IN and OUT and All ABOUT

By Josh Eliot

 

The year was 1991. Catalina Video’s GM, Chris Mann, had left the company and started running things over at Video Team. As soon as Chris was OUT, The new GM, Mike, was IN. He was handpicked for the position by David Weiss, William Higgins' right hand man. Weiss and Higgins had an investment business called Drake’s Bookstore on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Mike had proven himself to be a great manager when they put him in charge of the high end bookstore and he kept the business in the black when tough times called for radical changes. The first was when MOM (the “Merchants on Melrose”), a group representing about 3000 residents, complained to city officials. All the peep show booths needed to be removed because the city investigators found Drake's and another shop named Taboo in violation of the zoning code intended to keep adult entertainment stores away from schools and residential areas. The battles lasted many years, before and after Mike came to manage Catalina Video’s operations. The city also demanded that they reduce the percentage of sex-related adult products in each store, replacing content with products unrelated to sexuality. Drake's eventually closed.

I’m sure it was a real pain in the ass for him dealing with this stuff over and over again. Catalina must have felt like an escape to him. We were a pretty well-oiled machine when he came aboard. Scott Masters was producer, I managed the video crew and John Travis was one of the top rated directors of the time, bringing success and big bucks in sales from movies like Powertool and Undercover. Chi Chi LaRue and his best friend, Kevin, worked in sales and promotion. TJ worked in the art department and designed all the boxes and one sheets. Costello Presley was composing and providing all the music for the movies, and Chet Thomas was the full time editor. As soon as Mike came into power, he started shopping for a new location in Reseda. Our palatial North Hollywood headquarters was too big and expensive to suit Mike’s taste and he had one thing in mind: stop the bleeding of money. In the early 90s, the sales started to decline on new releases as the market was suddenly overblown with competition. We were all kinds of shocked when we saw the size of the new place. The warehouse was a decent size, and Mike’s office could have easily been split into three, but the rest was divided into small offices just big enough for a desk and a path to walk around it. Chet had a nice space for editing, though it was also supposed to be where Costello stayed, but shortly after moving to the new location Costello Presley left the company.

 

Vintage Catalina promotional ad
Vintage Catalina promotional ad designed by TJ
 
Josh Eliot and TJ

Josh Eliot and TJ

 

From the very start, we were shown that Mike and Chris Mann were very different in their management style. There was tension between Scott Masters and Mike regarding how things were handled in the production department. The good ole days of blowing money on non-essential things was definitely gone for good. It wasn’t so drastic that our company cars were taken away or anything like that, but we would be tightening our belts on everything that had to do with production expenses. Things started to boil over when Scott Masters and John Travis were told that royalties were a thing of the past and the company would no longer compensate them monthly on their previous movies' sales. They settled on a flat fee. All future movies would be on a flat fee basis as well.

My contract with Catalina never included royalties from the get go, so there weren’t any financial changes for me. The whole thing between Masters, Travis and Mike came to a head behind closed doors and, like a flick of the switch, Masters and Travis were OUT. Masters called to tell me they were parting ways, but assured me that they would be starting their own production company (later to be called Studio 2000). He wanted me to leave Catalina with them and join them on their venture, but could offer no financial detail on how and when I would be compensated. It was in limbo. Deep down, I really did not want to leave Catalina, because I had a great rapport with Mike and all the other associates. Luckily for me, before Masters could come back with a concrete offer, Mike pulled me aside at my 30th birthday party at the Gold Coast Bar in West Hollywood and offered me the job of Catalina’s producer, which I instantly accepted. The whirlwind began, and for the next 15 years we pumped out two to three movies a month until our very last production: Hot Buttered Cop Porn in 2006. Sometime over the next number of years, once David Weiss passed away in Amsterdam, Mike quietly purchased the company from William Higgins.

 

Hot Buttered Cop Porn box covers

Hot Buttered Cop Porn original and re-release box covers

 

After wrapping Cop Porn, we spent the next three years remastering and re-releasing all of our VHS movies onto DVD. It was kind of a relief to have the pressure of producing lifted from my shoulders and I could focus strictly on video editing, something I thoroughly enjoy. Going back to my early teens when I would sit on the living room floor with my 8mm editing unit, complete with splicing tapes, editing my home movies like Avalanche, Bionic Boy vs Big Foot, Crash, Earth Quake, and The Last Voyage. You can see trailers of those movies on my YouTube channel if you like disaster movies or if you just want to torture yourself! Here’s the link to: Josh Eliot, What A Disaster.

 

Josh Eliot's What a Disaster 8mm movie images

 

OUT of the blue one day in 2009, Mike came to visit me in Palm Desert, where I had moved to while continuing to edit and remaster for the company. I was shocked and surprised to hear that he was selling the business known as Catalina Video to Channel 1 Releasing. C1R had several partners including Chi Chi LaRue, so it seemed like it was a great choice for the library to go to them. He explained that part of the negotiation of the sale included keeping me and a couple Catalina employees on payroll for two years from the sale date. Though I was asked to produce new content for them, the thought of producing again was a real turn off to me, so I ultimately decided to only work as an editor for them, which they agreed to.

Two years to the very date of the company’s purchase of Catalina Video, I got my walking papers, and just like that, I was OUT.

 

 

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
Diving Into SoMa/Folsom: THE FOLSOM STREET FAIR
Diving into SoMa/Folsom: A TALE OF TWO STUDS
BALL BROTH
My 1992 “Porn Set” Diary
Out of Print
There’s a Gloryhole WHERE??!
LUNCH HOUR: When the Big Boys Eat

 
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FRANK ROSS, The Boss

By Josh Eliot

 

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

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

 

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

Screening Room Theater exterior and plaque

 

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

 

Face to Face poster and Made in the Shade VHS cover

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach images

Sutro Baths and Lands End Beach

 

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

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

Bulldog Baths ad and token

 

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

 

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

Wanted DVD cover featuring Al Parker and Jack Wrangler

 

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

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

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

 

 

Bio of Josh Eliot:

At the age of 25 in 1987, Josh Eliot was hired by Catalina Video by John Travis (Brentwood Video) and Scott Masters (Nova Video). Travis trained Eliot on his style of videography and mentored him on the art of directing. Josh directed his first movie, Runaways, in 1987. By 2009 when Josh parted ways with Catalina Video, he'd produced and directed hundreds of features and won numerous awards for Best Screenplay, Videography, Editing, and Directing. He was entered into the GayVN Hall of fame in 2002.  

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