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.”

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

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Sex on the Train Redux, This Time in London

posted by Madame Bubby

I've written about this phenomenon before, the ubiquity of sex on trains, but this time it made international news.

A man, his boyfriend, and another man enjoyed a threesome (some sources say orgy, but does a threesome qualify as an orgy? That's a whole other issue) on the London tube on February 18, 2018.

Nicholas Mullan, George Mason and a third guy (his face pixellated and thus unidentifiable) engaged in a variety of sex acts, which they filmed (something of a shift from the usual filming of violence on public transportation). Mason is a porn start of sorts, and advertised the video as “Complete on live sex at front of general public on subway train!,” reads the description for the video. "And there are lots of normal members of people watching in disbelief. Genuine naughty Brit lads suck n f*ck uncooked and don’t.”
 

George Mason
George Mason

They just pleaded guilty to one charge of “outraging public decency.”

It occurred on the long and busy Northern line on the Underground, between the Leicester Square and Waterloo stops (these stops are in densely populated areas of London). (And apparently the Northern Line seems to attract sexual activity, according to vague gossip on sites such as Datalounge. I used to take that line often when I studied English literature in London in the early 1980s. Sex workers frequented the King's Cross stop, a pretty raunchy area during that time, but I don't remember seeing any sex on the trains. Hmm… )
 

Leicester Square Underground stop

And here's the clincher: another gay man, who saw the porn video online, reported them, claiming that “it overstepped the mark and was morally unacceptable,” according to the story on Pink News.

Now, I know many of my gay friends would laugh this off, or maybe make catty, campy comments, like I would have asked to join in, or, how big were the schlongs? I bet the supposedly outraged passengers were really getting off too, I can imagine the number of growing bulges on that train, if I were there, I would have laughed, yada, yada, yada. Ah, such bravado.

That may be a fun reaction looking at the incident from distant time and space, but as an actual physical spectator, perhaps the boundary crossing between sex and danger in this case could have been more an act of narcisisstic voyeurism than an aesthetic choice, as in Peter de Rome's 1972 short film Underground, sex on a moving subway car in New York City.
 

Stills from de Rome's Underground

Image from de Rome's Underground
Images from Underground, part of the collection The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome

I make this distinction, because public sex does not necessarily imply an audience of willing or unwilling voyeurs, and Mason claims he made the scene to encourage the fetish object of his fan's desire: him. In the de Rome film, they filmed the act, itself, in an empty car, contrasting the fantastic intimacy of that act in a public space gone private with an image of crowds of people in occupied cars. The bifurcation here is intentional, mediating the danger element, but also, by framing the sex act with this image, both blurring and expanding the boundary between public and private social spaces rather than, in the George Mason video, ruthlessly and crudely mocking it.

Mason and Mullan face fines, curfew, and even jail time.

And I don't think they will be filming an actual jailhouse sex video.

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Bisexual Boxer Emile Griffith and a Deadly Fight

Emile Griffith

On March 24, 1962, bisexual (or gay) boxer Emile Griffith knocked out his opponent, Benny Paret, at Madison Square Garden. In round 12, Griffith trapped Paret in a corner; by that time, his opponent had stopped punching back. Griffith held his opponent's shoulder to keep him in position while using his free hand to hit Paret.
 

Griffith knocks out Paret

The audience was shocked; the famous author Norman Mailer, who wrote about it in his essay, “The Death of Benny Paret,” claimed it was the hardest he had ever seen a man hit another man. At this point, the referee, Ruby Goldstein, stepped in, an awarded Griffith a win by a “technical knockout.” Paret slid to the floor; he was carried out on a stretcher and died ten days later in a hospital.

There's a back story here to this admittedly brutal incident, and it ties into the intense homophobia of the time, and the double life Emile Griffith had to lead. He visited the gay bars during that period, and he even hung out in the then-seedy Times Square where, the time before the fight, according to Donald McRae's book A Man's World: The Double Life of Emile Griffith, he “laughed and danced with the Hispanic gay crowd and the old drag queens.”

