On Stage at Show World – The Photographs of Vivienne Maricevic

On Stage at Show World – The Photographs of Vivienne Maricevic

Show World is the last of the old Times Square porn palaces.

It was, in the words of one anti-porn city official, the “flagship of the sex industry of New York.” It was a 22,000-square-foot den that originally opened in 1975, built at a cost of $400,000. In its heyday, nearly 100 women worked a rotating peep show on the second floor each day. It featured couples simulating copulation onstage… until they dropped the ‘simulation’ part. It featured triple-X fare to sate every desire. And in addition to hundreds of unknown people, many adult film stars often performed there.

Last year we featured an article by Guy Gonzalez about working in Times Square sex parlors (‘Hot Thrills and Cold Chills: Working on 42nd Street in the 1980s‘), and a selection of photographs taken by photographer Vivienne Maricevic showing a number of adult film performers who worked in the area (‘Vivienne Maricevic: Times Square 1980s – Sex, Porn & Burlesk‘).

But what was it like to witness a performance at Show World itself?

The Rialto Report recently came across a series of previously unpublished photographs taken by Vivienne in the early to mid 1980s. Vivienne was in a unique position. She was the only professional photographer who was allowed free rein to take pictures of the shows there. Her remarkable photographs show first-hand the gritty, raw, and sometimes playful nature of the sex shows.

We’re deeply grateful to Vivienne for allowing us to showcase a selection of her photographs here. To learn more about her work, visit her website.
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Richard Basciano and Show World

The brain behind Show World, Richard Carmello Basciano, was born in Baltimore to Margaret and Nicholas Basciano on July 16, 1925. His father was a professional boxer, and Richie soon developed a passion for the noble art too. Later he would keep a full-size boxing ring in his penthouse over the Show World premises.

After graduating from high school and serving in the Navy during World War II, Richie started selling sex magazines and buying real estate in New York. In the early 1960s, he became partners with Robert DiBernardo. DiBernardo, or ‘DiB’ (pronounced Dee-Bee), was twelve years younger than Richie, but already a member of the Gambino crime family and one of John Gotti‘s subordinates. He was reputed to control much of commercial pornography in the U.S.

In the early 1970s, Richie bought a succession of properties in the Times Square area, and started a series of adult book stores and sex clubs. He wasn’t alone – by the time he opened Show World in the mid-1970s, there were nearly 150 sex shops in the neighborhood.

But Show World was a different beast than other run-of-the-mill porno locations. It was a sleek, 22,000-square-foot pornographic playground, designed to be the flagship enterprise of Richie’s empire. It was an immediate success.

Show World

It was an era of frequent police busts, and Show World’s high profile meant that it was often picked on by city authorities eager for some positive publicity. With the assistance and protection of DiB, Richie rarely got into trouble. His only ever criminal record was a no-contest plea in 1968 to federal fraud charges stemming from a coupon scheme when he worked for a Baltimore newspaper.

Part of the reason that he was able to keep his nose clean was that, unlike peers such as Marty Hodas, Richie always shunned the limelight. He had no desire to become a lightening rod for local politicians or the cops, and so led a secretive life away from the glare of publicity. The Rialto Report attempted to interview him numerous times, contacting him directly and through intermediaries, but without success.

Most Show World workers rarely saw him either. Richie hired a coterie of heavies who insulated him from contact with the outside world. The writer Josh Alan Friedman remembers, “He employed boxers from his ultra-private gym, which occupied a floor of the building, to serve as quarter cashiers. They were tough ghetto guys and functioned as Basciano’s army. They were very good at throwing out anyone who misbehaved. Pimps came in to recruit girls and they got bounced violently.”

Show World succeeded in part because of its ability to change with the times. At first, patrons watched girls gyrating in the nude for 25 cents. When time — fractions of a minute per quarter — elapsed, metal shutters dropped, blocking the view until more coins were inserted. Simultaneously, a light outside the booth signaled the moonlighting boxers. “They pounded on the door and shouted, ‘Get your tokens in,’ ” Friedman recalls, adding that non-refundable octagonal gold tokens, depicting a naked dancer with floating musical notes, replaced quarters to deter patrons from busting into coin boxes. “Disco music blasted, aisles were crowded with shamed men . . . The place was more about high anxiety than sex.”

Show World

Besides the token system, other Show World innovations included high-tech rigging for the movie booths, which showed seconds of triple-X footage for 25 cents. Thus, porn videos replaced 8-millimeter loops, offering 10 different titles per booth.

