“CIRCUS OF BOOKS”— A Gay Porn Shop in History


A Gay Porn Shop in History

Amos Lassen

In 1976, Karen and Barry Mason were looking for a way to support their young family when they answered an ad in the Los Angeles Times and learned that Larry Flynt was seeking distributors for Hustler Magazine. What was expected to be a brief stay led to their becoming fully immersed in the LGBT community as they took over a local store, Circus of Books. Ten years later, they had become the biggest distributors of gay porn in this country. This documentary focuses on the double life they led as they tried to maintain the balance of being parents at a time when LGBT culture was not yet accepted. There were many challenges included facing jail time for a federal obscenity prosecution and enabling their store to be a place of refuge at the height of the AIDS crisis. This is quite a look at an untold chapter of queer history, and it is told by Rachel Mason, an artist, filmmaker and musician. She also happens to the owner’s daughter.

Karen and Benny Mason had a medical device company that went under and they needed to find work. What they found were temporary jobs distributing explicit magazines for publisher Larry Flynt. This eventually grew into a mini adult empire, including a retail shop on West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard for decades—and later, a hardcore film production company. Director Rachel Mason turns her camera on her family as she and the film explore the contradictions of growing up in an unconventional household where her mom could be found volunteering at her synagogue or re-stocking issues of “Hand Job Magazine:. Sex was never discussed at home, but it was films such as “A Rim with a View” and “Shaving Ryan’s Privates” that helped put the Mason’s kids through college. “Circus Of Books” chronicles the Masons and their uncommon journey which included obscenity charges during the Reagan era, bearing witness to the AIDS epidemic, and facing financial struggles given their aging customer base.

Circus of Books was part of West Hollywood’s gay cruising mecca before the internet and it is the story of the adult bookstore on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla. Karen and Barry Mason, its owners for more than 30 years, announced that they would be closing it soon.

The store is in the heart of what was once West Hollywood’s “Vaseline Alley,” a parking lot and alley where gay men cruised for sex. People would meet each other there and  when Circus of Books opened, it was a special place for people who were gay and were trying to come out or feel comfortable.

Over the years, the store has been patronized by famous folks like Elton John, Drew Carey and David Hockney as well as by countless gay men  who saw the shop as a meeting place and an important piece of the fabric of life in West Hollywood, L.A.’s foremost LGBT district.” says a promotion of the campaign. But as we all know too well, bookstores and DVD rental shops have long been slowly fading. Now that the majority of porn is available on the Internet for free, the Masons’ business has taken a severe hit.

The store’s best years are well behind them. The film includes interviews with many of the Masons’ employees and colleagues in the porn industry as well as their closest friends and family members.

The Masons closed their Silver Lake Circus of Books store in August of last year. The West Hollywood location of closed on February 9, 2019. The film is a tribute “to the already-very-missed bookstore”.

Leave a Reply