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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Solo Sex

Posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

 

As many of us are currently spending a lengthy stint without sexual partners as we practice social distancing during this pandemic, I’ve been reflecting on eroticism that does not involve physical engagement between people.

Non-in-person sex work (via phone or the internet) and viewing pornography can play a huge part in helping folks through this necessary dry spell - though, of course, the coronavirus relief package explicitly excludes applicants who earn money from performances, services, or depictions “of a prurient sexual nature” from being eligible for loans. (There has been an increase in internet censorship and policing of consensual sex work and sexual materials under this administration done in the name of decreasing sex trafficking and exploitation. SESTA/FOSTA, which passed in March of 2018, directly led to the shut down of sites that enabled sex workers to operate more safely, porn companies and performers having their personal data deleted from their private drives, and the major social media platforms increasing their content restrictions and banning countless users. The currently-proposed EARN IT Act looks to extend internet surveillance under the same guise, further putting at risk sex workers and other marginalized groups who would likely be targeted and increasing the possibility of additional sexual content restrictions on social media platforms, as well as compromising the privacy of all internet-based communication and data.)

There are countless ways of sexually engaging with others through distance, many via technology - such as swapping nudes, dirty talk (see our recent blog discussing the Old Reliable audio collection), video chatting, sexting, video games, and even internet-controlled sex toys - through which each individual involved may be physically alone. And, of course, there is also a wide array in the realm of sexuality in which the inspiration for excitement doesn’t necessarily come from another person at all: object fetishism, autoeroticism, and more. A plethora of imaginal and tactile erotic experiences can be explored while physically by one’s self.

One fascinating cinematic look at solo sex and object fetishism exists in Czech artist Jan Švankmajer’s 1996 film Conspirators of Pleasure, which follows several characters’ independent fetishistic rituals. One man builds a masturbation machine with many motorized hands attached to televisions, which he operates during broadcasts of a lusted-after news anchor. Another man creates homemade sex toys - rolling pins covered in materials of different tactile natures like tacks and fur - which Švankmajer live-action animates rolling all over the man’s body. A couple of neighbors create effigies of each other, which they violently torture.

 

Stills from Conspirators of Pleasure
Images from Conspirators of Pleasure

 

In some of these scenarios, the object of desire is a person represented by the masturbation object, while in some, the contraption and/or tactile materials seem to be the objects of desire, themselves. But in each scenario, the rituals are performed in isolation.

Though best known as an animator/filmmaker, Švankmajer works in a wide array of mediums, including poetry and sculpture, and uses all to grapple with tactilism. From 1972 until 1979, he was banned from directing films by the Communist government of Czechoslovakia, who considered his films subversive. During this span, Švankmajer went into extensive exploration of the sense of touch and tactile art, including writing a book, Hmat a Imaginace (now translated and available in English as Touching and Imagining), “of which he produced five copies in 1983, all with ‘tactile’ covers. Featuring rabbit fur along the spine and a hand shape cut out of sandpaper on the front, these copies circulated as samizdat, that is works which were clandestinely produced and distributed to evade officially imposed censorship.” This book details Švankmajer’s Surrealist experiments with touch and tactile art and “is a kind of alchemist’s philosophical treatise.”

 

An original copy of Hmat a Imaginace
An original copy of Hmat a Imaginace

Švankmajer tactile poem and sculptures
A Švankmajer tactile poem and three tactile sculptures

 

Upon his return to filmmaking, he brought what he had learned about tactilism into the medium through content, concept, and technique, trying to create synesthetic experiences for viewers. “Film animation is just another alchemical aid to the performance of a magic ritual in which Švankmajer summons the immanent vitality that resides in the inert material... This capacity for metamorphosis extends to moving images… Švankmajer’s work explores the idea that both direct and indirect tactile experience is mediated by the ‘tactile’ imagination.”

The development of a new personal relationship to touch is described in Švankmajer’s poem “The magic ritual of tactile initiation,” featured in Touching and Imagining, which concludes:

Make the cold warm and the soft hard!
Make the loose compact!
Make the course slimy!
Make the hurtful pleasurable!
And vice-versa!
So that the eye will not perceive and give touch timely warning, constantly confuse his utilitarian habits of touch by disorientation, mystification and panic!
Bear in mind that our entire body is a unified erogenous zone!
Do not smooth down the crumpled sheets!
In winter kick off the bedclothes!
On hot summer nights crawl under a heavy quilt!
Do not scorn masturbation!
Do not have your old shoes re-soled!
Do not urinate before going to bed!
“Be repulsed by all objects yet touch them all!
Learn to love insects!
Tire yourself out!
Only when Touch is freed from its utilitarian context, not constantly forced into a self-conscious moment, will it reach the point where it transmutes the barrier of its identifying existence, and without being aware of it, becomes the language of the poet.


