A former editor of Outlaw Biker, 44-year-old Hanson attributes her publications' success to an overall sense of empathy for people who routinely get treated as creeps. The numbers seem to bear this out. According to the publisher's unverifiable figures (all titles are unaudited), circulation and publishing frequencies have risen steadily since her arrival at the Manhattan-based MMG Services: The flagship magazine Leg Show (for leg and foot fans) has gone from bimonthly to monthly, and circulation has increased from 75,000 to 250,000; Juggs (the editorial slant here is, obviously, large-breasted women) has gone from 85,000 to 150,000; and the start-up Bust Out! (it centers around surgically augmented strippers) hovers at 80,000.
A high-school dropout, Hanson was raised by religious fundamentalist parents and developed an early obsession with sexual fetishes and perversions. When it came time to find employment, she moved east from her home state of Washington, and worked briefly as a respiratory therapist. Exposure to sex magazines including Cheri, Hustler and Screw, however, left her breathless enough to embark on her current career. "I was thrilled by the idea of hardcore hippie porn," recalls the statuesque cofounder of the 20-year-old, ultra-glossy hardcore Puritan.
Fetishes are narrow, even brittle, phenomena. There are men who need to see women's toes but not heels, or heels but not toes; men who need to see women in leg casts; men who need to see a specific kind of woman's shoe pushing a specific kind of car's accelerator. "That's not at all an isolated fetish," says Dian Hanson, the most cerebral pornographer in America. "There's an entire club called Pedal Pumpers. The first man who called me about it could only be satisfied with a 1959 Corvette and white pumps. It had to be white pumps. He'd bring hookers home and take them to the garage."
Dian Hanson's SoHo office is scattered with pleasantly filthy memorabilia: photos of penises with her name written on them, a comic of Wonder Woman removing her panties, crutches tied together with a leather whip. Hanson has pinned up production schedules for the three soft-core magazines she edits, but these are difficult to notice. The eye more naturally falls to, say, the freeze-dried pig or the Polaroid of the three-foot man with someone's scrawled Post-it note reading "Do we need a dwarf?"
Everything Dian Hanson has seen in 23 years of writing and editing porn has led her to one ineluctable truth: that sexual aberration does not exist. Paradoxically, aberration is the norm. The illusion of a comfortable sexual order, of a mainstream of behavior that rules the secret world of lust, did not survive the century. And if porn is even a glimpse of American sexuality, Hanson is its Margaret Mead.
In her career, she has observed several protracted seasons of erotic fashion. Dian Hanson has worked through the era of the curvy blonde, the cartoonishly augmented model, the hard-body, and now the natural girl. Dian Hanson has listened as men clamored to see shaved private parts, and now hears them clamoring to see the opposite. Recently, she offered to contribute cash to a model's favorite charity if the model would simply stop wearing thongs for a while and develop a full-panty tan line. "When I ask her to keep her buttocks untanned, she looks at me as though I'm insane," Hanson recounts. "But if I asked her to have her nipples surgically recentered, she'd say, 'I'm free next week. What day?' "
"I've made this magazine successful by listening to guys," Hanson says. "I probe them for the subtleties of their lust."
Dian Hanson does not swear. She says the word pornography in the same neutral tone one might use for calligraphy or cartography -- but beyond that, her discourse is immaculate. It would be simple to mistake her for an academic if she didn't constantly refer to the magazines she edits: Juggs, Tight, and Leg Show, which is the most successful fetishist publication in the world. The text Hanson writes for Leg Show -- what trade jargon calls its "girl copy" -- is purchased by some 200,000 people each month, more than twice the circulation, for instance, of The New Republic.
Though Dian Hanson has started up other publications (Outlaw Biker, Big Butt), Hanson's current trinity of magazines touches nearly every demographic of porn aficionado. Leg Show reaches a white-collar readership; Juggs -- which Hanson calls "the sideshow of pornography" -- is consumed mainly by blue-collar guys in the South and Midwest. "The Juggs woman is unchanged since the dawn of time," says Hanson. "She's a fertility goddess, complete with moist, hairy folds and creases." Tight, at the other extreme, is carefully produced to look amateurish. In the main, it features 19-year-old girls sucking their pinkies and making comments like "I felt this big hot feeling between my legs where his thing was!" As male baby-boomers feel the sting of middle age (so the theory goes), they begin to like the idea of becoming Pygmalions. "They're married to women who, to their great chagrin, have developed minds of their own," Hanson says. "So they fantasize about having a girl to protect and mold."
Dian Hanson is 48 but could pass for 35. She has utterly straight blonde hair and a strong, lean body. Still, she is no exhibitionist. Posing nude is a frontier she has never crossed. "My hedonism," she says, "is leavened with caution." Staying behind the camera has not wounded her financially; she acknowledges that she does "very well" in porn. She has a flat in Park Slope but spends weekends in her house upstate, where she keeps a fine collection of taxidermy. "There's a stuffed six-foot alligator eating a fawn, a fox killing a lamb, and a beagle wearing its collar," she says quite proudly. "I've been to a few auctions."
When she's away from the gaze of those frozen animals, though, it's Leg Show that fixates her. On the surface, the magazine reads like standard porn: "Know what I am? I'm a bad girl!" But much of what Hanson writes is actually an earthy translation of her theories about sex -- theories that, as it happens, are rooted in academia. She has read every text about the libido that has come within her reach -- starting at the age of 14, when she found Krafft-Ebing's Psychopathia Sexualis in her local library. From there, she wended her way through Freud, Wilhelm Stekel, the sex-change expert John Money, and even the English satirist Geoff Nicholson, who is now Hanson's boyfriend.
