My 1992 “Porn Set” Diary

By Josh Eliot
 

In the December 1992 issue of Manshots magazine, I was asked to write an “on-set” diary chronicling the making of a road movie I was shooting from March 3rd - 22nd, 1992. I thought it might be fun to present that 31 year old article here to show “how things worked.” I was 29 years old at the time. It’s worth mentioning that featured in the same issue of that magazine was an interview with Richard Locke, conducted by Jerry Douglas. Also included was their “Fade-Out” column which featured a tribute to Al Parker, who passed away August 17th of that year.

 

December 1992 Manshots cover and articles on Richard Locke and Al Parker

Cover of the December 1992 issue of Manshots and articles on Richard Locke and Al Parker

 

In order to keep this blog at a “readable length,” we will start in progress. We drove to our San Francisco guest house rental. My lead, Hank Sterling, had a scheduling conflict so Randy White replaced him, leaving Hank in a supporting role. I met Randy White for the first time when he arrived at the guest house that evening. Stressed from the cast changes, Jeff Burton (Catalina photographer) and I snuck out to the Castro, got bombed and stayed out until the wee hours of the morning! We shot a major scene with Randy White and Bill Marlowe over the next two days, and despite Marlowe throwing his back out, the Doan’s pills kicked in and we got some great fucking. In a “big bike race scene,” one of the two bikes malfunctioned, forcing us to shoot the guys racing each other using the same bike. Annoying. Having wrapped in San Francisco, we join the diary “in progress “ on Monday March 9th as we arrived in Guerneville, CA, home of the Russian River. Here’s the remainder of the diary:

MONDAY, MARCH 9, 1992
Well, here we sit, four to a cabin in the Russian River. I think we’ll all kill each other by Friday. The resort Fifes is for sale, so it is empty except for us. Unfortunately, I told Chi Chi LaRue that the Russian River was just like Palm Springs, and it is, in the summer, but it’s March and this place is (how can I put it?) a ghost town! Chi Chi is driving up tomorrow with Wes Daniels, Adam Archer and Tom Farrell. I hope he didn’t pack too much drag. I guess he could always do a private show, just for us, on one of the picnic tables.

TUESDAY, MARCH 10, 1992
The Bill Marlowe/Dean Johnson scene is completed. It’s kind of a bitch shooting sex in a four man tent. Chi Chi arrived around 8pm and evidently the drive up was just hellish, because the Chi monster is breathing fire. He and Tom Farrell may just kill each other. We calmed Chi Chi down by having him do a face mask, along with me and the crew. There we sat, all of us with green mud on our faces, watching the NC-17 version of Ken Russell’s Whore. Around 10:30pm we walked into town to the Rainbow Cattle Company for cocktails - emphasis on cock. It was your typical run of the mill evening: Chi Chi broke several glasses, started quoting Barbra Streisand, and then broke out into song. The locals at the bar thought that we were from another planet - but aren’t we? My ex-boyfriend, a respected San Francisco call boy, is working on the crew as my video tech. We are also sharing a bed, and he told me I was talking in my sleep last night He told me I said: “All right, kissing looks good, now I want a wide shot.” Oh well, no sleep for the wicked.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 11, 1992
Tom Farrell’s scene with Adam Archer (the redneck and the trespassing biker) couldn’t have gone better - there was some major chemistry between those guys. The fucking on the bunkbeds will certainly be one of the highlights of the film. Tonight, as we were getting ready to go out, Tom Farrell graciously locked the other models out of their cabin and we had to wait about an hour for the owner to find another pass key. He ended up going in through a window. I was over it, big time. We finally made it to Molly Brown's, another gay bar. Chi Chi and I played darts, that’s what you do in these hick bars, while the others were dispersed throughout the place. Adam Archer played a lot of pool and Tom Farrell was hanging out with a couple of lesbians. We caught him kissing one and Chi Chi almost threw a dart at them. Then the group photos started, and it was time for us to leave. A few of us ended up at the Rainbow Cattle Company. I started talking to this juicy guy at the bar. He was one of the Cattle Company’s off duty bartenders. We were talking and, out of the blue, he mentioned that the town folk were saying that there was a rumor that Catalina Video was in town shooting a movie. (I guess we do stick out like a sore thumb.) Of course, I was slightly sloppy at this point and confessed everything to him. Well, who knew that it would work in my favor for a change! I thought that by telling him, he would say we could shoot some footage in the bar for the movie. But it turned out the only shots he wanted to shoot were on my face. I had no problem with that! We ditched the others and went back to the “Bunkhouse” at Fifes, where we shot the Farrell-Archer scene, because I still had the keys to it. Finally, after a week’s wait, I got laid. Big deal, right? Well, it was a very, very big deal, but I don’t kiss and tell (all the time).

THURSDAY, MARCH 12, 1992
The threeway oral scene was to be shot today with Wes Daniels, Alvin “The Whopper” Eros and Jean Paul Cocteau. Cocteau, obviously from Paris, France, was the biggest bug up my ass, but it wasn’t his fault. He was really nice and all, but the language barrier nearly sent me over the edge, as I’m sure the scene will reflect! At least it’s the middle scene in a five scene movie. Tonight we are all going to the Rusty Nail to celebrate wrapping in the Russian River.

