Super NOVA

By Josh Eliot

 

Nova Studios logo

 

When I saw on the Bijou website that they are offering Nova Studios note cards (Set 1 and Set 2), I thought to myself, what a great collector’s item! I remember my older brother’s collection from 1966 of the Lost in Space “Topps” trading cards, especially the ones featuring my first crush at age 5, Don West. Card sets came in various sizes, small enough to include a flat piece of bubble gum and as large as Lobby Cards showcased in theaters. What an incredible taste of the 60’s and 70’s, and it’s no surprise to me that Nova Video’s founder Robert Walters (known to me as Scott Masters) included such items in his mail order business.

 

Lost in Space trading card and Nova note cards

Lost in Space trading card (left) and Nova note cards (right)

 

Walters started his business in 1967, producing male photo sets for bookstores, and then partnered with Reuben Sturman to shoot and print magazines. In 1970, magazines segued into loops (8mm short films designed for peep shows) and by 1976, Walters had directed more than 100 of them. The same year, he founded Nova Studios and shot their first production, Tub Tricks. The silent films were now 20 minutes in length and sold through direct mail as well as at adult bookstores.

 

Images from Nova's Tub Tricks

Images from Nova's Tub Tricks (DVD | Streaming)

 

Nova’s offices were right across the street from Pink's Hot Dogs, a Los Angeles landmark, where on any given day you can see A-List stars in line or in their limos waiting for Pinks’s Famous Chili Cheese Dogs. Several blocks away was another wiener stand called Oki-Dog, which was not as famous. Instead of Hollywood elite as their customers, the place was always crawling with street hustlers, making it a great location for Walters to pick up lunch and discover new talent for photographing.

 

Oki-Dog and Pink's

Oki-Dog (left) and Pink's (right)

 

The Robert Walters Nova era was prior to my meeting him in 1987, but my friend Chet Thomas worked for Walters at Nova from 1984 to 1986, when Nova stopped production and they both signed with Catalina Video. Once I moved to Los Angeles, Chet and I were attached at the hip and he would tell me stories about his times working for Robert Walters. William Higgins hired Walters as head of production, and he shot his first movie for Catalina called The Bigger They Come. Chet Thomas became the company editor. Walters, now known to everyone as Scott Masters, hired me in 1987 in San Francisco and then brought me to L.A. in 1989. He set me up in a fabulous condo on Sweetzer Street just a block from The Spike, a gay bar that Chet and I would hang out at.

Being new to Los Angeles, Scott Masters had me shadow him everywhere. Any day that we weren’t shooting sex, he had a list a mile long of “things” for me to do. At times I felt like an indentured servant, frequently getting him his favorite lunch (curry chicken sandwich from a Sunset Blvd deli) or organizing and inventorying his garage, which was filled floor to ceiling with wardrobe from his Nova and Catalina movies. Masters was a “costume queen” producer, always spending money from our budgets on them to satisfy his own fetish. Obsessed would be an appropriate word. When he wasn’t focusing on the latest Members Only jacket, he trained me on producing, budgeting, directing photo layouts, scouting locations, model scouting, and grooming. One day, we headed to San Diego to meet a potential new “exclusive” model, but stopped on the way to see a penthouse in Hollywood for a possible shooting location. The penthouse unit had the highest ceilings ever with a massive balcony overlooking the living room. It was beautifully furnished, very high end, until we got to one room in particular. Inside that room was a wall to wall wrestling mat, making it look like a sports facility.

The owner led us to an attached room where a couple of guys looking very “Street-Wise” were throwing back some beers. The owner of the penthouse was David Hurles, one of the first reality porn moguls famous for the Old Reliable video line. David would pick up ex-cons, street hustlers, straight dudes looking for bucks and pay them pretty well to smoke cigars, wrestle, flex their muscles, flip off the camera and jack off. His collection feels very authentic… because it is! The guys are exactly what they portray on the screen, hard edged and a little frightening in a very HOT way! It felt a bit tense being around them, for me. David invited us to stay to watch him film, which I thought would have been amazing, but Scott declined, as we were on our way to San Diego.

