Rare Book & Manuscript Library
 

Rick Shur papers, 1949-2016, bulk 1970-2003

Summary Information

Abstract

The Rick Shur Papers document the life and work of New York City video artist, gay activist, English as a Second Language teacher, and cultural critic Rick Shur (1953-2016). As "Rick X," he hosted The Closet Case Show, a popular Manhattan cable access TV show featuring safer sex gay "edurotica" along with commentary on culture and politics. Shur attended Columbia College (1971-1975) and Teacher's College (1977-1979), and led the Gay Alumni of Columbia organization through the 1980s.

At a Glance

Call No.: MS#1838
Bib ID 12475155 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Shur, Rick X
Title Rick Shur papers, 1949-2016, bulk 1970-2003
Physical Description 26.5 linear feet (22 record containers, 3 manuscript boxes, 1 oversized flat box, 1 tube box; 6 hard drives)
Language(s) Material is in English, with a small amount of material in Spanish.
Access You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days (72 hours) in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Box 27, Folder 1: "CCTV - Porno Actors," contains erotic photographs and correspondence that includes personally identifiable information about living persons. The folder is closed until 2068 to protect the privacy of individual correspondents.

Arrangement

Arrangement

This collection is arranged in 7 series.

Description

Scope and Contents

The collection contains the papers of New York City video artist, gay activist, English as a Second Language teacher, and cultural critic Rick Shur (1953-2016). Materials are related to his personal life, professional and business ventures, activism and community involvement, media projects, and erotic interests. Shur was an avid letter writer through much of his life, and correspondence forms a significant part of the collection. The correspondence pertaining to his The Closet Case Show television show includes many photographs, flyers, and ephemera relating to gay culture and eroticism. The collection includes a wide range of materials used on the CCTV show, ranging from research and subject files on LGBTQ and activist topics to NYC event listings to erotic imagery, as well as assorted stuffed animals, figurines, and other props. Files related to his activist involvements include organizational records, mailing lists, correspondence, and related materials. Materials saved from school and university days include family photos and memorabilia, school papers, and journals. Shur's creative works collected here included songs, theatrical scripts and vignettes, poetry, and essays, produced from childhood through later life. As an actor, playwright, and avid theater patron, Shur collected a wide range of playbills and ephemera related to the dramatic arts, particularly LGBTQ theater in New York City. A small section relating to his work as an ESL instructor includes information on his educational software, cards from students, and material from LaGuardia Community College. Finally, a substantial proportion of the collection comprises erotic materials, including male physique or "beefcake" photography, commercial gay pornography, and image clippings with homoerotic significance from a range of mainstream publications. Shur did not merely collect but actively curated his collection of erotica, with notebooks, folders, and collages clipped and assembled in an arrangement of his devising. The collection offers a detailed portrayal of culture, politics, and sexuality within New York City's gay community from the 1980s to 2000s, provides insight into the evolution of sexuality and politics among Columbia's students and alumni since the 1970s, and documents the evolution of gay erotic visual culture in the United States across the second half of the twentieth century.

  • Series I: Personal, 1949-2016

    Series I comprises materials on Shur's childhood, family, friendships, travel experiences, and creative works. Subseries I.1 includes childhood memorabilia, family records, and grade school papers. Subseries I.2 documents his senior year of high school spent studying abroad in Coatepec, Mexico, and consists mainly of letters to and from friends and family, plus ephemera from Coatepec; of particular interest is a detailed typed journal written during his time in Mexico, which Shur later re-examined and curated to document his budding awareness of his sexuality at the time. Subseries I.3 collects his adult correspondence and photographs of family and friends, as well as eight folders of notebooks containing miscellaneous notes from different areas of his life. Subseries I.4 includes his songs, poetry, music theater scripts, and other writings. Subseries I.5 includes materials relating to his friend and fellow Columbia alumnus Stephen Donaldson, founder of the Student Homophile League and prominent LGBTQ and prisoner rights activist, and includes mostly photographs and ephemera with some correspondence. Subseries I.6 consists of stuffed animals, figurines, and other assorted objects Shur collected, some of which served as props on his cable access show.

  • Series II: Columbia University, 1971-1998

    Series II collects materials documenting Shur's relationship to Columbia University as a Columbia College undergraduate, a Teacher's College student, and an active alumnus. Subseries II.1 includes his coursework papers, administrative correspondence, and journals and personal writings from his undergraduate years, as well as some material from his time at Teacher's College and a patron of Columbia facilities afterwards. Of particular interest are materials related to the two surveys of sexual behavior and gay identity he conducted in 1973-1974. Subseries II.2 includes organizational records, correspondence, and other files documenting his founding and leadership of Gay Alumni of Columbia (GAOC) in the 1980s-1990s, including the group's campaign against the campus ROTC for its anti-gay policies.

