Elliot Rosenblatt had
been a great help in the filming of Rocket To Mars and become a good
friend (BELOW, in the Triple-A studios with David). During that
time he had been working as main guy on a couple of straight porno
flicks for some LA producers who were coming up to San Francisco to
shoot their films in the relative non-enforcement of anti-pornography
laws. He had a big head and was all full of how professional the
shoots were. He had also come to love our work and thought the
rocket interior was about the most beautiful set he’d ever seen.
So he starts talking to
me about how they need better sets for these pornos and did I want
to help him and do some sets for an upcoming movie he was doing?
Well, of course, I did!
And I started at once. And, of course, we needed a big crew to
build the sets, and yes, everyone came on board. After Aimee and
now Rocket To Mars, our little band of actors had grown to a big
group of actors and artists and helpers and hangers-on. They all
got work. Elliot was the producer, the big professional Stage A was
engaged, furniture was rented, and work began on ...”MARY HARTMAN,
Well, it was a porno
spoof of that popular soap then playing on an independent station,
and we were hired to create the suburban home, kitchen, back yard
and, mainly, the middle-class bedrooms of these ridiculous
characters who dropped their pants after three lines of dialogue in
any given scene.
Money was no object, we
were told by Elliot, they wanted the best! So we could rent or buy
about anything we needed and generally made some quite authentic and
extravagant, semi-expensive looking interiors, incorporating, of
course, at least a little of our own “style” of daring colors and
lots of art on the walls and funny things to look at. The producers
loved it all (I think they had never even had sets before), and we
were an instant hit.
Thus began a long story
of sets for porno movies over the following five years. We had a
great time and made a lot of new friends. The money was good (to a
bunch of broke hippies), and we felt it was a good cause: FREE
SPEECH, expression, gender rights, sexual freedom!
We also rented them my old
which got a lot of work-out,
fellow, and the producers
it was wonderful.
It would have a long career in
The sudden big budgets and the big
scenery had come about by an interesting series of events. A year
or so earlier, the fabulously successful “Deep Throat” with Linda
Lovelace had hit the theaters. It was really the first to have a
story and a script and characters, and a quite ingenious, in fact,
premise (poor Linda has a gynecological problem: her vagina happens
to be located in her throat). And it became the first, big
“cross-over” porno, that is it attracted a much bigger audience than
the previous, limited, dirty-old-man, traditional clientele, and it
made LOTS of money. Then came out the Mitchell Brothers’ “Behind
the Green Door,” another big crossover hit, and suddenly thousands
of these smarmy, little LA porno makers (I’m sorry), who had been
cranking out beaver flicks for years were suddenly getting lots of
backing for new pornos, and for the first time, these guys were
having to write screenplays and think of lines, and actors and
scenes and SCENERY! Well, Elliot was great about keeping the
producers happy, and they all thought we were geniuses and loved our
sets, and we made lots of money and, like the last hippie cowboys
that we were, we could say we were working in the pornos!
There would be lots of juicy and
almost juicy stories within it, too, and I’ll try to throw them in
as I think of them. (Like when one of my favorites, “Joey,” was
horsing around with the star and prematurely ejaculated during a
naked, dry-run rehearsal on the set I was finishing up, the rascal!,
and the whole crew suddenly realized that this could seriously
jeopardize the day’s shooting. An interruption, or delay for the
“come shot,” often called the “money shot” by the producers, could
be a disaster! I was standing over him with a brush touching up the
scenery. He smiled sheepishly and soon convinced the director that
everything would be fine and he was really sorry and yes he could go
on with the shooting but he had to just masturbate himself a little
bit right now but that everything would be fine. So for the next
twenty-eight minutes he did just that, right there in front of me
and I tell you, I had to sit down; that kind of story.)
But mostly it was a lot of good,
hard work. “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” was our first. (It would
later be released as “Hard Soap, Hard Soap,” because of conflicts of
copy-write, of course; this would prove not uncommon in the porno
Elliot had given us good amounts of
advice at the beginning, about keeping our operation looking sharp
and attentive, voices down, teamwork, and a can-do attitude. Never
say you can’t do something! Of course, you can!
