Casey Donovan on Stage: The Theater Career of the First Gay Porn Superstar

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster


 

Tubstrip poster

 


Casey Donovan, who became a legend after his lead performance in Wakefield Poole's Boys in the Sand, was easily the very first true gay porn star. Released in 1971, the film made its debut in the early days of gay liberation as well as the early days of hardcore (the era of “porno chic”), making a significant impact. It premiered at New York City's 55th Street Playhouse, which typically screened foreign and art house cinema, and was the first gay porn film to achieve crossover success, to garner considerable attention from the press, and to be reviewed by Variety, even making it onto their listing of the top fifty grossing films its opening week. The wild success of Boys rapidly helped to launch Casey, with his charm and glowing good looks, into underground fame and turn him into a gay icon. There was talk, at the time, that Casey might be the adult star who could fully break into mainstream film. Casey had aspirations of realizing this potential, and also of appearing in Broadway productions. He had been, and continued to be, involved in theater all his life, as an actor and as a lover of the medium.

Casey, born John Calvin Culver and typically known (and credited outside of his adult career) as Calvin Culver or Cal Culver, was raised in upstate New York. He did theater throughout high school and college, after being encouraged and mentored by his beloved high school English and drama teacher, Helen Van Fleet. (Roger Edmonson's biography Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star, source of the majority of this material, says he called her Auntie Mame, writing to her and sending her tickets to his plays throughout his life. “He took her backstage to meet Ingrid Bergman when he was in a play with the legendary actress. He took her to the Tony Awards, arranging for her to sit front and center in the audience.”)

When he eventually relocated to New York City in the late '60s, Cal made sure to attend as many plays as possible, from Broadway to small productions. He briefly moved to New Hampshire to do summer stock and joined the reputable Peterborough Players as an apprentice before returning to NYC, where he was chosen as a replacement for an actor in the off-Broadway play Pins and Needles. The success in 1968 of Mort Crowley's play The Boys in the Band, which directly focused on gay characters, paved the way for gay-themed plays. Cal was hired as an understudy in an early gay-themed play, And Puppy Dog Tails, in 1969. Around this time, Cal says (in a TV interview on Emerald City) that he was broke and searching for jobs in a paper and saw an ad hiring performers for non-hardcore roles in straight sex films. He wound up doing two "very strange little films" called Dr. X and Twin Beds, making $20 a day.

In 1970, he was cast in a raunchy low-budget thriller, Ginger (dubbed “a female James Bond”), with Cal in a role featuring some nudity. The film was critically panned, but Cal's performance received one of the few positive mentions: “Only Calvin Culver as the thrill-seeking jet set blackmailer shows any indication of better things to come.” Following Ginger, he was featured in a short run of the play Brave, following which he met Jerry Douglas. The two would go on to work together numerous times and in several capacities over the years. Douglas was directing a production of Circle in the Water, another gay-themed play, and brought Donovan on board. Douglas was impressed with how professional and charming Cal was, but commented that he was mysterious: “He always vanished promptly after each performance, not to be heard from until his next call.” Cal had a busy social life, was hustling and cruising after hours, and still making time to frequently see plays and operas.

Just before Boys in the Sand, Cal broke into the hardcore porn world at age 28 when he starred in the 1971 film Casey, originally produced by Palm Features, later picked up by Hand in Hand Films, and currently distributed by Bijou Video. This film, though produced before Boys, wasn't substantially screened until after the release and success of Poole's landmark film. A co-star from one of the sex films Cal made in 1969 had a friend (Donald Crane) who was writing and directing a gay hardcore film and was looking to cast the lead. Cal needed cash and they were paying well, so he took the job. Though he described the shooting of Casey as uncomfortable because of its largely straight and tense crew and cast, Cal carries the film, attempting to create eroticism in the (mostly faked) sex scenes, exuding plentiful charm, and expertly delivering the film's clever and incisive dialogue, full of commentary on gay life in the era. Casey was well-reviewed when it did get distribution. Edmonson's biography says, “Aside from Cal's timelessly watchable good looks, there was his performance. It was a tour de force of its type... Cal not only plays the callow hero, but he also plays [in drag] the role of Wanda Uptight, his own fairy godmother... He played the role to the hilt without a trace of embarrassment, making it one of the more memorable star turns in the history of porn films.”
 

Stills from Casey
Images from Casey

Casey is notable not only for being Cal's first hardcore porn – as well as one of the few films to properly make use of Cal's acting chops – but also, significantly, for giving him his pseudonym and alter ego. As he was modeling for a “legitimate agency” at the time and acting, Cal took the name Ken Donovan for his credit in this film, modifying it to Casey Donovan for his later porn appearances.

Because of Casey, Cal received a call from a friend who knew someone - a former dancer, theater director, and choreographer - who was making "some experimental movies" on Fire Island. This was Wakefield Poole. Cal met with him, saw some of what he'd been shooting, and agreed to take part in this beautifully photographed porn film, which was ultimately to become the classic, Boys in the Sand, that would transform Cal/Casey's life. He received glowing reviews of his performance and his image in the film and there was talk all over New York City (and, eventually, across the nation) about him.
 

Boys in the Sand still
Boys in the Sand poster

 

In 1972, Cal was cast in a small part in the George Bernard Shaw play Captain Brassbound's Conversion starring Ingrid Bergman, who described Cal as “having the same kind and as much charisma as Robert Redford.” A photograph of them together during this production became one of Cal's prized possessions and he said he learned a great deal from getting to watch Bergman act.
 

Cal with Ingrid Bergman

 

Cal with Ingrid Bergman

Jerry Douglas, his Circle in the Water stage director, contacted Cal about appearing in his porn directorial effort The Back Row (1972) co-starring George Payne. In Douglas' Manshots article “The Legend of Casey Donovan” in April of 1992, Douglas, who worked with Cal multiple times in both theater and porn productions, describes how Cal “approached stage and film work in much the same way. He began by creating the character... and by studying the script, even on porn films. Rehearsals and shoots were always filled with his laughter, easy and laid back, even in the middle of an intense sex scene. But performing or filming was always a job to him, and a job he took very seriously.”