Having worked as a respiratory therapist, Dian Hanson has a habit of couching her sexual opinions in medical terms. Other pornographers gibber about chakras, auras, the "weaving of energy." She prefers to muse about apocrine glands: how "those odoriferous organs are located only in the nipples, armpits, groin, and feet -- hence fetishists' preoccupation with shoes, which are prized for their retention of smell." To this day, she insists that her style of directing a photo shoot (calling everyone "honey," soothing the model without losing control) was learned working at hospitals.
The rest of her pornographic schooling has come from reader feedback. Dian Hanson's correspondence reveals sexual urges of every stripe. She especially likes to tell the story of the Little Man. In her office, there's a four-inch wax molding of a nude male figure. The Little Man was a gift from a Nebraska reader of Leg Show. Its nose is partly rubbed away, as is much of the crude brown coloring where its hair is meant to be. The penis, small even by Little Man standards, exists still, though most of the pubic hair has faded. The figure's face offers no discernible expression: It is blank from waiting. For the Little Man was made to be stomped, made by a real man who dreamed of being stomped. It was the Nebraskan's habit to stand in public and furtively place the Little Man where it would fall beneath heels -- women's heels, the sharper the better. Then he watched, wincing in ecstasy, as the Little Man was impaled underfoot. He would have spontaneous orgasms seeing the Little Man trodden upon. Ideally, he would then recover it, driven by the orgasms he knew he'd have with it later, when he studied the shape and depth of the heel wounds sustained by his tinier self.
The Soho Love Goddess
"Consider the child," Dain Hanson says, as if the Little Man is some sort of parable. "When his mother's angry, she's powerful. The child feels safe. So he grows up fixated on a moment in his childhood where he was anxious or afraid, staring up at the tower of Mommy. It's not uncommon for men to fantasize about being small. There's even a magazine, Giantess, for that population of readers."
It didn't surprise Hanson to learn how the Nebraskan's fetish started: how, at the age of 4, he earned the kind attentions of a neighbor lady after she accidentally pierced his hand with her heel, and how he was discovered a week later hiding under a table, trying to get his hand under her foot again. Hanson wasn't even alarmed when the hapless Nebraskan offered his life to her ("who would know," he said, "and who would care?") so that his flesh could be fashioned into shoes or a rug. She finds it all quite endearing.
So she walks the narrow road. Any variation on a fetish, a single added or missing detail, shatters readers' fantasies. If a nylon seam is crooked, Hanson receives irate letters from any number of impassioned readers: her man at the State Department, maybe. A roofer in Toronto. Leg Show men cross all boundaries. "I've made this magazine successful by listening to guys," she says. "I probe them for the subtleties of their lust, and often translate their ideas directly into layouts."
But fetishists, even with their ultraprecise tastes, are not without common ground. Hanson has a complex sexual theory that draws them all together: a mental Gesamtkunstwerk of perversity. To Hanson, sexuality in our culture is all about protrusion. "Women are concerned about their buttocks and their breasts," she says. "They never worry about their vaginas." Sex and porn are a simple function of flesh that sticks out, and the curve of the flesh, and the motion of the curve.
The fact that women don't generally fetishize, in Hanson's view, results from the culture's more intense scrutiny of males: "Fetishes begin when a boy is attracted to something shiny or soft, something that feels like skin. It might be the satin edge of a blanket or something silky, but it's perceived by adults to be feminine. So he's directed away from it, often sternly -- which fixates the boy on the object. His sexuality doesn't go away; it gets twisted. The realm of fetishism proves that, as a society, we're continuing to maim our children psychosexually."
"The moment a fetish starts," she adds, forever veering into new avenues of her Theory, "is usually the moment of anxiety and stimulation when the boy is made to feel that if he expresses sexuality -- if he breaks the rules -- love will be withheld from him. That's what I'd never have believed 23 years ago. Fetish pornography is all about the search for love."
In the odd metaphysics of Dian Hanson, that is possibly the oddest tenet: Everything she writes, every overripe metaphor and sordid Leg Show fantasy, is an expression of love. Sure, smut is easy to mistake for filth -- as a thuggish con, good for a quick buck. But Hanson insists that money is not what draws her to the trade. "The old Leg Show, before I joined the staff, was failing because it was contemptuous of its readers," she says equably. "What we do now, and what men enjoy, is love in the guise of contempt.
"My magazine is a seduction, an ongoing love affair," she insists. "That's the sad thing about the Internet. Smut online isn't glossy. You can't hold it in your hand or keep track of your favorite models. The Internet is a one-night stand. So if online porn replaces magazine porn, we may all find ourselves living in a more loveless world."
When Dian Hanson found Krafft-Ebing at 14, the lines of her life were drawn for good. She'd been raised, she says, by "right-wing eccentrics." Her father is the head of a Christian-mystic cult. He taught his five children to be vegetarians, occasionally driving the whole clan to his office for a colonic -- just to attain that extra measure of inner godliness. The religion was so secretive that Hanson's parents never even tried to include their own kids. "They probably thought we weren't worthy," Hanson says, nearly giggling. "My father was presented to us as a holy man: not only as a godlike father but as a fatherlike god. Imagine. Instead of threats, there was always a lot of karma bandied about: 'Do you want to be reincarnated as a leper in India?' "
The girl Dian Hanson was a pariah in school -- so tormented by her classmates that she half wonders why she didn't come in one day brandishing a weapon. A photo from the time shows what her classmates scorned: She is 11, wearing a ratty straw hat and looking gangly. Crouching in the snow, she appears perplexed. Her feet are turned inward. One boat-size hand is feeling the ground, as if this were her first moment on earth. Hanson keeps this picture in her office, right between a photo of a man fucking a shoe and a (doctored) picture of Chelsea Clinton in the buff.
