DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

By Josh Eliot

 

“Deep Inside” is a series in four parts that Will Seagers and myself are writing. The first in the series focuses on San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where Will and I both spent a lot of time during the 1980’s. Although Will Seagers and I have never met formally, I am convinced that he sold me my first VCR at Eber Electronics in 1984. I can’t say for sure, but that photo of him at Eber’s from his blog “The Stereo Maven of Castro Street” convinced me, because he looked very familiar. After purchasing the VCR on a payment plan I remember running across Market Street to Captain Video to rent a couple of VHS tapes, most likely a horror movie and a porn.

In 1984 my friends and I were incredibly lucky when we found and rented our flat at 629 Castro Street. It had three bedrooms, was located just above the corner of 19th and we paid $750 per month. Our landlord Marlene got sole ownership of the three level building and a nearby house in her divorce settlement. Our unit was located on the middle floor with an artist (painter) and his roommate above, and a leather couple below. The neighborhood had so much to offer with bars and restaurants on every block. 18th and Castro was the main intersection; to the right was your coin-operated laundry and Cala Foods Supermarket, to the left was The Midnight Sun video bar and Moby Dick (where Will Seagers was known to DJ).

 

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

 

Near the Corner of Castro and Market Street was The Castro Theatre, which is my focus for this blog as it was truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood. This landmark represented a place where the gay community could come together and show appreciation for their favorite films and icons. They hosted premieres like Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, and more recently The Matrix Resurrections, complete with cast and crew appearances. There was a constant array of new releases as well as classics that were shown, providing quite a wide variety of constant entertainment for the neighborhood. Inside this majestic palace the architecture was astounding and much was coated in gold leaf. There was a balcony, of course, and the main level consisted of three sections, the right side being the “smoking area.”

 

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

 

Suddenly Last Summer was the first movie I saw there. I was surprised and delighted when, prior to the beginning of the movie, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ rose from the floor on a platform. The sound quality was amazing and when the player finished his performance with the song “San Francisco” (open your golden gate) the crowd sang along from the top of their lungs. What was this place? This experience was already so much more than just going to a movie house. Suddenly Last Summer was my first “real” introduction to Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn, but it was Elizabeth Taylor with her 22” waist and pointy bra that stole the movie for me. I’d only ever seen her in films like Night Watch where she was, what?, late forties? Well in Suddenly she looked stunning from the moment she graced the screen in her insane asylum uniform. Even though the gay undertones in the movie were “way over my head,” just being in the packed house with a mostly gay audience was a thrill. The place exploded in applause when the real nut, Katharine Hepburn, rode up the private elevator in her gothic mansion at the movie's end. I’m sure they could hear the cheers and applause down the block!

 

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

 

There was always something going on at the Castro Theatre. We saw the premiere of Lust in the Dust with Divine and Lanie Kazan, and though the audience was every excited, the movie was a bit disappointing as we really expected a John Waters classic, but he didn’t direct it, Paul Bartel did. Joan Collins came there in person for An Evening with Joan Collins, a live on stage interactive event. I’m not sure if she was pushing a book or just riding the Dynasty wave, but it was incredible and we all thought that her head looked too big for her body. When her car drove off after the event, the street was so packed with queens screaming her name and banging on her car it could barely move down the road.

I even sat through four consecutive nights of Berlin Alexanderplatz (A 15 ½ hour , 14-part West German crime television miniseries, set in 1920s Berlin and adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Fritz, my boyfriend at the time (though he never admitted it). I thought he would see how invested I was in our relationship by showing my commitment to his viewing choices, since none of his other friends would sit through 15 hours with him. It didn’t really work, as you might have read in my recent blog, “Everybody’s Free To Feel Good.” I actually was blown away by Fassbinder’s work and became a fan, seeing a lot of his movies.

The best time ever was seeing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it would play there a few times a year and we would always go again and again and again. All those classic lines, which of course the audience all knew and yelled out! And that face, those Bette Davis eyes surrounded by all that white make-up on that giant screen! Nothing could beat that movie with a live audience!