Shortly thereafter, Douglas was adapting his swinger play, Score, for the screen and Cal was cast. The film – a talky and very entertaining, nearly-hardcore softcore bisexual film – was made by notable director Radley Metzger. Metzger had come from straight and lesbian softcore films and was soon to move into glossy straight hardcore films (including one of his more well-known works, 1976's The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which would feature Cal in a small role). The sex scenes between Cal and co-star Gerald Grant are the most explicit and erotic in the film, the chemistry and tension between the two palpable, and Cal – here, as in Casey – deftly handles a significant amount of dialogue and delivers a compelling, nuanced performance.
 

Cal Gerald Grant in Score
Cal Gerald Grant in Score
Cal with Gerald Grant in Score

In the following few years, Cal appeared in a handful of small non-porn film parts and met with a number of producers in mainstream film about potential large-scale projects. Stage and screen co-star Michale Kearns said, “He was really, seriously talked about as potentially crossing that invisible line into the mainstream world of Hollywood films. His acting was immaterial. He was a star. He had that ineffable quality...” A Variety article said Cal could be “the bridge from hardcore to legitimate features” and Cal believed he could make that transition. His friend and then-roommate, Jake Getty, says, “He really didn't see – and I honor him for it – the difference between the two mediums. To him it was all an expression of theater... There was a great deal of legitimate theater with nudity and sex, implied sex in any case. Cal felt that there was no difference, that it was just a matter of how you perceived it. For him it was all a matter of the expression of emotion. He saw no difference between the nudity in Hair and the nudity and sex in Boys in the Sand.” But Cal's Hollywood roles never quite manifested.

In 1973, Cal played a series of small parts in a Lincoln Center production of The Merchant of Venice starring Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken. One of his roles was as Jesus Christ, wearing only a crown of thorns and a g-string and carrying an 8-foot cross. This production featured, also in small parts, Robert Tourneaux of the theater and film versions of Boys in the Band. Tourneaux was in a similar predicament to Cal, even without a porn career – his notoriety as a gay actor and from a well-known gay role was putting a stop to his film career.

As Cal was beginning to realize, the dual stigmas against porn and out gay actors were preventing his Hollywood aspirations from manifesting. Wakefield Poole said he also experienced this inability to move into mainstream film directing because of his porn work: “The legit film line couldn't be crossed. They would exploit you, but they didn't dare let you do a legitimate movie. The ugly truth was that there was no crossing over. None at all.”

Cal, in a 1983 Men in Film interview, said “Perhaps I was naive but it was a rude awakening for me to find out that Hollywood is one of the most closeted and hypocritical cultural centers in the world. I learned that an openly gay actor like myself was not welcome to gay directors and producers who believe it is essential to keep their sexuality a secret. Once an actor has made a porn movie, it is very difficult to 'cross over'. And it all has nothing to do with how much talent one has. It is all about how an actor is perceived and prejudged. In a limited sphere, my films made me famous, but in another sense, they were a handicap. I tried to maintain separate names and identities at first... It got increasingly confusing... Besides, the secret could not be perpetuated endlessly.”

Cal gave up his Hollywood hopes eventually, but continued to perform in porn and in theater. He was dropped from a production of Frederick Combs' play The Children's Mass, in which he was to co-star with Sal Mineo (also a friend of Hand in Hand Films heads Jack Deveau and Robert Alvarez), but he worked with Jerry Douglas once more in 1974 in his bathhouse play Tubstrip, also starring Score's Gerald Grant and a fellow early porn star, Jim Cassidy.
 

Tubstrip playbill

Cal was the biggest attraction and the play had a long run in New York, then runs in L.A. and San Francisco, and Cal performed in it to the end. Fans were excited to see Casey Donovan live and Cal “made time to meet with fans who gathered at the stage door every night after the performance.” During this era, he would reportedly screen his porn films for his theater cast-mates at after parties (Boys in the Sand for the Merchant of Venice cast and Poole's 1974 film Moving, co-starring Val Martin, for the Tubstrip cast). Michael Kearns commented on one of these viewings: “He acted like it was Gone with the Wind. He really behaved like a star – not temperamental but like a real star. He didn't feel a bit of shame about what he did on the screen. Even when he was getting fisted, there was a certain elegance about him. He had incredible aplomb.”

Between porn and theater gigs, Cal continued to work as an escort, periodically served as a gay celebrity tour guide on international trips (including to Italy, Egypt, China, and Peru), and did a stint running a bed and breakfast (“Casa Donovan”) in Key West. In his porn career, he worked with with major directors, stars, and studios, including Falcon (The Other Side of Aspen, 1978, co-starring Al Parker and Dick Fisk), the Gage brothers (L.A. Tool & Die, 1979, and Heatstroke, 1982), Christopher Rage (Sleaze, 1982), Poole again (Hot Shots aka Always Ready, 1982, and Split Image, 1984) and Steve Scott (Non-Stop, 1984), and he performed in the 1985 safe sex films Inevitable Love (with Jon King) and Chance of a Lifetime.

After a break from the stage and from New York City, Cal planned a return with a 1983 off-Broadway revival of the Terrence McNally play The Ritz. The play, which originally ran on Broadway in 1975 starring Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Jack Weston, Kaye Ballard, and F. Murray Abraham, was based on Bette Midler's rise to fame at The Continental Baths in the early '70s. (An additional connection to Cal: McNally originally called the play The Tubs, but when it was to be produced on Broadway, its name had to be changed because it was too similar to that of Douglas' Tubstrip.) Cal was brought onto the play's revival as a co-producer, as well as a star, and helped to finance it. Cal played detective character Michael Brick, who spoke in a falsetto voice throughout, and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn was cast in Moreno's leading role. The revival wound up a critical and financial disaster, the director receiving the largest amount of backlash, and only ran one night. Woodlawn said, while that performance was a mess, “Everyone panicked too soon. The opening night was a horror, but if given a chance, things would have settled in and worked out... We just needed more time to make it work.”
 

