I’M NOT A LESBIAN DIRECTOR!

By Josh Eliot

 

At the same time I started shooting Valley of the Bi-Dolls, the general manager of Catalina Video had a light bulb go off in his head. Let’s just say that light bulb was more of a fluorescent, as opposed to a tungsten lamp that we used for filming to give us fabulous lighting. The fluorescent may have been a practical option when GE developed it from the discoveries of Jacques Risler in 1934, but the execution never really materialized as top notch. I always feel like I look ten years older and twenty years more exhausted when standing in a room lit by fluorescents. The idea from my general manager ended up being just as disappointing.

When I was casting for Valley of the Bi Dolls in 1993, thanks to Chi Chi LaRue, I was able to connect with the main agent representing the very top straight adult film starlets of the time. Though it was exciting to think about working with top-notch girls for Valley, I was turned down time after time by most of them. As I mentioned in the past, there was a stigma involved when it came to bisexual movies. Even though by this point things were slightly turning around, the straight industry was slow to get on board the “acceptance wagon.”

I had already cast Sharon Kane in the lead, who in turned recommended Gloria Leonard for the non-sexual “Helen Lawson” character and luckily, through an agent, Leanna Foxxx was on board. In addition, which was shocking to hear at the time, Peter North (Matt Ramsey) also agreed to do the straight scene with Leanna Foxxx. It really was a coup for me to have all these big names, which was unheard of at the time in a bisexual movie. I was pouring everything I had mentally into this movie and I wanted the cast to be all A-List! So I kept trying, but was turned down by Diedre Holland, Melanie Moore, Debi Diamond and Teri Divers. When I shared some of the names that turned me down with Catalina’s manager, that’s when the light bulb went off in his head.

 

A-List stars of the 1990s Debi Diamond, Teri Divers, Diedre Holland and Melanie Moore

A-List stars of the 1990s

 

Catalina had long wanted to tap into the girl-girl market; not the straight girl-girl audience, but the lesbian audience. The idea of having all A-List girls in our movie, in his mind, would give us an edge, and he proposed that it would be directed by a lesbian director for a lesbian audience. The top starlets had no problem whatsoever shooting an all-girl movie, so getting them to sign on the dotted line was easy. Of course, there was the small technicality of not having a lesbian director on staff to coincide with our manager’s plans to publicize the movie in the gay press as lesbian-made. I told him I would start the search for a lesbian director to join our team, but he wanted that gal to be me (not so forward thinking after all, was he?). We bantered back and forth but he was adamant, so I to accepted the assignment. Catalina’s instant new director “Tori Sterling” was born. A pseudonym I came up with by combining Tori Spelling and Matt Sterling, and the movie would be called The Women.

 

The Women original one-sheet

The Women original one-sheet

 

I came up with the title based on the Joan Crawford / Norma Shearer / Rosalind Russell / Paulette Goddard / Joan Fontaine 1939 film from director George Cukor. Get the connection? The actresses in the 1939 film (fabulous movie, I might add) were all A-List or up-and-coming A-Listers of the time. The Women would be a classy, glossy, high end production... albeit with its slashed budget of only $10,000, because he knew we could shoot multiple sex scenes in fewer days as there were no hard-ons or cum shots needed. We shot in two days. The girls were fabulous, creative, inventive, and great with their lines, which was really quite a delight! They taught me some really good positions and actions that I could apply to all-male movies, especially with their pussy eating techniques, which I could apply to future boy-boy rim scenes. It was exciting for me to be around and work with the “it” girls of the time and I never really felt intimidated by their presence, which was a nice surprise. All in all, the movie looked beautiful, top-notch and well shot. The only problem? I’m not a lesbian director!

 

Ad for The Women in Nightlife Magazine, 1994

Ad for The Women in Nightlife Magazine, 1994

 

We ran several promotions for the movie in the press, including the one shown here in Nightlife Magazine. Really pressing home the “made in the USA” vibe of “lesbian-made.” You can walk like a duck, fuck like a fuck, suck like a duck, but you’ll never taste as delicious as Peking Duck if you aren’t a duck inside and out. There’s no way, as a 31 year old gay man at the time, that I could have channeled properly the thought process or life experiences of a gay woman. It was really stupid to even try and this is where we blew our shot, because we weren’t honest with ourselves or our audience. I’m sure the movie made some money because, let’s face it, it’s no big challenge to make money with a $10,000 investment! But I dare anyone to find this movie in print anywhere today. I don’t even have a copy anymore - I loaned out my VHS to some girlfriends and never got it back. Well, at least it might have worked for that gay couple! I should have really tried harder to convince our manager to go big or go home with his idea of a lesbian director, really make this movie in the right way. Who knows, it might have pulled in that market that no one was catering to, if it had only taken that audience into consideration.

