Joe Tiffenbach: The Early Years

posted by Madame Bubby

By the 1970s, the golden age of gay porn in the heady days in the aftermath of Stonewall, already Joe Tiffenbach was achieving a type of iconic status as “grandaddy of gay porn.” Who was this person who encompassed in his life many different roles in the LGBTQ community? In many ways, his life and work is a microcosm of the lives of many gay men since WWII.

Joe's varied career warrants an IMDb entry, and what it says is quite telling if one applies a historical and social context. Joe Tiffenbach, Jr. was born on December 23, 1923, the son of Joseph and Mary Tiffenbach, somewhere in Los Angeles County, California. He was to remain in California for the rest of his life.
 

Joe Tiffenbach's grave
Source: findagrave.com

Joe enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1943; I don't know if he ever saw combat, but one could perhaps surmise his experience in the army, like that of many gay men during this period, may have exposed him more fully to other gay men. California at that time was to some degree a mecca for gay men, because many could obtain employment at different levels in the movie industry. The closet door was closed, but in that closet many gay men were able to thrive in the creative fields while participating in the sexual underground.

After leaving the service in 1946, Joe went to college (probably on the G.I. Bill, which opened up many opportunities for persons of all social classes during that period). While in college, a friend introduced him at a party to an important figure in LGBTQ history and Old Hollywood history, William “Billy” Haines. William was a star at MGM during the silent era of the 1920s. He became a lifelong friend of Joan Crawford, with whom he starred in some movies. He ended up leaving the industry in the early 1930s because he dared to defy the all-powerful Louis B. Mayer by refusing to hide his homosexuality and living openly with his life-partner, Jimmy Shields.

Subsequently, William became a famous interior designer (he designed the interior of Joan's home in Brentwood, the location of the “Mommie Dearest” incidents). His wealth and social status enabled him to make his home a center of LGBTQ culture during that period. In other words, Joe entered the realm of that era's A-list gays!
 

Joe Tiffenbach's grave
Joan Crawford, Billy Haines, Jimmy Shields, and Al Steele
Source: https://garbolaughs.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/william-haines/

At Billy's home that evening, Joe also met John Darrow, a former actor turned Hollywood agent, and John's lover Chuck Walters, a director and choreographer of many famous movies with stellar casts, including The Unsinkable Molly Brown with Doris Day and High Society with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly.

What happened next sounds like the beginning of a stereotypical rags to riches movie plot. John and Chuck got Joe a job in the 20th Century Fox mail room after he finished college. He didn't exactly obtain the riches, but he ended up beginning a career in the mainstream film industry, producing travel films and obtaining various production jobs on studio shoots for major films. If he didn't enter the upper echelons of Old Hollywood, he was certainly “in the know,” and definitely had made connections with some of its more openly gay figures.

While Joe was working in the Hollywood studios, he was also participating in California's gay sexual underground. Beginning in 1950, he began posing for Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild publication, Physique Pictorial. Ostensibly a bodybuilding/beefcake magazine, Mizer was really producing homoerotic material. The muscle beach movement that burgeoned in California (that produced such sword and sandal/muscle icons as Steve Reeves and Dick DuBois) during that period served as a kind of “coded cover” for his images of semi-nude men, often photographed nude with the posing straps painted on before publication. (Not all Mizer's models were gay, but gay for pay was of course not a novelty in this subculture where, according to uber-hustler/pimp Scotty Bowers, Old Hollywood stars, living in the closet of fame and fortune, were able to pay for gay sex.)
 

Physique Pictorial, August 1952 cover
Physique Pictorial, v.2 n.3, August 1952
Source: https://bijouworld.com/Vintage-Physique/Physique-Pictorial-v.2-n.3-August-1952.html

Joe posed for the magazine for some time, as well as for other “physique photography” studios such Bruce of L.A. Then, in what seems to be a pragmatic move, in the 1960s he began taking his own physique photos. And in the more sexually liberated climate of the 1960s and after the famous MANual Enterprises, Inc. vs. O'Day case which established that such photos were not obscene, he began photographing and filming gay erotica.

In 1969 Stonewall occurred on the other side of America, and also that year, Richard Amory produced a groundbreaking soft-core gay erotic film called Song of the Loon (available from Bjiou Video). Joe, though uncredited, was one of the cinematographers. Joe would enter this era of gay liberation as a pioneering participant in gay erotic filmmaking, utilizing his extensive Old Hollywood background in photography and cinematography.
 

Images from Song of the Loon
Song of the Loon (1969)

Part two to follow next week, detailing Joe's involvement in other gay porn films and also his contributions to a couple of famous gay porn magazines.

Find two 1971 Jaguar classics directed by Tiffenbach, The Baredevils and Sudden Rawhide, through Bijou Video, as well as one of his much later directorial efforts, our newest release, Tall Tales (1986), starring Morgan Hunter, Cory Monroe, Gino DelMar, Dane Ford, Matt Forrest, and Chaz Holderman.

