Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: THE FOLSOM STREET FAIR

By Josh Eliot

 

The Folsom Street South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco was the gritty contrast to the famed Castro District, especially in the 1970’s and 1980’s. When the Castro had its annual Street Fair, the crowd was eclectic, including men and women of all ages, shapes and sizes. Dancing, and sometimes flashing, drag queens, street performers, snake charmers, Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and country & western groups who would suddenly break into a square dance in the middle of the street, forcing the crowd to separate. There were Dunk-A-Hunk booths, face and body painting, numerous food tents and the Gay Men’s Chorus staking claim to the plaza in front of Hibernia Bank to belt out some show tunes.

 

Castro Street Fair, 1980s

Castro Street Fair, 1980s

 

You would see large groups of partygoers hanging out the windows of their flats and overcrowding the fire escapes and overhangs on the apartment buildings above Star Pharmacy, Valley Pride Market and Market Liquors. The bars, of course, were packed to the brim with large crowds surrounding the doors. The Main Stage was on Market Street and the corner of Castro and featured performances by artists like Sylvester, comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Danny Williams as well as local and somewhat well-known bands. The whole event was just slightly over the top and refreshingly not overly political.

The Folsom Street Fair, by contrast, was a full-on South of Market “sexperience.” Some would call it sleazy, others would say it was the ultimate middle finger to society. It was a bit of both. If you’ve read Will Seagers' last two blogs, Diving Into SoMA/Folsom: Hamburger Mary's and Long Live the Stud!, you’ve already got a first hand account of some hot spots in the neighborhood. Spanning the blocks on Folsom from 8th to 13th streets and splintering off between Howard and Harrison streets, there was quite a large area for bad behavior to take place. To say that Folsom street really brought the grit is a major under-statement. I think the first rule of thumb we learned was don’t even think about showing up without putting on a cock ring, because you would definitely not be in the majority. You would always expect to see bare asses in chaps, tits galore, random whipping displays, hoods, ball gags, leather jockstraps, and chains, but a street fair wouldn’t go by without some shocking outfit or action that you never saw coming!

 

Folsom Street Fair

Folsom Street Fair

 

Whereas the Castro fairgoers would separate to let the square dancers dance, the Folsom fairgoers would crowd in and form an impenetrable circle to shield the circle jerk or blow job that spontaneously started happening in the middle of the road, keeping out anyone who was looking to stop it. I don’t know if all that happens these days but it was very commonplace in the 1980s. I remember going into one bar and seeing someone squatting on top of a cigarette machine while getting rimmed. Dore Alley sat smack dab in the middle of the street fair map and surprisingly it looked much different in the light. Dore Alley and close by Ringold Alley were notorious “last chance” cruise spots for bar patrons once they closed at 2am.

In 2014, Mike Skiff’s (videographer and director for Catalina Video under Mark Jensen) documentary Folsom Forever was released by Breaking Glass Pictures. I was so proud to see what he had accomplished after we all parted ways when Catalina Video was sold to Channel 1 Releasing in 2007. I recently viewed the movie on TUBI, the free streaming service, which documented the behind the scenes actions and adventures of the fair organizers and volunteers. The Folsom Street Fair organizers' self-proclaimed mission statement reads, in part, as follows:

“Folsom Street is committed to cultivating a safe, open and inclusive environment for kink, leather and alternative sexuality. We are dedicated to sexual liberation and the right to pleasure as a crucial part of the whole liberation movement. Folsom Street is an explicitly anti-racist organization and we are committed to decolonizing our practices.”

 

Folsom Forever poster and director, Mike Skiff

Folsom Forever poster and director, Mike Skiff

 

No Folsom Street Fair would be complete without the appearance and contributions of Mr. Markus. Marcus Hernandez, a longtime leather columnist for the Bay Area Reporter, was always front and center throughout the fair and on the Main Stage. Mr. Markus, through his column and international ventures, influenced the leather/BDSM subculture, its ethics, traditions and fundraising efforts. His smart and sarcastic column shone a light on the culture that had long been demonized and suppressed by mainstream gay and straight cultures, generating respect by showing that the leather community was among the most dedicated to their tribe. Even though he passed away in October of 2009 at the age of 77, his voice and message of pride for the LGBT and his beloved leather community reached far beyond San Francisco to like communities internationally. I remember seeing him several times at the International Mr. Leather Contest in Chicago when we shot it to release on DVD. It had been so many years since I heard his distinctive voice across the loud speaker and it brought me right back to those dirty, nasty, fabulous days that my roomies and I let our inhibitions fly at the Folsom Street Fair.

 

Mr. Markus and the Main Stage at Folsom

Mr. Markus and the Main Stage at Folsom

 

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

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VOYAGER of the Damned

By Josh Eliot

 
Cover of Catalina's Voyager

Cover of Catalina's Voyager

 

In 2000, Catalina Video was invited to shoot a movie on board the Pillage & Plunder Gay Cruise, departing from Tampa. As with the maiden voyage of the Titanic, the Pillage & Plunder's initial venture at sea was just as much a disaster for the Catalina Crew. Don’t get me wrong, the cruise itself was a smashing success for the passengers and organizers of the event, so much so that it was repeated for many years to come. My experience however, through no fault of the Pillage organizers, was one that I tried hard to “douche” from my memory. I’ve never been so stressed out and distraught while on a “vacation” of sorts. The flight from Los Angeles was uneventful and we had a nice overnight stay at a Sheraton in Tampa. The next afternoon we made our way to the port.

