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Spine Intact Chapter 19

All the Way

 

 

 

In 1970, at the none too subtle coaxing of the Postal authorities, I had gotten out of the photographic end of the business. In 1972 I got back in.

I was approached by the Luros people with a proposal. They had decided to breach the great divide. By now magazines had gone beyond merely showing male and female nudes. The women were shown with legs spread; men had graduated to erections and couples, male and female, male and male, female and female, were now shown in simulated sexual positions.

What was now being proposed was to forego the pretense of simulation and publish a book with full out hardcore action pictures. An illustrated marriage manual, if you will. The book would be printed on top quality paper, with the best possible reproduction of the professionally posed and taken photos. There would be an introduction by a real doctor, to give it legitimacy, and the text would consist entirely of dry, scholarly descriptions of what was shown in the pictures—no four letter words, no winks or leers, no double entendres. Just the facts, Ma’am, properly stated; thereby, it was hoped, providing the sort of redeeming social value that would allow for a defense against anticipated legal problems.

The question was: “Do you want to produce these books for us?”

This was clearly an invitation to advance into uncharted waters. Deep Throat and other films were playing in movie houses so hardcore action was not entirely unheard of, but up to this point no legitimate publisher had shown hardcore in a book or magazine format to be sold openly, over the counter as it were.

The point may seem academic but there was a great difference. Books and magazines had to be shipped. Generally to be profitable they had to be shipped using the U.S. Postal System and Postal Authorities remained the most rigorous in pursuing convictions for obscenity. Even if a publisher eschewed the postal service and resorted to trucking books from place to place it still inevitably involved interstate commerce, which is to say, the Federal government became a player. And even trucking books about was not entirely safe. Occasionally a genuinely innocent truck driver might be arrested for hauling a cargo of sexy books, despite his total ignorance of what was in those boxes in the back.

Moreover books were sold mail order, direct to consumers. There was the obvious fact of again involving the postal system but there was another problem as well. To go into a movie theater playing hardcore films, you had to buy a ticket, and be able to verify your adult age. Despite the efforts of bookstores to police themselves it was almost impossible to guarantee against a book falling into the hands of a minor, if only second hand—we still see the very same problem today with minors obtaining cigarettes notwithstanding the efforts of many to see that they do not.

If it was difficult to keep minors from obtaining these books from stores, it was doubly so to police a mail order operation. No mail order business wanted to sell to minors, it was only asking for trouble, and mail order businesses regularly include a place on their order forms asking the buyer’s age; but there is nothing to prevent anyone’s lying. Indeed, this was a standard operating tactic for the Postal authorities, inducing the suppliers to send sex material to under age customers, though the “minors” when they were finally introduced as evidence in court cases often proved to be in their forties and fifties.

In this case, however, it was not just the possibility of a sale to a minor. There was every reason to think the legal authorities might not deem this material legal even for adults. We all knew how important it was to have someone decide for adult buyers what they should see and read. Clearly people could not be trusted to make these decisions for themselves.

My entire involvement in the industry had begun in a state of innocence. I might be accused of naïveté where The Affairs of Gloria had been concerned, but I was certainly innocent of any criminal intent.

I had subsequently and persistently helped to break down the barriers of what was acceptable and legal to publish—but I had done so mostly one modest step at a time. Sometimes I had been in the forefront but never dashing madly ahead. A word here, a description there; the occasional desk-thumping screaming match with a film processor. Well, all right, I was guilty of a little smuggling but only a little guilty, which is to say I hadn’t gotten caught, and since I had no intention of doing it again we could deem me home free on that charge.

This was no small step. I was being asked to lead the charge. The risk of arrest and of trial was considerable. I was assured, of course, of the very best in legal representation but, as Charles Rembar points out so succinctly in The End of Obscenity (Random House, 1968), lawyers get to go home afterward; defendants do not, always.

I still had that passport ready and so far as I knew my escape route still waited in Switzerland. However, one does not lightly decide to flee the country and live one’s life in hiding, and even were I successful in getting out of the country I could not be altogether certain that I wouldn’t eventually be uncovered.

Switzerland represented for me a kind of “priest’s hole,” as such hiding places were known in Restoration England and I leave it to you how safe a priest’s hole might be. I felt that I could very well be found and returned to face legal action. I was no master criminal with the experience of eluding authorities and I had no grand organization like C.A.M.P. behind me to use their resources on my behalf. I was only a writer convinced that, as Stanley Fleishman asserted often, there were no dirty books, only dirty readers. Stanley, however, was one of those lawyers who could count on going home when the dust settled.

Truth to tell it was not only the legal question that troubled me. As I have said, I wrote Gloria with my eyes closed, so to speak, but every step since I had taken in full awareness of the risk I was taking. I was willing to take those risks because I believed wholeheartedly in the cause I was advocating. I thought it was a lie and a patent one that the depiction of a naked body, male or female, was obscene, or that the words used to describe those bodies at rest or even in action were pornographic and should be forbidden to intelligent adults.

Moreover I had several thousand years of art to support my contention: paintings and sculpture, obviously, but great writings as well—Shakespeare is nothing if not bawdy and the Bible is a veritable encyclopedia of sex in virtually every permutation. Even music—the Leibesnacht from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, the love duet that ends Act I of Madame Butterfly by Puccini, the climax to the garden scene in Gounod’s Faust, are nothing but sex put to music. Beautiful music it is true, exquisite, but none the less sexy for that. The entirety of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, an unqualified masterpiece, deals with rape and seduction, capped by Leporello’s aria in which he catalogs the Don’s conquests country by country, number by number.

Contrary to what the would-be censors obviously believed, in all my years of writing I never met another writer, publisher, agent, editor, photographer, or model who was in the business solely for the money. I’m not saying that we didn’t get paid, sometimes well, nor that the money wasn’t welcome. Writers have to eat too, and while the idea of starving artists may appeal to the reader or the audience, I can assure you it is less attractive to the artists involved.

Still I cannot think of a single individual I met in the business who didn’t believe, usually passionately, in the rightness, the justice, of what he was doing. Some of them, thank Heaven, were willing to put their money where their beliefs were and others had gladly put their freedom at risk time and time again.

Heretofore, however, no one that I knew had ventured into the realm of hardcore. Indeed my conviction had always been that what I was doing was not obscene or pornographic. In the past I could see myself as just a writer exercising what I viewed as a legitimate writer’s privilege.

Rationalize it how I might, however, the whole point of this enterprise was that the pictures in this book were going to be pornography, and the text that I would supply really just a way of getting around the legal barriers to its publication. I believed, as I said way back, that in a free society one should be free to read what he chooses, including pornography if that is his choice; but the federal government had not yet come around to my way of thinking. And if I believed in an individual’s right to read or view pornography, wasn’t it hypocritical to deny the right to produce it?

I have always personally believed that the suggestion of sex or nudity in a picture or a movie was far more exciting than the real thing. Showing Rhett and Scarlett doing the nasty could hardly have been more titillating than to show him carrying her up those broad stairs only to switch to the scene of her in bed the following morning, giggling and obviously pleased with herself. I doubt that any film maker could have concocted a scene between them as lurid as the one that I projected in my mind whenever I watched the movie.

I felt certain that the proposed book would create a sensation but I was equally certain that it would eventually prove to be a “nine days wonder.” What would happen during those nine days, however?

And did I want to be a part of it? At the time I did not particularly need the money, though money was never unwelcome—a writer’s fortunes tend to go up and down and I was ever sure that another down time would come soon enough.

Nor did I have anything left to prove, in my opinion, when it came to the sexy book business. By this time I was looking forward to other challenges—to testing myself in other genres of writing. Did I want to enlist for another tour of duty?

After much soul searching I did agree to do the book, and afterward I did perhaps a half dozen others for a number of publishers. In for a penny, in for a pound. I did so because it seemed to me that if one could show photographs of men and women together simulating sex it was inane to say that the actual depiction of the act was somehow worse. Either way one was appealing to the sexual interest of the viewer. The same was true of written descriptions of sex acts and even, if one were to be honest, the wink-wink attitude in big screen Hollywood movies, where it was certainly made clear what was happening off screen—increasingly, by this time, just barely off screen.

Still, in all honesty I agreed with some misgivings and I remained convinced that this was an area that would eventually be self-defeating. The novelty of seeing everything revealed was certain to set off a frenzy at first, but it was the sort of excitement that I was sure would pale quickly enough.

I do not have a copy of that first book—can’t in fact even tell you what its title was or what byline appeared on the cover. Our working title was Man and Wife—A Marriage but I am certain the published title was somewhat different.

The couple who posed for the photographs (only one couple in all of the pictures) were indeed husband and wife and a very handsome pair. They certainly seemed to be happily married.

Contrary to what you might think this sort of modeling is hard work and no pun intended. It takes hours with hot lights beating down on you and photographers and their assistants standing around the whole while and directors instructing you how to do what you would think would come naturally. The women who posed for action shots and movies got paid, but not a lot. The men mostly did it pour le sport, at least in straight work. Models and actors in gay films were usually paid, often pretty well.

It never ceased to amaze me how many young, good-looking men were eager to have a shot, so to speak. Eagerness notwithstanding many—the majority really—of these young men found they couldn’t go the distance; often they couldn’t even get started with all those people standing around watching them.

I had one young friend who wanted to do movies and I was happy to arrange introductions for him to people whom I knew, who knew people. He was handsome, hung, and I can attest that he suffered no lack of sex drive. I thought he would be a natural but he was home the first night, looking crestfallen. He had been fired. For one thing, in his nervousness he shrank. It must have been quite a disappearing act was all I could think. That, however, had not been the crucial problem. The difficulty was, he couldn’t remember his lines.

“What were they?” I asked. I knew these movies didn’t usually rival Pinter for wordiness.

The scene as he described it was a fairly uncomplicated one. He was the husband, sitting reading his newspaper when the wife came in. He was to look up at her and say, “Hello, Darling, how was your day?”

“And?” I prompted him.

And—that was it. That was the part he couldn’t remember. Well, what can I tell you, he was pretty to look at and I had never relied upon him for intellectual stimulation. I consoled him as best I knew how.

 

The husband and wife book was wildly successful, as predicted. I held my breath but no one came pounding at my door with warrants.

As happens with these things, other publishers jumped on the bandwagon immediately. Over the next few months my partner and I did a half dozen similar books, gay and straight, for various publishers.

I won’t pretend that they weren’t profitable for us. They were, very much so, considering how little effort they took. We contracted with various photographers for the photos, at prices ranging from $700 to $1,000 per book. Once they were delivered we did appropriate captions and spent two or three days writing the erudite, deliberately dry text, relying upon a now extensive library of reference books for the technical details. For this, no more than three or perhaps four days work, we were paid $7,000. And this was the early seventies. In today’s dollars you could easily triple or even quadruple that amount.

The problem was exactly what I had anticipated—it was a self-defeating field. Just as the hordes of people flocking to see Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones soon dwindled to a trickle, so book buyers soon tired of looking at vaginas or other orifices being invaded. The thrill was gone…

A few publishers continued to go “all the way” though the book format was soon abandoned in favor of the magazine and the quality look gave way to the sleazy. Within a year the major players had given up on “hardcore illustrated.”

Not, however, before the genre was tested in a trial.

The most bizarre of all these illustrated books was surely the government’s own Presidential Report of the Commission on Pornography, which had been released in 1970 and which so angered President Nixon in its conclusions that that there was little or no evidence of any harm resulting from pornography.

The original report, of course, carried no pictures. The owners of Greenleaf Classics, however, were so delighted with the commission’s findings that it seemed they could not resist the urge to tweak the President’s nose. In 1974 they issued their own version of the report—this one lavishly illustrated with every sort of photograph and drawing that anyone could imagine, depicting not just heterosexual and homosexual intercourse but bestiality, child pornography (one series of photos showed a young man, openly and defiantly identified in the captions as fourteen years old, sexually engaged with two clearly adult women), sadism, water sports—you name it, they showed it.

Even at that they might have gotten away with it. The courts were floundering and the entire obscenity issue was in a legal state of confusion. Certainly, since this was the government’s own report, it would have been difficult if not impossible to prove that it was without redeeming social value. Interestingly when the publishers finally came to trial there were several experts who testified that they thought Greenleaf’s version was an improvement upon the original.

This was a classic case, however, of not knowing when and where to draw the line. Greenleaf chose to market their version of the report with brochures that in themselves offered nothing but titillating glimpses of what the book contained and a few choice gibes at the government (“Thanks a lot, Mr. President”). The brochures in short had nothing in the way of redeeming social value. The publisher was convicted for the brochures and owner William Hamling and editor Earl Kemp went to prison. Greenleaf Classics, the company that had led the charge to gay publishing, was dead.

The Illustrated Presidential Report proved to be a kind of swan song. The Greenleaf convictions had a chilling effect to be sure and with the Deep Throat convictions in Tennessee, the big time publishers and producers began to back away from this all-out action material.

As is usually the case with businesses, though, the real issue was economic. The dollars were no longer there—not at least the big bucks that had been feeding this industry for a decade or more.