SATURDAY, March 14, 1992
It’s 9:00am. The crew and I are at the Beck’s Motor Lodge in the San Francisco Castro district. We arrived yesterday morning and relaxed until it was time to meet Chi Chi and the models at the End Up for drinks. Chi Chi was in full drag, looking fabulous, when all of a sudden another drag queen came in looking exactly like Chi Chi’s mother! Same wig, same type of dress, but with a grey streak in her hair. We joked about how fun it would be to see the two of them in a cat fight, but they became best girlfriends. Cocteau from France never came back to the motel tonight. We never thought he would get laid with that bandana wrapped around his neck like he had it.

SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 1992
Today in Los Angeles we shot the first half of the Randy White/Hank Sterling scene, inside the limousine. What a royal pain in the ass! It’s over now so I won’t bitch. I’ve got some great shots of White jacking off while we drove around town - pretty cool stuff!

SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 1992
The anal half of the White/Sterling scene was shot today. Unfortunately Sterling started to bleed, so I immediately stopped the scene, as I always do in that event. I told him to stick two cotton balls up his ass and we’ll shoot another day, which we did.

FRIDAY, APRIL 3, 1992
I just finished editing the movie today. I have been working on it diligently since I got back to LA. I still can’t think of a title - can you believe it? I must say, It’s definitely, in my opinion, the best work I’ve done in quite a while. For that. I thank my incredible cast of actors and my irreplaceable, hardworking crew.

TUESDAY, APRIL 14, 1992
We named it! Easy Riders. Gotta go. I’m busy working on the script for Lunch Hour 2.

You can tell towards the end of the diary I was over writing it! I just thought it would be cool to give you a little glimpse of what things were like back then. There was a really hot and heavy thing that happened while in the Russian River that, at the time (1992), there was no way in hell I would mention for the Manshots publication. But you can read about it here in my previous blog, (Un)Easy Riders.

 

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
I'M NOT A LESBIAN DIRECTOR
Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: THE FOLSOM STREET FAIR
Diving into SoMa/Folsom: A TALE OF TWO STUDS
BALL BROTH

Rate this blog entry:
569 Hits
0 Comments

We Waited 8hrs for a Cum Shot... Is That a World Record?

By Josh Eliot

 

Patience is a virtue, or so they say. There were more than a handful of times that my patience wore thin on a porn set. It’s not all fun and games, let me tell you that right now. I became an expert on troubleshooting situations throughout my years of producing and directing, but in the early days, the crew and I were not able to escape the inevitable when a certain someone was in charge. I wouldn’t say my producer Scott Masters was a perfectionist, but he tried damn hard at it. If I’m being completely honest, Scott Masters and I had a love-hate-love again relationship from almost the very beginning. We both shared the passion for putting out the best product possible, both of us were totally invested in the stories we were telling, proper lighting and camera angles. You would think it was a match made in heaven, and to an extent it was, but there was one very important difference that had us butting heads many times over the years. Flexibility, or the lack of it.

 

William Higgins & Scott Masters (L); Higgins & Scott Masters with Jerry Douglas (R)

William Higgins & Scott Masters (L); Higgins & Scott Masters with Jerry Douglas (R)

 

Probably the first time it really came to a head was when we were shooting Hard Men 3, the third installment of a very popular series in the 1980s called Hard Men: No Strings Attached. It was basically a Chippendales type video where dancers would dress as a theme character and strip. The twist was that our dancers would strip all the way and when their undies came off they had a huge hard on that they flopped around for the camera, shot from every angle imaginable. We even had a plexiglass floor made for the models to dance on while we were underneath. At the end of the video, there was ordering information where the viewer could purchase a J/O tape of their favorite dancer masturbating, complete with cum shot, sold via mail order. The series was perfect for women or gay men to purchase. It was also perfect for Scott Masters as “director” of the segments. Scott loved plays, musicals and anything to do with the stage, not to mention his “costume fetish” I’ve mentioned before. Our “head butt” came one day when Scott was directing Chris Dano, who was playing a matador. The matador was to enter the stage through separating walls that we built on wheels to open and close. Very theatrical. It was 10:45pm, we had shot the dance/strip, the j/o bonus movie and all we had left was the opening shot where he entered the stage through the walls and dozens of roses showered him from above. “What? Roses? What are you talking about (Scott Masters)? You never asked for roses on your list!”

 

Hard Men series, matador & under plexiglass

Hard Men series, matador & under plexiglass

 

Well, you would have thought I’d killed his first born. The look on Scott Masters' face said it all as he screamed back at me, insisting he mentioned the roses when he ordered his custom built set over the phone. He definitely had not, and it was too late to run to the store to purchase any. His flight back to L.A. was at 8am, so I apologized if I missed the “roses request,” but reinforced the fact that he had a strong scene and no one would miss the fact that there were supposed to be roses. Well, that fell on deaf ears. Back and forth, back and forth. Suddenly he had an epiphany: “The curtain!” “The curtain?” Yes, the red velvet curtain that the model used in his dance and wrapped himself in for the J/O bonus movie. Don’t you know that Scott Masters had me, the 2nd cameraman, the make-up man, the still photographer and even poor Chris Dano sitting on the floor until 1am cutting up that muther fucking curtain into small strips and making fake roses that were stapled together so we could shoot a 15-second shot of them falling from the sky onto Chris Dano. It took all of my will power not to purposely jiggle the camera during the shot. I think I got home around 3am.