Before this fight, Emile was able to live this life: be a man's man in the hypermasculine world of boxing, and apparently hold court with the queens of the period on women's hat styles (in fact, he started out working in a women's hat factory, and his shirtless physique (he requested permission to work that way in the heat) caught the attention of the owner, who got him involved in the world of boxing).
 

Emile Griffith news clipping

But, in the weigh-in before the fight, Paret called Griffith a maricón, which means faggot. Members of the press and officials from the New York Boxing Commission witnessed this exchange. And, in pre-fight interviews with the press, Paret's manager portrayed Griffith as effeminate and thus an unworthy opponent for the hypermasculine Paret. Paret also touched Griffith's ass when he called him the slur, apparently enraging him.

The consequences of this homophobia were indeed deadly. Even though Griffith told a television interviewer that he was proud to be the welterweight champion again, and expressed hopes for Paret's recovery, Paret's death resulted in insults and hate mail. And many sources claim that even though Griffith continued to box for 15 more years, he lost his enthusiasm for the sport. Emile blamed himself for the incident; it always haunted him.

Griffith married a woman in 1971 by the name of Mercedes Donastorg. After retiring from boxing in 1977, he worked as a corrections officer at juvenile detention facility in New Jersey.

But Griffith was still struggling with his overall identity. In 1992, he was viciously beaten in New York City after leaving a gay bar. He was in the hospital for four months with serious kidney damage, and under the care of his adoptive son, began a slow mental and physical decline, but also some serious soul-searching.

He told Sports Illustrated in 2005, “I love men and women the same, but if you ask me which is better … I like women.”

Yet, another reporter for the New York Times, Bob Hebert, about that time, asked him if he was gay, and Griffith struggled to answer. He said he no longer wanted to hide, and he wanted to ride that year in the New York Gay Pride Parade.
 

Emile Griffith older

Other interviews with him do emphasize that he did not like labels about his identity.

Yet the one label everyone remembers him by I think should not just be that deadly fight, but his place in the International Boxing Hall of Fame; no other boxer in boxing history had fought more championship rounds, not even the great Muhammad Ali.

Emile Griffith died on July 23, 2013 at the age of 75.

There's a complex legacy here in Griffith's struggles and triumphs, and documentaries and plays and books and even an opera have struggled to understand and express a turbulent double life that exploded savagely in a literal arena which glorifies a violence it claims to sublimate.
 

Ring of Fire, a film about Emile Griffith
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Jack Deveau: Vintage Gay Porn Director Profile

by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Jack Deveau filming

Jack Deveau was one of the major directors, producers, and distributors of gay porn from 1972 to 1982. He made films that were “literate, artistically ambitious and, of course, sexually hot” (Mandate); shot films in Paris, Fire Island, NYC, and Woodstock, NY; and helped to launch careers in gay porn for countless writers, directors, actors, and musicians. Hand in Hand Films, the studio co-founded by Deveau with Robert Alvarez and Jaap Penraat, was referred to as “the M.G.M of gay porno” (with Deveau dubbed “the Louis B. Mayer”) and was known for making and distributing many high quality productions.

Jack was born in Manhattan, New York on January 25, 1935. He attended Cornell University, Sir George Williams College, and McGill University. In the early '70s, he was working at an architecture and graphic design business and – with his business partner, renowned architect/designer Jaap Penraat – had developed several patents and co-authored a book. At this time, Jack's lover Robert Alvarez and their friend, Rebel Without a Cause actor Sal Mineo, suggested to Jack that he ought to get into making movies. Robert told Manshots, in a 1982 interview, that he knew Jack would be well-suited for this profession: “I thought he was a natural. I thought he had a kind of charisma, the ability to make people listen, to make people enjoy what they were doing... Whoever he set his sights on, he could somehow charm into doing anything or saying what he wanted. He was the kind of person who, literally, had a lot of tricks up his sleeve – because he'd studied magic [when he was young] – and he was used to dealing with people.”
 

Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic
Jack and cast on the set of Sex Magic (1977)

Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)
Jack Deveau, cast & crew on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Alvarez had become a film editor several years prior, working on underground/experimental films and documentaries and laying the music track for landmark early gay hardcore film Boys in the Sand (Wakefield Poole), which Jack also helped to promote. Alvarez wanted to make a film with Jack “because from the beginning I wanted us to work together. That's part of what the relationship meant to me. I just wanted him around all the time.” Jack had seen some of his friends producing porn films and making a profit from them, but he was still unsure about being in the movie business. Sal convinced Jack to accompany him to a production meeting for one of his upcoming films. “I didn't really know what he had in mind,” said Jack, “but I went and sat quietly in a corner while a room full of film executives said some of the dumbest things I'd ever heard. I thought, I could do better than that, so with a little more encouragement, I became a film producer.”

Deveau, Alvarez, and Penraat formed New York-based studio Hand in Hand Films in 1972 with the aim of creating an alternative to the minimally plotted West Coast gay films that made up the majority of what was being produced. They wanted to create a definite East Coast look and feel and to produce artistically and narratively strong releases. The studio began with the production of their first film, Left-Handed, a feature directed by Deveau and Penraat about a hustler who seduces, then dumps, a straight man.
 

Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed
Ray Frank and Robert Rikas, stars of Left-Handed (1972)

Robert Alvarez remarked on the film's tone and themes to Manshots, saying “It's cynical in a way, because Jack was cynical in a way about a lot of gay relationships and things that happen in gay society... It had a real story to tell. It had characters you could identify with, whether you liked them or not. Like, the lead character is sort of a shit. It was a breakthrough in that sense because it had an anti-hero. It also had all the required elements to make it a hardcore film.” The film's budget – fairly large compared to what was being spent on gay porn films at the time – came from Jack, who sold his stocks and took out loans to pay for it.

Left-Handed was shot on 16mm on a Bolex, as were many later Hand in Hand films. Jack was the primary cinematographer for the films he directed as well as for several of their other productions by different directors. Alvarez referred to Jack as a “tinkerer” who had a background in still photography: “He knew about the exposures and focus and all that business... He knew how to take a camera apart and put it back together. He knew exactly what made it work.”
 

The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed
The Carnegie Hall Cinema preparing to premiere American Cream & Left-Handed

Left-Handed premiered at the Carnegie Hall Cinema, adjacent to Carnegie Hall, and was well-received, getting glowing reviews from Variety and a number of gay publications. The film ran for a time there and at the 55th Street Playhouse, also in NYC. Then Jack and Robert took “a cross-country trip in Jack's new Maserati (Jack felt we had to look the part of movie moguls) to meet and sell our movie to other cities' owners of gay x-rated venues.” Having got to know the exhibitors in the gay film market, Hand in Hand began to make and distribute additional films, becoming the first company to “provide a sort of national clearing house for gay films” (Manshots). Instead of selling prints to exhibitors, which most people were doing at the time and which resulted in many pirated film prints being created and screened, Hand in Hand rented out prints of the films they carried, winning over exhibitors by guaranteeing that they would have high quality new product regularly available. They were able to achieve this by promoting the brand name of Hand in Hand, itself, and attracting other directors to it. These included Peter de Rome (whose collection of shorts, The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome, was Hand in Hand's next release), Tom DeSimone (Catching Up, The Idol), Arch Brown (The Night Before), playwright Jean-Claude van Itallie (American Cream), John Stephens (Jack), and more.