Business truly boomed when Basciano removed peep-show windows around 1978, allowing dancers to reach in, touch patrons and be touched in turn. Aggressive women made hundreds per shift. “Anything that you can imagine being done through a porthole for a $1 tip was done,” says Friedman. “All kinds of body parts went through those portholes.”

The growing success of Show World wasn’t without trouble – especially when local elections were taking place. In 1977 Mayor Abe Beame, facing a difficult re-election campaign, targeted the clean-up of Times Square – and Show World in particular – by personally leading a raid to close down the sex emporium.

Show World

As reported in the newspaper: “About 100 Show World patrons who paid $5 each to watch on-stage sex acts were rousted by the raiding party. Some seedy, some well-dressed, they came blinking into bright sunshine. Some covered their faces, but others offered wide smiles to the sidewalk audience.”

The raids were largely just for show. Basciano and his management team would quietly go to court to obtain permission to re-open pending a hearing, and would usually be back in business within 24 hours.

It was rare that anyone associated with Show World would kick up a fuss at being targeted by publicity-seeking politicians. But one person who refused to accept the harassment was sex-show impresario, Rod Swenson. Swenson, who went on to be manager and partner of The Plasmatics‘ Wendy O. Williams, was responsible for the live shows in Show World. He sued the city for $3 million, alleging ‘Gestapo tactics’ and stating that the mayor’s actions were “true obscenity in its rawest form.”

Show World

The raids of 1977 did nothing to dent the progress of Show World. On the contrary, the establishment went through a major and expensive upgrade that year.

But it wasn’t only the city officials that found places like Show World reprehensible. In the late 1970s, the newly formed Women Against Pornography (WAP), a radical feminist activist group based out of New York, started tours of the area to raise consciousness about the effects of pornography on society’s view of women.

Show World

Group organizer, Barbara Mehrhof, stated: “Pornography is pathologically destructive to women’s self-image and endangers our welfare in real-life.”

As reported in a newspaper at the time: “Armed with maps, quarters for peep show movies and a wealth of curiosity, bands of women of all ages and backgrounds gather at the group’s Times Square storefront and proceed toward the blinking signs offering “Girls! Girls! Girls!” and “Topless and Bottomless”.

True to Show World’s publicity-shy business model, they were turned away from the entrance of the building: “No women allowed without escorts,” said the guard.

Show World

 

But perhaps Show World’s most consistent foe was a mild-mannered man from Poughkeepsie, NY. Robert G. Rappleyea was the pastor emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church of the Holy Cross on 42d Street near Eighth Avenue in Manhattan. He was also a fiercely outspoken critic of the sexually oriented businesses that multiplied in the Times Square area during the 1970s.

His primary target was Show World, which he described as “a supermarket pornographic shop.” He contended that the sex industry brought a high increase in mugging, assault, and drugs. The NYPD agreed, and named their most valued police horse, ‘Rapp’, in his honor.

Show World

In 1982, Show World was again in the news. The Wall Street Journal reported that the source of the funds for the 1977 upgrade had been a loan from the federal government – meaning that as the mayor had been trying to close Richie’s sex business down, it had been undergoing a major expansion thanks to government assistance.

Understandably, the New York authorities were outraged, and demanded that the loan be canceled and all the money repaid. They were too late: Show World had been so successful that it had already repaid its loan well ahead of schedule.

Show World

Porn stars had started appearing at Show World more frequently, and were a major and lucrative draw. Fan favorites like Marilyn Chambers, Kandi Barbour, Sue Nero, Sharon Mitchell, Nina Hartley and others could be seen in dancing shows – and some of them went further, engaging in more direct and physical contact with the audience.

Nina HartleyNina Hartley at Show World

 

Meanwhile Richie ran his business like a corporate CEO. “His operations are cookie-cutter clean; they are the McDonald’s of the whole sex industry,” William H. Daly, director of the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Enforcement, was quoted as saying.

The mid 1980s, however, brought more serious challenges.

First there was AIDS, which had a chilling effect. “There were fewer girls there, gay people were dying left and right, everyone was scared,” Friedman says. “Show World may not have been happy-happy in its prime, but it was exciting and dirty and horny and crowded.” In the midst of AIDS, that was no longer true.