 

 

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

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Whatever Happened to NEELY O’HARA?

By Josh Eliot

 

I have absolutely no idea if the Gen X or Millennials have icons that they worship. You know, the Baby Boomers – the Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Bette Davis obsessed group - they erected a fabulous 26 ft tall Marilyn Monroe statue in downtown Palm Springs, which is the new selfie spot for locals and tourists. It’s that great image from The Seven Year Itch where her billowing white dress blows up in the air from the subway grid below. There was a small delegation that picketed her installation (of course… so annoying) because her underwear-covered ass is facing the walkway leading from the museum. Whatever! Under her dress is the most popular selfie spot in town! Palm Springs also has an amazing show at The Purple Room Club starring impersonator Michael Holmes as Judy Garland - it’s called The Judy Show. In the show, Judy gets more and more “lit” as the night goes on, talks shit about her daughter Liza and has great guest stars like Bette Davis, Pearl Bailey and Carol Channing. If in town, it’s a “must-see” dinner theater experience.

 

Marilyn statue in Palm Springs

Marilyn statue in Palm Springs

 

I appreciate all of those fine women, but for me there is only one gal that is and has always been on the top of my “worship” list. She’s not an actress, but a character - the fabulously damaged NEELY O’HARA from Jacqueline Susann’s epic Valley of the Dolls. But my obsession undoubtedly is because the actress that gave her life, Patty Duke, nailed the role. I first saw a heavily edited version back in the 1970’s on TV, some random Saturday afternoon. There were a lot of “show-stopping” moments, but I couldn’t rewind the scenes or watch them on a VCR because it wasn’t invented yet (VCR - released by RCA in 1977). Maybe that’s why the experience really stuck with me; it wasn’t watered down by replaying it. Neely could sing and dance like the ladies above and ended up tortured, broken and ______? And what? Whatever happened to Neely O’Hara? When we left her at the end of the movie she was wasted, emotionally drained, near collapse and screaming her own name into the night sky of the New York City Theatre District. How could Jacqueline have left us hanging like that? I’ve often wondered, did she die there in that alley? We will never know. Or will we?

In 1993, I recreated Neely’s story as an adult bi-sexual movie called Valley of the Bi Dolls. The movie starred Sharon Kane as “Ceily Fontana” (the Neely character) and Gloria Leonard as ”Lana Dawson” (the Helen Lawson character). Originally played by Judy Garland, then replaced with Susan Hayward, Helen Lawson was the ultimate arch enemy to Neely. I also included Sharon Tate’s “Jennifer” character played by Leanna Foxxx. The character “Ann Wells” played by Barbara Parkins was just too boring to make the cut. The movie basically ends with the same fate for Ceily/Neely, but her story goes on from there. To take her journey a step further, in 1994 I released Revenge of the Bi Dolls, where Ceily/Neely sets in motion a series of events to shame and humiliate Lana Dawson, which seals both their fates in a gunfight that results in their deaths. Case closed. But was it?

 

Neily & Ceily

Neily & Ceily

 

Not according to the General Manager at Catalina Video. Because both movies won Best Bi-Sexual Picture, Director and Music for Kane, Non-Sexual for Leonard and Screenplay, he told me I needed to make a third installment, turning the series into a trilogy. I thought I had finally given Ceily/Neely a proper ending, but evidently not! I dragged my feet, but in 1997 I released Night of the Living Bi Dolls. I guess I was still in my rebellious stage. I had killed all the main characters in the sequel, and to me Ceily was larger than life, so I brought her back from the dead as a zombie in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. The movie won Best Bi-Sexual Picture and Director so I figured it was over and that was it! Or was it?

 

 

Bi Dolls Trilogy

Bi Dolls Trilogy

 

Not likely. Recently I released on my YouTube Channel (The Josh Eliot), in a PG rated version, Far Beyond the Valley: The Complete Bi-Dolls Trilogy. It’s all three movies edited together into a 95-minute PG rated feature. It includes the famous “pulling off the wig” scene, Ceily’s stint in the sanitarium, an original duet with Sharon and Chi Chi LaRue and even a Dynasty style fight in the lily pond scene thrown in for good measure. Chi Chi LaRue was in all three movies playing the character “Nurse Ratshitt,” whom Ceily meets in the nut-house. The nurse gives Ceily a taste of her own medicine before being crushed by a 1-ton sandbag on the movie set. Not to worry, she becomes a zombie in the tail end of the feature, which literally makes her lose her “head.”