 

Matador and roses

 

Another more draining situation came on the movie The Main Attraction. This was a homage to his Nova Video movie of the same name. Matt Powers was Catalina’s new exclusive, and Scott Masters' secret (at the time) obsession. (I might talk about that “love affair” in a future blog; it’s personal so I’m not sure. But, then again, I do have a big mouth.) Anyway, Matt Powers finished the scene with Vic Summers, which, let me tell you, took a layer of flesh to complete, even before things came to a dead halt. We waited four hours while Vic would watch and rewind the VCR to get himself to the point where he could cum. He must have ran into the set screaming “I’m cumming!” seven or eight times, but nothing came out. Masters refused to let us put the cameras on a tripod because he had very specific angles in mind that called for me to be on a 20-foot ladder and 2nd camera to be wedged with the still photographer, literally on top of each other in the corner of the set. All of our backs were sore and aching but he refused to let us change the angle. At around midnight, Masters decided to end our misery but wanted us all back at 6am to try again for the cum shot, as they all had 1pm flights home. At 6am, we all returned to the studio hoping and praying that a good night's sleep would somehow empower Vic Summers to quickly blow his load. It was a repeat of the night before, so I requested to Masters that we lay Vic on his back on the bed with the VCR in viewing distance so he was comfortable and could just “cum” without having to run into the set and get in an awkward position. That and any other suggestions were met with a “no” accompanied by a long monologue as to why not. Just shy of four and a half hours later, drip... drip. A very un-dramatic visual presentation of what some might call a cumshot.

When I saw John Travis later that month to start shooting My Best Buddy, the crew and I shared our nightmarish experience. Travis was like, “What the fuck? We’ve got so many fucking cum shots in the can, close-up, underneath, overhead, fat dicks, thin dicks, straight dicks, crooked dicks, mushroom heads, no head… couldn’t he have just reused one of those?” Exactly.

 

Main Attraction: Nova & Catalina versions

Main Attraction: Nova & Catalina versions

 

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

Rate this blog entry:
1468 Hits
0 Comments

Arrested for Murder!

posted by Madame Bubby

I was going through the files at the Bijouworld office, and I happened across a packed file for one porn star who does not appear in any of our titles. But the contents of the folder were certainly both enticing (lots of pics from the gay magazines he appeared in) and disturbing.

Tim Lowe, a prolific porn star from the 1980s and 1990s, worked for major studios like Vivid, HIS Video, Catalina and many others, according to Gay Erotic Video Index. Movies he made frequently referenced in sources include Fratimony (All Worlds) and The Main Attraction (Image Video).

He was also arrested for murder and spent 14 months in prison.

According to the many newspaper clips in the folder, Tim Lowe (his real name was David Cody) was arrested on January 21, 1992, for strangling 52-year-old Allen Kinkead on January 8. David aka Tim apparently had been living with Kinkead in the Haight-Asbury district of San Francisco. Kinkead's body was discovered bound and gagged, and his credit cards and car were missing.

Cody and a female companion (girlfriend?; Gay Erotic Video Index claims he had a wife and two kids too?) were arrested in Mexico driving the stolen car. The pair pleaded guilty.
 

Newspaper clipping with headline: Porn Star Arrested in Murder
Source: Out, April 1993

In February 1994, the charges were later reduced to involuntary manslaughter, as upon further investigation, the circumstances in the death were open to question; the death was possibly accidental, and Kinkead had taken meth, pot, and poppers before his death. (Lowe claims in the interview I reference below his roommate suffered a heart attack.)
 

Newspaper clipping with headline: Charges Against Lowe Reduced
Source: unknown

In an interview with Jerry Douglas for Manshots magazine, Lowe gives some details of his stay in prison (not exciting), mostly lots of waiting, lack of privacy, and smartly, he laid low, stayed aloof, not making friends.

After getting out of prison, he made more films, up to about 2004. According to the interview, he does make much out of getting counseling and trying to figure out where he made that wrong turn. He also makes much out of reading that pop psychology book of the period, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Hmm ... Lowe also claims he did not steal anything. Hmm …
 

Lowe Manshots interview
Source: Manshots, October 1994

What's interesting is that I don't get too much distinctive about him as a person or a performer from what I found. Physically, he is what I would call cute young guy with a conventionally great bod and a well-formed dick, but he just strikes me as vaguely “kind of hot,” with, from what I can see in the facial expression, a hint of cocky. Just a hint.
 

Tim Lowe photo in Mandate
Source: Mandate, date unknown

In fact, the general consensus from the many performers and directors that he worked with is that he was “nice to work with,” in that case, meaning probably amenable, agreeable, delivered the goods without drama.

But nice? Wow. There's so many implications here, but it's hard to really follow up on them specifically, due to lack of evidence.

I am trying to figure out what stance to take. All I can see is a pattern I see time and time again in so many relationships in the LGBTQ community, and this isn't going with the tired stereotype of porn stars generally gravitating toward “fucked up” situations on many levels.

It's the often fraught with peril on so many levels dynamic between the older guy and the younger guy, often one exploiting the other (and in this case, it's hard to tell who was exploiting whom) based on unrealistic expectations regarding sexual attraction which often results in a blurring of fantasy and reality. In the case of Cody aka Lowe and Kinkead, Kinkead apparently had been a fan of Lowe, as the place was filled with Lowe's videos.

I just think overall that not enough attention has focused on the tragedy here: Kinkead lost his life. Lowe lived to read self-help books and do interviews make more movies.

