THE DEUCE – BACK IN THE DAY
by Shaun Costello
The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the over-modulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.
Forty Second Street between Times Square and Eighth Avenue had pretty much the same chaotic intensity as the subway station, except brighter and colder. The sidewalks were covered with evidence of the previous night’s activities, and silent men with brooms were sweeping out the entrances to the many movie houses that provided a dark haven for degenerates on the prowl, and warm place to sleep for those who had no alternative. When I was a bit younger, Jimmy and I spent many a night with friends from High School in these theaters, where you could see three action pictures for a buck, and where the predominantly black audience threw empty soda cans at the screen to warn the hero that a bad guy was sneaking up behind him. Jimmy, Herb and I would haunt these shabby venues, watching bad prints of older action pictures, and endlessly quoting lines of dialogue from the movies to each other, competing for who could sound more like Lee Marvin or Burt Lancaster. We became the Three Musketeers of 42nd street, playfully window shopping Cheap Men’s Clothing, Army/Navy, Discount Electronics, Peep-O-Rama, Nedicks, GIRLS/GIRLS/GIRLS, Souvlaki/Gyros, Tad’s Steaks, Pinball-Palace, Te-Amo Cigars, Orange Julius, Modell Sporting Goods, Movieland, all the daily offerings of “The Deuce”.
Why I found this degenerate atmosphere to be the soothing, nurturing, cradle of comfort that drew me like a moth to a flame, is difficult to describe, particularly to those who never experienced it, or never needed to. Today’s Forty Second Street is a Disney-driven, squeaky-clean, family-friendly, vanilla canyon of imitative tourist attractions that might just as well be found in Kansas or, better yet, Orlando. But back then, before the bulldozers cleared away the grunge of reality to make room for the plasticine, cellophane wrapped Valhalla that would replace it, “The Deuce” was the Mecca for those restless souls who prowled the canyons of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit.
Le Journal d’un Pornographe Unrepentant
Par Shaun Costello
The finished manuscript. Just over ninety thousand words. It took me ten years to complete this book. I gave up many times along the way, stunned by the universal rejection I had received. Then, a year or so later, I would start again, find another agent willing to take it on, and get hammered with rejection once again. I don’t take rejection well. But now, thanks to a French publisher, it’s finally finished. A hard cover edition will be available, in French, in October 2016, at book stores in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Canada. Thank you to all of my friends who kept after me to finish it: Gil Markle, Thomas Eikrem, Andy Waller, Jeff Eagle, Robin Bougie, Mike Forhan, Mary Jo Rayfield, Elizabeth Main, and many others. If I have forgotten you, go out and buy a gun and shoot me. Thanks to Congress, you won’t need a background check.
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WILD ABOUT HARRY
A friend who knew him well remembers HARRY REEMS
by Shaun Costello
The reviews are coming in:
By Geert Claeys on June 7, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
My earliest memory of Golden Age hardcore he-man Harry Reems stems from somewhere back in the still budding Eighties. Our (Belgian) household was still a few years removed from acquiring its first VCR, mighty pricey back in the day, but the local video store would offer cumbersome play-only devices described as “movie boxes” (anyone else remember those contraptions ?) for an affordable weekend rental, throwing in a couple of complimentary tapes as part of the deal. As with any VHS renter, one of the flicks I picked was of an adult nature, in my case the 1974 carnal classic
Sometime Sweet Susan. So it came to pass that my mom (!!!) and I – aged about 15 or 16 at the time – sat down on a Saturday night to sample our first flavor of in-house intimate entertainment. Mom, God rest her weary soul, was a desperate housewife well before TV made the term fashionable, possessed of a tiger’s temperament trapped in the starting to sag shell of a stay at home spouse and mother of eleven, eight sons versus three daughters. The bloom of youth prematurely trampled by daily drudgery, Lord knows she could stand a salacious vicarious thrill to help her make it through the night. Turned out titular Susan, the pic’s perky protagonist, was a particularly troubled young lady with a split personality (the proverbial good girl/bad girl) in dire need of psychiatric support. Enter Harry Reems as the Good Doctor (I didn’t see Deep Throat until several years after) rushing in aid of our ailing heroine. I swear you could have heard both mom and me gasp at his first appearance. Although an amiable actor, certainly by adult standards (a frame of reference I was still unfamiliar with at the time), it was his look that did it for us. Yes, we really were that shallow ! A fine torso with magnificent muscle definition, yet light years removed from the pumped physique of the next decade’s gym bunnies, covered with a thick layer of fur as our favorite tell-tale trademark of virility. Mom liked ‘em hirsute and, then still unbeknownst to her, so did the youngest of her boys… The Sixties’ sexual
revolution had produced an unprecedented permissiveness on worldwide cinema screens by the time strapping young Herbert Streicher, a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn, figured these newfangled fornication flicks were a great way to make ends meet while waiting for his big break in thespian territory. The ultimately short-lived “Porno Chic” phenomenon took sex films out of their storefront ghetto and moved them into fancy first run theaters. For a brief shining moment, it seemed as if carnal cinema had come of age and had permanently taken up residence in the major league to the approval of adventurous audiences everywhere. In such climate, illusory though it was to prove, it was not unthinkable for a struggling actor to seriously consider the option of taking it off and putting it in for pictorial posterity without a care as to how or whether this might affect his future chances. After all, he wasn’t doing anything that didn’t come naturally to most people. At worst, should fornication films prove but a fleeting fad, they would probably sink without a trace leaving no one the wiser, right ? Unfortunately for Herb, who had been trying on professional monikers with “Tim Long” the most persistent until “Harry Reems” finally stuck, an unassuming little XXX flick was to decide otherwise… Gerard Damiano’s groundbreaking Deep Throat and its legal hassles that were to kill off the legit careers of all involved, headed by Reems serving as primary scapegoat, have been extensively covered by Bailey and Barbato’s essential 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. Shaun Costello, a fellow performer from the industry’s infancy who would graduate to feature filmmaking while upholding an astonishing “Real World” front, was there at crucial junctures in Harry’s life. Now he lifts the veil on the man whose very image was to become synonymous with the prototypical Seventies porno stud : a lean mean fornicatin’ machine with the trademark
handlebar mustache. A close buddy and ally since their days in the trenches, Costello chronologically charts the rise and fall of the reluctant adult industry icon in an instantly ingratiating, flab-free style giving you the how’s and why’s without resorting to amateur analysis or purple prose. Which is not to say that he merely records the bad boy shenanigans he shared with his subject, as evidenced by an astonishingly astute account of an acid trip that reads like something akin to Beat poetry. Carnal cognoscenti are well aware that Reems starred in Costello’s fledgling filmmaking effort, the sexually explicit Vietnam vet on a rampage flick Forced Entry, and the exhaustive chapter on that film’s genesis alone provides enough reason to pick up a copy of the book. Already associated with congenially comedic capers through Throat and other farces of its ilk taking their cues from burlesque theater, the actor gave one of his most atypical performances as the deeply disturbed gas station attendant whose twisted views on morality