 

Catalina Crew: Mark Jensen, Brad Austin, Peter Romero & Josh Eliot

Catalina Crew: Mark Jensen, Brad Austin, Peter Romero & Josh Eliot

 

Arriving on board the Regal Empress was like: “Are you kidding me? Is this girl even seaworthy?” I referred to her as a “rusty barge,” and that was a compliment. The Regal Empress’ maiden voyage was on October 15th, 1953 and she was put out of service March 9th, 2009. For my sake, couldn’t she have been put to rest 9 or 10 years earlier? The ship ended up leaving port six hours late, which I could deal with, but for some reason unbeknownst to me (until we were on the ship and ready to shoot some dialogue) we were told that we could not shoot anything until we were in international waters. A majority of the storyline setup was to take place on deck as the ship was leaving port, with the background of the passengers on deck celebrating. Because the ship left port around 10pm, we did not get to shoot our footage, so a whole chunk of the storyline which I set up in Vermont, Los Angeles and the Tampa pier went bye-bye. The schedule was so tight on this cruise and this, coupled with the fact of only being able to shoot when we were told we were in international waters, made it impossible to reschedule these crucial scenes. I thought fuck it, we’ll fix it in post-production as we so often did. I’ll make some montages or something. Always troubleshooting on my toes, I pulled out our third camera, the L-1 that looks just like a home movie camera with less than desirable quality, and ran around the ship shooting generic shots of the passengers while I pretended to be a tourist shooting home movies. I needed to have something!

Now like I said, I douched a lot of this out of my brain, but I do remember seeing porn star Enrico Vega on one of the decks running around in barely anything, flashing his dick to the passengers. That footage of us stumbling upon him is in the finished movie. I honestly am not sure if we hired him “on the spot” to be in the group scene for the movie or if we had already booked him. I really think we added him into the cast after meeting him, turning our upcoming five-way into a six-way. This all doesn’t sound too bad, right? Guys running around flashing their hard cocks to anyone who wants to see them, unlimited drinks, sailing the coast. Well, things went cock-eyed the morning of our big group scene on the main deck.

 

Regal Empress, cast in action, Josh with Steve Rambo

Regal Empress, cast in action, Josh with Steve Rambo

 

Steve Rambo, Tuck Johnson and Caesar, three of the six models in the big six-way, came to me while Ray Harley, Mike Radcliffe and Enrico Vega were in make-up or having their stills done. They dropped the bomb on me that there were too many passengers piled up along the railings to watch the filming and they didn’t want to shoot their scenes in public. I was a bit annoyed because they knew from the moment I cast them that this was the deal. But from a humane perspective, I personally wouldn’t want to lay it all out there in front of a crowd either, so I found a hallway with emergency doors that we could close to give them a spot out of the public eye. They were grateful and I was fine with it, except the beautiful background of a cruise ship on the open seas and the majestic scope was now a small cramped hallway that could have been built on a soundstage. In addition, I couldn’t shoot the six guys together in that hallway so I split it into two groups of three. This was less than ideal… bye-bye six-way, hello two three-ways - twice the work! The other three models were all exhibitionists so they thrived on the fact that they were being watched. Oh happy day until we heard the sudden roar of a horn and the ship’s smokestack started blowing out black engine exhaust! As soon as that horn blew, so did one of my two cameras and its videotape deck. There was a surge from the ship outlet that destroyed the camera and deck! Luckily, camera two wasn’t plugged in yet and was still working. This was a disaster; we’d been shooting with two cameras on every shoot since 1987! You can capture twice the shots in half the time, plus two angles on the cum shots, which was what we were known for at the time. Well, we were down to one camera and I was too afraid to plug it into the wall, so we used battery power. Because we were on battery, we could not use the TV monitor to check lighting, exposure, framing and focus, so I was forced to do the camerawork myself because how else would I see how it was framed? I shot and hoped for the best.

 

Ceasar in Voyager

Ceasar in Voyager

 

I shot the first group of guys in front of the passengers , then re-set up everything and shot the guys in the hallway. The crowd wanted to see Caesar so badly they kept pushing open the emergency doors while I was filming, ruining my shots and annoying the boys. It was like a slow painful death that day, and when we wrapped all I wanted to do was throw back a few shots at the bar with the crew. But that wasn’t in the cards. In 2000, it was common for models (at their own choice and discretion) to use Viagra or a penile injectable to keep an erection. Well, with all the stress of working in front of a hungry crowd, one model gave himself a little too much of the injectable. His erection would not go down, so we took him to emergency on the ship. The erection lasted for hours and the doctor on board was concerned it could cause long term damage to his functionality. It was horrible. I felt so bad for him. I kept going in and out of the medical suite to check on him, until finally around 11pm the erection subsided.

The next day, we laid anchor in Key West, made our way to the Oasis Guest House to shoot our final scene (with one fucking camera), then spent the night at a go-go bar that DJ Tommy Rocker (Catalina promotions associate) was spinning records at. We had a ball, then went back to the rusty barge, slept and were first in line to get off that Muther-Fucking Ship in Tampa. Never to return.

 

 

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

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