Rate this blog entry:
Recent comment in this post
James Fee
What's missing?
Friday, 28 February 2020 23:20
7281 Hits
1 Comment

Interview with Director Tom DeSimone: Part 2 – Hollywood & Mainstream Directing

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Tom DeSimone behind a camera
Image Credit: Tom DeSimone

This is the follow up to our previous blog about Tom DeSimone, a major figure in the formation of the adult industry in the 1970s and one of the earliest directors of gay hardcore films during the establishment of the genre. He directed many well-produced and influential gay porn classics, many of which had an emphasis on narrative, character, and relationships, including Dust Unto Dust (1970), Catching Up (1975), The Idol (1979), and the 1974 documentary on gay porn history, Erotikus: History of the Gay Movie.

Vintage poster for Erotikus

DeSimone's skillful filmmaking in porn led him into an extensive career working in mainstream film and television, which he elaborated upon in this continuation of our interview.

Please read part one for an interview with Tom about his filmmaking background and porn career! And see the bottom of this blog for Tom DeSimone's filmography and links to his movies.

Bijou: What was it like being one of the rare crossover filmmakers between hardcore gay films and mainstream fare?

DeSimone: I was a very well-known writer, producer, and director of gay porn at the same time that both Casey [Donovan] and Wakefield Poole [director and star of Boys in the Sand, 1971] were in the business. I was quite prolific, having made over 80 hardcore features. I wasn't what you would call “obscure” since my films were readily reviewed in all the gay newspapers and magazines and, in some cases, even in Variety, the Hollywood Bible. I was interviewed numerous times in gay periodicals, as well. You could definitely say I was “out there.” And yet I easily made the crossover into mainstream movies and television and, in most cases, my past was known, yet it didn't seem to matter. I worked with Linda Blair, Maude Adams, Jill St. John, Richard Roundtree, Dennis Christopher, Patty McCormick, Susan Oliver, and Barbara Luna, among others. The bottom line was the work, the ability to bring in a feature film that made the grade.

While I respect the work done by many of my peers in those heady porn years, there's a vast difference between stringing a series of erotic loops together under a unifying theme and turning out a traditional feature film. In some instances, the reviews of my films often compared them to Hollywood films. I was known for coaxing believable performances out of guys with no acting training whatsoever. I did all my own editing and made sure I scored the films with appropriate background music. In some cases, I also did the camerawork to be sure that I was putting up on the screen what I wanted my vision to be. I studied the Hollywood classics for years and I also had a Master's Degree from UCLA film school. My being gay had nothing to do with my work. It had always been my ambition to work in mainstream films and making porn was just a stepping stone for me, a chance to practice my art until the big break came.

Ironically, it was my porn films that opened that door. A producer, who just happened to be gay, rented a porno one night and he and his lover settled down to watch it. He was so impressed with the film that he tracked me down and then introduced me to two other producers – both straight, by the way – and it was those two who financed my first legit Hollywood film. When screening my film with them, I was curious if the sex scenes would be a turn off for them, but they weren't phased in the least. What they were looking for was to see if I had what it takes to bring in a feature or not. And that was the beginning of a long and exciting career. Six feature films and one-hundred-sixty television shows later, I'm retired now and take great pride in looking back at it all.

Hollywood was, and still is, filled with gay writers, producers, and directors... they recognize talent when they see it and they reward it accordingly. Sometimes people think we [porn makers] were all just amateurs with a brownie camera in a cheap motel room, grinding out trash. Today's audiences need to know that there were real artists working back then... myself, Jack Deveau, Peter de Rome, Jerry Douglas, Wakefield Poole, etc. We opened the doors... and some of us even stepped through to the other side.

I had always had my eye on working in the Hollywood system from the time I was about ten years old. Making porn was just a means to that end. It allowed me to practice my craft at my own pace and to learn on the job, so to speak. It actually helped me when I finally did get my break because I had learned, by then, to shoot fast and from the hip, as the saying goes. Producers always liked the fact that I didn't waste time on the set and 99% of the time my films and TV shows came in on time and on budget.

Bijou: Which was your first Hollywood film, the one that you got a deal to work on by way of a Hollywood producer being a fan of your porn films? What was that initial shift into working in Hollywood like?

DeSimone: That film was Chatterbox [1977], which was actually a sex comedy. I was introduced to a producer at a New Year's Eve party by a friend who was a writer and successful. He was always a fan of my films and wanted to help me get my foot in the door. He introduced me, the producer and I chatted, he asked to see something, I arranged a screening of The Idol, he loved it, and that was the start. I had an old script lying around that I had intended to shoot, a straight porn movie called Lips about a girl with a talking vagina. He flipped for it but didn't want to do anything hardcore, naturally. So Lips became Chatterbox and my career out of porn was born.
 

Chatterbox poster

Bijou: Tell us about working on porn sets versus mainstream Hollywood sets.

DeSimone: The transition was awkward at first, because making my porn films was a small affair. Me, the cameraman, and the sound man and one assistant who did what we needed on the set. On my first film, Chatterbox, I was astounded to show up on the set and have 100 or more people all busy working and depending ON ME to get things moving and get things done. I knew how to make a film, but had to learn how to relegate duties to others. I was used to moving equipment around and wrapping cables, etc. It was a big surprise (and a lovely one) at the end of the first day of shooting – the assistant director came up to me and said, “Your car is ready.” I had no idea what he meant. I was picking up cables and wrapping them and he said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Finishing up.” He just looked at me and said, “NO... You're the director. You don't do that. The driver is here to take you home.” After that, it was all a joy!