 

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

 

Today I just so happened to go to the Castro Theatre’s website to see if they are still going strong and I am happy to report that they are! It looks like APE (Another Planet Entertainment) was chosen to partner with the owners of the Castro Theatre to implement significant improvements to the sound, lighting, customer and artist experience. They acknowledge the Castro Theatre is an icon of the LGBTQ+ community and a treasured space for film, music and live performance. It looks like they’ve got An Evening with Elliott Gould, a screening of A Mighty Wind (got to love Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey!) and a performance by Shangela, made famous from RuPaul's Drag Race. The diverse schedule of events is in full swing. It’s great to see some things never change, they only get better!

 

 

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

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CATCHING UP with Tom DeSimone

By Josh Eliot

 

I remember my first Tom DeSimone movie: Reform School Girls. A large group of us were going on a Friday night and the film was a lot of fun, especially when Wendy O. Williams rode on top of a bus after barreling through the gates. In San Francisco, 1980s, when you had moments like that on film, the whole audience would scream and applaud in delight. My friends and I were constantly at the Castro or Market Street movie houses that would regularly show John Waters, Andy Warhol and other cult movies. When I saw actress Pat Ast was in Reform School Girls, I knew we were in for a good time. I remembered her from Andy Warhol’s movie Heat, shot mostly at the old Tropicana Motel in West Hollywood, where my friends and I stayed on previous visits to L.A. Tom made many popular mainstream movies including The Concrete Jungle, Hell Night, Prison Girls and the cult classic Chatterbox, to name a few.

 

Reform School Girls poster and stars Pat Ast and Wendy O. Williams
Reform School Girls poster and stars Pat Ast and Wendy O. Williams
 
Posters for The Concrete Jungle and Chatterbox

Posters for The Concrete Jungle and Chatterbox

 

Once I moved from San Francisco to West Hollywood and got settled into the Catalina offices, it was a fun surprise to find out that Catalina released and distributed gay adult movies made by Tom DeSimone, under the name Lancer Brooks. In my first blog: “Coming Out Of My Wet Shorts” I wrote about how much that movie poster influenced me. Wet Shorts, Flesh & Fantasy, The Dirty Picture Show, Skin Deep, NightCrawler and Bi Bi Love (with one of my favorite scenes ever in a bisexual movie, featuring Crystal Evans) were all sold by Catalina. I would say my VHS tapes of Tom’s movies were like a “video tutorial” on how to make a great adult movie. His movies had just the right combination of comedy, drama, and titillation, seamlessly edited to create these gems. In Wet Shorts it was the traveling salesman scene, Flesh & Fantasy the jacuzzi scene and Skin Deep’s minimalist yet multilayered story of a writer who befriends a sex worker spoke volumes about his internal thought process. It goes without saying that I was truly inspired. Where John Travis taught me the value of lighting and cinematography, Tom DeSimone’s movies inspired me to write and direct stories with a quirky flair to them. I know the adult movies of today don’t really embrace the “storyline” concept, but we did back then and I always tried to make the most of it.

 

Tom DeSimone DVDs from Catalina

Tom DeSimone DVDs from Catalina

 

After completing my final movie for Catalina Video called Hot Buttered Cop Porn in 2006, my partner Tony and I moved to Palm Desert and continued editing and remastering Catalina movies for release on DVD, until the company was sold to Channel 1. One random afternoon, I spoke to my friend Kurt about how I was remastering Skin Deep for DVD release and out of the blue he told me that he knew Tom DeSimone from The Desert Film Society, as Tom was a founding member and served on the board. I was shocked and elated when Kurt followed up to tell me that Tom said I could contact him. The order of things is a little fuzzy but meeting Tom was so exciting for me, and Chi Chi LaRue (who of course I told immediately when this all came about). I was working for Channel 1 Releasing at this point and Chi Chi was part owner. In addition to being a warm and wonderful guy, Tom was very generous in sharing his experiences within the adult and mainstream industry. Channel 1 gave me the go ahead to set up video interviews with Tom discussing the behind the scenes working of his movies released by Catalina. We shot four interviews, one for each movie - Wet Shorts, Flesh & Fantasy, The Dirty Picture Show and Skin Deep - which were added to the DVD releases of each movie as “Bonus Extras.” Chi Chi and Tom sat on my couch and we recorded them conversing with each other while watching NightCrawler, which then became a “Bonus Director’s Commentary” on that DVD. It was all very exciting to have our Idol (excuse the pun) spending time with us. Tom even invited us to a party at his house where he projected a classic old movie on the big screen in his backyard to a large group of partygoers. I have both the Skin Deep interview and full interview on my YouTube channel if you would like to view them.