Dian Hanson's schoolmates reserved their most exquisite derision for her height. In kindergarten, she was actually taller than the teacher, and she hit five feet ten by the sixth grade. She grew so fast that her frame outpaced her heart-lung complex. At one point, her arm span exceeded her vertical height. Doctors feared gigantism.
As a nongiant adult, Hanson has never wavered in her rebellion. Despite her vegetarian childhood, she's spectacularly carnivorous, and a good drinker. But she could never be mistaken for a pariah these days. There are many thousands of readers who hang on her every word, write paeans to "the Goddess Dian," and have even started up a club and a newsletter devoted to her.
Dian Hanson has also managed, quite by accident, to become a minor celebrity among media types: "It's very common, when I'm at a book party with Geoff Nicholson, to have a publisher sidle up to me and whisper, 'I just love Juggs!' " New York and L.A. are sprinkled with writers and artists who have, at some point, sought out a connection with Hanson. One of the few men who openly admit this, the German publisher Benedikt Taschen, says he wants to compile "a cool book of her writings." (There's even a Leg Show poster prominently displayed in the strip-club set of The Sopranos.)
Beyond that, Dian Hanson has had long-term relationships with artist Joe Coleman and, more famously, the cartoonist Robert Crumb. It's probably no coincidence, one way or another, that Crumb's images echo Hanson's own muscular vision of female power. At dinner on the night they met, Crumb was asked how he'd like to get home and replied that he wanted to ride on Dian's back. Tourists in the Russian Tea Room snapped photos as he leaped aboard the woman and rode her off the premises. "Oh, her legs were even more powerful back then," Crumb wistfully recalls. "She could go for blocks and blocks!
"It's devastating how well Dian understands male sexuality," adds Crumb, who now lives in the south of France. "She caters to perversions with an expertise that's scary. She's like an Albert Schweitzer to pathetic foot-suckers, and she's pretty good-hearted about it."
The Soho Love Goddess
Inevitably, there are those who decry Hanson as a traitor to the subversive spirit of pornography. Al Goldstein, the very loud and very fat man who edits Screw, becomes apoplectic at the mention of her name. Goldstein has spent as many years being a reprobate as Hanson has spent not being one. "When was the last time she was busted?" he asks, touting his own nineteen arrests. "I fight for free expression. You ask me about someone who wants to keep quiet? That's like asking Martin Luther King about blacks who want to pass as white. Dian Hanson is gutless, a coward. I tolerate her like a mosquito bite on the ass!"
It's true that Hanson has little desire to spend her life in court. The magazines she edits are technically soft-core, which means they stop short of depicting actual penetration. Under federal law (namely, 18 U.S. Code, Section 2257), a hard-core-porn operation must cross-reference all models with explicit releases and every name the model has ever used in her life. It's like chasing mice through a thicket. To fail in these record-keeping duties, under the law, can bring a five-year prison term, even if the model in question is 70 years old. Hanson, as a purveyor of soft-core, is legally exempt from these inventories, but she does them anyway.
Dian Hanson's direction of a photo shoot is the purest expression of her work. All her skills -- her quiet command, her knowledge of exactly what poses will provide Leg Show readers with quality masturbation -- are called into play. On a breezy Tuesday, she packs a few bags with clothes she has bought for Tammy Lee, a longtime favorite with her readers.
Walking to the studio, Hanson gushes about cookbooks she has purchased over the weekend. "You should see The Poultry Bible or some of my German books!" she says. "They're lit much the same way we light a shoot -- the same contrivances. Everything is well oiled. Everything's full and round, meticulously arranged to stimulate the appetite."
"Dian Hanson," says her former lover R. Crumb, "is like an Albert Schweitzer to pathetic foot-suckers, and she's pretty good-hearted about it."
The studio, run by a Swedish photographer named Anneli Adolfsson, is a vast room in Chelsea. Nine giant shades keep out the piercing sunlight; a German boxer dog is sleeping in a cage. Nearby is a closet filled with legal boxes marked antique lingerie and, true to Leg Show fetishism, gas masks.
Beneath the chipped white ceiling, Tammy Lee is standing nude as Hanson "de-malls" her flame-red hair. It needs to be de-malled: This is a glamour shoot and must elicit images of old Hollywood, not the shopping center where Dian Hanson finds fabulous deals on Manolos and Betsey Johnsons.
Tammy Lee, a "featured entertainer" who performs in San Francisco, Miami, and other strip-friendly cities, has earned combat pay from Leg Show. In past issues, she has exposed herself on the streets of New York and London. On a more puzzling assignment, she was taken to a meatpacking plant and photographed among cattle parts. There was so much suet on the floors that, to avoid slipping on her stiletto heels, she had to be carried out to the meat hooks, where she bravely swung around until Hanson and Adolfsson got the pictures they needed. "We shot her near a hanging tree of gluteus muscles," recalls Hanson, who never resists the chance to be medically specific. "It was a beautiful layout."
A porn photo shoot is itself a slightly medical, or at least clinical, event. It's five or six hours -- fifteen on a tough day -- of asking a model to move her elbow three inches to the left, or arch her back, or swivel her left buttock just slightly toward the lens. Every few minutes, Hanson reminds Tammy Lee to "Barbie the foot": her slang for making the perfect S-shape that drives Leg Show readers to private distraction.
