Towards the end of 2014, we wondered why there didn’t appear to be an exhaustive career-encompassing interview with Lasse Braun.
On the face of it, he is one of the most important pioneers of adult cinema.
Who else was there at the start the industry in the early 1960s – and was still involved in the 1990s? Who else made sex loops, documentaries, feature length films, and videos – and had his work shown at the Cannes Film Festival? Who else distributed pornography between countries when it was strictly illegal – and did so because of a profound belief that it was healthy for society? And who else made films in Holland, Denmark, Sweden, England, the United States – and Trinidad and Tobago?
Thanks to a mutual friend, Michele Capozzi, we contacted Lasse Braun in Rome, Italy in December 2014. He was happy to be back in the country of his family – ironically a country that he’d been prevented from entering for many years due to his choice of career.
We spoke on the phone and he was engaging and entertaining company. He was happy to talk about the past though he was reluctant to be typecast as a ‘porno filmmaker’. Nowadays he viewed himself just as much as a writer, and was a published author in Italy.
We agreed to stay in touch, and perhaps record his story in his own voice for a future Rialto Report podcast.
Sadly Lasse Braun passed away on 16th February 2015 aged 79.
What follows are Lasse’s memories of his life up to the success of his feature film ‘Penetration’ (aka ‘French Blue’) in 1975. It’s a remarkable and unique account of the birth of the adult industry – covering photos, magazines, stag films, covert distribution networks across Europe, large profits, even larger legal risks, Reuben Sturman, Berth Milton, court cases, sex, intrigue, and lots more.
And Lasse Braun was consistently at the heart of it all.
When I first contacted you, I sensed you were resistant about an interview?
I’m not sentimental and I like to look ahead. And my life has been crazy and busy, and so it’s difficult to include everything properly.
Yet you published a biography in Italy in 2009…
A biography is a difficult task – remembering and recording the truth is a big responsibility. So many events, so many people, so much time. And time changes the way you remember.
How difficult was it to write?
Fortunately I still have diaries, and I made calls to old friends, lovers, and contacts to refresh my memory.
I tried not to omit anything, but I have so many stories to tell.
1. Beginnings (1936 – 1960)
Where did it all begin?
I was born Alberto Ferro in Algiers in April 1936. My mother was a progressive thinker, into new diets and health care, so I was born at home and taken care of by Arab nannies. I’m sure that made me love the company of women from an early age.
What did your father do?
He worked in the diplomatic service. They’d been in Algiers for a year when I was born, and as Algeria was a French territory I automatically had French nationality – as well as diplomatic immunity. Not a bad start in life…
The world was on the brink of war in the late 1930s, so what was life like for your family?
In 1939 my father transferred to Germany to be a diplomat to the Third Reich. We were in Germany when the Second World War broke out, and so my father was often absent. I lived with mother in a villa in Frankfurt. A German nanny was hired to teach me German and take care of me. She was a member of the Hitler Youth, and she had Nazi flags and pictures of this strange man with a small mustache on her wall.
Once my father took me to a meeting he had with German officials. I recognized the main speaker. Everyone was cheering for him, so I ran towards him. He was the same man as in Helga’s pictures, and he picked me up and smiled. My father loved to tell the story of how Hitler carried me in his arms.
Do you remember much about the war years?
We moved around a lot – we transferred to Rome in 1940, and I started school in a place run by nuns. The religiosity and imagery was traumatic, and put me off churches forever. I pretended to be ill just to get out of the church services.
We had to flee in April 1943 because the Russians were coming, so my mother and I went on a train to Milan. My father stayed behind and I didn’t see him again for the next few years. It was a terrible journey with gunfights and violence every day. It wasn’t much better when we got to Milan, because it was being bombarded so we hid in underground bunkers to keep safe. Eventually we went to Lake Como to stay with my uncle.
We took a large villa there and I went to the local school; this was the first time I had been surrounded by girls and they fascinated me.