Bijou: Onto a couple of specific mainstream titles, what was it like working with punk musician Wendy O. Williams in your 1986 women in prison genre satire, Reform School Girls?

DeSimone: Wendy was unique and a mystery. She was very quiet, kept mostly to herself, ate in her trailer most of the time, and didn't socialize or mingle on the set with others, not even me until she had to. She had very strong opinions of what HER FANS would want to see her do, so many times we had to hash things out before doing a scene. She had a manager/Svengali sort of man, who was also her life partner. His name was Rod. He actually created WENDY O.WILLIAMS. That wasn't her real name and he fashioned her entire persona, her look, and her style and she looked to him for everything. Many times while shooting, I had to confer with him about what she would or wouldn't do in the film. Eventually we became friendlier and I was even invited by them to visit in New York, where they lived and worked in a huge loft. It was quite an experience seeing them in their own world. Unfortunately, he eventually took a position in upstate New York to teach at some university and took her along. It was my understanding that they had married. Sadly, being a faculty wife in a small academic community didn't make it for her and one morning she went out into the woods with a rifle and shot herself. Sad ending to a tumultuous life.

(Read more about Tom's work on Reform School Girls in this interview.)
 

Reform School Girls poster

Bijou: What was it like working with The Exorcist's Linda Blair in your 1981 cult horror film, Hell Night?

DeSimone: Linda was a gem. We hit it off immediately and remained friends for several years after the film wrapped. She was hesitant at first about doing another horror film after doing a couple of Exorcist films, but we convinced her that her character wouldn't end up being a victim but, instead, would be the one who saves the day. She was always professional and has a great sense of humor, which made the work a lot easier. The entire film was shot at night, so working was difficult and, at times, really a struggle in the cold nights outdoors. We shot over the Thanksgiving holiday and even Christmas. When we took a break from shooting for Christmas, she arranged a big party for the entire company, actors and crew, and had it catered and everyone was invited to her home. I thought that was pretty special of her, since most actors would have wanted to take the time away from everything and just relax. We stayed in touch for several years after the shoot, but now only on occasion do we cross paths.

(Read an interview with Tom about the making of Hell Night here.)
 

Hell Night poster

Thank you again to Tom DeSimone for generously discussing his career!

Tom DeSimone's Partial Directorial Filmography:
(From IMDb and Gay Erotic Video Index)
Links to movies available through Bijou Video

The Collection (as Lancer Brooks) – 1969
One - 1970
Dust Unto Dust (as Lancer Brooks) – 1970
Peter the Peeker – 1971
Lust in the Afternoon - 1971
Gay Tarzan – 1971
Confessions of a Male Groupie – 1971
Black and Blue - 1971
The Gypsy's Ball - 1972
Prison Girls – 1972
Chained (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Swap Meat (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Sons of Satan (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Black Heat (as Lancer Brooks) – 1973
Games Without Rules (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Erotikus: A History of the Gay Movie (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Station to Station (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Everything Goes (aka Anything Goes) (as L. Brooks) – 1974
Duffy's Tavern (as Lancer Brooks) – 1974
Blue Movie Auditions (aka How to Make a Homo Movie) - 1974
Assault (as Lancer Brooks) – 1975
Sur - 1975
Good Hot Stuff – 1975
Aphrodisiacs in the Male Animal (1975)
Catching Up – 1975
Chatterbox! - 1977
Hot Truckin' (as Lancer Brooks) – 1978
The Harder They Fall (aka The Frenchman and the Lovers) – 1977
Gettin' Down (as Lancer Brooks) – 1978
The Idol – 1979
Bad, Bad Boys (aka Bad Boys) (as Lancer Brooks) – 1979
Hawaiian Eyes (aka Gay Guide to Hawaii) – 1979
Private Collection – 1980
Heavy Equipment (as Lancer Brooks) – 1980
Wet Shorts – 1980
The Dirty Picture Show (as De Simone) – 1980
Flesh and Fantasy 1 – 1980
Dirty Books - 1981
Hell Night – 1981
The Concrete Jungle – 1982
Skin Deep (as Lancer Brooks) – 1982
Bi-Coastal (as Lancer Brooks) – 1985
Bi-bi Love (as Lancer Brooks) – 11986
Nightcrawler: A Leathersex Fantasy - 1986
Reform School Girls – 1986
Angel III: The Final Chapter – 1988
Freddy's Nightmares (TV Series, 4 episodes) – 1988/1989
Super Force (TV Series, 6 episodes) – 1991/1992
Dark Justice (TV Series, 18 episodes) – 1991 - 1993
Swamp Thing (TV Series, 3 episodes) – 1992/1993
Acapulco Bay (TV series) – 1995
The Big Easy (TV Series, 4 episodes) – 1996/1997
Coming Distractions (as Lancer Brooks) – 1997
Pensacola: Wings of Gold (TV Series, 1 episode) – 1998
She Spies (TV Series, 1 episode) – 2002

Rate this blog entry:
2259 Hits
0 Comments

Casey Donovan on Stage: The Theater Career of the First Gay Porn Superstar

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster


 

Tubstrip poster

 


Casey Donovan, who became a legend after his lead performance in Wakefield Poole's Boys in the Sand, was easily the very first true gay porn star. Released in 1971, the film made its debut in the early days of gay liberation as well as the early days of hardcore (the era of “porno chic”), making a significant impact. It premiered at New York City's 55th Street Playhouse, which typically screened foreign and art house cinema, and was the first gay porn film to achieve crossover success, to garner considerable attention from the press, and to be reviewed by Variety, even making it onto their listing of the top fifty grossing films its opening week. The wild success of Boys rapidly helped to launch Casey, with his charm and glowing good looks, into underground fame and turn him into a gay icon. There was talk, at the time, that Casey might be the adult star who could fully break into mainstream film. Casey had aspirations of realizing this potential, and also of appearing in Broadway productions. He had been, and continued to be, involved in theater all his life, as an actor and as a lover of the medium.