 

Old Reliable movies and audio recordings

Old Reliable movies (DVD | Streaming) and Old Reliable audio recordings

 

Once in San Diego’s Seaport Village, we waited at a table for the potential new model to meet us. Adam Grant came walking up with a huge smile, great personality, and very excited at the prospect of being an exclusive model for Catalina. We talked, then went back to his apartment where Scott Masters got some hard shots of him (fattest dick ever) while I waited in the other room with his female roommate - awkward! He was cast to star in Head of the Class 2, which we ended up shooting in Palm Springs instead of David Hurles’ penthouse. When grooming the new star, Scott Masters went all out, taking Adam Grant to stylist of the stars José Eber's salon. Adam looked great after the makeover, but introducing him to Eber kind of backfired. Once Head of the Class 2 finished shooting, Adam Grant and Eber started a decades long relationship and Grant was no longer interested in becoming a Catalina Exclusive Model or shooting any more movies.

Scott Masters produced all of my and John Travis’ features from 1987 to 1992. Catalina ownership changed hands and Masters and Travis could not come to terms with a new contract and left the company. It was a huge loss for Catalina Video, and the same year they both started Studio 2000. I was offered the role of producer with Catalina, which I worked at until 2007 when the company was sold yet again. I’ll write much more about Scott and John, as there are so many adventures that need to be told. In 2020, Scott Masters passed away at the age of 86 in Bloomington, Illinois. He was one of the very first in our field, paving the way for adult photographers and filmmakers to come. His star shines bright in the skies like a supernova.

 

Nova DVDs

The Nova film collection - available through Bijou on DVD and Streaming

 

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

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Ah, Enjoying a Summer of Grande Dame Guignol: Die, Die My Darling

 

Die, Die My Darling aka Fanatic, 1965, directed by Silvio Narrizano,Hammer Films. (Hammer produced a plethora of famous horror movies; check out the link.) 
 

Die, Die My Darling DVD

Patricia Carroll (Stefanie Powers) is an American woman who travels to London to marry her boyfriend, Alan Glentower (Maurice Kaufmann). While there, Patricia stops by to visit Mrs. Trefoile (Tallulah Bankhead), the mother of her deceased ex-fiancé, who had been killed in a car accident, intending to pay her respects. Upon arriving, however, Patricia discovers that Mrs. Trefoile's grief for her son has transformed her already fanatical religious zealotry into sociopathic violence. When Mrs. Trefoile begins holding Patricia prisoner, starving and abusing her in order to convert her into “pure virgin” for her son in the afterlife, she must find a way to escape. Her attempts to break free prove futile until a surprise intervention at the end. 

Oh, Tallulah! You turned down the Joan Crawford role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, and now in your dotage you wanted to take advantage of the 1960s “psychobiddy” or “grande dame guignol” trend that the Crawford/Davis vehicle started. It was actually kind of odd, as she was actually more of a stage actress (Die, Die My Darling actually makes reference to this fact when Patricia asks Mrs. Trefoile is she was an actress after seeing a scrapbook of actually Tallulah stage photos) than a movie star. In fact, her last big movie role was in Hitchock's Lifeboat in 1944. 

She needed the money at that point in her life, and it was interesting that her flamboyant personality in real life actually worked well in this role about a woman who actually gives up flamboyance to become a dour religious fanatic who subjects her household staff to lengthy (think, let's read an entire book of the Bible before we eat) Bible readings and a vegetarian diet of “God's plain food.” No condiments of any kind! And how dare Stefanie Powers wear lipstick or a red blouse, the “devil's color.” Well, Tallulah herself in her indomitable way said that she looked in this movie like she was old enough to be “God's wet nurse.” 

Now, what I found interesting about this movie was not just the fabulously demented performance by Miss Bankhead, who actually seems to be channeling Bette Davis (whom she always accused of imitating her in All About Eve, because everything in the universe somehow converged on Tallulah), especially in scenes where she speaks in a creepy infantilized voice to a teddy bear that belonged to her dead son. She even whines, like Jane Hudson, who also commits a murder, “What am I going to do?” after she kills the husband of her housekeeper Anna. 
 

Tallulah with teddy bear


Yes, Tallulah gives us some marvelous campy, lurid moments as was her wont, but there's another element I noted upon repeated viewings. The housekeeper Anna (played by Yootha Joyce, actually a comic actress of some repute in England) seems to be a person of abnormal strength. Think female wrestler. 

Much of the movie is the Patricia character being subjected to physical violence, and Anna (her motivation is unclear for going along with Tallulah's insane scheme, perhaps a promise of inherited money) is the heavy. She seems to specialize in something like pro wrestling arm pinning or armlock maneuvers, but overall, she seems to be endowed with, as I said above, superhuman strength. Patricia doesn't stand a chance. She at once point resorts to biting Anna's hand, getting quite a visceral reaction from her tormentor. To no avail. “Lightweight” Patricia doesn't have the chops against this uneven match. 
 

