About Samuel Steward

Samuel Morris Steward (July 23, 1909-December 31, 1993), also known as Phil Andros, Phil Sparrow (and many other pseudonyms), was a poet, novelist, and university professor who left the world of academe to became a tattoo artist and pornographer.  Throughout his life he kept extensive secret diaries, journals and statistics of his sex life.  He lived most of his adult life in Chicago, where he tattooed gang members, delinquents, and sailor-trainees from the US Navy’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station out of a tattoo parlor on South State Street.  He later moved to the the San Francisco Bay area, where he spent the late 1960s and the official tattoo artist of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

Steward was born in Woodsfield, Ohio and began attending Ohio State University in Columbus in 1927. During his last year of high school he had a brief sexual encounter with silent film star Rudolph Valentino.  He taught English at OSU in 1932 during the final year of his PhD.  His first year-long post was as an instructor of English in 1934 at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. In 1936 he was summarily dismissed from his teaching position at the State College of Washington at Pullman as the result of his sympathetic portrayal of a prostitute in his well-reviewed comic novel Angels on the Bough. He subsequently moved to Chicago, where he taught at Loyola University until 1946. 

Born into a Methodist household, Steward converted to Catholicism during his university years, but by the time he accepted his teaching position at Loyola he had long since abandoned the Catholic church.  From the mid-1930s until 1949 he was deeply alcoholic, but he managed to overcome his addiction to alcohol with the help of Alcoholics’ Anonymous.

Steward gained an introduction to Gertrude Stein in 1932 through his academic advisor Clarence Andrews, and so began a long correspondence with Stein which resulted in a warm friendship.  He paid visits to her country home in France during the years 1937 and 1939. During the 1937 trip he also met with many other literary figures, including Thornton Wilder, Lord Alfred Douglas (the lover of Oscar Wilde), Thomas Mann, and André Gide.  He detailed these encounters, some of them sexual, in his brief memoir, Chapters from an Autobiography. He also described his friendship with Stein and Toklas in his Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (Houghton Mifflin, 1977).

Steward met famed sex researcher Alfred Kinsey in late 1949 and subsequently became an unofficial collaborator with Kinsey’s Institute for Sex Research.  During his years of work with the Institute, Steward collected and donated sexually themed materials, gave Kinsey access to his lifelong sexual records, introduced Kinsey to large numbers of sexually active men in the Chicago area, and provided Kinsey with large numbers of early sex polaroids which he took during the frequent all-male sex parties he held in his Chicago apartment.  He also allowed Kinsey to take detailed photographs of that sexually-themed apartment, and he ultimately donated large numbers of drawings, paintings and decorative objects to the Institute that he himself had created.  In spring of 1950, at Kinsey’s invitation, he was filmed engaging in BDSM sex with Mike Miksche, an erotic artist from New York also known as Steve Masters.  After Gertrude Stein, Kinsey was Steward’s most important mentor;  he later described Kinsey not only “as approachable as a park bench” but also as a god-like bringer of enlightenment to mankind whom he nicknamed “Doctor Prometheus.”

While making the transition from professor to tattoo artist during the 1950s, Steward befriended a number of artists and writers including Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, Julien Green, Fritz Peters, and Glenway Wescott.  During those years he contributed erotic drawings to the trilingual Swiss homosexual journal Der Kreis (The Circle).  At Kinsey’s specific request he also kept highly detailed journals and diaries of his daily sexual activities, and chronicled them as well in a secret card-catalogue he referred to as his “Stud File.”  Starting in 1957 he contributed short stories based on his many sexual encounters to Der Kreis, to which he also contributed essays, reviews, and homophile journalism.[5]  During his final years in Chicago, he befriended beefcake photographer Chuck Renslow, owner of Kris Studio, and Renslow’s partner Dom Orejudos the homoerotic illustrator also known as “Stephen” and “Etienne.”  Renslow would later go on to open The Gold Coast, Chicago’s first leather bar, and to found IML, or International Mr. Leather, a yearly gathering of leathermen from around the world.

