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Townsend (Larry) papers
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Table of contents What's This?
  • Arrangement
  • Biographical / Historical
  • Conditions Governing Access
  • Conditions Governing Use
  • Immediate Source of Acquisition
  • Preferred Citation
  • Processing Information
  • Scope and Contents
  • Related Materials

  • Contributing Institution: ONE Archives at the USC Libraries, University of Southern California
    Title: Larry Townsend papers
    Creator: Townsend, Larry
    Identifier/Call Number: Coll2022-002
    Physical Description: 30 Linear Feet 33 boxes.
    Date (inclusive): 1906-2009
    Abstract: Larry Townsend (1930-2008) was an American author, gay rights activist, and prominent member of the gay leather and BDSM communities. He is best known for his writings, both fiction and non-fiction, including The Leatherman's Handbook, Run, Little Leather Boy, Master of Masters, Tsar!, and many short stories and essays. The collection contains records, correspondence, publishing contracts, drafts and manuscripts, personal records, art, photography, leather gear and accessories, and ephemera.
    Language of Material: English.


    The collection is divided into five series:
    Series 1: Writing and Publications;
    Series 2: Personal Papers;
    Series 3: Subject Files;
    Series 4: Photographs and Negatives;
    Series 5: Textiles and Realia.

    Biographical / Historical

    Larry Townsend was an American author, gay rights activist, and prominent member of the gay leather and BDSM communities.
    Irving Townsend Bernhard, later Michael Lawrence Townsend, was born October 27, 1930 in the Boston area to a father of Swiss-German descent and a mother, Josephine, of Spanish origin. At age 14, Townsend moved with his parents and his younger sister Alta to the Los Angeles area, living a few houses away from Noel Coward and Irene Dunne. When he reached high school, his parents enrolled him in the Peddie School, a boarding school in New Jersey. After high school, Townsend joined the US Air Force working in Germany as a Staff Sergeant in charge of NCOIC Operations of Air Intelligence Squadrons from 1950 to 1954. Upon returning to LA after his tour of duty, Townsend attended UCLA to obtain a degree in industrial psychology.
    As a teenager, Townsend was inspired by the leather-clad styles of film rebels such as Marlon Brando and James Dean as well as the leather photography coming out of Kris Studio by Chuck Renslow and Etienne. While on assignment in Germany, Townsend discovered the sadomasochistic European literary classics. As a young adult at UCLA, Townsend began experimenting with kinky sex in a monogamous relationship with another man. While he continued to become more sexually involved with the leather and gay S/M community, he remained unable to engage socially with this scene during his time at UCLA and for a number of years thereafter. His professional life as a probation officer for juveniles with the Forestry Service, and later as an industrial psychologist with a top-secret security clearance, cautioned him from publicly frequenting gay leather bars. Instead he began to actively photograph and scrapbook each of his S/M dungeon partners, a practice that he kept for much of his life.
    By the end of the 1960s, Townsend had begun writing and publishing gay erotic fiction with Phenix Publishers and Greenleaf Classics, publisher of the gay erotic novel Song of the Loon by Richard Amory. In 1969, Townsend published The Gooser and Kiss of Leather; 1970 saw the release of Beware the God Who Smiles and Leather Ad; and in 1971 he wrote and published The Long Leather Cord. At a certain point Townsend and a small group of fellow gay erotic authors, including Amory, Dirk Vanden, Phil Andros (otherwise known as Sam Steward), Peter Tuesday Hughes, and Douglas Dean, became frustrated with Greenleaf's practices. They sought to found their own publishing company under the name of "The Renaissance Group, an all-gay company publishing all-gay materials for all-gay readers." Unfortunately, the group was never able to find financing for their operation and had to abandon the idea.
    Olympia Press, famous for publishing authors such as Henry Miller, William S. Burroughs, and the Story of O, caught wind of the plan and reached out to the group. Until Olympia's eventual bankruptcy, a fruitful relationship blossomed between Townsend and the publisher which resulted in the release of Run Little Leather Boy in 1970 and The Sexual Life of Sherlock Holmes in 1971. The relationship culminated in 1972 with Townsend's most famous work, The Leatherman's Handbook.
    According to Jack Fritscher, the founding editor of long-running gay S/M magazine Drummer and a lifelong friend of Townsend, The Leatherman's Handbook was the "first important nonfiction analysis of leatherfolk in the twentieth century." By the end of the 1970's, the Handbook went through two reprints, a German translation, and a partial French translation by Tierry Voelzel and philosopher Michel Foucault.
    Larry Townsend also spent much of his life actively campaigning for LGBTQ rights. In 1972, Townsend became the president of H.E.L.P., the Homophile Effort for Legal Protection, an organization founded in 1969 to defend members of the LGBTQ community both during and after arrests. In August of that same year Townsend was arrested during an LAPD raid of a H.E.L.P. fundraiser being held at the Black Pipe Tavern. Townsend soon after created the H.E.L.P. Newsletter, a forerunner to Drummer magazine.
