FRANK ROSS, The Boss

By Josh Eliot

 

I spent hours at a time staring across the street at a filthy looking restaurant called the Go-Go Kitchen. It wasn’t the restaurant that caught my attention so much, but the exterior door next to it. A door leading to an upstairs apartment where every shade of rabbit fur coat was walking through it, sometimes with a man, sometimes without. It couldn’t have been more obvious. I’m no fool, I saw Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway starring “Jan Brady” on NBC in 1976. In that movie, Dawn became a sex worker, and she always wore a rabbit fur coat while walking the Sunset Strip in Hollywood. I’m not sure whose name was on the lease for that apartment, but he must have had a lot of “daughters” with a suspiciously similar dress code.

It was 1980 and I was working in the ticket booth at the Screening Room Theater, a place with quite a history. The first full-length adult hardcore feature legally shown in the United States premiered there in 1970, and today there’s a plaque on the building stating so. The film was Alex de Renzy’s Pornography in Denmark: A New Approach. It was billed as a documentary, which helped it avoid legal troubles.

 

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

 

In the 1980s, the Screening Room was a XXX Gay Cinema with live shows on stage. As I sat there analyzing the sex workers' behaviors, I felt two hands begin to rub my shoulders; it was my boss, Frank Ross. In addition to managing the theater, Frank became well known as an actor, producer and director. Some of his features include: Face to Face (aka San Francisco), Black Pack, Black and Bi and Made in the Shade and its sequel. He was a true New Yorker, a bit intimidating, with handsome looks and a tattooed muscular body.

 

Face to Face poster and Made in the Shade VHS cover

Vintage poster for Face to Face (aka San Francisco) and VHS cover for Made in the Shade 1

 

When he interviewed me for the job, he struggled with the idea of whether or not to hire me, because I had just turned 18 the week before. He was very protective of my naivete and took time before exposing me to all the different areas of the theater and its playrooms. As weeks passed and we became more comfortable with each other, he started sharing stories of his sexual adventures. His trysts blew my mind but helped me get more comfortable with accepting myself. I envied my co-worker who was already comfortable in his own skin and would go up to the projection booth and play around with Frank regularly. A dancer named TK, who would talk with me in the booth after the live shows, invited me to go to the Trocadero Transfer with all the dancers. He knew the doorman, so I got in no problem.

 

Trocodero Transfer exterior, Divine's honorary membership card, and a fan dancer

Trocodero Transfer exterior, Divine's honorary membership card, and a fan dancer

 

It was my first time seeing fan dancers, being in a club this size and bonding through party favors with the dancers. At sunrise, we were all at the beach where TK and I went into a cave by the Sutro Baths and played around. Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach are notorious gay cruising spots. When I came into work the next day, Frank had this shit eating grin on his face, like a proud papa. I guess strippers do kiss and tell. Frank totally patted himself on the back for kicking my ass out of the closet, and I guess after months of his influence, he did.

 

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach images

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach

 

Frank’s most infamous film as producer was made while I worked for him. He was excited to tell me the details, about a prison guard and convict who are handcuffed together during an escape. “Oh, like The Defiant Ones,” I said, “I love that movie.” He was impressed that I made the connection and invited me to watch them film on the movie set. The shoot was the next day, around the corner at the Bulldog Baths on Turk Street.

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

The infamous bathhouse had a real prison cell set, and he was very excited about it. It was too nerve-wracking for me, so I never went to the set. What a huge mistake! The feature turned out to be Wanted, starring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler. Frank Ross was producing and Steve Scott (Inches, Performance, A Few Good Men, Screenplay) was directing! Let me put this in perspective… this is how I see it: you have Steve Scott who is like the Martin Scorsese of gay porn, Al Parker is the Robert De Niro, and Jack Wrangler is Leonardo DiCaprio. The best of the best for that era, there is no topping that cast or crew. A huge regret not going to that set! FUCK!

 

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

 

I don’t know if my life would have taken a different direction had I gone to that set or not, but after leaving my Screening Room job in 1981, I wasn’t exposed to the Adult Film Industry again until I was hired at Catalina Video in 1987. Sadly, I recently found out that Frank Ross passed away on May 20th 2021, which made me think back about our time working together. Because we worked on different coasts, he never knew that I ended up working in the same industry as him. I wonder how he would have reacted.

But do you know what the real burning question in my mind is?

Are there still girls going in and out of that door next to the Go-Go Kitchen?

 

 

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.  

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Sunburn

In the olden days, and I am talking way, way back, it was a status symbol in European culture especially among women, to be “pale.”

Imagine fair skin, and not just naturally fair skin (that Swedish skin I inherited from my mother) or what some often term an “English” complexion (which means one burns easily in the sun). To show fair skin meant you were wealthy enough to not have to work outside like peasants and slaves.

And being white and, even more than white, pale thus frail, also implied that she was naturally above those darker persons whose job was to toil outside so you could stay inside.

Thus, a lady would powder her face (which action, in addition to trying to conceal blemishes with patches that could be interpreted as beauty spots, was really an attempt to cover up smallpox scars).

Now, the same physical and social dynamic might also apply to men. The urban “fops” (both straight and gay) in eighteenth century England did powder their faces. The more rugged guys (probably “rough trade” for the fops) probably showed tans, but again, a darker skin implied a lower social status.
 

18th century macaroni in pale makeup

By the 1930s, the standard of skin beauty had changed, especially in America which contained a state with a Mediterranean climate, California. And that state was producing movie stars who dictated to the masses new standards of beauty. If Joan Crawford praised sunbathing, the ladies of America (the few who had time to sunbathe, that is) would follow suit.
 

Joan Crawford sunbathing
Joan Crawford sunbathing

(It also helped that the poisonous arsenic-based makeup women used to create the illusion of paleness was a thing of the past by that time.)
 

Ad for arsenic-based soap claiming to improve skin health

Men started showing their torsos, especially after Clark Gable (Joan's long-time lover and compatriot) was the pioneer who dared to show off his hunky chest in It Happened One Night. By the 1950s, the tanned muscle bods of the California beaches were worthy of emulation. Beach Blanket Bingo, here we are.
 

Clark Galbe shirtless in It Happened One Night
Clark Galbe shirtless in It Happened One Night

1950s bodybuilder showing off

And a skinny pale boy, the victim of sand kicking, could become a tanned bronze god by following the Charles Atlas workout routine.
 

Vintage physique magazine, Demi-Gods
Vintage physique magazine

It seemed like a nanosecond since that time to the tanning beds, salons, and steroids embodied in that woman who literally burned herself in order too attain her goal of the ultimate tan. (Is she sporting the burnt toast look?). In her case, her pursuit of an illusion produced its opposite: an admittedly grotesque “hyper real” image.
 

The tanning mom
Tanning Mom

Porn is in many ways by its very nature hyper real. Yet even though there were periods where one look was the model of beauty, such as the gay macho Castro Street clone look (which Al Parker and Will Seagers naturally embodied), the genre was able to revel in a range of skin and body types, from Peter Hunter's pale skinny twinks to the ebony muscle of Joe Simmons and their social and sexual implications.
 

Al Parker and Will Seagers in Wanted
Al Parker and Will Seagers in Wanted

The cast of Peter Hunter's Puppy Tales
The cast of Peter Hunter's Puppy Tales

Porn star Joe Simmons
Porn star Joe Simmons

Beauty in in many cases skin deep, but I think the emphasis could be on deep, because it's hard to separate the largest and most visible organ of the body, the skin, from one's deepest social and sexual identities.

I am thrilled I got some compliments about my sunburn, but I'm not going to develop that look obsessively. I'm more than my skin. Much more.

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