Klaw is best known for operating a mail-order business selling photographs and film of attractive women (sometimes in bondage) from the 1940s to the 1960s. He was one of the first fetish photographers, and his model Bettie Page became the first famous bondage model.
He was born in Brooklyn, New York. His family business, Movie Star News, started as a magazine store. Due to customer demand, he and his sister Paula, who actually posed and took most of the photos, started selling bondage and fetish photos using burlesque dancers like Baby Lake, Tempest Storm, and Blaze Starr as models.
Klaw always went to great pains to make sure his photographs contained no nudity, which would make the material pornographic and hence illegal to sell via mail. Models were often required to wear two pairs of panties so that no pubic hair could be seen.
In the 1950s, Irving Klaw became known as the "Pin-Up King". He made several burlesque films, the most well known being Varietease (1954) and Teaserama (1955), both of which feature Bettie Page (and were released on DVD in the U.S. in 2000). He produced and directed a third film in 1956, Buxom Beautease, without Page. Also during this period, Klaw produced scores of silent black and white film loops featuring striptease acts and fetish vignettes (scenes depicting elaborate bondage, cat-fights, spanking, etc.). Due to the revival of interest in Betty Page that began in the 1980s, various compilations of these featurettes have been released on video and DVD. Background music was added to the silent footage and narration was included in the two-volume video Irving Klaw Bondage Classics. In 2005 Cult Epics released Bettie Page: Pin Up Queen and Bettie Page: Bondage Queen on DVD.
Klaw returned to filmmaking in 1963, producing two films: Larry Wolk's Intimate Diary of an Artist's Model and Nature's Sweethearts, co-directing the latter. Unlike his previous works, both pictures featured a lot of topless women.
The "Kefauver Hearings" of the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency marked the beginning of the end of Irving Klaw's mail-order photography business. The investigation attacked comic books citing the fact that many juvenile delinquents had read them. It also tried to link pornography with juvenile delinquency. Robert Kennedy, as Attorney General, joined in on the attack.
Because of the political and social pressure he faced, Klaw eventually quit the business, and burned his negatives. (It is estimated that more than 80% of the negatives were destroyed.) Paula Klaw secretly kept in her possession some of the better images which can be seen today.
Irving Klaw died on September 3, 1966 due to complications from untreated appendicitis. He was survived by two sons, Arthur and Jeffrey. His nephew Ira Kramer, son of Paula and Jack Kramer, currently runs the family business known as Movie Star News.