Lyric International produced "physique" photography of boys and young men during the window that opened in the late 1960s when legal and social bans against male nudity fell, but before more hardcore products skimmed off demand for Lyric's nudes, and the child pornography panic. At its height, Lyric made a push for mainstream respectability with the 1971 feature film The Genesis Children which combined a foggy New Age message with teen and preteen nudity, and the 1971-1973 Zipper magazine, where wide-ranging articles similar those in Playboy were printed along with nude but not explicit photo features of male teenagers and youths. While the Lyric catalog did not go beyond non-sexual nudity, carefully avoiding the legal line of obscenity, Lyric owner Billy Byars, Jr. partnered for distribution with San Francisco gay rights pioneer and noted pornographer Guy Strait, some of whose pornography did include actors under 16. Lyric maintained an unusually constant stable of "Lyric Boy" actors, the best known of whom was the blond Peter Glawson who appeared from around 10 years of age to 17 in Lyric's products, including magazines, 16mm shorts, photo sets, The Genesis Children, and a Zipper interview.
Lyric came to an end in late 1973, in a scandal that the Meese Commission called "the first child pornography ring ... brought to public view," although no pornography charges were ever brought against Lyric's collaborators. The arrests mark the first appearance in the Los Angeles Times of policeman Lloyd Martin who became one of the faces of the great kiddie porn panic. Guy Strait's arrest in an unrelated case of sex with a minor led to his becoming a nonperson in the gay rights community, and in gay rights history. In recent years some of the same film clips found unprosecutable in 1973 have appeared as evidence in the Azov Films prosecutions.
Lyric's prime was a high-water mark for tolerance, and its fall marked the beginning of repression. It was a nearly perfect scandal. The headline of the newspaper article that introduced Lloyd Martin to a wider public had all the usual suspects: "Son of Actress, Heir to Oil Fortune, YMCA Counselor, Scoutmaster, Schoolteacher Among Those Facing Charges". They might have been picked for headline value, and may have been: some had no apparent connection to Lyric, and at least one was found innocent by a jury. A number of names important in rights and repression are woven into the case, as well as some inexplicable threads: Mr. Byars is a perpetual footnote in Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories.
Physique but not pornography
According to a 1975 interview with a Lyric producer who was one of those named in the scandal,
- "Lyric had specialized in nude photos of models ranging from twelve to twenty years of age. As a physique photographer, Lyric had been out of business for several years, since Byars did not approve of doing hardcore photography and the market accepted little else, but the company name was being carried on as a producer of television travelogues."
Lyric’s production occurred in a narrow window of time, when social mores had loosened sufficiently to permit the sort of naturist films it produced, but not enough to allow more explicit content. The same producer acknowledged that "Lyric had once been one of the biggest photographers in the business." .
While the Lyric catalog offered no pornography, Lyric's owner joined with Guy Strait in creating DOM-LYRIC to distribute Lyric's products as well as Strait's. Strait did produce pornography, including pornography with adolescent actors.
Crossroads of the World
Lyric also had an office located at Crossroads Of The World office complex in Hollywood, which "has been called America's first modern shopping mall. Director Anthony Aikman and cameraman Bill Dewar edited The Genesis Children there. Aikman describes the studio as being in a building designed to look like Mothers Hubbard's shoe. While the complex has a variety of kitschy styles, no building meets that description. Crossroads is a block away from the Gold Cup, a well-known Hollywood Boulevard hangout for boy prostitutes, and occasional source for actors.
Zipper Magazine's office was also in the complex.(citation needed) That, along with the large amount of editorial space that Zipper devoted to Lyric's projects, and the number of ads in the magazine purchased by Lyric, suggests that it too may have been owned by Byars.
Wikipedia also says that "In the late-1960s, one of the offices was occupied by a porn magazine that tried out young hopefuls by photographing them in the nude. It was here that an unknown John C. Holmes went one day and showcased his unusually large "endowment", leading to the start of his notorious career in adult films."
The next film
There are several versions of what Byars and Lyric were planning after The Genesis Children. In 1972 Swisher says,
"Byars's next film venture is an already filmed documentary he has titled The Russian Adventure. It unreels as a story of the travels of an International Boyhood group, filmed not only in Russia, but elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Still in the early planning stages is a ballet feature to be filmed in the desert. Nude. Of course."[Swisher, op. cit.]