(punishing women for making themselves sexually available to all and sundry) blow up in his face when the tables are turned in deliciously ironic fashion. Although Reems was to subsequently feign shock at the movie’s heady mix of real sex and phoney violence in his 1975 autobiography Here Comes Harry Reems !, it remains one of his standout achievements, providing a strong glimpse of what might have been had mainstream movies embraced rather than rebuffed him. Costello chronicles Reems’s fall from grace in harrowing detail, deftly side-stepping sensationalism at every turn. The actor’s own words quoted from various credited sources paper over the periods when the longtime pals’ paths would diverge. Their fleeting reunion towards decade’s end, when Costello was on his way up with bigger budgets allowing for more ambitious endeavors (the “Warren Evans” era, for those in the know) and Reems was fighting an ever escalating alcohol addiction in order to cope with the mounting frustration over his erotic entrapment, yields one of the book’s most poignant passages guaranteed to break a reader’s heart. Had the author ended right there and then, he would have wound up with one hell of a cautionary tale. Thankfully, life rarely comes as cut ’n dried as your average Movie of the Week would have it and Harry Reems ultimately did have a “life after porn”, finding both God and true love as well as widespread acceptance by his small town community in the unexpectedly enlightened State of Utah. Of all the lavish illustrations, mostly candid movie stills and eye-popping poster art, one stands out in particular. It’s a teeny tiny snap shot of Harry and his wife Jeannie Sterrett at the Inside Deep Throat premiere. Even the usually unsentimental Costello goes on record to concede that this apparently unassuming lady did nothing less than save his life. Moving back to where I started from, my mom never wished ill on anybody, not anybody who didn’t deserve it anyway, certainly no past or present object of her cinematic affection, secret sex fantasies or whatever the case may have been. Knowing her as well as I did, I’ve got a pretty good hunch she would have been tickled pink to learn that this lovely hunk o’man who stirred her loins many decades ago finally found happiness and got to lead a good life before his untimely passing at the age of 65. Makes me kinda happy as well, truth be told… Dries Vermeulen a/k/a the former (and future ?) Dirty Movie Devotee temporarily trapped in Limbo
“Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine. A fantastic evocation of a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.”
by Julian Marsh on June 1, 2015
From The Erotic Film Society in London
For such a prolific director – at least 66 films between 1973 and 1984 – Shaun Costello remained one of the New York XXX scene’s best kept secrets for many years. One reason is the number of noms-de-porn he worked under. He made more than his fair share of films that are now recognized as classics but not always under the same name – he was ‘Kenneth Schwartz’ for FIONA ON FIRE but ‘Warren Evans’ for DRACULA EXOTICA, for example – and this prevented him from getting due recognition until relatively recently. For notorious roughies FORCED ENTRY and WATERPOWER, he was ‘Helmuth Richler’ but ‘Amanda Barton’ made the sensitive PASSIONS OF CAROL. At Avon Productions he was ‘Russ Carlson’ and for a while he was even ‘Oscar Tripe’; plus there were numerous uncredited one-day-wonders.
In ONLY THE BEST, published at the dawn of the video era, critic Jim Holliday indicated that one person was behind some of these pseudonyms; but pre-internet it was pretty much impossible for even dedicated pornologists to crack the Costello code.
With the advent of the web, the IMDb and IAFD and dedicated discussion forums where smut-hounds could compare what they’d discovered, facts began to surface.
Then something occurred that every film historian dreams about; Shaun Costello himself joined the forums. He posted on IMDb. He corrected. He clarified…
And suddenly his incredible career came into sharp focus. Not just those 66 films that he helmed but around the same number of appearances from 1971 to ’89 – and that doesn’t include loops – plus at least 50 films he produced and a similar number of writing credits. It’s a wonder he ever found time to sleep.
On the evidence of WILD ABOUT HARRY, his by turns hilarious and moving memoir about his friendship with Harry Reems, during the pre-DEEP THROAT days of Big Apple hard-core, sleep was often the last thing on his mind. Whether he was editing into the early hours – the only way he could afford post-production facilities – or heroically carousing with his buddies – ‘the Three Musketeers of 42nd Street’ – those years in the late 60s and early 70s seem to have been one madcap adventure, where anything was possible.
A voracious film fan, from art-house masters to grindhouse smut, Shaun absorbed everything. He fell into the pornographic loops business by happy accident, just as they were on the borderline of becoming legal, or at least tolerated, in the adult bookstores of the Deuce.
And he was there when a handsome, young, legit actor – still known by his birth name, Herb Streicher – made his debut in an explicit 8mm film destined for ‘under the counter’ sales.
(Assumed names were cast aside faster than underwear: Herb wouldn’t settle on Harry Reems for a couple of years, after he’d tried on ‘Tim Long’ among other aliases.)
It wasn’t just the start of a professional relationship – Shaun cast Herb/Harry as a disturbed Vietnam Vet in FORCED ENTRY, his first feature as director – it was the beginning of a deep friendship.
And now Shaun has published this memoir of those heady days – and that double entendre is very much intended – as a tribute to his buddy, who passed away in March of this year. Anyone who knows the recipe for Automat Soup (a container of ketchup and hot water, if you’re asking – gourmets break some gratis crackers on top to simulate croutons) will probably already have a copy.
But what if you’re not a dedicated devotee of the Deuce and are wondering whether to purchase? Or what if you – horror – have to ask, ‘What’s the Deuce’? Well, let Mr Costello explain…
‘The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the overmodulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.’ (from WILD ABOUT HARRY © 2015 Shaun Costello)
From this vivid evocation of arriving at 42nd Street, you should immediately have discerned that our guide to all this decadence has a very neat turn of phrase indeed, which he puts to fine effect throughout the book. It’s prose that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the smells, the animal excitement of the city – and the only reason not to enjoy it is that it makes you break down and cry, lamenting the passing of such delightful debauchery. ‘Delightful debauchery’? Well, yes. Shaun Costello is aware of the oxymoron. On the one hand, he’s a cultured chap, dating a wealthy heiress. On the other, he’s working his way up the porn ladder. And he’s having fun all the way, along with his lifelong friend Jimmy and – of course – Harry, who is seemingly ever ready for an adventure.
Such as one hallucinogen-fuelled romp which takes them from Times Square to the East Side via various apartments whose inhabitants are woken at unearthly hours, before disgorging them on a pitch-and-putt golf course by the beach… all described with a panache that matches Hunter S Thompson’s knack for conveying altered reality.
When DEEP THROAT made Harry a porno chic superstar, his world suddenly became a round of press and promotion and personal appearances, followed equally swiftly by the traumas of the authorities’ attempts to prosecute him for merely appearing in the film. During this period, Shaun lost contact with his buddy, so he has to rely on the interviews that Harry made when he reappeared from anonymity (he’d become a real estate salesman in Colorado) in the wake of the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, to describe what happened.