Freed from generations of repression, buyers had flocked to this new sexual freedom in droves. As a lady friend once said to me, however, once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Perhaps not literally but the inescapable fact was that people got bored with looking at them—in pictures at least. The sexual revolution had been hot. Now it was burning itself out.

The “hardcore illustrated” books were a swan song for me as well. When the publishing revolution began gays were so thrilled to see racks, whole walls, of “their” books that they eagerly snatched up everything—and just about anything. Here, too, however, the newness had worn off. Print runs shrank. Sales faltered.

A few of the paperback publishers opted for quality over the once staggering quantities. Others, the majority of the West Coast paperback publishers, went the other route, banking—despite the writing bold upon the wall—on hot and still hotter sex and more of it. And many of these outfits simply folded. Turns out the Federales had it backwards. The way to put these people out of business was just to let them publish all the raw sex and nude bodies they could, and sooner or later they would burn themselves out.

Gay paperback novels became hardcore formula books. Publishers sent out specification sheets detailing how many chapters of what length they wanted, how many sex scenes per chapter and of what sort. Carl Driver, another pulp writer of the era, tells of an editor complaining about the lack of sex scenes in a manuscript. “But there is sex on every third page,” Carl protested. Not enough, was the reply. It seems the publisher wanted sex on every other page.

At the same time the prices the publishers were willing to pay plummeted, reflecting their own losses in sales. Rates dropped to a thousand a book. Seven hundred. Five.

For most paperback writers this soon meant it was impossible to make a living in the field. It was a little different for me. The discipline I had trained myself to early on paid dividends. I was a fast writer and after all these books were now so formulaic that it was little different than painting by numbers. Even writing in my spare time I could easily write two or even three books a week. This was still pretty good money for the early seventies and the largest share of my writing time was left free for other projects.

I wrote perhaps a couple of dozen of these books, sending them off without titles or bylines—these are the books whose published titles mostly remain mysteries to me. I neither asked for nor received author’s copies. They were a means to some easy cash, nothing else. I have no doubt I could have written many more but the work quickly grew boring.

I had never particularly liked writing really hardcore sex scenes. As often as not I skipped over those parts and gave the manuscripts to Lady Agatha to fill in the blanks, which he did quite well.

Nevertheless I found being required to write certain sexual elements into each book as restricting as it had once been to leave them out. As early as 1970 I had taken on Jay Garon in New York as my agent and had begun looking into other fields. By now, as Jan Alexander, I was being billed as the “Queen of Gothic Romance.” Their description, not mine. Under my own name and as V. J. Banis I had begun to write historical novels as well.

Not only was I writing in different genres, I was writing differently. I hadn’t really started out intending to churn out gay paperbacks endlessly; I now wanted to write better, to prove to myself that I could master the craft of writing. Now, I don’t mean that I am apologizing for the books that I wrote in the sixties. I think some of them were quite good; moreover, during those years I had learned discipline, which is important to any writer, and learned—by doing—quite a bit about how to write. Studying the sexual behavior of people had given me a considerable insight into human behavior, which is the doorway to good characterization. All of which is to say, I think that era of writing a sexy book in four or five days gave me an excellent start at becoming a “real” writer—though I’m not sure exactly what that is.

By 1974 I was out of the sex-oriented writing field. I had had a long run in the genre, some successes and some failures. It had been mostly enjoyable and always interesting.

The time had come, however, to get out of bed.

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Jose Saria, The Empress Norton

The Empress Norton

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Spine Intact Chapter 18

And Auld Lang Syne

 

 

 

It is not quite midnight yet and already the river of cars has dammed itself to immobility. Horns honk but it is more a joyous noise than an impatient one. This is the Strip. New Year’s Eve. No one has anywhere to go more festive than this, no party any bigger. People up and down the street have begun to abandon their stationary vehicles and join the throngs mobbing the sidewalks, filling doorways and storefronts, singles and couples and groups flowing together and parting, sometimes repartnered.

The weather is Southern California balmy, the air pungent with the smell of marijuana. The mood is festive, celebrative. You can’t walk without bumping into people but no one minds, there is laughter everywhere and lots of hugging and kissing and of course, over the rock from the car radios, from the boom boxes, from the doorways to clubs and the windows of apartment, there is Auld Lang Syne.

A couple approaches, attractive, a little high. Bell bottoms, tie dyes, lots of beads. His hair longer than hers, a novelty still but certainly handsome on him, a cloud of dark curls tumbling about his face, it gives him the look of a Botticelli angel. They offer me a hit from their joint and their bottle of champagne. I pass on the joint but take a drink. It is warm and yeasty, made better than it really is by the mood of the evening.

She kisses me. He kisses me, briefly. She laughs. “I’ve never seen you kiss a man,” she says. “First time,” he says, grinning. He kisses me again, longer this time, tongue in my mouth.

They walk on. He is laughing, she is telling him he should “go for it.” I hope against hope that she wins the argument but they are soon lost in the crowd.

 

By the end of the sixties it was like living in a different world from the one in which we had started the decade. The Sunset Strip was the scene of the action by then and on that New Year’s Eve, when 1969 became 1970 and a new decade began, the Strip was one enormous street party. The traffic was at a standstill, horns honking, but many of the drivers had abandoned their cars to take to the sidewalks, sharing bottles of champagne, hugs and kisses and, if you looked carefully in the doorways and bushes, sometimes more than hugs and kisses. It was all intoxicating—in part, it must be said, from the clouds of marijuana smoke that filled the air and which you could not help but breath.

The elegance of the old Strip, indeed of much of the city, had faded some years before, early in the sixties and even before then. Gone was Romanoff’s where (according to Kenneth Anger) Paulette Goddard was wont to slip under the table and indulge in savories not listed on the menu. The Crescendo and the Interlude had vanished as well. In their place at Laurel Canyon was Numbers, where the parking lot filled with Rolls Royces and Jaguars and handsome models and out of work actors sipped at the bar and hoped to catch the eye of the wealthy older queens having dinner. The food was mediocre and the drinks not much better but the scenery was luscious and the action was fun to watch.

Ciro’s, one time playground of the stars, had become a gay dance club and straights and gays alike flocked to the Whiskey à Go-Go (named after a club in London by way of New York, if you want to know). Scandia was still there but if you saw stars they were more likely to be going in and out of the Playboy Club, which was hot just then.

The Vietnam war was at a crescendo and as others had learned a generation before war makes men horny. The strip was crowded with servicemen, mostly marines. When they came into Ciro’s, mindful of antiwar sentiment, they often disguised themselves with cheap wigs. The Woolworth Syndrome we named it and when we saw those cheap rugs it was a call to Battle Stations: Men ready for action.

But the drinks weren’t cheap and age limits were strictly observed. Mostly they cruised the Strip, those young men, randy, perhaps fearful of what lay before them and certainly lonely. It seemed to me when I saw them—alone, looking as if they knew not quite what to do with themselves—that they deserved whatever comfort our society could give them.

Let it be said I was never one to cavort easily with strangers. I did, however, live conveniently a mere half block off the Strip. I was recently “divorced,” flush with money and freedom and, as we used to say, “high spirited.” And despite my difficulties with the Federal Government I still regarded myself as a true-blue American. I felt myself called upon to solace and succor our young men as best I could. Which of us would do less?

One evening when I was escorting a trio of these young stalwarts to my apartment with the promise of refreshments and an opportunity to relax themselves—I think relaxation is important for young men—one of them paused, looked at the car in which we had arrived (distinctive), at the entrance to my apartment (distinctive), at me (do I need say it?) and asked “What was your name again?” I told him. He suddenly burst into laughter and cried, “You’re the one they call the sweetheart of Barracks—.”

Hmmm. I had been called worse things certainly. And I was happy to discover that my patriotic sacrifices had not gone unsung. I redoubled my efforts. In my opinion, this was better than the victory gardens that had been popular in World War II. You could never be altogether sure what might grow right before your eyes. Radishes take forever.

Someone asked me recently if, in inviting these young men back to my apartment, I didn’t sometimes encounter hostility, at the time or afterwards. Every gay man knows that there are men who, after a bit of play, can be sullen, resentful, even violently angry.

But no, I never encountered any of that. For one thing, though I tried to be egalitarian, it was mostly Marines whom I entertained, if only because it was usually Marines who responded favorably to my invitations. There are many legends in the gay world about Marines and here is what I know: It is mostly the man who is insecure in his masculine self-image who is likely to be angry or resentful afterward, because he feels threatened. In my experience the more firmly convinced a man is of his man-ness the easier it is for him to be at ease with a gay male. Under the right circumstances that may (or may not) lead to something physical with another male—a hug, perhaps even a kiss and sometimes, though certainly not always, more than that. The real man, who knows he is a man, simply does not feel threatened by the situation.

And certainly Marines are the most macho of the macho. That is not to say that there aren’t Marines who disdain these practices or even some who turn violent but I never ended up with any.

This was a time as well when people were trying all sorts of heretofore forbidden things. We had arrived at a sort of societal adolescence and like all teens we wanted to try things out for ourselves.

Though I joke about these interludes I really do not want to indicate any lack of respect for the young men whom I met then. The truth is, I always felt an abiding affection for these brave young warriors, many of whom would die in Vietnam, while others would return home to find themselves reviled by the very countrymen they thought they were protecting.

I don’t want to sound like Goody-Two-Shoes about all this. I can say with Mae West that “I started out snow white but I drifted.” I can honestly say, however, I never seduced, coerced or cajoled anyone. That was not my style. And in case you are wondering, no, I never paid them either, except in the kindness of hospitality. I offered them my apartment in which to unwind, where they could drink a beer and watch television or a movie. If they were hungry, and they nearly always were, I fed them and they could shower if they liked or sleep the night.

These young men were invariably polite, considerate and friendly. There was one occasion when one of them fixed a problem with my car, and another time three of them volunteered to help me paint my bathroom. I never breathed a sigh of relief to see them go and was never reluctant to have them visit me again. I think that for some of them my apartment did actually become a sort of home away from home. I like to believe so.

Does any of this mean that any of these men were in any part gay? No more so than those boy scouts I talked about earlier. Some of them probably were but the circumstances made it even more difficult to say for sure. For the most part I think it was mostly that they were young men far from home, family and friends, lonely and, though few would have admitted it, scared of the future. I gave them a chance to let their hair down and forget what lay ahead of them and to have some (far more innocent than you might suppose) fun. It worked out well for everyone. But I’m not sure that my experience was typical.

I said earlier that it is the man who is insecure in his masculinity who feels threatened by homosexuality—most gay bashers are teenage boys who have not yet grown into their manhood. That could not be said about these young men.

I suppose too that some of these servicemen, like Voltaire and his friend, were practicing philosophy. Which brings me to another of those occasions. It was again a Saturday night, and a different group of Marines, though one or two of them had been there before (I told you I was patriotic. Give me a Marine at an impressionable age and he is mine for life).

I had gone into the bedroom with two of these brave young men for the very purpose of pursuing philosophy, one of those issues that are meaty and yet can be slippery and difficult to grasp—in this instance, Immanuel Kant’s Transcendental Esthetic.

In the living room another three or four young men—yes, I will admit it, uniformly out of uniform, in various states of dishabille—were watching a training film and relaxing over a few cocktails. Illegal cocktails, it is true, since they were uniformly under age as well. I can hardly be blamed for the sad fact that it is those in the bloom of their youth who are called upon to make sacrifices. I mean to say, sacrifices for their country, not for me. One of these young gentlemen was in actual fact sleeping on the sofa. I’m not sure how he was able to do so with everything that was going on, but he managed.

At one point one of the guests remembered something he wanted from the car. Contrary to rumors that later circulated, he was clad when he went downstairs, though his costume was such that he was somewhat discomfited by the coolness of the night air, the result of which was that he came back up the outside stairs rather hurriedly.

What was unknown to us at the time was that only a short while before someone had robbed Dino’s Lodge on the Strip, the location for 77 Sunset Strip (1958-64), a television series popular then on which Edd Byrnes combed his hair endlessly. Dino’s was just around the corner from my apartment. The Sheriff’s deputies, cruising in search of the thieves, saw this young man bound up the stairs and, though I cannot think how they imagined he might be robbing nightclubs in his skivvies, they jumped to the conclusion that he was their suspect, and followed him.

I was, as I have said, busy in the other room when a young man came to the door and said I should come to the living room.

“I’m afraid I can’t just now,” I told him, not a little annoyed by the interruption. “We are at the very climax of our discussion.”

He insisted. I demurred yet more forcefully.

“There’s an army of cops in the living room, with their guns drawn,” he said.

An impressive argument. I grabbed my Eau de Nile silk robe, a color that has always been particularly flattering to me, and went to investigate.

He had exaggerated but only slightly. Not an army, only a trio. My thoughts went at once to the Three Graces—Envy, Spite and Malice. Still, I must tell you, if you have never been there, that three men with guns in their hands can fill up a room in a way that a troupe of gypsy dancers cannot, no matter how they thump their tambourines.

They variously studied my guests (mostly naked—it was a warm evening), the illegal training film still running, the relaxants strewn about the room.

“You’re the one who lives here?” Malice demanded of me.