After the initial
nervousness of waiting for the first take of the first sex scene,
and then standing perfectly silent during what seemed like an
awfully long time humping away for the “master shot,” and then
“close-up shots” taking an awfully long time again and finally the
nerve-wracking, awfully long “come shot” and we finally then went
sheepishly about our business, and the utter commonness of the whole
thing off-screen among the actors and actresses, well, the next
scene, and then the next and the next and they all became pretty
casual, believe me, with a few exceptions as I said.
So “Mary Hartman, Mary
Hartman” led to another porno and to another and to another. We
would do some fifty in all before, exhausted and defeated, we would
each in our way, flee like madmen to escape! (The pornos inspire a
drama in me.)
Below: We were always good at
realistic bar scenes. Note the clever use of movie star photos
on the wall (that's James Dean, Sal Mineo, Sylvester Stallone,
Soon we did a big
budget up-date of the classic Candy stories, “Candy Goes to
Hollywood,” filmed in Marin County, in a big mansion Elliot had
rented. (Below: the producers always liked our zebra-striped
sheets, you'll note.)
And Gee, isn't that a Franz Kline painting on the back wall?
Then we came on to do
the biggest porno ever! “Sexworld” made at the big Stage A with
lost of money and hype. Set on a tropical island (the camera never
saw an inch of beach or sea or sky, of course), in a fabulously
expensive resort where one’s every secret desire is satisfied (!).
Guests to this resort are treated to a multitude of specially built
environments: the French whorehouse, the rusty pirate ship, the
sado-masochist dungeon, and others. We had a ball and made lots of
It was directed by the
famous, to us, Sam Weston! The main cameraman was an old guy named
Ted Allen, and he claimed to have worked with Ingred Bergman. He
even had a piece of cloth, I think black velvet, which he said he
put behind her for one of his famous stills. He would occasionally
bring it out and use it on the porno girls. Russell was very
impressed and talked to him a lot about his old days in Hollywood.
The producers tended to hire a lot
of retired or semi-retired film workers, cameramen and grips, from
Hollywood, some really needing the work and some just something to
do. At the other end were the young guys just getting into the
movies, and wanting experience. They’d sit around and listen to the
oldsters’ stories of Hollywood and old-time film stars, and it was
fun to listen in.
Then, too, the producers always
hired a couple extra females, called “fluff girls,” to be
occasionally brought in to prep the male star before the big “come
shot.” You see, sometimes the guy, in the utter tedium of filming
and saying lines and lots of starting and stopping, couldn’t, well,
make it happen exactly on cue, and the female stars would roll their
eyes or wander over to the refreshment table. That’s when the
producers would holler for Susie, or somebody, to come in and
“fluff” the star. They’d crawl up onto the set and begin vigorously
blowing the poor guy until he could come for the cameras.
The fluff girls were usually quite
friendly and sometimes a little snooty, like they got to have all
the fun and didn’t have to learn lines or get into all that messy
At one point during the
filming of Sexworld, the producer said Bill, we need to see the
hallway outside this room, you know, that connects with that other
room we did. So I said OK and we put up some flats and a potted
plant and painted a silly looking big zig-zag on the wall, like
walking down a little hall. Well, next thing we know they have
somebody screwing on the floor of the hall and the cameraman, he
likes it, and the actors and actresses like it, I guess, kinda small
and confined and easy to work, and the producer he likes it too.
And pretty soon they have somebody else comes along and starts
fucking in this little hall and then somebody else comes along and
they just kept it up all day and it seemed like half the movie takes
place in this hallway, everybody fucking like crazy anytime anybody
comes into the hall. I thought it was pretty stupid at the time but
I didn’t really care and the movie made lots of money.
Then up into the
mountains above Napa for the brave western “Lipps and McCain.” After
a promotional photo was taken with some rented horses, it was early
and wisely decided that no actual horses would ever be getting
anywhere nears these actors. I won a national award for Best Sets
in a porno film for that one, and Karolyn and I went to the ceremony
in Hollywood together, by the way.