Initially I was worried that this could turn into a cut and paste job, but Costello has chosen and edited the quotes with great sensitivity. It’s rather like that moment in a jazz number, when the star soloist comes forward. We’ve enjoyed Shaun talking about his friend and now we get hear Harry’s own voice. And what a lovely voice it is, especially talking about his conversion to Christianity and the spiritual belief that saved him from alcoholism (with the aid of a 12 step programme). This sort of tale could so easily be preachy. And how often have former porners turned on the business, their former friends, their whole past life, when they found God?
But Harry – or Herb – was clearly such a sweet guy – and his story of salvation comes over as so genuine – that even if you don’t believe yourself, you can’t help but feel glad that he found that faith because it saved his life.
And then there’s a coda: a meeting years later; a final phone call. It’s deeply touching and heartfelt. Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine.
Any quibbles? Just one. I was left ravenous for more of Shaun’s own autobiography. From his contributions to various forums, I know he has great tales to tell and that he tells them in an exceptionally entertaining manner. I hope that further memoirs will be forthcoming from this fine raconteur, drawing on about his raunchy history.
But that is not the aim of WILD ABOUT HARRY. It’s not a long book but it’s an intensely warm and wonderful one. A fantastic evocation or a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.
The Erotic Film Society
By Robin Bougie on June 1, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Very worthwhile look at the life and times of 1970s and 80s porn performer, Harry Reems by director Shaun Costello. If you’ve read any number of Shaun’s elaborate blog posts about his experiences working in adult films back in the day, you know that he’s got a flair for storytelling — crafting very readable tales from his memories of being in the XXX trenches. The man has lived some crazy stuff amongst some amazing personalities, and lived to tell the tale! Here, he focuses on his intimate run-ins, on-set adventures, and informed opinions with and about Mr Reems — the famous co-star of Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT. There are some good photos and such as well, but the real draw here is the text. The story about the making of the infamous “roughie” porno FORCED ENTRY alone is worth the price of admission. A real “must” for those who have an interest in vintage adult filmmaking, and for those who want to know more.
By Jeff Eagle on June 1, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Shaun Costello’s story about Harry Reems had me at page one. Even if you didn’t know Harry you will feel as if you did. Shaun crafts a memoir that brings the Golden Age of adult films to an outrageous and hilarious story between two friends and the deliciously demented people they ran with. The stories are so well written you will feel as if you were there… or wish you were. It’s a great read about some great guys in a great era. You won’t be able to put it down.
By Elizabeth Main on May 29, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I was so happy to come across this book, I loved it. A time and place that only the writer could bring to life the way he did. Completely held my interest with every word. I love the way the writer explained their relationship along with the character development. A real page turner, great fun summer read, could not put it down.
More reviews will be added as they appear on Amazon.
HERE IS A LINK TO THE BOOK’S AMAZON PAGE:
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HE WAS A DECADE’S DARLING….AND ITS VICTIM
FINALLY AVAILABLE WORLDWIDE
WILD ABOUT HARRY
A Friend who knew him well remembers HARRY REEMS
by Shaun Costello
He was born Herbert Streicher, on August 27, 1947 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn – and died Harry Reems, on March 19, 2013, a converted Christian, at a VA Hospice in Salt Lake City, Utah. The cause of death was pancreatic cancer. Herb and Harry. A dichotomy he leaves behind for the rest of us to puzzle over. As Herb he was a son, a brother, A Bar Mitzvah boy, a High School track star, a student, a Marine, an aspiring actor, and a loyal and generous friend. As Harry he was a porn icon, and international celebrity, a darling of the TV talk show circuit, a victim of judicial overreach, a convicted felon, a finally-absolved and victorious defendant, a drunk, a drug addict, a 12 step champion, a converted Christian, a successful real estate executive, a scratch golfer, a semi-pro skier, a loving husband, and, at long last, a happy man.
Before the media circus that surrounded the exhibition, and subsequent prosecution of the movie known as Deep throat, Herb was a good friend of mine. This book is a personal remembrance of an old friend, and the only actor ever prosecuted by the United States Justice Department for simply doing his job. I’m quite happy with the way this story turned out, and I’m quite certain that Herb would feel the same.
I have included almost a hundred color and black and white photographs of Harry Reems, and of Times Square in its pre-clean up days during the 1970’s.
This book is a love letter to an old and dear friend, and to the era and environment that spawned his legend.
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PORNOGRAPHER FOR HIRE
Toiling at day labor in the world of smut.
by Shaun Costello
In 1978, the Reverend Jim Jones, a self-proclaimed Apostolic Socialist Preacher, increased the world-wide awareness of Kool Aid immeasurably, by moving his “People’s Temple” flock from the city of San Francisco to an obscure corner of Northwest Guyana, where he led them in a ritualistic mass suicide, leaving over nine hundred rotting, bloated corpses for the world’s Paparazzi to record for posterity. At Camp David, in rural Maryland, Egypt and Israel shook hands on a peace agreement while, in Lawrenceville Georgia, Larry Flynt, the publisher of Hustler Magazine, was paralyzed by gun shots from an unknown assailant. In England, the birth of the world’s first test tube baby was recorded – conceived through In Vitro Fertilization. Before the year would end, Atlantic City would legalize gambling, the Love Canal would be declared a federal disaster, and Garfield the Cat would enter syndication. In the Spring of 1978 I got a call from Roy Seretsky, who had an office in New York’s Film Center Building where I also had space for years. I knew Roy only slightly, and he knew me mostly by reputation. He also knew of my association with Dibi (Robert ‘Dibi’ DiBernardo) and the Gambino crime family. I was considered a protected guy, which meant I was untouchable, a status I reveled in. Dibi, in deference to my friendship with the late John Liggio, had kept the status of “connected” from our relationship. Instead I was considered a “friend” of the family, and friends were protected, without the reciprocity that would be demanded of a “connected” guy, or an “associate”. An ideal situation.