As an extra favor to those who lust after Tammy's curvy feet, Hanson has brought a pair of custom-made English shoes she's been saving for the occasion. She rightly calls them "the torture shoes." They look like matching cliffs. The heels are a ludicrous six and a half inches high, with an angle of descent of 45 degrees. "Tammy's woman enough to wear these," Hanson says, in the calming voice of a respiratory therapist. "We love our Tammy!"
Eventually, her lips rocketing into hypergloss, Tammy is trapped in a wilderness of straps, nylon, and silk. From the looks of her, she might explode if just one of the hooks or clips gives way. "Men are entranced by the complication of lingerie," Hanson says, buttoning Tammy's gold bustier. "The fact that women need pounds of elastic and tressing fascinates them, because all they wear is a shred of cotton underneath their clothes. And it's a very male urge, an aggressive and sexual one, to want to fight through layers to get to the female."
The Soho Love Goddess
Tammy slips on a pair of long black gloves and strikes an Evita pose for fun. Then she gingerly makes her way to the square of glass she'll pose upon first. The effect of the glass, in addition to playing up the veins in her brand-new four-pound breasts (she recently weighed them, at 2 a.m., on a grocery store's fruit scale), is to make her look like one of Hanson's happy German recipes.
"Don't ask me to smile," Tammy says in her rough Pennsylvanian accent. "I look stupid when I smile."
But the last thing on earth Dian Hanson wants is a smile. Tammy's target reader, she tells me quietly, is the man whose fantasy is to marry a bad girl -- one who will cheat, bring strangers home, have sex with them in his presence. "Do the smirk," she tells Tammy. "There! There's the resentful look. It says, 'Your penis isn't good enough!' "
Within minutes, Tammy collapses on the torture shoes. Hanson rushes over and lowers her to the floor like a mortally wounded soldier. "She's crippled but beautiful," Hanson says. "We're a full-service magazine."
Tammy smokes. she's been dying for a cig anyway, and now has the double joy of smoking it while she works. As Hanson is proud to remind us, Tammy was Leg Show's very first smoker, way back in 1996. Some readers were electrified; others dashed off complaints, desperately hoping their "favorite woman" would give up this filthy habit before she died of it.
Over the entire shoot, the spite in Tammy's baby eyes never dims. She is tireless. Into the fifth hour, the entire crew's performance has taken on an air of athletic prowess. Anneli Adolfsson, herself a classically beautiful woman, has not faltered in her singsong praise of Tammy's dirty poses. Dian Hanson presides over the event playfully but with a hidden gravitas when it comes to the exactitude of poses.
For the nude shots, Tammy taps her labia to wake them for the lens. Hanson has a score of euphemisms for vagina. She asks Tammy to reveal her "bunny parts," then, moments later, compliments her on the "cootchie." Tammy, sprawled upside-down beneath three 2,400-watt klieg lights, doesn't alter her smirk by one degree.
"Hey -- let's get some butt shots," Hanson says, as if this is only now occurring to her. "We can't waste those fine buttocks of yours."
"Oooh, very nice," Adolfsson chirps. "Yum, yum, yum, yum!"
"More, Tammy," Hanson says. "Obey Mommy!"
Tammy gives more. She suddenly shouts, "Kiss my ass! Lick my shoes!"
Hanson corrects her: "Buy me shoes!"
The shoot ends. Hanson steps back into the gray light of Chelsea. People on the street alternately smile at her, glance at her, ignore her. Unlike the masturbators and transvestites who favor Leg Show, she has no secret terror that she'll be revealed as an Unacceptable Person.
Quite the opposite. Last year, a German fan wangled her a ticket to the 300th performance of The Sound of Music as well as a private party with the Von Trapps. Hanson dined across from one of the storied couple's grandsons. "They were a hearty bunch -- genetically superior people with fabulous blue-green eyes," says Hanson, as ever connecting beauty to biology. "I sat behind Maria during the play, listening to her whisper, 'Oh! That isn't how it happened at all!' It made me realize: What a wonderful life I have. And I owe it all to pornography."
She got her start testing sex toys for Puritan. She made a name for herself as the editor of Leg Show. Now she's researching a history of porn.
Before Dian Hanson was the editor of two of the most successful fetish magazines in America, she was A) a precocious adolescent who hung out at the Burien, Washington, library reading Psychopathia Sexualis, B) a devotee of hardcore comics, and C) a serial dater who preferred men fifteen years her senior. She ran off with the hippies, happy to pretend to care about the Chicago Seven as long as cute guys and fun drugs were involved.
When she got to New York, she fit right into the porn industry, which, in the '70s, was a carnival of oddballs and eccentrics. She moved through the ranks of publications like Big Butt, Outlaw Biker, and Tight, until she got hired to run sister publications Leg Show and Juggs, which she edited brilliantly for fifteen years.
Now Hanson is hard at work on a project tailor-made for her astute understanding of male desire, her talents as a researcher, and her love of madcap adventure: a two-volume global history of sex magazines for the German art book house, Taschen.
MICHELLE: After twenty-five years of working on publications about butts, breasts, bikes, and legs have you ever thought about starting your own magazine?
DIAN: It's not as if there's one perfect magazine that I've always wanted to do. I just love the challenge of taking a difficult subject, figuring out the psychology, and managing to get exactly the right tuning and material so that every single person who is attracted to that subject buys that magazine. That's what made Leg Show such a great project for me.
MICHELLE: I know Leg Show and Juggs were floundering when you got there. You must have had your work cut out for you.
