By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Alvin Goldstein grew up in Brooklyn, where his obesity, stuttering, and a tendency to wet his bed made him a target for neighborhood street bullies. His father was a meek grade-school dropout who worked as a photojournalist, his mother was a Russian immigrant, and Goldstein was, he says, "a typical Jew." At age sixteen, with the help of his Uncle George, who made the arrangements, and a Fourex condom, which provided protection, Goldstein, who already masturbated regularly, lost his virginity to a prostitute. The next year he dropped out of school and joined the army's Signal Corps. He spent two years taking photographs, including one off-duty assignment that had him preserve for posterity depictions of his sergeant receiving oral sex from a prostitute. That first explicitly sexual photograph was the start of something big.
In the winter of 1958, Goldstein used the GI Bill to enter Pace University in downtown New York City and soon took a job with his father as an apprentice photographer. He also added another extracurricular activity - the one-time shy boy and stutterer became captain of the college's debate team.
Suddenly successful and now able to seduce women by dating them rather than hiring them, Goldstein, almost predictably, rebelled. He argued with his professors, grew a beard and adopted other beatnik accouterments, wrote campus-paper editorials denouncing school policies, and set aside his textbooks in favor of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and especially Henry Miller.
During the Christmas holidays of 1960, the island nation of Cuba, freshly revolutionized by Fidel Castro, was on the verge of breaking diplomatic relations with the United States, and Al Goldstein was in Havana, working as a photographer for the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. "I was very politically left," he recalls. "I'm not saying I was communistic, but I just hated United Fruit, and I felt that Fidel should be given an opportunity and that Eisenhower was a piece of shit."
With full credentials and four cameras, Goldstein began capturing images of the new left - shots of the female militia marching through the calles, close-ups of anti-American billboards, depictions of military installations. "And this is the contradiction of life versus a symbol," he remembers. "Six hours after I'm in Cuba, I'm arrested and thrown in jail for five days. That's why I have such a problem with the right and the left. I don't trust true believers. They scare me. It was shocking to be imprisoned by a leader who I supported so much. That's when I realized how complicated politics is."
After dropping out of college in his junior year because he had trouble passing math courses, Goldstein worked as an insurance agent, achieving significant sales at Mutual of New York before the bottom fell out. He manned the dime-pitching booth at the New York World's Fair in 1964, sold rugs and encyclopedias, donated blood regularly, and became a cab driver (he still keeps his hack license current, "something to fall back on").
In 1966 Goldstein was hired by a subsidiary of the Bendix Corporation to sabotage a change of unions by employees. He accomplished his mission - a five-vote margin among 400 workers decided against a new union. But two years later, in 1968, he wrote a story for the New York Free Press that exposed the Bendix affair. The paper's editors, who paid Goldstein $100 for the piece, thought the article, headlined "I Was an Industrial Spy for the Bendix Corporation," would be explosive. It wasn't. The paper received not a single letter or phone call about the expose.
Nonetheless Goldstein, who was driving a cab at the time, had tasted the pleasures of ink and newsprint. He grew friendly with Jim Buckley, a typesetter and assistant editor at the Free Press, and together the two started up a tabloid that would specialize in explicit sex, which Goldstein saw as an untapped market. In the summer of 1968, Buckley and Goldstein pitched in $150 apiece, and that November Screw was born. The debut issue, twelve pages thin, featured on its cover a woman wearing a bikini and suggestively holding a large salami. By the tenth issue, the newspaper had doubled in size and increased its circulation (author Gay Talese put its circulation at the time at 100,000, but Screw's distribution is neither audited nor monitored). The first of many arrests occurred on May 30, 1969, when cops busted the publication's top editors after the release of an issue that featured a photograph of then-mayor John Lindsay flaunting "his" giant penis. Police also arrested any sidewalk vendor brave enough to sell Screw, including some who were blind. Eventually Screw would be praised by authors Talese and Gore Vidal as America's most honest newspaper. Talese, in fact, devoted a large section of his mid-Seventies best seller, Thy Neighbor's Wife, to a biography of Goldstein and the history of Screw.
After seven prosperous years marred only by those pesky obscenity busts, Buckley wanted out of Screw. "He was tired of getting arrested," Goldstein recalls. Buckley's return on his initial investment indicates Screw's success: Goldstein paid him $500,000 for his half.
Today Screw is still overseen by Goldstein, but the tabloid is produced by a crack staff of underlings. Goldstein says he keeps a hand in the words that go on the cover; above each week's full-color illustration is a small box for a type logo: "Bah! Humjob!" (for Christmas, natch), "Damn, That's Good Porn!" and "More Poon Per Pound" are examples. Longer teases are stripped across the top: "Deadly Sex Gifts for Sickos," "Jailhouse Cock," "Hitler: Shmuck or Stud?" and "Mid-East Muff: Blowjobs in the Sand" have appeared