Flavorwire Interview: Gay Adult Cinema Pioneer Jerry Douglas on Working with Radley Metzger, Making Porn in the Seedy ’70s, and the Musical Quality of Sex Scenes


Adult cinema is frequently left out of the discussions about independent movies, but the experimental and avant-garde works of directors like Radley Metzger, Roberta Findlay, and Joe Sarno demand a place in the canon. These filmmakers are being honored in a new series at New York’s Quad Cinema. Erotic City, which runs today through August 31, surveys sex on the big screen in NYC. From the series’ press announcement:

In the early 1960s, New York City became the national hub for independent filmmaking of all types. With the gradual relaxing of local and national censorship and obscenity laws, many directors turned their lenses towards the growing demand for sexuality-themed films. For the next 20-some years, a diverse group of filmmakers seized the opportunity to explore taboo subjects, and collectively produced thousands of shorts and features in a wide range of styles.

Iowa-born Jerry Douglas arrived in New York to start a career in theater. He developed a reputation for directing and producing nude off-Broadway plays, and was approached about developing his first hardcore porn film not long after the release of Wakefield Poole’s landmark 1971 movie Boys in the Sand.

Douglas’ films stood out for their attention to story, complex themes, and fearlessness in tackling gay sexual subculture in movies like The Back Row. His Both Ways looks at deeper, intimate relationships, exploring the (explicit) bond between a married man in the suburbs and his young male lover, and all the complicated emotions that ensue — something often whispered about closeted men during the time, but never openly. Douglas will present the film in person at the Quad on Sunday, August 27.

Ahead of the Both Ways screening, Flavorwire spoke to Douglas about his experience in the industry working with other luminaries like Metzger (Douglas wrote the screenplay for Metzger’s 1974 film Score, based on Douglas’ off-Broadway play), editing the essential gay magazine Manshots, and the state of gay porn today.

Flavorwire: Your background is in theater and screenwriting. Were you a young cinephile, too?

Jerry Douglas: Very much so. My earliest memory of life is my mother carrying me into a movie theater. I can remember this vividly — that I was being held in her arms and looking up at the ceiling, and it was mirrored. I remember how impressed I was by the mirrored ceiling. It was not the last one I ever saw, but it was the first.

Do you have any idea what movie?

It might have been The Forest Rangers, with Fred MacMurray and Paulette Goddard, but I’m not sure about that.

What did you initially set out to accomplish with your career — theater, writing, or film?

I was a drama major during college. I knew I couldn’t act.

How long did you work in theater?

After college, I went to Yale Drama School. I came to New York and did a variety of jobs connected to the theater. I worked for a theatrical agent. I staged managed an off-Broadway show. Lots of things like that. Eventually, I began directing.

Was “Score” your first experience working on a film set?

Radley [Metzger] bought the rights to one of my plays, Score. I had it in my contract that I got to be on the set, because I was very anxious to learn something about film directing. All my experience had been with theatrical directing. Radley was just wonderful to me — in many, many ways. I just loved Radley. We remained friends ever since then. He was terribly generous to me, I think not totally for altruistic reasons, but because he was always so terribly interested in the camera and the technical aspects of filmmaking. His strongest suit was not actors. About the third day of the shoot he said, ‘You take care of the actors, I’ll take care of everything else.’ Because I directed the play, and two of the people in the cast had been in the play at one time or another, I knew what I was looking for. It worked out very well.

What did you learn about filmmaking from Radley?

My favorite anecdote is from the very first day of the shoot. He came up to me and said, ‘You wanna learn something, huh? Alright, here’s your first lesson. Always put something in the foreground of the shot. It gives it depth. Got it?’ And he walked away.

That’s great.

Radley was a great man. I adored him.

I always wondered if you directed the sex scenes in “Score” with Casey Donovan and Gerald Grant.

I was there, but, no, Radley directed the whole film. I just coached actors instead of him having to rehearse them. Radley was straight, I am gay. I was definitely on the set. Now and then I would make a suggestion about the male-male scenes in the film. The compositions were all Radley. That was his forte, his specialty.

What do you remember about working on your first film, “The Back Row?”

I directed a number of plays that involved nudity. My partner on Back Row, and subsequently on Both Ways, was straight. He was the husband of a woman whom I worked with many times when I was at Yale. I partially put myself put myself through school directing community theater productions. Sam came to me one day and said, ‘Let’s make a movie.’ I said, ‘Fine — but it’ll have to be a gay movie.’ He said, ‘I don’t care.’ It was a baptism by fire. I didn’t know a damn thing about making a film, but boy did I seem to have a knack for it. I had a great enthusiasm. It went together very nicely.