Should I deny? Plead insanity? Pretend to deafness? But no, I was no dilettante in matters legal, I who had stared down divorce court judges and Federal prosecutors, who had been arrested by agents of the Federal Government, I who had argued, demonstrated, fought for freedom. I wracked my brain for a role model, someone who could wither with a look of scorn.

Of course! It came to me in a flash—Norma Desmond herself—Gloria Swanson (“I repeat, Mrs. Kennedy, it’s Mister Kennedy you should be speaking to, not I. I am not the one who is in love.”)

And she was short too. I drew myself up to my maximum height, carefully holding my robe closed—I was naked beneath it and I did not want to be accused of offering the officers a bribe on top of everything else. And Spite did have an evil glint in his eyes.

“Do you gentlemen have a search warrant?” I demanded in icy tones.

No, of course, they did not. And to my utter amazement they sheathed their weapons and left, like leaves strewn before the force of an irresistible wind. It all comes down to how you play the scene doesn’t it?

Envy was last of the lot to leave. He gave a wistful parting glance about the room as he trailed behind his fellows. A handsome man. And young. It turned out in fact that he was only a bit older than the young men lolling about the room and he…but wait, that is far afield from what I am trying to tell here.

How do these things get away from me like this?

What I am trying to tell you here is that it certainly seemed to me that New Year’s Eve that there was plenty to celebrate. The advance word on the Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, commissioned by Lyndon Johnson near the end of his presidency, was positive. When the full Report was issued a few months later in 1970, it threw cold water on most of the arguments of the anti-pornography crusaders.

We writers and our publishers had been pushing the limits of what could be said in print. Each month my friends and I rushed to Circus Books to see the new releases. Circus Books on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood was one of the first to jump on the gay bandwagon. This was where you went to pick up the latest Jackie Holmes adventure—and it was where we went to see who was now saying or showing what.

We noted every “cock,” every “cunt,” every “prick,” every “pussy”—and then rushed home to see if we could stretch things just a little bit further. Only a short time before our editors had carefully avoided any sort of comment that might be construed as asking us to spice things up. Now our editor at Brandon House, Yvonne McMannus, was exhorting us, “I want to smell that dick, I want to taste that pussy.” So much for modesty.

By 1969 there was scarcely a word (“motherfucker” was, I believe, the last holdout), scarcely a subject that we hadn’t broached in books. You may not think of that as progress but the next time you are watching Sex and the City or The Sopranos ask yourself where they got the permission to be so outspoken.

In the 1968 movie The Lion in Winter Peter O’Toole, as King Henry II, recites a sort of catalogue aria for his mistress, Lady Alice, of his sexual exploits, listing duchesses, jades and whores, etc., and finishing, “…and little boys.” Five years earlier that line would have been unthinkable in a major motion picture.

Is it necessary for a writer to use an expression like “motherfucker” in a book? Possibly not—I don’t think that I ever did until now; but I can certainly imagine that there might be a scene in which that would be the exact word that would convey what the writer wanted to tell you about a character or a situation.

The point is really more fundamental than that, though. Irrespective of any rhetoric, true democracy rests on the principle of free speech. There is a reason why totalitarian governments go after the press and the media right off the bat—the same reason why our founding fathers addressed the question of freedom of speech in the very first amendment to our Constitution. Without it, without the free expression and exchange of ideas, without the right to have and to express a contrary opinion, all the rest is just twaddle, isn’t it, and democracy becomes a sham, dependent upon the whims of those in authority, who may limit your ideas to what they see fit. Any such limitation subverts the state of democracy.

I do believe that there are situations in which the government might reasonably restrict written or spoken words. Certainly libel or harassment presents problems even in a free society. But in a free society I believe strongly that every such restriction must be considered on an individual basis, and weighed most carefully against the concept of free speech. There is nothing more potentially damaging to the freedom of a free society than the suppression of words and ideas. Only when words or ideas can clearly be seen to be a threat to an individual or to a democratic society should their restriction be supported.

I can’t believe that “motherfucker,” however distasteful it may seem to anyone (as, frankly, it does to me), fits that criterion.

 

* * * * * * *

 

By 1969, it seemed impossible for the Federal government to get convictions on obscenity charges or, if they got them to sustain them through the appeals process. Though, alas, that did not at all discourage them from trying.

There was little question then that, by 1970 we had accomplished a lot, as writers and as gays. As early as 1965 in San Francisco José Sarria had declared himself the Widow Norton, which is to say the widow of the legendary Emperor Norton—and thus the First (and arguably the best) Empress of San Francisco.

The following year Bella became the first elected Empress. By the turn of the decade drag queens campaigned openly throughout the city, with flyers and posters and supporters with bullhorns touring the city in swank convertibles touting their candidates. You could be chauffeured free from any of the city’s watering holes to the polling place to cast your vote (and often wined and dined) and the coronation ceremonies were a truly festive event with all the hoopla of a real political investiture.

The Stonewall Riot occurred in 1969 and by the end of that year a Gay Freedom Alliance had been formed and plans were underfoot for a Gay Pride Parade. The gay Pride Parades were to become the highlight of the year for gays in cities all over the country, from New York City and San Francisco to Dayton and Rochester.

We were dancing in the streets occasionally and in the bars every night. No more private clubs and secret passwords. At crowded clubs and discos in nearly every city gays and lesbians were celebrating a new freedom by shaking their booties. Within a year or two you could stand at the bar and watch men dancing naked for your, um, edification, or watch hardcore movies on large screens and judge for yourself whether viewing such films inspired men to action—and how quickly.

It was a great time to be gay. Even the straightest of men, as I have indicated above, considered crossing over the bridge from time to time and vast numbers of them did more than consider it. It was chic, de rigueur even, to “swing” in all directions. Too rigid in your outlook and you were marked as a ‘square,” only slightly worse than death.

In the past, gays visited large straight gatherings with trepidation. Suddenly we found ourselves embraced, figuratively and literally, at Love-Ins. The hippie movement had put young men in touch with the softer, more feminine side of their natures—long hair, beads, feathers, flamboyant costumes. Only a few years earlier dressing like this would have branded you a queer. Now it was the burliest, the macho-est of men wearing pants so tight you could see what you were getting before you got it home.

Sometimes you didn’t have to wait to get it home. The antiwar sentiment encouraged defying the old hand-me-down rules and the pot had loosened inhibitions—and trousers. There was hardly any gathering private or public where someone didn’t drop their drawers—at demonstrations, love-ins, nude-ins, or the university quad on a nice spring day. Streakers were everywhere—including L.A.’s prestigious Ahmanson Theater where one night, after the final curtain, Richard Thomas dashed across the stage to show off his talents. Even the Oscars got their streaker.

The word of the day was trisexual—try anything. At the love-ins, at parties, even at bars, you saw straight men kissing one another—often looking sheepish but willing in any case to give it a go. Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show sang about sometimes wanting boys and of The Freakers’ Ball: “…Pass that roach, Bud, pour the wine, I’ll kiss yours if you’ll kiss mine” Hmmm. And while you’re down there, if I may make a suggestion…

Stars like Mick Jagger flaunted their androgyny. I can’t tell you how many straight young men I heard say, “I couldn’t go to bed with a guy—unless it was Mick Jagger.” Of course, as time went by some of them gave up waiting for Mick. Well everyone is entitled to change his position. I have sometimes changed mine several times in a single night.

It was indeed a new day that dawned that January 1st, 1970. And I was out there celebrating.

The fight was not entirely over, however. There were still problems, some of them already obvious, some of them mere omens of what was to come. Richard Nixon was president, perhaps our most right wing president of modern times. Before he was gone from the oval office he would reject the findings of the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and oversee a new, far-to-the-right Supreme Court, the Burger Court.

Having hopelessly muddled the entire obscenity question the Supreme Court under Burger would drop it like a hot potato back into the laps of the local government. Instead of the “national community standards” that had applied before, “local community standards” now became the test.

At first the local governments did not seem to know what to do with the issue but in no time at all they were in action and the court battles that we had hoped were behind us were once again in full swing.

The Summer of Love soured quickly enough, too. Drugs were not the answer for everyone and the problems of excess became evident all too soon. Young women and men left their Midwest home towns and ran off to the Haight, to the Strip and the other hot places and found eager predators waiting for them there. Rape, sexual assault and a soaring epidemic of venereal disease marred the vision of Utopia that the flower children had envisioned.

Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds…

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Elmo’s Tarzan (clothed)

180px-tarzan_elmo_lincoln

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Spine Intact – Chapter 17

Who’s That Hanging Around?

 

 

 

What is it about the human body that strikes such terror, such shame in the hearts of men?

I can concede to the blue noses some ground in their argument (though I don’t agree with it) that the depiction of sexual activity might be “dirty,” or even the depiction of sexual arousal. But the human body is so much more than just a vehicle for sexual congress. It is—well, it’s us, isn’t it?

Yes, I agree that we are something more. I am willing to accept, indeed do accept the concept of a soul, of a higher self that inhabits the body—but having accepted that one is still left with that bottom line, no pun intended. For a while at least the soul does inhabit the body, which ought to make it special indeed it seems to me. In some schools of thought the body is the temple of the soul. (I will admit, as a friend of mine has said more than once, that there were times in my life when I treated mine as more of an amusement park, but that is beside the point.) Even if you don’t buy the soul business it is still our earthly vehicle, it is what we move around in, it is as pretty as we get in any physical sense.

The ancients certainly understood that. The Egyptians featured the God Atum who boasted that with his fist as a spouse he had created every being. No penis shyness there.

The Greeks had no qualms about showing the male form in unhindered, even exuberant nakedness—remember those dinner plates in La Cage aux Folles? Though it might be mentioned there was a bit of a double standard at work—the women were mostly and modestly draped while the fellows got to let it all hang out. The Greeks saw the erection as a symbol of the spiritual life force. And by the by they prized the smaller and more delicate appendage, a priority which mostly got reversed in later cultures.

The Japanese had already put the art into erotic art and the Indians were not far behind them when it came to behinds—and fronts too.

The Romans took their lead from the Greeks, trading a certain refinement for an even bawdier frankness, as anyone who has seen the murals at Pompeii can attest. It wasn’t all chasing one another around the Coliseum in fancy buggies, Charlton Heston notwithstanding.

Alas, the invaders from the East, stymied by the wall the Chinese had put up, turned their attention to Rome and that party ended. In the hangover that followed came the Middle Ages. There is a reason they are known as the Dark Ages too, and it is not a question of lamp-oil. Not content to gobble up all the land and money the early Church wanted to monopolize all the fun as well. The monks cavorted in their monasteries and wrote dirty limericks while the common folk spent their energy struggling with life and limb and (fearful of hellfire and brimstone) avoided washing let alone looking at the bodies they were preserving. To St. Augustine the penis was “the demon rod” and semen a sort of “toxic glue” that rendered all sex essentially dirty. Hard to have much fun with that hanging over you, so to speak.

The body made a comeback with the Renaissance and there could hardly be a more fitting symbol than Michelangelo’s David; but Michelangelo was an equal opportunity display artist. Men and women shared their nakedness on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. In Michelangelo’s version there’s not much question about what got Adam and Eve chased out of the Garden patch.

Somehow though by the Romantic Era the double standard had gotten reversed. I don’t care what art historians say, there is something bizarre about those picnicking couples in the woods, the ladies in the altogether and the gentlemen dressed to the nines. At the very least isn’t there an etiquette problem here? And what about chiggers?

Things got worse with the Victorians. It was their doctors who made a terrible illness of masturbation, sometimes “cured” with leeches. I suppose that would dampen your enthusiasm a bit. When your doctor asked if you liked getting sucked it wasn’t a romantic overture. And Freud somehow managed to hang everything but the family wash from that convenient rod; you were damned if you had one and damned if you didn’t. At least he didn’t prescribe leeches.

Since then the male anatomy has had a muddled history. It is, it seems, naughtier to show that dingus dangling or even the male buns than it is to show the undressed female, for reasons never very clear.

Or is it so naughty? Late in the sixties the Supreme Court decided that a film version of Ulysses was not obscene because although, yes, it did show nudity, it was only male nudity (a tush shot) and so was clearly not intended to appeal to the sexual instincts. As Anna Russell likes to say, I’m not making this up.

Before the Hays office stuck their noses where they needn’t be the early movies were well on their way to bringing the naked figure back. Hedy Lamarr romped in the raw in Gustav Machatý’s Ecstasy (1933, released in the U.S. in 1940) and one of Elmo Lincoln’s early Tarzan movies showed not one but two frontally nude Tarzans—an uncredited boy of twelve or thirteen and Elmo himself, both showing off their monkey business.

Alas, I have never seen the legendary films of Lupe Velez and Gary Cooper that were said to exist from the days of their torrid romance. Cooper was little known at the time the films were allegedly made, and it is said not particularly shy. Kenneth Anger asserted in Hollywood Babylon (1975) that Cooper would drop his pants for anyone, male or female, who could advance his career. If true I can only regret that I was not among the lucky ones.