  • Series III: Closet Case TV Show, circa 1984-1997

    Series III assembles materials related to Shur's production of the Closet Case Show on Manhattan Cable Access from 1984-1994. Subseries III.1 includes the show's extensive correspondence and materials files, which include letters, flyers, photographs, event announcements, pamphlets, erotica, and more, as well as documents from Shur's battles with the cable access channel over censorship and cancellation, PR materials, media coverage of Shur and the show, materials from film festivals in which Shur's work appeared, and correspondence with Haworth Press, with whom Shur collaborated on academic research into gay video pornography and visual culture. Shur created a business selling erotic videotapes drawing on content from the show, files from which are collected in Subseries III.2.

  • Series IV: Gay Culture, Activism, and Community, circa 1978-2003

    Series IV brings together materials related to Shur's other gay community activities, including the Gay Switchboard, Outweek magazine, WBAI's Gay Show, and gay theater productions, as well as research and subject files and other periodicals and ephemera on gay topics.

  • Series V: Erotic Materials, circa 1955-2003

    Series V, the largest in the collection, contains Shur's collection of gay erotic materials. The bulk comprises Subseries V.1, which includes decades of gay pornography, mostly in the form of curated notebooks and folders of images clipped from magazines as well as some complete magazines, books, DVDs, typed stories, and loose photos. Subseries V.2 consists of Shur's "Pix files," which were folders of images clipped from mainstream magazines and newspapers that he considered to have homoerotic significance. Subseries V.3, "Heteros," shows Shur's critique of homophobia through a curatorial practice of assembling documentation of cross-sex sexual violence and abuse clipped from newspapers and magazines, as well as some heterosexual pornography.

  • Series VI: ESL Teaching, circa 1970-2013

    After graduating from Teacher's College in 1979, Shur began working at LaGuardia Community College as an English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor, serving there until his retirement. He drew on his teaching experience co-writing instructional textbooks and developing software programs for use by ESL teachers and learners.

Using the Collection

Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Conditions Governing Access

You will need to make an appointment in advance to use this collection material in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room. You can schedule an appointment once you've submitted your request through your Special Collections Research Account.

This collection is located off-site. You will need to request this material at least three business days (72 hours) in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.

Box 27, Folder 1: "CCTV - Porno Actors," contains erotic photographs and correspondence that includes personally identifiable information about living persons. The folder is closed until 2068 to protect the privacy of individual correspondents.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Single photocopies may be made for research purposes. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.

Preferred Citation

Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Rick Shur Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

Related Materials

Columbia LGBT Records, 1961-1990: Organizational records of Columbia University's LGBTQ+ student groups, including the Student Homophile League founded by Stephen Donaldson in 1966.

Office of Multicultural Affairs Records, 1972-2017: Includes materials related to Stephen Donaldson and the student lounge named in his honor at Columbia University in 2004.

Accruals

No additions are expected.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Adam Rosenberg to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in 2017.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Nikita Shepard. Finding aid written by Nikita Shepard in August 2022.

Dozens of boxes of videocassettes and several hard drives arrived with the paper components of the collection in 2017. These are unprocessed. Please contact the Rare Book and Manuscript Library for more information at rbml@columbia.edu.

Collection arrived at the Rare Book and Manuscript Library in Shur's boxes, some of which were thematically consistent and others of which appeared randomly assembled. Most boxes were subject to considerable reorganization, with the exception of the CCTV files (Series III.1), which were more clearly ordered, and several boxes of pornography, which were preserved with Shur's original curation. Although the correspondence files in Series III.1 include both erotic materials and publicity materials for cultural and political events which could have enriched other series, these items were preserved in their original order to retain them with the correspondent who sent them. Other gay cultural and political materials not clearly linked to the cable access show and its correspondence files nor to the activist organizations in which Shur took part were organized into a separate series (IV). Miscellaneous photographs that were originally combined and without clear order were separated into personal (Series I), erotic (Series V), and related to Shur's ESL teaching career (Series VI), as were cards and correspondence. Randomly assembled personal papers and ephemera were sorted chronologically into Shur's childhood and adolescence (Subseries I.1), high school year in Mexico (Subseries I.2), undergraduate years (Subseries II.1), and adulthood (Subseries I.3). Shur's business and creative endeavors overlapped, and several of them operated under the moniker "CCTV"; effort was made to disaggregate these to the greatest extent possible, with Shur's cable access activities represented in Subseries III.1 and his video businesses in Subseries III.2, although content between the these spheres overlapped.

All items were placed in new folders, with original file folders removed from the collection; whenever the original file folder included a specific annotation, the folder title reflects the original annotation in quotation marks (such as Box 5, Folder 13: "Donny and Friends"). Subseries V.2 and V.3, "Pix Files" and "Heteros," reflect Shur's personal designations.

Items removed from the collection and discarded included personal financial records; purchase orders from Shur's commercial video business; additional copies of stationary; greeting cards without personal information, warranties and manuals related to consumer appliances; and some miscellaneous ephemera with no clear connection to Shur's activities.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.