Poster for Woodlawn and Donovan in the revival of The Ritz
Holly Woodlawn and Cal

After this disappointment and its financial impact, Cal returned to Florida and was never to appear on stage in New York again. However, he couldn't give up on theater and – when not away traveling – attended and began acting in community theater productions in Key West. There, he was in a production of The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie and in William H. Hoffman's pioneering play about AIDS, As Is.

Woodlawn called Cal “the most gracious man I've ever encountered.” His friends remarked upon how dedicated he was to his fans and, while an enigma and a mass of contradictions, how sensitively he received the people he interacted with – strangers, fans, clients, co-workers, lovers, friends. Douglas' Manshots article says Cal “knew that he was a pioneer, a role model, and a superstar with obligations to his public. And so, he took great pains always to appear in public well-groomed and sober. He charmed his fans in every public appearance by listening, again and again, to their personal tales as if each of them were his closest friend. He corresponded with many, sent out hundreds (maybe thousands) of photographs at his own expense, and was never in too much of a hurry to sign one more autograph.” Bijou owner Steven Toushin similarly recalls Cal's appearance at the Bijou Theater. He was booked there to promote a film, dance on stage, and to meet fans and sign autographs. He says Cal had a great time interacting with the customers and stayed hours beyond the time he was scheduled and paid for, enjoying having conversations with his fans.
 

Signed Casey Donovan headshot from his Bijou appearance

Cal's hardcore and softcore films serve to immortalize his charm and his talent, as both an actor and a sexual performer. Though his porn roles modified his acting career, in a Men in Film interview, Cal said, “I enjoyed the idea that I was doing something that very few people had ever done... My life was made much more exciting by having done those films... I did plays, I was on magazine covers, in national fashion ads... I think porno worked in my life because I was so honest about it... Once I realized that my appearance in gay films was held against me in some quarters, I decided to put sex to even greater use – not less – in augmenting my income. We live in a society with deeply rooted feelings of guilt and shame about sex of any kind. If somebody makes a porn film, they are automatically beyond the pale. If somebody hustles, there must be something wrong with him. Maybe for some, not for me. I'm the living proof that it doesn't have to be that way. I'm still pretty much 'the boy next door' that I always was... I think my greatest accomplishment so far is something that doesn't show up in lights or get reviewed – and that's simply the sexual sanity that I have tried to contribute to over the past twenty years... I've tried to be honest, kind, and understanding with as many different people as possible, and I think that's much more important than just being gay.”

Cal's friend Jay McKenna wrote in a memorial article in The Advocate, “To myself and other young boys who were coming out in the early '70s, Cal Culver was a gay Adam – the first widely embraced gay symbol to appear during the post-Stonewall years. Back in 1971, when Cal's first film, Casey... was released, the gay movement was just beginning to amass some collective energy and wider acceptance, but gay existence was still underground and closeted. Coming out was a heartfelt and courageous choice. It was a calculated professional and social risk. So to teen-age boys like myself who were struggling to come to terms with it, Cal's spectacular emergence as Casey Donovan, unapologetic star of gay films, bordered on the heroic... My memory of him isn't obscured by false nostalgia. Cal had star power. He celebrated his gayness. He made me and others proud to be gay, so contagious was his spirit. Of course, like any human being, he had good days and bad days. But to be in his presence was to breathe a rarefied atmosphere.”

In 1985, two years before his death of AIDS-related complications, Cal returned to his home town to help his beloved drama teacher, Helen Van Fleet, celebrate her retirement. He visited with old high school classmates who all knew about his career in “the legitimate theater” and some about his porn career. Cal wanted to play a big part in Mrs. Van Fleet's celebration. Her daughter said, “it was really wonderful. He had written a parody of the title song from the musical Mame, and he sang it to her. It was an account of all the things they had experienced together over the years. It meant the world to her” and it received a huge ovation.

Sources:

Roger Edmonson, Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star

Jerry Douglas, “The Legend of Casey Donovan,” Manshots, April 1992

Jay McKenna, “Casey Donovan: To an Idol Dying Young,” The Advocate, October 27, 1987

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casey_Donovan_(actor)

https://newyorkcityinthewitofaneye.com/2013/05/20/mondays-on-memory-lane-1981-one-night-only-at-the-ritz-with-holly-woodlawn-2013/

Emerald City TV #47, Wakefield Poole & Cal Culver

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1970s & 1980s Porn Directors on Porn Filmmaking

 

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

Jack Deveau:
[Credits include Left-Handed, Drive, Ballet Down the Highway, Good Hot Stuff, Wanted: Billy the Kid, A Night at the Adonis, Rough Trades, Sex Magic, Fire Island Fever, Dune Buddies, Times Square Strip]

 

"We were looking for a while to describe the porno movie because it doesn't really relate to anything else. it is only starting to find its milieu, or genre, whatever you want to call it. It's a musical comedy, but now instead of singing, they fuck. Now that I've been able to make that generalization I think, well, are they going to sing a happy song now or a sad one? What condition is this character in? And then we try to structure the sex in those terms... Good or bad, gay or straight, this is becoming a literature that you can't ignore. Now there are 40 films in our library and there are a number of other organizations or companies who have the same thing. There are magazines in Europe who are devoting whole issues every other month to critiques of the erotic cinema. Eventually this will have to become a literature." -- Soho Weekly News, 1975
 

Jack Deveau
Jack Deveau on the sets of Ballet Down the Highway and Sex Magic
Jack Deveau shooting Ballet Down the Highway & Sex Magic


Peter de Rome:
[Credits include The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, Adam and Yves, The Destroying Angel]

"I think that we've barely scratched the surface of pornography in filmmaking, and that it has become a sort of mandatory thing in sex films to show a positive view of sex and all of the sex is supposed to be the ultimate, the pinnacle of excitement and life simply isn't like that. It seems to me that sometime we've got to get honest about sex and admit to ourselves that very few sexual encounters do work out agreeably or are compltetely successful. I think we can learn from our failures as from our successes. I have a very simple if not simplistic attitude toward sex films, and that is that sex is just as much a part of life as living, eating, breathing, sleeping. It's just another function of life and I don't see why it can't be depicted dramatically just as those other functions are and as honestly, too. And I think we have to show every aspect of sex in films before we can really say we are making sex films."
 