 

Tom DeSimone's Skin Deep interview

Tom DeSimone's Skin Deep interview

 

Having access to Bijou Video's amazing streaming service, I recently watched the restored and remastered version of The Idol, and now I know what all the hype is about. This is one great, timeless classic which felt very much like a mainstream movie. Bijou’s streaming catalog also includes many other Tom DeSimone movies like: Dust unto Dust, Confessions of a Male Groupie, The Frenchman & The Lovers (formally titled: The Harder They Fall), Station to Station, and of course my personal favorite Hot Truckin', with Gordon Grant! The Bijou catalog’s vast number of movies never ceases to amaze me! So much content! I’ve heard through the grape-vine that Tom DeSimone’s Catching Up is a real crowd pleaser as well. That is the next one on my list to stream this weekend. Look at this, here I am retired from adult video making and yet I am still obsessed with watching more Tom DeSimone movies to see if I can still learn more from one of the best!

 

Catching Up poster and Tom DeSimone editing

Catching Up poster and Tom DeSimone editing

 

For more on Tom DeSimone's career, see also Bijou's 2019 interview with him: Part 1 and Part 2

 

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

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7 Years with Colt Model MARK RUTTER

By Josh Eliot

 

I popped into work to see how editing was going on my movie Easy Riders. Chet Thomas was the post-production supervisor and a good friend. I mentioned to him that I was asked out on a date by a bartender from the Gold Coast, a bar in West Hollywood. He asked me which one and I described him. “Oh my God, you know who that is don’t you?” And I was like, “What?” He jumped up and started rummaging through a large plastic bin, throwing magazines left and right. He stopped when he found Pit Stop magazine from Surge Studios. On the cover was Al Parker and Mark Rutter and inside was a full layout of hardcore shots. “Is that him?” Chet asked while I did a double take, “Yes!” Chet went on to tell me the history of my mystery date. After shooting the layout for Al Parker’s magazine, Mark Rutter was introduced to Jim French and was signed as an exclusive film model with Colt Studios.

 

Pit Stop magazine: Al Parker and Mark Rutter

Pit Stop magazine: Al Parker & Mark Rutter

 

His scenes are in:
Genuine Leather - scene 1 with Joe Falco
Best of Colt Films 1 & 2 - scene 9 with Rocco Rizzoli (aka Giorgio Canali)
Best of Colt Films - 1 & 2 scene 7 with Ed Wiley
Best of Colt Films - 3 & 4 scene 6 with Clint Lockner
Best of Colt Films - 5 & 6 scene 6 with Hank Ditmar
Vault Classics - scene 6 with Bill Eld, Dick Trask and Long John

 

Colt models Clint Lockner and Mark Rutter

Colt models Clint Lockner & Mark Rutter

 

I was nervous as hell for this date because in the magazines he definitely looked like a bad ass, even though when I met him a few days earlier at a house party held by the Gold Coast manager, Karl Etheridge (Melissa Etheridge’s uncle), he was really nice and easy to talk to. It turns out he was nervous too, so he invited his friend Valerie (ex-mayor of West Hollywood) and her girlfriend to join us. We met at a bar called Rafters in WeHo and all got along great. We had lots of fun and drinks, and of course I wasn’t about to not go home with him on the first date - that would just be foolish. He seemed to know everybody, no matter where we went, and even managed to get himself a walk-on scene with Donald Sutherland and Leslie Ann Warren in The Great Train Robbery. Early on, he surprised me with a camping trip, but when we got there I discovered it was a huge group site with the Satyrs Gay Motorcycle Club. He would always shock me with things like that. The weekend was bizarre and quite intimidating!

