Tag Archives: The Devil in Miss Jones

“Blush”

By Rich Moreland, October 2012

This post is dedicated to two most gracious individuals I had the pleasure of recently meeting.

Decades ago an old high school chum and I went to Las Vegas, the first time for both of us. In those days, Vegas was Frank Sinatra’s“Rat Pack,” rumors of mob control, and hookers on the Strip. One adventurous evening we decided to find a local grindhouse for a new experience, a porn movie. These were the pre-VCR days; adult film was in its infancy and not yet in America’s living rooms. I remembered stag films in my college fraternity and I’m not sure to this day that my pal had ever gone that far. We were truly clueless about filmed pornography.

After some wandering, we found a theater and paid our money with some of it undoubtedly going to an in-house checker who skimmed profits off the top for the mob. We settled in for what is known today as the double bill that birthed pornography’s golden age, “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” I remember little about either film, though I did appreciate the artistic adventure of “Devil.” I left the theater never anticipating that one of the performers on the big screen that night would be a someone I would get to know years later.

*      *      *      *      *      *

I’ve just finished a delightful lunch at Victor’s Delicatessen in Hollywood with people I am fortunate to call friends. Among them is David Bertolino, an off-Broadway producer, and a charming couple, John and Chele Welsh. The Welshs are senior citizens whose love for each other is the stuff of teenage romances. Their marriage of many years is filled with a warmth and adventure that is evident to those who know them. They were especially kind to me when I arrived at their home before our lunch date, but more on that in a minute.

You see, among Chele Welsh’s collection of show business AKA’s (also known as) is Georgina Spelvin whose portrayal of the fictional Justine Jones drove the sexual escapades of the second feature that Vegas evening long ago. To have seen her on the silver screen is one thing; to sit between this wisp of a woman and her husband almost 50 years later is the moment of a lifetime.

The occasion is my way of taking Chelz up on an offer she extended to me a couple of years ago. We established email connections because I am working on a book exploring feminism in adult film and wanted her spin on porn’s early days. She concluded one correspondence by insisting that I save a spot on my “dance card,” as she put it, if I ever got to Southern California. I was cashing in the ticket now.

At our table is Chele’s husband John Welsh, a retired veteran of TV and film. They married decades ago after meeting on the set of an Irish play, The Hostage, in North Hollywood. The other member of our group is photographer Bill Knight who makes my job as a journalist much easier. I’m next to Chelz and across from David, the best seat in this house!

Yours Truly with David and Georgina at Lunch Photo by Bill Knight

Yours Truly with David and Georgina at Lunch
Photo by Bill Knight

David is along for a reason beyond a good meal and history revisited. He is producing “The Deep Throat Sex Scandal,” a play scheduled to open at L.A.’s Zephyr Theater in mid-January 2013. The show is about the government’s attempt to prosecute the film in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1976. Its theme is free speech and offers a look at porn’s early battles with censorship.

The table conversation turned to the late Gerard Damiano, the director of “Devil” and “Deep Throat.” His talent propelled Georgina (as I’ll now address her for the show biz part of this post) onto a public quite ready to embrace filmed pornography. “He was the sweetest, most wonderful man,” she said, “a real pussycat who just wanted to make movies.”

Today at Victor’s, Miss Jones will meet a modern interpretation of the dust-up surrounding the other film on that notorious double bill because our luncheon is more than a historical check-up. The atmosphere is building to a moment that will enhance the authenticity of David’s play. He wants to recruit Georgina for the show.

Ever the persuader, David explains that he has a cast of ten, with two members rotating in weekly. Temporary actors will play the judge in the Memphis trial and the role of the theater ticket taker where the drama begins. These cameos will include personalities from mainstream studios and the adult business. Hollywood will contribute Adam Glaser, Bruce Villanch, and Christopher Knight, to name a few. Adult film will see its own hall of famers on stage.  Hershel Savage, Paul Thomas, Ron Jeremy, Bill Margold, John Stagliano, and Nina Hartley are on the rotating schedule, with Veronica Hart in a permanent role, an impressive lineup for any theater marquee.

For David, Georgina Spelvin is a game changer. She’s the “Grand Dame of Adult Film” and the only surviving member of the original trio who put filmed pornography on America’s cultural landscape.  Linda Lovelace died in 2002 and Marilyn Chambers, the all-American girl sensation of “Behind the Green Door,” passed away in 2009.

If she agrees, Miss Jones will once again be in a “devil” of a show the instant her cameo lights up the theater.

At this point, Georgina relates how she ended up in Memphis, revealing the kind of information historians love while filling in the blanks to complete the story.