I was discovering sex and death – and it was a lot for a boy of my age to take in. One day I witnessed a massacre of local fascists which was a terrible thing to see.
Did this have a big affect on you?
I wish I hadn’t seen these things – and perhaps they caused me to throw myself into sexual discovery even more to try and escape the memories.
How did you find out about sex?
There was no sex education at the time. My parents never sat down with me to talk about where babies came from, so my curiosity ran wild. One guy who taught me a lot was this black American GI. He was in Italy after the war helping with the reconstruction, and he would answer all my questions.
Do you remember discovering film?
I fell in love with cinema. The first film I remember going to see in the cinema was ‘Queen Christina’ (1933) with Greta Garbo. It was censored just like in the film ‘Cinema Paradiso’ (1988). The projectionist would hold his hand in front of the projector whenever she kissed her lover – so the audience wouldn’t see her lust! This just increased my sexual desire.
I remember Rita Hayworth (right) driving me wild; I had a picture of her up over my bed.
I had always loved books too – the classics like Dumas’ ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘The Odyssey’ – but these images were so much more powerful. I could see how people were afraid of pictures.
Do you remember being interested in sex?
Oh yes… my sexual curiosity had no limits. When I was 12, we were living in Innsbruck and I was going to a German speaking school. It was the scene of my first sexual scandal in my life. I remember showing my schoolmates how sex worked. I drew pictures of the sexual parts on the blackboard. The principal said that my behavior was obscene, and he wrote a letter to my father. My father wasn’t too concerned but I was proud of myself. I felt it was an honor to have reprimanded in this way. I liked to defend sexual expression even as a young boy…
What was your first sexual experience?
I started learning about sex from the housekeeper we had in Austria. She was about six years older than me – I think she was 19 – and she was called Dedi. She taught me a lot about how to please a woman.
I soon started having sex with all of the maids and cleaning girls in the area, and kept a diary to keep track of what I learnt. I also told my rich friends about it but they told me I should focus on better quality girls from good families. I disagreed; it was always important for me to have lots of experience, lots of sex. I wanted to make love to thousands of women.
I wasn’t jealous or possessive with my girlfriends. I encouraged them to see other men and come back to tell me about their adventures.
What were you like as a teenager?
I was young, attractive, I spoke many languages, I was friendly, well-read, and happy.
I liked going to jazz, theater, and bars. I liked serious discussion and philosophy. I like sports – tennis, football, and skiing. I was head of a few cultural clubs and we organized events. Life was good.
Did you go to college?
From 1955-60, I studied Law at the University of Milan, and also attended classes at the Sorbonne in Paris.
It was a good time to be an intellectual, and I went to classes by Sartre and Camus, and Carl Jung. I read every philosophy book I could find. I became political and interested in how people were being deprived of freedoms that they should take for granted.
What did you do in your vacations?
I would organize trips around Europe for young people, especially females – and I would often go along with them. I would act as their guide. But my main aim was to see how many girls I could sleep with. I got a few pregnant because I never liked condoms much, so I became proficient at arranging for girls to have abortions all over Europe.
Once I returned to a hotel that I’d visited the previous year and met a girl that I’d slept with. Unknown to me she’d given birth to a baby boy and I was the father. She didn’t name me on the birth certificate and I never saw her after that. She called the baby Peter. To this day I sometimes think of the boy and wonder if he turned out well.
Did you graduate from university?
I decided that my graduate thesis would be about the legal questions around censorship – especially sexual censorship. I was more and more interested in this – and was surprised that nobody else was. I thought it was a human rights issue – the right to see whatever I wanted.
I couldn’t find a professor at the University of Milan who was willing to support my thesis, so I transferred to Rome but found the same problem there. In the end I dropped out even though I’d finished writing my thesis. I was proud of it. I thought my thinking was revolutionary. My father was disappointed because he wanted me to be a diplomat like him.
2. The Smuggling Pornographer (1961 – 1966)
How did you first get involved in pornography?