Casey, born John Calvin Culver and typically known (and credited outside of his adult career) as Calvin Culver or Cal Culver, was raised in upstate New York. He did theater throughout high school and college, after being encouraged and mentored by his beloved high school English and drama teacher, Helen Van Fleet. (Roger Edmonson's biography Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star, source of the majority of this material, says he called her Auntie Mame, writing to her and sending her tickets to his plays throughout his life. “He took her backstage to meet Ingrid Bergman when he was in a play with the legendary actress. He took her to the Tony Awards, arranging for her to sit front and center in the audience.”)

When he eventually relocated to New York City in the late '60s, Cal made sure to attend as many plays as possible, from Broadway to small productions. He briefly moved to New Hampshire to do summer stock and joined the reputable Peterborough Players as an apprentice before returning to NYC, where he was chosen as a replacement for an actor in the off-Broadway play Pins and Needles. The success in 1968 of Mort Crowley's play The Boys in the Band, which directly focused on gay characters, paved the way for gay-themed plays. Cal was hired as an understudy in an early gay-themed play, And Puppy Dog Tails, in 1969. Around this time, Cal says (in a TV interview on Emerald City) that he was broke and searching for jobs in a paper and saw an ad hiring performers for non-hardcore roles in straight sex films. He wound up doing two "very strange little films" called Dr. X and Twin Beds, making $20 a day.

In 1970, he was cast in a raunchy low-budget thriller, Ginger (dubbed “a female James Bond”), with Cal in a role featuring some nudity. The film was critically panned, but Cal's performance received one of the few positive mentions: “Only Calvin Culver as the thrill-seeking jet set blackmailer shows any indication of better things to come.” Following Ginger, he was featured in a short run of the play Brave, following which he met Jerry Douglas. The two would go on to work together numerous times and in several capacities over the years. Douglas was directing a production of Circle in the Water, another gay-themed play, and brought Donovan on board. Douglas was impressed with how professional and charming Cal was, but commented that he was mysterious: “He always vanished promptly after each performance, not to be heard from until his next call.” Cal had a busy social life, was hustling and cruising after hours, and still making time to frequently see plays and operas.

Just before Boys in the Sand, Cal broke into the hardcore porn world at age 28 when he starred in the 1971 film Casey, originally produced by Palm Features, later picked up by Hand in Hand Films, and currently distributed by Bijou Video. This film, though produced before Boys, wasn't substantially screened until after the release and success of Poole's landmark film. A co-star from one of the sex films Cal made in 1969 had a friend (Donald Crane) who was writing and directing a gay hardcore film and was looking to cast the lead. Cal needed cash and they were paying well, so he took the job. Though he described the shooting of Casey as uncomfortable because of its largely straight and tense crew and cast, Cal carries the film, attempting to create eroticism in the (mostly faked) sex scenes, exuding plentiful charm, and expertly delivering the film's clever and incisive dialogue, full of commentary on gay life in the era. Casey was well-reviewed when it did get distribution. Edmonson's biography says, “Aside from Cal's timelessly watchable good looks, there was his performance. It was a tour de force of its type... Cal not only plays the callow hero, but he also plays [in drag] the role of Wanda Uptight, his own fairy godmother... He played the role to the hilt without a trace of embarrassment, making it one of the more memorable star turns in the history of porn films.”
 

Stills from Casey
Images from Casey

Casey is notable not only for being Cal's first hardcore porn – as well as one of the few films to properly make use of Cal's acting chops – but also, significantly, for giving him his pseudonym and alter ego. As he was modeling for a “legitimate agency” at the time and acting, Cal took the name Ken Donovan for his credit in this film, modifying it to Casey Donovan for his later porn appearances.

Because of Casey, Cal received a call from a friend who knew someone - a former dancer, theater director, and choreographer - who was making "some experimental movies" on Fire Island. This was Wakefield Poole. Cal met with him, saw some of what he'd been shooting, and agreed to take part in this beautifully photographed porn film, which was ultimately to become the classic, Boys in the Sand, that would transform Cal/Casey's life. He received glowing reviews of his performance and his image in the film and there was talk all over New York City (and, eventually, across the nation) about him.
 

Boys in the Sand still
Boys in the Sand poster

 

In 1972, Cal was cast in a small part in the George Bernard Shaw play Captain Brassbound's Conversion starring Ingrid Bergman, who described Cal as “having the same kind and as much charisma as Robert Redford.” A photograph of them together during this production became one of Cal's prized possessions and he said he learned a great deal from getting to watch Bergman act.
 

Cal with Ingrid Bergman

 

Cal with Ingrid Bergman

Jerry Douglas, his Circle in the Water stage director, contacted Cal about appearing in his porn directorial effort The Back Row (1972) co-starring George Payne. In Douglas' Manshots article “The Legend of Casey Donovan” in April of 1992, Douglas, who worked with Cal multiple times in both theater and porn productions, describes how Cal “approached stage and film work in much the same way. He began by creating the character... and by studying the script, even on porn films. Rehearsals and shoots were always filled with his laughter, easy and laid back, even in the middle of an intense sex scene. But performing or filming was always a job to him, and a job he took very seriously.”

