In what was doubtless the long hard winter of 1955-1956, Mr. Earl Stout of Central, Alaska (per Wikipedia, then a town with a declining population of perhaps 35 people) received five or more air mail deliveries of 8mm films. Roughly fifty years after he received them, some of his 8mm film deliveries turned up at an estate sale in Fairbanks, where I bought them for small money:

nudie loops 8mm film collection

Earl Stout is known to local history; according to the “Central Chatter” column in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner of December 9, 1959, he was then “a long-time grader man” for the Bureau Of Public Roads, retiring from winter road-clearing duty to be replaced by one Tom Kennedy. This would mean Earl was nearing retirement (at least from heavy road-grader operations) at the time he ordered the films.

November 15 1955 mail order 8mm porn loops from Movie Club Guild

To be precise about what was in Earl’s collection as it came to me, the boxes are sized to hold four films per box, but one film is either missing or was never included; there are 19 films in total. As you can see, one mailing box is so “plain brown wrapper” that it has neither return address nor even (by accident or design) legible postmark; the others are from the “Movie Club Guild” (about which more later) of Burbank, California. The unevenly hand-stamped “titles” on the internal film reel boxes constititute the totality of the labeling that exists anywhere in the collection.

December 15 1955 order of 8mm porno films from Movie Club Guild

At the time I first bought these, it was clear they were porn, but much more than that was hard to determine. Then and now, I didn’t (and don’t) have any 8mm-viewing tech. I’m old enough to remember when household 8mm projectors for watching “home movies” were common, but that was a long time ago. I’ve seen projectors and even table-top illuminated viewers (for simple cut-and-splice editing) at garage sales quite recently, but not for prices I wanted to pay. A scanner doesn’t really work either (something about reflected light) although it’s enough to confirm in the roughest sort of way what’s on the film:

three frames from bull 8mm nudie loop

Back in the early aughts when I bought these, I was quite flush with porn-selling money. I didn’t care about technical details, or (back then) much about curation; I just wanted to get them digitized and sling them up onto the internet for everybody to watch. Trouble was, back then there were no nifty $300 units on Amazon to do the work; you had to send them out to a bureau (who might easily reject porn work, with or without returning your films) or buy thousands of dollars worth of equipment. So I left the films in the care of a buddy of mine, a porn collector and film hobbyist who (a) already possessed much of the necessary equipment; and (b) was willing to do the work, or at least begin it. Of course, I also had to give him a wad of cash to buy the remainder of the necessary equipment, but I figured it would be worth it.

February 07 1956 shipment of dirty movies from movie club guild

Let’s just say: that didn’t work out. I’ll not say a harsh word against him; we’re still friends. He had some setbacks in life, which happens, and some heavy burdens to carry. The money got spent, the films didn’t get digitized, and he endured a lot of genuine shit that made my 8mm nudie loops fall off his list of actual problems. And thus, as they say in all the old stories, for many years the films were lost — not the “we’ll never find them” kind of lost, but rather the “I know they’re somewhere in that room and should turn up eventually” kind.

February 1957 box of 8mm dirty movies from movie club guild

My friend was not wrong, either, about what kind of lost they were. Turn up, the films eventually did. And when they did turn up, my friend dutifully dropped them in the mail to me, for which I’m grateful.

April 1957 mailing of 8mm porn films

What’s actually on the films? Well, that’s an interesting question. I’ll have to get a viewer and find out. Honestly, I don’t expect hard-core porn. These were sold through the mail “on the tease” without much description, and there isn’t much cultural record of a big fan club for them. Most likely, they are fairly tame striptease “nudie” stuff. If they were very awesome at all, you’d expect there would be an avid bunch of collectors swapping copies and reviews, and the internet doesn’t reflect much sign of that. Nope, the business model of the Movie Club Guild was to send these films “on approval” (that means free, sort of; they would come in the mail automatically on a regular schedule, and you could avoid paying if you sent them back promptly enough, or pay the bill that came with them if you wanted to receive the next shipment on schedule.) There’s not much indication that the Movie Club Guild ever advertised their titles publicly, or had much of a catalog; instead they used magazine ads with various come-ons. Here’s one from Man’s Adventure in 1957, the closest-in-time Movie Club Guild advertisement I can find to when my films were shipped:

Movie Club Guild 1957 ad in Man's Adventure

I don’t believe the ad’s bullshit claims for one second about the contents of the films:

Secret Producers Selection!