Then there was the crack epidemic. Sex show performer Tim Connelly remembers: “Suddenly things got skeevier. Customers looked scarier than they used to. If a girl walked out to get coffee, there was always a decent chance she was not coming back. Half of them were drug addicts.”

Compounding the problems, porn enterprises around Times Square started getting shut down by authorities – and this time, they were being shut down for good. Plain-clothes cops became increasingly common and so did arrests.

Show World

 

Show World was no longer able to rely upon the support of Robert ‘DiB’ DiBernardo either. In 1986, after phoning his family on Long Island, DiB left work in his Mercedes and was never seen again. His fate was revealed in 1992 at an organized-crime trial: He had been killed by Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano for crossing mob boss John Gotti.

The 1990s brought new restrictions — via zoning laws and the 40/60 rule, which forced sex-shop owners to maintain 60 percent non-sexual stock — that ate into profits. In 1998, New York City officials ordered that no sex-oriented business could be located within 500 feet of a church, a school or a residence, defining such a business as one whose sales are at least 40 percent sex-oriented.

As a result, by 1998, the ‘live nude girls’ at Show World were gone. Most of the Show World space once reserved for pornography and sex had morphed into, among other things, a comedy club called the Laugh Factory and a haunted house called Times Scare.

Show World

Show World shrank to a tamed-down, fractional footprint of what it had been: crossword-puzzle books were for sale in the basement. And yet Richie hung on as property values continued to rise, reaping a windfall estimated at $14 million when his Times Square properties were condemned for new office buildings and refurbished entertainment venues.

In 2016, Richie finally declared to Crain’s New York Business, “Show World is going to close. This real estate is very valuable.”

Richard BascianoRichie Basciano

 

Richard Basciano died on May 1, 2017. He was 91. His last years had been his most difficult, but ironically, his troubles had nothing to do with his porn empire.

He had previously bought the Forum, Philadelphia’s oldest pornographic theater situated at 2136 Market Street, which he was redeveloping. In 2013, an unbraced brick wall of the building collapsed on a one-story Salvation Army thrift store, killing seven people and injuring 12. In January 2017, he was among those found to be liable for the disaster. He was ordered to pay $27 million of the $227 million settlement, the largest personal-injury award in Pennsylvania court history.

“His concern about the accident and those killed and seriously injured weighed upon him very much, and no doubt took a toll on his health,” Mr. Sprague, his lawyer, said.

Richard Basciano

His sudden death left people wondering about the fate of Show World. It is unclear who inherited the property. Basciano leaves behind his wife, Lois, and three daughters, all from a previous marriage, but no will was made public.

Show World, which operates out of two 12-story buildings at the northwest corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, is worth millions for the land alone.

Show World

 

Show World

 

Whatever the future has in store for Show World, it was instrumental in establishing the star power of adult film performers. And Vivienne Maricevic was privileged to record the phenomenon with her photographs.

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Adult Film Performers at Show World:

Mai Lin

Main Lin

 

Mai Lin, Show World

 

Mai Lin, Show World

 

Sue Nero

Sue Nero, Show World

 

Sue Nero, Show World

 

Sue Nero, Show World

 

Sue Nero, Show World

 

Annie Sprinkle

(Our podcast interview with Annie can be found here.)

Annie Sprinkle, Show World

 

Annie Sprinkle, Show World

Baby Doe

Baby Doe, Show World

 

Baby Doe, Show World

 

Baby Doe, Show World

 

 

Kandi Barbour

Kandi Barbout, Show World

 

Kandi Barbour, Show World

 

Show World

 

Kandi Barbour, Show World

 

Kandi Barbour, Show World

 

Kandi Barbour, Show World

 

Kandi Barbour, Show World

 

Samantha Fox

Samantha Fox, Show World

 

Raven De La Croix

Raven De La Croix, Show World

 

Tish Ambrose

Tish Ambrose, Show World

 

Tish Ambrose, Show World

 

Suzaye London

Suzaye London, Show World

 

Sharon Mitchell

(Our podcast interview with Mitch can be found here.)

Sharon Mitchell, Show World

 

Sharon Mitchell, Show World

 

Sharon Mitchell, Show World

 

Tiffany Clark (and Jose’ Duval)

(Our podcast interview with Tiffany can be found here.)

Tiffany Clark, Show World

 

Tiffany Clark, Show World

 

Unknown Dancers

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

Unknown Live Sex Performers

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

Show World

 

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41 Comments

  1. Sam · December 10, 2017

    WOWOWOWOWOWOWOW…. The inside of Times Square like never been seen before, warts and all!!!!