 

Chi Chi in the recreated wig scene

Chi Chi in the recreated wig scene

 

This Trilogy, to me, reflects the best of the best of times during my 20+ year adventure working for Catalina Video. Easily the most fun you could ever have on a porn set without getting a load on your face. Heavily influenced by Russ Meyer, the campiness in this movie is next level. If you want to see Neely O’Hara turn the tables on Helen Lawson and go far beyond anything resembling sanity, then click the following link to see THE OFFICIAL TRAILER. Once on my channel, check out the FULL FEATURE as well as lots of fun trailers, interviews and music videos from some of my favorite Catalina movies of the past, and don’t forget the popcorn.

 

Trailer for the Bi Dolls Trilogy
Click here to watch the Official Trailer for the Bi Dolls Trilogy and click here for the Full Feature


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

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Names in Lights: Porn Stars Live at the Bijou Theater

I was looking at some footage on YouTube of Chicago in the 1940s (my nostalgia kick keeps kicking and kicking and kicking, ouch!), and I noticed, as most of the footage was of tourist sites like “State Street, that great street” and its plethora of movie theaters.

And these were not movie theaters hidden inside in decaying malls or bland multistory cineplexes with parking garages, but both glitzy and palatial structures (quite a combo!) that beckoned to passersby (yes, people walked more, it seems, to entertainment) through signs.
 

Chicago's Oriental Theater in the 1940s showing the Jane Russell film, The Outlaw
Chicago's Oriental Theater in the 1940s showing the Jane Russell film, The Outlaw

Yes, the marquee, the name in lights, oh so Old Hollywood. In fact, on one of the videos, I saw theaters whose marquees displayed Leave Her to Heaven with Gene Tierney, and on another one, Joan Crawford in A Woman's Face. Heady stuff for a gay Old Hollywood fan!

The adult movie houses, and in the gay world, often called porn palaces, followed suit when censorship restrictions were lifted in the wake of the 1960s sexual revolution. Even though such venues were usually ghettoized "red light” districts (think 42nd Street in New York City) and often shared buildings and neighborhoods with the seedier peep shows and massage parlors (live sex, less cinematic content) and the like, they still boasted the marquees and the names in lights.
 

42nd Street theaters in the 1960s
42nd Street theaters in the 1960s

In fact, I remember in the camp classic Valley of the Dolls, Neely O'Hara sees her friend Jennifer's (now a star of soft-core French porn) name lighting up that ubiquitous XXX signage as she wanders drunkenly through what is probably the Nob Hill area of San Francisco.

Gay XXX's home in Chicago was the Bijou Theater, and in its heyday, it showed some of the famous, finely crafted classics of gay porn (shot on film, of course). A premiere there was akin to a red carpet event, like it was in Old Hollywood.
 

42nd Street theaters in the 1960s
The Bijou Theater, 1976

Midwest premiere of Michael, Angelo and David at the Bijou Theater with a live appearance by star Marc Stevens
Bijou premiere of Michael, Angelo and David & live appearance by Marc Stevens

Porn studios like Hand in Hand Films and Falcon and, later during that Golden Age, Al Parker's Surge Studios were definitely producing more substantive work, but the assembly-line, amateurish product with mostly anonymous participants (like that being churned out in Europe these days) were confined to peep show booths.

The Bijou Theater thus showcased some groundbreaking gay porn films, but in tandem it also showcased the stars of those films. Again, think Old Hollywood. Fans, autographs. Stars!
 

Ad for a live appearance by porn star Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater
Live apperance by Peter Berlin at the Bijou Theater

For example, when Al Parker, the greatest of them all, appeared at the the theater in the early 1980s, he did a live sex show (a live orgasm to complement so many of those on-screen orgasms), but according to Steven Toushin, owner of the theater, he spent most of the time there signing autographs and talking to fans.
 