    In 1974 Townsend served on the board of the Whitman Radclyffe Foundation, a non-profit which provided services to the LGBTQ community, particularly individuals dealing with drug abuse issues. In 1975 Townsend became the founder and president of the Hollywood Hills Democratic Club, and in 1984 he became an honorary member of the Gay Male S/M Activists (GMSMA).
    Although Townsend had declined an invitation to be co-founder of Drummer in 1975, he began writing a "Dear Larry"-style advice column for the magazine in 1980 called "Leather Notebook." Readers of Drummer wrote to Townsend asking him for advice on all manner of topics, ranging from sexual techniques to lifestyle and relationship queries to questions on the history of the leather community.
    In 1982 Townsend decided to write a sequel to The Leatherman's Handbook. Much had changed in both the LGBTQ community at large and the leather community specifically since the time of the Handbook's first publishing. The Leatherman's Handbook II not only included information about leather bars, but also sexual practices that had since become popular among gay BDSM communities, such as that of fisting. The Leatherman's Handbook II was reprinted twice, once in 1983 and once in 1989. In the 1989 edition, Townsend incorporated information on catheters, piercing play, and safer sex/HIV prevention.
    Throughout his life Townsend was a frequent panelist at safer-sex leather conferences and as a judge at Mr. Drummer contests. He would often give book readings and signings to a packed house at A Different Light bookstore in San Francisco and Los Angeles, often accompanied by a leashed Doberman Pinscher in one hand and a nearly naked leashed leather slave in the other.
    Shortly before his death, Townsend published his last novel, TimeMasters, through his own imprint and the first dedicated gay leather book publisher, L.T. Publications, which he founded in 1973 after Olympia Press declared bankruptcy. At the time of his death, Townsend was involved in a lawsuit claiming that a distributor, Nazca Plains Corporation, and number of bookstores had infringed upon his copyright by reprinting his books without permission and without paying royalties. The last week of his conscious life, he removed the LGBTQ bookstores from the lawsuit, realizing that they were not at fault.
    In 2002 Townsend was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Pantheon of Leather. Larry Townsend passed away from complications from pneumonia on July 29, 2008 at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles. He was preceded in death by his partner of 43 years, Fred Yerkes. In 2016, Townsend was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.
    References: The Bay Area Reporter: https://www.ebar.com/obituaries///247864
    "Leather Dolce Vita, Pop Culture, and the Prime of Mr. Larry Townsend" by Jack Fritscher: https://jackfritscher.com/PDF/Drummer/Vol%201/18_LtrHandbk_Mar2008_PWeb.pdf
    "Leather Hall of Fame" Larry Townsend biography by Rostom Mesli: https://leatherhalloffame.com/images/2016-booklet/index.html
    The Leather Journal: https://www.theleatherjournal.com/news/leather-hall-of-fame-inductees-for-2016-announced & https://www.theleatherjournal.com/component/k2/item/61-pantheon-of-leather-awards-all-time-recipients
    "Spill a Drop for Lost Brothers…" by Jack Fritscher: https://www.jackfritscher.com/PDF/SaintsSinners/TownsendLarry-WEB.pdf
    "Who Lit Up the 'Lit' of the Golden Age of Drummer" by Jack Fritscher: https://jackfritscher.com/PDF/Drummer/Vol%201/11_Intro%20Townsend_Mar2008_PWeb.pdf

    Conditions Governing Access

    The collection is open to researchers. There are no access restrictions.

    Conditions Governing Use

    All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the ONE Archivist. Permission for publication is given on behalf of ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives at USC Libraries as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

    Immediate Source of Acquisition

    The Larry Townsend Papers were originally included in the donation of the Center for Sex and Culture Collection, gift of Dorian Katz, 2017 and 2019.

    Preferred Citation

    [Box/folder #, or item name] Larry Townsend Papers, Coll2022-002, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.

    Processing Information

    Processing this collection has been funded by a generous grant from the California State Library. Collection processed by Beth McDonald and Alex Smith, 2022.

    Scope and Contents

    The collection (1906-2009) is comprised of materials related to Larry Townsend's work as an author and advocate for BDSM and leather lifestyles, as well as his personal life. It includes records, correspondence, publishing contracts, drafts and manuscripts, personal records, art, photography, leather gear and accessories, and ephemera.

    Related Materials

    Center for Sex and Culture Collection, Coll2022-001, ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives, USC Libraries, University of Southern California.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    BDSM (Sexual behavior)
    Bondage (Sexual behavior)
    Gay activists -- California -- Los Angeles
    Gay and lesbian writers
    Leather lifestyle