A year before, I had met Roy during the shooting of ‘Fiona on Fire’, a movie I was reluctant to direct. Fiona was written and produced by Ken Schwartz, who owned a film editing facility a few floors above my office in the Film Center. Schwartz was an affable man who I had gotten to know through renting his editing rooms to do post production on Waterpower, a movie I had produced a year earlier. Ken couldn’t get over Waterpower – how well he thought it turned out, and how absurdly kinky it was. He mentioned to me more that once that, if he ever got the opportunity to produce a film of his own, I would be the only director he would consider. I had been directing adult films for six years, and had always written and produced my own projects, a situation that I was not anxious to change. Working with long-time collaborator, cameraman Bill Markle, I had always written and produced everything myself. But Ken was relentless, and suddenly the opportunity presented itself. He had written a script based on Otto Preminger’s 1944 classic “Laura” and, through Roy Seretsky, had come up with the
money to produce it. The idea of working with someone else’s material was unappealing to me, and I declined Ken’s offer. But sometimes a situation can dictate a change in direction. A film I was planning had been cancelled by its backers, who were restructuring and temporarily out of business, and I found myself unemployed. This, combined with Ken’s relentless pursuit and offers of a hefty director’s fee, changed my position. So I took the job and hated every minute of it. Although I was allowed to hire Markle as the Director of Photography, that hire was my limit. Ken had written a complicated screenplay, with tricky dialogue that even experienced actors would have trouble with, and he expected porn performers, who had difficulty with the simplest scripts, to deal with it. It was impossible. Not only had Ken written the script, but he would also do the casting, so that actors I didn’t know, who had little experience, and even less talent would show up on the set to wrangle with dialogue they had no hope of delivering in any believable way. And, as the film’s director, I was supposed to sort all of this out – make it happen. It was hopeless. Bill Markle did a great job, as always, giving the movie a professional look, but the performance of most of the cast was laughable. At the end of every shooting day, after begging Ken to
simplify the dialogue, I swore I’d never do anything like this again. Two or three times, during Fiona’s eight shooting days, Roy Seretsky would show up on the set, look around, and then quickly disappear. I had maybe one or two conversations with him, certainly nothing memorable. A year after we wrapped the set on Fiona, I was surprised to hear from him. Roy had one of the most unique jobs in show business. He scouted investment opportunities in theatrical and motion picture production for organized crime, particularly the Bonanno family. He had put together financial packages for many Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”, which had enjoyed a long and profitable Off-Broadway run, was wholly Bonanno funded, the arrangements made by Roy. Their biggest success was twenty percent ownership of “Cats”, which made them a fortune. On the film side, Roy was offered all or part of almost everything produced by Dino DeLaurentis. Roy had backers for a script that my old nemesis
Ken Schwartz had written and wanted to direct, a comedy/sex version of Dracula. The budget was huge, maybe $150,000, which was more money than had ever been spent on what would still have to be considered a porno movie. The script was hilarious, but the backers were nervous. Roy asked me to meet with him, along with some of the Colombo people. My part in this meeting would be to act as consultant in order to advise them on the profitability of the project. The meeting was held at Lanza’s Restaurant, on First Avenue and Twelfth Street. Roy, myself, and two of the Colombo people would participate. My good friend and sponsor John Liggio, a ranking member in the Colombo family, had died of lung cancer a few years before, and I recognized one of the Colombos from the funeral. He worked under John, and knew of our friendship, so the mood of the meeting was warm and friendly. They laid their cards on the table and I advised them as best I could. Ken Schwartz, who wrote the script and was lobbying to direct it, wanted to cast Jack Wrangler, a notoriously gay porno actor, famous for his live-in relationship with singer Margaret Whiting, as Dracula. Mafia members are born homophobes, and they were nervous about putting up the
biggest budget ever spent on a heterosexual porno movie (Dracula) starring a notoriously gay actor (Jack Wrangler). Wrangler had told Schwartz that if he got the part his good friend, famous Broadway wardrobe designer, William Ivey Long, would do the costumes. A stage-struck Schwartz was smitten with the idea of Long’s participation and, although I had no idea how that would add to the project’s profitability, I continued to listen. I heard them out and told them what I thought. Ken’s script was hilarious, and had real possibilities if correctly handled. I had met Wrangler a few times and liked him. I told them that Jack might make a very campy and funny Dracula. When asked if I would cast him I told them that, with a budget this big, it could be risky. I suggested that if the decision were mine I would cast Jamie Gillis as the moody vampire. On the Schwartz/directing issue I told them that he would probably be fine, but he should be closely watched. First time directors have a tendency to overshoot, and in 35MM that could lead to stock and lab overages that could be substantial. The meeting ended and we went our separate ways. I left the meeting hungry because the food at Lanza’s was awful. The place was kept open exclusively for meetings like this one, not for its cuisine.
A few days later Roy called. He asked me if, as a favor (a big word with these guys), I would take the job of assistant director on the picture in order to keep an eye on Schwartz. I declined. Having an obvious spy in the crew would only serve to make the first time director nervous. Roy had his back-up offer ready. He said that if I would direct the movie for a flat fee he would hire Gillis to play the lead, and I would have final say on all casting. This would mean a month in the city, and I had been training for a major dressage competition in Rhinebeck in a few weeks, so this was not an appealing idea. Also, it seemed like Fiona redux, which was an awful thought. But I knew that, if I said no, the Colombo’s would pressure the Gambinos, and I would get a call from Dibi suggesting I do this for the good of all concerned. So I caved. During pre-production it became obvious that the whole project was quickly becoming a mess, but there was one exception. Ken Schwartz, who had been kicked upstairs as Producer, and was becoming strangely
unstable, had hired a typist/PA on the production who caught my eye. He was a skinny, mousy guy with thick glasses, and a mid-western accent, who seemed to be an island of quietly assertive competence in the sea of chaos that this production was becoming. This was Mark Silverman, who would become my producer and friend for the duration of my tenure as a pornographer. The shooting of “Dracula Exotica” took over three weeks. I had a script supervisor and even an assistant. There was a production manager named Bill Milling, who I loathed on sight, and the biggest crew I had ever seen, much less worked with. Ken Schwartz spent most of his time going over sketches with William Ivey Long, the famous Broadway wardrobe designer, who took the job because he thought his friend Jack
Wrangler was going to play the lead. Long quit after a week. The first night of pre-production, Milling and I got into it over something. As the shouting got louder, and the tension approached the red line, Mark Silverman, who was the lowest ranking production assistant in the crew and had the title “typist”, walked right over to the shouting parties and said, “Hey, do either of you two assholes want coffee?” I was in love. With one line Mark was able to diffuse the argument, and even get a few laughs. My kind of guy.
I was happy with the look of the dailies. If only Ken Schwartz could handle post-production, he’d have a huge hit on his hands. By the end of the first week of shooting Schwartz, who had been growing more unstable with each production day, had a nervous breakdown. It seems that earlier in the day, William Ivey Long, the wardrobe designer, who was disappointed at the absence of Jack Wrangler, quit the project, and Ken flipped out. I was in a screening with Bill Markle and Robbie Lutrell, the special effects designer, when Mark Silverman burst in. “We have a big problem”, he said. “Ken has flipped out, and Bill Milling is running around like a lunatic, making phone calls and telling anyone who’ll listen that he’s taking over the picture”. I told Mark to get Roy Seretsky on the phone. I told him not to give details, but that he should get over here right away. Ken was sitting behind his desk mumbling something and had become completely dysfunctional. I guess that being responsible for this sized budget had gotten to him. Anyway, Roy showed up and straightened Milling out, and we kept shooting. Ken gradually recovered his ability to speak and by the end of shooting seemed normal, but wasn’t. The responsibility for the huge budget had gotten to him, and the loss of his famous wardrobe designer was the last straw. He never seemed to recover his original enthusiasm for the project. Ultimately, Dracula Exotica was a real disappointment. The cast, particularly Jamie Gillis, Vanessa Del Rio, and Bobby Astyr were terrific. The sets were elaborate. The locations were lush and inventive. Ken’s script was funny. But the picture just never worked. Schwartz, who seemed to have lost all faith in the production, and in order to save a few shekels, hired Robby Lutrell, the special effects designer on the project, who had never edited anything in his life, to cut the picture. The dailies had great potential, but the finished picture was flat. Robby couldn’t cut sex, and he couldn’t cut comedy, a bad combination. Dracula Exotica could have been a breakthrough picture for all concerned but, because Ken cheaped out in post production, all that expensive footage, that took us all so many long shooting days to achieve, was wasted. If asked, I probably would have cut the film for nothing, and the result might have been quite different. But I wasn’t, and this time I swore, and stuck to it, never to work as a hired gun again.