It was in September 1961, and I was in Milan. I read in the newspaper that a group of pornographers had been captured. That immediately got my attention. I found that they had been arrested bringing obscene materials – magazines and photos – into Italy from Monaco in the back of their car.
I noticed that the leader was called ‘Pitre’ – which was the same surname as an old girlfriend of mine. So I called her up and she told me it was her 27 year old brother, Pino. She was crying and going crazy, so I got the contact number for her brother’s lawyer, and I called him up.
What was the nature of the sexual material involved?
It was mainly nudist magazines from Sweden and a few photos of women that had been re-touched to remove any hint of pubic hair. This was tame stuff!
What did you say to Pino’s lawyer?
I was a naïve at the time, but I was working on my thesis about censorship and so I suggested a new way of defending Pino. I said that as pornography was just a visual representation of a normal human activity, there was no way it could be considered obscene. Or criminal. I told him about the long history behind depictions of sex – from pre-historic drawings to the famous artists.
Did they take your advice?
No, the lawyer wasn’t convinced by my arguments and so he ignored it. The case dragged on for a few years. Pino eventually got a suspended prison sentence.
So how did you get involved?
I saw an opportunity – mainly an idealistic idea, but also a way to make money. I knew languages, I knew law, I knew lots of European countries, and I liked sex. I was in the right place at the right time.
I asked Pino to take me to Monaco and show me how his business worked. His passport had been confiscated so he couldn’t leave the country – but I had a diplomatic passport, which had a big benefit; my car had ‘Corps Diplomatique’ number plates which prevented it from being stopped and searched at customs.
So I took Pino to Monaco in my Triumph and he introduced me to his contact who supplied him with the ‘pornography’. I suggested to Pino that we become partners.
He had all the book store contacts in Italy, and I had the diplomatic car – so we drove back and forth from Monaco importing all the sex books and magazines we could. No one was ever allowed to stop us.
What did you do with the pornography once you had in back in Italy?
We stored everything in an apartment in Alassio – which was just over the border from France on the Italian Riviera. From there Pino sold to a number of shops in Northern Italy who sold material ‘under the counter’.
Was it profitable?
Yes, but I knew that we needed to cut out the middle man in Monaco – so in 1962 I found that the real suppliers were two guys in Brussels called Leon and Frenchy. They took Scandinavian magazines and printed hundreds of copies of them, and had a network to move them around Europe. The guy in Monaco who we dealt with was just one of their clients.
The worst thing was that these guys didn’t care about the quality of their magazines. Their reproduction process was so primitive and so bad, that they made the sex look disgusting and bad. It was horrible. I was embarrassed to be selling it.
In fact their big storage space was a farm in Belgium that was so cold they called it ‘The Fridge’. I went there and the magazines were literally frozen together. I was sad to see the way they treated sex.
Did you start to deal directly with Leon and Frenchy?
Yes, but I needed a bigger car so I bought a Mercedes – still with diplomatic immunity number plates! – and then we started importing directly from them in Brussels.
You had a privileged upbringing so why did you want to do something criminal?
My goal was to see mass legal acceptance of pornography. I viewed it as my mission, my spiritual duty. I thought it was good for society. I thought I was part of a long line of people throughout history that was linked to the Gods of love. I was working for Eros, Venus… This was important!
Did you have others who shared your philosophy?
I was alone in thinking this. Actually most of the others, people like Leon and Frenchy were afraid of legalization as this would end their profits. They wanted to keep it all underground. They were afraid of social change.
I wanted the opposite; I wanted to legalize everything, attract more money, increase the quality, break down barriers, change laws, and enlighten people with better quality pornography. I wanted sex to be everywhere.
To do this I needed to expand our business beyond just Italy – but there were very few places to buy products, so I let Pino focus on the Italian market and I started to develop contacts in the rest of Europe. We set up a few import/export companies to make it all seem official.
And it was still just you and him?