DIAN: Both of those magazines were published by MMG, which put out the majority of the gay magazines in America in the mid '80s. Juggs and Leg Show were put together by an all-gay staff, who didn't really care about them, but had lots of fun doing them. You could hear the hoots of laughter and derision. I thought, "Oh, these poor orphan magazines deserve more attention." I really understood the potential for Leg Show once I read the letters that came in. I saw how seriously the men took this subject, and how literate they were. I begged to be allowed to try my hand, and I increased the sales immediately.
MICHELLE: So how did you get a handle on the psychology of the Leg Show readers and know what to put in the magazine?
DIAN: I'd always been interested in sexual, psychological peculiarities. My father was a naturopath, a sort of weird holistic doctor, so we always had lots of medical and religious books around the house when I was growing up. In Leg Show, I recognized an obsessive readership who would actually guide me in making the magazine. I really put myself in there, photographing myself and writing directly to the readers. They were the perfect audience for that approach men who were at least fifty-percent submissive, eager to be explained to themselves, and absolutely ready to be led by a woman.
MICHELLE: What kinds of things did you write about?
DIAN: My columns were serious. Quite often I'd talk about the roots of fetishism, and I'd explain the different varieties. I was drawing from scholarly writing, as well as my own conclusions, which had been drawn by reading their letters.
MICHELLE: It's interesting that you went so far as to psychoanalyze your own readers in the magazine. Did you see yourself as providing a special kind of service to your audience?
DIAN: Oh, always. I was so deeply touched by their plight, by their self-hatred, their fear, confusion, and isolation. So many people wrote in that they had spent years in therapy trying to rid themselves of their fetish, that they had attempted suicide, or that they had never dared to tell their wives. They said they had denied themselves sexual pleasure because they thought their sexuality was unacceptable. And a lot of them felt that they were the only one. So that was a service that I wanted Leg Show to provide to let these people know how many others there were. What the readers really wanted was to know that there was a sympathetic woman out there, who wasn't sneering at them. That was the purpose the models served they eroticized contempt. So for my part, I gave them love. Because they wanted it, it made them loyal readers, and it made me feel good.
MICHELLE: And how did you determine what sorts of images the Leg Show readers were looking for?
DIAN: The magazine dealt with multiple fixations. But I started from the standpoint that the readers had at least some obsessive-compulsive component. That meant the stockings should never be wrinkled, and the seams should never be crooked. The shoes always had to be exactly the right size, the panties fitted just so around the buttocks. The poses had to be precise. You couldn't have sloppiness because the o.c. personality needs everything absolutely right or he's not going to be able to masturbate. Even the proofreading had to be perfect!
MICHELLE: And what about your other magazine? How was the Juggs reader different?
DIAN: The Juggs guy, it doesn't matter. "Aw, wrinkled stockings, so what. Look at her big breasts. They may not be the kind of breasts I usually like, but they're breasts. And they're big!"
MICHELLE: Doesn't the need for the Leg Show reader to be in control contradict their submissive behavior?
DIAN: Submissives don't really want to be out of control, they just want to be victimized in a very precise way. It's called topping from the bottom "Dominate me just like this." I don't know if you've ever had a sexual experience with a masochist, but if you hit them harder than they want, or in a different place than they want, they'll stop you right away and correct you. And if you continue to treat them in the wrong way, they can go into a panic. It's a set piece. It may be a very complicated, ornate piece of theater but it does have a script.
MICHELLE: And what about the dialogue?
DIAN: Of course, every sexual preference has its special buzzwords. Sometimes I'd get complaints that we'd used the wrong word for foot, the wrong word for stockings.
MICHELLE: Which would be?
DIAN: Ped and tootsie are unpleasant. Floppy is a good one for breasts. Floppers.
MICHELLE: I assume the Juggs readership was more forgiving.
DIAN: Juggs was a big old mosh pit of sweaty, hairy sexuality. I always had a soft spot for Juggs, like you'd have for your drunken old mom or something. It wasn't a high-class publication, but it was warm and loving and real. We got more photo submissions for that magazine than any other I've done. A lot of women look at Juggs because it shows women like themselves. It gives them hope for being a sex goddess.
MICHELLE: How did you end up in this industry in the first place?
DIAN: In the early '70s, I was working as a respiratory therapist in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I was seeing a guy who was doing publicity for a man with a string of adult bookstores in the backwoods of Pennsylvania. This gentleman had a dream, which was to have his own Hustler-style magazine. He didn't know how to do it, or who could do it for him, so he tapped this advertising guy I was dating. At that point I was getting tired of being a respiratory therapist, tired of getting up at 6:00 AM when I was hung over. So I decided to begin working with him on the magazine because I always liked pornography. It was sort of a dream.
MICHELLE: What was that magazine?
DIAN: Puritan. My boyfriend and I moved to New York in 1976, got a duplex apartment at 75th and Lexington at the publisher's expense, and started it up. I was writing, editing, testing sex products, and directing photo shoots. It's the same at any sex magazine you have a very small staff, so you do everything. That lasted about two years.
MICHELLE: Where did you land next?
DIAN: I went to work on a magazine called Partner with a man named Peter Wolff, who was my true mentor in this business. He had done Bachelor, Dude, Topper, Caper ... Like me, he was a hippie pornographer. He was a child prodigy who had graduated high school at fifteen, got his college degree by eighteen, and his master's by twenty. He was an excellent writer and journalist, but completely obsessed with pornography. Peter was the first person to recognize the importance of reader participation in pornographic magazines, when he ran amateur pictures of readers' wives.
MICHELLE: He understood the readers' urge to share.
DIAN: Peter would say, "These pictures are better than the ones we're running. Here are genuine women who clearly like sex smiling at the camera." Peter liked real women better than the tired strippers who were the usual fodder at that time. And he liked older women, too.
MICHELLE: What was Partner like?
