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.

Rate this blog entry:
Recent comment in this post
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
1900 Hits
1 Comment

The Legacy of Scotty Bowers: A Brief Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Scotty Bowers, recent photo

Scotty Bowers, a legend in Hollywood’s sexual underground in the 1950s and 1960s, died at home in Los Angeles on October 13 at the age of 96.

When I found out about his book, Full Service, I must admit I was excited to read it, mostly because I always enjoyed titillating, “Hollywood Babylon” scandals. And here was someone who actually made satisfying the sexuality of Hollywood royalty of that period (and others) his business, literally.

He started his “infamous” gas station procurement network in the late 1940s, mostly hiring out young studs for closeted gay actors and others in the Hollywood business (and there were many).

According to his book, his career as a sex worker began in 1946 while he was working as an attendant at The Richfield Oil gas station located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Van Ness Avenue. In 1950, Bowers stopped working at the service station, and he then began working as a party bartender (one his party “tricks” involved using his schlong to stir drinks), while continuing his sexual services to both men and women. And he himself, because he was gifted with such a stunning endowment, according to Bowers, was quite popular.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Young Scotty Bowers

I must admit I was surprised that the famous Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, whom I call Mr. Miniver (he was Mrs. Miniver’s [played by Greer Garson] husband in one of the most wholesome, inspiring, patriotic 1940s movies, Mrs. Miniver), was one of his first clients. It’s still sometimes difficult to separate the screen persona from the real person (and in Pidgeon’s case, he was married to a woman, of course), but that was Hollywood: ultimately, illusion.

What I found to be, according to Scotty (and I don’t dispute at all his reliability in this case, as many others do), the close to ultimate Hollywood illusion: the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn romance. I remember when growing up, it was pretty much a given that these two were the romantic Hollywood power couple of the period (at least before Burton and Taylor came along). Yet, according to Bowers, both were gay (or in Tracy’s case, probably bisexual), and Scotty apparently was one of his sexual partners. Hepburn, who some have argued was really more fluid in her relationship to gender and sexuality, used Bowers as a means to “hook up” with several women.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

But what I think when reading the book and also viewing the documentary (I made a special trip to see it), Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, is that one can get distracted by all the Old Hollywood “scandal” and peccadilloes.

Scotty himself suffered many tragedies in his life that are perhaps closely related to, or perhaps not, his life a sex worker. He lived with a common-law wife whom he met right after his service in WWII, but they grew apart, and the daughter by this marriage, Donna, died young from complications after an abortion.

He did finally manage to find happiness with his last wife, but looking at the documentary, it’s clear Scotty suffered, especially later in life, from a hoarding disorder. I remember, and this behavior is that of a typical hoarder, a scene where he is going through memorabilia in a rented storage space stuffed to the maximum. Yes, there’s history made visible in the things he cherishes, but it seems buried, hidden, physically and mentally in clutter, multiplicity out of control.

Hidden and buried, yet now, no longer a secret. Scotty helped others keep secrets, but he never made his sex life a secret. He gloried in it. And I also think it wasn’t just a case of someone who knew he could use his sexuality as a commodity. Of course, he did, if one interprets his legacy very literally. Old Hollywood needed and wanted him to keep its illusion of heteronormative glamour intact.

But in doing so, he ended up exposing that illusion, not out of spite, but because in a world that was built on dreams and illusions, he actually fulfilled in the most primal, honest way the personal dreams of the stars who embodied on screen the dreams of people who probably got their gas pumped (and much more) at the Richfield Oil Gas Station.

Rate this blog entry:
1380 Hits
0 Comments

Two Muscle Guys Kiss at the Last Judgement

posted by Madame Bubby

I got blocked on Twitter a while ago by a Roman Catholic bishop because I responded to a tweet about Michelangelo with a pretty general article on the sexuality of the famous artist Michelangelo. Michelangelo was gay. He liked guys. Especially guys with big muscles.
 

Michelangelo Buonarroti
Michelangelo Buonarroti (source: biografieonline.it)

Now, during the Renaissance, the concept of sexual orientation had yet to be articulated or analyzed. Thus, Michelangelo, according to the social and religious norms of the time (usually the same), either performed sex acts with men (called sodomy due to an interpretation of the Sodom and Gomorrah story since deemed incorrect by current Biblical scholarship), and/or, perhaps more loosely, he loved men, young men (which does not necessarily imply sexual activity).

In this case, art imitates life, and Michelangelo, aiming to produce what he deemed to be an ideal mimesis of the body as revealing a primal strength and power coursing through creation, painted male bodies that rival the famous bodybuilders of the past, without the artificial steroid-induced bulk. (And even the women in the Sistine Chapel are muscular.)
 

Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling
Adam and Eve, Sistene Chapel Ceiling (source: artarchive.com)

This unabashed glorying in muscular nudes under the aegis of a commission to paint the Sistine Chapel ended up becoming a problem. Why? The Counter-Reformation not only reacted to the Reformation, but to some of what it deemed licentious excesses of the Renaissance, and much Catholic religious art ended up degenerating into fixed forms drawn in attitudes of pious sentiment. Hello, anemic Jesuses with bleeding hearts and heavily draped Madonnas gazing up at the clouds.