Yes. From 1962-66, I drove all around Europe distributing the materials in my Mercedes. I went to the Scandinavian countries, Austria, Belgium, France… and built up a big network. My clients all relied on me to get them products. They called me Santa Claus because I always left behind a free gift – a few magazines or sexy pictures – for them to keep.
I felt like James Bond, mystery during the day and gambling in casinos at night.
Did you ever think of trying to smuggle materials to the U.S.?
That was more difficult because I could only sell what I could physically carry. And it was difficult to get through customs in America.
I went to New York and Chicago in the mid 1960s to investigate, but they seemed to be happy with Playboy and were scared of the more hard core material that I was offering.
Do you remember seeing a change in the legal climate in Europe towards the late 1960s?
Nothing was going to change unless we took direct action. We needed to become activists. Legal changes were necessary to improve the quality of pornography, and so I decided I should try and force this in any way possible.
I knew all the markets intimately – and I thought that Denmark would accept liberalization before anyone else. I was sure that once one country started to accept pornography, others would follow so I went to Copenhagen to work out the best way to make this happen.
I knew that change would be caused by the politicians not from the pornographers, so I made friends with a politician called Rasmussen. I shared my university thesis with him and he translated it into Danish. He passed it around his politician colleagues, and he started to work on a new law eliminating censorship.
It worked – but the new law that was passed only covered books and writings and not images.
3. Moving behind the Camera (1966 – 1967)
At what stage did you decide to make your own product?
I started taking pictures when I was in Paris. I found some girls who were willing to pose with their legs apart, and the photos sold well so I started doing more and more. The pictures were much better than anything else available, the girls were prettier, and they were more artistic. In the end Frenchy and I published a black and white magazine that we called ‘Shadows’ which had all these pictures.
I also met a Belgian publisher called Leo Madsen who had a magazine called ‘Week-End Sex’. It had no hardcore pictures at the time.
Leo was great, intelligent, witty, and entertaining. We had a good relationship and shared the same mission. I took pictures for his magazines.
How about film? What was the market like for stag films or loops in the mid 1960s?
There were these short films but they were so primitive. Black and white, no sound, ugly people, no editing.
I wanted to start making films because I knew that we could make better films. But it was complicated as I didn’t know any film cameramen, or ways to develop the film, or any girls willing to make them… so I just continued to take still pictures.
How did you come to make your first film?
It was in 1966. I suggested to my French girlfriend that we make a sex film. I bought a small 8mm camera and we shot it on several rolls of 8mm film. She was excited by the idea so we did it together.
How easy was it to do?
Difficult! I had to learn how to use a camera, as well as make a good film, and star in it with my girlfriend. We spent a lot of time doing the lighting and having special make-up and furniture and props. My God, it took us a long time… Each roll of 8mm film was 4 minutes and so the whole film was shot on about 25 rolls!
I based it on the Puccini opera, ‘Madame Butterfly’, and I called it ‘Golden Butterfly’.
How did you get the film developed without letting anyone know that you had shot hard core sex?
I found out that 8mm films were developed by automatic machines so nobody actually saw the film.
Then I edited it. It looked like a Frankenstein film – I stuck all the pieces of film together with tape and it kept falling apart. The final film was about 15 minutes long.
How did it turn out?
Pretty good… it was in color and it was better than anything that I had ever seen before.
What did you intend doing with it?
The main reason for making it was that I wanted to sell the film in Copenhagen to force the issue about censorship. I formed a company called AB Beta Film in 1967, and I hired a secretary to do administration and correspondence. I set this up in Stockholm where I had an apartment.
I asked a local photographer, Ole Nyquist, to be the legal owner the new company so that I could keep myself hidden. He had a huge studio which I used for to take my photographs.
How many copies did you think you could sell of ‘Golden Butterfly’?
There had never been large scale duplication of sex films – typically there were only about 20 -40 copies of each film that were ever made, and I wanted to see if I could do this on a bigger scale. I wanted to sell hundreds.
I found this lab technician called Rejo West and showed him the film. He was shocked as he hadn’t seen anything like this. But he agreed that it had an artistic quality and he agreed to make an initial 30 copies. We made a 16mm inter-negative that we could use to make other copies quickly and easily in the future if we wanted to.