 

Mark Rutter on the Great Train Robbery set and Mark and Josh camping with Satyrs Motorcycle Club

Mark on the Great Train Robbery set (top); camping with Satyrs Motorcycle Club (bottom)

 

Within two months, we moved in together. I was 29 and he was 41, but that never made me question our relationship. Mark had never lived with a boyfriend or partner, so this was huge for him. It took a ton of persuading because he had always been very independent, doing exactly what he wanted to do with no one to answer to. Let’s just say he moved in kicking and screaming, but shortly afterwards admitted it was the best decision. His cat Boba Leni got along with my cats Elvira and Little Ricky, and we lived as one big happy family for years. He continued his job as bartender, which was perfect for him because he was very social, and he never had anything negative to say about my work with Catalina Video (but he did refuse to do any kind of cameo in my movies). We took great vacations to Puerto Rico, Canada and San Francisco to visit his family. His mom is super sweet and only spoke French, so Mark translated. He was the best uncle to his twin nephews, and won over my mom and dad too.

The majority of our relationship was smooth sailing, always progressing and moving forward. Until 1994, when Mark and I attended the Gay Erotic Video Awards. It was going to be a pretty big night, as the movie Revenge of the Bi Dolls was up for numerous awards. Things were going well until former Catalina star Kevin Williams (Hot Rods: The Young and the Hung II) came over to our table. He started talking to Mark, who became uncomfortable and got up from his seat, walking Kevin over to the side. I was like, what the fuck is this? I had never met Kevin Williams, and as far as I knew neither had Mark. I went to the bar and caught up with Chi Chi LaRue, where we did kamikazes. When Mark returned to the table, I joined him and started quizzing, which I wish I hadn’t. After much push and pull, he told me that Kevin was at the Gold Coast the other night where he cornered him in the bathroom…. so he let him suck his dick. What!!! I was really kind of shocked and pissed. Sure, he sucked your dick, that’s all that happened? Right! The rest of the night turned to shit, I had many more shots and when they called my movie as winner for Best Bi-Sexual Picture, I went up on stage and made a complete ass of myself. It was like that scene from Gaga’s A Star Is Born, but at least I didn’t piss myself. I rambled on and on and on, the depravity haunted me for weeks. Some comedian co-host named “Ant” basically whisked Sharon, Chi Chi and myself offstage because, yes, I verbally graveled to them in the audience until they came up on stage! Yuk! Sally Field had nothing on me. Mark felt badly for hurting me and really worked hard to win back my trust.

 

Josh and Mark at the awards show and the following Thanksgiving

Josh & Mark at the awards show (top); the following Thanksgiving (bottom)

 

Around 1998, Mark started having medical issues and his body started breaking down. When he was diagnosed with CMV and dementia, he lost his job at the Gold Coast, which sent him into a great depression. Catalina allowed me to set up an editing suite so I could work from home and look after him as things regressed. Early morning on January 13, 1999, I was awakened by a beeping noise from his bedside monitor. CMV caused him to lose his sight a couple days prior and he was on morphine. I turned the light on and leaned over to see if he was okay, and saw his eyes wide open. I jumped on top of him and started shaking him, begging him to wake up, to come back, but after a moment I realized he was gone. I jumped off the bed, let out a blood curdling scream and fell to the floor, unable to do anything but wail for the longest time. The worst moment in my life. I am thankful that I was lying by his side when he passed at age 48.

We held his ashes until summer and buried him over his father’s grave in a beautiful seaside cemetery in Maine. Mark Rutter was an amazing man, adored by his friends and family, and I wanted to honor him with this record of our time together.

 

Mark Rutter on the cover of Colt Men

Mark Rutter on the cover of Colt Men

 

Thank you to Josh Eliot for use of the photos.

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

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Our CALIGULA Moment

By Josh Eliot

 

In 1979, Bob Guccione and Penthouse Films cast mainstream actors Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren and Peter O’Toole in the hardcore movie Caligula. In 2003, mainstream actress Chloe Sevigny gave a blowjob to Vincent Gallo, complete with a cum shot in the mouth, in the film The Brown Bunny. In 2022, where is gay cinema’s Caligula or Brown Bunny moment?