Stefanie Powers restrained


Yep, for those possible audience members who might get off on this type of scene with its potential eroticism, there's plenty of it here. And the violence in this movie usually ends up exposing more and more of Ms. Powers' breasts. (Was she even possibly not wearing a bra earlier on? I'm sure that would rank very high on Mrs. Trefoile's catalog of sins.) At one point, during one of the fights with Anna, Stefanie gets stabbed with in the shoulder with scissors, and there's plenty of skin show there. I was thinking of some of those images of early Christian virgin martyrs subjected to all kinds of torments (St. Cecilia stabbed in the steamy bath, and St. Agatha losing, yes losing her breasts, yikes). 

Leading up to the final scene of the almost successful virgin sacrifice (no spoiler here, watch the movie), one sees a bound and gagged Patricia pushing herself down the stairs in an usual for her futile escape attempt (the boyfriend has to rescue her, of course). But once again, I kept thinking how a potential straight male audience (or any others who might be interested) might get excited by seeing the struggling “damsel in bondage.” 
Stefanie Powers bound


The movie is finally available in a no-frills DVD (no menu, no subtitles) for your hot summer of grande dame guignol. 

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Featured

Mars: The First Gay Leather Magazine

 

MARS:
THE FIRST GAY LEATHER MAGAZINE

 
Chuck Renslow

Chuck Renslow, gay activist and a pioneering figure of the gay leather community, founded Mars magazine in May of 1963. Renslow definitely pushed the homoerotic envelope of his time with this cutting-edge vintage gay physique publication that was instrumental in both creating and disseminating the image of the gay leatherman. 

The magazine combines the classic smooth muscle jock physiques of the physique magazines with what became the iconic image of the gay leatherman: a super- or hypermasculine look emphasizing a well-developed physique, oftentimes facial hair, a generous endowment, and motorcycle gear: heavy boots and jacket. 

It featured art by Tom of Finland and Dom Orejudos aka the artist Etienne and Renslow’s partner, among others. Several of the models hailed from Renslow’s photography or “physique house,” Kris Studio. 

Renslow discovered many of his models, such as Ralph Kleiner and Paul Ferguson (one of the murderers of silent film legend Ramon Navarro) at bodybuilding circuit competitions such as Mr. Chicago. 
 

Ralph Kleiner wrestling

Contents of one of the last issues, Issue 21, September 1966: 

Mars magazine, September 1966

 

This issue still offers an article on physical culture entitled “Exercising the Abdomen,” focusing on leg raises: short on text, larger on pics of a naked guy doing them (no posing strap in site, the genitalia deftly covered by the camera angle and the position of the legs; note the hint of pubic hair). Pretty desultory compared to the much more detailed articles that appeared in the more conventional physique magazines of the period. But the point is the picture, really, by this stage of the game! 


The editorial on page three and on pages 42-47 shows the still difficult issues with censorship, despite the MANual vs. O'Day decision in 1962. The text reports that Ralph Ginzburg, producer of the erotic magazines Eros and Liason (the text reads “artistically produced”) another covering term for these types of publications), was convicted on a charge of mailing obscene materials in 1963. The prosecutor was the late great Robert Kennedy; wow! 

The above tidbit shows how one is continually uncovering parts of history that change one's view of a famous personage around which certain myths develop. The Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a 5 to 4 decision. The text also gives detailed analysis of the different judges' reasonings for their decision. The argument's thrust here is the ruling's unconstitutionality, despite the nuances of the judge's interpretation of this First Amendment issue 

Guild Book Services, one of the few openly gay companies during this time period, offers their usual insert in this magazine. The review of the book Homosexual: Personal Case Histories of Homosexuals is most interesting, as it seems to offer, for the reviewer, a really wild gamut of deviations (including BDSM), distasteful but without an overtly moralistic commentary. Though the comments of the psychiatrists that accompany these stories probably endorse the gay equals sick hypothesis prevalent during this period, which one could definitely claim is supported by the unusual evidence here! 

This issue, focusing on a motorcycle theme, contains stunning homoerotic leather/fetish art by Luger, Orsen, and Tom of Finland. On pages 10-11, there is a classic Etienne,which he painted for a local bistro in Chicago (the legendary Gold Coast Bar?). 
 

Gold Coast Bar mural - Etienne

 

Pictures from the movie Motorcycle Hero (take of more of the clothes and one would have a gay porn movie, but then, in this case, the leather gear would stay on). A young man dons his sleeping friend's (what a woofy hunk) leather gear ... and ... much is left to the imagination. 


The magazine ceased publication in 1966 or 1967. 

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