Peter de Rome
Peter de Rome directing the stars of The Destroying Angel

Peter de Rome directing the stars of The Destroying Angel



Michael Goodwin:
[Credits include The Goodjac Chronicles, Goodjac Too]

"Filmmakers have prettied-up and candy-coated male sex so much that most people who do get off on it don't think that they're worthy of being photographed or seen. That's a real putdown of the community. I don't think it was planned that way, but everybody just got on the bandwagon. Good-looking sex and tantric moments are going on with people who have pot bellies, have hair in the wrong places, or don't have hair in the right places. I believe people want to see that kind of good sex... I'm stepping into this the way those people stepped into those rockets: they believed in what they were doing, they believed it was for a good cause, they believed it would do some good for people, and they just stepped in and did it." -- Mandate, 1986

Goodjac series logo
Michael Goodwin shooting The Goodjac Chronicles
Michael Goodwin shooting The Goodjac Chronicles


Al Parker:
[Credits include Dangerous, Therapy, Head Trips, One in a Billion, Rangers, Oversize Load, Strange Places Strange Things, High Tech]

"Surge is a small company - very small. People are amazed when they find out that Surge was basically two people, my lover, Steven [Steve Taylor], and me. When you think of a studio, you think of M-G-M or Warners, but all of our sets were built in our living room in the house at Hermosa Beach, which was a 1500 square foot house that had a wonderful cathedral ceiling. But if you pulled up my carpets, my floors were ruined. I mean, there were nail holes everywhere. We trashed that house - but that house was our studio. And all of our successful films from One in a Billion to High Tech were done in that house." -- Manshots, 1990
 

Al Parker on the set of Strange Places Strange Things
Al Parker on the set of Strange Places Strange Things


Steve Scott:
[Credits include Track Meet, Rough Cut, Twelve at Noon, Gemini, Inches, Wanted, Games, Turned On!, A Few Good Men, Screenplay, Non-Stop]

"We're trying to create an erection. Now, to me, that's a feat in itself. It's a harder job than legit films. A lot of people may talk down porno, but I'll stand up to David Lean, to all of 'em, because what we do, in the limited time we do it in... Why, we're now doing 70 to 75 minutes on Inches for maybe ten, twelve thousand dollars. That's unheard of! That's lunch! So, it's an undertaking, and what we've done to date we're proud of, and hopefully we'll go on making milestones. And we don't like to cheat the audience. At least when they come out of the theatre from watching one of our films they're satisfied, they're entertained, and they don't feel like they're ripped off... and they may come back to see the next one." -- Skin, 1980
 

Steve Scott filming Twelve at Noon
Steve Scott filming Twelve at Noon
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Great Non-Sex Moments in Classic Gay Porn Films

by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Sex scenes are, as one would expect, almost always the focus of porn films, but – especially in the the heyday of story porn and artistic/experimental porn, the 1970s, when many porn films truly were films – there were a large number of notably interesting non-sex scenes present in what was being produced. Sometimes these sequences were lead-ins to sex scenes. Sometimes they served to advance the film's narrative, or flesh out a character or an interpersonal dynamic, or talk about gay life and relationships and communities of the era. Sometimes they are notable because they capture something that is historically interesting. Following are several examples from the Bijou collection.
 

The Night Before (Arch Brown, 1973): Lady in Red / Dance Scene

Main character Hank (Coke Hennessy) goes for a stroll with a package he picked up on his way to deliver it to its recipient, the man with whom he recently got involved. In the park, he sees a woman wearing all red dancing and The Lady in Red suddenly comes on. He joins her in dancing for a brief, goofy moment. He then sits on a park bench and unwraps the package. Inside is a large print-out of a cover of The Advocate featuring a photo of two men taken by his lover. As Hank studies this photo, it comes to life and we see the men (Tim Clarke and Jeffrey Etting) perform a gorgeously choreographed nude dance number set to an operatic David Earnest score.
 

The Night Before images

 

Casey (Donald Crane, 1971): Casey talks to his fairy godmother

In several sequences from Casey Donovan's first film (shot before but released after The Boys in the Sand), Casey speaks to his fairy godmother, Wanda Uptight (also played by Donovan, in drag), who has appeared in the mirror to give him some harsh, but insightful advice on his habits and love life (or lack thereof). Wanda first appears after Casey wakes up by jerking off in bed unsatisfactorily, then sings to himself in the bathroom as he washes down a series of vitamins with a swig of Southern Comfort, lights a joint, stares hard at his reflection, and shouts “Faggot!” at himself. Wanda appears over his reflection, startling him, and she dishes out some tough love, chewing him out for not taking care of himself, chasing cock constantly, and not knowing what he really wants. Their very clever dialogue, expertly delivered by Donovan, is both funny and incisive, representing Casey's internal conflict around love, sex, and self-acceptance. (“Anybody who can wash down raw liver substance and vitamin B complex with Southern Comfort is depraved!” “Three nights a week in a Turkish Bath! You'll dehydrate yourself!” “No one digs anyone. It doesn't matter if it's number one or two thousand and two – where does it lead?”)
 

Casey images

 

Adam and Yves (Peter de Rome, 1974): The final film appearance of Greta Garbo

An American man, Adam (Michael Hardwick), and a French man, Yves (Marcus Giovanni), play mysterious sexual mind games throughout their brief, but intense, Parisian love affair, including the rule, enforced by Yves, that they may never know each other's names. The sights of Paris are a fascinating backdrop, but the most surprising and historically notable moment in the film comes when Adam recounts an incredible time when he saw Greta Garbo from the window of his apartment. Director Peter de Rome accompanies this story with the actual last-known footage of Garbo, herself, shot from his own window on super 8 film.
 

