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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