Shortly thereafter, Douglas was adapting his swinger play, Score, for the screen and Cal was cast. The film – a talky and very entertaining, nearly-hardcore softcore bisexual film – was made by notable director Radley Metzger. Metzger had come from straight and lesbian softcore films and was soon to move into glossy straight hardcore films (including one of his more well-known works, 1976's The Opening of Misty Beethoven, which would feature Cal in a small role). The sex scenes between Cal and co-star Gerald Grant are the most explicit and erotic in the film, the chemistry and tension between the two palpable, and Cal – here, as in Casey – deftly handles a significant amount of dialogue and delivers a compelling, nuanced performance.
 

Cal Gerald Grant in Score
Cal Gerald Grant in Score
Cal with Gerald Grant in Score

In the following few years, Cal appeared in a handful of small non-porn film parts and met with a number of producers in mainstream film about potential large-scale projects. Stage and screen co-star Michale Kearns said, “He was really, seriously talked about as potentially crossing that invisible line into the mainstream world of Hollywood films. His acting was immaterial. He was a star. He had that ineffable quality...” A Variety article said Cal could be “the bridge from hardcore to legitimate features” and Cal believed he could make that transition. His friend and then-roommate, Jake Getty, says, “He really didn't see – and I honor him for it – the difference between the two mediums. To him it was all an expression of theater... There was a great deal of legitimate theater with nudity and sex, implied sex in any case. Cal felt that there was no difference, that it was just a matter of how you perceived it. For him it was all a matter of the expression of emotion. He saw no difference between the nudity in Hair and the nudity and sex in Boys in the Sand.” But Cal's Hollywood roles never quite manifested.

In 1973, Cal played a series of small parts in a Lincoln Center production of The Merchant of Venice starring Rosemary Harris and Christopher Walken. One of his roles was as Jesus Christ, wearing only a crown of thorns and a g-string and carrying an 8-foot cross. This production featured, also in small parts, Robert Tourneaux of the theater and film versions of Boys in the Band. Tourneaux was in a similar predicament to Cal, even without a porn career – his notoriety as a gay actor and from a well-known gay role was putting a stop to his film career.

As Cal was beginning to realize, the dual stigmas against porn and out gay actors were preventing his Hollywood aspirations from manifesting. Wakefield Poole said he also experienced this inability to move into mainstream film directing because of his porn work: “The legit film line couldn't be crossed. They would exploit you, but they didn't dare let you do a legitimate movie. The ugly truth was that there was no crossing over. None at all.” (Correction: There were some exceptions; gay porn director Tom DeSimone successfully crossed over into mainstream film/television directing. See our recent interviews with him about his career.)

Cal, in a 1983 Men in Film interview, said “Perhaps I was naive but it was a rude awakening for me to find out that Hollywood is one of the most closeted and hypocritical cultural centers in the world. I learned that an openly gay actor like myself was not welcome to gay directors and producers who believe it is essential to keep their sexuality a secret. Once an actor has made a porn movie, it is very difficult to 'cross over'. And it all has nothing to do with how much talent one has. It is all about how an actor is perceived and prejudged. In a limited sphere, my films made me famous, but in another sense, they were a handicap. I tried to maintain separate names and identities at first... It got increasingly confusing... Besides, the secret could not be perpetuated endlessly.”

Cal gave up his Hollywood hopes eventually, but continued to perform in porn and in theater. He was dropped from a production of Frederick Combs' play The Children's Mass, in which he was to co-star with Sal Mineo (also a friend of Hand in Hand Films heads Jack Deveau and Robert Alvarez), but he worked with Jerry Douglas once more in 1974 in his bathhouse play Tubstrip, also starring Score's Gerald Grant and a fellow early porn star, Jim Cassidy.
 

Tubstrip playbill

Cal was the biggest attraction and the play had a long run in New York, then runs in L.A. and San Francisco, and Cal performed in it to the end. Fans were excited to see Casey Donovan live and Cal “made time to meet with fans who gathered at the stage door every night after the performance.” During this era, he would reportedly screen his porn films for his theater cast-mates at after parties (Boys in the Sand for the Merchant of Venice cast and Poole's 1974 film Moving, co-starring Val Martin, for the Tubstrip cast). Michael Kearns commented on one of these viewings: “He acted like it was Gone with the Wind. He really behaved like a star – not temperamental but like a real star. He didn't feel a bit of shame about what he did on the screen. Even when he was getting fisted, there was a certain elegance about him. He had incredible aplomb.”

Between porn and theater gigs, Cal continued to work as an escort, periodically served as a gay celebrity tour guide on international trips (including to Italy, Egypt, China, and Peru), and did a stint running a bed and breakfast (“Casa Donovan”) in Key West. In his porn career, he worked with with major directors, stars, and studios, including Falcon (The Other Side of Aspen, 1978, co-starring Al Parker and Dick Fisk), the Gage brothers (L.A. Tool & Die, 1979, and Heatstroke, 1982), Christopher Rage (Sleaze, 1982), Poole again (Hot Shots aka Always Ready, 1982, and Split Image, 1984) and Steve Scott (Non-Stop, 1984), and he performed in the 1985 safe sex films Inevitable Love (with Jon King) and Chance of a Lifetime.

