Atlanta Peep Shows and Porno Wars

Note that this will be Part 1 of a series devoted to the Atlanta Pornography Battles of the 1970s as related to Stewart Avenue

Across the street from the lot containing Banks Liquor Store  and Brothers Three  was yet another liquor store that evidently couldn’t withstand the area competition so it closed and, seemingly overnight, became one of Atlanta’s first “yellow front peep shows” thus called because it had all-around dark yellow tinting to prevent outside viewing. Over time, slogans emerged in the windows including highly original gems such as “XXX”, “Adult Books”, and “24 Hour Wild Action”.  If this business has a specific name then no one knew what it was although in reviewing some of the legal records it was apparently “2150 Stewart Avenue Inc”.  At first these places were associated with adult content pioneer (some say “Porn Lord”) Mike Thevis who had erected, no pun intended, an empire based on his North Avenue news stand where he noticed that men’s magazines generated significant profit especially the underground titles that offered more aggressive action than could be found in the pages of Playboy. Whether he had any financial stake in these establishments was unknown although they eventually caught the attention of then Fulton County Solicitor Hinson McAuliffe who made it his personal mission to drive them all out of town – a goal which he largely achieved given that by 1981 most of these establishments agreed to close shop in exchange for various obscenity and pornography charges being dropped.

Leading up to this event was a series of high profile raids justified in part on general appeals to social morality and on the fact that devices used to “stimulate the genitals” aka “marital aids” aka “dildoes” were illegal as were film “loops” containing sexually explicit acts. But McAuliffe, (a man the New York Times referred to as a “rigidly moralistic prosecutor”) didn’t stop there – he also targeted any general store owner who offered publications such as Hustler, Oui, Genesis, High Society, Penthouse, and other magazines of the time. Evidently, it was the infamous “Scratch N’ Sniff” edition of Hustler magazine that drove the Counselor over the edge so guys like Miller, the owner of Brothers Three, got arrested in a bullshit sting as did many other merchants. My Father and a colleague bailed Miller out of jail.  I discovered all of this after having come to work where I was instructed to remove all the men’s magazines from the shelves, which was really what the Solicitor wanted – fear, paranoia, and no “smut”. Even the long established Mom and Pop stores felt threatened to the extent that offering Playboy seemed too much of a risk.

Mr. Grutman, counsel for plaintiff, “Penthouse”, upon oral argument equated the Solicitor’s pursuit of the instant retailers to the pursuit of “Minnows” by “Jaws”. – Penthouse International, LTD. v. McAuliffe

The Solicitor’s heavy handed approach garnered national attention with his choice to place a magazine such as Gallery or Oui (simple garden variety nudie mags) into the same category as a grainy sexually explicit loop or a nine inch hand cranked rubber phallus. Consequently, Atlanta became a focal point in the ongoing Censorship vs. First Amendment battles with Penthouse Publisher Bob Guccione getting involved along with Larry Flynt who caught a sniper’s bullet in 1978 while on trial for obscenity charges. I never fully considered McAuliffe’s religion but his methods were explicitly designed to punish those having nothing to do with the production, distribution, or vending of say John Holmes movies, Genital Stimulators, Spanish Fly Powder, or Butt Plugs. His over-zealous approach was designed to force a plea bargaining scenario to get the “yellow fronts” out of town – and if some innocents were punished as part of his moral crusade then so be it. The thing was that most of the arrested store owners relied on the same magazine news agent service to determine what titles to stock so it’s not as if any of them decided to architect a  demonic scheme to morally incapacitate Atlanta via nude photographs. Besides, in 1974 the FBI characterized Atlanta as having the highest murder rate in the nation so maybe, just maybe, there were more pressing matters to address ?

“Obviously Atlanta has had enough of this filth. That’s the ‘contemporary community standard.’ I’m not on some great world crusade. This isn’t politics. I’m just enforcing the law.” – Solicitor Hinson McAuliffe in reference to a law he helped author

The thing with the peep store raids was that the confiscated Vibrators, French ticklers, and Loops had to be transported and inventoried as evidence though I can say with authority (certainly not total) that some of the law enforcement personnel in charge of such activity might have held out a portion of the stash for further study and consideration. After all, to effectively combat pornography one must become intimately familiar with the erotic weaponry being used to tempt the Christians of Fulton County (many of whom were probably private consumers of said material). And in trying to better understand the techniques of the enemy perhaps personal experimentation with these carnal implements was warranted. By God someone had to work the front lines in the Righteous War. Who would protect the children and old ladies ?

So it was in this milieu that I showed up to work one day to find a box of  confiscated “AccuJacks” sitting behind the counter. Don’t know what an AccuJack is ? (I’m still trying to forget). There were actually several contraptions marketed under that name but the one to which I refer was a plastic barrel shaped device about 7 inches long. At one end was an electrical connector that was to be inserted into the lighter outlet of an automobile. At the other end was a circular opening with two simulated plastic female lips – the mouth not the labia although someone claimed that there was an optional attachment offering either. I’m pretty sure you can figure out how one might actually use it. A long haul truck driver who stopped by on occasion said the AccuJack was the “ideal traveling companion”. Speaking of the name I could never figure out to what the “Accu” part referred. (The “Jack” part I puzzled out fairly quickly). I assumed that it was short for “accurate” which made little sense what with “accuracy” not really being a consideration for a user of such a device. “AutoJack” would have been a better name but maybe that was already trademarked. However, it’s not as if an Auto Parts store was going to accidentally order the wrong “AutoJacks”.