Back Row followed Boys in the Sand [Wakefield Poole’s 1971 film] into the 55th Street Playhouse. It had a longer run there than Boys in the Sand did, but because it wasn’t the first, as Wakefield’s was, it never had the publicity of being a landmark film that Boys in the Sand was. I had worked with Cal [Casey Donovan] on stage many times, and he was just wonderful.

When I was the editor of Manshots magazine, he did a column for me every month for two years before he died. Again, I was very much a neophyte and learning. Cal had done several films by then. I still have all my outtakes. I have a wonderful outtake where he’s giving head to another actor who is standing, and he’s kneeling. Right in the middle of it, he stops, and the guy puts his hand on Cal’s face — an automatic gesture. Cal lifts the hand off and goes right back to sucking. It’s one of my treasured outtakes.

What first drew you to Cal, apart from his obvious beauty?

He was a beautiful man. He had a great gift for making every person he spoke to think that he was the most important person Cal ever knew. I fell for that, I bought it; fair enough, because we became good friends and remained good friends until he died. I saw him a week before he died. He was getting ready to go home and die in Florida. He brought over his last column for the magazine and said, ‘This is it, baby. I’m going home to die.’ I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it or read it, but there’s a lovely biography of Cal out [Boy in the Sand: Casey Donovan, All-American Sex Star]. I wrote the introduction to it. In it, I say that I worked with him more than anyone else. I was a good social friend with him. We went a lot of places together. My husband is a very good cook. Cal would often come over for dinner. We were really, really close friends, I like to think. But — and this is what I said in the introduction — I never knew him. Nobody knew him. He was a chameleon.

You worked during both the pre-condom era and the ‘80s and ‘90s AIDS crisis. What was the tone like on set when making those movies, knowing all this horrible stuff was going on?

It was the safest place most of these guys ever had sex. At the beginning, nobody believed condoms were any good. We had to use them on the set for PR reasons.

I couldn’t remember if your films used condoms

Absolutely, every single one of my films, except the first three back in the ‘70s. I said I would never do a film without condoms until somebody produced a vaccine that was foolproof. Of course, I left the industry before that happened. It was very hard to get used to, because I had been in a monogamous relationship — we’re about to celebrate our 38th anniversary next week — I didn’t have a great deal of experience with condoms. Most of [the actors] did, and it was no big deal. I think I either worked condoms into the plot or the characterizations. It was a running joke at the time about the ‘condom fairy.’ One minute they wouldn’t have on a condom, but the next minute they would. I very much got around that. At the beginning I tried very hard to use condoms that didn’t have rims around the top of them so they were almost invisible. When I couldn’t get them anymore, I said fuck it and went ahead and used them. By then, everyone was accustomed to them.

Your adult films are known for their compelling stories. Did gay audiences want more of that or were they only interested in the sex?

You tell me. I made 16 films, and half of them won Best Picture.

My dear friend Stan Ward, who wrote for the Philadelphia Gay News, said: ‘Sex in context is better than sex not in context.’ I had a background in it. I knew how to direct a play. Very early on I realized something that was like a light bolt from the blue. I realized that a porn film was like a musical comedy. You shoot your musical numbers the same way you shoot your sex scenes. So, it was duets and group scenes. You write a libretto to sew them together. That’s exactly the way all my films are structured. I like to think each one was different, and you don’t see the structure. That’s the secret of a good playwright.

I worked on a great variety of different stories. They came from the strangest places. A dear friend of mine lived in San Francisco with his wife and three children — and across the bridge in Oakland, his lover. He took his lover to his 10th or 20th anniversary reunion at Princeton, and he told me that he had the guts to dance with Ron at the reunion. That became [the 1999 film] Dream Team.

I made three films in the early ‘70s. I just had so much trouble with theater owners and with the mafia, that I said, ‘Fuck it.’ I walked away for 10, 12 years. In the meantime I had spent a great deal of time in journalism. As the editor of Manshots magazine, I was in constant contact with people in the adult industry, one of whom was Dirk Yates, who ran All Worlds Video. For months, every time I talked to him long-distance, he’d say, ‘Jerry, when are you going to make a movie for me?’ I said, ‘I haven’t made a movie in 10 years. I’m not going to ever do it again. I’ve been there, done that.’ This went on for about a year.

One day — I don’t know why the hell I was in such a piss-elegant mood — I said, ‘Alright, I’ll make a movie for you — but you have to give me a piece of the action. You have to give me royalties.’ This was unheard of in the porn industry. I thought this would kill it. I said, ‘You must give me final cut. You don’t get it, I do.’ Again, never before done in the porn industry. And third, I said, ‘I want Tim Lowe for the lead.’ Tim Lowe was the biggest porn star around at that time. I was sure that would kill it. He hung up. After a few days he called back and said, ‘Hi! Time Lowe’s here and wants to talk to you.’ That’s how Fratrimony was made.



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