Adam and Yves images of Greta Garbo

Garbo in Adam and Yves

 

Ballet Down the Highway (Jack Deveau, 1975): Sloppy strip tease

Closeted truck driver, Joe (Garry Hunt), falls hard for ballet star Ivan (Henk Van Dijk) early in their ill-fated affair, but is intimidated by Ivan's talent, fame, wealth, and gorgeous physique. Ivan belongs to a world where he can comfortably be out and Joe does not. Ivan lives in an expensive apartment and gets fancy Dutch music boxes delivered to his vacation home; Joe gets drunk in a blue collar bar in the rumpled suit he wore to go see Ivan perform in the ballet (which he was too proud to let Ivan get him into for free) and is heckled for being gay by his buddies. Totally wasted after a night at the bar, Joe calls Ivan, who is irritated with him, then shows up to Ivan's apartment anyway. He changes Ivan's radio from a classical station to something faster with saxophone, saying he wants to dance, groping Ivan, and complimenting his beautiful body. Ivan pushes him away and Joe, hurt, mocks Ivan as insists he is a good dancer, too, and proceeds to do a drunken, sloppy strip tease in Ivan's living room, dropping pieces of his suit on the floor, smirking, sniffing his own sock, and finally pretending to drink out of his shoe while sprawled across Ivan's floor. All the while, Ivan ignores Joe and plays solitaire.
 

Ballet Down the Highway images

 

L.A. Tool & Die (Joe Gage, 1979): Fight scene, Vietnam flashback, work/getting to know you montages

Joe Gage's L.A. Tool & Die is full of strong character-building sequences. Early on, we see the hero, Hank (played by Richard Locke), hanging out in a gay bar and trying to cruise a handsome stranger (Wylie, played by Will Seagers). In the bathroom, Hank runs into a homophobic man who works for the bar owner. The man calls Hank a cocksucker, to which Hank grins and calmly responds, “You'd better believe it. The only thing I like better than sucking cock is kicking ass.” He tosses the man out of the bathroom and roughs him up a bit. The man, no match for Locke, runs away as Locke smirks, having not even gotten worked up or broken a sweat.

In a later scene, Wylie is taking a break from his cross-country drive to walk along the beach at sunset. In a close up, we see that he's crying. Gage cuts to a flashback of a younger Wylie in Vietnam, holding his dying lover in the battle field. His lover tells Wylie that he doesn't think he's going to make it and that he must promise not to forget him, but also to love somebody else some day.

Near the end of the film, Hank and Wylie reunite when they both get jobs at L.A. Tool & Die. Hank learned that Wylie was traveling there for work and decided to do the same. Two beautifully-cut montages and a dialogue sequence show the two men getting to know each other while working and taking breaks together. Wylie appreciates Hank being patient with him; he has been reluctant to get involved with anyone, but is clearly warming up to Hank. Throughout the film, Locke imbues Hank with an easy, warm sort of charm and a sexy, confident swagger and Seagers gives Wylie both a sweet, shy vulnerability and a quiet strength. The two men have enormous chemistry and the actors and characters compliment each other well, their connection and relationship feeling believable.
 

L.A. Tool & Die images

 

Wanted: Billy the Kid (Jack Deveau, 1976): I'll Be Your Mirror

New Yorker Billy (Dennis Walsh) is an unsuccessful actor and quite successful hustler. Between memorizing lines and gossiping with his friend (Megan Ross), seeing tricks, and exercising, Billy takes a quiet break to smoke a joint and listen to a song. It's a slow, folky original composition (“I'll Be Your Mirror” - lyrics by the film's writer, Moose 100, and music by Hand in Hand Films composer David Earnest) and the camera is fixed on Billy throughout its duration, as he sits, contemplative, smoking, listening, and occasionally mouthing along to the lyrics. He is broken out of his reverie by a phone call from a regular, and they swap some elegant dirty talk.
 

Wanted: Billy the Kid images

 

Confessions of a Male Groupie (Tom DeSimone, 1971): Party scene

This early Tom DeSimone film is possibly the ultimate hippie porn, focusing on a community of friends in Hollywood and their love of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll. Barely a sex film and more of a portrait of the era, the movie soaks up the atmosphere of the time and place as The Groupie (Larry Danser) moves to the area from a small town, becomes best friends with party girl Sweet Lady Mary (Myona Phetish), and cruises the members of a rock band (The Electric Banana). The climax of the film is a wild party sequence starring a large number of friends and acquaintances of DeSimone. The attendees – all genders covered in glitter and sequins – laugh, smoke joints, swing on an indoor swing set, playfully horse around and wrestle, cuddle, embrace each other, and dance. The crowd includes a trans couple who were the subjects of two Penelope Spheeris short documentary films (I Don't Know and Hats Off to Hollywood).
 

Confessions of a Male Groupie images
Jimmy/Jennifer and Dana in Spheeris' Hats Off to Hollywood

Even with its surprising turn into a cautionary anti-drug film (after the wild hedonism of the rest of its run time), Confessions of a Male Groupie – and this sequence in particular – is a fascinating document of a real community of queer friends and lovers in the early '70s.
 

Confessions of a Male Groupie images

 

You can find all of these movies (except for L.A. Tool & Die, though some scenes from it are available in our compilation, The Best of Richard Locke) on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming at BijouGayPorn.com.

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Jack Deveau: Vintage Gay Porn Director Profile

by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Jack Deveau filming

Jack Deveau was one of the major directors, producers, and distributors of gay porn from 1972 to 1982. He made films that were “literate, artistically ambitious and, of course, sexually hot” (Mandate); shot films in Paris, Fire Island, NYC, and Woodstock, NY; and helped to launch careers in gay porn for countless writers, directors, actors, and musicians. Hand in Hand Films, the studio co-founded by Deveau with Robert Alvarez and Jaap Penraat, was referred to as “the M.G.M of gay porno” (with Deveau dubbed “the Louis B. Mayer”) and was known for making and distributing many high quality productions.