How well did it sell?
We sold the 30 copies immediately and everyone starting asking for more. Rejo was afraid of using the lab facility where he worked because he could get caught. He suggested that rather than use an external lab for duplication, we should set up our own facility. He was right, but that was going to be expensive.
Also I knew that my existing distribution model of transporting the goods to all my contacts across Europe in my car would not work. Too much overhead, too much work, too much risk.
So I decided that I should start a mail order business model to send the films out. I would start with the customers in Italy.
4. Mail Order Pornography (1968 -1969)
With an unusual lifestyle, what kind of relationships were you having with women?
The best loves only last for a year or two. You need to discover new people all the time. If you stay still, boredom arrives. That’s not good for either person. But you have to be honest as well. I always wanted my partner to have affairs with other people, and not rely on me for all their fun.
I had many affairs in the 1960s and some ended with children. An American model I slept with gave birth to my second son in 1961. Then a girl I was seeing gave birth to my daughter in 1966. Another girlfriend gave birth to my son Alessandro in 1966. He was brought up by a guy she married. I got to know him later in life when he came over to see me in California. We gave him the porn name Axel Braun.
And I got married in 1967 to a girl from Milan, and we had a daughter together. We got divorced about six years later.
Were you still business partners with Pino?
He was starting to lose interest because of the risks. He’d been using our import/export businesses for shoes and clothes and wanted to get out of the illegal pornography business, so I was on my own. This was in early 1968.
So how did you start the mail order business?
I tested the appetite for ‘Golden Butterfly’ by placing an ad in two Italian magazines – one was ‘Men’ and the other was ‘King’. They were publications which featured nude pictures of women – but were very soft.
I had to be careful about the wording of the first ad. It basically said: “Swedish Film Company seeks 8mm film collectors”. I asked people to send 1,000 lire – which was about 50 cents in those days – to our Swedish address and they would receive the AB Beta film catalogue. The ads cost me only about $40 so it wasn’t a big cost.
A few weeks later, I called my secretary in Stockholm and she said that she’d received over 1,000 responses. And they kept coming in. By Easter we had received thousands of replies!
What did you do with the money?
My secretary would bundle up the letters and send them all back to me in Italy. I then drove over the Italian border to a bank to the Swiss town of Chiasso where I opened up a private account for AB Beta Film. The account was in the name of Ole Nyquist – who was still the nominal head of AB Beta Film.
Then my secretary sent out the catalogues from Sweden so that no one would suspect that an Italian was behind the company.
You say you sent out a catalogue, but what was in the catalogue because you had only made one film – ‘Golden Butterfly’?
I invented four other films – which didn’t even exist, and I called them the ‘Eros Films’ series.
If people wanted to buy the films, they had to send U.S. Dollars to my Swiss bank.
Did you get many buyers for the films?
I called up the Swiss bank in March 1968 to check my balance. To my amazement nearly $100,000 had been deposited! I got straight onto the phone and put more ads in more Italian men’s magazines! And the money kept coming in.
How much did you offer the films for?
I think each film at the beginning was about $250. That was a higher price than other films but I knew that the quality of what I was offering was higher.
Did you manage to avoid the attentions of the authorities?
Unfortunately the Italian customs started to open some of the bundles of letters that my Swedish secretary was sending me. They saw the reference to AB Beta Film and realized that this was related to pornography, so they started proceedings against Ole Nyquist.
How did you find this out?
I was always well-connected..! In this case I had a friend who worked in the Army for Italian customs and he called me to tell me that they’d connected Ole Nyquist to me. I knew I had to leave Italy quickly as they would come after me. My wife was pregnant but we gathered up everything, drove to the Swiss bank, took out the money, and went to live in Stockholm.
What did you do about fulfilling all the orders for the film?