She was doing a summer stock production of “Anything Goes” in Brunswick, Maine. On the day of the show’s final rehearsal, the casting director suddenly approached her and said, “don’t go to your dressing room.” Aware that something was amiss, the play’s comic urged Georgina to “go back in the wings and say you’re not dressed.” What was going on? Two “suits” had walked into the theater, Georgina explained, “one tall, one short,” armed with an arrest warrant fully listing all her stage names. The feds wanted to their woman, aliases and all!

Theater owner and the play’s producer, Vicky Crandall, informed the Feds that their mission had hit a snag. Ms. Spelvin could not accompany them, Crandall pointed out, her presence was required for that evening’s opening night. The “suits” backed off. An appearance at the Judge’s office the next morning would suffice.

In the meanwhile, the producer suggested Georgina call an old friend, “a local big wig judge,” as Georgina puts it, and “get this straightened out.”

The next morning his honor ruled that Georgina be released to Ms. Crandall’s custody for the duration of the theater’s season. A victory, but Memphis was still on the table.

Georgina later described how a civil liberties attorney in Maine helped her find a Tennessee lawyer. She traveled to the Bible Belt in a converted school bus, the “Dorabelladonna.” An amusing account of this journey appears in her autobiography, The Devil Made Me Do It.

The Memphis lawyer let her park her bus in his driveway and accompanied her to the police station where she was fingerprinted and posed for a mug shot. With true southern grace, Georgina signed fifteen Polaroids for the assembled officers. Even in their most devilish moments, show biz people always create a buzz.

At the trial, she was on and off the stand in a wink. She gave her name, Georgina said, was asked about how much she got paid for “Devil,” and “where the film was shot,” all very quick and without controversy. A free bird at last, Georgina departed Memphis and headed to California via New Orleans.

Forty-six years later, Shelly Graham, a native Texan who sought fame on Broadway in the 1950’s, is an honoree in the pantheon of porn. David promised to treat her like royalty, not unusual for him actually, if she would walk across his stage. Equity rules are weak when it comes to benefiting actors David reminded us. The pay is low and to get simple amenities like water, juice, and fruit is rare. David guaranteed Chelz that her dressing room would be well stocked and pay would exceed equity expectations (a personal practice of his, by the way).

The now seventy-six-year-old turned to John and asked if he’d take time to drive her to the theater. It was the sweetest moment of our gathering. Hubby gallantly acceded to her request with his characteristic smile and everyone headed triumphantly out. Coincidentally, David just happened to a have a script in his vehicle to give to his newest star!

*      *      *      *      *      *

We left Victor’s and headed back to John and Chele’s home. On the way I played the tourist role to the hilt because they live near the Hollywood sign and I needed to take some pics back to the east coast to impressive my friends. At John’s insistence we made our way to a massive dog park that is just below the historic landmark. I’m forever thankful for John’s lead in this endeavor. Got some great photos and experienced one of the most remarkable settings in recent memory, dogs frolicking with their owners on a hillside with the valley below providing a remarkable backdrop, in fact a real drop for those whose fear of heights acts up in these environs!

The Dog Park at Old Hollywoodland Photo by Bill Knight

The Dog Park at Old Hollywoodland
Photo by Bill Knight

Winding down the hilly road we returned to the Welsh’s home. My affection for them had grown. I posed with Chelz and John on the terrace behind their house and just briefly remembered my parents long departed. Bill secured a memory that preserved the three of us in a family-like moment, perhaps routine for the Welshs who are most proud of the lovely terraced hillside that is their backyard, but much appreciated by me, nonetheless.

Sitting on the Terrace Photo by Bill Knight

Sitting on the Terrace
Photo by Bill Knight

Before we left, John showed Bill and me a photo of the Hollywood sign a half century ago. It spelled out “Hollywoodland” and the winding hillside road that the Welsh’s call home today was visible in the brownish-gray photo. I’m a historian who plays at journalism so the snapshot’s frozen moment marked the end of a perfect experience for me. My time in Hollywood served as a constant reminder of the history that was everywhere I went. Americans rarely have an institutional memory of what came before them. Not true of the Welshs, they recognize that they are part of Hollywood’s collective past and narrators of it for those who will listen.

Later I sent Chele an email thanking her for her time. Meeting a legend is rare, if it happens at all, I noted, and she is most memorable for me.

I envisioned her and John looking at my message and smiling together.

“Blush” was her typed reply, a singular gesture from the sweetest, most wonderful woman who altered American culture and befriended an academic striving to chronicle a business so many don’t understand.