I’m going to take a moment here to explain why adult movies with big budgets like Dracula Exotica were, from an investor’s point of view, pure folly. During the Seventies there were a finite number of first run adult movie houses in major cities, just as there were a finite number of second and third run (where the real profit was made) houses in the suburbs and rural areas. In 1978, the year I made Dracula Exotica, a Porn Feature made its reputation playing the big houses in NY and LA. This assured that picture of major play in the rest of the big cities. The biggest play date
was the Pussycat Theater in NYC. The Pussycat played the biggest pictures, not because of their quality, but because of the familial connection of the backers. Since the Pussycat was owned and operated by New York’s Bonanno crime family, it stood to reason that a Bonanno funded picture would be first choice, guaranteeing a nice profit for its investors. A full page rave review, written by Al Goldstein, would appear in Screw the week of the opening, with quotes galore, available for the print ads and one-sheets. Goldstein was on the Bonanno’s payroll, and did what he was told. If no Bonanno funded picture was available then a Gambino funded picture would play the house, followed by a Colombo funded picture, etc. The rule of thumb was that the first run houses in major cities made back the picture’s negative cost, and the second and third run houses in the hinterland made the profit. The same is true in television, where the network run makes back the production cost, and syndication makes the real profit.
The formula was: Dollar one of profit was reached at 2.5 X negative cost.
So a Movie like Dracula Exotica, which had a production cost of $150,000 and additional lab costs (internegative, and release prints) of $30,000 had a total negative cost of $180,000. This meant that it would not make dollar one of profit until it grossed $450,000. That’s a number that might take years to reach. The only reason that the budget was so big was to make Ken Schwartz feel good about himself. He convinced Roy Seretsky, who arranged the financing, that he could produce a “Breakthrough” movie that would make them all rich and Roy bought into Ken’s fantasy, a bad decision, from a purely business point of view.
When I was approached by Cal Young, that same year, to make a picture with Dom Cataldo’s money, I was careful about how I approached it. This was Cal’s first attempt at a “better” movie, and I liked both of these guys, and wanted them to do well. Also I had a piece of it. So I designed the production to maximize profitability. I came up with a great title (Afternoon Delights), wrote a screenplay that revealed itself in vignettes (more bang for the buck), shot the movie in 16MM, specifically designed to be blown-up to a 35MM internegative, and limited the 35MM release print run to ten (you rarely needed more). Dom Cataldo was a highly ranked sub-boss in the Colombo family with gambling operations in Brooklyn and Queens, so opening Afternoon Delights at the Pussycat was assured. That would mean that the two pictures would have pretty much the same play dates throughout their runs.
Let’s compare them: THE TALE OF THE TAKE:
DRACULA EXOTICA: “The Heavyweight Champ and disappointment to its backers”
Negative cost $180,000
Dollar one of profit reached at $450,000.
Gross revenues (as of ‘83) $550,000. (I know this number because Seretsky, who was pissed at Ken Schwartz, told me)
Profit: $100,000. or 56% of its negative cost.
AFTERNOON DELIGHTS: “The Lightweight Challenger, and little known cash cow”
Negative cost $60,000 (production cost $40,000…blow up and print run $20,000)
Dollar one of profit reached at $150,000.
Gross revenues (as of ‘83) $500,000.
Profit $350,000. or 580% of its negative cost.
Which investment would you rather have made? The moral to this story is that, back in 1978, as long as you were connected, spending more than $60,000 on an adult movie was pure folly. Other than freakishly profitable blockbusters like, Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and some others, most adult movies made the same money, provided they were ‘Family’ financed, and looked good. The pictures I made for Reuben Sturman a few years later were made with video in mind somewhere down the road, so they had to appeal to a wider audience, namely couples. Sturman wanted a “Look”, was willing to pay for it, and it was money well spent. He had the foresight to understand where the business was going. At this point the ‘Families’ were coming to the conclusion that there was more money in heroin and cocaine than in porn, which was basically the end of them.
© 2014 Shaun Costello
LOOKING FOR THE SHIT
How I parlayed my annoying but tolerable sex addiction into an unexpected career move through the smut biz, providing however, that I could ever find anyone crazy enough to give me a part in one of those movies I had been watching from the safety of my seat in the balcony.
by Shaun Costello
First things first. In 1968, Otis Redding was sittin’ on the dock of the bay, Marvin Gaye heard it through the grapevine, and The Rolling Stones had sympathy for the devil. America lost first, Martin Luther King, then Bobby Kennedy. Richard Millhouse Nixon won the Whitehouse, and the Tet offensive shocked the Pentagon and turned Vietnam into the quagmire that it was to remain. America’s favorite doctor, Benjamin Spock, was indicted on charges of conspiracy to encourage violation of the draft laws. At the Mexico City Olympic Games, two track athletes had to return their medals for giving the Black Power salute, and Yale went coed.
In 1968 I was 24 years old, living in Manhattan, unemployed, without direction, pretty much adrift. I had gotten a job editing a small, controlled circulation magazine called “Careers for the College Man” when I got out of school, but after two years I became bored with it and quit. With no office destination in my daily schedule, I found myself spending an ever increasing amount of time sitting in the balconies of sleazy movie theaters looking at the bodies of naked women. This was before hard core porno was legally shown in theaters, and the available smut was anything from volley ball games in nudist camps, to exploitation sagas which included some minor nudity, to travelogues showing the breasts of Massai maidens in Kenya. As far as I was concerned any breast was better than no breast, whether it was a bouncing volley baller in a nudist camp, or a maiden in Nairobi. Then came the soft core sex movie, which presented a vast improvement over bouncing boobs. Partial nudity, simulated sex, and occasionally girls actually kissing each other. I was in heaven. I was in the balcony.
I suppose I could blame my sex addiction on my Irish Catholic upbringing, or on every girl who denied me bare tit during adolescence, which was every girl I knew, but the fact is that, for as far back as I can remember, I just wanted to have sex with everyone I met, and was disappointed when reciprocity did not present itself. I’m not even sure what a sexual addiction is exactly, except to say that, for most of my life, my libido got in my way. For most kids puberty is the beginning of an exciting life long adventure, for me it was the end of reason. Sexual fantasy became my religion, masturbation became my delight, and the balcony of the sexploitation house became my home. I was a willing slave to my own carnality, and that was just fine with me.
Having always suspected myself of possessing larger than life sexual proclivities, not that I understood the alternative, or even wanted to, I had no problem accepting my questionable daily routine, prowling the caverns of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit. My problem was paying for it. With no income to support my ever-expanding sexual adventures, it was only a matter of time before I ran out of box office resources. I needed a job that would pay enough to support my smut habit, while leaving me enough free time to indulge in it.
