FRANK ROSS, The Boss

By Josh Eliot

 

I spent hours at a time staring across the street at a filthy looking restaurant called the Go-Go Kitchen. It wasn’t the restaurant that caught my attention so much, but the exterior door next to it. A door leading to an upstairs apartment where every shade of rabbit fur coat was walking through it, sometimes with a man, sometimes without. It couldn’t have been more obvious. I’m no fool, I saw Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway starring “Jan Brady” on NBC in 1976. In that movie, Dawn became a sex worker, and she always wore a rabbit fur coat while walking the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. I’m not sure whose name was on the lease for that apartment, but he must have had a lot of “daughters” with a suspiciously similar dress code.

It was 1980 and I was working in the ticket booth at the Screening Room Theater, a place with quite a history. The first full-length adult hardcore feature legally shown in the United States premiered there in 1970, and today there’s a plaque on the building stating so. The film was Alex de Renzy’s Pornography in Denmark: A New Approach. It was billed as a documentary, which helped it avoid legal troubles.

 

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

 

In the 1980s, the Screening Room was a XXX Gay Cinema with live shows on stage. As I sat there analyzing the sex workers' behaviors, I felt two hands begin to rub my shoulders; it was my boss, Frank Ross. In addition to managing the theater, Frank became well known as an actor, producer and director. Some of his features include: Face to Face (aka San Francisco), Black Pack, Black and Bi and Made in the Shade and its sequel. He was a true New Yorker, a bit intimidating, with handsome looks and a tattooed muscular body.

 

Face to Face poster and Made in the Shade VHS cover

Vintage poster for Face to Face (aka San Francisco) and VHS cover for Made in the Shade 1

 

When he interviewed me for the job, he struggled with the idea of whether or not to hire me, because I had just turned 18 the week before. He was very protective of my naivete and took time before exposing me to all the different areas of the theater and its playrooms. As weeks passed and we became more comfortable with each other, he started sharing stories of his sexual adventures. His trysts blew my mind but helped me get more comfortable with accepting myself. I envied my co-worker who was already comfortable in his own skin and would go up to the projection booth and play around with Frank regularly. A dancer named TK, who would talk with me in the booth after the live shows, invited me to go to the Trocadero Transfer with all the dancers. He knew the doorman, so I got in no problem.

 

Trocodero Transfer exterior, Divine's honorary membership card, and a fan dancer

Trocodero Transfer exterior, Divine's honorary membership card, and a fan dancer

 

It was my first time seeing fan dancers, being in a club this size and bonding through party favors with the dancers. At sunrise, we were all at the beach where TK and I went into a cave by the Sutro Baths and played around. Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach are notorious gay cruising spots. When I came into work the next day, Frank had this shit eating grin on his face, like a proud papa. I guess strippers do kiss and tell. Frank totally patted himself on the back for kicking my ass out of the closet, and I guess after months of his influence, he did.

 

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach images

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach

 

Frank’s most infamous film as producer was made while I worked for him. He was excited to tell me the details, about a prison guard and convict who are handcuffed together during an escape. “Oh, like The Defiant Ones,” I said, “I love that movie.” He was impressed that I made the connection and invited me to watch them film on the movie set. The shoot was the next day, around the corner at the Bulldog Baths on Turk Street.

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

The infamous bathhouse had a real prison cell set, and he was very excited about it. It was too nerve-wracking for me, so I never went to the set. What a huge mistake! The feature turned out to be Wanted, starring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler. Frank Ross was producing and Steve Scott (Inches, Performance, A Few Good Men, Screenplay) was directing! Let me put this in perspective… this is how I see it: you have Steve Scott who is like the Martin Scorsese of gay porn, Al Parker is the Robert De Niro, and Jack Wrangler is Leonardo DiCaprio. The best of the best for that era, there is no topping that cast or crew. A huge regret not going to that set! FUCK!

 

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

 

I don’t know if my life would have taken a different direction had I gone to that set or not, but after leaving my Screening Room job in 1981, I wasn’t exposed to the Adult Film Industry again until I was hired at Catalina Video in 1987. Sadly, I recently found out that Frank Ross passed away on May 20th 2021, which made me think back about our time working together. Because we worked on different coasts, he never knew that I ended up working in the same industry as him. I wonder how he would have reacted.

But do you know what the real burning question in my mind is?

Are there still girls going in and out of that door next to the Go-Go Kitchen?

 

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002.  

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Coming Out of My WET SHORTS

By Josh Eliot

 

My first sexual memory was at age 6. My favorite TV show was Lost In Space. Aside from loving the adventure the Robinson family was going through, there was just something about Don. Don West was a dark haired, handsome, masculine guy whose character had a love interest with the Robinson's daughter Judy. I would lie awake at night thinking about Don taking his shirt off, showing his muscular chest and imagining him rubbing and grinding himself on top of Judy. I'm sure it was not the kind of imagery Producer Irwin Allen wanted to achieve when he developed Lost In Space, and I wasn't sure at the time why I was feeling this way, but for some reason I was having the feels for Don.

My next big "red flag" about my sexuality was when I was around 12 years old. In 1974, streaking was all over the news in America. Living in rural Rhode Island, my brother, sister and I were best friends with our cousins of the same genders and age. We would build forts in the woods near our homes and streak naked through the fields. The summer of '74, I remember us being naked all the time! Not just in the field near the forts, but down by the train tracks, in empty factories. We were Free!