I had to shoot the other four! I went into the bars in Stockholm and met girls and invited them to take part in the films. It wasn’t difficult in that period in Sweden. The guys I used were mostly North Africans who were friends of mine as they managed the sex shops there.
We made ‘Sex on the Motorway’, ‘Blow-Up ‘70’, ‘Chains of Eroticism, and ‘Suzie La Blonde’.
I then made my first short 16mm film – called ‘Dream of a Nymphomaniac’.
Can you remember any of the set ups to the films?
Sure! I was proudest of ‘Dream of a Nymphomaniac’ because it showed anal sex for the first time ever in color. Three guys and one beautiful German girl that I found in a bar.
How were you reproducing your five films?
By this time my lab friend Rejo had set up our own lab in Stockholm. We called it ‘Be-Re’ after ‘Beta Films’ and ‘Rejo’. It was the most secret part of our operation.
How did you mail the films out?
It was just a reel of 8mm film that we packaged in such a way that no one would know what was in the envelope.
Were they successful?
Yes – they sold very well, and we had a lot of letters complementing us on the quality.
How did you capitalize on the success?
I set up a number of other Swedish companies and I developed a different catalogue for each of them. Some sold books, some focused on magazines. They had names like Cineteque, Golden Rose, Mondial Post, and Pantheon.
Where did you get the products for each of these companies to sell?
There were several pornographers who wanted to sell us their product – people like my friend Leo Madsen and his magazine ‘Week-end Sex’.
I also became attracted to one particular line of magazines called ‘Private’. It was a new magazine – there were only two issues out at that time – and it had just soft core picture sets of girls. But it was well produced and so I approached the owner who was called Berth Milton. I bought a lot of magazines from him to sell.
What was Milton like?
He was arrogant, had no class, and worst of all he was afraid of rocking the boat. I pushed him to be more explicit in his magazine but he was always reluctant until someone else had done it first. He refused to show hardcore for example. He didn’t even like to refer to ‘pornography’. He always said that his magazines showed ‘erotography’…! I also encouraged him to be more political – this was 1968 so revolution was in the air! – but he was selfish and didn’t get it.
What was it like running a business like this. On the one hand it was illegal, but on the other hand it was a regular business with many customers?
It was very professional. I insisted that we mail out the product within 24 hours of receiving the order so that we would encourage people to order again.
It worked. We were making over $30,000 each week. We expanded our mail order business beyond just Italy, and I also sold the films through the European network that I had developed over the previous few years. I still drove the films around in my car. We also started selling sex toys as well.
Were you still using your diplomatic credentials?
I stopped around that time. It was unfair on my father as it was a risk to his reputation. So I sold the Mercedes with the diplomatic plates and I started acting as a Swedish citizen.
What happened to the legal investigation that had started in Italy?
Poor Ole Nyquist received a letter saying that he was under investigation by Italian police.
Then I heard that the French authorities had seen an ad that I put in ‘Paris Match’ magazine and so Interpol started an investigation on me as well.
After that the legal charges came thick and fast. I probably faced around 50 legal cases in the period 1968-72.
I was sentenced in absentia in Italy to two and a half years in prison, and given a twelve month prison sentence in France.
How difficult was that for you personally?
Not difficult for me because I knew what I was doing was good for people. But not everyone agreed; my wife returned to Italy to raise our daughter there. I couldn’t go back as I’d be arrested.
5. Becoming Lasse Braun: Sexual Freedom in Denmark (1969 -1972)
How successful were you in your political efforts?
The best part of it was that we finally managed to overturn the ban on obscenity in Denmark. I had kept close to Rasmussen – the Danish politician. We kept publishing items that would push boundaries – and we did this to test the limits of the laws. In 1969, the Danish parliament passed a law legalizing the depiction of explicit sex in pictures and films. Pornography was finally legal there.
Did this have the immediate effect that you had hope for?
In some ways it was even more than I expected. Suddenly there were sex fairs and conventions in Denmark, and everyone wanted to be involved. The market quickly opened up and there was healthy competition as everyone tried to make money.