It was soon after Cooper did become a big star, however, that the whispered-about films were destroyed in a studio fire that also killed a watchman. Since then I have heard of copies in private collections but if they exist I can only tell you that those who have them guard their secret very carefully—and perhaps with good cause. Fires are dangerous things.

Will Hays and the Production Code ended Hollywood’s experiments with total exposure and the “great cover up” that ensued lasted for nearly three decades of film making.

Elsewhere however the body refused to go away. The Second World War brought the pin-up to the fore—who could deny our men (and some of the women) in uniform their daily inspiration? The barely and sometimes not at all clad beauty of Varga’s girls and Petty’s reminded many of what they were missing and fueled the sexual fantasies of many an adolescent of whatever age.

Men hung back so to speak. Those of us who longed for male beauty had to use a bit more imagination, though Johnny Weismuller left only a little to be imagined in his Tarzan flicks. (Esther Williams, by the by, in her autobiography describes Weismuller as savagely randy and well equipped for the role, proving that just because you are underwater does not mean you are all wet. Indeed, Esther’s life, as she tells it, was filled with men of large talents. Hmm—now that I think of it I guess I oughtn’t complain.)

If you haven’t lately watched the Weismuller Tarzan movies, by the way, you might be surprised to discover in one of the early ones (no, I shan’t give you the title) that if you watch closely when Maureen Sullivan bends down you can see France from the jungles of Africa. And in Cedric Gibbons’ Tarzan and His Mate (1934) you got a lengthy sequence of Ms. Sullivan swimming in the altogether, though Johnny kept his scanties on, alas.

By the fifties a sort of male pin-up had appeared on the scene, though they would never approach the popularity of the glorified ladies of World War II. A number of photographic studies began publishing quasi-nudes. The Athletic Model Guild of Los Angeles, Bruce of Los Angeles and the Grecian Guild, among others, sold stiffly posed photos of buffed and often oiled men in “posing straps.” Posing straps were just little pouches of clinging material that gave more than a hint of what was within and in the rear consisted of nothing more than a string up, well, you know where. Talk about cheeky!

Of course these studios suffered the ungoing harassment of the authorities—again particularly the Postal Authorities, who had somehow appointed themselves the guardians of our nation’s morals. Bruce Bellas, who eventually came to be known as Bruce of Los Angeles (and who asserted that any man would shed his drawers for the camera if you promised him prints of the photos) at one time traveled the country to sell his photos in person and so avoided the use of the mails and the attendant difficulties with “those people.”

By the early sixties innovative photographers were offering a new and improved version of their wares. The posing straps were no longer photographed on the models, who were shot in the raw. Straps, or more commonly full bathing suits, were now painted on to the print afterward with water based paint. Once the photo was in your possession you had only to wash off the offending “garments” in the privacy of your own kitchen and voilà, there was the model suited in the manner that apparently suited God well enough. This approach had one shortcoming but what doesn’t? Applying water to photographs leaves the photos wrinkled and rippled and the photographic subjects looking a bit distorted. Taut young bodies came out badly wrinkled and in the oddest places.

Well, I suppose I should not make too much fuss about a few wrinkles. In any event it was a clever ploy—the photos as they were mailed weren’t even close to naked and so could hardly be considered obscene and the supplier wasn’t to blame if the recipient altered the picture once he had it in his possession. It didn’t altogether end the efforts of the authorities to suppress these pictures but it did slow them down a bit.

Needless to say all this while private collectors swapped and bought and sold their own pictures. Naughty still photos had been around in the underground world even before stag films were. The processing of color film was a complicated process limited to professional labs and printing or copying movies was a major project, but almost anybody with a spare bathroom could set up a darkroom and develop and print his own black and white still photos. If the results weren’t exactly Ansel Adams quality no one minded overly much.

Of course the arrival of the Polaroid camera in 1947 made nude photography a private matter between photographer and model. Still there are photographers and there are photographers. As anyone who has ever looked through a collection of distorted feet, out of focus buns and badly cropped torsos can attest, the market for professional photos of real models remained. Anyway, if all those gorgeous models in the pictures really exist somewhere, they aren’t strolling down my street.

In the early sixties Conrad Germain and Lloyd Spinnar of DSI in Minneapolis took the next logical step and began to sell full frontal male nudes without the painted-on bathing suits. You could buy them mail order, as single shots or in book form, handsomely bound in fake leather and interspersed with shorts stories and articles. One of the latter was my Johns I Have Known and Loved, a collection of graffiti amassed in my travels. I can’t include it here (do I hear sighs of relief?) because I no longer have a copy. If you find one let me know. The only graffiti I recall is the sign often seen in the sixties on restroom walls: “My mother made me a queer,” followed invariably by “If I buy her the yarn will she make me one?”

By this time my partners and I were in the photography business ourselves, marketing—as I have already mentioned—male nudes in Naked Men #1, and Naked Men #2. We walked on eggshells for a while but luckily we were not indicted.

Not everyone was so lucky. Conrad and Lloyd ended up in court for their troubles—that was virtually guaranteed from the beginning. Fortunately they were acquitted. There was a flurry of trials involving male nudity, particularly male frontal nudity, all of them ending in acquittal. The result was that by 1969 the courts were pretty much in agreement that the naked male body front or back was not in and of itself obscene. We began to breathe easier.

When we decided to venture into the field my chief concern was not the possible legal tangles—I had been a round or two in the ring by then. My chief worry was that we might not find young men willing to model in the raw.

Silly me. Willing, even eager models were everywhere. There were some who would literally get off to the sound of the shutter clicking and the unwanted erection was a problem we encountered often. (Yes, yes, I know, but for these magazines it certainly was not wanted.) By 1969 it seemed as if every man in the world was eager to take his clothes off for a lark. All right, let it be said, some for a swallow.

We soon discovered that the real difficulty was in getting the film processed. Developing color film was a great deal more complicated than developing black and white, which even I could do. It needed a professional lab and none of those labs listed in the yellow pages mentioned in their ads whether they did or did not process male nudes.

The courts may have decided that male frontal nudity wasn’t obscene but the word hadn’t filtered down to everyone, certainly not to all the people who owned and ran the photo labs. Some were willing. Others were decidedly not.

But how to know which was which? We had to depend upon word of mouth and it was often unreliable. Time and again we would drop off film at a processing lab said to be “friendly to our cause” only to be informed when we went to pick it up that it had been confiscated as obscene.

Now, I should make clear that these were not action shots nor even erection shots, which we often spent hours in extra time avoiding. Nothing more lurid than limp appendages and not all of them oversized either, which is not as common as gay fiction would have you believe. How do you think “average” got to be average?

Nevertheless I thought this was one time when size didn’t matter. Granted the sight of Long John Silver with his dick twisted in a knot was enough to make you rethink your Christmas wrappings (what was one to do with something like that anyway, get on your knees and bark at it?) but it seemed logical to me that, large or small, the male organ wasn’t of itself obscene.

Our initial response to this de facto censorship had been to meekly nod our heads and slink out the door, letting the lab in question decide for us what we could and could not picture. That attitude prevailed for about one day. The more I thought about it, the more steamed I became to think of some mere film processor setting himself up as arbiter of taste and morals—after all that was what we had the Postal Service for.

I put on my best business drag and filled a briefcase with clippings and court decisions on the subjects of nudity and obscenity. Off I went to the lab that had confiscated our pictures. I demanded to see the manager-owner and once in his office, having intimidated a wimpy receptionist—no match she for royalty in high dudgeon—I demanded the return of my film.

We shouted. He threatened to call the police. I threatened to call the police (a bluff to be sure; they would most likely have confiscated the film themselves and arrested me, court decisions or no court decisions). He pounded the desk. I pounded the desk—with one hand, waving my clippings under his nose with the other.

Needless to say I got the film back finally, with a surly, “Don’t bring any more of your filth here.” As if.

Unfortunately that just meant starting the whole process over again. This scene with slight variations repeated itself countless times. I made four of these business calls over one roll of film—though to my great surprise on the fourth time around the owner of that particular lab agreed to look at the film himself (believe it or not, some of our would-be censors had not even bothered to look at the pictures—shades of Sioux City!) and decided that I might be right. He printed it for us but asked us to find another lab for future films.

Eventually the Postal Authorities joined the fray with a letter warning us that our publications might be obscene. This was the usual advance notice of legal troubles—indictment in other words. Remember they weren’t concerned with the legality of their position or with whether they had any chance of winning a trial; the idea was to make defending our actions too expensive for us to pursue.

A reality which we had reluctantly to face. The truth was, though our publications weren’t obscene by the current legal standard, they had not been particularly profitable either. The big-time publishers had high powered attorneys on retainer full time. They could afford to fight the government head on. We couldn’t. We gave up the magazines and the nude photography.

Within three years I would be back in the arena with a vengeance.

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Spine Intact – Chapter 16

Our Gang

 

 

 

Contrary to what the Federal government at one time suspected, I was never a dealer in stag films. There was one occasion, however, when I did in a sense act as a porn movie distributor.

In 1969 I got a call from a friend who knew that I had then a fairly extensive collection—to be sure, not on a par with Hefner’s, say, but my approximately one hundred and fifty movies was nothing to be sniffed at either.

It seemed my friend had been approached by a friend—who happened to be a person of some consequence in the local mob. The boss, he explained, was about to go to jail to serve a token sentence—six weeks, if I remember correctly, or perhaps it was six months.

In the meantime he had promised delivery of some movies and would not have time to get them through his usual source in order to satisfy his commitment before he donned his striped outfit. (In 1969 hardcore films were still hard to come by even for a Mafioso.) He needed a dozen films immediately if not sooner.

Could I help out?

Now I was never unmindful of the fact that I was on thin ice at all times where the gendarmerie was concerned. I wasn’t exactly Public Enemy # 1 but having wriggled out of one attempt to send me away, I knew the Feds would certainly be glad to finish what they had started. If I were busted selling porno movies the likelihood was that I would have the book thrown at me.

Entrapment was never entirely out of the question. This was an old friend, someone I knew and trusted. Still, any one who ever got entrapped for selling porn—or drugs later—did so selling it to someone he thought he knew, or someone that someone thought he knew. By definition you can only be betrayed by a friend. The Japanese have a saying, that you must get close to an individual to stab him in the back.

Nevertheless I took the chance—it was a case of doing a favor for a friend who owed this individual a favor—and it was never a good idea to owe these people a favor you could not repay. I agreed and a time was set for the gentleman to come by my house.

From my kitchen window I somewhat nervously watched him arrive in a large black Caddy, driver and, ah, “footman” in the front. My friend and a gentleman emerged from the rear. The lady with them stayed in the car.

When we had been introduced I told the gentleman he was welcome to invite his lady friend in. Not only was she to stay in the car, he replied, she wasn’t even supposed to look at the house. I glanced out the window from time to time; so far as I could tell, she never did.

Our business was fairly brief. We sat at my kitchen table. I brought out a selection of films—not the best or rarest of my collection, needless to say; this was still the time of porn chic and I had not amassed the collection without some effort and some expense, not to say risk.

I offered to run some of the films for him but he seemed satisfied with the sample photos and descriptions on the boxes. Actually what he said was, “the schmuck will take what he gets.”

He chose the films he wanted, an even dozen, and paid me in cash, fifty bucks a movie—a bargain in those days but I was doing a favor. In fact he overpaid me. I counted the money again and handed him back the extra hundred dollars. A test? Hard to say but he seemed pleased that I had returned it.

He asked for a pen and three pieces of paper. On one he wrote a name, on the second the first three digits of a phone number and on the last slip the remaining four digits to the phone number. He instructed me to keep the three slips of paper separately, never together. If I was ever in a jam, if I had a problem I needed taken care of, or someone was giving me trouble, I was to call the number and ask for the name. Tell them who I was and the problem would be taken care of. “Whatever the problem is,” he emphasized.

And that was that. He left and I tucked the slips of paper away, separately as instructed. I was tempted once or twice to use them but I didn’t. Doing so would have left me owing them a favor and I thought that was probably not a situation in which I wanted to find myself.

This way they owed me. I liked that better.

This minor business transaction did, however, alert me to something which became increasingly clear over the next few years—the infiltration of the publishing industry by organized crime. When a business is illegal and pursued as vigorously as pornography (be it hardcore or soft core) was in the sixties, you need big bucks to defend your actions. Sexy books and action films had become big business and where legitimate businesses can’t venture, organized crime does.

The movie Deep Throat became one of the top-grossing films of all time, but its director and the man whose inspiration the film was, Gerard Damiano, is said to have made somewhere in the neighborhood of a quarter million dollars. Soon after the film’s breakaway success Damiano sold his rights for a mere pittance to a company reportedly linked to Mob boss Carlo Gambino.

When Damiano was asked why he had sold out for so little, his reply was, “Do you want me to get both legs broken?”

The fact is gays were accustomed to the ways of the Mafia. They had always had one hand down our jockeys, so to speak. In most U.S. cities the gay bars were run by the mob, who provided protection in return for payoffs. Otherwise we’d have been meeting one another under the trees in the park. Oh, all right, there were some who did that too but it was more dangerous and you could get frostbitten in the winter, and I don’t mean on your nose. In a sense the Mafia were our friends. At the least they made life easier for us, which is more than could be said for some. I can’t say I wanted to be too close to them or some of their activities but the reality is we and they were outside the law, which gave us at least some kinship.