One day that summer, my cousin brought a magazine to the fort that he found between his mom and dad's mattress. The magazine was called Mama's Taste for Cock. I'm pretty sure it was all in black and white and maybe not even a magazine, but a newspaper. I don't remember much about "Mama" because it was all about the cock. This had to be the first time I saw photos of an erect dick and it was a real attraction for me. Somewhere towards the last few pages, we saw this white stuff all over Mama's face and we thought what the hell is this? My older brother said that this was semen, and explained it the best he could. He was three years older, so he was already able to ejaculate (with the help of Head & Shoulders) in the shower. A day or so later, my cousin and I were determined to “cum” so we got some shaving cream, took it over to the fort and rubbed it all over our cocks. Nothing happened, as we were too young to ejaculate.

At 16, my friend David and I were in downtown Providence when we walked into an adult book store. Shocked that we weren't kicked out, we started looking through the products. Most of my childhood I collected 8mm movies. Castle films, 50' reels that had about 3 minutes of movies like Frankenstein vs the Wolfman, Abbott and Costello and Dracula, to name a few. I was always shooting short movies on my 8mm camera, editing them and playing them back on my projector. So when I saw a Swedish Erotica 8mm movie for sale at this shop, I just had to have it.

 

Swedish Erotica 8mm reel

 

I saw one with two guys and a girl. I can't tell you what the girl looked like, but one of the guys was blond, masculine with a hairy chest while the other was brunette, bearded and handsome. I would watch that movie on my projector when I knew my parents weren't around to barge into my room. At one point the guys double penetrated the girl. This was eye opening for me; it was the first time I saw this or even knew it was a thing! The first thought that came to my mind was how each of the guys must feel when their dicks were rubbing against each other inside the girl's snatch. I imagined that it made them each get harder because they were touching each other.

My friend David and I were emboldened by our trip to the porn shop and raised the ante by sneaking into the Rustic Drive-in in Smithfield, RI. The Rustic showed a triple feature of XXX movies. David was tall and always looked older, so he would drive the car while I would hide in the trunk or the floor of the back seat with a blanket over me. We watched such classics as Eruption with John Holmes, Inside Desiree Cousteau and Pretty Peaches with Sharon Kane.
 

Rustic Drive-in sign and lot with screen
Rustic Drive-in
 
Sharon Kane in the 1970s (left) and in a still from Pretty Peaches, 1978 (right)

Sharon Kane in the 1970s (left) and in 1978's Pretty Peaches (right)

 

In 1980, after graduating high school at the age of 17, I moved to San Francisco. I attended The San Francisco Art Institute for film studies. One day in class, my instructor George Kuchar brought in a 16mm copy of a movie he wrote and starred in called Thundercrack, co-starring Marion Eaton. The move was shot in black & white, beautifully filmed, with elaborate sets and filled with hardcore sex scenes! This was shocking to me. Being from a small town and closeted about sex, the fact that this film existed and the instructor was showing it to a classroom of students made me feel like this was an art form that was perfectly acceptable to a wide audience. It really opened my eyes and made me see hardcore sex on film from a whole new perspective.

 

Thundercrack poster

 

My first few weeks in the city I lived at the Harcourt Residence Club, a place where you would share a room and receive free meals. The Harcourt was located on Larkin Street on the border of the Tenderloin neighborhood. When I looked out my bedroom window I could see a movie cinema in the distance. The marquee displayed the title: Wet Shorts. Wet Shorts? I was intrigued. This had to be an adult cinema. I was still 17 and could not go in, but I definitely needed to check it out. I walked past the cinema and saw an image that literally burned into my brain until this day. The Wet Shorts movie poster featured a close-up of a pair of blue jean short shorts with some hairy legs and a bulge. After turning 18, I worked for another cinema in the tenderloin selling tickets. It was called the Screening Room Theater. It was an All Male Adult Theater with live dancers.

 

Vintage Wet Shorts poster

Vintage poster for Tom DeSimone's Wet Shorts (1980)

 

Little did I know at age 12 when I was looking at a magazine called Mama's Taste for Cock that I would someday be shooting sex scenes and pulling hard core photos for magazines.

Little did I know at age 16 that when I watched Pretty Peaches at the Rustic Drive-in, I would someday meet Sharon Kane and establish a long working relationship with her.

Little did I know that the Screening Room Theater where I worked in 1980 was the same theater where Sharon Kane worked in the 1970s. Alex de Renzy, who owned the Screening Room Theater, made the movie Pretty Peaches and introduced Sharon Kane in it.

Little did I know that on my 25th birthday in 1987, I would be hired by William Higgins' company Catalina Video. The same company that produced and released the film Wet Shorts.

This is my first blog for Bijou World and I am excited to share some of my experiences and perspectives.


A Note from the Editor:

Little did Josh know that I (Steven Toushin/Bijou) purchased the lease for the Screening Room (at 220 Jones Street) during the time Josh worked there (the manager at the time was filmmaker Frank Ross). After a few months of extensive renovation and a name change (Savages), Savages had its grand opening.


Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002.  

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Sent through email from W.D.: To Josh Eliot. You're latest Blog, "Wet Shorts", took me on a parallel journey through my own becom... Read More
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