I re-located from Stockholm to Copenhagen to take advantage of it. There were some interesting people there at the time who were also fighting for sexual freedoms – like the English woman, Tuppy Owens – who I became friends with.
Did other erotic filmmakers start to make films like your ‘Eros Films’?
No – that was surprising. There was only one person, a Danish filmmaker called Ole Ege, who did anything remotely interesting. He worked with Leo Madsen on ‘Week-end Sex’, and started ‘Color Climax‘ films – but apart from him, there was no one.
Where did the name Lasse Braun come from?
The original Lasse was a carpenter who re-modeled our office in Stockholm. He wanted to be a porn actor and was always hanging around. One day when I was out, some Interpol agents came by and he was happy to show them around our offices as if he was in charge! After that I said that I might as well adopt his name going forward.
I took his name in a legal way; I had a contract with him and I paid him to use his name as my brand. I liked the name because it sounded Scandinavian, and the initials ‘LB’ reminded me of LiBido or LiBerty.
As your business grew, who did you have working for you?
I hired mainly friends as I could trust them more. So my assistant was my lover, a 19 year old Danish translator called Lykke Larsen. Her sister, Birgit, and Birgit’s Italian husband came on board too. I employed them all through a company I set up in Copenhagen called ‘Golden Rose Center’.
How did you grow the company further?
I knew that the market for short sex films was still undeveloped, and I want to make more. But it was always important for me to make something really different, something interesting. I couldn’t just film two people having sex. That was boring. I wanted my films to be challenging and shocking. I wanted to show people the true power of sex. All the infinite possibilities.
So I went to the Caribbean in 1969 and made a series of films there called the ‘Tropical Films’. I hired a cameraman called Per Hasselrot and we went to Trinidad and filmed three short films there called ‘Limbo’, ‘Tropical Paradise’, and ‘Black Power’. It was great. We found some beautiful local girls and guys, and shot them in exotic locations.
Unfortunately one of the girl’s mothers tried to blackmail us to get more money, and when we ignored her, she threatened to go to the police and tell them what we’d been doing so we had to leave the island in a hurry!
Did the ‘Tropical Films’ sell well?
Yes – this was the breakthrough. No one had seen sex in beautiful locations like this before. Also we branded them as ‘Lasse Braun Productions’ for the first time. It created a strong identity. The films had the signature ‘Lasse Braun’ and my photo as well.
Your cinematic style was distinct from the start; how would you describe this?
I wanted to challenge the viewer by shocking them, so I wanted to thrust the images into people’s faces. This meant close ups, vivid colors, quick editing, always a moving camera. The plot set-up was always economical as well; I wanted to get into the action as quickly as possible.
You were a very prolific maker of short films in the early 1970s.
I made films all the time in that period… Between 1970 and 1973, I made about 20 ‘series’ of films. Each series consisted of 3 short films – typically 10 minutes each. Each of the series had a different theme, so that it would appeal to different types of people.
So for example, there was a ‘Perversion series’ in which we filmed sex in strange places like a pig pen on a farm, there was a ‘Top Secret series’ which was all about sex, spying and voyeurism, and there was a ‘Violence series’ which explored rape and non-consensual sex.
You weren’t afraid to tackle taboos…
I especially looked for taboos! One film was called ‘Delphia, the Greek’. I met this beautiful Greek tourist, and she was happy to experiment, so we made a film with her that featured the first double penetration ever filmed in color.
In ‘Ky Sen, The Vietnamese’, we showed the first erotic pissing scene, and in ‘Women’ there was the first color fisting scene.
But it was about more than ‘what’ we were showing; it was about ‘how’ we were showing it. I spent a lot of time on clothes, makeup, close-ups, editing, and selecting the most attractive people. I spent a lot of money on each of them, and we sold them for a high price. I still think that they are my best work.
How many copies would you sell of each?
Every one sold more than 20,000 copies. The most successful was ‘Delphia, the Greek’ which sold about 45,000. My competitors never sold more than 1,000 of any film.