Thank God for old friends. Joe was the only holdover from my high school days in Forest Hills, and I became reacquainted with him purely by accident, while dropping off the photo-mechanicals for an ad in “Careers” at Grey Advertising, where our production work was done. Joe had taken a job at Grey as a junior Account Exec, and it didn’t take me long to remember how much I liked him. Knowing that I hadn’t saved a nickel from my magazine salary, he had strongly advised me not to quit until I found an alternative income, advice which I completely ignored. So, when I quit the magazine Joe had an idea. He had a friend who was an up and coming fashion photographer. The guy had potential, but was shooting more tests than jobs and needed a good sales rep. A photographer’s rep is someone who pounds the pavement, from one advertising agency to the next, carrying the photographer’s portfolio, hoping to show it to agency art directors, whose responsibility it was to select the appropriate photographer to shoot an ad that the agency had created for a particular client. Sounds simple, but the competition was fierce. For every ad created there were a thousand photographers hoping to shoot it, and a thousand reps hoping to make the deal. I didn’t really know that much about photography, but during my time at the magazine I had accumulated a sizable number of contacts at most at the bigger agencies. It seemed reasonable to me that I could parlay those contacts into a successful career as one of the thousand reps hoping to make the deal.
His name was Peter and his studio was a few blocks from Gramercy Park. A large second floor loft with a decent size reception area filled by several girls with portfolios on their laps, hoping to have Peter shoot test shots of them, a brick walled shooting studio, and an apartment in the back where Peter lived. His portfolio seemed surprisingly good. Black and white photographs, mostly tests, but nice, crisp, appealing stuff. I liked the feel of the place. It was a glamorous space in an entry level kind of way, Credence Clearwater or NRBQ was playing really loud, and there were always models around, hopeful and willing. I could do this. The problem was there would be no salary. I would make a twenty five percent commission on any jobs I brought in, but that might take a while. Peter and I shook hands on a pretty loose arrangement, and I was now a photographer’s rep.
The studio turned out to be a great daily destination. I would arrive each day between nine and ten, drink coffee, make sales calls to art directors at advertising agencies, and canoodle with modeling hopefuls. After lunch I would trek uptown, portfolio under my arm, hoping to make the deal. Advertising was in it’s golden age, and the agencies still had those romantic and almost musical names, now abandoned, and long since replaced by initials: Batton Barton Durstein and Osborn, Sullivan Stauffer Colwell and Bayles, Doyle Dane Bernbach, Benton and Boles, Foote Cone and Belding, J Walter Thomson, McCann Ericson. And I took Peter’s portfolio to each and every one of them, glad-handing as many art directors as I could manage, undaunted by rejection, hoping to make the deal.
By the late sixties the Ted Bates Agency had moved into the new Astor Plaza Tower, at Broadway and Forty Fifth Street, the beginning of the alleged gentrification of Times Square. The Ted Bates Agency became a favorite target for my sales efforts, not because of its size, which was large, or its client list, which was substantial, but because of its location. It was only a block away from my balconies of choice, the sleazy movie houses of Eighth Avenue. An enthusiastic and impassioned sales pitch to a Bates art director on why Peter should photograph their new Schweppes advertising campaign, followed by two hours in the balcony watching exploitation films that probably included the nude initiation ritual of a coven of witches in Denmark.
There was a popular fantasy at the time, that my girlfriend of the moment explained to her shrink three times a week, and me whenever I would let her, which involved living in the cast of “Hair”. Spending the rest of your life dancing the dances, singing the songs, giving, and loving, and caring, and naked, and free. Let the sun shine in. There are worse ideas, I guess, but that just didn’t work for me. For me, being in the cast of “Sexual Customs in Latvia” was more like it. Being naked with flaxen haired maidens, dancing around Maypoles, and participating in strange sexual initiation rituals, while some guy with a camera keeps saying, “That’s right, keep smiling, keep dancing, that’s it. Now….everybody kiss….that’s it…more kissing”. After all, there were people in these strange movies. Why couldn’t I be one of them?
Before Al Goldstein started publishing Screw, there was an alternative weekly called The East Village Other which, because of its highly sexual content, was a must-read for any self loathing sex addict. The classifieds in the “Other” were particularly amusing, and a good place to find cheap entertainment. Swingers Clubs, Encounter Groups, Rap Sessions, Naked Bhudism – hey, it was 1968 and people DID these things. As I perused the assortment of opportunities something stopped me dead in my tracks. Right there, in between INGRID’S ENCOUNTERS, and RAP LIKE YOU MEAN IT, was the ad I had been looking for all my life. The answer to every question. The remedy to every ailment. Better than finding the Holy Grail. Right there in capital letters, printed for all to see:
MALE AND FEMALE MODELS WANTED, NUDITY REQUIRED.
I gasped. I tingled. There was a phone number to call at the bottom of the ad. My prayers had been answered. Flaxen haired nakedness, and Maypoles, and kissing, and dancing, and more kissing, and more nakedness………Latvia, here I come.
It was early February on 42nd Street, cold and bleak like it’s supposed to be. At the huge news stand on the corner of Broadway all the newspapers carried the same photograph on their front page. It was Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize winning pic of the South Vietnamese general holding a pistol to some poor guy’s head and blowing his brains out. A major offensive had just begun by the North Vietnamese army on a holiday called Tet, and there was pretty universal grumbling about where this whole mess was going. As I stood there in a crowd of equally disturbed gawkers, looking for brain particles coming out of the guy’s head, the speaker over the record store on the corner was blaring out the Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun. I hesitated, savoring the irony of a not easily forgettable moment, and then began to work my way east toward Sixth Avenue. Happiness Is a Warm Gun. Not for the guy on every front page in the city getting his brains splattered all over downtown Saigon, it wasn’t.
The north side of 42nd Street was mostly two and three story buildings, cheap retail or fast food on the street level with a stairway to the floors above, inhabited by temporary tenants, occupying the space until the long promised demolition began. I took the index card out of my pocket. I knew the address by heart, but somehow having it on a card was like having the written invitation to a party. The studio was on the second floor over a cheap electronics store that occupied the street level. The kind of electronics store that’s been going out of business since the day it opened, with large banners covering most of the windows that read: LAST DAYS…….EVERYTHING MUST GO……..LOST OUR LEASE……….MAKE AN OFFER. I guess somebody must have believed the signs, because there were customers going in and out. There was a doorway to the right of the store, and inside a stairway to the second floor. I started getting nervous as I climbed the stairs. Would there be flaxen haired peasant-girls awaiting my nude caress? Would there be nakedness and kissing? Would they like me? Or would they simply say that there’s been a big mistake. What nude models? What the hell are you talking about? Nude Models? You better get the fuck outta here. Get out. Get out before I call the cops, do you hear me. Get the fuck outta here.
