DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake

By Josh Eliot

 

I had a nice long 22-year career with Catalina Video. I was hired just a short time after William Higgins moved to Amsterdam to open his “brothel” and continue his filmmaking with a European flair. It’s hard to fathom, but while I was producing and directing over 100 movies for his company, we never crossed paths or even spoke on the phone. I was always intrigued with the “idea” of him watching over us and wondered what he might think of my work or if he had any input to share when I was restoring his movies for DVD. Throughout my decades of service, this was something I always thought about, waiting patiently to get the word that Higgins needed the crew and I to fly to Europe to work on his next movie. That phone call never came. But one day Higgins did call - not to talk to me, but about me with Catalina’s general manager, Chris Mann. He phoned to demand my termination because of a 10-second shot in a movie I made called Full Service. It seems my little movie found itself smack dab in the middle of a lawsuit - a one million dollar lawsuit.

My second movie for Catalina Video was Full Service, shot and released in 1989 when I was 27 years old. As I previously mentioned, Scott Masters was my producer and Chet Thomas was the movie’s editor. My first movie, Runaways, was under my belt and since Chris Mann and Scott Masters were happy with its look and tone, they gave me some leeway on my next movie. We shot both movies in San Francisco at Catalina’s studio in the Potrero Hill District. Dan Allman left the company and they put me in charge of running the studio. We would build the sets according to John Travis or Scott Masters' specifications and they would fly up from L.A. with the models in hand for filming. Things were moving fast. I moved from the Tenderloin to a great three bedroom flat on 19th and Castro and hired my best friend, Brian, to work with me at the studio. When it came time to figure out the idea for my second movie, I knew right away what the story would be. While living in the Tenderloin, I would pass the Century Theatre on my way home from work and it seemed like Grease Monkeys was playing there forever! Even though I never saw the movie, the poster imagery was so effective that I knew I wanted to do something with a gas station theme. When I proposed it to the boss, it was the quickest I ever heard Scott Masters say yes to a project. In hindsight, I’m sure it was because he immediately got a boner thinking about the great “costumes” he could make for it. He was the wardrobe wizard and a costume connoisseur. Literally before I could even finish building the sets at the studio, he called to tell me that he had all the blue jumpsuit costumes being made and he found some “unnamed gas station company” tags to have sewn onto them. He also mentioned that I should go out and shoot some exteriors of the gas station for cutaways.

 

Grease Monkeys, The Century Theatre and Full Service

Grease Monkeys, the Century Theatre and Full Service

 

My movie was taking place in a small town, so during a weekend trip to Napa Valley with Brian, I took the camera along. It was like a miracle when we drove past this older looking gas station just outside of Santa Rosa. There were cows grazing in the field behind it and the main building looked like a log cabin. What a score! The wide shot of this gas station showed everything I needed it to: small town, rural, and the “brand name” matching the tags my producer was sewing on the costumes. I was so excited by this place that I failed to see what else was written on the building; so did Chet Thomas when he edited the movie, as well as Scott Masters when he viewed it to approve the cut before release. It was one of those things that was in front of your face, yet invisible. Months later when I was shown a photo of that same gas station on the front page of The Press Democrat newspaper, I saw for myself my grave error.

 

Newspaper article on Full Service lawsuit

Newspaper article on Full Service lawsuit

 

The owner's name was written on the wall of the gas station in big giant letters. It turns out the owner’s nephew lived in San Francisco, rented Full Service from a video store and, upon viewing it, saw his uncle’s gas station. The newspaper photographed the owner with his wife and children in front of the station, looking very sad. Long story short, Scott Masters and I had to give depositions, go through arbitration with the family and finally settle for a $30,000 settlement. Oy vey, my first BIG BUDGET movie! I don’t mean to make light of it, because it really was quite serious. Chris Mann had to reach out to every buyer of the movie to buy their copies back. The “unnamed gas station company” simply asked for their logo to be removed with no request for compensation. It was all very hideous and I came very close to having no career with Catalina Video at all. John Travis and Scott Masters went to the mat for me with Higgins but Chris Mann, the GM, was truly my guardian angel. Chris had Higgins' utmost respect, and when he laid out the reasons he wanted me to stay on with the company it didn’t fall on deaf ears.

 

Chris Mann

Chris Mann throughout the years

 

Within a couple of years, Chris Mann went on to own Video Team, a “Boutique Adult Video” operation that brought Black porn genres to the mainstream. He also served on the board of the Free Speech Coalition and, after selling Video Team, became general manager of John Stagliano’s Evil Angel. Thank you, Chris, for saving my career! Things were never the same when Chris left Catalina and, due to new management conflicts, Travis and Masters shortly followed. Needless to say, copyright violations were something I always tried to avoid, moving forward from my experience with Full Service. Talk about being haunted by it. Do you know how traumatizing it is for a director to see these little pixels covering patches throughout his entire movie every time some hot stud shows up wearing a gas station uniform?

 

 

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. 

 

You can read Josh Eliot's previous blogs for Bijou here:

Coming out of my WET SHORTS
FRANK ROSS, The Boss
Our CALIGULA Moment

That BUTTHOLE Just Winked at Me!
DREAMLAND: The Other Place
A Salty Fuck in Saugatuck
Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!
The Late Great JOHN TRAVIS, My POWERTOOL Mentor
(Un)Easy Riders
7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER
Super NOVA
Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?
Is That AL PARKER In Your Photo?

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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.

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