The thing was to furtively slip an AccuJack into the coat pocket of someone so when they later went to a bar, home, or to pick up their kids from school they would put their hands into the pocket and think, “What the hell is this” and then pull this thing out in a crowd leading to devastating embarrassment and endless denials of ownership, “It’s not mine I swear !” It was an amazingly effective trick and someone did it to me although when I pulled it out it (ahem) I was at school in the middle of History class. I don’t think anyone saw it Thank God. ( Even if anyone HAD seen the device it is quite likely that they would have no idea about its purpose though since it was packaged like a novelty item people would be curious). Not everyone was rattled by the trick. “RoughHouse”, a facially scarred gambler, partier, and womanizer actually enjoyed picking up an AccuJack in the presence of woman as a means to introduce the topic of sex ! Somehow he could pull it off without getting slapped and would have them laughing whereas other guys couldn’t get close. Anyway the Season of the AccuJack eventually  came to a close as these things had shown up at every bar (maybe even some churches) on the Ave and even over at  airport bars like The Scotch House and The Admiral Benbow Inn.  So the joke faded.  However, about a year later I was in the cooler restocking the shelves and found two pristine, shrink wrapped AccuJacks sitting there on top of a case of Budweiser. No one would cop to placing them and I suppose it was possible that they fell from some higher position in the cooler but I don’t think so. Maybe they moved themselves ?

It took only a little while for us to get to know the manager and main clerk of the Peep Show, Tank and Lee, both of whom were very large and appeared to be bikers although their “colors” did not reflect any specific gang affiliation nor did they ever arrive to work on motorcycles. Lee had an “old lady” who later, unbeknownst to me,  took a liking to me which didn’t go over well with Lee or me as she was horrifying to look at. Anyway they were blasé about the whole setup and fairly tolerant of the goings on associated with that kind of operation. What I didn’t know about these places was that the backroom area, where the loops were being shown via quarter-fed machines, was a meeting ground for homosexual men (usually of the closeted variety) even though, according to Tank, plenty of heterosexual guys drifted through with no such inclinations. On occasion there would be a thrill seeking heterosexual couple or two checking out the action but during the day it was mostly a heterosexual male customer base. At night though it morphed into a homosexual setup and, correspondingly, Tank hired a flamboyant gay guy named Fred to work the late shift.  Physically he resembled singer Conway Twitter but in attitude copped a pretty obvious Paul Lynde vibe such was his level of sarcasm and general contempt for everyone especially the peep show patrons to whom he referred as “jackoff artists”. (An odd statement given that such activity is rarely thought of as being an expression of creative skill). Fred was quite talkative which usually implied interest so I preemptively mentioned how “foxy” I thought Linda Ronstadt was (which at the time was true). Almost immediately his lips twisted into a disapproving snarl as he nasally lisped, “Whatever floaths your boat thweety”. He got the message loud and clear.

Logistically, the building was not customer friendly as there was no back parking lot so patrons had to park up front where their cars and license plates were on display for all to see. Not very reassuring for anyone wanting a bit of privacy. Consequently, peep show patrons would park in our lot and walk across the street which angered us.  One serial offender driving a clearly marked church van would park in our lot, run across the street, take care of his business (witnessing to the heathens no doubt), and return to continue the “Lord’s Work”.  He came back one day to see a note taped to his  windshield with a number of  Bible verse references outlining the spiritual liabilities of lust and lascivious living. He put on quite an act looking sternly around the lot trying to determine who did it which was risky behavior as there were a number of guys who would kick his ass for little or nothing.  We never saw him again – at least not in the church van. Tank later told us that in his opinion the guy fit the classic profile of being internally conflicted about sex and religion and his solution was to pump quarters into the projector to see the latest skin flick, take care of his business,  after which he would bolt from the store but not before saying “God Bless” to everyone. I was speechless not because of the guy’s behavior but because of Tank’s spot on analysis of the situation which clearly resulted from having what professional researchers call “a large sample size”. Tank probably saw cases like this many times a day.

There were other cases of people trying to discreetly slip across the road for some diversion some of whom  I actually knew – like former (sometimes then current) school teachers and neighbors who had no idea I worked on The Avenue.  I’ll cover more in a followup post as there is plenty to communicate on these topics. © 2016 The Stewart Avenue Kid

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3 responses

  1. It almost seems like another world to hear about all of these adult stores that popped up in the 70s and 80s. I still see some of those stores are around here in Memphis, though not nearly as many as I imagine there were during the 70s and 80s and, to some extent, the 90s. I think the internet basically made them a relic, since people can see videos anytime for free or buy whatever they want online and have it shipped to them.

    In your opinion, did you see a steep decline in Stewart Ave and in your neighborhood when crack came to Atlanta sometime in the mid-80s? Do you think the impact of it was overblown or did it really take some neighborhoods down almost seemingly overnight?

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    1. Hi Michael, Keep in mind that the adult bookstores provided a meeting place for what was then known as an “alternative lifestyle” so they fulfilled something of a social role. That is the stores then were there, ostensibly, to offer explicit moves for viewing but many patrons frequented the place for physical interaction. Some of these places still exist but have been mostly reconfigured to sell lingerie and “toys” which now no longer attract the scrutiny of district attorneys. The Hustler Stores in Hollywood, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Ft. Lauderdale are examples of such. I find it incredibly ironic that Larry Flynt fought against censorship in Georgia back in the 70s against what were very basic forms of so called adult content when now his stores offer “rope tying demonstrations”, and “oral workshops”. And it’s all legal so I guess he “won” the battle overall. In terms of crack ? In my view the more damaging part of the decline took place in the 70s so by the time crack rolled into town it was like knocking over a bowling pin that was already wobbling. The arrival of cheap, affordable high impact cocaine was probably something of a knockout punch but the area would have gone down eventually.

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  2. […] is Part 2 of a series of 2. If you haven’t already perhaps you should first check out Part 1 to get the full […]

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