1974 saw the release of Jack's most wild and ambitious film, Drive, co-written with and starring Christopher Rage and featuring a cast of 50 men; a short stint where Jack and Robert owned the Lincoln Art Theatre in New York (where they showed Drive and Gerard Damiano's classic straight porn The Devil in Miss Jones); and Jack and Peter de Rome shooting de Rome's first feature, Adam and Yves, in Paris. (Jack was the cinematographer and producer for Peter's second and final feature, The Destroying Angel, in 1976.)
 

Poster for and stars of Adam and Yves
Peter de Rome's Adam and Yves (1974)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France
Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome filming Adam and Yves in France

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)

Jack Deveau and Peter de Rome on the set of The Destroying Angel (1976)


Jack (who had French roots) spent more time in France shortly afterwards, when Hand in Hand's documentary Good Hot Stuff (1975), a fascinating behind the scenes look at the production of gay porn films in the '70s, became the first gay porn film to open in Paris, billed there as Histoires d'Hommes. The run in Paris was successful. Said Jack, “Not only did we get lots of interesting press and critical attention, most of it quite favorable, but the film out-grossed Nashville our opening week. The most satisfying part of the whole experience, though, was to be treated as a serious filmmaker.”
 

Jack and Robert Alvarez in front of a Histoires d'Hommes billboard in Paris

You can watch excerpts from Good Hot Stuff here on our YouTube channel and see clips of Jack Deveau, himself, discussing filmmaking. He would return to Paris a year later to shoot Le Musee (later re-titled Strictly Forbidden and released, after a delay, posthumously) at the Musee Rodin, with cooperation from the French government.
 

Jack with Jaap Penraat, Peter de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1976)
Jack with Penraat, de Rome & Christopher Rage in Good Hot Stuff (1975)

After Good Hot Stuff, Jack directed two excellent dramatic character pieces, Ballet Down the Highway and Wanted: Billy the Kid, in quick succession. Ballet Down the Highway was highly promoted and, according to an oddly glib and scathing Michael's Thing write-up, had a large premiere with champagne and souvenir t-shirts which was attended by Jamie Gillis, Divine, and Tennessee Williams.
 

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Jenraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere

Hand in Hand make-up artist Gene Kelton, Jack Deveau, Jettie Penraat, Jamie Gillis, and Divine at the Ballet Down the Highway premiere


Jack always sought out talented writers and cast and crew members to work with. He recruited writer Lorenzo Mans (aka P.P. Mans) for Ballet Down the Highway and worked with trained dancers on a choreographed ballet sequence in that film. Hand in Hand soundtracks include outstanding original music by Emmy Award-winning television and Broadway composer Stan Freeman (Left-Handed, Drive, Ballet Down the Highway) and talented orchestral composer David Earnest (The Night Before, Drive, Adam and Yves, Ballet Down the Highway, and Wanted: Billy the Kid).

In performers, Jack would use his instincts to find men who had the right combination of elements to work well on screen: “When you're looking for men who can suck and fuck for the screen and in front of a crew of technicians, there's a poise and confidence that emanates from those who can. You can feel it just sitting and talking to someone. We also ask why the applicant wants to appear in a pornographic movie. If money is the only answer, I'm rarely interested in going any further. The work of being in a porn film, the physical and mental demands, just can't be bought with money alone. You have to have some interest in being in front of a camera, whether through sheer narcissism or attempting to ply your craft as an actor. And as corny as it sounds, there is such a thing as star quality, a sense of himself a man can have that sets him apart.”
 

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)

Star Henk van Dijk licking Jack Deveau's light meter on the set of Ballet Down the Highway (1975)


In addition to Jack's charm and people skills, Robert Alvarez discussed with Manshots his quickness and adaptability, which helped Jack to reshape anything that wasn't working during the shooting of a film and make it function. Jack's friend and Hand in Hand business associate Kees Chapman described how Jack always wanted to use the best equipment. For A Night at the Adonis (a 1978 film set in the Adonis Theater and starring Jack Wrangler, Malo, and Jayson MacBride), Jack wanted to get a stead cam, “which he was just dying to use, and this was the place to use it.” They were supposed to be cutting back on their spending because of changes in the industry taking place by the late '70s which made large scale productions less profitable, but Jack still wanted to get the technical side right. Chapman: “I miss Jack's influence that way, because – as much as I was always trying to pull him back and say, 'You can't rent another light because we can't afford it' – he'd go rent ten more – and he'd always be right.'”
 