Eroticism is frequently a focus of Švankmajer’s work, as he observed that “if there does exist one aspect of human perception where Touch still has a position dominant over all others senses, it is in the field of eroticism.” The realm of pornography extensively explores “indirect tactile experience” and the sensations this depiction evokes in viewers, also striving to inspire corporeal responses.

Countless approaches to solo sex can be found in pornography. Object eroticism is certainly common, from fetish magazines eroticizing attire and materials such as leather and rubber, to the use of sex toys and such things as household items, balloons, and food as tools for self-pleasure.

 

Stills from Mansize & Food Sex
Stills Michael Zen's Mansize (top) and the Bijou Video compilation Food Sex (bottom)

 

The object in question’s sexual appeal may stem purely from the physical sensations it creates and one’s tactile relationship with it, or from a more symbolic place of connection or memory. And inanimate objects, themselves, can seem to carry inside them their own energetic life. As Švankmajer said, “a strong emotion leaves an indelible imprint on the objects touched.”

Erotic inspiration can be found in the natural world. Director Peter de Rome’s lovely short porn film, Green Thoughts (1971), features a man who becomes stimulated by the plants in a conservatory. Porn star and sex educator Annie Sprinkle has recently been spearheading an “ecosexual” movement, reframing nature as “your lover, not your mother” in an effort “to make the envirnomental movement more fun and diverse.”

 

Images from Green Thoughts
Images from Green Thoughts

 

Acts of self-pleasure may be performed not just as the result of the absence of a sexual partner, but because one’s own self or body or personal sexual technique are, themselves, the source of excitement. Many Bijou titles feature examples of this: enthusiastic solos, autofellatio practitioners, people jacking off to their own reflections, fantasies of self-fucking (brilliantly staged in Jaguar’s Grease Monkeys and in the short film Double Scorpio featured in Hand in Hand’s Private Collection), and intricate autosadism rituals (as in the Jason Steele segment of Big Bear Men and the sounding demonstration in another Private Collection short, Penetration).

 

Nick Rodgers seducing himself in Grease Monkeys
Nick Rodgers seducing & fucking himself in Grease Monkeys (1979)

Jason Steele in Big Bear Men (left); sounding film Penetration (right)
Jason Steele in Big Bear Men (left); the sounding film Penetration (right)

 

One of the true masters of inventive autoerotic practice in porn is “Sultan of Solo Sex” Scott Taylor. Taylor never performed a full partnered sex act in any of his films (the closest is perhaps in Surge Studio’s Strange Places, Strange Things, in which he and another man wildly enlarge and distort their cocks together with vacuum pumps), but he did many solo jack off sessions, as well as self-sucking and creative bodily play. In the Steve Scott masterpiece, Turned On! (1982), Taylor performs a remarkable display of dance and movement, in which he stuffs his own cock and balls up his ass. Al Parker stated, in a Manshots interview, “Even though Scott only has sex with himself, I think he is one of the most erotic people in this business, because you can’t pay somebody to be as crazy as Scott Taylor is in a movie.”

 

Scott Taylor
Scott Taylor


Scott Taylor in Turned On!
Scott Taylor's performance in Turned On!

 

Another artist of self-fucking in classic porn is Chris Burns. Having well-earned the title “the Ultimate Bottom,” Burns certainly can take it from others, but just as aptly can dish it out upon himself. In Steve Scott’s Dangerous (1983), he exchanges dirty talk over the phone with Rick Faulkner (who beats off in a phone booth) while he shoves massive dildos up his ass. Jason Bleu’s fascinating S/M video, Black on Red (1987), takes us into the interior life of the submissive, as Burns literally bends over backwards to punish himself at the feet of and worship a mature dominant, who stands over him throughout the tape's runtime, nearly silent and umoving, like a remote God. Burns, here, performs nearly all of the actions upon himself, shoving more enormous toys (as well as enema tubing) up his ass, putting sounding rods in his dickhole, piercing his nipple, and shaving his pubic hair off with a straight razor.

