacted Klaw to offer his services.
“At the time he was selling movie stills and he found that a lot of people were coming in specifically to buy bondage scenes or fighting scenes So he started putting those aside so when people came in he had them right handy.
“And there was a famous lawyer who came to him, who was very interested in bondage, and suggested he made his own photographs. And I came to him saying why not make your own photographs of fighting girls, and said I’d do a cartoon story of fighting girls. And that’s how we got started.
“I was working for a newspaper strip at the time — I wasn’t much of an artist but it got me into a field that was giving me money. Not much, but a living — $60 wasn’t too bad in 1948. I kept at it because I liked it, it gave me a lot of satisfaction. Money isn’t everything as long as you know somebody’s finding a great deal of pleasure out of it.”
What about his contemporary, John Willie, creator of the famous bondage heroine Gwendoline?
“He influenced me a great deal,” says Stanton — a claim borne out by his own famous sequel to Willie’s The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline titled Sweeter Gwen.
“I would direct it, see that everything was done properly, because no one else could do the bondage, the fighting girls, the domination and the lesbian content that’s involved as well as I can.”
If this project, which would take an estimated two to three years to complete, comes off, then it will be in a very different class from the French Gwendoline movie [Gwendoline: Adventure Without Shame] just released over here on video.
But back to the Klaw era. Mention of the name Bettie Page — universally acclaimed the queen of bondage models — brings an instant and touching reaction from Stanton.
“Bettie and I were very close. I never did make it with her but I was crazy about her,” he reveals. “I was married and had the visions of being a very true husband. What a damn fool I was!” he chuckles.
Most Bettie Page fans fans know that she disappeared mysteriously [at the end of the 1950s] amid rumours that she’d died or ‘got religion’. Does Eric know what really happened to her?
“Well it was probably some of her own propaganda that she was dead, that she was an evangelist… but now I’ve heard — although I don’t necessarily believe it — that she’s alive and well and living in Florida. It’s a possibility. I hope so. I would love to see her.
“She was a doll — such a beautiful girl. And she was a girl that you never had to pose. You’d tell her what you wanted, but nobody posed her.
“Nobody really knew her. She would come in, do a job, and leave. I think Irving and I probably had a closer rapport with her than just about anybody except any boyfriends she had.”
It was during Bettie’s modelling days for Klaw and Stanton that a congressional committee investigating public morals instigated police seizure of all Klaw’s material. Stanton smiles at the recollection. “Looking at Klaw’s material then, it’s like opening up a child’s magazine today.”
The same investigating committee also called Stanton as a witness against another publisher, impounding his own extensive private collection as evidence. Stanton spoke in the publisher’s favour and whe he tried to reclaim his material, he was told it had been burnt.
“I had every picture and every movie Bettie Page had ever done, and I lost them all,” he says with obvious bitterness.
“Irving had a very high ideal as far as photographs went,” Stanton maintains. “He never showed too much cleavage, panties were high — he even had the girls wear two or three pais of panties so nothing would show through — and I had to retouch thousands of photographs for him.”
Despite the fact that characters based on Bettie and Klaw’s other bondage models featured frequently in Stanton illustrations, he insists that he never worked directly from photographs.
“John Willie did. Which is why all his material was so stiff. I could never do that — I was annoyed by anything that wasn’t moving. Sure, there were characters tht looked like Bettie. Gosh, I even had characters that looked like Sophia Loren. In fact I did a special drawing of Sophia Loren for a book on her that’s coming out, where she’s standing with a whip and her legs spread open, wearing boots. She’s standing on a rug and the rug’s got my face on it!”
But, talking of contemporary work, is there any chance of a British Stanton exhibition in the foreseeable future?
“Not at the moment. It’s pathetic because it would probably do as well as the first one. But I’m having one in Italy soon.
“I only went to the first night of my New York show, which is pathetic because a lot of well-known people went to see it. In the few hours that I was at Danceteria, I signed something over 300 photograps. I didn’t refuse any but I was moving around so much. Anyway, of the photographs I signed, 30 were for women who just came over and kept saying ‘I love your work’.
“One girl said to me, ‘Oh I would just die to be bound by you.’ What greater accolade could there be?”
Click link below to read The Fetishistas’ cover story on Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground, the impressive new biography by Richard Pérez Seves which inspired re-publication of the vintage Eric Stanton interview above!