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The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade

by Justin Spring

Pub Date: Aug. 24th, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-374-28134-2
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Provocative biography of a little-known university professor turned sex researcher and pornographer.

Art historian and curator Spring (Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude, 2002, etc.) discovered Samuel Steward’s life (1909–1993) while researching gay pulp novels and was astonished that, unlike more closeted contemporaries in Steward’s generation, his subject boasted an “extraordinary openness about his sexuality.” The author was given exclusive access to an attic in San Francisco stuffed with a “vast and bewildering collection” of Steward’s personal belongings. Raised conservative Methodist in a boardinghouse run by three spinster relatives, Steward was taught that sex was an abhorrent sin, which only fueled his erotic exploration with other men, including a clandestine dalliance with Rudolph Valentino. Though he sported a racy look and engaged in frequent sexual freewheeling, Steward excelled in school and went on to become an English instructor at Carroll College, a small Montana Catholic institution where he enjoyed years of fruitful correspondence with Gertrude Stein. However, Steward was curtly dismissed from his employ after school officials deemed his novel Angels on the Bough “obscene.” Through his engagement with Stein, he met and seduced a deeply closeted Thornton Wilder and furtively collaborated with Alfred Kinsey in the late ’40s. He eschewed academia to pursue tattooing and pen erotic novels loosely based on his “Stud File,” a “whimsically annotated and cross-referenced 746-card catalog in which Steward documented his sex life in its entirety from the years 1924 through 1974.” Under the pseudonym Phil Andros, Steward channeled his unquenchable thirst for rough trade, sailors and hustlers into a wildly uninhibited gay-fiction series. Generous excerpts from Steward’s journals and unpublished memoirs fortify an already comprehensive examination of a life lived with unabashed independence and homoerotic expression during the sexual rebellion of the pre-Stonewall era.

A vivid, candid portrait.