Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?

By Josh Eliot

 

I have absolutely no idea if the Gen X or Millennials have icons that they worship. You know, the Baby Boomers – the Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Bette Davis obsessed group - they erected a fabulous 26 ft tall Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs, which is the new selfie spot for locals and tourists. It’s that great image from The Seven Year Itch where her billowing white dress blows up in the air from the subway grid below. There was a small delegation that picketed her installation (of course… so annoying) because her underwear-covered ass is facing the walkway leading from the museum. Whatever! Under her dress is the most popular selfie spot in town! Palm Springs also has an amazing show at The Purple Room Club starring impersonator Michael Holmes as Judy Garland - it’s called The Judy Show. In the show, Judy gets more and more “lit” as the night goes on, talks shit about her daughter Liza and has great guest stars like Bette Davis, Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing. If in town, it’s a “must-see” dinner theater experience.

 

Marilyn statue in Palm Springs

Marilyn statue in Palm Springs

 

I appreciate all of those fine women, but for me there is only one gal that is and has always been on the top of my “worship” list. She’s not an actress, but a character - the fabulously damaged NEELY O’HARA from Jacqueline Susann’s epic Valley of the Dolls. But my obsession undoubtedly is because the actress that gave her life, Patty Duke, nailed the role. I first saw a heavily edited version back in the 1970’s on TV, some random Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of “show-stopping” moments, but I couldn’t rewind the scenes or watch them on a VCR because it wasn’t invented yet (VCR - released by RCA in 1977). Maybe that’s why the experience really stuck with me; it wasn’t watered down by replaying it. Neely could sing and dance like the ladies above and ended up tortured, broken and ______? And what? Whatever happened to Neely O’Hara? When we left her at the end of the movie she was wasted, emotionally drained, near collapse and screaming her own name into the night sky of the New York City Theatre District. How could Jacqueline have left us hanging like that? I’ve often wondered, did she die there in that alley? We will never know. Or will we?

In 1993, I recreated Neely’s story as an adult bi-sexual movie called Valley of the Bi Dolls. The movie starred Sharon Kane as “Ceily Fontana” (the Neely character) and Gloria Leonard as ”Lana Dawson” (the Helen Lawson character). Originally played by Judy Garland, then replaced with Susan Hayward, Helen Lawson was the ultimate arch enemy to Neely. I also included Sharon Tate’s “Jennifer” character played by Leanna Foxxx. The character “Ann Wells” played by Barbara Parkins was just too boring to make the cut. The movie basically ends with the same fate for Ceily/Neely, but her story goes on from there. To take her journey a step further, in 1994 I released Revenge of the Bi Dolls, where Ceily/Neely sets in motion a series of events to shame and humiliate Lana Dawson, which seals both their fates in a gunfight that results in their deaths. Case closed. But was it?

 

Neily & Ceily

Neily & Ceily

 

Not according to the General Manager at Catalina Video. Because both movies won Best Bi-Sexual Picture, Director and Music for Kane, Non-Sexual for Leonard and Screenplay, he told me I needed to make a third installment, turning the series into a trilogy. I thought I had finally given Ceily/Neely a proper ending, but evidently not! I dragged my feet, but in 1997 I released Night of the Living Bi Dolls. I guess I was still in my rebellious stage. I had killed all the main characters in the sequel, and to me Ceily was larger than life, so I brought her back from the dead as a zombie in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The movie won Best Bi-Sexual Picture and Director so I figured it was over and that was it! Or was it?

 

 

Bi Dolls Trilogy

Bi Dolls Trilogy

 

Not likely. Recently I released on my YouTube Channel (The Josh Eliot), in a PG rated version, Far Beyond the Valley: The Complete Bi-Dolls Trilogy. It’s all three movies edited together into a 95-minute PG rated feature. It includes the famous “pulling off the wig” scene, Ceily’s stint in the sanitarium, an original duet with Sharon and Chi Chi LaRue and even a Dynasty style fight in the lily pond scene thrown in for good measure. Chi Chi LaRue was in all three movies playing the character “Nurse Ratshitt,” whom Ceily meets in the nut-house. The nurse gives Ceily a taste of her own medicine before being crushed by a 1-ton sandbag on the movie set. Not to worry, she becomes a zombie in the tail end of the feature, which literally makes her lose her “head.”