In the 1960s Steward began writing and publishing his erotica under the name of Phil Andros, initially doing so with the Danish magazine Eos/Amigo. Some of his early works described his fascination with rough trade and sadomasochistic sex;  others focused on the power dynamics of interracial encounters.  In 1966, thanks to changes in American publishing laws, he was able to publish his erotic collection $TUD with Guild Press in the United States, under the pseudonym Phil Andros.  By the late 1960s he had started writing a series of pulp pornographic novels featuring the hustler Phil Andros as narrator.
As a leading tattoo artist of the 1950s and 60s, Steward was mentored by Milwaukee based master tattooist Amund Dietzel.  Steward in turn mentored Cliff Ingram, aka Cliff Raven, and Don “Ed” Hardy, later known simply as Ed Hardy;  he encouraged both to practice the Japanese-style tattooing he himself most admired.  After retiring from tattooing in 1970, Steward wrote a social history of American tattooing during the 1950s and 60s which was ultimately published as Bad Boys and Tough Tattoos.

In his later years Steward’s abilities as a writer were compromised by chronic pulmonary emphysema and a barbituate addiction.  He died in obscurity at age 83 in Berkeley, California.


About the Biography

Secret Historian. The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade.

Drawn from the secret, never-before-seen diaries, journals, and sexual records of the novelist, poet, and university professor Samuel M. Steward, Secret Historian is a sensational reconstruction of one of the more extraordinary hidden lives of the twentieth century. An intimate friend of Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and Thornton Wilder, Steward maintained a secret sex life from childhood on, and documented these experiences in brilliantly vivid (and often very funny) detail.

After leaving the world of academe to become Phil Sparrow, a tattoo artist on Chicago’s notorious South State Street, Steward worked closely with Alfred Kinsey on his landmark sex research. During the early 1960s, Steward changed his name and identity once again, this time to write exceptionally literate, upbeat pro-homosexual pornography under the pseudonym Phil Andros.

Until today Steward’s many identities have been known to only a few—but an extraordinary archive of his papers, lost since his death in 1993, has provided Justin Spring with the material for an exceptionally compassionate and brilliantly illuminating life-and-times biography. More than merely the story of one remarkable man, Secret Historian is a moving portrait of homosexual life in the years before gay liberation.


“Justin Spring documents the extraordinary life of one of Kinsey’s crucial gay witnesses, and reading Secret Historian is like reading Kinsey dramatized. A cultivated, rather shy professor of English literature, Sam Steward dropped out in midlife to become an eminent tattooist and writer of S&M porn. As the story of a sex-obsessed recovering alcoholic later addicted to barbiturates and to masochistic thrills, this could easily have become a portrait of a failure. Instead, through Steward’s copious records, we have a brave, fly-on-the-wall account of American homosexual subculture and persecution.” —Martin Stannard, author ofEvelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark: The Biography

“A true page-turner—and a memorable act of historical reclamation. Sammy Steward is all but unknown except by a handful of historians, but Justin Spring’s lively biography—which is full of important new information about pre-Stonewall gay life—should put Sammy on the map, which is where he decidedly belongs.” —Martin Duberman, author of Cures: A Gay Man’s Odyssey

“Secret Historian is a startlingly, unforgettably vivid glimpse into a life—and a world—that few of us can imagine.” —Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong

“I just read Justin Spring’s Secret Historian about Samuel Steward and let me say that that’s my new favorite book…This guy really knew how to top from the bottom…It’s really good! ” — Film Director John Waters, Baltimore OUTloud

“Samuel Steward, secret sexual historian, is a secret no longer. From an evangelical Ohio boardinghouse to the gardens of the Villa Borghese, from the lobby of the City Opera to the South Side YMCA, Steward led—and recorded—an improbably revealing, representative life. Bedding Oscar Wilde’s Bosie, taking tea with Stein and Toklas, and confessing to (and performing for!) Dr. Kinsey, he seemed determined to leave no corner of twentieth-century American queer culture unexplored and undocumented. Justin Spring has rescued his story from a San Francisco attic and set it before twenty-first-century readers with unflagging patience, authority, and humanity—Secret Historian is a major achievement.” —Langdon Hammer, author of Hart Crane and Allen Tate

“Justin Spring has painstakingly and compassionately unearthed the labyrinthine world of a brilliant, multifaceted, and troubled creator. A classically educated and highly talented renegade intellectual, Steward’s trajectory was impacted at every turn by his sexual compulsions. This bittersweet story, with its hair-raising and obsessively recorded details, is astonishing. Steward’s humor, empathy, and refusal to bow to the repressive status quo are a moving testimonial to honesty, courage, and integrity. His story should resonate with anyone engaged in the ongoing struggle for personal freedom of identity.” —Ed Hardy

“This is a rare and important book. Secret Historian is a genuinely captivating combination of clear writing, a clean conscience, and more dirty stories than I ever imagined one life could hold.” —Debby Applegate, Pulitzer prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher