DEEP INSIDE THE CASTRO: The Castro Theatre

By Josh Eliot

 

“Deep Inside” is a series in four parts that Will Seagers and myself are writing. The first in the series focuses on San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, where Will and I both spent a lot of time during the 1980’s. Although Will Seagers and I have never met formally, I am convinced that he sold me my first VCR at Eber Electronics in 1984. I can’t say for sure, but that photo of him at Eber’s from his blog “The Stereo Maven of Castro Street” convinced me, because he looked very familiar. After purchasing the VCR on a payment plan I remember running across Market Street to Captain Video to rent a couple of VHS tapes, most likely a horror movie and a porn.

In 1984 my friends and I were incredibly lucky when we found and rented our flat at 629 Castro Street. It had three bedrooms, was located just above the corner of 19th and we paid $750 per month. Our landlord Marlene got sole ownership of the three level building and a nearby house in her divorce settlement. Our unit was located on the middle floor with an artist (painter) and his roommate above, and a leather couple below. The neighborhood had so much to offer with bars and restaurants on every block. 18th and Castro was the main intersection; to the right was your coin-operated laundry and Cala Foods Supermarket, to the left was The Midnight Sun video bar and Moby Dick (where Will Seagers was known to DJ).

 

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

Will Seagers and Eber Electronics

 

Near the Corner of Castro and Market Street was The Castro Theatre, which is my focus for this blog as it was truly the heart and soul of the neighborhood. This landmark represented a place where the gay community could come together and show appreciation for their favorite films and icons. They hosted premieres like Milk, the story of Harvey Milk, and more recently The Matrix Resurrections, complete with cast and crew appearances. There was a constant array of new releases as well as classics that were shown, providing quite a wide variety of constant entertainment for the neighborhood. Inside this majestic palace the architecture was astounding and much was coated in gold leaf. There was a balcony, of course, and the main level consisted of three sections, the right side being the “smoking area.”

 

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

Milk and The Matrix Resurrections premieres at The Castro

 

Suddenly Last Summer was the first movie I saw there. I was surprised and delighted when, prior to the beginning of the movie, the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ rose from the floor on a platform. The sound quality was amazing and when the player finished his performance with the song “San Francisco” (open your golden gate) the crowd sang along from the top of their lungs. What was this place? This experience was already so much more than just going to a movie house. Suddenly Last Summer was my first “real” introduction to Montgomery Clift and Katharine Hepburn, but it was Elizabeth Taylor with her 22” waist and pointy bra that stole the movie for me. I’d only ever seen her in films like Night Watch where she was, what?, late forties? Well in Suddenly she looked stunning from the moment she graced the screen in her insane asylum uniform. Even though the gay undertones in the movie were “way over my head,” just being in the packed house with a mostly gay audience was a thrill. The place exploded in applause when the real nut, Katharine Hepburn, rode up the private elevator in her gothic mansion at the movie's end. I’m sure they could hear the cheers and applause down the block!

 

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

Suddenly Last Summer and the Castro Theatre interior

 

There was always something going on at the Castro Theatre. We saw the premiere of Lust in the Dust with Divine and Lanie Kazan, and though the audience was every excited, the movie was a bit disappointing as we really expected a John Waters classic, but he didn’t direct it, Paul Bartel did. Joan Collins came there in person for An Evening with Joan Collins, a live on stage interactive event. I’m not sure if she was pushing a book or just riding the Dynasty wave, but it was incredible and we all thought that her head looked too big for her body. When her car drove off after the event, the street was so packed with queens screaming her name and banging on her car it could barely move down the road.

I even sat through four consecutive nights of Berlin Alexanderplatz (A 15 ½ hour , 14-part West German crime television miniseries, set in 1920s Berlin and adapted and directed by Rainer Werner Fassbinder) with Fritz, my boyfriend at the time (though he never admitted it). I thought he would see how invested I was in our relationship by showing my commitment to his viewing choices, since none of his other friends would sit through 15 hours with him. It didn’t really work, as you might have read in my recent blog, “Everybody’s Free To Feel Good.” I actually was blown away by Fassbinder’s work and became a fan, seeing a lot of his movies.

The best time ever was seeing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it would play there a few times a year and we would always go again and again and again. All those classic lines, which of course the audience all knew and yelled out! And that face, those Bette Davis eyes surrounded by all that white make-up on that giant screen! Nothing could beat that movie with a live audience!

 

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

Lust in the Dust, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane & Berlin Alexanderplatz

 

Today I just so happened to go to the Castro Theatre’s website to see if they are still going strong and I am happy to report that they are! It looks like APE (Another Planet Entertainment) was chosen to partner with the owners of the Castro Theatre to implement significant improvements to the sound, lighting, customer and artist experience. They acknowledge the Castro Theatre is an icon of the LGBTQ+ community and a treasured space for film, music and live performance. It looks like they’ve got An Evening with Elliott Gould, a screening of A Mighty Wind (got to love Catherine O’Hara and Parker Posey!) and a performance by Shangela, made famous from RuPaul's Drag Race. The diverse schedule of events is in full swing. It’s great to see some things never change, they only get better!

 

 

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

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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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Somebody, Call a FLUFFER!

By Josh Eliot

 

I can’t tell you how many times over the years I get asked about fluffers on the set. It seems once someone found out what I did for a living, their first words were, “Do you need a fluffer?” or “Are there really fluffers for the actors?” It’s almost like the impression of a fluffer is a cool and positive one. Well, let me tell you, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the only thing worse than needing a fluffer on the set is when you need to hire a stunt dick (yes, that’s a real thing). I’d like to think that when I hear the word fluffer, it takes me back to the time when my mother packed our school lunches with a fluffernutter sandwich. A peanut butter and fluff sandwich on Wonder white bread, a true American classic and staple of the East Coast. The only place you can buy fluff in California is at a specialty market, and every year or so I have a craving for it. The sandwich is dripping with white creamy marshmallow fluff, the complete opposite of what we want to happen when a fluffer goes to work.

I’ve said “fluffer” so many times in the last paragraph that I’m starting to have anxiety, so let’s just change the word to Mr. F. As a director of gay porn movies, when a model needs the services of Mr. F, we know our shoot day will extend from 5 to 6 hours for a full scene to anywhere from 8 to 10 hours. Your heart drops and you realize that all your hopes and dreams of a hot sexy scene have gone right out the window in an instant. The worst part of shooting porn is when there are erection problems, especially in gay porn where there is not a cute “vag” you can shoot to take up some screen time. You cannot move forward without a hard on, and all the momentum is lost. There is a place and purpose for flaccid dicks to be photographed and a porn movie is not that place.

 

fluffernutter

 

In the late 1980's when I started with Catalina Video, William Higgins' vision for the company was to cast young collegiate men with fit bodies and All-American looks. The model pool in the late 80’s with Scott Masters (Nova Video) as our producer and sometimes director was mostly made up of guys who were gay for pay. This made the chemistry on the set between the models very wooden. If we matched a gay guy with a straight guy, sometimes things would work out, but straight with straight... forget it. Because of this dynamic, our sets had no similarity to what I (and probably everyone else) thought a porn set would be like. I’d always envisioned Joe Gage’s Closed Set as the epitome of a California gay porn shoot. Or even 1984’s Best Picture Winner, Steve Scott’s classic Screenplay, with hot sexy gay actors portraying directors and casting agents. Our sets did not have that sexual energy.

 

Stills from Closed Set
Stills from Closed Set (DVD | Streaming)

Screenplay VHS cover

Screenplay VHS cover (DVD | Streaming)

 

With our gay for pay models, Mr. F was not a man but a VCR, unless one of the model’s girlfriends happened to be on the set (I can count on one hand the number of times that happened). A man’s mouth would not do the trick, so we would wheel out the TV/VCR combo from the make-up room onto the set. We would shut off the 1k soundstage lights to make the model comfortable and let him watch a porn scene to get hard. Oh the hideous memories of models rewinding and fast forwarding the tape, trying to find their “perfect shots to watch.” The clock is ticking! Take your hand off that fucking remote and put it on your dick already! Once the model was fully erect, we would turn the lights back on and run to our cameras as the model jumped into the set, stuck his dick in his co-star’s mouth or ass, while we'd shoot for 10 to 15 seconds until it was flaccid again. Over and over and over, angle, after angle, after angle. Torture.

As time progressed, more gay guys with the All-American look got into the model pool. Sexy passionate sex was now a regular occurrence on our sets because the guys were actually into each other. That’s not so say that Mr. F wouldn’t show his ugly face, but that was usually in the form of a magazine to help a hard dick get rock hard or, on the rare occasion, a crew member’s mouth (or piece) would come in handy. Then on March 27th, 1998, a miracle happened in the form of a little blue pill. This was awesome! The cob web covered TV/VCR combo was thrown right into the trash and we could make real plans for the evening because we knew we would get out of work on time. Hell, we could even add a third fuck position into the scene we were shooting, just because we knew we could! Mr. F simply faded away out of our lives and took all that anxiety with it.

 

Man holding Viagra pill

 

Fluff now has it’s good name back and Mr. F is more than welcome on the set... as a sandwich.
 


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

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