Long Island Librarian Confused with the Oldest Woman in Porn

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from www.nytimes.com – Mistaken identity is an occupational hazard for people who are mentioned even fleetingly on the Internet. Still, consider Peter Agree’s shock when he searched the Web for references to his mother.

“The references I turned up were to ‘Rose Agree, geriatric porn star,’ ” said Mr. Agree, the editor in chief of the University of Pennsylvania Press. “Wikipedia had a biographical entry for this person, and to my horror it fused elements of my mother’s biography, including her having been a librarian on Long Island.”

Mr. Agree’s wife, Kathy Peiss, who headed the history department at Penn, contacted Wikipedia, the self-policing open source encyclopedia, which dutifully removed the entry along with a photograph. But it was too late. The Long Island librarian and the geriatric porn star had been irreversibly conflated. The librarian turned pornographic movie star took on a life of her own.

Two years ago, a Columbia undergraduate wrote to Professor Peiss about a book that she had edited. It was titled “Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality” and was dedicated to her mother-in-law. In retrospect, Rose Agree’s experience with the Internet might have merited a whole chapter.

“In my several years deployed in the Marine Corps infantry, I had the opportunity to be exposed to all manner of depravity, at least superficially,” the undergraduate, Benjamin Feibleman, wrote, “so when I was flipping through the contents of the book, I was curious to wonder to whom you would dedicate a collection of such essays.

“I saw the name Rose Agree and immediately flashed a reference to ‘the oldest woman in porn.’ I am neither proud nor ashamed of knowing such a fact, but I must know, given that the subject matter of the book is about the evolution/devolution of American perspectives on sexuality, is that indeed the Rose Agree to which you dedicated your book?”

Professor Peiss replied good-humoredly. “Kudos to you for your curiosity,” she wrote, explaining that the dedication was intended for her mother-in-law who “wrote one of the earliest dissertations on books for African-American children; she was also active in progressive causes, including the birth control movement in the 1930s (which is one of the reasons I wanted to dedicate the book to her), as well as civil rights in the 1950s.”

Mr. Agree had been searching the Web in 2007 because he was trying to track down the co-author of a journal article that his mother wrote decades before.

“A few months ago, for no good reason, I Googled again,” he recalled recently, “and this time discovered an article by a musician in a trade publication. This person had been a student in the school where my mother worked, and, taken by the stories he found about the geriatric porn star, ‘Rose Agree,’ he composed a song about her.”

The song by Arnie Rosenthal, known as Tokyo, includes these lyrics:

Where’s that book, Rose? The one you saved for me,

Not Dr. Seuss, no, the one on anatomy,

Teach me, teach me, teach me how to read,

Show me, tell me, how you got this way.

Mr. Rosenthal said he was inspired by a Valley Stream, N.Y., nostalgia blog. “Guess what Miss Rose Agree, our elementary school librarian, allegedly started doing when she turned 90 years old?” a blogger wrote.

Untangling the two biographies can be problematic, but there appear to have been two Rose Agrees born three years apart. In a pornographic video subtitled “Grandma’s Alive and Still Kicking” (the title itself is unprintable), Rose Agree, perhaps a stage name, explains that she was born in 1910 and used to be a “taxi dancer” for a dime a dance at Manhattan’s Roseland. She was married and raised three children (the Valley Stream Rose had two) and ventured into pornography after taking out a personal ad seeking a man.

Ron Jeremy, one of her co-stars in “Grandma’s Alive,” recalled: “She was a doll, very sweet. I had her dance around the room.”

The librarian, who worked in a Valley Stream elementary school from the 1950s through the ’70s, lived in Florida after she retired, the film star in California. The star described herself as 87 in the video, issued in 1997. The librarian was 87 when she died in 2001.

“My mother spent her 80s in severe arthritic pain, barely able to stand up and sit down,” Mr. Agree said. “My concerns are obvious: this is now lore that will have a life of its own on the Internet, though it is built on falsehoods.” Still, he added, “My mother would have gotten a good laugh out of this in the first instance, if she were alive.”

It was not her first encounter with mistaken identity. “In the 1980s, she was honored by the student newspaper of Queens College as one of the 100 most famous black Americans from Queens, for having donated a large collection of black children’s literature to their library, where she had gotten her own degree,” Mr. Agree recalled. “You’ll have correctly inferred that my mother was white.”

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