First time offered! The startling and dynamic party films formerly seen only by Hollywood’s inner circle of sophisticated producers! Privately staged — feature beautiful showgirls and starlets demonstrating their their special talents when on the way up. A most unusual find for the collector of the bizarre!

Here are more ads from a few years later, by which time the claims had gotten much more dull and generic, although I’m sure the film loops were no different:

scan dolls magazine ad for movie club guild

1960 movie club guild advert

In any case, by 1961 the game was all over. The U.S. Postal Service shut down the Movie Club Guild for “depositing or causing to be deposited in the mails information as to where, how, or from whom obscene, lewd, lascivious, indecent, filthy or vile material may be obtained.” Remarkably, the postal authorities seem to have reached this conclusion based on the tame magazine advertisements alone, without ever actually viewing any of the actual Movie Club Guild films.

Meanwhile, back in small-town 1950s Alaska, imagine for a moment what the sociology of all this may have been like. The town is so small that the postmaster knows what everybody gets in the mail, just by looking at the outside of the packages. And there probably isn’t central grid electricity. What kind of chutzpah does it take to fire up your noisy private generator to watch porn movies, when everybody in town will hear the noise and have a conversation about whether you’re running your electric shaver or watching your pornos again?

Close examination of the Movie Club Guild ads, though, makes it clear that the company offered a free viewer that was very low-tech — probably a plastic (?) reel-to-reel device powered by ambient light, hand cranked and not much different from a child’s Viewmaster toy. No generator (necessarily) required! It’s true that the one film I’ve taken out of its box so far does show one of those distinctive “hot bulb” damage blisters that you would always get when a film would jam in a projector, but that could have happened much later in the film’s existence.

Bottom line: these films were mailed on approval, without having to be carefully described or advertised in any particular detail; they were cheap, and there was no branding or star power or box art or labeling or marketing of any kind at the per-film level. And, seventy years later, there’s no internet fan club or collecting community, even though these things ought to be the 8mm-porn equivalent of Book Club editions of paper books: the most numerous type of this sort of thing available to collectors, given that they were basically broadcast by mail like fish spawn to anybody who could muster a pencil and a stamp. My expectations, therefore, are not high.

But still: nineteen nudie films that maybe don’t exist on the internet. No matter how tame or lame, to me this is like a red flag in front of a bull. You know what I am going to do; the only question is how long it’s going to take me. I just need to scrape up the cash and time from all my other projects and obligations.

Eventually, I will want to:

  1. Round up a simple viewer and inventory the 19 films by whatever title and credit frames may exist on them, the existence of at least some of which is visible to the naked eye;
  2. Research the films to whatever extent possible to make sure I am not wasting effort on digitizing films that may already be digitally available;
  3. Obtain a decent device for digitizing 8mm movies;
  4. Digitize them;
  5. Share highlights here and with my Patreon patrons as appropriate;
  6. Find a secure long-term home for the digitized movies (probably the Internet Archive)

None of this is going to happen quickly; I’ve learned that digital curation projects like this take enormous amounts of time, and there will be hardware costs as well on this one. I’m staking out an ambition here, not a schedule. But I’ll do what I can in the time that I can find, with the money that I’ve got. As always, if you’re really enthusiastic about me making this or any other ErosBlog work a higher priority, an ErosBlog Patreon pledge is the way to encourage that!

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