At the Adonis

posted by guest blogger Miriam Webster

Adonis Theater, NYC
The Adonis Theater (photo source: back2stonewall)

The history of the popular 1970s/1980s gay porn theater, the Adonis Theater - the setting and subject of the classic Hand in Hand Films release A Night at the Adonis (Jack Deveau, 1978) - is discussed in an article we recently came across at back2stonewall. The article states that the Adonis Theater was originally built as the Tivoli Theater in 1921. Initially a vaudeville house, it then became a movie theater before its final incarnation as a porn theater/cruising palace. The Adonis was such a hot venue in the 1970s that, the article states, “it was hard to find a seat... but that was all that was hard to find. Patrons would literally avoid the seats under the balcony's edge at busy times for fear of being showered with semen from high above.”
 

Adonis Theater interior
Adonis Theater interior (photo source: back2stonewall)

Adonis Theater balcony
Adonis Theater interior

Deveau's film (which Bijou is excited to announce that we are currently finishing re-restoring for a new and improved re-release next week) is an incredibly well-made, hot, entertaining, and historically intriguing look at this venue. The film does an excellent job capturing - in attractive photography that roams the building as it follows its ensemble cast - the physical layout of the space and the atmosphere created there, as well as featuring the theater's actual staff (their real ticket taker appears in the film in a memorable cameo) and detailing its cruising and sex rituals.
 

A Night at the Adonis poster
Adonis Theater sign in A Night at the Adonis
Adonis Theater ticket taker in A Night at the Adonis
Queue of men waiting to get into the theater in A Night at the Adonis
Men cruising on the balcony in A Night at the Adonis
Theatergoers and staff in A Night at the Adonis

An insightful IMDb review points to some other notable ways the film illustrates some of the nuances of New York City gay culture in the 1970s. Characters bump into each other and have roundabout connections at this particular night at the Adonis, and, through this, the film deals with “both the very local, small-town 'everyone knows everyone else' nature of the then queer community and the odd coincidences and synchronicities that can happen when cruising takes place.”

One of the lead characters (played by hunky Malo, of porn and mainstream film), passes up a pick up attempt by his boss (porn superstar Jack Wrangler) with the intention of staying home to read a hefty volume, Gay American History, but, as this review says, the book only “tells him tales of sodomites of fallen times who were persecuted, tortured, and murdered by the state; Malo's subsequent visit to the Adonis makes a new kind of American gay history, which is... itself a vanished, historical past now."
 

Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis
Malo during the filming of A Night at the Adonis

The review points out that Deveau's film manages to “communicate the ways in which human beings locate themselves in history and space, therein creating themselves through a shared culture” and how an ambitious new employee character embodies “a bit of a prophesy of the future, wherein gay normative self-images in the West will be shaped by business-studies kids out to make bucks from the new gay communities.”

A Night at the Adonis played at the Adonis Theater, itself, and the back2stonewall article quotes an internet posting about the unusual experience of watching it on that very screen: “it was rather odd to be in the exact theater that was being depicted... sort of a movie coming to life all around you. What was happening on the screen was also happening in real life as you were watching the film.”
 

Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis
Guys cruising in the theater seats in A Night at the Adonis

A Night at the Adonis is one of NYC-based studio Hand in Hand Films' productions set in and about a specific gay New York City sex space/landmark. Another is Times Square Strip (1983), set at the Gaiety Theatre, which focuses on the on and off stage antics of the dancers at the Gaiety Male Burlesk.
 

The Gaiety Theatre exterior
Gaiety Male Burlesk ad
The Gaity Theatre and Gaiety Male Burlesk ad

Times, like Adonis, is an ensemble piece set over the course of one night, full of breezy, quippy dialogue, and - though it isn't as full a portrait of its location as is Adonis (it occasionally ventures outside the building for sexual escapades) – it spends considerable time depicting the performances taking place on stage.
 

Dancers performing in Times Square Strip
The MC in Times Square Strip
Dancers and the MC in Times Square Strip

Wikipedia notes that The Gaiety Theatre was open for nearly 30 years, from 1976 until 2005, and, according to a 2005 New York Times article, attracted mainstream attention “after photos of Madonna and some of the club's dancers were included in her book Sex (1992).” These visitors included John Waters, Divine, Andy Warhol, RuPaul, Diane Keaton, and Shirley MacLaine. The club had an “unrivaled ability to survive, despite the strict zoning laws instituted during the Giuliani administration, thanks to a location just outside a restricted area.” Wikipedia also mentions a few well-known dancers who performed at the theater, including porn stars Joey Stefano, Johnny Harden, Kip Noll, and Leo Ford.

