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.

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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
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I Love a Gay Halloween Parade!

posted by Madame Bubby

Yes, it's coming up, the unofficial LGBTQ holiday, Halloween! I was looking online for more information about Halloween events going on next week, and I noticed that the famous Greenwich Village, New York City Halloween parade is now in its 46th year.

Pretty amazing, if one thinks what year it was 46 years ago: 1973. Thus, celebrating Halloween was part and parcel of the then young and militant gay liberation movement.

I remember seeing from a distance many years ago Chicago's own LGBTQ Halloween parade on Halsted Steet, and now the event has become “Haunted Halsted Halloweek and Parade,” running from Saturday, October 26 to the great day itself this year, and the day of the parade, Thursday, October 31.

Why am I essentially advertising the above events? Because I think, in tandem, Bijou Video provides its own parade of Halloween porn movies you can enjoy anywhere and throughout the entire year. In fact, I would even say Bijou is carrying on the legacy of directors and producers and actors who originated the genre of Halloween porn or horror porn.

Here are some of our films of that genre:

The anthology Scared Stiff features scenes from some of the titles described below, plus others like Gayracula and Four in Hand.
 

Scared Stiff box cover

Vintage Gayracula ad

Four in Hand still
Image from Four in Hand

Night of the Occultist, a Jaguar film from 1973 (year of the first Village Hallloween parade!) directed by Kenneth Andrews, is certainly overall quite “trippy,” but the major Halloweeneseque scene in this campy yet also complex film is an ancient Egyptian ritual, a sacrifice to Osiris, the judge of the dead (he serves as the gatekeeper between life, death, and the afterlife), which involves gay sex in an temple.
 

Night of the Occultist still
Image from Night of the Occultist

A Ghost of a Chance, also from 1973, features some ghostly sex with a deceased boyfriend, but the overall story is not just about the crossing of the seemingly insurmountable boundary between death and life, but about how sex with multiple partners itself is a way of liberation from imposed boundaries.
 

A Ghost of a Chance stills
Images from A Ghost of a Chance

Strictly Forbidden, a Hand in Hand film from 1974 directed by Jack Deveau, reimagines the ancient trope of a statues coming to life as the main character enjoys sexual contact with many in a Parisian museum.
 

Strictly Forbidden stills
Images from Strictly Forbidden

Falconhead, a complex, profound film from 1977 directed by Michael Zen, plays with some archetypal images such as mirrors and falcons as several men undergo rituals of initiation that involve mysterious, ambiguously violent interactions.
 

Falconhead stills
Images from Falconhead

And, perhaps the true depths of the genre occurs in Peter de Rome's The Destroying Angel, which combines religion, psychedelic drugs, sex, and violence in one amazing conflagration as a young priest abandons his vocation and plunges into what is really the depths of himself he had previously repressed.
 

The Destroying Angel stills
Images from The Destroying Angel

What's interesting and significant about these films is that, yes, they are related to Halloween, but not in the conventionally “spooky,” explicit way.

By wrestling with the endlessly mysterious and fascinating conjunctions between sex, death, religion, and violence, they really end up targeting the deep, primal roots of the holiday, something LGBTQ persons, themselves cultural boundary-crossers, can connect with intimately.

It's a day when boundaries dissipate, masks and costumes make us aware that persons are not all what they seem, and somehow we end up experiencing on various levels death and life becoming one.

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