Vintage poster for the Al Parker film Inches
Vintage poster for the Al Parker film, Inches (Steve Scott, 1979)

And the uber-Daddy of them all, Richard Locke, also appeared at the Bijou Theater in 1984. Here's a description of the event, which, as with many other events that showcased porn movies and their stars, blurs the lines between on and off screen performances in an enticing, exciting way:

“The screen on the Bijou screen – a dimly lit room at truck stop, fitted with grimy cots, where truckers catch forty winks before they hit the road again. [A scene from Joe Gage's 1976 classic, Kansas City Trucking Co.] In this case, however, the truckers are not sleeping; they are fucking and sucking with a vengeance. The center of the action is the older, experienced trucker, played by Richard Locke, muscular, masculine, bearded and obviously enjoying himself on screen. The light on the movie screen fades, and suddenly a figure appears from behind the screen. A cool blue light silhouettes a muscled body and music builds. A new kind of show is in progress at the Bijou Theater — but Richard Locke is still the center of attention... Richard turns to face the audience, clad only in a leather harness, stroking his erect penis... Finally he reaches orgasm, shooting onto the mesmerized audience. He turns back, the lights fade, he exits and the film Richard Locke returns to the movie screen.”
 

Kansas City Trucking Co. poster
Vintage poster for Kansas City Trucking Co.

Photospread of Richard Locke stritease from suit and tie to leather harness
Richard Locke striptease

Now, the above event may be unique to the dynamic of gay porn and its purpose of sexual exploration and gratification, but what happened after that movie/performance links to that Old Hollywood world:

“After his live show, Richard meets his public, signing autographs and talking to a group of eager fans. He is friendly and unassuming as he talks. One young man asks Richard to autograph his back and tells Locke that he will have a tattoo made of the signature. (A later encounter with the same man proves the truth of his boast.) One by one the crowd drifts away and another day's work is finished for Richard Locke, erotic entrepreneur.”

Amazing, and so exciting! Joan Crawford would have been thrilled (perhaps more by the method rather than the content!). Richard, like she did, was working a publicity machine, one of his own making. And he understood that what fuels that machine are the fans and their fantasies, hopes, and dreams. The young man with the tattoo in the quote above was living embodiment of these emotions.

Yet, unlike Joan, he skillfully kept his “divo-hood” on the screen, but at the same time let that larger-than-life screen persona become real in the flesh when he appeared live in that brief moment of ecstasy.

Some say home video (and then the internet) and the tragedy of AIDS killed this world. Perhaps, on the surface, yes.

But in hindsight I think it's a deeply complex issue revealed in today's cultural climate as red carpet events still unfold, and the culture of celebrity has become something like a 24/7 fuck fest. But the cinematic magic that thrives on finely-crafted illusion that elicits an audience's deeper intellectual and emotional responses gets lost in a weird combination of special effects and banal cynicism.

The great porn stars like Al Parker and Richard Locke created and crafted a visual and sexual magic in their films and in their performances and in their audiences.

Bette Davis said in her movie The Star, “If you're a star you don't stop being a star.” And thanks in great part to the Bijou Video's preservation and revitalization of their legacies, Al and Richard still shine.

Look for their movies on DVD at BijouWorld.com and streaming at BijouGayPorn.com, including our brand new release The Best of Richard Locke!

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Valley of the Dolls Is 50 Years Old!

Yes, the book, Valley of the Dolls, on which the camp classic movie was based, is 50 years old! Hard to believe!

 

I actually saw the movie before I read the book. A former friend of mine seemed to think I needed to see it as part of Gay 101. I showed it to another friend, who knew nothing of the movie's gay cult status, and he said, “This is a bad movie.” Yes, it is. I could go on and on about why it is bad, but like other cult movies, it oddly suck the viewer in, perhaps because it's consistently bad (Neely, Neely, Neely O'Hara!), except for the touching performance of Sharon Tate as Jennifer. Even more touching, as we know of Sharon's horrible death.

 

When I finally got around to reading the book, I was actually shocked that the Jennifer character played by Sharon Tate in the movie enjoys a lesbian tryst while in college This tryst is not the movie, of course, and even though Jacqueline Susann is relatively explicit here, girl-on-girl sex in school wasn't as shocking socially at that time, because the hetero man finds it titillating, and it reaffirms the stereotype that a woman can easily experiment with lesbianism before finding the man of her dreams.

 

And as the recent article on this book in Slate points out, the word “fag” shows up quite often in the book, emphasizing the stereotype of the bitchy queen hairdresser or clothes designer prevalent in the 1960s and before.

 

Yes, much seems dated, but the the trials and tribulations of the fame- and fortune-seeking “dolls” who pop dolls parallel the hyperkinetic, hyperreal, hypertweet celebrity culture of today.