We also did the (sort
of) famous Johnny Wadd series with John C. Holmes and directed by
Bob Chinn, from, I think, Chinatown, San Francisco. We were
instrumental in helping out the story-lines and the funky atmosphere
of the series. Bob was always fun to work with. It was a take-off
on the Dashiel Hammit/Sam Spade detective stories of the Continental
Op, set unrealistically, of course, high in my favorite old Flood Building
overlooking Market Street in downtown San Francisco (BELOW).
And our star was John C. Holmes, of the famous "13 inches."
Johnny was an interesting guy on the sets, obviously
the big star, but not that cozy with the other actors and actresses.
Kind of like a big, insecure kid, around grown-ups. Well, we always
made him feel welcome over in the set crew and often he would come
to give us a hand or just hang out with us between takes. Johnny
would kid around with Kevin and some of the others and I (quite
apart from the delicious fantasies I could cook up at any moment)
always liked him and we had a long, easy casual acquaintance
together for many years. I felt very bad about his death some time
later in Los Angeles in some kind of cocaine scene, and thought
often of the big trusting kid, on the sets with us, and always just
in over his head.
Then Christopher Reeves’
“Superman” came out around that time and the producers decided to do
a big “Superwoman” with the big star of the moment, Desiree
So Elliot rented Stage A, the big professional
sound stage where we always loved to work. You see, they needed a big area
to “fly” the actress playing Superwoman and we constructed the
parking lot of a shopping mall in the suburbs, complete with a big,
rotating “S” sign overhead. Artificial turf was brought in, as well
as some of the producers’ fancy cars and this poor girl was lowered
from the catwalks several times by great effort. Some shots were
finally gotten off and some dialogue, I believe, and the producers
wisely decided there would be no more flying in the movie.
See, Superwoman had
arrived on Earth in a rocket ship, and they needed a rocket ship
interior. Gee, where have we seen that scene before?
The movie starred
Desiree Cousteau, a nice lady with whom we had worked on one of the
Johnny Wadd movies, “China Cat,” which was Desiree’s first. We
would do lots more with her, including the famous, “Inside Desiree
Cousteau,” purporting to be the “true” story of Desiree, filmed in a
nice house in Tiburon across the bay.
There would be some
copy-write problems with “Superwoman” (golly), so the movie was
renamed “Ms. Magnificent,” and went on to have a little well-deserved
There was one set in
China, like opium dens and such, filmed in the back alleys of
Oakland (of all!), with lots of paper lanterns and such which we
bought in Chinatown and hauled across the bay.
Then we did one called
“The Old Curiosity Shop.” This had absolutely nothing do to with
Dickens nor could anyone explain the connection. Well, it was
supposedly set in a quaint little antique shop in the Sunset
district of San Francisco, really digging for untried settings, you
see, and there would be so much cute little quaint stuff in this
shop that it was decided this movie needed a major prop person.
Russell got the job.
We had lots of junk, of
course, but the movie needed nice junk, so Russell went over to
Lafayette to see his mother and said he needed to burrow some nice
things for a movie shoot. Now, Dorothy knew we were doing something
with the movies and we didn’t talk about it much except to say they
were like, well, B-movies, you know, you’ll never see them, race car
stories and such.
Well, Dorothy got all
excited and dug out her old treasures. Her big collection of
antique dolls for example, and precious, breakable knick-knacks.
Russell loaded them up.
We built a cute little
set, it was supposed to be a small shop, with low ceilings and
counters and shelves and filled it up with Dorothy’s quaint
collection, and clever hidden things like big dildos and fake
pussies in amongst the dolls. Russell, of course, was a wreck the
whole time, watching them and imagining them broken.
The shooting went fine
and there were no real incidents to speak of. I do remember one
scene where the girl in the store is on her head (!) literally, with
her spread legs in the air and these two guys are standing up
fucking her upside-down, one in the pussy and one in the ass. Well,
the cameraman liked it a lot and the producer liked it and they
decided they wanted these two guys to pull out simultaneously and
come all over this poor upside-down girl. So the two guys are
standing there and they are getting ready for the big come shot and
have to stand there real close masturbating themselves and watching
each other masturbate and looking into each other’s eyes.
