In the late 1960s, I was in the 8th Street Bookstore looking at a copy of Variety Photoplays by Edward Field, a poet who was well known for his earlier work Stand Up, Friend, With Me. In the wintry, crowded bookstore I noticed a man looking at me and curiously smiling. But hell, this was the Village and men were always smiling at each other.

I turned away, going on with my skimming through the slim Edward Field book. Poetry wasn’t to my liking; I preferred literary novels with some heft to them, but there had been a recent review of the book and when I saw it in the bookstore, I picked it up and read a few pages for myself.

Variety Photoplays Edward Field

“That’s a very nice book,” I heard a man say. I looked up; it was the man who had been giving me the eye just moments ago, now standing near to me and holding a copy of the same book, Variety Photoplays.

I looked at his cleanly shaved face and well scrubbed appearance and bashfully said, “I suppose. I read a review about it, wasn’t bad at all.”

He winked at me and said, “You should get it, if just for the title, Variety Photoplays. That’s a very nice movie house. Have you ever been there?”

I looked down at the book, studying the cover. My face turned red. Yes, of course. The Variety Photoplays was a small movie house that I was familiar with on 3rd Avenue between 13th-14th Streets that showed corny girlie films but was better known for being a faggot pick-up place—a place where you could get a handjob/blowjob, with no need of knowing who was giving it to you. And as I stood there, glancing back at the man, I instantly felt my erection growing in my pants.

“Nope, never been there…” I shrugged and shook my head.

He curiously looked at me. “I’m sure I saw you there, sitting in a back row. Or was it the balcony they have…?”

I felt uncomfortable and replaced the book back down on the table (would easily pick it up later) and moved away from the man. He came after me.

“My mistake,” he said. “But in the darkness, such as a movie theater, it’s very easy to misidentify someone; you don’t know what you’re doing with a person. That ever happen to you?”

I shook my head, feeling very uncomfortable. Now that he mentioned it, a man just like him—how many had there been?—had given me a blowjob the last time I was in Variety Photoplays.

But I didn’t want to draw attention to myself or mention it, especially with someone I just met in a bookshop. In the Variety, you did what you wanted, queer or non-queer stuff, and went your way.

Maybe homosexuality was becoming more open and accepted, but I preferred the silence of shadowy movie theaters—you could shout and parade all you wanted, just leave me alone in the darkness, where there were hands reaching in the anonymous dimness and groping out for me. I like it that way.

I didn’t say anything, just exited the bookstore.

That evening in the crowded balcony of the Variety Photoplays, I bit my lip each time someone approached in the darkness, imaging hopefully it was the man from the 8th Street Bookstore coming near my seat…but it wasn’t.

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13 Responses to “Remembering ‘Variety Photoplays’”

  1. Victor J. Banis 12 October 2010 at 12:35 PM #

    Great glimpse into the past, Mick – I can’t say I was ever at that theater, almost certainly not, but I think most cities had similar hangouts in those years. A different world, was it not?

  2. mykola (mick) dementiuk 12 October 2010 at 12:45 PM #

    Variety Photoplays was an old vaudeville theater. It’s a shame that they tore it down but that’s how things are in NYC. Destroy the past, forget they ever existed. A crying shame. Edward Field, who I mention in my piece, knew that theater very well.

  3. Wlliam Maltese 12 October 2010 at 12:54 PM #

    Mick: You know I always enjoy whatever you write — this time no exception.

  4. Melanie 12 October 2010 at 3:04 PM #

    Great piece as always. I really enjoyed reading this book. Thanks Mick.

  5. Anonymous 12 October 2010 at 3:06 PM #

    Is that book still in print?

  6. mykola (mick) dementiuk 12 October 2010 at 3:11 PM #

    Anon, There’s a copy out from Maelstrom Press, Long Beach CA. The Grove Press edition is out of print.

  7. GMH 12 October 2010 at 9:06 PM #

    Interesting piece. I am very familiar with the old Variety, having read about it in Sam Delaney’s excellent Times Square memoir. I also went to it in its last days, when it turned into a respected off-Broadway theater. Its marquee was beautiful, and sad that it was destroyed just so NYU could have some more property. A case where the theater should have definitely been landmarked. Think it was over 100 years old. Had no idea there was a poetry book about it. Cool!

  8. NYCDreamin 12 October 2010 at 9:32 PM #

    Hey, Mick…Nice to see more of your writing over here…you’re a busy guy! Those were certainly different days and it’s hard for someone my age to even imagine it at all as I missed out on that whole era. I was busy at home watching cartoons!

  9. mykola (mick) dementiuk 13 October 2010 at 6:38 AM #

    Yes, I also read Sam Delany’s “Times Square Red, Times Square Blue” an awesome book about NY gay history in the movie house which doesn’t exist anymore. Sad…

  10. Kimberly Gardner 15 October 2010 at 6:54 AM #

    Terrific piece, Mick. I enjoyed reading it.

  11. mykola (mick) dementiuk 15 October 2010 at 7:05 AM #

    You would have liked experiencing it too. Can you imagine being in a movie house with hands reaching for you in the movie darkness? It was bliss, ahh…

  12. Bill Dugan 20 July 2014 at 7:29 AM #

    I always enjoy memories of the Variety Photoplays. But does anybody remember The Bijou up on Fourteenth Street and way farther east? The Bijou was wild back then. Like the Variety, there was sex in every dark corner.

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