DIAN: Partner was before its time. It came out with an accompanying video every month, and of course it was a failure because not enough people had video decks in 1979. I was nominated to travel around the U.S. with fifty pounds of gear strapped to my shoulder, videotaping swinging housewives, topless bakers, swing clubs for the elderly ...
MICHELLE: So Partner was about real sex.
DIAN: Right. The other highlight was naked celebrities another of Peter's great ideas. Whenever we heard about a B movie in which a star appeared naked prior to becoming famous let's say there was some tiny scene where Demi Moore flashed her breasts when she was eighteen I'd contact the producer and say I was the president of his fan club. It was shocking to see how easy it was, if I played to the ego of an unsung producer, to get him to send a 35mm print at his own expense. Whenever one arrived, we'd buy a bottle of vodka, go into a cheap editing room on Times Square, cut out the piece we wanted with a pair of scissors, tape the film together again, and ship it back.
MICHELLE: Wasn't Peter one of the first pornographers to hire a female editor-in-chief?
DIAN: Yes. When he started High Society, he put Gloria Leonard at the helm. His idea was that men want women to be interested in sex. He thought a lot of men would rather have a female editor who spoke to them directly, whose picture they could see, and who appeared to like sex the way they liked it someone they could come back to see month after month, like a mistress. He was absolutely right. I used what I learned from him when I went to work at Leg Show
MICHELLE: Today the porn industry is very professionalized. When you started out, it was more like the frontier.
DIAN: Oh absolutely. After Partner, I worked at a magazine called Harvey/Hooker/Exposé. The publisher, Harvey, was a somewhat loveable but eccentric drunken man who liked to pick up hookers and bring them back to the office so that we'd find remnants of their night of passion on our desks. He would rewrite our cover lines with the help of the hookers. Sometimes he would even install one of them as a receptionist for a two or three week period!
MICHELLE: What else went on there?
DIAN: We also made used panties in the office to sell in the back of the magazine. We had two women working full-time with cans of mackerel, paintbrushes, and glue. They would try out a new concoction, and it would be passed around the office like, "Does this smell like pussy to you?" We had no budget. We'd use pictures we'd cut out of other magazines. We'd scrounge behind the file cabinets on the day the magazine was supposed to go out to see if any slides had fallen down that we could possibly use. There was a fun, scavenger hunt feel to it.
MICHELLE: It must have been quite a jump from that kind of environment to art book publishing, but it seems like you've found your niche at Taschen. Can you tell me what you're working on there?
DIAN: The first book is a history of nudism. It starts with Germany at the turn of the century, when people began to want to shed their confining Victorian clothes for a healthier life, with calisthenics and a balanced diet. It goes all the way through the hippie era in America, when nudism spun completely out of control, the laws changed, and pornographic magazines were allowed on the newsstands.
MICHELLE: That was the death of nudist magazines, I'd assume ...
DIAN: Yeah. The working title for that book is Jaybird. Jaybird magazine itself was the ultimate hippie pornography. It was started by real nudists who wanted to change the old staid nudist magazines and have more fun. The term came from an Ann Landers column where a woman had written in and said that she enjoyed doing housework naked, and signed herself "Jaybird, anonymous." The young hippies took that as their name for nudism that wasn't confined to camps. It referred to nudism in backyards, on beaches, or hiking in the desert. So Jaybird photography always took place in wacky California locations. When the laws changed to allow pictures with genitals, it became heavily crotch-oriented, so what you got were these people in bizarre positions to show that area. And men were spreading just as much as women were. Of course, no one was shaving at the time, so there were some vast, hairy crotches on display.
MICHELLE: What's the second Taschen project?
DIAN: I'm also doing a giant two-volume global history of sex magazines, from the 1940s until the 1980s. It seemed impossible to sort out at the beginning, but it's just the sort of challenge that I love. I began by finding out about all the porn collectors in America. Then I got on eBay and started collecting everything I could find. Now I'm taking it one country at a time. It's been like tiptoeing through my own twenty-five years in the business, and then back beyond that getting reacquainted with lots eccentric publishers I'd forgotten all about. I'm writing the book from a sociological standpoint, comparing sex magazines in different countries at any given time.
MICHELLE: So if I were to ask you what men in Japan masturbate to ...
DIAN: Bondage! And schoolgirls.
MICHELLE: You're not finding anything that breaks that stereotype?
DIAN: Well, there's some glamour material. But in Japan, pornographic magazines that are sold on the newsstands can't show pubic hair or genitals, so panties have been fetishized enormously. The Japanese are the masters of panty eroticism. And don't forget the gorgeous precision of their ropes and knots.
MICHELLE: And in America?
DIAN: After the War, pornography went very happy, cheesecake-y, healthy, Bettie Page-y. Whereas in Europe, there was a lot of eroticizing gas masks and rubber, because they were suffering and experiencing deprivation. These gorgeous European magazines from before the war, like Paris-Hollywood, took a long time to resurface afterwards, and they were never quite as elegant as they had been before it.
MICHELLE: So have you found that you have a favorite pornographic genre or time period?