Jack was born in Manhattan, New York on January 25, 1935. He attended Cornell University, Sir George Williams College, and McGill University. In the early '70s, he was working at an architecture and graphic design business and – with his business partner, renowned architect/designer Jaap Penraat – had developed several patents and co-authored a book. At this time, Jack's lover Robert Alvarez and their friend, Rebel Without a Cause actor Sal Mineo, suggested to Jack that he ought to get into making movies. Robert told Manshots, in a 1982 interview, that he knew Jack would be well-suited for this profession: “I thought he was a natural. I thought he had a kind of charisma, the ability to make people listen, to make people enjoy what they were doing... Whoever he set his sights on, he could somehow charm into doing anything or saying what he wanted. He was the kind of person who, literally, had a lot of tricks up his sleeve – because he'd studied magic [when he was young] – and he was used to dealing with people.”
 

Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic
Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic (1977)

Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)
Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Alvarez had become a film editor several years prior, working on underground/experimental films and documentaries and laying the music track for landmark early gay hardcore film Boys in the Sand (Wakefield Poole), which Jack also helped to promote. Alvarez wanted to make a film with Jack “because from the beginning I wanted us to work together. That's part of what the relationship meant to me. I just wanted him around all the time.” Jack had seen some of his friends producing porn films and making a profit from them, but he was still unsure about being in the movie business. Sal convinced Jack to accompany him to a production meeting for one of his upcoming films. “I didn't really know what he had in mind,” said Jack, “but I went and sat quietly in a corner while a room full of film executives said some of the dumbest things I'd ever heard. I thought, I could do better than that, so with a little more encouragement, I became a film producer.”

Deveau, Alvarez, and Penraat formed New York-based studio Hand in Hand Films in 1972 with the aim of creating an alternative to the minimally plotted West Coast gay films that made up the majority of what was being produced. They wanted to create a definite East Coast look and feel and to produce artistically and narratively strong releases. The studio began with the production of their first film, Left-Handed, a feature directed by Deveau and Penraat about a hustler who seduces, then dumps, a straight man.
 

Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed
Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed (1972)

Robert Alvarez remarked on the film's tone and themes to Manshots, saying “It's cynical in a way, because Jack was cynical in a way about a lot of gay relationships and things that happen in gay society... It had a real story to tell. It had characters you could identify with, whether you liked them or not. Like, the lead character is sort of a shit. It was a breakthrough in that sense because it had an anti-hero. It also had all the required elements to make it a hardcore film.” The film's budget – fairly large compared to what was being spent on gay porn films at the time – came from Jack, who sold his stocks and took out loans to pay for it.

Left-Handed was shot on 16mm on a Bolex, as were many later Hand in Hand films. Jack was the primary cinematographer for the films he directed as well as for several of their other productions by different directors. Alvarez referred to Jack as a “tinkerer” who had a background in still photography: “He knew about the exposures and focus and all that business... He knew how to take a camera apart and put it back together. He knew exactly what made it work.”
 

The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed
The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed

Left-Handed premiered at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, adjacent to Carnegie Hall, and was well-received, getting glowing reviews from Variety and a number of gay publications. The film ran for a time there and at the 55th Street Playhouse, also in NYC. Then Jack and Robert took “a cross-country trip in Jack's new Maserati (Jack felt we had to look the part of movie moguls) to meet and sell our movie to other cities' owners of gay x-rated venues.” Having got to know the exhibitors in the gay film market, Hand in Hand began to make and distribute additional films, becoming the first company to “provide a sort of national clearing house for gay films” (Manshots). Instead of selling prints to exhibitors, which most people were doing at the time and which resulted in many pirated film prints being created and screened, Hand in Hand rented out prints of the films they carried, winning over exhibitors by guaranteeing that they would have high quality new product regularly available. They were able to achieve this by promoting the brand name of Hand in Hand, itself, and attracting other directors to it. These included Peter de Rome (whose collection of shorts, The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, was Hand in Hand's next release), Tom DeSimone (Catching Up, The Idol), Arch Brown (The Night Before), playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie (American Cream), John Stephens (Jack), and more.

1974 saw the release of Jack's most wild and ambitious film, Drive, co-written with and starring Christopher Rage and featuring a cast of 50 men; a short stint where Jack and Robert owned the Lincoln Art Theatre in New York (where they showed Drive and Gerard Damiano's classic straight porn The Devil in Miss Jones); and Jack and Peter de Rome shooting de Rome's first feature, Adam and Yves, in Paris. (Jack was the cinematographer and producer for Peter's second and final feature, The Destroying Angel, in 1976.)
 

Poster for and stars of Adam and Yves
Peter de Rome's Adam and Yves (1974)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France
Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)


Jack (who had French roots) spent more time in France shortly afterwards, when Hand in Hand's documentary Good Hot Stuff (1975), a fascinating behind the scenes look at the production of gay porn films in the '70s, became the first gay porn film to open in Paris, billed there as Histoires d'Hommes. The run in Paris was successful. Said Jack, “Not only did we get lots of interesting press and critical attention, most of it quite favorable, but the film out-grossed Nashville our opening week. The most satisfying part of the whole experience, though, was to be treated as a serious filmmaker.”
 

Jack and Robert Alvarez in front of a Histoires d'Hommes billboard in Paris

You can watch excerpts from Good Hot Stuff here on our YouTube channel and see clips of Jack Deveau, himself, discussing filmmaking. He would return to Paris a year later to shoot Le Musee (later re-titled Strictly Forbidden and released, after a delay, posthumously) at the Musee Rodin, with cooperation from the French government.
 

Jack with Jaap Penraat, Peter de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1976)
Jack with Penraat, de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1975)

After Good Hot Stuff, Jack directed two excellent dramatic character pieces, Ballet Down the Highway and Wanted: Billy the Kid, in quick succession. Ballet Down the Highway was highly promoted and, according to an oddly glib and scathing Michael's Thing write-up, had a large premiere with champagne and souvenir t-shirts which was attended by Jamie Gillis, Divine, and Tennessee Williams.
 

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Jenraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Penraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere


Jack always sought out talented writers and cast and crew members to work with. He recruited writer Lorenzo Mans (aka P.P. Mans) for Ballet Down the Highway and worked with trained dancers on a choreographed ballet sequence in that film. Hand in Hand soundtracks include outstanding original music by Emmy Award-winning television and Broadway composer Stan Freeman (Left-Handed, Drive, Ballet Down the Highway) and talented orchestral composer David Earnest (The Night Before, Drive, Adam and Yves, Ballet Down the Highway, and Wanted: Billy the Kid).