The Mafia was in the book business, too—the paperback, sex-oriented end of the business to be sure, but not even legitimate publishing was entirely free of their influence. The mob was most active in the distribution end of things. There were cities where allegedly you could not distribute except through the Mafia. In the sixties Seattle was said to be one such, though whether that was truly the case or still is I have no direct knowledge.

So far as I know the Mafia was not actively involved in any of the West Coast publishing houses with which I primarily dealt, though they might have kept it a secret. It wasn’t the sort of information one was likely to trumpet in the streets. Still I was on very friendly terms with people in just about all of those businesses, people who would certainly have known, and I think some hint would have been dropped along the way after a cocktail or two.

There were rumors about some of the smaller East Coast and Midwest houses but except for a sale to a forgotten publisher in Detroit I had no real involvement with those publishers.

I have to think, though, that paperback publishing would have been a logical step for the Mafia to take. Much of it was sex-oriented, of course, though you could hardly buy off federal authorities—say, the Postal System—as easily as you could a local mayor or police chief. They already had a hand in distribution, however, and there was one other plus that must have looked attractive—even for a legitimate publishing house it was difficult, close to impossible, to keep exact track of numbers.

Gil Porter, a longtime editor at Sherbourne Press, said it was the only business he knew of where you could be out of business a year before you learned the news. In the paperback field distributors and bookstores had a year to return unsold books for credit. So you might find after a year that all those books you thought you had sold were yours to eat.

It was not as simple as that either. Dealers didn’t send back the actual books for credit, they tore off the front covers and sent them back, to save shipping costs. This left them with cartons of paperback books with no front covers but otherwise perfectly readable—and saleable. There were large bookstores in Los Angeles and other major cities that sold bins and bins of coverless books—at a discount price, of course, but whatever the stores made was clear profit, since they had paid the publisher not a penny for those volumes.

As if that weren’t outrageous enough the distributors—they were many of them Mafia remember—sometimes contracted with a printer to “knock off” or copy the covers of paperback books and they returned these counterfeit covers as well as the originals. The result was that a publisher might get back in returns more than he had shipped originally—and he had to pay the distributor or credit his account for phantom books. Talk about negative cash flow.

I had one other near brush with the Mafia, one that would likely not have turned out so well as my film sale. A year or so later I made plans to visit back east. One of the stops I had planned with my friend Johnny was a visit to Hefner’s film processor, Anson the farmer. You remember Anson.

There was a slight mix up, a change in plans, and our visit to Anson was moved a day later. On the evening that I would otherwise have been with Anson, his wife answered a knock at their back door and found herself facing a trio of men with guns. She and Anson were tied to the kitchen chairs and the laboratory in the garage was stripped of equipment and films.

A day sooner and I would have been looking the wrong way up the barrel of a shotgun. Porno had always been dangerous business, particularly any involvement in hardcore movies, but mostly the risks had involved arrests and trials and had come from the Federal and local governments.

The involvement of organized crime added new risks of an even more dangerous nature.

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Spine Intact – Chapter 15

I Saw You, and Got that Old Feeling

 

 

 

One of the cultural niceties that changed dramatically with the revolution and one which I have yet to see mentioned anywhere else was what I liked to call “celebrity cruising.” This isn’t meant to imply sexual context though that sometimes came up; but it is also more than just celebrity sighting, which is fun too. A sighting can be, literally, across a crowded room. In the cruise mode you have to exchange words—to be fair, more than “hello” or “good evening.”

In Los Angeles you could do it anywhere but the prime turf was Beverly Hills. And as an inveterate “cruiser” I was more than delighted in 1963 to move into a boyfriend’s Beverly Hills apartment. Even the move had its touch of celebrity. Tony Dow of Leave It to Beaver (1957-63) had lived in the apartment before us. For a year or more I could swear to my friends that I had had my hands on Tony Dow’s “business.” There was no law requiring me to tell them that “his business” just meant his unforwarded mail. That’s business isn’t it?

Our apartment was on Roxbury Drive overlooking the park—which is to say, south of Wilshire Boulevard. The prime real estate, the stately homes and mansions of the stars, were north of the Boulevard. Our neighborhood, nice though it was, was regarded as the slums.

In those days its critics called Beverly Hills a police state and that wasn’t much of an exaggeration. There were no gay bars in town in those days. It was not until the nineties that a gay bar finally opened in Beverly Hills and then it was in the Wilshire Boulevard panhandle, so far off on the fringes that I wouldn’t have known it was in Beverly Hills if someone hadn’t told me. Exit by the kitchen door and you were in Los Angeles.

If you were in the least likely to raise an eyebrow—and I was legendary for raising eyebrows—they didn’t even like to see you walk the streets. On numerous occasions I was stopped by the local storm troopers while walking home at night and, since I didn’t yet have identification with a local address, I was driven home and watched to be sure I actually used a key and went in where they brought me. They were very polite and very firm and their message was very clear—we don’t like your kind here. Well, I had been scorned for many years by professionals, these jackboots weren’t likely to wear me down. I went out most evenings, sure of a ride home if my feet started hurting. Cheaper than a taxi, I used to say.

Of course, there were others they didn’t like to see on the streets either. If you were black you had better be recognizable as Hattie MacDaniel and have your Oscar in your purse to prove it, or else you had better be in servant’s drag. A car full of blacks just cruising the streets could count on being stopped and harassed pretty blatantly before they were escorted politely to the border. I personally witnessed these scenes a time or two. Asians and Latinos were gardeners and were expected to have their hoses at the ready when interacting with the town’s rich and demanding women.

None of which is meant to imply that there were no homosexuals or homosexual activities in the Beverly Hills of the sixties. In many ways it was a swinging town. Indeed, there were probably few if any sexual activities that weren’t actively practiced within the city limits. No one minded what you did around the pool but in the forum you were expected to wear your toga, and properly pinned, too.

My partner at the time worked for the owner of a Beverly Hills bank. He came home one afternoon with his boss’ personal phonebook and spent the next several hours on the phone—his job was to hire the women for a party being arranged for then-presidential candidate John Kennedy—or at least so he had been informed. Needless to say, I wasn’t invited to the party. These were not your ordinary hookers either, but housewives and mothers looking to make some cash on the side—large amounts of cash, I might say. A thousand dollars a pop and this was the early sixties. It was an afternoon’s work for my friend but I was told that everyone was happy with the results.

You could see these same ladies lunching or having cocktails at most of the city’s watering holes—especially at the Luau, an imitation Trader Vic’s run by Johnny Stompanato, later of Lana Turner infamy. The Luau staff were always happy to make discreet introductions assuming the right paper, with large numbers on it but folded small, was slipped into a palm.

And, yes, there were men at the bar too, amenable to the same sort of introductions. Out of work actors, pool boys, service station employees. One young stud, Hollywood Scotty as he was known, was famous for the many women who called him to deliver “just a little fuel” to their homes. He was very handsome and when I saw his more revealing photographs his pump was indeed impressive. But who knew gas jockeys made house calls?

Long before Heidi Fleisch there were madams for both men and women—Kenneth Marlowe wrote some funny tales of his experiences as a “male madam” and was one of the pioneers of the gay paperback revolution.

There was even a handsomely printed catalog that came into my possession in the late sixties, published by some sort of high-sounding foundation and featuring pictures and biographies of young men, some as young as fourteen and fifteen (if the information was to be believed) who were looking for older men to sponsor and guide them, someone who shared their interests—travel, music, sports, the whole cultural gamut. For the right price—forgive me, the right donation—you could arrange for one of these young men to spend a day or an evening, a weekend, or even accompany you on a trip. I’ve no doubt that they were yours for a lifetime if your bank account was healthy enough. I can’t tell you if the wares were as advertised but after that the Sears and Roebuck catalog seemed dull indeed.

Of course, the Beverly Hills that I lived in then was a far cry from the one of today. It was a small town—a very rich one but a small town nevertheless. Most everybody knew most everybody. Nobodies that we were, my roommate and I were nevertheless soon known to most of the locals. Certainly after enough rides home the local constabulary knew me well enough but in due time so did merchants, restaurateurs and the playboys who frequented the Luau, the Beverly Hills Club and the bar at the Beverly Wilshire.

Anyway, the point is, Beverly Hills was hardly a tame place nor even an anti-gay one, notwithstanding the lack of gay bars.

 

* * * * * * *

 

In the sixties the stars, even the big ones, were not afraid of going out alone or with a date, just like anyone else, and they were often surprisingly approachable, about as friendly (and sometimes unfriendly) as most people. I made a point of being polite. I never asked for autographs and I didn’t interrupt a conversation. So long as you didn’t make a nuisance of yourself they tended to be welcoming and open. Well, yes, Tom Brokaw was snooty indeed and he was only the local news anchor at the time but he was a rare exception.

Doug McClure used to come every Sunday to our local park to play softball with the neighborhood boys. You can’t get much more accessible than that. He was as nice as could be and awfully cute, though I found the entire business very exhausting. No, of course I never played softball, but you have no idea what a trial it can be for a thirty something to make himself look fourteen. I never did get the point of those knickerbockers.

I helped Bob Wagner match up shirts and ties at a Sak’s counter one Saturday afternoon, despite the fact that my knees were shaking the whole while. He was a true charmer and actually followed my advice on the ties. If I could have summoned up the nerve I might have offered some other suggestions as well.

Greg Morris, of Mission Impossible (1966-73), offered his thoughts on some slacks I was considering at Dayton’s. I thought they were too tight and he disagreed. To my disappointment he passed on my suggestion that he come to the dressing room with me and help me get them peeled off. He laughed, thinking I was kidding. Ha ha. Not likely, Greg.

I chatted all through dinner at the Captain’s Table with Elizabeth Montgomery. She was then at the height of her popularity as Samantha on Bewitched (1964-72) but she couldn’t have been friendlier. For the record she was far more beautiful in person than I had ever realized from seeing her on TV. Ditto Natalie Wood, whom I met at another restaurant—this one La Serre, in the Valley, where she was having dinner with Roddy McDowell. A friendly pair with lots of fun stories to tell.

Celeste Holm and I shopped at the same supermarket; and she was always happy to stop and chat or to sign an autograph, but for the autograph, you had to make a donation to B’nai Brith. It needn’t, however, be a large donation. She often kept a coin box strapped to her waist to make change.

Nina Foch was a neighbor at one time and friendly in a neighborly way. Loretta Young was a neighbor as well but less friendly. She was shocked to discover, in the mid-sixties, that there were homosexual men living in her apartment building and tried, unsuccessfully, to evict them all. That was about the same time that the powers-that-be in Laguna Beach, to the south of Los Angeles, decided they were going to drive all the gays from their town—one envisions men with bull whips pursuing swarms of gays scrambling like Eliza across ice-floes. The campaign came to naught, I am told, when one dowager of major local importance asked who was going to do her hair. Reason prevailed in the end.

The homophobes of Laguna Beach did score one victory over the gay troops, though. For many years the most popular gay bar in Laguna was right at the town’s main intersection and right on the beach. On a sunny Sunday afternoon the boys would spill from the bar’s verandah out onto the warm sand, sometimes to the dismay of the straights lolling there.

The city fathers fought this situation for many years and finally resolved it by tearing down everything in the vicinity, including the bar, and making the area a park. It is a very nice little park but I can’t help thinking the step was a rather extreme one just to push a few gays out of the way. And not very far out of the way at that—the bar shortly reopened a few blocks up the street.

 

* * * * * * *

 

Like many of the old time stars I often had lunch at Musso & Franks on Hollywood Boulevard and on one occasion Shelley Winters was seated at the table next to us—but I didn’t talk to her. No one did, not even the three gentlemen at the table with her, one of whom I guessed to be a boytoy. She never stopped talking long enough for anyone to get a word in edgewise.

The remarkable thing about that feat is that she also never stopped eating either. This was shortly after The Poseidon Adventure (1972) had opened (face it, she stole that show, didn’t she?). Shelley was, to put it mildly, large. Dressed in an oversize muu-muu, she ate not only everything on her own plate but most of what was on their plates as well, talking nonstop the whole while. Fork and lips were mere blurs of motion. It was a mind-boggling performance—aren’t Shelley’s always?—and my friends and I watched in stunned but appreciative silence.

I often went backstage to visit with the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson when she appeared at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles or, earlier, at Memorial Hall in Dayton, Ohio. If you looked only at her physical appearance you might think Mahalia was homely but in truth she was one of the most beautiful persons I ever met. She just glowed with the kind of inner beauty that no one could pretend to. “You all are fools to pay money to come here and listen to me,” she told us with a laugh the first time I met her. “You could come to the Baptist Church tomorrow morning and sing with me for free.” We did, happily.

Linda Ronstadt wasn’t really terribly famous when I was introduced to her by mutual friends. She had just left the Stoned Ponies and looked like anything but a star in her cut offs and halter top, but she was lovely.

James Garner was not in cut offs when I met him, I am sorry to say, but he had the kind of old-fashioned manners that could have charmed anybody, even if he hadn’t been so devastatingly handsome. That meeting was all too brief, I’m afraid.