 

Caligula and Brown Bunny posters

 

The story behind the making of Centurians of Rome, a 1981 film starring George Payne, Eric Ryan and Scorpio has all the “Red Meat” moments that, if ever pitched to Hollywood, has the potential to draw in first rate mainstream actors, writers and directors. My obsession with this true story led me to seek out and find an extensive report in The Daily Beast.

 

Centurians of Rome DVD cover and vintage ad
Article with headline reading Brinks Guard Vanishes with 1.85 Million

 

On August 15, 1980, 25 year old George Bosque sat in his Brinks security truck, depressed because his lover Carl ended their relationship. After picking up 7 million dollars from the San Francisco Airport, and taking advantage of the fact that the driver was talking with an airport official, George drove off in the truck, abandoning it at the Airport Hilton. At gunpoint he accosted a hotel chambermaid, loading two bags of money into her car and speeding off. Bosque, who in 1979 ran for sheriff of San Francisco, was now a fugitive.

 

Younger George Bosque and during his San Franisco sheriff run

Younger George Bosque and during his San Franisco sheriff run

 

First stop for George was New York City, where he took on the assumed identity of J.R. Lewis, Philanthropist. Keeping his money in several suitcases that he never let out of his site, he couch surfed on Fire Island for the summer. He bounced around to Chicago, Denver, Dallas, Florida and Peru, always staying at 5 star hotels. He was embraced into society and was invited to fundraisers, balls, and extravagant soirees for the wealthy, attending a $500 per plate fundraiser for Jimmy Carter. He made Greenwich Village his permanent residence, and while out on the town one night met and befriended Chris Covino, aka John Christopher a straight adult film director. The two became close friends and when George suggested they make a lavish all male film together, a partnership was formed. The budget: $100,000, a massive amount for the day, which ended up ballooning to around $170,000. The making of Centurians of Rome could be a central part of this movie idea as the three stars, Scorpio, George Payne and Eric Ryan all have “life stories” just as compelling as the behind the scenes stories of the making and release of the film.

 

George Payne, Scorpio and Eric Ryan in promotional images for Centurians of Rome

George Payne, Scorpio and Eric Ryan in promotional images for Centurians of Rome

 

With a $150,000 reward for his arrest, George Bosque returned to San Francisco. He called his friends regularly, trying to get information regarding ex-lover Carl’s whereabouts. One of George’s friends tipped off the police and he was arrested at a Safeway parking lot phone booth on November 22, 1981. He’d been at large for 464 days. The young federal prosecutor assigned to his case was Robert Mueller – yes, him! You can’t make this shit up! Mueller pushed for a strong sentence due to George’s lack of remorse and he got 15 years.

Lloyd's of London, who insured the 1.8 million dollars, tried to sue Bosque but he was basically penniless so they tried to get ownership of Centurians of Rome. The defense attorneys for Hand in Hand Films, the studio that had taken over the completion and distribution of the film, had an idea up their sleeve to try and stop them in their tracks. They displayed photographs from the movie around the courtroom with shots showing anal sex, George Payne fisting Caligula and the gladiators in an oral daisy chain. A red faced Lloyd's of London did not want this publicity and made a hasty retreat.

 

George Bosque wanted poster and article about Lloyd's of London

 

Bosque received early parole in 1986 but sadly passed away from an overdose at the age of 36.

Article with headline reading Guard Who Stole 1.8 Million Dies

 

Could this true story become gay cinema’s Caligula and go all the way with mainstream actors and hardcore scenes? Or should it take the streaming service limited series approach? However you package it, all the elements are there to become a huge international sensation. But first it needs to be pitched, which takes a layer of flesh in itself. Somebody please pitch this movie! The one with the “balls” to make it, in my opinion, is a certain GLEEful, HOLLYWOOD, AMERCAN STORYteller. (You know who I mean).

 

You can watch Centurians of Rome's trailer and find the movie on DVD and Streaming through Bijou!

 

 

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

 
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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

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