 

Chi Chi in the recreated wig scene

Chi Chi in the recreated wig scene

 

This Trilogy, to me, reflects the best of the best of times during my 20+ year adventure working for Catalina Video. Easily the most fun you could ever have on a porn set without getting a load on your face. Heavily influenced by Russ Meyer, the campiness in this movie is next level. If you want to see Neely O’Hara turn the tables on Helen Lawson and go far beyond anything resembling sanity, then click the following link to see THE OFFICIAL TRAILER. Once on my channel, check out the FULL FEATURE as well as lots of fun trailers, interviews and music videos from some of my favorite Catalina movies of the past, and don’t forget the popcorn.

 

Trailer for the Bi Dolls Trilogy
Click here to watch the Official Trailer for the Bi Dolls Trilogy and click here for the Full Feature


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

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Judy

posted by Madame Bubby


I was dating a part time fireman in Milwaukee some time ago, and he made a comment that the gay guys in one bar should have gotten out more, rather than sitting inside said bar and listening to Judy Garland. (A rather ironic comment, I might say, as he spent 12 hours Saturday and Sunday inside bars himself, but he of course was better than listening to Judy.) Our romance was intense but ephemeral. He was, I found out via the internet many years later, after getting his dream job as a full-time fireman, arrested for drunk driving.

And some time ago, a former friend opera queen type decided to become an older gay “auntie” type and teach me Gay 101. I fit the opera queen stereotype, but he seemed put out that I showed very little interest in Broadway and the “older” female popular singers who were gay icons. And number one on that list was Judy. He bought me the CD Judy at Carnegie Hall. One could say I failed to understand its significance. I ended up giving it away. At that point, Judy’s significance for me was her role in The Wizard of Oz.

(And in that movie, I was more interested in Margaret Hamilton’s tour de force as the Wicked Witch of the West.) And of course I was supposed to think that Stonewall was caused by all those closeted “sweater” gays in tight trousers upset about the death of Judy Garland. (No, that was not the reason.)
 

Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall CD cover

Fast forward many years later. The younger gays’ divas include figures such as Lady Gaga (significant because she starred in a remake of A Star Is Born, one of Judy’s most famous movies and performances) and someone named Lizzo (I found out about her only because I joined Twitter). I live in the past. Perhaps many younger gays are into Judy, Barbra, or even Ethel. Perhaps.

Perhaps. I admit I did go through a brief Ethel Merman phase about the time I failed to worship Judy, mostly because I was fascinated by the famous conductor Toscannini, after hearing her, saying she was a castrato. It was the voice.

And now my love affair with the female voice includes Judy, mostly because of one book and because of youtube. Henry Pleasants, the late great music critic, wrote a book The Great American Popular Singers, which I think managed to pierce to the beating heart of the matter (and in Judy case, that heart one could say ended up killing her more than the pills), when he reflected that she “had the most utterly natural vocal production … it was an open-throated, almost birdlike vocal production, clear, pure, resonant, innocent.”
 

Henry Pleasant's Great American Singers book cover

The innocence of what became her anthem of the heart, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, always remained inherent in all her performances: more than emotional honesty, more than the bond of love she experienced with her live audiences, gay and straight, that reached a type of apotheosis in that Carnegie Hall performance I have since listened to again and again in conjunction with youtube clips of the short-lived Judy Garland Show.

Judy, born with that immense talent, it’s true, never really experienced that idealized innocence as a child. (Who has, really?), according to the admittedly at times very depressing bios (the stage mother, the closeted gay father, the pills, the sexual harassment at MGM, all those men, yes, the gay and straight and bi husbands, in her life) I recently read. By the time she was 18, she experienced, suffered, more than what most persons experience in a lifetime.

Yet I think it’s too easy to get swept up in all the over the top, truly frightening personal drama of her life, because in her case, life and art aren’t mutually exclusive categories.