 

One could even say that Jennifer, Neely, and Anne are the infinitely more talented grandmothers of Real Housewives, the Bachelorette, and the Kardashians. Jennifer was beautiful and also kind, Neely, according to her nemesis Helen Lawson “has really got it” (referring to talent) and Anne was both smart and beautiful. One feels for them as they fall into their own respective valleys of the dolls.  

Could one say the same about their 21st century granddaughters? I wonder.

 

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What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

What Exactly Is A "Dive" Bar?

 

I've seen them on television and the movies, and I've even been in them (well, when you're from Cicero, Illinois, you've got to do something), but what exactly is a dive bar? Or more specifically, a gay dive bar?

The ones I have seen on television and the movies sometimes seem like parodies of these places which in some cases are identical with what used to be called neighborhood taverns. You know, the place where working class guys like Archie Bunker and Ralph Cramden would hang out at; remember Kelsey's on All in the Family?
 

All in the Family

Or the one in Valley of the Dolls that Neely O'Hara (on a booze and pills binge in San Francisco) gets kicked out of; this scene (starting at 1:17:16) pretty much parodies the “dive;” tacky or nonexistent décor, which sometimes involves dark wood paneling; aggressive, bawling customers who begin with beer and end up doing shots; lots of smoking; and a jukebox, all as a backdrop for the inevitable fight.

In some neighborhoods of Chicago, in the early part of the last century, there were often three of these places on every block to accommodate thirsty workers from various manufacturing jobs who wanted in to delay going home to overcrowded two- and three-flats filled with screaming children and nagging wives. They weren't necessarily dives, but they weren't doing a high-class clientele, but the local “average Joe.”

Now gay bars, of course, for the greater part of the last century, had to take often extraordinary measures to just survive. The couldn't exactly be open watering holes for Mr. and Mrs. Bunker. (Well, other open holes existed there, but that's another blog.) And to survive often meant being a dive (or pay off the police or the Mafia), because that's all you could afford being, plus looking “rough,” though it could attract a less “classy” clientele, often kept away bigots.Leather Bar, 1978


Early leather bars like the Gold Coast certainly were dives physically, but in cases like that, the “dive” look was a deliberate part of their appeal: rough sex, rugged guys, bikers. The old Touche bar in Chicago on Lincoln Avenue perhaps was more strictly kink and leather (think piss trough), but the beers stacked up by the entrance and the generally seedy surroundings (I remember the floor was dirty, and it was caked in; no comment on how I would know such detail) certainly proclaimed “dive.”


Wells Street, Chicago, 1970s

The Glory Hole on Wells Street when that street was the gayborhood was perhaps more of the pure “dive:” not only the totally rough, thrown-together look, but the backroom (and bathroom) for quickies and more. Perhaps some of the bars that used to bill themselves as “leather and levi” rather than strictly leather (with a dress code) could be defined as more strictly dive, like the now-closed Rawhide in Chelsea, or still thriving, the Second Story Bar right off the Magnificent Mile (yes, it is still there!) and the Granville Anvil on the Far North Side of Chicago, somewhat distant from the trendy, touristy Boystown.

In fact, the Granville Anvil bills itself as a dive bar. From what I gather, based on their Yelp reviews and Facebook page, they've “spruced up” the décor. Did the owners take out the paneling and the plastic flowers covered with dust hanging in baskets from the ceiling, I wonder? I know, because I was there in the nineties, and yes, there was a jukebox playing Cher's song “Half-Breed,” and also, there was a fight in the bathroom. I was indirectly involved. The friend I went with was in the fight. I found out he was pissed because some guy would not leave me alone (those were the days), and then started bugging my friend as well. That night, I also won some lottery tickets as a prize for getting Bingo. I didn't win the lottery.
 

The Granville Anvil

I wonder, in these days when other “divey” places like 24-hour grills and diners have disappeared and were replaced by big box stores and chain restaurants, if the authentic dive bar can survive. Neighborhood taverns evolved into sports bars, and hipsters have set up “divey” places as part their deconstruction of retro; but what will happen to the gay dive bar? I have a feeling it's been replaced by the seedy underbelly of craigslist, minus, so sadly, the both fun and dangerous social interaction in a place where ultimately, a gay man could both hide from and enjoy himself. And share that identity struggle with others over a shot of whiskey while listening to Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away” on jukebox that still played vinyl.

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