    AMAZING PICTURES. THANK YOU FOR THIS!!

  2. 42P · December 10, 2017

    Excellent article and powerful images. An unexpected view of a previously secret and taboo location that I feared was lost for ever. Thanks to Ms. Maricevic and her remarkable work (and of course the RR…), Show World lives on. Remarkable.

  3. anon · December 10, 2017

    kandi b looks wasted in these pictures. so sad to see such a beautiful girl look so lost.

    • Bill R · December 10, 2017

      Unfortunately, Kandi died a few years ago. She struggled a lot towards the end of her life and ended up homeless, living on the streets of San Francisco.

      I met her in Toronto where she was feature dancing at the Brass Rail club on Yonge Street. She’s was really nice, but was drunk, as you could smell it. I suspect she struggled with substance abuse for most of her short life.

  4. Sue Nero Forever · December 10, 2017

    Anything with Sue Nero gets my thumbs up. She is an amazing performer. I saw her several times at the melody and at show world, and she was volcanic.

    So why no interview podcast with the lady herself?????

    Thanks for the peice though.

  5. Steven Otero · December 10, 2017

    Attention HBO The Rialto Report is where its at .

  6. Carter Stevens · December 10, 2017

    It was wonderful to see so many old friends again. Many beautiful women but of course the stand out star was Baby Doe. (of course I might not be impartial since I married the lady) But it was great seeing them all again

  7. Chris Gari · December 10, 2017

    Raven Medusa aka Carol Oxenrider
    Any body know where she is I’m trying to find her
    Chris Gari

  8. Ed · December 10, 2017

    Let’s SEE and hear more from Sue Nero !!!!

    Also, the Legendary CANDY SAMPLES did a few appearances at Show World Center ! Quite a place it was…

  9. Ed · December 10, 2017

    I second that request !

  10. Corey · December 10, 2017

    I well remember the fear I felt the first time I visited Show World as a horny school-cutting teen. Noisy and overwhelming. Eventually relaxed and enjoyed the box lunches served daily…Thanks for the facts and the photos.

  11. annie sprinkle · December 10, 2017

    A really great walk down mammary lane! Great work Rialto Report and Vivienne. That shot of Nina is probably my favorite shot I’ve ever seen taken at Show World. So colorful and well composed. And great subjects.

    • Mark · December 15, 2017

      One of my few Show World regrets is that I missed the opportunity to see you live on stage. Years later, I saw one of your performance art pieces. I enjoyed the performance, but the setting wasn’t conducive to forms of audience participation I enjoyed at Show World.

  12. King Paul Fan · December 10, 2017

    When I see those old pictures it always reminds of the movie Taxi Driver. If they did a remake of that movie today they would have to recreate that seedy section on movie sets since the real place no longer exists.

    When looking at the wonderful woman in the photos I noticed that three, Mai Lin, Sue Nero and the amazing Tiffany Clark all appeared in Diamond Collection loops with King Paul. Paul was always second fiddle to the more popular Johnny Keyes but was one of the first black porn stars. He would probably be close to 80 now if he is still around?

  13. Roy Karch · December 10, 2017

    Always special w/ deep focus….now,
    speak to Sheila Nevins…(HBO/ Showtime) say hello from me. Merry Merry
    jingle bells to all.
    Roy.

  14. Tom Peak · December 10, 2017

    Epic.. Epic… Epic…. My old stomping grounds.. A weekly journey… A different Adult Feature every week.. Those were the days.. The stories of lust… Behind The Show World Doors.. Kudos to The Rialto Report!

  15. J. Walter Puppybreath · December 10, 2017

    I’d swear I could smell the Pine-Sol while scrolling through.
    Incredible!

  16. JCA · December 10, 2017

    Raven de la Croix. Wow, what a lady. I bet there would be a great interview!

  17. Mark · December 10, 2017

    Great story and even better photos. I used to go there about once a week, and Susaye London was one of my favorites.

  18. Tony · December 11, 2017

    wow what memories! It was the place to meet Porn Stars up close and personal. I remember Annette Haven, Tiffany Clark, Leslie Bovee ( who sat on my lap and gave me a kiss – still remember the taste her peach flavored lipstick),
    Cheri Taylor and so many others. Tasha Voux was a house dancer for a while. And the bouncers were scary.

  19. Theo · December 11, 2017

    Intriguing look at the past! I still have a bunch of Show World tokens (as well as others from the block…).