Geraldo, Jack Deveau, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)

Geraldo, Jack Wrangler, Jayson MacBride & Malo in A Night at the Adonis (1978)


Jack wanted Hand in Hand's films to be well-executed and taken seriously by other filmmakers and by viewers. He was an early force shaping the newly forming genre of hardcore. His interview with Soho Weekly News contains some fascinating commentary on structure of the genre from Jack: “We came to an interesting idea about porno movies. We were looking for a while to describe the porno movie because it doesn't really relate to anything else. It is only starting to find its milieu, or genre, whatever you want to call it. It's a musical comedy, but now instead of singing, they fuck. Now that I've been able to make that generalization I think, well, are they going to sing a happy song now or a sad one? What condition is this character in? And then we try to structure the sex in those terms.”

Robert Alvarez commented to Manshots that “there was a period there where there was a lot of magic going on. It's not ever going to be the same again. There was a period in porn filmmaking when there was hope that you could do something... You could do whatever the hell you wanted. You could be as audacious as you wanted. You were working on a very low budget. You knew there was a limit on how much you could spend. You had that much money to do something. Therefore you could do whatever you wanted as long as you had the required amount of sex scenes.”

Hand in Hand amassed at least 40 films in their library, Jack directing many more through 1982 (Rough Trades, Hot House, Sex Magic, Dune Buddies, Fire Island Fever, Just Blonds, The Boys from Riverside Drive, and Times Square Strip), and they had plans to begin developing some non-pornographic gay films that could reach a wider audience.

Jack Deveau's filmography as writer, director, cinematographer, and producer

Jack Deveau passed away on December 2, 1982 after a long battle with cancer. Strictly Forbidden and a second shorts collection with segments directed by Deveau, In Heat, (following Hand in Hand's 1980 shorts compilation, Private Collection) were released posthumously. The adult film industry changed considerably in the following years with the advent of home video and the decline of porn theaters. Hand in Hand continued to operate as a mail order business until Kees Chapman died in 1988, at which point Alvarez sold Hand in Hand's entire library to Bijou Video, where we still preserve and carry their films, available on DVD and Video on Demand. They are truly worth checking out and range from beautiful and artistic, to bizarre, to romantic, campy, sleazy, funny, thoughtful, surreal, sweet, clever, dramatic – all while being hot.
 

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

Vintage posters for Dune Buddies, Ballet Down the Highway & Drive

 

Jack had hope for the legacy of the films he produced and for gay films as a whole: “There are magazines in Europe who are devoting whole issues every other month to critiques of the erotic cinema. Eventually this will have to become a literature... There are many stories to be told, as people finally listen to and begin to understand the experiences of gay men and women. I think there'll soon be a larger audience for movies about the way gay people feel about themselves and how they interact with the rest of society. And from a purely commercial standpoint, gay people have been supporting the film industry for years. It's about time they started getting some feedback.”

Alvarez also touched on Jack's notion of gay porn as recorded literature in his Manshots interview.

Manshots: What were his strengths that made his films so special?
Alvarez: Jack said what he wanted to.
Manshots: The fact that he made erotic films that said anything at all is a rarity.
Alvarez: Yes, I feel it's an unfinished story. I feel that there's more there than even I can comment on. One of the things that Jack always said was that “no matter what – this is recorded literature, or a piece of literature. You can be sure when you're dead that that piece of literature will be around.” As long as the film negative doesn't deteriorate or the lab doesn't burn down, it's true. Whatever is there that he made is going to be there for a long time. Who knows what people will make of it – but it will be there.
 

Jack Deveau illustrated portrait
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