In the late fifties and early sixties, the stories were rampant of George Nader’s cruising on Hollywood Boulevard but I, alas, was not one of those he cruised so I can only report them as rumors. There has long been a belief among some Hollywood observers that the studio sacrificed Nader to save Rock Hudson’s career, but George Nader’s homosexuality was such an open secret in Hollywood that he was probably mostly responsible for his own undoing.

That is not meant as a judgment call. Nader’s only real option in those days was to play one version or the other of the studio “game”—as a super-active playboy dating legions of starlets, or by marrying, either one of which would have helped to silence the rumors. His decision to do neither might well have been based on an integrity rare in the film world of the day and which one can only respect. And certainly I sympathize about the repression of the era, we all suffered from it; but the truth is, he had a job and he knew that the company had its work rules. You pays your nickel, you takes your chances.

Anyway it wasn’t like people didn’t know about Rock Hudson. A friend worked at Universal Studios and said that often when Rock arrived in the mornings the guards at the gate would smirk and greet him, “Good morning, Miss Hudson.” He seemed not to mind. Rock liked to play at the gay baths in San Francisco. That was in the tradition of Hollywood stars who went to San Francisco to play, though by the sixties and seventies they really weren’t likely to escape from notice there, either. It was said that Blake Edwards liked to frequent the San Francisco leather bars—perhaps only gathering material for a movie he would ultimately do that did feature gay bars, though not of the leather sort.

Rock wasn’t the only one who favored bathhouses, either. George Maharis, for instance, could be seen at the old Corral Club in North Hollywood, and the showers were always popular when he was about. George, however, like most of the actors who frequented the baths, signed in under a pseudonym. Hudson would usually pen his own name in the register. Didn’t care? Or inviting disaster? Who can say?

I literally ran into porn-star John Holmes outside of—you guessed it—a porno theater where one of his films was premiering. A small town Ohio boy who was known at home for his perfect attendance at Sunday school (12 straight years), Holmes starred in both gay and straight porn movies, starting out as Johnny Wadd. As an actor he was no Barrymore and he was far from the best looking man in porn but he had one asset that stood out from the rest—what he claimed was a fourteen inch penis, though Heidenry in What Wild Ecstasy (1997) sniffs (rather primly, I feel) that it was “a mere twelve and three-quarters inches” (emphasis mine). Well, excuse me, I thought you said big.

By the early seventies Holmes had established himself as the only true male superstar in an industry dominated by the women, making as much as $3,000 a day. In today’s money that would be closer to $30,000 a day. Not too shabby.

Eventually, though, a habit for freebased cocaine ate up his income and led to his ripping off friends and associates. He became emaciated and had difficulty performing on cue, definitely bad news for a porn star. In 1981 he was implicated in a brutal drug related mass murder. Whether he himself participated in the murders or only assisted the killers under duress—“the man in the middle” defense that would later find its way into law school text-books—has never been clearly resolved.

In and out of jail, disappearing from the cops only to be found each time and rearrested, Holmes went to trial in 1982 and was eventually acquitted. He died in 1988 of AIDS complications, having, it is said, caught the disease in jail, where the then-famous porn star was allegedly raped by other inmates.

One could hardly not notice the similarity to Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1997 movie Boogie Nights. Watching that movie was like a flashback in time for me—I was at all too many of those parties. They were fun—I think. It’s easy to understand how a not-terribly-bright young man with the right talents could be led so far astray.

That was all still in the future when I met John Holmes. He was then at the height of his fame. He was smaller (in height, that is to say) and cuter than I would have expected from his movies. One hears that he wasn’t the nicest of persons and I doubt that he would have been the most loyal of friends but I can say he was quite friendly and pleasant to me, even inviting me to join him and his date to watch the movie. It was an odd experience sitting next to him and at the same time watching him in blazing action on the screen. No, I’m sorry to say, I can’t resolve that disagreement over his genital size. But he certainly needed a big screen.

I ran into James Franciscus at a movie theater as well—not a porno theater, I quickly add. He, too, was smaller and cuter than I would have expected. Alas, I can’t tell you if he was John Holmes’ match in other respects. He was friendly, but not that friendly.

If you lived in the Valley or drove Laurel Canyon you couldn’t help seeing another star driving up and down the boulevard in his maroon Continental convertible, top down. He had done some movies, but he had mostly been famous for a television series that had run a few seasons earlier. By this time, however, TV viewers had cried “Uncle” and his popularity was on the wane. Perhaps feeling insecure, he would drive alongside you or sit at traffic lights smiling at you until you spied him, waiting to be recognized. I always pretended not to recognize him just as a matter of principle.

Another Valleyite who had once been in the chips but was now passé was also overly eager to be noticed. He lived in the hills directly across the street from a friend and when any of us pulled up and honked for our friend, Mr. Chips would rush out of his house smiling and waving. Too funny.

Also perversely funny was a sighting, not by me but by friends, of comedienne Nancy Walker, of Bounty towels commercial fame. This one was in Syracuse, New York where Ms. Walker had been appearing with a traveling troupe—I’m afraid I don’t recall the play but on the morning after the run ended my friends happened to be seeing someone off at the local train station and there was Nancy Walker, sitting atop her trunks and gazing pensively into the distance.

Being great movie buffs my friends approached her, not to ask for autographs but simply to tell her, “Miss Walker, we wanted to tell you how much we truly enjoyed your performance last night.”

Without so much as a glance in their direction and with hardly a beat’s hesitation Ms. Walker replied succinctly, “Fuck off.”

Well, that was in Syracuse, which may have made a difference. Although even in Los Angeles stars did not always welcome their fans. And, it might be said the fans were not always happy to see the stars, either.

There was the night, for instance, when I stopped by La Scala Bistro in Beverly Hills. And there was a star (I use that term rather than “actress”) of Eastern European descent. On this occasion, unfortunately, the glamour was crude indeed. Her wig was askew, revealing roots in serious need of attention. Her makeup was badly smeared. She was as drunk as a skunk. Frankly, dahling, I would have preferred to miss this sighting.

Yes, it is true, I saw Judy not long before her death, in a state little if any better. Time had not been kind and God knows what pharmaceuticals were at work. She too was a mess. But she was Judy. I have always believed that for great talent you have to be willing to forgive greatly. If you want girl-next-door you probably can expect girl-next-door talent. If you want the geniuses you have to suppose they aren’t going to be like you and me. Enjoy the show and suffer the rest as the price of the ticket.

The truth is if you lived in Beverly Hills or Los Angeles in those days you couldn’t help meeting stars. Of course if you went to the grand expensive places—Chasen’s and Scandia got the big Hollywood crowd while Perinos was more the old money set—you were likely to be seated next to them. But they were in the coffee shops as well, the clothing stores, the supermarkets, next to you at stop lights, waving on the freeway. Skip Wilson, with his license plates that read killer, always smiled and waved when he drove by in his Rolls and you could hardly miss Kaye Ballard’s grin. It was a friendlier world for celebrities in those days. And safer. Celebrity today is as much a curse as a blessing.

Despite the impression of Los Angeles as a cultural wasteland, I ran into quite a few stars at the opera. Mike Nichols was cute and friendly. I like to think he was flirting but maybe that was just his nature. Carol Lynley looked every inch the movie queen the night I chatted with her at the bar, with her white blonde hair, white fox fur, white satin gown and pumps—and diamonds, diamonds, diamonds. Were they real? Maybe not, but it’s all about illusion, isn’t it?

I saw Mercedes McCambridge all in white, too, but the effect was entirely different. I was at Sak’s on Wilshire when the elevator door opened and there she was. Now, women had been wearing slacks since World War Two (the second unpleasantness, as a friend of mine liked to put it). And today no one thinks twice about a woman in full male regalia—but in 1964 it was quite singular to see a woman, a famous one at that, in a man’s snap-fedora, brim turned smartly down, and a man’s white linen suit with shirt and tie. Heads turned, eyes popped, jaws dropped.

Needless to say I loved it. As she passed by me I smiled and nodded my approval. She shot a cufflink, winked and smiled in reply—and exited the store, apparently oblivious to the stunned crowd parting around her.

The most intellectually stimulating of my celebrity exchanges was the great musical composer, Igor Stravinsky. Hee hee, that’s a falsehood. But it should have been true, certainly. Stravinsky was as famed for his brilliant mind and his quick, often cutting, wit as he was for his Firebird Suite and The Rite of Spring and there I was at the same dinner table with him. It ought to have been the occasion for a sparkling, provocative conversation.

I am sorry to say I can quote the entire conversation for you, at least as it went on my end: “How do you do” and several hours later “It was a pleasure to meet you.” I think you can fill in his end of the conversation fairly easily.

It was not that he was in any way rude or stand-offish. It was only that I was all of twenty three, still wet behind the ears, and I had never before been to a dinner party where white-gloved servants passed the food around. I was much too tongue tied and shy to venture into conversation with the illustrious gentleman seated opposite me. And I might as well add too busy keeping track of forks and wine glasses. Mother had taught her children much about charm, and she had always said that manners were mostly a matter of consideration for other people, but we hadn’t gotten around to wine glasses. Mostly because we didn’t have any.

This dinner party would have been at Johnny Walsh’s beautiful home above the Sunset Strip. Johnny had been a gypsy, or chorus dancer, in New York and later in Hollywood—his one claim to Broadway fame was that he danced with Lucille Le Seur, who went on to become Joan Crawford. Though he never achieved any sort of stardom himself, Johnny was friends with many of the stars. He owned a number of different night clubs and cafés at different times, including the Crescendo and Johnny Walsh’s, where he sometimes entertained himself, but more significantly gave boosts to the early careers of such talents as Phyllis Diller and Julie London, who were often guests at his home.

Another frequent guest whom I met on that first night was Kit Fox. I know, I didn’t recognize the name either but you see the Fox name often enough now on PBS when they list those big foundations that finance the programs. These were the New York Foxes. Big money, that is to say.

At the time Kit was a feisty eighty or so years old, high of spirits and sharp of tongue. She invited me to sit by her after dinner and, still far from at ease, I was happy to comply. In my naiveté I asked her what she did.

“I just sit back and wait for relatives to die,” she told me with a raucous laugh. “Every time one of those cousins kicks off I net another million or two.”

The great opera soprano, Eileen Farrell, was also a regular at Johnny’s. Farrell was considered by many to be the greatest dramatic soprano in the world (a title I would personally have bestowed on Zinka Milanov, but by the sixties she was admittedly past her prime and Farrell was just in hers). Movie fans got to enjoy Farrell’s voice in the movie bio of Marjorie Lawrence, Interrupted Melody (1955), and even non-opera types were fans of her crossover recordings of blues and pop standards.

In the fifties the General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, Rudolf Bing, was conspicuously slow in inviting Farrell to sing at the Met, in part it was said because he thought her too fat. The rumor earned her the unfortunate moniker Fats Farrell, though in truth she was really not a heavyweight by operatic standards—indeed, compared to some of today’s big name divas she was practically sylph-like. But really, who cared; the thing was, she sang like a force of nature.

Singers are often reluctant to sing for their suppers but not Ms. Farrell, who would dash to the piano at the drop of a semidemiquaver. The problem, if you can call it a problem, was getting her away from the piano. Once started she would sing till the roof fell in. Well, one could suffer a worse fate and I was certainly never the one to complain.

One celebrity I never did meet and I always hoped I might was Jane Fonda—not because I was such a big fan of hers, though I considered her a very fine actress. Her Nora was a triumph and she did a number of memorable film roles including some surprisingly good comedy (can you name the movie in which she and Tony Perkins sing together, and not for laughs, either?). I have always believed, however, that the role of Rosalind (in As You Like It, cretin) was written for Jane Fonda and I would have loved an opportunity to tell her so. I never got the opportunity unfortunately and so far as I know she never played the role she was surely born to play.

The John Kennedy assassination shook the entire world but the celebrity community did not see it as a personal threat to them. The Manson murders in 1969 scared everybody. The stars hired security guards and wired alarms to their gates but they continued to shop and dine as before.

By the mid-seventies, however, the celebrity stalkings and celebrity slashings had the rich and famous leery of the fans whose attention they had formerly craved. That smiling individual walking up to you at the bar might be an adoring fan—or a psycho with a gun or a knife.

Did the sexual revolution of the seventies kill the sport of celebrity cruising? Probably not directly, but I think the general relaxation of inhibitions that was so much a part of the revolution made it far easier for the John Hinckleys to come out of their particular closets.

You can still spy the familiar faces in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs—at a distance. Today’s stars, with justification, travel mostly in packs, with entourages and bodyguards. Try to approach one and you’re likely to be wrestled to the ground before you can ask for an autograph. The revolution brought its blessings and its losses.

Still, the memories are fond. I guess my funniest celebrity sighting—at least, afterward; I wasn’t laughing so much at the time—was of Esther Williams and Fernando Lamas. In fact I used to see them often as we all went to the same church on Sunday mornings. I can’t really say we were acquainted but, as familiar faces, we usually exchanged greetings.

