RSVP: 2 Weeks Working on a Gay Cruise Ship

By Josh Eliot

 

Working on the Catalina Video crew for 22 years from age 25 to age 47 was probably what some would think is the epitome of a dream job. To an extent the first 15 or so years were just that, but towards the end of my days with the company I was exhausted, burned out, idea-less and for the most part just ready to retire. For the majority of the years, especially once Scott Masters and John Travis left to start their own company Studio 2000, I became producer and was expected to “pump-out” two movies or more a month. All of the movies had a maximum of $13,500.00 budget except for our big budget “movie of the year,” which was allowed $25,000.00. The big budget movies had the luxury of having twice the amount of shooting days, so on day one we shot the oral and cum shots then on day two the anal and cum shots. Having each model cum twice in a scene really added some polish and made them appear more “stud-like.” Because the crew's salaries themselves were not part of the budget, we were able to stretch the dollar pretty far to add all the bells and whistles of a major production. All of the Catalina Crew were paid separately according to how many shoot days they worked per week.

Even though my youth helped me get through this vigorous schedule, it did take its toll over the years. Not much of a dream job, right? Well, from time to time the management did surprise and delight us with out of the ordinary adventures. William Higgins' main man in the states, while he lived in Prague, was David Weiss. David ran a distribution center called House One, which was literally in a special wing of his Burbank home. I would say David was the “boss” of Catalina’s general manager and facilitated all of Higgins' wishes. For some reason David really took a liking to me and had my best interests in mind. He was always offering to take me to Prague with him whenever he was going over to see Higgins but it never worked out for me to go because of that damned two movies a month schedule! He did however show up one day to tell me he had met with the owners of RSVP Cruises and arranged for Richard (an editor for House One) and myself to work a two week stint on an upcoming Mexican gay cruise leaving from San Diego in a couple of weeks. I was blown away, especially because our GM agreed to postpone production to allow me to go!

 

Richard, Josh & two RSVP Cruise employees

Richard, Josh & two RSVP Cruise employees

 

Richard and I arrived at the port mid-afternoon, as the ship would depart at 5pm sharp for Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlán and Cabo San Lucas. We went aboard immediately as part of the RSVP staff. The first person we met was Danny Williams, a San Francisco comedian, who I remember seeing at the Castro Street Fair every year. In 1989, Danny began what was to become a 22 year career working as master of ceremonies and cruise director for RSVP Cruises. He introduced us to all the other staff, who were a wonderful group to work with. Richard and I went up to his editing suite, which was also the green room for the performers of the nighttime shows. Once there, I inspected my video camera equipment for my job on board. I was to shoot every event, cocktail-underwear party and land excursion, always bringing the footage back to Richard each night so he could edit it into a VHS tape each passenger would get as they disembarked the ship at the conclusion of the trip. I checked out my quarters and it was a private room! That’s like striking gold, because I was very single at the time! I think I had sex almost every day - I guess our ship uniforms helped with that!

 

Tea dance, underwear parties & nightly entertainment
Tea dance, underwear parties & nightly entertainment

Danny Williams, comedian

Danny Williams, comedian

 

I started shooting footage of all the passengers as they came aboard the ship on the main deck. I noticed two familiar faces amongst the crowd: Bob and Larry, the owners of The Vista Grande and Atrium in Palm Springs. We shot at their men-only clothing optional resort a lot over the years for movies like Big Guns 2 and Palm Springs Weekend. I just loved those guys and we were all thrilled to see each other. The warmth and excitement of seeing them suddenly dropped to “icy-cold” when a strange woman with a long wrap over her head approached me. I said hello and tried to start a pleasant conversation when she cut me off and asked if my camera was turned on. I started to explain what I was shooting but, without missing a beat, she stepped right up to my face, pulled her wrap from her head and said: “If you point that thing at me, it’s going over the side of the ship,” then she promptly walked off before I could even respond.

It turns out the woman was singer Jane Olivor and her reputation (that I later learned of) did not disappoint. Evidently when she walked into Richard’s editing room, also her green room, she demanded that everyone leave immediately. How very Gloria Swanson. Jane Olivor has a huge almost cult-like gay following and I have to say when I shot her performance I found her voice to be amazing! I even bought tickets, years later, to see her one summer in Provincetown. Betty Buckley was also aboard, and I’ll tell you she was fabulous and even let us watch her rehearsal! The work of shooting the passengers was pretty “full-on” because the cameras back then weighed a ton and required a separate video deck on a strap over my shoulder. I remember literally almost passing out from heat exhaustion, when I discovered a sanctuary in Puerto Vallarta called “The Blue Chairs.” The Blue Chairs is a beachfront gay resort with a bar along the beach offering 2 for 1 margaritas and, after 3pm, 3 for 1 margaritas. The place was packed with almost everyone I knew from the cruise ship. I plopped myself down and spent the afternoon there, every once in a while picking up the camera to shoot the passengers at play!