 

Chris Burns in Black on Red
Chris Burns in Black on Red

 

Not requiring a partner to explore one’s own body and sexual interests can be a liberatory element of sexuality. Illustrations of this can be found in some of the feminist pornography of the ‘80s and ‘90s, which encouraged women to learn about their bodies and personal sexuality - for example, the classic 1992 instructional, How to Female Ejaculate, and the odes to self-pleasure in Annie Sprinkle’s Sluts and Goddesses: How To Be a Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps. I’ve personally found developing solo kink practices to be useful and exciting. I taught myself how to do play piercing by practicing on my own body, with the help of online technique/safety tips and instructional video examples. This was a helpful way to learn (without risking fucking up an early attempt on someone else’s body), but maintaining this as a solo practice has also served as a way for me to engage with sadism and masochism on my own, without being reliant upon a partner for outlets.

Some porn makers depicted solo practices as a part of the exploration of various types of safer sexual expression during the AIDS crisis. Artist Michael Goodwin, whose late '80s Goodjac video series focused on handjobs and masturbation, brought creativity, playfulness, and enthusiasm to his documentation of solo sex.

 

Solos from The Goodjac Chronicles & Goodjac Too
Solos from The Goodjac Chronicles and Goodjac Too

 

And we can take eroticism outside of the tactile entirely. There’s the far-reaching imaginal realm of fantasy, which can draw eroticism from endless places. There are erotic responses to music and other audio, such as the visceral and abstract sound textures and vocal intimacy explored in ASMR videos, popularized over the past decade, which for many enthusiasts are not erotic, but can be for some. And there’s spiritual yearning, which can often take on an erotic coloration.

One may find eroticism with and without other people; erotic touch with and without other people; eroticism with and without touch. Perhaps we can use this time away from parntered sex to find ways to connect with our own erotic imaginations and to deepen our relationships with our own bodies, whether by nurturing their health (as a part of the project of collective health) or developing our solo sexual practices, whatever the tools and objects of erotic excitement may be.

Tags:
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The Legacy of Scotty Bowers: A Brief Reflection

posted by Madame Bubby

Scotty Bowers, recent photo

Scotty Bowers, a legend in Hollywood’s sexual underground in the 1950s and 1960s, died at home in Los Angeles on October 13 at the age of 96.

When I found out about his book, Full Service, I must admit I was excited to read it, mostly because I always enjoyed titillating, “Hollywood Babylon” scandals. And here was someone who actually made satisfying the sexuality of Hollywood royalty of that period (and others) his business, literally.

He started his “infamous” gas station procurement network in the late 1940s, mostly hiring out young studs for closeted gay actors and others in the Hollywood business (and there were many).

According to his book, his career as a sex worker began in 1946 while he was working as an attendant at The Richfield Oil gas station located at 5777 Hollywood Boulevard, at the corner of Van Ness Avenue. In 1950, Bowers stopped working at the service station, and he then began working as a party bartender (one his party “tricks” involved using his schlong to stir drinks), while continuing his sexual services to both men and women. And he himself, because he was gifted with such a stunning endowment, according to Bowers, was quite popular.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Young Scotty Bowers

I must admit I was surprised that the famous Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, whom I call Mr. Miniver (he was Mrs. Miniver’s [played by Greer Garson] husband in one of the most wholesome, inspiring, patriotic 1940s movies, Mrs. Miniver), was one of his first clients. It’s still sometimes difficult to separate the screen persona from the real person (and in Pidgeon’s case, he was married to a woman, of course), but that was Hollywood: ultimately, illusion.

What I found to be, according to Scotty (and I don’t dispute at all his reliability in this case, as many others do), the close to ultimate Hollywood illusion: the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn romance. I remember when growing up, it was pretty much a given that these two were the romantic Hollywood power couple of the period (at least before Burton and Taylor came along). Yet, according to Bowers, both were gay (or in Tracy’s case, probably bisexual), and Scotty apparently was one of his sexual partners. Hepburn, who some have argued was really more fluid in her relationship to gender and sexuality, used Bowers as a means to “hook up” with several women.
 

Young Scotty Bowers
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn

But what I think when reading the book and also viewing the documentary (I made a special trip to see it), Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood, is that one can get distracted by all the Old Hollywood “scandal” and peccadilloes.