The Adonis Theater, however, did not survive New York City's changes to Times Square, with Mayor Ed Koch “using the AIDS epidemic to clean up Times Square” and “trying to get the theater closed down to tidy it up for the building of the monolith Worldwide Plaza, soon to be built on the next block.” The Adonis attempted to relocate to another theater building at this time, but did not last long there and this second Adonis was closed “in 1994 by the City's Health Department after a raid revealed high-risk sexual activities taking place among patrons.” The original Adonis was demolished in 1995, though a vivid portrait of what it once was remains in Deveau's classic film. In watching it, you almost feel as if you are there.
 

Bathroom sex in A Night at the Adonis
Jayson MacBride and Malo exiting the theater smiling in A Night at the Adonis
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RetroStuds of the Past: Focus on Jay Richards

posted by Madame Bubby

Jay Richards appears in so many Robert Prion and other gay porn movies and has such a long career span that the word prolific seems to be an understatement.
 

Jay Richards headshot

According to Gay Erotic Index, hailing from Glendale, California, he is identified also as an Athletic Model Guild model in the 1960s under the name Ernie Matthews. I located a rare photo of Ernie Matthews on an ebay site, and he certainly fits the blond beefcake look of the period, but the dates don't add up at all. This does not seem to be the same person!
 

Ebay photo of Ernie Matthews holding a fishing pole

Possibly the same young man, credited as Jay Richards, appears in the June 1964 issue of Jr., where he is noted for his “prowess in surfing.”
 

Jr. Magazine photo of Jay Richards

Again, this cannot be the same person as Prion's Jay Richards! I am most curious how this particular error occurred.

The other Jay Richards focused on the films of Robert Prion. He appears in several films available at Bijou Video, such as: Jay as one of the hungry mansex hunters in the free for all orgy in The Wild Guys, to giving Rick Thomas a healthy rimming and fucking in 19 Good Men. In Men Who Dare, he fucks doggie style and later does a three-way. And many, many more. Overall, I think that youthful prowess in surfing is quite superseded by Jay's prowess in any gay sexual activity!

Jay has even periodically shown up at the Bijou Video office, once, years ago, autographing a photo from a magazine.
 

Autographed photo of Jay Richards

Jay is still alive. Given his almost 40-year association with Robert Prion, the owner of Bijou Video quipped, the two should be married at this point.

I haven't really been able to find much other information on him, such as an interview. Perhaps one could say he is really part of Robert Prion's legacy, and to know him is to watch the films of Prion.

Watch films starring Jay Richards streaming on our VOD site.
 

Jay Richards and another Prion model

Jay Richards and another Prion model in a later Prion video
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Stonewall 50 Is Here, But I Remember Stonewall 25!

posted by Madame Bubby

In 1994, I attended the Stonewall 25 celebrations in New York City. And, most significantly, it was my first visit to New York City. And even more significantly, it was the beginning of my intense journey into the world of BDSM relationships.
 

New York City, 1994

That year, I had pretty much abandoned the more “vanilla” activities of the LGBTQ world. My forays into, for example, singing in the choirs of Dignity and with the Windy City Gay Chorus were socially and artistically disappointing. I had been to IML a couple of times, and because I was working at a mundane office job that was not demanding outside the actual hours I had to suffer there (I should have been attempting to complete my academic ambitions, but that's another story), I spent much time on the weekends in bars. One might say, I was in my “slut” period. I was really looking for kink and romance, but that goal proved to be elusive.

Thus, looking for some excitement and still longing for connections in the LGBTQ community, I jumped at the opportunity when a couple of friends on the gay choral circuit invited me to go with them to New York. I worked some overtime so we could split one room four ways in Midtown Manhattan.

Upon arrival, in keeping with my life's trajectory at that point, I pretty much abandoned my friends' events (seeing Barbra Streisand, no thank you). The first night in New York City, I took the subway by myself down to Chelsea. I walked into a bar called Rawhide. Several persons in that bar lusted after me in my tight Levis and snakeskin cowboy boots. I smoked a joint with a guy I met outside. Yes, That Boy had arrived. Admittedly, the city was in a feverish celebratory mood, and perhaps what happened to me was a product of that feeling, but as usual, I never received such attention in my hometown.
 

Rawhide bar, NYC
Rawhide bar, NYC

I ended up at the Eagle and arrived back at the hotel room at 4 a.m., much to the consternation of one of my friends, who had previously decided I was on the path to gay perdition because I was into leather and did not like Judy Garland or Barbra Streisand. (At least I liked opera, but he did not think I loved La Divina aka Maria Callas enough.)