I now, perhaps because I’m in a different point in my life (yes, I’ve lived, lived, lived in my own way) can really hear the voice (I always appreciated the lustrous beauty of her lyric contralto in its prime), but now the art that in her case is organically a part of that voice. I thank youtube, because I was able to see and hear her performance of “Old Man River” on The Judy Garland Show.
 

Judy Garland performing Old Man River

Give a listen. Take a look. She doesn’t just sell that song. She doesn’t just intuitively understand the style of that song which is often treated as an operatic aria or a piece of campy cultural appropriation. It’s her, and she’s doesn’t need, like some divas, all the glittery trappings which are now Instagram and other social medias to portray her image. She’s no illusion here. She is the song.

When she sings “land in jail,” it’s not a phrase to show off low chesty notes, sung in a melodramatic way. Just in those words is heartbreak, resignation, even a bit of wry humor, a twinge of hope that she’ll get out of jail, the river will keep rolling along, and just maybe, and in her case, tragically, she might herself find the elusive love over the rainbow.

She did find that love when she sang to her audiences. Or rather, when she is singing, because she still is.
 

Judy Garland Wizard of Oz image

(P.S. I haven’t seen the movie with Renee Zwelleger, yet.)

Sources:

Anne Edwards, Judy Garland

Gerald Clarke, Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

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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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Retrostuds of the Past: Focus on Lon Flexx

Lon Flexx, born David Lee Anderson, was one of those performers who did so much and died so young. He wasn't wild and at times unfocused like the great nineteenth century opera singer Maria Malibran who would ride a horse all day and sing all night and also find time to visit a hospital for dying children, or like THE Judy, who could sing and dance and act all night but killed herself to do it. Lon, as one Bijou reviewer notes, “might have been fucking like Whitney and Bobby on a crack binge, but at Little Jackie-O always shone through the sweat.” 

Lon made over thirty gay porn films, the bulk of which were made between 1989 and 1992, including two Bijou classics, He-Devils and Tough Guys Do Dance. He made other films such as Sleeping Under the Stars (according to one gossipy source, Lon wore a hairpiece in this one), Heat in the Night, and Davey and The Cruisers
 

One memorable scene in He-Devils features Lon Flexx dreaming of beefcake Alex Stone in a railroad tunnel. Alex strips from macho clothing and fondles his chest and tits. Rubbing his tits hard, Alex jacks off as the camera offers larger-than-life close-ups. Both Lon and Alex take to beating off in this red-lighted segment. 


Later, after Lon wakes, his buddy and traveler, Michael Braun, imagines himself with lovely Lon in a bathroom of a hotel. Uncut and handsome Michael sucks Lon off before being fucked up the ass. Their oral sex is excellently photographed, too, with lots of saliva dripping from cock and mouth. 
 

Tough Guys Do Dance cover

In one scene from Tough Guys Do Dance, called “Phone Call From a Stranger,” a young man in a tuxedo (Lon Flexx) is seen cruising dark alleys when a nearby pay phone rings. He answers it and a mysterious voice instructs him to come to an apartment across the street. He arrives to find a nude man masturbating. The man reveals an extraordinarily large cock. The young visitor slowly strips out of his clothes and joins the stranger for sex that is sensuous and also somewhat threatening. 

The consensus about Lon's legacy is that he was passionate, not mechanical, in his performances. He combined, as he shows in the scene from Tough Guys Do Dance, sensuality and power. 
 

Lon Flexx in Tough Guys Do Dance


And perhaps the power came from a confidence about his own sexuality. In an interview with Manshots magazine in October 1990, he mentions how he danced with other guys in a straight bar after helping in a fundraising drive for a local opera company (class act, he was!) when he was going to the University of Oklahoma. Not exactly the jolly tearoom for gays, especially in the 1980s.

 

Lon reflected, “We danced all night – and sure we got some stares, even some gawks, but nobody said a word to us. And at the same time, at the other college, guys were getting beat up for just attending gay meetings on campus. People don't mess with you when you feel strongly about something. I never forgot that, and that's how I decided to live my life.” 

 

And he lived his life with power and passion and integrity, but we lost him too soon, as he succumbed to something unfortunately more powerful, AIDS, at the age of thirty. 

 

 

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