In performers, Jack would use his instincts to find men who had the right combination of elements to work well on screen: “When you're looking for men who can suck and fuck for the screen and in front of a crew of technicians, there's a poise and confidence that emanates from those who can. You can feel it just sitting and talking to someone. We also ask why the applicant wants to appear in a pornographic movie. If money is the only answer, I'm rarely interested in going any further. The work of being in a porn film, the physical and mental demands, just can't be bought with money alone. You have to have some interest in being in front of a camera, whether through sheer narcissism or attempting to ply your craft as an actor. And as corny as it sounds, there is such a thing as star quality, a sense of himself a man can have that sets him apart.”
 

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)


In addition to Jack's charm and people skills, Robert Alvarez discussed with Manshots his quickness and adaptability, which helped Jack to reshape anything that wasn't working during the shooting of a film and make it function. Jack's friend and Hand in Hand business associate Kees Chapman described how Jack always wanted to use the best equipment. For A Night at the Adonis (a 1978 film set in the Adonis Theater and starring Jack Wrangler, Malo, and Jayson MacBride), Jack wanted to get a stead cam, “which he was just dying to use, and this was the place to use it.” They were supposed to be cutting back on their spending because of changes in the industry taking place by the late '70s which made large scale productions less profitable, but Jack still wanted to get the technical side right. Chapman: “I miss Jack's influence that way, because – as much as I was always trying to pull him back and say, 'You can't rent another light because we can't afford it' – he'd go rent ten more – and he'd always be right.'”
 

Geraldo, Jack Deveau, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)

Geraldo, Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)


Jack wanted Hand in Hand's films to be well-executed and taken seriously by other filmmakers and by viewers. He was an early force shaping the newly forming genre of hardcore. His interview with Soho Weekly News contains some fascinating commentary on structure of the genre from Jack: “We came to an interesting idea about porno movies. We were looking for a while to describe the porno movie because it doesn't really relate to anything else. It is only starting to find its milieu, or genre, whatever you want to call it. It's a musical comedy, but now instead of singing, they fuck. Now that I've been able to make that generalization I think, well, are they going to sing a happy song now or a sad one? What condition is this character in? And then we try to structure the sex in those terms.”

Robert Alvarez commented to Manshots that “there was a period there where there was a lot of magic going on. It's not ever going to be the same again. There was a period in porn filmmaking when there was hope that you could do something... You could do whatever the hell you wanted. You could be as audacious as you wanted. You were working on a very low budget. You knew there was a limit on how much you could spend. You had that much money to do something. Therefore you could do whatever you wanted as long as you had the required amount of sex scenes.”

Hand in Hand amassed at least 40 films in their library, Jack directing many more through 1982 (Rough Trades, Hot House, Sex Magic, Dune Buddies, Fire Island Fever, Just Blonds, The Boys from Riverside Drive, and Times Square Strip), and they had plans to begin developing some non-pornographic gay films that could reach a wider audience.

Jack Deveau's filmography as writer, director, cinematographer, and producer

Jack Deveau passed away on December 2, 1982 after a long battle with cancer. Strictly Forbidden and a second shorts collection with segments directed by Deveau, In Heat, (following Hand in Hand's 1980 shorts compilation, Private Collection) were released posthumously. The adult film industry changed considerably in the following years with the advent of home video and the decline of porn theaters. Hand in Hand continued to operate as a mail order business until Kees Chapman died in 1988, at which point Alvarez sold Hand in Hand's entire library to Bijou Video, where we still preserve and carry their films, available on DVD and Video on Demand. They are truly worth checking out and range from beautiful and artistic, to bizarre, to romantic, campy, sleazy, funny, thoughtful, surreal, sweet, clever, dramatic – all while being hot.
 

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

 

Jack had hope for the legacy of the films he produced and for gay films as a whole: “There are magazines in Europe who are devoting whole issues every other month to critiques of the erotic cinema. Eventually this will have to become a literature... There are many stories to be told, as people finally listen to and begin to understand the experiences of gay men and women. I think there'll soon be a larger audience for movies about the way gay people feel about themselves and how they interact with the rest of society. And from a purely commercial standpoint, gay people have been supporting the film industry for years. It's about time they started getting some feedback.”

Alvarez also touched on Jack's notion of gay porn as recorded literature in his Manshots interview.

Manshots: What were his strengths that made his films so special?
Alvarez: Jack said what he wanted to.
Manshots: The fact that he made erotic films that said anything at all is a rarity.
Alvarez: Yes, I feel it's an unfinished story. I feel that there's more there than even I can comment on. One of the things that Jack always said was that “no matter what – this is recorded literature, or a piece of literature. You can be sure when you're dead that that piece of literature will be around.” As long as the film negative doesn't deteriorate or the lab doesn't burn down, it's true. Whatever is there that he made is going to be there for a long time. Who knows what people will make of it – but it will be there.
 

Jack Deveau illustrated portrait
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The Backstory of Peter de Rome's The Destroying Angel

 BY MIRIAM WEBSTER, special guest blogger

 

The Destroying Angel poster


"It started with the thought that gay films had been made in various forms, but that they hadn't yet tackled the horror genre," starts celebrated gay porn auteur Peter de Rome's write up on his truly unusual 1976 horror/porn hybridThe Destroying Angel - an entertaining, disturbing, and hallucinatory film about Catholicism, sexuality, doppelgangers, and psychoactive mushrooms. "Almost at the same time came the idea to write a story about twins - one that had been lurking in the back of my mind for a long time." 
 

British filmmaker Peter de Rome, who passed away in 2014, was the subject of a recent documentary, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn. His work, which is both avant-garde and explicitly gay and erotic, has been recognized by the British Film Institute and written about extensively in recent years. Working primarily in New York City in the early days of hardcore, de Rome made two features (the fascinating 1974 film Adam and Yves, shot in Paris and featuring the last known footage of Greta Garbo, along with The Destroying Angel), and a number of short films. 
Adam and Yves poster

Eight of his shorts made between the years 1969 and 1972 (notably, the well-known "Underground," which depicts a real sex scene shot on an active NY subway train) make up the collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, released by Hand in Hand Films.

