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John Alexander Scott Coutts
9 December 1902
|Died||5 August 1962 (aged 59)|
England, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Photographer, artist, comic strip cartoonist, editor of Bizarre magazine (1946–1956)|
John Alexander Scott Coutts (9 December 1902 – 5 August 1962), better known by the pseudonym John Willie, was an artist, fetish photographer, editor and the publisher of the first 20 issues of the fetish magazine Bizarre, featuring his characters Sweet Gwendoline and Sir Dystic d'Arcy. Though distributed underground, Bizarre magazine had a far-reaching impact on later fetish-themed publications and experienced a resurgence in popularity, along with fetish model Bettie Page, starting in the 1970s.
John Coutts was born in 1902 to a British family in Singapore. They returned to the United Kingdom in 1903. He grew up in a middle-class family and attended the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the Royal Scots, Coutts was forced to resign in 1925 when he married a night-club hostess, Eveline Fisher, without the permission of his commanding officer. He migrated with his wife to Australia, where their marriage ended in divorce in 1930.
After moving to Brisbane, Australia, in 1926, Coutts joined a local High Heel Club, where he was probably introduced to the print media of a community of "shoe lovers" and other fetishists. He met his future second wife, Holly Anna Faram, c. 1936 and the couple married in 1942. She became his muse and modelled for him often. Because of his access to the High Heel Club's mailing list, Willie was able to begin producing and selling his own illustrations and photography. He worked at a variety of jobs as well as pursuing his hobby and eventually established a company to produce exotic footwear called "Achilles". In 1945, Willie moved to North America, while Holly chose to remain in Australia, where she died in 1983 at the age of 70. Willie wished to settle in New York but was forced to remain in Montreal, Canada, for a year or so because of immigration issues.
Bizarre magazine began in late 1945, while Coutts was living in Canada. He published the magazine under the pseudonym of "John Willie", a name he kept for the duration of his career. Willie was introduced to the American fetish underground by Charles Guyette and later worked with Irving Klaw, the infamous BDSM merchandiser later charged with obscenity, but he is best known for his fetish cartoon character Sweet Gwendoline, which he drew in a style that influenced later artists such as Gene Bilbrew and Eric Stanton. Other characters include U69 (censored to U89 in some editions), the raven-haired dominatrix who ties up Gwendoline and Sir Dystic d'Arcy, the only prominent male character and probably a parody of Willie himself. Sweet Gwendoline was published as a serial in Robert Harrison's mainstream girlie magazine Wink from June 1947 to February 1950 and later in several other magazines over the years.
Bizarre was published, at irregular intervals, from 1946 to 1959. The magazine included many photographs, often of Willie's wife, and drawings of costume designs, some based on ideas from readers. There were also many letters from readers: he was accused of inventing these but insisted that they were genuine. These letters covered topics such as high heels, bondage, amputee fetishism, sadomasochism, transvestism, corsets and body modification. The magazine was suspended completely from 1947 to 1951. By 1956 Coutts was ready to give up the magazine and that year he sold it to someone described only as R.E.B., who published six more issues before Bizarre finally folded in 1959. There was no mention within the magazine that it had changed hands, but in issue no. 23 Mahlon Blaine was introduced by the editor as the artist who was to replace Willie as the primary illustrator. After publishing the first 23 issues of Bizarre, Coutts moved to Hollywood, California, where in 1961 he developed a brain tumor and was forced to stop his mail-order business. He destroyed his archives and returned home to England, where he died in his sleep in August 1962.
In 2009, Willie was inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame.
Controversy and censorship
Despite the nature of the magazine, Coutts was able to circumvent censorship and orders to cease publication because he was careful to avoid "nudity, homosexuality, overt violence, or obvious depictions of things that might be read as perverse or immoral and that might rankle those parties who were capable of banning, censoring, or blocking circulation."
"Unless a model is a good actress, and has 'that type' of face, it's difficult for her to look sad and miserable when working for me. My studio is a pretty cheerful place, and quite unlike the atmosphere that surrounds Gwendoline when the Countess gets hold of her."