On this occasion, however, I was again at the opera. I had gone a little early with a friend. We had a drink at the bar upstairs and there as well were the famous couple.

Now, those of you who have read Esther’s autobiography, The Million Dollar Mermaid (Simon & Schuster, 1999), know that Fernando Lamas was inordinately proud of his endowments. She writes of an early meeting when they rode in the studio’s limousine from the beach back to MGM. In the dark of the car Lamas took her hand and put it on his lap and kept it there for the entire forty-five minute ride.

What’s more, he liked to dress to flaunt his attributes. I can tell you for a fact that they were obvious and just as much a religious experience at the opera house as they had been for me in church, where more than once they truly inspired me to prayer.

We were meeting friends before the opera began and went to the street level to wait at the bottom of the grand staircase. Our friends arrived, we chatted for a few minutes and the bell rang to announce that the opera would soon begin.

I had already told the friends that Esther and Fernando were upstairs. “You must come up for a drink at intermission,” I informed them gaily. “We can take turns feeling Fernando to find out if it’s real.”

I turned and there, no more than three feet away and looking daggers at me, were Esther Williams and Fernando Lamas. There was no doubt that they had heard my remarks. I slunk by red-faced and never did get the chance to find out if his display was authentic. Fortunately Esther’s memoirs have since settled the question.

I still think my way would have been more fun.

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In front of the club

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Spine Intact Chapter 14

Meanwhile, on the Silver Screen…

 

 

 

“No, really, I’m serious. I mean it.”

“Wait a minute,” I say, “Let me get this straight. You’re talking about Playboy magazine? That Hugh Hefner?”

“Right. Absolutely.”

“And you’re telling me that Hugh Hefner—the Playboy magazine Hugh Hefner—wants to meet me?”

“Exactly.”

This is my old friend Johnny Beard on the telephone. A good friend. A drag performer by choice, who does a terrific show, one of the best I have ever seen; but when have artists ever had it easy? We all have to eat and Johnny pays for his food by working in an auto factory. In Anderson, Indiana. A nice town, a pleasant place to live—but this is 1967. There are no Playboy Clubs in Anderson, Indiana. I doubt if there are any Playboy magazines in Anderson in 1967, or if there are, they are sold strictly “under the counter.” Certainly Johnny has not met Hugh Hefner in Anderson and he has never, ever mentioned going to Chicago.

“Are you trying to tell me you know Hefner?”

“No, of course not. But Anson—this guy that I work with—knows him. Anson told him about you and Hef asked Anson to see if he could arrange a meeting.”

If they work together I can only assume, unless Anson is himself a female impersonator, that he works in that place where they assemble bodies for Cadillac motor cars. And I am to believe that this assembly line worker is a pal of Hefner’s? Not just any pal, either—a close enough pal to be arranging his social calendar.

Hee hee hee. That Johnny. What a comic!

 

“Chic happens,” as Lady Agatha used to say.

To the Rich and Famous—the so-called “beautiful people”—chic is only slightly less necessary than breathing.

Chic is largely a matter of exclusivity. It is the club that only the known faces can get into. It is the handcrafted car, the limited edition, the exclusive residential community. It is the rare, the expensive, often the taboo. It is the fad before it becomes the fad, which is to say, before it becomes commonly available—or more aptly expressed, available to the common individual, at which time the in-crowd moves on to other ways of confirming its superiority.

In the mid to late seventies it became chic to pass around enormous bowls of cocaine after dinner. In the mid to late sixties with the sexual revolution in full blossom the after dinner treat was often pornography—hardcore films, eight millimetre, and a bit later, super eight; occasionally, grandest of all, the thirty-five millimeter.

Stag action, blue movies, porn flicks, fuck films—by whatever title, hardcore action movies had no doubt been around just about as long as their more conventional cousins. James R. Petersen in The Century of Sex (Grove Press, 1999) cites A Free Ride, circa 1915, as the “earliest known” stag film. John Heidenry in What Wild Ecstasy: The Rise and Fall of the Sexual Revolution (Simon & Schuster, 1997) cites Le Bain (The Bath), from 1896.

It’s probably not possible to be certain. The entrepreneurs who made these films didn’t copyright them and I would be surprised if it took them very long to get the idea of producing the naughty stuff. I’m sure that some renegade photographer was quick to spot the “need” and fill it. There is always money to be made appealing to human lust, the more so if it is of a forbidden sort.

In any event certainly examples of stag films exist dating back to the early days of the twentieth century. By the thirties a small army of traveling projectionists toured the country showing blue movies at all sorts of male-only gatherings. Brothels generally had their films for viewing. When Polly Adler, the infamous madam in 1930’s New York, was arrested, it was not for prostitution or running a house but for possession of fuck movies.

Truth to tell they hadn’t changed much over those fifteen or so years and still hadn’t thirty years later. By the sixties color was still uncommon. Except in a few very rare instances sound was not added until the advent of the videotape and even on the earliest video porn movies sound meant a musical track in the background, not dialogue. Is there anyone from the seventies who didn’t watch couples copulating to the beat of disco music? I thought they were demonstrating the latest dance steps.

In the sixties pornographic movies were still reel to reel. They were rare, hard to come by and expensive. All necessary elements in establishing any fad as chic. Those with money, on the cutting edge, collected it. The largest private collection of pornography (not just movies, of course) in the world was reputed to be the Vatican’s—which when you think about it makes sense. What else did those monks have to do with themselves all day? I think we know what they did at night.

There were other collections however, well hidden (you could still be arrested for possession let alone selling. Sound familiar?) shared with only the select few, some of them the stuff of legend. Often movies were said to feature Hollywood stars. I saw several “Joan Crawfords” and one or two “Marilyn Monroes,” none of which convinced me.

While individual movies, particularly those supposed to feature name stars, were famous on the underground circuit, there were entire collections too that “everyone” knew about. I bid on what was purported to be Raymond Burr’s private collection but I was outbid—way outbid to be frank. What made the “Burr Collection” of particular interest was that it was said to contain a number of gay pornographic films.

There were rumors aplenty regarding Burr’s own homosexuality, a subject on which I have no firsthand knowledge, but the fact that his collection included gay titles is not so much a comment on what may or may not have been any personal predilection on his part (gosh, he collected orchids, too, and I’ve never heard a hint that he was a phaleonopsis) but rather a basic truism of collection in any field: what is most desirable, and most valuable, is what is rarest. And male-gay fuck films were then among the rarest of the breed.

At that time I knew of only one American made and American available gay film, Two Sailors, a copy of which had cost me a pretty penny and a lot of searching. It was black and white and by the way about on a par with those fifties gay novels—which is to say it was clear that these were two males in sailor uniforms and that they were doing something together but beyond that the details remained stubbornly vague. You could see more actively engaged dick in a Boy Scout camp. Which, to be honest…but I’ve already said enough about that.

All of this explains why, however, when I returned from Europe in 1966, I smuggled in a suitcase filled with gay porn movies, having spent considerable time and money and experienced a few hair-raising adventures tracking these movies down throughout Europe. Even in such infamous spots as Hamburg’s Reeperbahn, finding hardcore films wasn’t easy and finding male on male films a definite challenge. There were lots of meetings in smoky cafés, nerve-wracking strolls down dark alleys, climbs up back stairs to knock in code at doors.

On the other hand there was the grandmotherly woman working what seemed to be an ordinary book and magazine store in Amsterdam who, at my request, offered me an entire carton of films all featuring illustrated covers—illustrated quite clearly, I should explain, with hardcore scenes from the films—while declaring in no uncertain terms that she had no idea what the films were about, but I was welcome to look through them. This produced some of my best finds, and Grandma knew nothing.

Probably my scariest moment was bringing the films through U.S. Customs on my return. Perhaps two dozen reels, they filled most of a foldover suitcase. Customs searches then were a matter of random selection, though I have no doubt the inspectors had a profile which told them whose bags to search. I must have qualified because I was chosen.

The first of my bags was carefully examined. The second followed and the third, opened and meticulously searched. Thinking the jig was definitely up, I hoisted the last bag, the one filled with blue movies, onto the conveyor belt and, tempting fate, said to the customs agent, “Here, this one is mine as well.”

“That’s okay,” he replied, smiling as he stamped the bags, “You’re not smuggling anything.”

I passed on through with shaking knees—and what constituted in 1966 a serious collection of gay porn. Why did my contributions to the sexual revolution also seem to be so dangerously beyond the law?

My films were both black and white and color, regular and super eight, and one of them was the rarest of the rare, a bisexual film with two males and one female, the only film of its kind that I had run across at that time.

So there I was with my newly acquired, très chic collection and in no time at all I had this call from Johnny Beard, with whom I had long swapped still photos, developed in our bathrooms at night and not likely to win us any prizes in photo competitions.

Hugh Hefner, he informed me, was eager to meet me. At the time Hugh Hefner lived in his mansion in Chicago. I mean, lived in it. The story went that he had not been outside of those seventy rooms (some say one hundred but The Century of Sex, edited by Hefner himself, says seventy and he ought to know) for six, maybe seven years. Playboy magazine was practically the official publication of the sexual revolution, at least for the heterosexual contingent. I was—well, a paperback writer. My trial experiences had brought me some notoriety but not such as might have brought me to Hefner’s attention. (I learned later, in fact, that Hefner was already in the forefront of those pushing the legal boundaries on sexual and first amendment issues, not just with his magazine but with his Playboy Foundation, which took an interest in court cases likely to set precedent. In fact, he did know of our court case, and knew who I was, so I was more famous—all right, infamous, if you insist—than I knew; but at the time I had no inkling.)

Johnny certainly seemed an unlikely candidate to arrange a meeting with Mister Hefner, maybe the least likely candidate. Still he insisted he was serious and, laughing all the while, I agreed to a meeting.

Only a few days later my partner and I and Johnny found ourselves in Chicago, ensconced lakeside in a suite (nice but badly in need of cleaning) at the Drake Hotel, waiting for the Playboy limo to pick us up. By this time I had learned some background.

Hefner had the ambition of amassing the world’s largest private pornography collection, bigger even than the Pope’s. What he had already was extensive—sorted and catalogued for him by a moonlighter from the not-too-distant Kinsey Institute (whom I shall call Glen, not quite his name); and copied and printed for him in a makeshift laboratory in, yes, Anderson, Indiana, in the barn of a grizzled farmer and sometime factory worker (whose real name, of course, was not Anson). You must bear in mind you couldn’t take these things to your local photo lab for processing and few people outside of professional laboratories had the capability of developing and printing movie films.

It turned out that Johnny, who worked alongside Anson at the factory and knew about Anson’s “side job,” had mentioned my gay film acquisitions and Anson had mentioned them to Hefner…and Hefner really did want to meet.

In due time we found ourselves at the mansion, where we were made to feel welcome and given the VIP tour by Glen. I found the place interesting, if not altogether tasteful. To paraphrase an old cliché it was a great place to party but I wouldn’t want to live there.

What I did find intriguing was that all of the bedrooms and guest rooms—at least, all of them that we were shown, though assuredly these were not all—had hidden doors, sliding panels, peep holes, sliding walls—you could be watched in action in any or all of them. It was said by an ex-Playboy editor, Frank Brady, “that all of the rooms contained hidden closed-circuit television cameras.” Not only might your romp be watched but it might even be preserved for posterity. And there I was without a lipstick. Damn! A second chance at a film debut out the window.

The mansion was a voyeur’s delight, to be sure. There was a clothing optional pool with a glass wall through which those in the bar downstairs (reached by means of a fireman’s pole—I mean a brass one, silly) could watch the nude bunnies and guests cavorting. The swimming pool was the only entry to a grotto where many of the guests assumed they were safe from prying eyes; but even there they could be seen, as Hef laughingly showed us in due time, lifting a trapdoor from above.

It was another publisher, Bob Guccione of Penthouse, who avowed that all men were voyeurs and all women exhibitionists, but Hefner seemed to share that view.

Hef—as he insisted on being addressed—didn’t show up until four or so in the afternoon, his usual rising time I was told. His was not an “early to bed, early to rise” lifestyle. He appeared in bathrobe, looking indeed as if he had just gotten out of bed. He drank Pepsi but offered us whatever we liked. The Scotch was top-shelf.

As an openly gay man in this hotbed of heterosexuality I rather expected to be patronized but I must say that, though he was predictably self-absorbed, Hugh Hefner was an utterly charming man, attractive rather than handsome. His complexion was sallow—clearly not a lot of time in the sun—his hair brown, streaked with gray. His eyes were vivacious, however, and he fairly crackled with energy, as men with powerful sex drives often do. When he looked at you directly you had a feeling he was weighing you as a possible partner. I can only assume I was found wanting since I left that day with the state of my virtue the same as it had been when I arrived (you don’t want to go there, trust me).

Still, it was an enjoyable afternoon and evening. We chatted about a great many things, in particular, of course, the sexual revolution. He was familiar with the details of my Sioux City adventure. I was surprised and flattered, needless to say.

Eventually we got around to terms for the movies he wanted, generous terms frankly, but that subject came late in the meeting. One would have thought that we were there solely for the pleasure of our company and the movies only an afterthought.