    Was in Bangkok this year. The closest to old school 42nd St I’ve experienced. Thailand in general, actually…wonderful experience…

  20. Sammy · December 11, 2017

    Thank you Vivienne!!! Great pictures!!! What an experience this must have been for you.

    How did you manage to win the confidence of the dancers to allow you to take the photos?!

    Well done!!!

  21. Josh Smith · December 11, 2017

    Vivienne’s work is superlative.

    I urge people to seek out her books – which are impressive and enjoyable works.

  22. Vivienne · December 11, 2017

    Thanks so much for all the wonderful, super compliments on my photographs from Show World. Very appreciative reading all the comments. Looking forward to sharing more, since I am seeking a publisher for the photographs that I took in all the sex clubs during the ’80’s – “Times Square 1980’s (Sex, Porn & Burlesk)”.

    • J. Walter Puppybreath · December 13, 2017

      There aren’t words (from me, anyhow) to describe how evocative (in a good way!) your work is.
      You captured a time that most people don’t have a clue about.
      The NYC scene, in those days, is foreign to me, but images from that period are so..rich, that I can’t get enough.

    • whambo · December 13, 2017

      Vivienne, see if TASCHEN will do it. I’d pay good money to see that.

      • Mike C · December 17, 2017

        Yes TASCHEN would certainly be interested. They did a magnificent book about Vanessa Del Rio and have covered the adult scene a lot.

  23. A. Frye · December 11, 2017

    Sue Nero is one of the greats, and I will never forget her.

  24. J. Alfred Prufrock · December 12, 2017

    Those vintage babes are the best! Really adding to my porn lexicon thanks to R.R.
    Not being one of those history began with my birth people, I love learning about these pioneers of porn.
    We wouldn’t have had the golden age of 80s porn without them.
    Hopefully there will be more from Vivienne!

    Danke Schon
    Merci Beaucoup
    Spasiba
    Muchas Gracias
    Grazi
    Thank You

  25. Annette Heinz · December 12, 2017

    You take me back to a bevy of stars that shall never be imitated. Thanks for the pics of my beauties!

  26. Gordon · December 13, 2017

    This article was GREAT. As a patron from long past, I would love to see pics of the booth babes and girls who worked the one on one booths and the peep stages. Please, please do an article on them with pics.

  27. King Midas In Reverse · December 16, 2017

    The research and writing are amazing.

    While I did not frequent Show World much back in the day (too big and loud for my taste), I did see Sue Nero perform alot at the old Harmony Burlesque on Church Street in lower Manhattan. Now that was an AWESOME place. Any plans for a future story about the Harmony? (I offer to contribute).

    Have a happy and healthy holiday /New Years and thanks for the great work!

  28. Frank Talan · December 17, 2017

    Does anyone have any info on Clea Carson?
    Whatever became of her, what’s her story?
    Thank you Rialto for another awesome Time Square story.

  29. Fan · December 20, 2017

    Wow, another great post!

    I didn’t get there till the early 90s, apparently much tamer by then—but some performers still got wild—Selena Steele would bring a dildo that she’d stick to the mirrors and go to town on–and wade thru the audience groping.

    I still remember, 24 years old, first timer–she came on stage to “splish spash” and soaped it up in a wading pool. Then, naked, sat in my lap and stroked my member through my pants—I was in shock! 1990s that was NOT typical. An old perv just looked at me and said “America’s a great country.”

    The heavy guy would come in between sets and scrub the mirrors, and everyone would joke about him stripping to his annoyance.

    Saw Selena many times–they’d have a phone line you’d call to hear who’d be feature dancing the next week, I’d call every Wednesday. After the show you could take poloroids or do a private show in the booth— Saw Aja, who seemed really distant but nice…Selena, the best and wildest—Summer Knight, super warm and nice—Paula (last name escapes me, but started w a “P”—

    Great times–wish I’d been there in the ’70s!

  30. J. Walter Puppybreath · December 21, 2017

    “I still remember, 24 years old, first timer–she came on stage to “splish spash” and soaped it up in a wading pool. Then, naked, sat in my lap and stroked my member through my pants—I was in shock!”

    That’s awesome – but do you know the phrase ‘too much information’? 😉

  31. Greg · January 19, 2018

    Wow. The shots of the Triple Treat Theatre are something else. Really brings me back. Seems like yesterday..but it wasn’t.