Scotty himself suffered many tragedies in his life that are perhaps closely related to, or perhaps not, his life a sex worker. He lived with a common-law wife whom he met right after his service in WWII, but they grew apart, and the daughter by this marriage, Donna, died young from complications after an abortion.

He did finally manage to find happiness with his last wife, but looking at the documentary, it’s clear Scotty suffered, especially later in life, from a hoarding disorder. I remember, and this behavior is that of a typical hoarder, a scene where he is going through memorabilia in a rented storage space stuffed to the maximum. Yes, there’s history made visible in the things he cherishes, but it seems buried, hidden, physically and mentally in clutter, multiplicity out of control.

Hidden and buried, yet now, no longer a secret. Scotty helped others keep secrets, but he never made his sex life a secret. He gloried in it. And I also think it wasn’t just a case of someone who knew he could use his sexuality as a commodity. Of course, he did, if one interprets his legacy very literally. Old Hollywood needed and wanted him to keep its illusion of heteronormative glamour intact.

But in doing so, he ended up exposing that illusion, not out of spite, but because in a world that was built on dreams and illusions, he actually fulfilled in the most primal, honest way the personal dreams of the stars who embodied on screen the dreams of people who probably got their gas pumped (and much more) at the Richfield Oil Gas Station.

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The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, Still There in Chicago!

posted by Madame Bubby

Lucky Horseshoe exterior

Yes, it is still there. I had to ask, especially now that that the area around it is gentrified and homogenized in so many ways since the last time I was there, early 1990s.

Why was I there? The Lucky Horseshoe Lounge, known to its regulars as the “Shoe,” is a gay bar yes, but one that features dancers. Not strippers (no nudity), and they usually are already stripped down to something skimpy that barely covers up the cock.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer in jockstrap

Jason Heidemann, a while ago, wrote a piece in the Chicago Reader describing his experiences in detail, and he also makes the point that the place actually seems to be evoke a feeling of “shame-based resistance” for many gay guys. Like, oops, why are you there? What's really going on with you? Or even, in an online exchange, a LOL.

It's an exotic dance club, and I am thinking perhaps there could be a couple underlying cultural stigmas. First, the whole go-go girl men's club business that caters to heterosexual men contains some obvious structurally exploitative/misognynistic dynamics. Whether this dynamic strictly applies to what goes on gay male strip clubs is open to question, and I also think it ties closely into the stigmas associated with sex workers in general.

Secondly, in the gay community itself, there's a stereotype that the types of customers the place attracts tend to be “dirty old men” desperate for copping a feel on a young, lithe body. Heidemann makes the point that the place for many couples serves “as a compromise between one partner who wants monogamy and the other who has an insatiable libido.”

That dynamic reminds of me of my experiences there in the early 90s. I was involved with the LGBTQ Catholic group, Dignity, and I sang tenor in its amateur choir. After church, the choir director, the priest, one religious brother who sang in the choir, and whoever else wanted to tag along, hit the Shoe. (In fact, we were at the Shoe when the Bulls won their famous “threepeat” game!)

It turns out, that Sunday night at the Shoe was called “priests' night out.” One could say that in many cases, sticking dollar bills in the lush baskets of the dancers was a way of not literally violating a promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity. The choir director I think just liked the dancers, a lot, and I also think, because he was partnered, he would hang out there to “blow off steam.” (I'm not sure if he ever hooked up with one of the dancers, but I vaguely remember hearing he did invite one over to his house.)

I must admit, most of the dancers were too thin, smooth, and “twinkish” for my taste, but one night, an anomaly. A particularly beefy muscle guy wearing heavy boots appeared, and I was smitten. I not only got to touch his basket, but we even made out a bit. We had one date. He worked in sales at Marshall Fields full time, days. In real life gear he looked much less imposing. Too “nice” for me, alas.

And I did hook up with a real hot number, beard, blue collar, cowboy boots, there one night, an out of town guy on a conference. A weekend romance ensued. I looked him up on the internet. He is still working at the same job he did in the 1990s. He looks older and grayer. It happens to everyone, even the dancers.

Overall, I'm glad the place is still there, and given its longevity, I gather it has probably adapted to the bachelorette party culture, which has created some controversy lately in gay male bars. In fact, given the vicissitudes of social and cultural change, it's perhaps an even more unique space that still keeps the dancers dancing and a diverse array of customers coming/cumming.
 

Lucky Horseshoe dancer
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