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Recognition of the Cameraman

by Rich Moreland, March 2012
A few years ago an adult film called Pirates (2005) and its follow-up Pirates II (2008) hit the DVD market. Lots of hullabaloo expended over dropping big bucks to make pornography. There was plot, character development, adventure, everything that cloaked what it was, fun with sex in a historical setting.

In the language of the industry, Pirates is a feature. Making it required lots of props, crew, industry stars, and hype in order to turn a profit. It’s a throwback to porno chic era of the 1970’s when films like Deep Throat, Behind the Green Door, and The Devil in Miss Jones carried a plot of sorts and the female star had repeated sexual encounters to fit the storyline.

Long before the feature, the stag or loop was porn’s showpiece; a short film with no real narrative, just sex, cheap to make and easy to hustle among a gathering of males in social clubs and fraternities. That’s how the business of selling sex on film got started. The first stags go back to the early 20th century’s Great War days.

The explosion of porn created by the VCR hit America in the eighties; a time of “smut glut” as director and writer David Jennings calls it. San Fernando Valley became porn central and America had a new corporate entity in the boardroom. The challenge was money. Selling a feature is no easy task and profit margins can be especially troubling if a huge amount was expended in its making.

Circumstances brought opportunity and old traditions were challenged. A new kid on the block emerged by the 1990’s: gonzo. The word entered the porn lexicon and today industry people throw it around as if it’s been a part of the business since its inception. It hasn’t and I wanted to know exactly what it is and how it got started.

John Stagliano Talks Gonzo at the Hard Rock

John Stagliano Talks Gonzo at the Hard Rock

Not a Feature
This I did know. Gonzo is used to describe any adult film that is not a feature, which isn’t terribly informative. The word is so ubiquitous now that it has lost its identity. Current industry people bounce gonzo around like a napless tennis ball at a dog park. It rolls around the entire space and all dogs play with it.

I always assumed gonzo was John Stagliano’s creation, but my research-oriented mind had to check with him personally to clarify the genre’s history. John is an industry icon, “the Speilberg of porn” I once heard a director say, and legend has it that the old vids of his “Buttman” Series gave gonzo traction.

I remember one “Buttman” episode John did with old friend Bruce Seven. In one scene, John is sitting on the living room floor in a hillside house editing film, telling the camera about the girl in the video who is doing her thing for the viewer. The tape continues to roll and John shows the visitor/viewer around his makeshift editing set up and comments on shoots that appeared in previous “Buttmans.” This is a movie within a movie because John will become director and performer again within moments. All it takes is that knock on the door.

A cute blonde stands on the door stoop and says she just been tied up by Bruce for one of his bondage videos and she was sent to John next. Bit of a reversal of the traditional stag film formula, handyman comes to the house where the housewife is ready for sex. In this case, the girl just shows up without rhyme or reason and wants to make film. Perfect gonzo: no script, no set, no cast; just another impromptu opportunity for the camera to capture an eager and naked female for “Buttman.”

This is the Stagliano genre and the concept is widely admired in the industry.

Doing Back Flips
Granting me a few minutes at the recent adult expo in Las Vegas, John explains how the gonzo he was “alleged to have started” came about.

“In the eighties,” he said, “all we did was try to imitate a TV show or regular movie. We’d cast parts, write dialogue and do the best we could to find somebody to fit into that role.”

Script writing was the challenge. It was like “doing back flips,” he said, “to try to have a story with a beginning, middle, and end with characters!”

He often had one girl to showcase, but in today’s porn, unlike the old days of the golden age, she’s not going to do all the scenes in the finished product. As a result, John points out, it was “not necessary to have all the scenes build up into a feature.”

Variety drives the porn dollar. The viewer wants a collection of fresh faces to feed what internet entrepreneur Danni Ashe refers to as a male’s “harem fantasy.”

John recognized that to have  more girls is always desirable but to integrate them into a storyline was unneeded. In other words, gonzo reintroduces porn to its old stag roots, ten  minute loops of different girls strung together independent of script and casting with one caveat, the girl will often have sex with the director/cameraman. The camera is a participant because the sex is shot from the director’s POV (point of view), especially when he gets involved with the model.

Other performers may be in the scene, but Stagliano does not leave the stage to them. He is arranging people, talking with them while he is filming, and might choose to shoot through the mirror in a hotel room so that the viewer can see the performers and the director at work; the action becomes a scene within a scene.

Setting aside creativity as a driving force in adult film, porn is about money. Stagliano collapsed the always prohibitive financial hurdle by stringing together his POV version of the old loop into a few hours of sexual variety and sold it all for the same dollars the feature guys were making.

