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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Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith and a Deadly Fight

Emile Griffith

On March 24, 1962, bisexual (or gay) boxer Emile Griffith knocked out his opponent, Benny Paret, at Madison Square Garden. In round 12, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner; by that time, his opponent had stopped punching back. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder to keep him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret.
 

Griffith knocks out Paret

The audience was shocked; the famous author Norman Mailer, who wrote about it in his essay, “The Death of Benny Paret,” claimed it was the hardest he had ever seen a man hit another man. At this point, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stepped in, an awarded Griffith a win by a “technical knockout.” Paret slid to the floor; he was carried out on a stretcher and died ten days later in a hospital.

There's a back story here to this admittedly brutal incident, and it ties into the intense homophobia of the time, and the double life Emile Griffith had to lead. He visited the gay bars during that period, and he even hung out in the then-seedy Times Square where, the time before the fight, according to Donald McRae's book A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, he “laughed and danced with the Hispanic gay crowd and the old drag queens.”

Before this fight, Emile was able to live this life: be a man's man in the hypermasculine world of boxing, and apparently hold court with the queens of the period on women's hat styles (in fact, he started out working in a women's hat factory, and his shirtless physique (he requested permission to work that way in the heat) caught the attention of the owner, who got him involved in the world of boxing).
 

Emile Griffith news clipping

But, in the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a maricón, which means faggot. Members of the press and officials from the New York Boxing Commission witnessed this exchange. And, in pre-fight interviews with the press, Paret's manager portrayed Griffith as effeminate and thus an unworthy opponent for the hypermasculine Paret. Paret also touched Griffith's ass when he called him the slur, apparently enraging him.

The consequences of this homophobia were indeed deadly. Even though Griffith told a television interviewer that he was proud to be the welterweight champion again, and expressed hopes for Paret's recovery, Paret's death resulted in insults and hate mail. And many sources claim that even though Griffith continued to box for 15 more years, he lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Emile blamed himself for the incident; it always haunted him.

Griffith married a woman in 1971 by the name of Mercedes Donastorg. After retiring from boxing in 1977, he worked as a corrections officer at juvenile detention facility in New Jersey.

But Griffith was still struggling with his overall identity. In 1992, he was viciously beaten in New York City after leaving a gay bar. He was in the hospital for four months with serious kidney damage, and under the care of his adoptive son, began a slow mental and physical decline, but also some serious soul-searching.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

Yet, another reporter for the New York Times, Bob Hebert, about that time, asked him if he was gay, and Griffith struggled to answer. He said he no longer wanted to hide, and he wanted to ride that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade.
 

Emile Griffith older

Other interviews with him do emphasize that he did not like labels about his identity.

Yet the one label everyone remembers him by I think should not just be that deadly fight, but his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; no other boxer in boxing history had fought more championship rounds, not even the great Muhammad Ali.

Emile Griffith died on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75.

There's a complex legacy here in Griffith's struggles and triumphs, and documentaries and plays and books and even an opera have struggled to understand and express a turbulent double life that exploded savagely in a literal arena which glorifies a violence it claims to sublimate.
 

Ring of Fire, a film about Emile Griffith
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The Big Cock Comes Out: The Courage of DSI Sales in the 1960s

The Big Cock Comes Out: The Courage of DSI Sales in the 1960s

DSI acquitted on obscenity charges! 


Who? What? Where? 

Why would this story make the front cover of the then fledgling gay newspaper, The Advocate, in September 1967? 

 

The Advocate, September 1967

 

 

The 1960s may have been swinging and sexually liberating for some heterosexual segments of the population (were there any openly gay hippies?), but a gay person could still get arrested for kissing a member of the same sex in public, could not join the military (which could be a way to avoid the draft, then going on because of the Vietnam War), and could be fired from a job because of his/her orientation. 

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Thoughts on Campy Moments in Advertising

Thoughts on Campy Moments in Advertising

A 1960s gay publication called Drum (issue number 22, undated, but probably 1966) published by the Janus Society of America, displayed a keen sense of humor in its features called “Gay Moments in Advertising” and “Gay Moments in News Coverage.” Given that life for LGBT citizens in America during that supposedly liberating time (for heterosexuals, that is) was a life of secrecy and oppression, many gay-related venues resorted to “drag” or “camp” as a way of sublimating feelings of fear and shame. 

 

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