Questions in a World of Blue

Curator's Note

Many ephemeral clues to adult film history have no homes in formal archives, but rather in the hands of private collectors. Take these two membership cards for the “National Adult Movie Club,” whose eBay seller allegedly did not have any personal connection to, nor information about, their provenance. But hypotheses can be made from the scant clues offered here.

The Mark III Cinema was a 90-seat “mini-theater,” opened in 1971 at 11 N. 13th Street in downtown Philadelphia as an extension of Martin Goss’ Bookmark adult bookstore. We know this from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court case in which a nearby art theater, the Mark I, unsuccessfully sued Goss for reputational damage, despite the fact that neither theater’s business was affected by their similar names and proximity to each other (Sameric Corporation of Market Street v. Goss [1972]). The Xstasy Art Theatre was also located in Philadelphia (5235 Frankford Avenue). Newspaper ads promoting a theater’s club membership exist between 1973-77, but suggest that the “national” club was limited to these cities in three contiguous states: Philadelphia (Hollywood Adult Theatre); Pittsburgh (Bizarre Art Theatre); Dayton, OH (Exotic Cinema); Camden, NJ (Mini-Twin Adult Theatre); and West Collingswood, NJ (Venus Art Theatre).

An annual membership card entitled one to a discounted double-feature at a participating theater, such as $3 admission at the Westown in Dayton (Pat B. Fritz, “Movies: In Like Skin,” Journal Herald [Dayton], August 6, 1971); or a dollar off the $5 admission at a downtown Philadelphia location (Murray Roth, “Grapes of Wroth,” The Flashlight [Mansfield State College], September 13, 1973). The end-of-1973 expiration dates on these cards indicate their issuance while Miller v. California was still being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, before its June 1973 decision returned obscenity standards to local jurisdictions and made adult theaters more prosecutable—hence the suggestions of informed consent and indemnity from entrapment implied on the cards’ reverse side. The newspaper ads vanish by late 1977, implying that the Club was short-lived and perhaps simply the invention of an enterprising owner of multiple theaters—but the full story is not presently known.

When clues to local microhistories of adult cinema remain localized in private collections because official archives are squeamish to house them, then, unfortunately, we will also more likely remain in the dark about the social/industrial role of such sites. New scholarship, however, will require new modes of access to such potentially sensitive materials.

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