After a break from the stage and from New York City, Cal planned a return with a 1983 off-Broadway revival of the Terrence McNally play The Ritz. The play, which originally ran on Broadway in 1975 starring Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Jack Weston, Kaye Ballard, and F. Murray Abraham, was based on Bette Midler's rise to fame at The Continental Baths in the early '70s. (An additional connection to Cal: McNally originally called the play The Tubs, but when it was to be produced on Broadway, its name had to be changed because it was too similar to that of Douglas' Tubstrip.) Cal was brought onto the play's revival as a co-producer, as well as a star, and helped to finance it. Cal played detective character Michael Brick, who spoke in a falsetto voice throughout, and Warhol superstar Holly Woodlawn was cast in Moreno's leading role. The revival wound up a critical and financial disaster, the director receiving the largest amount of backlash, and only ran one night. Woodlawn said, while that performance was a mess, “Everyone panicked too soon. The opening night was a horror, but if given a chance, things would have settled in and worked out... We just needed more time to make it work.”
 

Poster for Woodlawn and Donovan in the revival of The Ritz
Holly Woodlawn and Cal

After this disappointment and its financial impact, Cal returned to Florida and was never to appear on stage in New York again. However, he couldn't give up on theater and – when not away traveling – attended and began acting in community theater productions in Key West. There, he was in a production of The Prime of Miss Jean Broadie and in William H. Hoffman's pioneering play about AIDS, As Is.

Woodlawn called Cal “the most gracious man I've ever encountered.” His friends remarked upon how dedicated he was to his fans and, while an enigma and a mass of contradictions, how sensitively he received the people he interacted with – strangers, fans, clients, co-workers, lovers, friends. Douglas' Manshots article says Cal “knew that he was a pioneer, a role model, and a superstar with obligations to his public. And so, he took great pains always to appear in public well-groomed and sober. He charmed his fans in every public appearance by listening, again and again, to their personal tales as if each of them were his closest friend. He corresponded with many, sent out hundreds (maybe thousands) of photographs at his own expense, and was never in too much of a hurry to sign one more autograph.” Bijou owner Steven Toushin similarly recalls Cal's appearance at the Bijou Theater. He was booked there to promote a film, dance on stage, and to meet fans and sign autographs. He says Cal had a great time interacting with the customers and stayed hours beyond the time he was scheduled and paid for, enjoying having conversations with his fans.
 

Signed Casey Donovan headshot from his Bijou appearance

Cal's hardcore and softcore films serve to immortalize his charm and his talent, as both an actor and a sexual performer. Though his porn roles modified his acting career, in a Men in Film interview, Cal said, “I enjoyed the idea that I was doing something that very few people had ever done... My life was made much more exciting by having done those films... I did plays, I was on magazine covers, in national fashion ads... I think porno worked in my life because I was so honest about it... Once I realized that my appearance in gay films was held against me in some quarters, I decided to put sex to even greater use – not less – in augmenting my income. We live in a society with deeply rooted feelings of guilt and shame about sex of any kind. If somebody makes a porn film, they are automatically beyond the pale. If somebody hustles, there must be something wrong with him. Maybe for some, not for me. I'm the living proof that it doesn't have to be that way. I'm still pretty much 'the boy next door' that I always was... I think my greatest accomplishment so far is something that doesn't show up in lights or get reviewed – and that's simply the sexual sanity that I have tried to contribute to over the past twenty years... I've tried to be honest, kind, and understanding with as many different people as possible, and I think that's much more important than just being gay.”

Cal's friend Jay McKenna wrote in a memorial article in The Advocate, “To myself and other young boys who were coming out in the early '70s, Cal Culver was a gay Adam – the first widely embraced gay symbol to appear during the post-Stonewall years. Back in 1971, when Cal's first film, Casey... was released, the gay movement was just beginning to amass some collective energy and wider acceptance, but gay existence was still underground and closeted. Coming out was a heartfelt and courageous choice. It was a calculated professional and social risk. So to teen-age boys like myself who were struggling to come to terms with it, Cal's spectacular emergence as Casey Donovan, unapologetic star of gay films, bordered on the heroic... My memory of him isn't obscured by false nostalgia. Cal had star power. He celebrated his gayness. He made me and others proud to be gay, so contagious was his spirit. Of course, like any human being, he had good days and bad days. But to be in his presence was to breathe a rarefied atmosphere.”

In 1985, two years before his death of AIDS-related complications, Cal returned to his home town to help his beloved drama teacher, Helen Van Fleet, celebrate her retirement. He visited with old high school classmates who all knew about his career in “the legitimate theater” and some about his porn career. Cal wanted to play a big part in Mrs. Van Fleet's celebration. Her daughter said, “it was really wonderful. He had written a parody of the title song from the musical Mame, and he sang it to her. It was an account of all the things they had experienced together over the years. It meant the world to her” and it received a huge ovation.

Sources:

Roger Edmonson, Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star

Jerry Douglas, “The Legend of Casey Donovan,” Manshots, April 1992

Jay McKenna, “Casey Donovan: To an Idol Dying Young,” The Advocate, October 27, 1987

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casey_Donovan_(actor)

https://newyorkcityinthewitofaneye.com/2013/05/20/mondays-on-memory-lane-1981-one-night-only-at-the-ritz-with-holly-woodlawn-2013/

Emerald City TV #47, Wakefield Poole & Cal Culver

Rate this blog entry:
8267 Hits
0 Comments

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

Go to top