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Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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Series I: Personal, 1949-2016
Series II: Columbia University, 1971-1998
Series III: Closet Case TV Show, circa 1984-1997
Series V: Erotic Materials, circa 1955-2003
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in 7 series.
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.
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.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Rick Shur Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.