Spine Intact, Some Creases
by Victor J. Banis
reviewed by Mykola (Mick) Dementiuk
“Holding hands in the darkness at the movies could be an intensely erotic experience.”
I was maybe 15 or 16 years old and sneaking into various Times Square movie houses. Did it in through the back doors on 41st or 40th Streets, with someone leaving and me sneaking in; occasionally, I’d meet the brute of a man who simply refused to let me in and slammed the door after he left. But such a prim and proper disciplinarian was rare and I’d get in for free, most of times, with some hurrying-away movie viewer fading out of sight. I’d go in and watch a western or a war-entrenched movie and feel good afterwards. This was years before rampant sex tore through the area…And as I’d sit there, watching some battle with Japanese or Germans or some cowboys fleeing from the sheriff, I’d grow alert when someone sat down in a vacant seat next to mine. Mostly an older man, yet occasionally someone just a little older than I was; who was hoping and looking for some company…or so I thought.
These trysts never did go any further than mere holding hands and looking dreamily at each other, but after an hour or so I’d say, “Be right back…” and hurry off, pretending I was going to the bathroom or concession stand when really I was disappearing into the 42nd Street crowds. I think maybe it was four or five times that happened and I’d leave, still erect, and wander my way home where I masturbated for weeks on end with that cowardly memory…Why did I run? Why was I so horny and hot after?
I often thought of those anonymous faces over the years, those tricked, led-on, abandoned and forgotten so despicably and shamefully, when a single line in Victor Banis’ book brought it all back, “holding hands in the darkness at the movies could be an intensely erotic experience…”
How many times did I pass by the theaters in my later years and remember holding hands, feeling myself protected and cared for when all of a sudden that old fear came back to and I so stupidly faded off in to the crowds? Too many, too many…way too many…
Victor J. Banis, whose bibliography at the end of the book is amazing, –and boy, the wealth of material he has produced under various names and guises is truly remarkable–has produced such a book, a book of memories and lost times gone forever with just a flicker of remembrance. And gratefully Victor Banis has done it all and tells us just how he came to do these things while playing a truly rich and rewarding life experience.
Banis explores the “loneliest of all minorities,” –being gay in the straight world– in the 1950s and 1960s when such tumultuous change loomed on the horizon. Back in the 1920s and 30s he notes, one didn’t give much mind about one’s sex yet in the 40s one paid attention since everyone was horny and hungry for it. But by the 50s it was frowned upon and put down, with yellow journalist Walter Winchell calling “a vote for Adlai Stevenson is a vote for Christine Jorgenson” until it exploded in the 60s coming out all decorated in vibrant drag, so to speak, –in 1968 it erupted in a tirade of protest-full celebration that was to become Stonewall, never to be the same again.
Banis begins his biography by becoming a writer of gay stories that were published in Switzerland and then under various names in America. His fame, or ill-fame, grew until it exploded in a suit brought against him and his publisher by the US Post Office for obscene material, and this at a time when the government was after Henry Miller and Barney Rosset and others. The suit against Banis was gratefully dismissed, after they dragged it as long as they could and Banis, in need of a break from the stupidity that has always been a part of American history, got that break by traveling across Europe, and seeing and experiencing Sweden, Switzerland, Italy and Franco’s Spain.
Once back home, he did a book tour that took him across the country, meeting with Hugh Hefner and other stars in Beverly Hills, –Nina Foch, Elizabeth Montgomery, Natalie Wood, Linda Ronstadt amongst others. His neighbor at the time was Sal Mineo, who eventually was slain in a botched homosexual robbery.
But most of all was Banis’ writing; as did it each and every day for 365 days a year then just started all over the next year and did it all over again…as he’s still doing it. Among the many books he has written (under his name) The Why Not, Longhorns, Angel Land, Lola Dances among others, and under various nom de plumes a wealth of titles, for male and female readers alike.
As a writer he is truly amazing! Plus for other writers who are still undergoing the process of slow learning he recommends “On Becoming a Novelist” and “Art of Fiction” by John Gardner as required reading (I would add William Zinsser’s “On Writing Well” also, it helped me.)
But most of all, Banis advises, write to suit yourself, in this way you’ll be able to write what you want and sleep well at night…and the hell with what they have to say against you…
A well-worthy book, instructive and filled with memories of people, from Hollywood stars and starlets, to those who wrote for them like Victor Banis, writer extraordinaire…
Read it, ponder it, learn and write…write…write…