The L.A. Times article about the arrests described Lyric's current project as "Soviet '73, a film about Jews traveling in Russia." [L.A. Times, op. cit.] The Lyric producer claimed in 1975 that, "We had a tremendous amount of money sunk into a major TV travelogue on Russia just then."  The recurring Russian theme indicates all three sources are discussing the same project.
With a comic story on a bomb scare (it was a prop), the Los Angeles Free Press gives an account of what Lyric was up to in December, 1972. "Lyric Films, also known as Billy Byars and Associates" was in the process of editing two films at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Formosa Ave., Hollywood. Jeremy Hoenack, who edited The Genesis Children, was with his wife Barbara "toiling over the celluloid images on a reel of motorcycle adventures" on a Movieola. Lyric was using two editing rooms. Other Lyric personnel included "Miss Helen Hill, business manager and confidante of producer Billy Byars ("Genesis' Children") who is out of town." Those with access to the editing rooms include "Tom Grubbs, a young filmmaker who's renting one of the rooms for an educational short he's producing. Oh, yes, and there's Joe Fineman, he's also studio manager, in charge of things in Mr. Byars's absence." Mr. Fineman is "... cutting a film for Mr. Byars now — a documentary on Russia."
None of these names appeared in the press in the Lyric scandal. Mr Fineman's IMDB entry has a long list of credits, including 88 in editing and an equal number in production, starting in 1971 and including the "Real to Reel Film and Video Festival" Festival Prize in 2018. There is however a gap of several years starting in 1972. IMBD has more than one Tom Grubbs. Rubine says that Hoenack finished editing the Russia film.
Byars told his hometown paper on Christmas Eve, 1972 about a "television documentary scheduled for release under the title "Soviet '73" [...] the first totally uncensored film ever made in the Soviet republics." It was "hoped to be shown sometime during late winter." He said he was seeking Texas financing for "his next feature film, a spy spoof with the working title of "Heist.""  "His goal is to base the financial headquarters of his company in Houston, and he’s getting a start on that goal by seeking "entirely Texas money" to finance "Heist." "
Byars said in the same interview that "His previous documentaries, one made in Denmark on the International Boys Camp and one on sculpture in France, were for theater distribution."
It seems clear though that Lyric was in fact producing other movies after "The Genesis Children", and based on their subsequent careers, Mr. Byars had engaged competent craftsmen to do so. The "ballet feature to be filmed in the desert" promised to Swisher, if "in the early planning stages" in August would not have been part of the Russian travelogue being edited in December. Perhaps Lyric was already enough of a going concern to have the next project in planning while finishing the current one.
Just how the L.A. Times or the police would know of Lyric's plans is unclear, and the reporting may be unreliable. Perhaps only in Los Angeles does one include in an arrest report the suspects' plans for their next movie.
Lyric came to an end in late 1973. The Los Angeles Times article about the arrests was titled "14 Men Indicted in Sex Movies Featuring Boys Ages 6 to 17: Son of Actress, Heir to Oil Fortune, YMCA Counselor, Scoutmaster, Schoolteacher Among Those Facing Charges".
The "Heir to Oil Fortune" was Lyric's owner, and the "Son of Actress" a Lyric producer. As the policy of the Los Angeles Times was then to not index criminal justice proceedings, it used to be difficult to determine just what happened to the fourteen accused. Those newspaper archives with full-text indexing are now available online, however. A later story confirms that the first of the accused to go to trial ("YMCA Counselor") was acquitted after a full day of jury deliberation, and that two others had pled guilty. An article in The Advocate gives the final toll: "Five guilty, four 'no contest,' one acquitted in chicken ring"  Guy Strait, though among the first two arrested in the case, jumped bail and was never brought to trial on the Los Angeles charges.
While the Meese Commission and the Los Angeles Times both refer to films of child pornography, the news article says that the accused were charged not with child pornography, but with molesting children. It says "One confiscated film shows the boys playing nude on a beach believed to be near Corpus Christi." Lyric did produce such a film, Summer Freedom, but a film of "boys playing nude on a beach" was then neither pornography nor illegal in the US.
