I’M NOT A LESBIAN DIRECTOR!

By Josh Eliot

 

At the same time I started shooting Valley of the Bi-Dolls, the general manager of Catalina Video had a light bulb go off in his head. Let’s just say that light bulb was more of a fluorescent, as opposed to a tungsten lamp that we used for filming to give us fabulous lighting. The fluorescent may have been a practical option when GE developed it from the discoveries of Jacques Risler in 1934, but the execution never really materialized as top notch. I always feel like I look ten years older and twenty years more exhausted when standing in a room lit by fluorescents. The idea from my general manager ended up being just as disappointing.

When I was casting for Valley of the Bi Dolls in 1993, thanks to Chi Chi LaRue, I was able to connect with the main agent representing the very top straight adult film starlets of the time. Though it was exciting to think about working with top-notch girls for Valley, I was turned down time after time by most of them. As I mentioned in the past, there was a stigma involved when it came to bisexual movies. Even though by this point things were slightly turning around, the straight industry was slow to get on board the “acceptance wagon.”

I had already cast Sharon Kane in the lead, who in turned recommended Gloria Leonard for the non-sexual “Helen Lawson” character and luckily, through an agent, Leanna Foxxx was on board. In addition, which was shocking to hear at the time, Peter North (Matt Ramsey) also agreed to do the straight scene with Leanna Foxxx. It really was a coup for me to have all these big names, which was unheard of at the time in a bisexual movie. I was pouring everything I had mentally into this movie and I wanted the cast to be all A-List! So I kept trying, but was turned down by Diedre Holland, Melanie Moore, Debi Diamond and Teri Divers. When I shared some of the names that turned me down with Catalina’s manager, that’s when the light bulb went off in his head.

 

A-List stars of the 1990s Debi Diamond, Teri Divers, Diedre Holland and Melanie Moore

A-List stars of the 1990s

 

Catalina had long wanted to tap into the girl-girl market; not the straight girl-girl audience, but the lesbian audience. The idea of having all A-List girls in our movie, in his mind, would give us an edge, and he proposed that it would be directed by a lesbian director for a lesbian audience. The top starlets had no problem whatsoever shooting an all-girl movie, so getting them to sign on the dotted line was easy. Of course, there was the small technicality of not having a lesbian director on staff to coincide with our manager’s plans to publicize the movie in the gay press as lesbian-made. I told him I would start the search for a lesbian director to join our team, but he wanted that gal to be me (not so forward thinking after all, was he?). We bantered back and forth but he was adamant, so I to accepted the assignment. Catalina’s instant new director “Tori Sterling” was born. A pseudonym I came up with by combining Tori Spelling and Matt Sterling, and the movie would be called The Women.

 

The Women original one-sheet

The Women original one-sheet

 

I came up with the title based on the Joan Crawford / Norma Shearer / Rosalind Russell / Paulette Goddard / Joan Fontaine 1939 film from director George Cukor. Get the connection? The actresses in the 1939 film (fabulous movie, I might add) were all A-List or up-and-coming A-Listers of the time. The Women would be a classy, glossy, high end production... albeit with its slashed budget of only $10,000, because he knew we could shoot multiple sex scenes in fewer days as there were no hard-ons or cum shots needed. We shot in two days. The girls were fabulous, creative, inventive, and great with their lines, which was really quite a delight! They taught me some really good positions and actions that I could apply to all-male movies, especially with their pussy eating techniques, which I could apply to future boy-boy rim scenes. It was exciting for me to be around and work with the “it” girls of the time and I never really felt intimidated by their presence, which was a nice surprise. All in all, the movie looked beautiful, top-notch and well shot. The only problem? I’m not a lesbian director!