DIAN: The peak was clearly 1959. That's when the fins on the cars were biggest. We had fully recovered from the war, and we were coming up on a new decade. The space race was going on. There was such tremendous hope and excitement, and men's magazines were proliferating everywhere. Wonderful covers, great writers in all of them. Even Escapade and Caper had people like P.G. Wodehouse and Norman Mailer writing for them on a monthly basis. Of course I also love 1969-1970, the hippie period, because that was my own awakening period. Looking back at all the magazines, it was such a happy time happy women, happy men. Black and white people together in a comfortable, nonexploitative way. Minimal misogyny. And that was when hardcore material first appeared in America a friendly kind of hardcore that we have not seen since. I grew up in that period, and I enjoy
people together in a comfortable, nonexploitative way. Minimal misogyny. And that was when hardcore material first appeared in America a friendly kind of hardcore that we have not seen since. I grew up in that period, and I enjoy sex, so I like to see everyone having a good time.By Bob Massey
"YOU TAKE THE CLASSIC PORN MAG PICTURE," says Dian Hanson, who has trafficked in such pictures her entire adult life. "And the woman’s there with her legs splayed wide, holding her labia open, and giving the sexy look to the camera. Everything is carefully composed. And I can just see her holding that shot going, ‘How much longer do I have to do this?’"
It’s not fine art, is what Hanson means. It’s not even good pornography, by her definition. "You need to have the picture that happened right after that picture--when her legs started to fall and she turned her head and was laughing at something the makeup artist said." That, Hanson says, has the potential to be good porn and good art.
It’s a thin blue line between the two that Hanson straddles as the "sexy book editor" at Taschen Books. She allows a slight smile when she announces her title. Hanson is a tall, attractive blonde enjoying her improbable mid 50s. Once she was a hippie with a thing for smut--Jan Brady with a dirty mind. She happily helmed such publications as Leg Show, Tight, and that perennial punch line, Juggs. Now she’s an ex-pornographer who makes art books from a crazy tugboat-shaped office on Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard. And it’s her straddling ability that lands those books on the world’s coffee tables rather than hidden at the bottom of the sock drawer.
In her previous editorial role at Leg Show, a porn mag dedicated to high heels, stockings, and that which fills them, Hanson often employed photographers who switch-hit between the art and flesh markets. Richard Kern, for instance, carried two cameras to photo shoots--one for porn shots, one for art shots. The real money shot arrives any time a model’s well-rehearsed game face cracks and "she shows actual pleasure, humor, vulnerability, even annoyance," Hanson says. Those shots "will haunt you and stick in your mind." Slightly different versions of the same pose might end up on a gallery wall or delivered wrapped in brown paper.
It’s Hanson’s mastery of this tension that has earned Taschen’s sex line its unique niche: decadent, impolite, funny, and somehow transgressive in a post-taboo age. Taschen--commonly considered the king of coffee-table books--also publishes deluxe hardcover lines on art, architecture, classics, design, film, photography, and pop culture. The books are lush, hefty, and beautifully designed--sexy, even. Some editions are themselves fetish objects. The "champ’s edition" of GOAT--as in, the "Greatest of All Time," about Muhammad Ali--is a limited, numbered press run of 1,000, each signed by Ali and artist Jeff Koons. Procuring one sets you back $12,500. Some coffee tables are nicer than others.
Benedikt Taschen, the 45-year-old playboy whose sophisticated, eccentric tastes guide the company, first approached Hanson in 1993 because he was a fan of Leg Show. Initially he was described to her as "young, very bored, decadent, and German," she says. She wasn’t interested in working for him, but she agreed to hear his pitch. "I took him to Lucky Chang’s, a restaurant in New York that’s staffed by Asian transsexuals," she remembers. Naturally.
But Taschen said little. He surprised her by requesting a move to a venue where he could smoke a cigar and drink some beer. On the patio of a Mexican joint he loosened up, and Hanson realized Taschen wasn’t aloof--"he was just shy."
Hanson refused his job offer. "I liked pornography, I wanted to do pornography," she says. But about three times a year Taschen would show up in town and woo her. "We’d get drunk, and he’d be so funny and playful," she says. "He’d say, ‘I think for the BEA this year’"--Book Expo America, the Sundance of English-language publishing--"‘we should make our booth like a peep show. We’ll make a door that comes up and we’ll have girls in there holding the books.’" He complained that porn films were awful and stupid, and he could make a great one. "You’re going to ruin your career," Hanson remembers telling him.
Taschen insisted that even hard-core material presented in the proper context would be taken as art. "I watched him grow, and I watched the company grow," Hanson says. "And I saw that everything he said was correct."
George Mavety, the publisher of Leg Show, Tight, and Juggs, died in 2000, and Hanson says his family brought in "some distasteful people" to run the company. Finally, the following year, it was time for her to call Taschen.
She confesses her initial discomfort editing for Taschen "because I knew that now it’s not porn," she says. "Now it’s art, and I have to pick the art pictures." Mere porn was easy: model makes sexy face, viewer gets erection, mission accomplished. But "the one where the model shows something of her personality, that’s the one that makes men go, ‘Ohhh, maybe I love her. No, I’m not just horny, now I’m in luuuuv,’" Hanson says, is more difficult. "And that becomes art."
She says it is not uncommon for readers to write directly to the models. "‘On page 43 I could see a look in your eyes that seemed to be speaking to my soul,’" Hanson says as an example.
Astonishment destroys what’s left of this interviewer’s own game face. "Oh yeah," Hanson says. "You think guys write dirty letters to men’s magazines? They fall in love. They’re not just physically aroused, they’re emotionally aroused. Yeah, you can’t separate your dick from your mind."
And is this what guys want from porn? "Men," Hanson declares in the even tone of a superior swordsman delivering the coup de grâce, "are not as good at separating good sex from love as women are."
What put Hanson, and her subscription numbers, ahead of other pornographers is that she took those smitten men at their word. "Guys want there to be women who feel about sex the way they feel about sex--who genuinely like sex," she says. These letters revealed their craving for an authentic, uncontrived sexual response. "They’re looking at her pussy, going, ‘Did they put something on there? I think I detected real moisture,’" she says. "Oh God. I’d read that stuff and then of course I’d fake it." Hanson provided her models with "stuff called Cetaphil that I use to wash my face. I noticed it looked just like semen."