Despite John’s downplaying of plot, characters, and the like, the “Buttman” series always had a loose “man on the street” theme, such as “Buttman goes to Europe” or “Buttman v. Buttwoman,” which highlights an exclusively female version of gonzo. The shtick was always “let’s see what’s going on over here.” To follow “Buttman” around on his adventures was like chatting with your pal at a club while checking out the partygoers. It had the flavor of a hunt.

Some of the individual shoots within a “Buttman” film reflect a feature. Characteristically, the final episode in the overall package might be a sexcapade that focuses on one guy and two girls. It has a loose narrative and can last up to a half hour, surpassing the time limitations of stags.

No matter its nuances, gonzo became profitable.

“I proved that I could be successful and sell them (gonzo shoots) for the same price” as features, John pointed out. “So people started imitating me and that made the business much more creative and interesting.”

First Person Reaction

In our conversation, John remembered that gonzo came from a specific form of journalism.

“It did,” I said, mentioning Hunter Thompson of San Francisco literary fame.

“It was a first person reaction to events,” John said, explaining that from a film perspective, gonzo means “there isn’t a wall between the performers” and the director. John puts the director/cameraman in the scene; his personality is deliberately part of the shoot. He emphasizes that gonzo is “a recognition of the cameraman” in which his “ideas” as composer/arranger of the action are driving the scene. The viewer and performer acknowledge the camera, John notes, the girl is encouraged “to look directly into it and be sexy.”

Most important, he reiterates, the shoot is “not a regular story” that touts script and requires a filming crew.

How does this differ from other directors? Some feminist filmmakers like Tristan Taormino hand the cast the basic theme of the shoot and stand back, letting them do what comes naturally. She likens her product to reality TV and invests time in filming mundane activities and chatting with performers, leaving the sex to find its own way.

A more traditional feminist producer and director is Candida Royalle, whose films have a more erotica flavor, and are based on the feature model.

Well-known directors like Michael Ninn, Axel Braun, and Andrew Blake work with cast and script, producing a mainstream product noted for spectacular visuals.

But John has created a different type of film with notable success. He emphasizes that gonzo has replaced the feature in today’s business environment. There is a drawback. Success has encouraged popular usage of the term to broaden its definition to include anything that is not scripted. “But that’s not really accurate,” Stagliano concludes, offering that authentic gonzo revolves around the cameraman and the creative ideas he’s putting into the scene.

I returned with a final question.

“Can a woman do a gonzo film?” I said.

“Yeah,” John replied, “from her point of view it would be different ideas and different reactions and different feelings.”

He notes directors Bobbi Starr and Belladonna, both work for his Evil Angel Productions, as doing gonzo from a female POV and doing it well.

Before we wrapped up, John mentioned Paul Fishbein and Gene Ross of Adult Video News as part of the story. I made a mental note the give Fishbein a call.

I didn’t have to. He contacted me. John is one of the good guys in the business.

Indescribable New Style.

“While it’s true that AVN coined the term gonzo, I will not take personal credit for it,” Fishbein’s email began. He pointed out that Gene Ross, who worked at AVN for 17 years, was the originator of the word.

Here’s the story from Paul’s perspective. The eighties saw the development of what would be called “reality porn if it had it occurred today,” he said. Accommodating that reality concept, everyone participates in gonzo. Stagliano began this idea when he talked with performers on camera and interacted with them as characters “playing themselves,” Fishbein explained.
The technique broke a barrier, “the fourth wall, but these movies were clearly no documentaries,” he added.

It was an “indescribable new style”and AVN searched for a way “to distinguish this new form of erotica from traditional movies or just collections of sex scenes,” Paul said.

The AVN staff, all trained journalists, brainstormed ideas. Finally, Gene Ross, an editorial staff member, offered up the term “gonzo” as a tribute to Hunter Thompson, a legendary writer admired by everyone in the room. (For the record, Thompson’s “gonzo journalism” heralded first person narratives with an upfront “tell it like it is” manner that ignores the polished effect of editing.)

“It became the industry standard,” Fishbein said, “and AVN absolutely deserves credit for it.”

————————–

What has this investigation revealed about the state of gonzo now?

“Gonzo has come to mean more than I really think it should,” John says. “It’s not useful if it describes everything that isn’t a feature.” Pausing for a moment to reemphasize his point, John adds, “It’s not so broad as to include anything that isn’t a feature” which has happened in his opinion because “words get their definition from how they’re used by people.”

He personalizes gonzo in his final remark. There isn’t a name “for how I describe it,” John declares. His gonzo is “a personal reaction” to his craft, a type of expression that he sees in Hunter Thompson’s literary style.

Gonzo may be a personal application in shooting porn, but it is now global in its use. It is a recognized success story because like John Stagliano’s politics, gonzo is a true libertarian artistic method that has an “everyman” feel.

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