 

Ad for The Women in Nightlife Magazine, 1994

Ad for The Women in Nightlife Magazine, 1994

 

We ran several promotions for the movie in the press, including the one shown here in Nightlife Magazine. Really pressing home the “made in the USA” vibe of “lesbian-made.” You can walk like a duck, fuck like a fuck, suck like a duck, but you’ll never taste as delicious as Peking Duck if you aren’t a duck inside and out. There’s no way, as a 31 year old gay man at the time, that I could have channeled properly the thought process or life experiences of a gay woman. It was really stupid to even try and this is where we blew our shot, because we weren’t honest with ourselves or our audience. I’m sure the movie made some money because, let’s face it, it’s no big challenge to make money with a $10,000 investment! But I dare anyone to find this movie in print anywhere today. I don’t even have a copy anymore - I loaned out my VHS to some girlfriends and never got it back. Well, at least it might have worked for that gay couple! I should have really tried harder to convince our manager to go big or go home with his idea of a lesbian director, really make this movie in the right way. Who knows, it might have pulled in that market that no one was catering to, if it had only taken that audience into consideration.

 

 

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?
DOWN BY LAW: My $1,000,000 Mistake
We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?
Don't Wear "Short Shorts" on the #38 Geary to LANDS END
How Straight Are You Really?
BEHIND THE (not so) GREEN DOOR
The BOOM BOOM Room
CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone
Everybody’s FREE to FEEL GOOD
SCANDAL at the Coral Sands Motel
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre
DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Midnight Sun
RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship
VOYAGER of the Damned

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Dirk Bogarde: Endlessly Fascinating

Young Dirk Bogarde

I've always been fascinated by Old Hollywood, but lately I've rediscovered a maverick actor who failed to thrive in Hollywood. In fact, he pretty much bucked conventions for most of his professional and personal life.

His name was Dirk. Dirk Bogarde, born Ulric Niven van den Bogaerde to a Flemish father and a British mother in 1921, in London.

After horrifying period of service in World War II, where he was one of the first soldiers to liberate the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from the Nazis (an experience that profoundly affected him), he became a matinee idol type in England, working for an outfit called Rank Productions.

Dirk grew weary of being a conventional heartthrob leading man, and in the 1960s he began to explore more complex parts.
 

Young Dirk Bogarde

His most groundbreaking role was the London barrister in the film Victim, who fights the blackmailers of a homosexual young man with whom he has shared a deeply emotional relationship. Bogarde risks his career and marriage to seek justice for the man, who committed suicide. The film exposes the constant threat of ruin so many LGBTQ persons suffered when homosexual activity was illegal in Britain. It's the type of role Dirk thrived in: cutting edge, subtly powerful.
 

Dirk Bogarde in Victim
Dirk Bogarde in Victim

I've only seen Dirk in two movies, Song Without End, a biopic of the composer Franz Liszt. I watched it mostly because I enjoyed the soundtrack, and my father owned the album. He made the film in Hollywood under George Vidor, who died, and the film had to be completed by the famous and George Cukor. Frankly, it's boring, and it resembles so many of those MGM costume dramas where the actors become the costumes rather than the characters. But Dirk is sexy in his period outfits. He certainly fills out tight pants well.
 

Bogarde as Franz Liszt

Song Without End soundtrack

(And his pants and probably what was beneath them more than his eyes got him those matinee idol parts in Britain during the 1950s.)
 

Dirk Bogarde in tight pants from A Tale of Two Cities

I also saw him the Judy Garland movie I Could Go on Singing (what is going on with all these song, singing titles?). He plays a prominent doctor, David, with whom the Judy Garland character, Jenny, a famous singer, had an affair with 15-20 years before the time of the movie. The affair produced a daughter whom David raised, and Judy now wants to see when she tours in England. To be frank, this movie is a vehicle for Judy, and I don't really remember Dirk making much of an effect physically or emotionally.

Anyway, the failure of Song Without End ended Dirk's Hollywood career.

But some sources claim that the Song Without End debacle was not the end of Dirk's matinee idol career. It was another movie, a piece of camp called Singer Without Song. Dirk plays a Mexican bandit erotically obsessed with an Irish priest, played by John Mills.