I sheepishly opened the door because no one responded to my knock. It was a big, empty, dirty space, with dark paper covering the picture windows to the street. A heavy-set man came through a door with the sound of a just-flushed toilet behind him. “You the guy?” he asks me. I tell him I called from the ad in the paper, and that somebody gave me the address and told me to come on over, and that I was sorry if I was late. “Don’t worry about it. The girls are in the back. My name’s Aaron”. The place was owned by a guy named Teddy Snyder, who had a camera store in Queens, and was making extra money selling nude photographs to cheap sexploit magazines. His Igor-like, toilet flushing assistant Aaron led me to the back where Teddy was busy, taking pictures of two seriously ugly biker babes. He was an affable but business-like guy who was there to take nude photographs of myself and the two ugly girls that would be published in masturbatory magazines, and he would pay us $25 dollars each for the session.
So we start. I’m relieved to find that there’s no kissing. Not even any touching. Teddy took photographs of semi-naked people almost, but not quite touching. The girls were both stoned on the same thing, whatever that was, and were ugly. They had gnawed fingernails and horrible feet, and never stopped giggling. None of this mattered to Ted, who probably got paid the same amount for the pictures whether the feet were ugly or not. So I posed with the girls, almost, but not quite kissing their breasts, and they giggled and continued acting stupid. I don’t think they actually ever acknowledged my presence in the room. Where was my flaxen haired maiden, with her kissing and nakedness? I don’t think Teddy Snyder knew any flaxen haired maidens, but what the hell, I had twenty-five bucks more than I came in with, and Ted’s assurance of more of the same.
I walked back over to the corner of Broadway and had a hot dog at Nedicks, covered with their special relish, and a large orange drink, and thought things over. I was disappointed, but it could have been worse. I got paid something for my efforts, and had gotten a foot in the door. Even though the biker babes had been hideous, the situation itself had possibilities. The flaxen haired maidens were out there somewhere, and if I just persevered, those possibilities would be realized. So I walked over to Eighth Avenue to engage in some serious balcony time.
I’d been Peter’s rep for almost four months now and hadn’t made a nickel, so it was time to muster whatever resources I could to keep the wolves at bay. McCalls Patterns was a division of McCalls Magazine, and published a how-to book for housewives who still made their own clothes, filled with photographs of models showing off the possible final product of their domestic efforts. The man who ran it was an old friend of my family, someone I’d known since early childhood. So, I made the call. “Hi Uncle Sidney. Say, I was wondering…….who takes the pictures for your pattern book?” The next day I was in his office, in the old New York Central Building, showing Peter’s portfolio to his art director. Thank God for family friends. The art director, who was impressed by Peter’s book, agreed to meet us at the studio for lunch the next day to discuss a possible job. Hallelujah. Well, I’ve done my day’s work, I wondered what was playing at the Tivoli.
Of all the sleaze houses in New York City, the Tivoli Theater was my favorite. Built early in the century as a legitimate theater, it went through the usual transition to Burlesque, then to Vaudeville, then to movie house, and continued the downward spiral until arriving at today’s feature presentation, “THE PLEASURE MACHINES”. Hey, I’m in the mood for some of this. An actual feature film about a crazed scientist who creates life-like female robots whose sole purpose on this planet is giving pleasure to men. And they do it naked! I’d better get myself some popcorn, I’m going to be here for a while. The Tivoli actually had a candy counter, with hot buttered pop corn, Goldberg’s Peanut Chews, Snow Caps, Raisinets, Milk Duds, Honey Roasted Peanuts, pretty much the entire movie theater menu. So, popcorn in hand, I climbed the stairs, took a seat, and got ready for an afternoon of serious depravity. Forget about flaxen haired Maidens. Give me a room filled with horny female robots any day. I began to wonder what they’d be like, inside. Being experienced at public masturbation, I came equipped for the task at hand. You needed tissues or napkins, because this could be a messy business. And you needed something to put the used tissues or napkins in, because it just wasn’t kosher to leave your semen filled paper goods for the ushers to clean up. After all, they have enough to do as it is. Ah, life in the balcony.
My girlfriend of the moment decided to spike the eroticism in our relationship by dragging me over to Cinema One, on Third Avenue, to see a new sensation in modern yet classic erotica. Elvira Madigan was a slow and fuzzy journey with two suicidal Swedish adolescents though forests and foggy bogs, touching and caressing and being profound, all the while worrying about the consequences of touching and caressing and being profound. As the Mozart 21 played on and on, the audience sensed that the moment they had anticipated was near. Yes, here it was, right there up on the big screen, to see, and to cherish. The waking Swedish adolescent girl glanced up and saw the sleeping Swedish adolescent boy’s flaccid penis, and smiled, as the audience exhaled a universal sigh of approval and acceptance. And I’m thinking, a robot girl wouldn’t do that. No self-respecting robot girl would behave like that. If a waking robot girl glanced up and had one look at that sleeping Swedish adolescent’s equipment she would chow-down on that boy’s weenie right then and there. That’s just the way robot’s are. As the moviegoers exited the theater in silence and a shared understanding of a better world, my girlfriend of the moment gazed at me knowing that we had traveled together through an emotional portal to a new level of mutually experienced and sanguine tranquility. Ouch.
I was splitting time now between my girlfriend of the moment’s apartment in the East Seventies, and an apartment I shared with a friend down in Chelsea, which was not far from Peter’s studio, and definitely the domicile of choice. After work, I picked up a copy of the “Other” on my way to the Chelsea apartment, as well as two slices of pizza. There was a note on the fridge telling me that my room mate wouldn’t be home until later on, and would I please feed the cats, after which I sat down to troll the “Other’s” classifieds, looking for amusement. And there it was again, the same ad:
MALE AND FEMALE MODELS WANTED, NUDITY REQUIRED.
Teddy had told me that he would use me again, but I guess I must not have made much of an impression. Instead of simply picking up the phone and calling me, he was spending money advertising for someone else. Oh well. Maybe I should have pretended to like the biker babes. Maybe he thought I was ungrateful. I had mentioned to Teddy and Aaron my disappointment at the quality of the female participation. I should have kept my mouth shut. But wait a minute. There’s a different phone number. Maybe this ad was submitted by someone else. Teddy Snyder can’t be the only guy in the world looking for nude models. Maybe this guy knows some flaxen haired maidens. I paced the floor for a few hours, too nervous to make the call. Maybe Ted’s just gotten a different number. What would I say if he answered the phone? So I finally made the call, and got a busy signal. I guess I’m not the only pervert trying to get paid to get naked with women. When I finally got through, a guy named Bob Wolfe answered. After a brief and surprisingly friendly conversation, he told me to show up at 11AM on Thursday, at a ground floor studio on West Fourteenth Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues. This time it’s not stills. He’s shooting a soft core, ten minute short or loop, with one guy and one girl in the cast. Now, this is what I’ve had in mind from day one.
I arrived a little early, trying to score points with my potential employer. It was the kind of ground floor space where you entered though a gate under the stone stairway to the first floor of the building, pretty typical in Manhattan walk-ups. Bob was a small, bearded man, maybe in his mid thirties, friendly and talkative. The space was small, with film lights on stands surrounding a mattress on the floor, and a 16MM Bolex camera on a tripod, waiting for action – Bare-bones porno at its best. He tells me that he’s never met the girl, and that this will be her first time. Of course I’m hoping for a flaxen haired maiden, but I’ll settle for what walks through the door. I’ve learned my lesson. No more complaining about the talent.