The next days were frenetic, but in a good way, as I, like Agnes Gooch the sponge of Auntie Mame, lived, lived, lived. Impressions: Chinatown, the fish on the streets. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, a wonderland of the Old Masters (I had to show my friends how to get there, as I figured out the subway they were so scared of pretty quickly). Bodegas, fruits, flowers on the street. Buying food at D'Agostino's. People, people, so many on the sidewalk like in the movies. Vibrant, no one cared who you were or what you did. Little evidence of the segregation and compartmentalization I experienced in Chicago.

The Saturday night before the big parade the next day (we marched with the Illinois contingent), I said, I am going to go that Leather Ball in the Armory, by myself, and I don't care how much it costs. Let my roommates go to their vanilla choral concert. I put on my chaps, paid at the door an astronomical fee to get in because I had not reserved in advance, and entered a vast space of pounding house music and surprisingly, perhaps because I had arrived early, lots of space between bodies.
 

Lexington Avenue Armory
Lexington Avenue Armory

After about a half an hour, I saw him. He had been looking at me, and I at him. He certainly was no party boy, faux leather type. African-American, mature, bearded, glasses. Holding a rope. Cut off jean shorts. Worn beige work boots. Not exactly a Tom of Finland look or outfit. Perhaps that was the appeal. In less than fifteen minutes, I was tied to that rope. Yes, some enchanted evening does happen.

I spend the rest of the evening on that rope and at the boots. It was kinky, but also romantic. Lots of smiling at each other and at the straight BDSM couple at the ball (the girl was on a rope like me). At about 2 a.m., he took me to a pansexual sex party in an apartment with orange and green walls. I felt like I was in a Fellini movie. An orgy of naked grungy bodies in one corner, a coked up guy who was supposed to be guarding the door, an extremely large woman on a folding chair.

I arrived back at the hotel room at 5 a.m., much to the consternation of the friend mentioned above.
 

Giant rainbow banner, Pride/Stonewall 25 parade, NYC
Stonewall 25 banner

After all the above activities, and the massive parade (which I managed to walk in cowboy boots) the next day, the return to Chicago was extremely disappointing. The physical space of my hometown seemed to me flat, with too much arid space between buildings, and a ramshackle public transit system. Provincial, I kept saying.

New York had called because the man, the first master, was there. And I would return there, and he would come to me. My ritual initiation into serious BDSM. The scouring of body and soul. We were the one to each other.

I often dreamed of living there, but for practical reasons, mostly financial, that never occurred, but for a few years I could enjoy a world that for me resembled one I had only seen in movies. New York and Stonewall 25 were an escape, but also the beginning of a real life which showed me, contrary to what I was hearing from so many persons I knew at that time, that romantic love and BDSM can exist together in the diverse spectrum of human relationships.

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Gay Life Tips from a Retro Gay Sex Book!

posted by Madame Bubby

Gay Sex: A Manual for men Who Love Men old edition book cover

In 1991, Jack Hart published a book Gay Sex: A Manual for Men Who Love Men. Now, given the conditions of the time, when AIDS was still killing so many gay men and the Religious Right still holding power in a post-Reagan political and social climate, the book is both timely and groundbreaking.

By that time, safe sex was the norm, and I think the book reflects the want and the need for sexual activity that doesn’t always end in the ultimate, and to be honest, at that time, deadly fuck.

The book is divided alphabetically, and most significantly, it just doesn’t cover mechanics. It covers the complex thoughts and feelings that both cause and affect sexual relationships. It assumes a freedom to explore gay sex and perhaps find love.

For example, the letter L is divided into these categories: labels, leather, legal matters, legal trouble, loneliness, love, love at first sight, and lubricant. Those categories certainly cover a wide range. In this case, one could even claim the L section really covers life at all levels.

Here are some helpful and insightful quotes that transcend time from that section:

“Labels… The fact is, labels are useful. Without labels, we could end up at the Irish parade instead of the Gay and Lesbian Parade. Just don’t let labels get the upper hand. At one point in your life, you probably assumed you were straight. That label, however unconsciously it was adopted, limited your ability to explore your attraction to other men. You may now identify as gay. That’s fine, but if you find aspects of your personality that don’t fit that label, it’s the label that should be redefined – not your personality.”

“Legal matters… Sign power of attorney agreements, providing the authority to make the decisions and sign documents for one another should one of you become incapacitated. It’s important to have a will, and also a Living Will, which indicates what you want done if injury or illness leaves you unable to indicate your own desires.”

“Loneliness… The best antidote for loneliness is not finding a lover, or a date, but in doing things you enjoy, with other people, and through that, finding some new friends. Unfortunately, no one will ever believe this basic truth from reading a book. Some spend years learning it the hard way, and others never learn it all.”

“Love at first sight… There’s nothing wrong with that feeling. It’s enjoyable, and psychologists have even come up with the term limerence for that swept-off-your-feet sensation. But if you assume that a relationship has to start that way, you’ll miss some good opportunities that simply don’t announce themselves quite so loudly.”

“Lubricant… It’s best to use a lubricant that comes from a tube or squeeze bottle. Anything in a tub or jar easily becomes a repository for germs, as your fingers dip in and out."

Now, based on these quotes, one might think, yeah, we know, and we’ve come a long way since then. Perhaps in some matters, especially social and legal rights and recognition, but the complex feelings and actions that feed into one’s variegated social identities remain, transmuted as their context transmutes.

In fact, one could even claim that labels and loneliness have taken on even more complex, and perhaps, problematic dimensions in a life that now encompasses both cyber and physical space. There’s much more going on than choosing the right lubricant which can now be delivered to your door in a few hours for the hook up you scheduled on Scruff.

Perhaps the key words here also begin with the letter L. We physically lost a generation to AIDS. Let’s not socially and psychologically lose a generation to labels and loneliness.

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The Men of Playgirl

posted by Madame Bubby

Playgirl magazine, often billed unofficially as the “magazine for women and gay men,” has undergone some changes in its presentation through the years (one can no longer obtain the traditional hard copies that were usually hidden under some gayling’s bed at some point).

Even the naked guys in the magazine have changed, and that change reflects some social trends. What is interesting is that as recently as last week, on a gay chat board, Datalounge, the subject came up, and it wasn’t just a retro/nostalgia discussion from the eldergays.

The original poster made a point that the models in the 1970s and 1980s generally revealed huge bushes, and that they were trim and muscular overall, not what one might term “gym-pumped” or, to be biased, “steroid” bodies.

Now, the first Playgirl centerfold was Lyle Waggoner, who gained fame by appearing as a regular on the iconic Carol Burnett Show. For her sketches, Carol needed a straight guy, and I bet she also knew she would attract a certain audience (the Playgirl audience) by showing off his easy, unaffected, yet indisputably, studly presence. The first issues of Playgirl did not show cock, though. That came later, when the previous censorship of such materials was finally letting up in the early 1970s.
 

Lyle Waggoner in the first issue of Playgirl
Lyle Waggoner in the first issue of Playgirl

Lyle Waggoner in a later issue of Playgirl
Waggoner in a later issue

When Burt Reynolds died recently, many remembered his moment in Playgirl. Of course the photographers hid his member, but there was plenty to fantasize about even if was not visible. And hair, so much hair. The poster I referred to on Datalounge mentioned hairy bushes as if that was a style of the past, and that observation brings up the issue of shaving. How much hair is attractive? Or the lack thereof?
 

Burt Reynolds on the cover of Playgirl in December, 1974
Burt Reynolds on the cover of Playgirl in December, 1974

And note that many of the models, especially in the eighties, loved showing off their luxuriant locks. This hair was not hippie long hair that evoked Woodstock dancing and shabby communes in the woods; it was more like the idealized long hair of medieval knights and cavaliers and the like, heroes and antiheroes of romance novels.

But the long hair encouraged even more muscles, perhaps a reaction to possible associations with effeminacy in the more conservative eighties. Thus, tight pants, pastel colors, and long hair were acceptable if your body wasn’t just buff, but pumped up.

And in 1992, a pumped up, hard-bodied stud with a tattoo (harbinging what is now a rather generic look among millennials) named Dirk Shafer appeared as Playgirl’s Man of the Year. And he was gay. He didn’t come out as gay until much later, and he died in 2015.
 

Dirk Shafer as the Playgirl 1992 Man of the Year
Dirk Shafer as the 1992 Man of the Year

Another Playgirl model, Bill Cable aka Stoner, apparently appeared with Christina Crawford (!) in a mysterious video which has disappeared from youtube, alas. He also died young, kiiled in a motorbike accident in 1992.
 

Bill Cable aka Stoner
Bill Cable aka Stoner

Now that gay for pay is prominent in the adult erotic world, one might assume that some of the current models in Playgirl’s online edition are gay. And perhaps, depending on their situation, they aren’t concerned about concealing their orientation. Still, this open fluidity seems to produce rather generic results.

The secret thrill of an actual print magazine that enticed because of its very danger, dangerous imagery, a dangerous situation for the reader, is missing.

I am not advocating for the closet, but one wonders if it’s time for Playgirl to reexamine its purpose and not just serve an Instagram page in a larger format accompanied by tips on fitness. Remember, this magazine actually dared to in its earlier years explore female orgasms and polyamory and reveal men as sex subjects and objects for women and gay men.

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