Ultimately he had my films copied to add to his collection and made it very much worth my while. By the way, while we chatted that grizzled farmer who had brought us here and who was by no means anyone’s sexual fantasy was being “entertained” in one of the bedrooms by the sort of beautiful young woman of which many men can only dream. Hef was generous it seemed but everyone was expected to do his or her duty.

Glen, who had been our tour guide earlier, told us there was a hierarchy involving the centerfolds, starting with Hef himself, of course, who personally chose every centerfold; and then down the line, so to speak, each getting his turn according to his status in the operation. Glen, so he said, was somewhere in the middle of the list. All true? Well, let’s face it, it might have been boasting in part. I know men well enough to know that their versions of their sexual successes sometimes need to be taken with a cup—or, that is to say, a grain—or two of salt.

I was happy with the terms that were eventually arranged for my films but frankly I was having far more fun just meeting the man himself and getting acquainted. Here in the flesh was the very definition of “sybarite,” and after all, I was at that time a fighter in the sexual wars, if only a foot soldier.

I was surprised to learn, from the horse’s mouth as it were, that it had been Hefner’s original intention to make Playboy magazine a bisexually oriented publication, but he had found too much resistance even among his liberal subscribers. A mere glimpse of male genitalia was enough apparently to unleash a barrage of complaints and a wave of subscription cancellations and he had, sadly he said, bowed to his public’s demands.

Did this, I wondered, indicate that the man himself was bisexual? There were plenty of rumors to that effect but one heard those stories about nearly every attractive male celebrity then and now. Paul Newman, Tom Cruise (separately and together, as the gossip had it), Antonio Banderas, Tom Selleck, Richard Gere—well, I’m not going to go there. My point is, unless I have firsthand knowledge (or better yet experience) or hear it from someone who claims firsthand knowledge (and whom I consider believable) I tend to regard most of these stories as wishful thinking. I have, alas, known individuals whose careers, even lives, were ruined by rumors that were later proved to be untrue. It may be true that where there is smoke there is sometimes fire but it has been my observation that sometimes where there is smoke there is only smoke.

Sometimes, too, the truth is just too sad to merchandise. As a for instance, the infamous “Fuck (Actor X) party” I attended in the early seventies. The party’s title pretty well sums up the evening. There was the star himself (more a star of television than movies though he sometimes has graced the stage as well) buns bared for all comers, of whom there were many. Very pretty buns they were, too—the sort that make you want to bite down and pray for lockjaw. And yet what was at first a titillating sight became, as time passed, rather sad to see. It was a time in which gay males were struggling with issues of self-esteem but this was not what the doctor would have prescribed for the malady. I took no turn and choose now not to name names. He was a young man then; perhaps today he regrets his generosity. It would be kinder, I think, if I not remind him of it.

On the other hand he may have only fond memories of that evening and mine might be nothing more than sour grapes. People are so quick to complain, aren’t they? You take on thirty or forty guys at a party and right off the bat, as sure as God created pansies, someone is going to say something mean.

In any event I did not ask Hef about his possible bisexuality and he offered no direct testimony on that score, though more than once he seemed to be saying so indirectly. That, however, might have been nothing more than an attempt to make a gay man feel comfortable in Hetero-Central, and I really think that those “bedroom glances” of his were second nature to the man, so automatic that he was unaware that he was stripping you bare.

I can say, however, that while we were in his conference room, an aide came to inform him that his guest, the current movie and television heart throb, Clint Walker, had arrived and been shown to his room.

My pulse racing, eyelashes fluttering, I boldly said that I would simply love to meet Mr. Walker.

“Private stock,” Hef informed me with a wink and a broad grin. And he left us soon afterward to join his guest.

By the by, I am also unable to confirm or deny the rumor of Hef’s “nine inches.” The weather that day was threatening and that could have been a flashlight in his pajamas. Or a spare Pepsi. I know that when I thought about Clint Walker and the possibilities his presence suggested my throat went dry.

 

* * * * * * *

 

By 1972, the Chinese “year of the cock,” it had begun to look as if there were no longer any restraints on sexual expression. People were flocking to theaters to see The Devil in Miss Jones and Deep Throat, the latter ranked with the top grossing films of all time, ultimately earning in excess of $100 million.

That same year of 1972 Burt Reynolds “bared it all” for Cosmopolitan—or nearly all. In go-go bars male and female dancers were showing the rest. Playboy’s carefully airbrushed centerfolds gave way, in the April 1970 issue of Penthouse, to the first girlie shot to show pubic hair. Within months Penthouse was showing the first “split beavers,” as the thighs-wide open shots were rather unromantically called.

With my partner, my secretary and an editor friend I had formed a corporation—Cross Sonnets, Inc. Sonnet, “the titular head” as we labeled her, was my partner’s white poodle—often cross and an obvious inspiration for Jackie’s pet, Sophie, in the C.A.M.P. books.

By this time we had published a couple of magazines ourselves. The first, of naked men cavorting in mountain snow, we titled Naked Men #1. The second issue had the bared hunks, a different bunch, cavorting in a garage midst hogly motorcycles. We called it Naked Men #2. At this point the postal people starting breathing down our necks. I didn’t think the magazines were worth the trouble and expense of a trial. We ceased publication. The timing was, alas, particularly unfortunate as I had just come up with a title for the next one…

Despite our personal setback, it seemed by the late sixties that the worst of the censorship wars were behind us. The federal and local governments had not given up their efforts to hold back the tide of liberalism sweeping the country—indeed, the world. There were still trials and even some convictions but most of these, like the Sioux City convictions, were overturned on appeal.

Laws and Supreme Court decisions on obscenity matters were still confusing and contradictory. The main sticking points were the Supreme Court directives that in order to be found obscene the material in question must be without redeeming social value and patently offensive to the average viewer applying community standards.

At first this was interpreted to mean national community standards so that, while citizens in the town of East Barnyard might be shocked by the sight of naked genitalia, it was no challenge to show that elsewhere—in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco—such depictions were practically de rigueur.

The early seventies could be called the golden age of porn movies. The grainy, 8-millimeter films cranked out in garages and motels had, seemingly overnight, become relics of the past. Porn movies now played in real theaters, often very nice ones, and directors put their names—though not always their real names—on the movies. Camerawork, lighting, costumes and sets were the work of professionals.

Jim and Artie Mitchell’s Behind the Green Door (1972) premiered to a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Films like The Legend of Lady Blue (1976) and Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1975) featured literate and witty scripts and drop-dead-gorgeous men and women, some of whom, like Jamie Gillis, were actors with legitimate training and stage experience.

In Hollywood there was endless talk about plans for the first big budget, big Hollywood, big stars pornographic movie. Bob Guccione’s Caligula (1979), intended to be the first big screen big name hardcore movie, was a decided flop but others had the same-only-better idea. Ken Scott, a would-be swain and a handsome lead in a handful of B-movies (Pirates of the Tortugas still pops up occasionally on afternoon television) described to me in detail his plans for certain scenes, frequently involving glass-topped tables (could I make up a detail like that?). Everyone that I talked to believed the persistent rumor that Warren Beatty was all but ready to start the cameras rolling. We held our collective breath and waited. There’s no doubt that, had Beatty’s movie happened, the history of the subsequent decades would have been different.

But after a decade of “anything goes,” the courts began gradually to beat a retreat. The test for obscenity was modified to allow prosecutors and jurors to apply local community standards in deciding if material was offensive and without redeeming social value.

This set off a new frenzy of indictments and prosecutions. Overnight prosecutors found it easier to obtain conviction and more important to sustain them through appeals challenges. By the beginning of the seventies, publishers and movie producers found themselves practically living in courtrooms.

In 1974 the producers and stars of the movie Deep Throat were convicted on obscenity charges in a Memphis, Tennessee courtroom. This time the convictions stuck.

It was dash of cold water for the porno industry. Overnight the talk of big budget Hollywood porno films ceased. Ten years of increasingly liberal and open expression couldn’t be undone but a line had been drawn in the sand beyond which it was prudent not to venture. This somewhat tenuous truce has mostly held to this day.

It might not have done, however, if two other phenomena hadn’t come along to change the game. For all intents and purposes the advent of the VCR in 1976 ended the era of porno chic. Practically overnight you could walk into a store and buy or rent your own porno movies on videotape. As with all things “chic,” the availability of the same material on a general basis ended the interest of the high-end collectors, who went on to the pursuit of other thrills, leaving the porn field to the masses.

The masses soon tired of it, just as wiser and cooler heads had predicted all along. When the clandestine element was gone, when the sexual taboos had all but vanished, people quickly began to grow bored. There remained a greatly reduced film industry and there was still the occasional bar featuring nude or semi-nude dancers, but by the late seventies the excitement was ended.

I can’t tell you if Hef ever realized his goal of amassing the world’s largest private collection. I suspect that, with the average Joe able to walk into a store at will and purchase his own porn flicks, Hef’s interest waned.

I did not meet him again face to face. We talked on the phone and movies were carried back and forth, copied I presume by that farmer in Indiana, at least until the mob put him out of business, as they eventually did.

The Los Angeles Playboy Club was then on the Sunset strip with a restaurant better than it had to be and a spectacular view of the city of lights. I took friends for dinner as Hef’s personal guests, the sort of reservation that guaranteed you a special evening.

We had a window table. The matches in the ashtray were printed with my name. The food was good, the service impeccable—with one mysterious exception: the champagne that I ordered seemed awfully slow in arriving and the sommelier was nowhere to be seen. I signaled the Maître d’ to ask him about it. He explained in a discreet whisper not to be overheard by my guests that he and the sommelier had deemed the wine at hand in the restaurant “not good enough” for Hef’s personal guests. The sommelier had dashed upstairs for some of Hef’s private stock—Taittinger’s, as it turned out, and plenty good enough for me.

Later, when we were sipping cognacs (Le Paradis if you want to know), the Maître d’ returned to tell me in another discreet whisper that they were holding the show in the lounge—Jackie Mason on that occasion—for our arrival.

We were led to our ringside table, the objects of all attention and much speculation as to who these special guests could be and the show finally was permitted to go on. Our very own bunny attended to our wants, with everything on the house. Afterward there was a bit of Scotch with some jazz in the lounge before we called it a night. Not a bad trade off, I thought, for a few skin flicks. Hef was nothing if not generous.

Until she died in the mid-seventies, I had the private number for Hef’s secretary, Bobbie, with whom I stayed loosely in touch. I thought once or twice of asking to see Hef. There were one or two movies that came into my collection that I felt rather sure would not be released on video—some things remained rare and taboo even then—and in which I thought he might be interested. I would have liked, too, to chat with him about the changes taking place in our society. The world had changed greatly in the few years since our meeting in Chicago. Indeed, his world had changed too; Hef was no longer the recluse who never left that Chicago mansion but had become more visible in the outside world.

I never acted on these impulses, however, and as each year passed it became clearer and clearer that the sexual revolution was winding down. Things were never going to go back to what they had been before, thank Heavens, but the sun had set on that day of frenzied, non-stop, anything-goes swinging.

The first Playboy Club had opened in Chicago in 1960. By the end of the decade there were nearly a million members in twenty-three clubs in the United States, London, and Jamaica. The clubs, however, proved to be money losers, an enormous drain on profits. Not long after our memorable dinner the Sunset Boulevard Playboy Club closed and a new quite charmless one reopened on a much reduced scale in a Century City mall, and not terribly long after that the curtain came down on the entire world wide chain of Playboy Clubs.

Bobbie, Hef’s loyal secretary and my source of contact, committed suicide rather than be forced to testify against Hef (it was said) in an abortive cocaine trial. The private jet was sold. Plagued by dwindling sales figures and the criticism of a growing feminist movement, Hef would eventually turn over the management of the magazine to his daughter, Christie, and move to a new mansion in the Holmby Hills area of Los Angeles. The parties still sound like fun but I think even Hef would agree that the old sparkle has gone. The only true constant is change.

I’ve read a great deal of criticism of Hugh Hefner over the years, some of it written I suspect by people who had never met him. There were certainly plenty of lurid stories about the orgies at the mansion—Wednesday night was supposedly orgy night. There were rumors, perhaps only that, of bestiality, child sex, S&M dungeons, imported hookers of both sexes. What I saw looked pretty tame, however, the sort of excess you might expect from unsupervised college boys with lots of money to spend.

I suppose you could find some psychological insights in the fact of Hefner’s obsession with nubile young women; but if that were a crime…

He has probably most often been criticized as a megalomaniac and certainly he was not shy when it came to talking about himself. During that meeting at the Chicago mansion I looked across the table to where Hef and my partner were examining a black model of a 727 jet airplane with pink bunny ears on the tail—what would materialize soon afterward as the Playboy Jet.

“Is that their new plane?” I asked my friend.

“Not their new plane,” Hef replied for him, “My new plane.”

Fair enough. For all his self-involvement, however, Hef had too a gift for listening which in my opinion mostly defines charm. Like all truly sexy men—and women—he could be in a room full of people and manage to focus on you alone. I found him warm and sincere and courteous to an old fashioned degree. I liked him.

And I still would like to know about Clint Walker.

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