The camera ready,
everybody waiting, the lights all on, I’m watching these two sexy
guys going at it and, overhead, I notice the rows of Dorothy’s
little, antique Victorian dolls, their innocent, closable eyes
looking down on the scene. I had to sit.
It was released as "Little Shoppe
Then I remember one, ONLY one, which the producers, perhaps to save
money, decided to film in LA. It was called "Taxi Girls" and one of
the scenes took place in a jail cell block (of all!) and we had
built all these cells with wooden dowels painted black, and guys in
guard uniforms and of course near naked women in all the cells.
Well, it was going fine and they were getting their shots and so our
crew decided to go back to our hotel room to smoke a little pot
during the takes. After a while an urgent phone call came to our
room, don’t come back to the set, it’s been raided by the cops, more
later. We heard this was very common in LA. And we managed to
escape back to San Francisco.
Around that time, there
was a popular movie called “Heaven Can Wait,” with Warren Beatty
about this guy who’s an angel or something. Well, the porno
producers are always looking to cash in on whatever is hot, and they
come up with a script called “Heaven Can’t Wait” about a guy who is
a devil! Gee.
And they get Johnny
Keyes, the current hot black porno star to play the devil. We did
it over in Oakland. Elliot had found a big warehouse belonging to
two gay girls, Melissa and Susanne, who we would like and get to
know real well. I also liked Johnny Keyes. He was easy-going and
got along well with the crew. I remember him laying back on the big
bed, waiting for one of the actresses to finish her make-up, of
course, and naked and joking with the cameramen. Well, all the time
he’s lazily masturbating himself and he recalls a little ditty he
used to sing:
“I see the
Moon sees me.
It, er, stuck in my
mind. After some little copywrite problem, of course, with the
title, the movie was released as “Heavenly Desire,” 1978.
Then there was "Randy," a movie by
a film student at the San Francisco Art Institute out by the Bay
with some sort of sanction by the school or at least permission to
shoot it. I think he did two versions, a hard and a soft, which I’m
sure is what he showed his teachers. It was filmed at the school
and at Fort Mason.
Years later we were
brought on to do the sets for “Candy Stripers,” the big budget
hospital flick, that got a lot of attention and made a lot of money
for the producers ... and for us!
No expense was spared as we created a big hospital
and all its many areas, operating rooms, waiting rooms, wards, the
broad entrance and reception area. You wonder why the good-looking
receptionist is wearing that happy expression on her face? It seems
the young anesthesiologist from upstairs has positioned himself
under her desk and is eating her out! The film was full of lots of
hilarious little plot twists like that. Even the janitors on the
wards get into the action; a carefully reconstructed broom closet
got a real workout one afternoon.
But mostly people said,
“In which beautiful, big, modern hospital was that filmed?” so
realistic were the sets. And we felt real honored. Well, then word
got around and I was asked to do a big, swanky doctor’s office set
for one of the big pharmaceutical companies from down in silicon
valley who were making a training film for their salesmen to better
sell their product, or some such stupid thing. NOT a porno! OK, so
we said yes and I did the doctor’s set and they all liked it a lot
and soon there was another. And soon, you guessed it, I was popular
for big, elaborate, realistic doctors’ offices, waiting areas,
examination rooms, storage rooms, always the doctor’s big dark
expensive desk with grand windows overlooking the quaint town square
outside until it made me ill. This was worse than the pornos. The
pornos at least had some reason for being. These had no content;
they were nothing. They were worse than nothing!
And my sets were junk.
I remember laying out a bunch of recent photos of the doctors’
offices. They made me want to puke, they could have been taken in
any fancy doctor’s office in the country. They were nothing! I
* * *
But, as I say, that was
many years later. For now we finished up “Mary Hartman, Mary
Hartman” and went on to another and then another. We had a little
money in our pockets and David and I settled into the long process
of editing our movie, Rocket to Mars.