And, in the case of Michelangelo’s paintings, the Church authorities covered up the genitalia.

But, as one article I read recently reveals, Michelangelo’s Last Judgement shows that just covering up genitals does not literally erase any imagery that might induce those impure thoughts that might send one to hell.

In the midst of the Last Judgment, where a muscular beardless Christ resembling Apollo looks like he is a bad ass coming to whale on a rival gang, two men kiss. Mutually and fearlessly. (Even his mother is frightened.) And these are not the ones condemned to hell. These are two guys on the redeemed side, as opposed to, as the article claims, a reputed pedophile biting his genitals to hell.
 

The Last Judgement kiss close up
The Last Judgement close up (source: Michelangelo.org)

Now, the men kissing need not imply sexual attraction, of course, depending on the cultural context. They could even be family members displaying affection. But it’s there, it’s there for the homosocial gaze, and I just wonder if Michelangelo was himself encoding, as it were, his own Last Judgement against a Counter-Reformation Church that viewed humanity as more fallen and sinful rather than filled with a holy energy that includes struggle and conflict but also surmounts it with a hope for a final vindication.
 

The Last Judgement
The Last Judgement (source: Vatican Museum, Michelangelo)
Rate this blog entry:
2042 Hits
0 Comments

20,000 Men

posted by Madame Bubby

Gay director Joel Schumacher in a recent interview that he has slept with 10,000 to 20,000 men (well, that's not too specific a figure, but who can really keep count unless you are carrying around a “little black book” at all times).

Ok, let's do the math. Now, Joel is 79. He claims he started fooling around sexually at age 11. Thus, using the 20,000 maximum, he would have to have had sex five times a day for 55 years. Maybe some days he had more sex than others; I am thinking perhaps he may have attended orgies Friday and Saturday, giving him some weekday nights “off.”
 

Joel Schumacher
Joel Schumacher (Source: queerty.com)

In the interview, Schumacher does tie this sexual history back to the 1970s, where, according to much evidence, some of it anecdotal, a lot of gay sex was going on. The bathhouses were veritable sex palaces and even advertised as such. One person I know said that his memory of being gay in the seventies in Chicago meant readily available sex. And not just in bathhouses and movie theaters and bars. Everywhere. A cruise in a gas station would end up in sex in the gas station bathroom or the bushes next to the parking lot.
 

Gas station bathroom cruisin/sex from Grease Monkeys
Gas station bathroom cruising/sex from Jagaur's Grease Monkeys (1978)

Thus, even if 10,000, the low estimate (again, how would one really know?) could be close to the truth, if one counts every single sexual encounter, and I am making the assumption that not every encounter involved penetration, maybe.

In an attempt to place this, let's just say, “prolific” sex life in perspective, “Now a lot of gay people are getting married, they’re adopting, or they’re having children,” Schumacher said later in the interview. “There wasn’t any of that when I was young. If you went into a gay bar and there were 200 men in there, and you said, ‘Okay, who wants to have a little house with a white picket fence, and a dog, and a child, raise your hands,’ or ‘Who wants to get laid tonight?’ The concept of a lovely suburban life or raising children was not a high concept.”
 

Guys in Fair Oaks Bathhouse, 1978
Guys in Fair Oaks Bathhouse, 1978 (Source: Christopher Harrity, The Advocate, June 29, 2014, picture taken by Frank Melleno)

The 1970s was definitely a time of norm breaking, but, going beyond this time period, when being LGBTQ was not a privileged position in society. Schumacher also implies, it's easier to break norms, especially sexual norms, if you are privileged, and he admits he is. And related to privilege, especially economic privilege, he does claim he never did sex work or paid for it, either.

And of course AIDS changed everything, which Schumacher does admit. And so much more as LGBTQ persons embraced essentially conservative structures like serving in the military openly and especially legal marriage.

Thus, I wonder if the real issue here isn't the quantity of the sex partners, that Schumacher is just a gay version of those toxic masculinity boasters like Wilt Chamberlain who also claimed he slept with 20,000 women, or even, who cares?

I think it really is how we interpret the availability of sex in diverse social and cultural contexts. Taking away sexual choice doesn't necessarily make sex less available. And thus, a climate of easily available sexual choices doesn't necessarily mean sex is more available to you. Schumacher found he could act on his sexual identity in the wild 1970s. In his case, the “supply and demand” worked in tandem for him personally. Personally is the key word here. And I think Schumacher was not simply reducing sex or sex acts to numbers or checking off a list. His experience was the experience of many gay men in their personal sexual journeys. And they were finally given the freedom to choose, until AIDS took away that heady freedom. And it was the LGBTQ community that refused to allows persons with AIDS to be treated like numbers and in doing so, survived and thrived like Joel Schumacher has done.

Rate this blog entry:
1389 Hits
0 Comments

Contact Us | 800-932-7111 | Join our email list

Go to top