Genre/Form

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Clippings (Information Artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Notebooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Personal papers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographs Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Video recordings (physical artifacts) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

Subject

Heading "CUL Archives:"
"Portal"
"CUL Collections:"
"CLIO"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
"ArchivedGRID"
Donaldson, Stephen, 1946-1996 Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
English language -- Study and teaching -- Foreign speakers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Foreign study Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay college students Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay liberation movement Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay pornography Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay rights Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay television Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Gay theater Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Public-access television Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Safe sex in AIDS prevention Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Shur, Rick X Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Television broadcasting Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Rick Shur (1953-2016) was a New York City video artist, gay activist, English as a Second Language teacher, and cultural critic. As "Rick X," he hosted The Closet Case Show (circa 1984-1994), a popular Manhattan cable access TV show featuring safer sex gay "edurotica" along with commentary on culture and politics. Shur attended Columbia College from 1971 until 1975 and Teachers College from 1977 until 1979, and led the Gay Alumni of Columbia organization through the 1980s.

Richard Allen Shur was born in 1953 in the town of Port Washington on Long Island, New York. A precocious child with a passion for theater and interests in philosophy and politics, he excelled in school and served as student body president at his Port Washington high school, while writing poetry, stories, and musical theater works. During his senior year in 1970-1971, he studied abroad in Coatepec, Mexico, an experience he would remember as significant throughout the rest of his life, during which his lifelong interest in foreign languages solidified.

In 1971 Shur enrolled in Columbia College. His undergraduate years included his first sexual experiences and his coming out as a gay man. He studied philosophy, foreign languages, and psychology, served as the 1972 Freshman Class President, and participated in anti-war and gay activism on campus. In 1973-1974, Shur conducted two surveys about sexual behavior and identity, the first of fellow male students, both heterosexual and homosexual, in the Carman Hall dormitory, and the second comparing the experiences of gay men in New York City on and off Columbia's campus. The latter was written as a psychology course paper and later revised and published by Gay People at Columbia-Barnard as "A New Gay Survey," offering insight into gay life, identity, and sexuality during the period.

After a period working as a professional actor and radio producer, Shur enrolled in Teacher's College from 1977-1979, focusing his studies on teaching English as a second language. After graduation, he found employment as an English as a Second Language instructor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, where he would work for nearly three decades until his retirement. Beyond the classroom, his interest in ESL extended to co-authoring textbooks on language instruction, consulting, and creating computer software for teachers and for language learners, which he sold commercially and used in his classes.

Shur's interest in media technology expanded to computers and video in the 1980s. Under the auspices of his company, Heights Media, he offered commercial computer and video services, with discounted rates for the gay community, and worked as a videographer documenting Pride marches, activist events, and other community functions. In 1984, he conceived of a cable access show called City Heights that would document gay and other subcultures in New York City. Launched on Manhattan Cable Access, the show would evolve into The Closet Case Show, and would become a prominent and influential part of the gay media landscape.

The Closet Case Show combined erotic performance and explanation of safer sex information–which Shur dubbed "edurotica"–with clips from mainstream and pornographic movies, discussion of gay social and political issues, local community event announcements, and interviews with cultural figures. As its pseudonymous host Rick X, Shur's offscreen narration provided sardonic humor, political commentary, cultural criticism, and participated in or directed erotic activity. The show attracted a considerable local following and national interest, and hundreds of viewers wrote letters and contributed content. The show's material appeared in art exhibitions and film and video festivals in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, the United Kingdom, and beyond. On multiple occasions, the cable access channel attempted to censor or refuse to play episodes or to cancel the show, which Shur contested legally and through soliciting community pressure. The show aired until 1994.

Shur's gay community involvement extended to his role as a Columbia alumnus. In the early 1980s, he mentored campus gay activists, collaborating on campaigns around the ROTC's anti-gay discrimination. In 1985, he founded Gay Alumni of Columbia and served as the group's lead organizer, connecting campus and alumni gay advocates and networking with gay alumni groups from other universities. Through his leadership role in GAOC, Shur developed a close friendship with Stephen "Donny" Donaldson, aka Robert Martin, the founder of Columbia's Student Homophile League in 1966 and a prominent LGBTQ and prisoner rights activist; the collection also contains correspondence and personal materials from Donaldson's life.

Beyond Columbia, Shur's involvement in gay community activism included years as a volunteer on the Gay Switchboard in the late 1980s. He briefly served as Listings Editor for the progressive gay magazine Outweek, though he would resign in protest in 1990 over the publication's acceptance of what Shur viewed as politically problematic corporate advertising. From 1993-1997, Shur co-hosted a gay talk radio show on WBAI, interviewing many prominent members of the LGBTQ community.

Rick Shur died of heart disease at his Morningside Heights apartment in 2016.