The clinical details can obscure Hanson’s observation that the male gaze often wants to go deeper than skin. Once she came to Taschen, "it took time to loosen up to see the explicit pictures that had artistic credibility--though really my instinct was there all along," she says.
A photographer like Roy Stuart--the best seller in Taschen’s sex line--can reach both men and women. "He crosses the porn-blocking barrier that’s in most women’s brains," Hanson laughs. His cinematic style and naturalistic models look like stills from a date movie. Stuart’s women "are good-looking, but they’re realistic," she says. "You’ve got a lot of power-play in there that makes women feel good, feel strong." Women viewers, Hanson notes, tend to project themselves onto the models--they can look and say, "‘it’s pretty,’" she says. "‘She’s so nicely photographed. Look, she’s wearing regular panties.’"
Stuart’s 2004 The Fourth Body rose to No. 6 on the Amazon.com sales chart during July of that year. Hanson reports that Charlotte Fiell and Simone Philippi’s 2000 1000 Chairs, which depicts 1,000 stylish chairs, has moved the most units for Taschen, while photographer Helmut Newton’s 2000 limited-edition SUMO--at $6,500 retail--has pulled in the most money in sales. But that blurred line between porn and art keeps Taschen’s sex line out of the big book chains, so Taschen has opened flagship stores in Berlin, Cologne, Paris, New York, and Los Angeles--not unlike Apple Computer, the lifestyle retailer it most closely resembles.
As porn has grown more mainstream, and advertising has approached porn and art has ingested ads, Taschen has tapped into a new generation. Photographer Terry Richardson might be the anti-Roy Stuart. His aesthetic is postpunk sleaze, a more graphic mix of American Apparel and Vice magazine. As a frequent subject of his own work, he rocks a cheesy mustache and ill-advised tattoos. His self-referential blend of fashion and porn sells across lines of gender, sexual orientation, and, Hanson says, it sells "to people in their 20s, which isn’t usually the big target for art books." More so than Bill Ward, Eric Stanton, Tom of Finland, or other Taschen authors rescued from the obscurity of dirty men’s magazines, Richardson is about what’s cool right now. "That’s a book you want sitting out to define you to people coming into your house," Hanson says.
She is quick to clarify that "none of this was made because we sat here and crunched marketing numbers. We choose images that have strong impact, that are interestingly composed, and that are funny. It’s always important to have some humor in there."
And as a woman, Hanson is sensitive to the sensibilities of women--a point of agreement with Taschen himself. "It’s not a political stance," she says of her boss. "It’s that he likes to see women really, really, really enjoying sex. And that’s the main guideline I use." In short, Taschen’s sex line is about what turns Taschen on.
And his taste is a bellwether for the cultural drift. The "pornification of America," as Hanson puts it, has veered dangerously far from the old hippie naturism. "Anal bleaching is not just an urban myth," she says. "I’ve seen lots of assholes. I’ve worked 25 years making men’s magazines, and there just aren’t that many assholes that are absolutely monotone pale flesh." The improbably superheroic physiques of porn actors have "led people to scrutinize and criticize every part of their sexual anatomy."
And another thing: "Too much shaving," Hanson says. "Women used to feel like guys like pussy--if you let a guy look at pussy, it doesn’t matter what that pussy looks like, that guy is happy. Now it’s not just women, but the men are thinking the same thing, ‘Hmm, maybe I better get my pubic hair styled like Ron Jeremy,’ who’s shaved it down at the top of his cock to make it look bigger. We don’t need this kind of anxiety. People are having enough trouble hooking up for sex now. They’ve got enough disease fears. But now they’re going to have to worry about the beauty of their assholes?"
And so it comes back to aesthetics--the thing that relegates one set of dirty pictures to cheap skin mags and another set to posh coffee-table treatment. It’s an elusive distinction that drives other publishers, and some interviewers, crazy. "We’re art," Hanson says. "That’s really it. We’re art."
Which again begs the age-old question: What is art? "It has to be a picture you want to look at over and over," Hanson says. "Sometimes it’s an ironic take on pornography." Of course, "You can still masturbate to it," she says, "but you’re going to have images that you will want to remember. It’s timeless porn." And, finally, "I usually like to play at being humble, but it really does come down to people who have a good eye and are discriminating--and who like sex."
October 19, 2006—In compiling Taschen's titillating new coffee table book, The Big Book of Breasts, editor Dian Hanson pored over thousands of photographs of well-endowed women from the forties and fifties before settling upon a select few hundred. Here, we asked Hanson to turn her expert eye toward the present and name her favorite contemporary pairs.
Scarlett Johansson: "A fine pair of seemingly natural breasts of perfect shape. They're probably a large C or a small D, but they've got a youthful fullness and up-tilt."
Salma Hayek: "Probably a good D. Shapely, full, well-placed, and properly spaced."
Jessica Simpson: "She has a little more hang to her breast than some of these ladies, and that's attractive to people who like large breasts. Plus, she shows them off, and we've got to be proud of a girl who flaunts them."
Nigella Lawson: "A beautiful woman with an old-fashioned English figure. English women have been noted for decades for having superior breast development—I sometimes think it has to do with their dairy intake."
Rachel Dratch: "She has the biggest pair of undiscovered knockers on the American screen. Last night I was watching an old clip of her from Saturday Night Live when Ben Affleck was hosting, and when her head was turned, he would stare at her giant boobs. When men like really big breasts, they will look past other factors."