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Christopher
I hope you are well! I just found this blog, and I am really loving the posts. Joe Tiffenbach is certainly an interesting subject,... Read More
Sunday, 26 April 2020 14:57
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Some LGBTQ Slang Terms from the Early '60s & Before: Revealing a Hidden Culture

posted by Madame Bubby

Cover of The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms

In our archives, we carry a fascinating title called The Guild Dictionary of Homosexual Terms, which looks to be from the early to middle of the 1960s. Guild Press was a grounbreaking outfit as H. Lynn Womack was not afraid of being open about the audience of his diverse array of publications: gays and lesbians. He did not censor, he did not code, and by publishing this small book by one Dr. Albert Ellis, he claims that LGBTQ persons existed and still exist in history, and their cultural vocabulary developed under systemic oppression matters.

Now, some of the terms to a contemporary audience might seem degrading or even offensive or at least quaint, but that's part of the creative paradox of a vocabulary that is trying to linguistically interpret something as complex and fluid as sexual experience, and in this case, more so, as the persons who participated in non-heteronormative sexual experiences couldn't even speak of them or themselves.

Here are a few that I think give some insight into the hidden culture of that time, understanding that many of these terms were employed heterosexually as well, and used by heterosexuals to denigrate LGBTQ persons.

Abdicate: Forced to leave a public toilet by an attendant, said of male homosexuals who frequent public rests rooms. Thus, queens are forced to abdicate.
 

Central Park men's room, 1962
Central Park men's room, 1962 - Source: https://www.richlandsource.com/area_history/the-famous-central-park-underground-restrooms/article_16b1c4d2-c503-11e5-890c-6360a850aa28.html

Angel with a Dirty Face: A male homosexual who would like to indulge in homosexual practice but who is timid or hesitant about it. (Originated in mid-30s with motion picture Angels with Dirty Faces, a 1930s gangster film with James Cagney.)

Auntie: Middle-aged or aging male homosexual, usually (but not always) overly effeminate in character. The term can be applied either in a manner mildly derogatory or even as a term of slight affection.

Bugle Boy: Refers to the person who permits someone to perform fellation upon him. (Supposedly, according to the text, popular with the “sophisticated college set.”)

Checkers, Play: To move from seat to seat in a motion picture house in an effort to find a willing youth. A homosexual sits next to a likely “candidate” and makes some verbal or physical overture or “pass”; if rejected, he moves to another seat, and so on.
 

Chicago theater and other State Street theaters in Chicago, 1950

Fruit Picker: Term used to describe men who both think of themselves as “straight” and who are so considered by those who know them, but who seek out homosexuals for sexual gratification at the moment.

Motel Time: Can be used as a call to closing in a gay bar as part of “Suck up, everybody, it's motel time.” Now is the time to get down to sex and indicates where. Can also be used (alone) as a call to closing in a heterosexual bar.
 

Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s
Tampa, Florida gay bar, 1950s

Poundcake, To Eat: To lick the anus.

There's so much more in this little book, including some tidbits on some famous gay historical figures.

One wonders, not so much that some of the types of persons described above and even some of the scenarios are still part of the LGBTQ experience, but that we've developed new language for such persons and experiences in a markedly different social context. After all, what the book calls “green queens” still hang out in parks and forest preserves for public sex, but they often hook up via the ubiquitous smart phone.

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Gay, "Greek" Olympics

 

Whenever the summer Olympics, in fact, any type of major sporting event occurs, someone always asks if I am watching.

 

I always say no (I'm probably one of the few people in the world who is not at all interested in competitive sports (even the Gay Games); in fact, I used to be known as the "I hate sports guy"), but the reasons one friend gave me for watching it were typically gay.

 

He especially enjoys synchronized diving, especially the hot guys lined up in skimpy swimming trunks. And if one looks closely, one does notice their … bulges. 

 

Tom Daley

 



Of course, the Olympics is a major turn-on for gay men, but you should also remember that the Greeks who originated the games approved of homosexuality (and they played the games naked).

 

And don't forget all those statues of muscular gods like Apollo and Hercules. 

Much later, after millennia of social repression, gays in the 1950s started to gingerly make their presence known through homoerotic muscle magazines like Grecian Guild Pictorial. 

 

The Amazing Colossal Latino

 


"I seek a sound mind in a sound body," was the Grecian Guild Pictorial's credo or mission statement. The word "Grecian," however, could easily be read as an underground code for "gay." Grecian became a coded word for gay during the time period of this magazine (1950's-1960's): those guys who like the male body, the "body beautiful," resembling the "Grecian ideal in its muscularity, symmetry, and grace." The association with the more openly homoerotic and bisexual culture of ancient Greece (and not just the physical aspects, but the emphasis on art and health as well as physical strength) was intentional. 

In fact, several issues of Grecian Guild in late 1960 and early 1961 devoted contained articles specifically on the history and culture of the Olympics.

 

 Perhaps it's time for me to explore my Grecian identity. I'll start with those athletic bulges.   

 

 

 

 

 

 

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