One source claims that one of the boys was "dangled over a cliff" by policemen until he agreed to name men with whom he had had sex. The claim was apparently made in open court. The Lyric producer cited above said that "[T]wo of them were just hustlers the police had dug up &emdash; I hardly even knew them. They had worked for Lyric a good little while ago. Even the police didn't push their stories too much, because they were both well into their teens and they admitted they were willing participants."
The Los Angeles scandal was fueled in part by the August 1973 discovery of the murders in Houston, Texas, by Dean Corll of at least 27 teenagers. The police insinuated to the press that the Lyric scandal might have a connection. Lyric's owner was originally from Texas; another of those arrested in the case was identified by the L.A. Times as "William Johnson, 55, a Houston photographer".(supra)
Lloyd Martin, the policeman most responsible for the arrests, constructed a national reputation as the "child abuse policeman". He later fell into discredit. Widespread criticism of him and his methods is easily found on the Internet. Martin's signature sound bite is that child abuse is "worse than homicide." A Salon article calls him "infamous" and provides a good general discussion of the exaggerations of child pornography foes.
Technical quality of the films
Harlan "Slim" Pfeiffer is said to have filmed the Lyric movies in 16mm, and reduced them to 8mm for distribution. Guy Strait, who handled the distribution end of DOM-LYRIC, recounted in prison his techniques for taking photos and avoiding piracy of his films. “His favorite still camera was a Yashika E, twin-reflex that cost a mere $50 [...] He depended on a Mimiya C-33 for most of his professional still work. [...] He usually filmed 12-minute loops and longer movies with a 16-millimeter Beaulieu, which he considered to be superior to the more expensive German Hasselblad."
"He protected his reputation for quality work by keeping his films out of bookstores. It was more difficult to protect his work from pirates who purchased the films on his lists and had them duplicated for sales through other outlets. Although it bothered his aesthetic sensibilities and pride in his own work, he learned to lower the reproductive quality of his 8-millimeter film. He considered them still better quality than the competition, but not good enough to withstand the loss of detail and clarity when duplicated again by film pirates."(ibid, p. 233)
Books, magazines, and films
The Genesis Children was Lyric's only feature film, its other movies being shorts produced in 16mm and reduced to 8mm for distribution. Some of the films are:
- Danish Boys' Camp. Feature documentary. 1971. Producer: Billy Byars. Editor: Wayne Schotten
- Swim Party and Spring Break were filmed by Slim Pfeiffer at the pool with the cinderblock walls at the Lyric studio in Los Angeles.
- Sandy Hill may have been filmed in Sandy Hill in east Texas.
- Summer Freedom was made at Corpus Christi National Seashore in Texas.
- Peter and the Desert Riders
- How to Make Friends
Lyric produced a number of magazines (two authors, Robin Lloyd and Clifford Linedecker, say 90 magazines were produced, but neither cites his source for the figure) and at least one calendar.
Some of the magazine titles include:
- Attorney General's Commission on Pornography: final report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice (1986) Chapter 11, p. 131
- Campfire Video Library
- [Interview, 2006, Anthony Aikman by Ballog]
- Rubine, Naomi. "The bomb at Goldwyn Studios" Los Angeles Free Press, Volume 9, issue 438, Dec 8-18, 1972. P.10
- Blair, Pat. "Film Industry Challenge Grows" Tyler Courier-Times, Tyler, Texas, 24 Dec 1972. Page 37
- Farr, William. "14 Men Indicted in Sex Movies Featuring Boys Ages 6 to 17". Los Angeles Times 27 Oct 1973, p. B1, B8
- "Five guilty, four 'no contest,' one acquitted in chicken ring".The Advocate, May 22, 1974, Issue 138, p.27.
- Documenting Abuse of Boys and Families by Los Angeles Police cites two articles as its source for the claim: Sarff, Doug. "L.A. Jury frees first 'chicken ring' defendant". The Advocate San Mateo, CA. 16 January 1974 (page 3); and "Cliffhanging Testimony: Jury: Second 'chicken ring' defendant guilty". The Advocate, San Mateo, CA, 30 January 1974 (page 5). There may be a digital copy including the 1974 Advocate at UC Berkeley.
- Is this child pornography? Kincaid, James R. Salon, 31 Jan 2000
- Linedecker, Clifford L. 1981. Children in Chains. New York: Everest House. p. 230