Preserving WeHo’s Circus of Books: A Documentary by Its Owners’ Daughter

Circus of Books owners Barry and Karen Mason, subjects of a documentary by their daughter Rachel.

Circus of Books, West Hollywood’s gay cruising mecca before the age of the internet, will be the subject of a documentary by Cynthia Childs and Rachel Mason, the daughter of its owners.

The documentary will preserve the story of the adult bookstore, which sits on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and La Jolla. Karen and Barry Mason, its owners for more than 30 years, announced in March last year that they would be closing it.

“We’re at the end of an era,” Karen Mason said in an interview with WEHOville in March 2016. “The neighborhood has changed a great, great deal. I mean, today, with the Internet, with gay marriage, there’s less need for the niche that our store occupied all those years, which is, I think, a good thing.”

The store is in the heart of what was once West Hollywood’s “Vaseline Alley,” a parking lot and alley where gay men cruised for sex.

“There was a lot of activity in the alley behind our store,” Mason said. “People would meet each other here, and even though we, as owners, kept out of it, it was definitely a pickup spot. I think when Circus of Books opened, this was such a special place for people who were gay or were trying to come out or feel comfortable.”

Mason and Childs, working with producers Adam Baran and Sasha Berman, have launched a campaign to secure funding for the production of the film. Tax deductible donations can be made online.  Mason has chronicled her experience growing up as a child of the bookstore’s owners in an essay published in Art21 and republished on WEHOville.

“Over the years, the store has been patronized by famous folks like Elton John, Drew Carey and David Hockney, along with countless gay men to whom the shop became an invaluable meeting place and an important piece of the fabric of life in West Hollywood, L.A.’s foremost LGBT district,” says a promotion of the campaign. “But despite the importance of Circus of Books to men all over the world, brick and mortar bookstores and DVD rental shops have long been slowly fading. Now that the majority of porn is available on the Internet for free, the Masons’ business has taken a severe hit.

“’Circus of Books’ documentary will trace the Masons’ remarkable history of finding themselves the proprietors of the premier gay porn shop, the history and significance of the store in Los Angeles and the gay community in particular and the personal ups and downs the business has brought to the observant Jewish couple and their family.

“We’ll spend time with the colorful and straight ­talking Masons as they slowly come to reconcile that the store’s best years are well behind them and observe their struggle with the decision of when to close the failing store. The film will feature interviews with many of the Masons’ employees and colleagues in the porn industry as well as their closest friends and family members.”

The Masons closed their Silver Lake Circus of Books store in August of last year. It now is a marijuana dispensary. The West Hollywood location will go on the market soon.

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