"Bizarre. The magazine for pleasant optimists who frown on convention. The magazine of fashions and fantasies fantastic! Innumerable journals deal with ideas for the majority. Must all sheeplike follow in their wake? Bizarre is for those who have the courage of their own convictions. Conservative? — Old fashioned? — Not by any means! Where does a complete circle begin or end? And doesn't fashion move in a circle? Futuristic? Not even that—there is nothing new in fashion, it is only for the application of new materials—new ornaments—a new process of making—coupled with the taste and ability to create the unusual and unorthodox to the trend of the moment."
"As for sex, ignorance is abysmal, because for centuries those who could not satisfy themselves, except by denying pleasure to others, have taught generation after generation that "sex is taboo." Thou shalt not think about it or discuss it. In fact, it's a dreadful thing, but it's all right as long as you don't enjoy it. If you have any other ideas on the subject, you are a pervert. The basis of a decent society is a happy home. Marriages break up almost invariably because of sex. What you do, or do not do, is your own business, all that matters is that the enjoyment be mutual, — and the time to discuss these things is before you get hitched up. There is a partner to suit everyone somewhere, but the search will be difficult until we can discuss our likes and dislikes, openly, in good taste, without threat from our own brand of standardized Police State."
- Rund, The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, pp. v–viii.
- Possibilities: The Photographs of John Willie, edited by J. B. Rund. New York: Bélier Press, 2016
- Bdm.nsw.gov.au Archived 28 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine
- http://utexas.metapress.com/content/r05x577r3n1g7r50/[permanent dead link]
- Glenn Daniel Wilson, Variant sexuality: research and theory, Taylor & Francis, 1987, ISBN 0-7099-3698-2, p.15
- R.E.B., Bizarre no. 23 (1958): 8
- "> Inductees". Leatherhalloffame.com. Retrieved 31 December 2019.
- John Willie, The Art of John Willie - Sophisticated Bondage (Book Two), p. 1
- Coutts, Bizarre no. 3 (1946): 2
- Coutts, Bizarre no. 17 (1956): 5
- Possibilities: The Photographs of John Willie, edited by J. B. Rund. New York: Bélier Press, 2016. ISBN 978-0914646495
- The Adventures of Sweet Gwendoline, edited by J. B. Rund.(second edition, revised and enlarged) New York: Bélier Press, 1999.ISBN 0-914646-48-6
- Eric Stanton & the History of the Bizarre Underground by Richard Pérez Seves. Atglen: Schiffer Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-0764355424
- Charles Guyette: Godfather of American Fetish Art [*Expanded Photo Edition*] by Richard Pérez Seves. New York: FetHistory, 2018. ISBN 978-1973773771
- A John Willie Portfolio, n. 1 (a cura di Carl McGuire), Van Nuys, CA., London Ent. Ltd., 1987
- Bizarre: The Complete Reprint of John Willie's Bizarre Vols. 1–26; ISBN 3-8228-9269-6 Taschen. Edited by Eric Kroll.
- Plusieurs possibilités. Photographies de John Willie, Paris, Futuropolis, 1985
- The Art of John Willie – Sophisticated Bondage (Book One)
- An illustrated biography edited by Stefano Piselli & Riccardo Morrocchi (128 pages)
- The Art of John Willie – Sophisticated Bondage (Book Two)
- An illustrated biography edited by Stefano Piselli & Riccardo Morrocchi (128 pages)
- The Bound Beauties of Irving Klaw & John Willie, vol 2, Van Nuys, CA., Harmony Comm., 1977
- The First John Willie Bondage Photo Book, Van Nuys, CA., London Ent. Ltd., 1978
- The Second John Willie Bondage Photo Book, Van Nuys, CA., London Ent. Ltd., 1978
- The Works of John Willie (a cura di Peter Stevenson), s.l., s.e., s.d.*
- "Authoritative John Willie publisher, owner of Sweet Gwendoline copyright and Bizarre Inc". Retrieved 29 October 2017.
- Mitchell, Tony (2018). "Eric Stanton and the History of the Bizarre Underground". The Fetishistas. Archived from the original on 5 December 2018. Retrieved 4 December 2018.
- "The Rembrandt of Pulp"
- American Fetish – Scholarly resources for the study of SM and Fetishism in American Culture