 

Hand in Hand also released his two features and included a few more of his short films in their compilations In Heat and Private Collection
 

The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome poster

De Rome was an atypical pornographic filmmaker, largely because he had little interest in the straight-forward depiction of sex or the conventions of pornography. Rather, he was interested in exploring a more multi-dimensional look at sexuality through his filmmaking. "My feeling is for eroticism. And that, for me, is 'leading up to the sex.' Once you're at the sex stage it can quickly get terribly boring," he told HIM Magazine. "For me, a lot of the arousal is in the mind and the imagination. That is what really turns me on. Most of my ideas, therefore, are concerned with how we get there." 

 

Peter de Rome directing stars Tim Kent and Philip Darden

In an interview with In Touch Magazine, de Rome elaborated, "I think that we've barely scratched the surface of pornography in film making, and that it has become a sort of mandatory thing in sex films to show a positive view of sex and all of sex is supposed to be the ultimate, the pinnacle of excitement, and life simply isn't like that. It seems to me that sometime we've got to get honest about sex and admit to ourselves that very few sexual encounters do work out agreeably or are completely successful. And that's one of the reasons that I did the first scene in Destroying Angel as a 'down'; it was meant to be an unsuccessful sex trip. I have a very simple if not simplistic attitude toward sex films, and that is that sex is just as much a part of life as living, eating, breathing, sleeping - it's just another function of life and I don't see why it can't be depicted dramatically just as those other funcitons are and as honestly, too. And I think we have to show every aspect of sex in films before we can really say we are making sex films." 

 

Bill Eld in a Destroying Angel publicity still

In his film backstory, 'Genesis of The Destroying Angel,' de Rome continues: 

By chance, I happened to read John Allegro's fascinating study, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross, that seeks to equate Jesus Christ with a mushroom, the Amanita Muscaria. This, in turn, led me to R.G. Wasson'sSoma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, which traces the same mushroom to the Soma plant in the ancient Rig Veda of India. The whole incredible story seemed to me to be a natural for erotic treatment. But how to blend the two ideas together? 

I sat down at the typewriter and looked up at the painting hanging on the wall before me. It could have been a portrait of myself, except for the way he was clothed and the caption underneath: Edgar Allan Poe. Was this a sign? Maybe, but inspiration eluded me. So I went back to his stories and, sure enough, there was the answer. 

Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe
Peter de Rome in front of a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe

"William Wilson" provided just the sort of structure I was looking for with one important change: the twins became one troubled young man and his alter ego. A few scenes in the film are direct parallels to the story, but mostly only the structure is retained. 

And then, because of the religious aspect of the mushroom story, it seemed logical to make the principle character a young priest, sorely tempted beyond his means to resist. 

Tim Kent as the priest, looking distressed and wearing a cross necklace
Man standing before a portrait of Poe and a cross
Tim Kent's face as he's fucked by Bill Eld

The urination scene derives from the hypothesis that the sacred plant called the Soma in the Vedic culture was, in fact, a hallucinogenic mushroom, a plant with miraculous inebriating virtue, enjoyed both by the peoples of the Valley of the Indus and the cattle they tended. The juice of the Soma had a similar intoxicating effect on the animals, and is excreted still in its purest form in the urine, only to be ingested once more by the peasants. This way they could stay high for days! 

Destroying Angel piss scene

Small wonder that the sun became a compelling metaphor for the gleaming red-topped mushroom, and the urine its golden rays: 

Pass on me the flowing Soma
Divine Inebriant - Holy Water 

Urinate your juices on me
Fruit of my esoteric dreams 

Hari Krishna - Flaming Fungus 

Spill yourself onto the belly of Indra
Penetrate my entrails, enter into my heart
O Soma juice, light of the sun. 

Red-topped mushroom and knife

The Destroying Angel was hardly first time de Rome tackled religious themes in his films - this seemed to be a particular fascination of his. Adam and Yves features a masturbation sequence (starring Bill Eld, also of The Destroying Angel) in a chapel and two films in The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, "The Second Coming" and "Prometheus," also come to mind. "Prometheus" (also with its obvious mythological connections) focuses on a man who is used and abused by a group of men, ushered into the room by a figure who resembles Christ. "The Second Coming" starts off as a lark, as two men (one played by Peter de Rome, himself) travel across Europe, collecting clues that lead them from city to city. One of them men winds up in an old village, where he wanders into a cathedral. A group of men are huddled together inside, looking at what initially appears to be a large crucifix on the wall in front of them. However, the figure on the cross moves - it is not Christ, but a live nude man mounted there, who ejaculates, hands free, all over his own torso. 

 

Passed out man carried away at the end of Prometheus

The Destroying Angel - a film that is simultaneously complex and campy, hot and disturbing - was de Rome's final feature, as he was, at this point in his career, developing a distaste for the increasingly graphic sexuality demanded by producers and audiences. This film (accurately referred to as "a mess but a masterpiece" by Rupert Smith) spends a larger portion of its running time on sex scenes than does Adam and Yves, but this is not to say that it abandons de Rome's preference for imagination and eroticism over explicitness. Its sex scenes are unlike any others, becoming more and more surreal and deconstructed over the course of the film. The Destroying Angel fully fuses the genres it is tackling - its sex scenes are horror scenes. 

 

Frightening sex scene
Frightening sex scene


 

 

 

The sexuality depicted is complicated, conflicted, anguished, compulsive; the priest character's internal struggle, rooted in religion and made terrifyingly manifest by way of hallucinogens, the source. Psychological and emotional concerns are primary within the sex scenes and the sex scenes do not function as durational necessities but, rather, they serve asthe narrative and as the method of conveying the thematic material, helping to make every moment of the film thoroughly watchable as a piece of cinema. 
 

The Destroying Angel art

 

 
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