The bell rang, and Bob disappeared down the hallway to the front door. A few moments later he returned with a truly adorable girl. I couldn’t stop grinning, and probably acted like a complete jerk, but I was beside myself with joy. She had long, curly, sandy colored hair, and a beautiful smile, and a small tight body to die for, and she was grinning at me just as much as I was grinning at her, and this was the moment I’d been waiting for, since masturbation hit me like an explosion when I was eleven. I’d reached the promised-land. Honey, I’m home.
Bob had a very different approach than Teddy Snyder. Paramount with Teddy was there be no touching, where with Bob, touching was what it was all about. Bob’s definition of “soft core” was not showing penetration. Genitalia was to be avoided, but if a penis did sneak its way into a shot, it had better be soft. The camera had 400 feet of 16MM film to expose, which translated into ten minutes. The editing had to be done in the camera, and Bob seemed to have a grasp of the content he wanted and the method to get it. I stood there with my co-star like camera fodder, awaiting our first big shot, while Bob fidgeted around the room turning on lights, checking his light meter, adjusting the camera; all the while expounding on his varied philosophies regarding eroticism and the moving image. And all I could think of was getting this girl’s clothes off. Meanwhile my curly haired cutie had begun her mischief. Her fingers had found mine. She was playfully gliding her hand up and down the inside of my thigh, grinning up at me, like we shared a secret, unknown to the rest of the universe. Well, we did share a secret, at least from Bob. My cock was as hard as a rock.
Bob was big on undressing for the camera. Unbuttoning, unzipping, slowly revealing body parts; reveal and caress, reveal and caress. When you see some skin where fabric had been only a moment ago, kiss it. I guess Bob figured that he could use up four of his ten minutes just undressing, as long as it was done with a certain slow, and erotic panache. I had completed the undressing of my co-star with painstaking tenderness, revealing the whole of her magnificent body, one part at a time, adoring every square millimeter as her loveliness was revealed to the camera, and meaning every bit of it, as she continued to grin at me, and unbeknownst to Bob, to secretly tickle my ever harder penis. OK, my turn. She removed my shirt with a reciprocity of caresses and licking, and the big moment finally arrived. Kneeling before me she undid my belt with her teeth, which I thought was a nice touch, then the hook, then the long slow unzip. She grasped my pants with a hand on either side of the open zipper and slowly pulled them down. Bob had grown silent as his performers had pretty much taken over the action, and the only sound in the room was the constant whirring of the camera. Her hands continued pulling down my pants until that inevitable moment when my very hard, and long imprisoned member, yearning to breath free, was released from the constriction of my trousers, and snapped up like a whiffle ball bat smacking her across the face. The camera stopped, and I heard Bob’s voice, “Oh shit”.
“Look fella, I can’t work this way”, like I’d broken some important rule, which I guess I had. Like a ritual that was familiar to him, Bob slowly turned off each of the four film lights surrounding the mattress. There was no instruction, no explanation, but it seemed understood that in turning off the lights, Bob was calling time out. My erection was obviously here to stay, and the only way around this problem was a sex break. His co-stars would fuck. There would be consummation and completion. The erection would be history, and he could turn the lights back on. So we do.
This little girl was a sexual powerhouse, and the action was noisy and athletic, and wet, and intense, with frequent changes of position, and her mouth was attached to my ear repeating over and over, “come inside me……come inside me…..give it to me”, until staring into her ever grinning face I did exactly that. As the breathing diminished, and the click of the first light being turned back on broke the silence, I realized that I had discovered something about myself that I never knew. In the midst of my bout of sexual frenzy with this wonderful young girl I had felt Bob’s eyes watching me. Quietly, silently, Bob sat there in the dark, watching his performers perform, but only for him. I’m not sure how it made him feel, but it made me feel powerful. Controlling, manipulating, teasing someone’s libido by performing a sex act in front of them. I would have to spend some time thinking about this. I liked the way it felt.
Round Two. My grinning co-star was back at it, playfully caressing my still hard penis while Bob checked his light meter. Action. The second reveal, with the same result, only this time she ducked as my erection escaped my pants, and the camera stopped again. “You’ve got to be shitting me”. Bob’s pissed. He’s been patient with me, even gave me a sex break, and this is the thanks he gets. He’s genuinely angry with me, but there’s no way around it. A second sex break is the only way. Knowing that I’m causing Bob a fair amount of grief, I feign a humble and contrite demeanor, but the truth is that I was having the time of my life. We fuck again. Bob watches. I like the way it makes me feel.
Round Three. Same result. I’m still hard. Bob’s beside himself. Being the pragmatist that he is, Bob sees that the only solution to dealing with my still hard penis is hiding it inside the girl. Now why didn’t I think of that? So we finish the little film with me pretending to fuck my co-star, while in fact doing exactly that. At some point I wondered how this was going to look from my seat in the balcony.
We say our goodbyes, exchange phone numbers, and my still grinning co-star, a bit disheveled from a day at the sexual olympics, exits Bob’s little studio to resume her life in the real world, wherever that is. Bob’s attitude has now taken a new turn. I’ve given him some grief, but I’ve shown him something he’s never seen before, a guy whose erection never goes away. It’s nothing new to me, but Bob’s never seen anything like it. We sat in his studio talking about things. He wanted to know if it was always like this. I told him, ever since puberty. I told him how I used to jerk off before going to the Friday night dances at the Community House in Forest Hills, where I grew up, so that my cock wouldn’t get hard slow dancing with girls. It never worked, but I did it anyway. I was thirteen, and I jerked off a lot. Bob’s looking at me as both, freak of nature and super hero, and I’m still thinking about my ever-grinning co-star. So, Bob laid his cards on the table. How would I like to come over to his apartment later on and fuck his wife while he watches? This was an unexpected development, and I said, “Sure”. A surprising fringe benefit to a day that had already exceeded any expectations I might have had. Sex had occupied my every thought since I was twelve, and endlessly masturbated in my room, while thinking about the skin behind Betsy Ryan’s knees. And now I was fucking a pornographer’s wife, after a day at the sexual olympics. It was an evening’s gratuity for an outstanding afternoon’s performance, and I was a kid in a candy store.
I could tell you more, but I think I’ve said enough. Besides, I’d run the risk of repetition, and by now you’ve surely Googled me, and have a good idea where all this is headed. As I began the process of remembering, I found this story’s narrator to have maintained a strangely appealing innocence, considering his chosen journey. He took a magic carpet ride, like a modern day Candide, through a murky world of pleasure, and danger, and risk, savoring every moment. And the farther his journey took him, the more distant the innocence became. And, there really was an innocence to the events of that afternoon in Bob Wolfe’s basement studio. It was never really quite like that, ever again.
© 2011 Shaun Costello
This story is gleaned from the pages of Chapter One, of Shaun Costello’s manuscript:
Sex, Gangsters, and Deception in the Time of ‘Groovy’
And can be reprinted with permission.