Dirk wore leather pants throughout the movie. Tight leather pants. Tight. Very risque for the period.
 

Dirk Bogarde in leather

And I might argue, perhaps a way of saying I am gay, as is my character in the movie. But I am not going to tell you I am gay, and maybe even I think telling you is not important to me psychologically. Thus I don't need or want to, but I can't be open about it because of social pressures.

In other words, in those gorgeous pants he oozes sexuality, but at the same time, covers it.

Dirk was gay, but he was forced to conceal his sexuality. He shared a home with Anthony Forwood, the ex-husband of the actress Glynis Johns, for many years. He claimed the relationship was platonic, because of the morality clauses in film contracts during that time, and like the character he played in Victim, the possibility of blackmail loomed.
 

Cup of coffee
Dirk Bogarde and Anthony Forwood

Dirk died in 1999 after a period of ill health following two strokes, and later in life he was an advocate for voluntary euthanasia of the terminally ill. He had seen so many horrible deaths in World War II, and as well he had suffered through Forwood's painful death from cancer and Parkinson's disease in 1988.

Overall, I think he was stunningly sexy, but not in the All-American handsome way. He was not a jock or a smooth operator or a cute young thing. I think his sex appeal has something to do with profoundly deep gaze. He emits an paradoxical energy: come to me, but keep your distance. I am intense. And if I decide to come to you, watch out. Endlessly fascinating.
 

Dirk Bogarde
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I Love You, Joan Crawford: Gay Men and Their Big Ladies

 

Joan Crawford Illustration

The other day while on the subway, I heard two male high school students (not sure if they were gay) debate the respective virtues of Beyonce and Adele.

 

Diva worship is apparently still alive everywhere, not just in the gay community! 


But what's the real scoop on the cliched gay obsession with Joan Crawford and other dead or superannuated movie stars, or as movie mogul Jack Warner put it more bluntly, “old broads,” the language he used when referring to Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 

 

These larger than life ladies, and others like them, have always enjoyed large gay male followings.  

So my question is: is the “big lady” and her gay entourage now a stereotype of a campy, closeted culture of the past, in which diva worship, according to many cultural critics, was an elaborate “covering” dynamic for gay men's profound social and psychological insecurities?   

The September/October 1977 issue of In Touch Magazine, in those early days when the magazine offered an array of cultural features, offers a tribute to Joan soon after her death, and, most significantly, before the now notorious book and camp cult classic Mommie Dearest came out.

 

This article pretty much rehashes many of the claims made about the late movie legend, such as director George Cukor's paean to her face, “that extraordinary sculptural construction of lines and planes,” her superlative (and some might argue, obsessive) projection of stardom, and her continual reinvention of her image.

 

She was the vibrant jazz baby; the assertive shopgirl who made good and got her man while fighting for her rights; the stylish, glamorous, yet suffering and vulnerable femme fatale; the Gothic horror queen.

 

Gay men found in these personas something they could identify with in their own struggles for individual identity and social respect. 

For gay men, Joan was the star and, for many, still is the star - that luminous, glamorous figure swathed in furs and jewels, kind of a fairy queen, remote but also approachable. Joan was approachable, even if she did supposedly get dressed up to go to the grocery store; she answered ever fan letter personally, sustained relationships with fans, and she would even thank you for a thank you note! "Goodbye, Joan" is the title of the article, and the author once again quotes the gay George Cukor, who expresses disbelief that the legend had actually died. 

Joan, of course, lives on in the movies and a caricature of her lives on, as well; the wire hanger and can of cleanser wielding monster of Mommie Dearest becoming one of the biggest gay camp icons ... ever. And a new generation can still see her (if they want to) on Turner Classic Movies, on DVD reissues, and on youtube.