 

Cabo San Lucas beach party and The Blue Chairs in Puerto Vallarta

Cabo San Lucas beach party and The Blue Chairs in Puerto Vallarta

 

After seven days in Mexico and at sea, we returned to the San Diego Port. The passengers disembarked, then a few hours later a whole new set of guests boarded and we took off to do it all over again! Now this was the “real deal” dream job, with a whole new selection of hot guys coming aboard! Years later I was sent by Catalina Video along with my crew to board another cruise ship for an event called the Pillage & Plunder Gay Cruise - this time not to videotape the passengers, even though it was impossible to keep them out of my frame, but to film our big budget movie of the year, Voyager. Caesar and Steve Rambo were the leads, along with about nineteen others. In my next blog I will talk about how what started off as another dream cruise ended up being more like a nightmare!

 

Caesar in Voyager

Caesar in Voyager

 

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

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Judy

posted by Madame Bubby


I was dating a part time fireman in Milwaukee some time ago, and he made a comment that the gay guys in one bar should have gotten out more, rather than sitting inside said bar and listening to Judy Garland. (A rather ironic comment, I might say, as he spent 12 hours Saturday and Sunday inside bars himself, but he of course was better than listening to Judy.) Our romance was intense but ephemeral. He was, I found out via the internet many years later, after getting his dream job as a full-time fireman, arrested for drunk driving.

And some time ago, a former friend opera queen type decided to become an older gay “auntie” type and teach me Gay 101. I fit the opera queen stereotype, but he seemed put out that I showed very little interest in Broadway and the “older” female popular singers who were gay icons. And number one on that list was Judy. He bought me the CD Judy at Carnegie Hall. One could say I failed to understand its significance. I ended up giving it away. At that point, Judy’s significance for me was her role in The Wizard of Oz.

(And in that movie, I was more interested in Margaret Hamilton’s tour de force as the Wicked Witch of the West.) And of course I was supposed to think that Stonewall was caused by all those closeted “sweater” gays in tight trousers upset about the death of Judy Garland. (No, that was not the reason.)
 

Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall CD cover

Fast forward many years later. The younger gays’ divas include figures such as Lady Gaga (significant because she starred in a remake of A Star Is Born, one of Judy’s most famous movies and performances) and someone named Lizzo (I found out about her only because I joined Twitter). I live in the past. Perhaps many younger gays are into Judy, Barbra, or even Ethel. Perhaps.

Perhaps. I admit I did go through a brief Ethel Merman phase about the time I failed to worship Judy, mostly because I was fascinated by the famous conductor Toscannini, after hearing her, saying she was a castrato. It was the voice.

And now my love affair with the female voice includes Judy, mostly because of one book and because of youtube. Henry Pleasants, the late great music critic, wrote a book The Great American Popular Singers, which I think managed to pierce to the beating heart of the matter (and in Judy case, that heart one could say ended up killing her more than the pills), when he reflected that she “had the most utterly natural vocal production … it was an open-throated, almost birdlike vocal production, clear, pure, resonant, innocent.”
 

Henry Pleasant's Great American Singers book cover

The innocence of what became her anthem of the heart, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, always remained inherent in all her performances: more than emotional honesty, more than the bond of love she experienced with her live audiences, gay and straight, that reached a type of apotheosis in that Carnegie Hall performance I have since listened to again and again in conjunction with youtube clips of the short-lived Judy Garland Show.

Judy, born with that immense talent, it’s true, never really experienced that idealized innocence as a child. (Who has, really?), according to the admittedly at times very depressing bios (the stage mother, the closeted gay father, the pills, the sexual harassment at MGM, all those men, yes, the gay and straight and bi husbands, in her life) I recently read. By the time she was 18, she experienced, suffered, more than what most persons experience in a lifetime.

Yet I think it’s too easy to get swept up in all the over the top, truly frightening personal drama of her life, because in her case, life and art aren’t mutually exclusive categories.

I now, perhaps because I’m in a different point in my life (yes, I’ve lived, lived, lived in my own way) can really hear the voice (I always appreciated the lustrous beauty of her lyric contralto in its prime), but now the art that in her case is organically a part of that voice. I thank youtube, because I was able to see and hear her performance of “Old Man River” on The Judy Garland Show.
 

Judy Garland performing Old Man River

Give a listen. Take a look. She doesn’t just sell that song. She doesn’t just intuitively understand the style of that song which is often treated as an operatic aria or a piece of campy cultural appropriation. It’s her, and she’s doesn’t need, like some divas, all the glittery trappings which are now Instagram and other social medias to portray her image. She’s no illusion here. She is the song.

When she sings “land in jail,” it’s not a phrase to show off low chesty notes, sung in a melodramatic way. Just in those words is heartbreak, resignation, even a bit of wry humor, a twinge of hope that she’ll get out of jail, the river will keep rolling along, and just maybe, and in her case, tragically, she might herself find the elusive love over the rainbow.

She did find that love when she sang to her audiences. Or rather, when she is singing, because she still is.
 

Judy Garland Wizard of Oz image

(P.S. I haven’t seen the movie with Renee Zwelleger, yet.)

Sources:

Anne Edwards, Judy Garland

Gerald Clarke, Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland

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