Larry Townsend (27 October 1930 – 29 July 2008) was the author of dozens of books including Run Little Leather Boy (1970) and The Leatherman’s Handbook (1972) at pioneer erotic presses such as Greenleaf Classics and the Other Traveler imprint of Olympia Press. The Leatherman’s Handbook was the first book to publicize BDSM to the general public–it was a paperback book widely available on newsstands and at bookstores throughout the United States. Townsend’s book The Leatherman’s Handbook II (the 1983 second edition; the 1972 first edition did not include this list), which is generally considered authoritative, lists the hanky code.
Growing up as a teenager of Swiss-German extraction in Los Angeles a few houses from Noël Coward and Irene Dunne, he ate cookies with his neighbor Laura Hope Crews who was Aunt Pittypat in Gone with the Wind. He attended the prestigious Peddie School, and was stationed as Staff Sergeant in charge of NCOIC Operations of Air Intelligence Squadrons for nearly five years with the US Air Force in Germany (1950–1954). Completing his tour of duty, he entered into the 1950s underground of the then small LA leather scene where he and Montgomery Clift shared a lover.
With his degree in industrial psychology from UCLA (1957), he worked in the private sector and as a probation officer with the Forestry Service. He began his pioneering activism in the politics of homophile liberation in the early 1960s. In 1972, as president of the ‘Homophile Effort for Legal Protection’ which had been founded in 1969 to defend gays during and after arrests by the Los Angeles Police Department, he led a group in founding the H.E.L.P. Newsletter, the forebear of Drummer (1975). He lived in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, the center of the Los Angeles leather scene (the equivalent of the SoMa neighborhood in San Francisco). As a writer and photographer, he was an essential eyewitness of the drama and salon around Drummer in which his novels were often excerpted. His signature “Leather Notebook” column appeared in Drummer for twelve years beginning in 1980, and continued in Honcho to Spring 2008. His last novel, TimeMasters, was published April 2008. His last writing was “Who Lit up the Lit of the Golden Age of Drummer”, an introduction to Gay San Francisco: Eyewitness Drummer (June 2008).
His partner of 44 years, Fred Yerkes, passed on July 8, 2006.
Townsend himself died in 2008.
Writings by him are held at the Leather Archives & Museum.
Townsend was posthumously inducted into the Leather Hall of Fame in 2016.