 

But do the “old broad divas,” especially Crawford, with their larger than life personas, over the top (to many eyes and ears these days) characterization and dialogue, and often striking personal and professional flaws and vulnerabilities, really appeal to today's smoothly tech-savvy, more easily assimilated gay man? 

Yes, I love Joan Crawford, even if I can also also laugh at the melodramatic excesses. But how often in the life we live (as opposed perhaps to the life we dream), can we tell someone off like Joan does in Autumn Leaves, calling someone a slut twice in one harangue? (And not playing for the cameras on a reality TV show!).

 

Most people end up dying in sterile hospitals looking like a pincushion of tubes, or on the toilet; so who wouldn't want to drown on a gorgeous, moonlit beach with a violin playing theLiebestod in the background, like Joan does in Humoresque?

 

And Joan could laugh at herself, as she does in It's a Great Feeling, when she delivers a slap and says that she does that in all her movies. “Get out Veda! Get out before I throw your things into the street and you with them! Get out before I kill you!”

 

The point of this blog is not self-analysis, but if Joan Crawford worship is part of my gay unique sensibility, then so be it. Maybe I was born with it, or is it a social construct because of my generation? And of course, one can also mock the Joan Crawford obsession as a gay cliche, as Debbie Novatny in Queer as Folk says to her brother, when he asked her if she wanted to stay home and watch a Joan Crawford festival, “No one's that gay!” 
 

Divas


For a while, up to the early 90s, a new type of diva, like Streisand, Cher, Bette Midler, and Madonna, looked to replace, or perhaps supplement, the more traditional Barbra, Judy, Bette, and Joan as divas with that gay following, according to Michael Kearns in an article entitled “Heroine Worship” in the November 1984 issue of Male Review.

 

But in 2014, who is the new fairy queen or queen of the fairies (pun intended)? Is that image and its associations even relevant in this culture? 

The author Ethan Mordden, in a past issue of Opera News, focused on another type of diva with a gay following, the female opera singer (think Maria Callas, especially). He recounts that, at a recent dinner party, he deplored the type of gay man who mimics his diva of choice, sprinkling his conversation with “darlings,” pretending to be Auntie Mame. In other words, perhaps he is implicating the “older” gay men in the closet who identities with the diva in all her flaws (but also her assertiveness), taking on a mask to cover his feelings of oppression and discrimination. The younger gay men at the party did not know who Auntie Mame was. Gasp!

 

A younger employee of the Bijou confused Betty White with Bette Davis. Does he deserve the mockery his mistake created? Or are the older gay men, those “old queens,” the ones to be mocked and pitied for their now outdated diva worship that reeks, like Norma Desmond's tube rose perfume in Sunset Boulevard, of the pre-Stonewall closet? 

All cultures undergo transformations in response to a complex variety of factors. But I do wonder if the lack of the old variety of diva worship in gay culture is a simple either/or, now/then issue. Generation Y and  the Millenials may not subscribe to the same values as preceding generations, but I do find some fault with the “ahistoricism” of said group, that somehow they have outgrown the old gay icons or replaced them with others less gay orthodox campy.

 

Yet even if the whole culture sees something like Joan Crawford worship as camp or kitsch, or even if some gay “hipsters” appropriate such imagery inauthentically as only parody, to deny even a glimpse of the power and beauty that these women uniquely conveyed to previous generations is a sad loss. 

We are so afraid of the grand gesture, the big emotion that these big ladies could generate, somehow seeing it as false or hollow or silly or politically incorrect. Perhaps we have cheapened big emotions with reality TV, with American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, where everyone, not just the few larger than life stars, can groan and weep and spit out insults for the omnipresent cameras.

 

Does being liberated from social oppression mean a liberation from .... feeling? Perhaps we can't truly experience the high without experiencing the contrast of the low.

 

But as I see it, one of the great cultural enjoyments is to let yourself experience the campy pleasures of truly big, talented personalities. 
 

Joan Crawford

 

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