Did you ever have a problem with people pirating your films?
Aaaah – it was a constant problem.
What did you do?
You can’t complain to anyone because you’re not going to find anyone who will help you. So you do the only thing you can do and tackle the pirates yourself.
One of my employees, Birgit’s husband actually, would get a group of men together and pay them a visit.
I assume they didn’t visit them just to talk?
No. They left behind some damage. We were just protecting our interests.
What kind of damage?
Anything. Phones were ripped out, cabinets were trashed. That sort of thing.
6. Breaking into America: Reuben Sturman (1972)
Did you consider the U.S. as a potential market for your short films at this time?
I flew to the US and I went into all the 42nd St book stores. The product was low quality. They were starting to import Scandinavian product but it was early days.
I wanted to be part of that market because it was huge and there was big potential to change laws and get rid of the hypocrisy that existed in America at the end of the 1960s. I knew that the only way was to find a partner, someone who was already a major distributor. I was told that the most important person was Reuben Sturman and his company Sovereign News in Cleveland, Ohio. I sent him a long letter introducing myself, and I included our catalogues and told him about my films.
Did you hear back from him?
Somehow someone got a copy of ‘Delphia, the Greek’ to him, and he liked it so much he visited me in Copenhagen in early 1972 to discuss acquiring exclusive rights to my films in the U.S.
What was Sturman like?
I liked Reuben. He had class and culture, and had a degree in Business Administration. We made a big feast to welcome him. I told him all about our battle against censorship laws in Denmark, and I told him I wanted our films to be part of a revolution in America too.
What did he offer you for the films?
Reuben explained that he was unwilling to receive regular mail from us. It was too risky. He recommended that we give him an inter-negative for each loop that he could use to make copies which he would distribute from Cleveland. He wanted to put my films in his peep show machines that he was installing all over the U.S.
He would pay us $15,000 upfront for each title – and at that time we had made thirty titles to offer him. He would also give us $1 for each film that he sold as a royalty.
My only non-negotiable term was that the films and the box covers would not undergo any changes. I didn’t want my artistic vision to be changed.
How did you get the inter-negatives over to Cleveland?
I took them over myself with Lykke and Birgit! We took a flight to New York and packed the films in between clothes in our suitcases. It was crazy!
How did Sturman pay you?
He gave me the $450,000 in cash in a bag. I flew back to Switzerland and deposited the money in my account there. Simple!
That’s good money at that time…
Not only that but I signed a similar deal with a company called Rodox Trading in Copenhagen. They would buy the rights to the films and they would sell them on Super8. They paid $20,000 per title which amounted to a total of $600,000!
What do you do with that kind of money?
I bought a yacht of course! What else do you do when you’re young!? And I had some great times on that yacht…
I also wanted to invest some of the money in my own studio. I wanted a new base that was closer to the center of Europe – and I chose the town of Breda in southern Holland.
7. Breda (1972-1976)
Why was it important to move?
I wanted to be in a younger, more bohemian and cultural place. I didn’t want to be just a pornographer. And it was cheaper too – so I could build a big studio just for my productions.
I found a big, old bicycle factory and set up there. We called the building ‘the Satellite’, and I worked there from 1972 to 1977. I wasn’t allowed to go back to Italy or France because of the prison sentences that I had been given there, so it was my home.
What was the range of your activity at the Satellite?
The best thing about our place was that it attracted young designers, artists, talented people who wanted to be part of our group. People came from all over to join us.
How would describe yourself politically?
I was an anarchist! I was becoming rich, but I was always an anarchist!
How well-known to the public were you becoming in the early 1970s?
There were more and more articles about me. I was called the ‘King of Porn’. But it was attracting too much attention and the Italian customs started apprehending all the customer’s money which caused us to lose a lot. In the end I shut down AB Beta Film. It was sad, but after that all my business was through the new company ‘Lasse Braun Productions’.
What was your casting process like for your films in Breda?
Casting was my favorite activity! I would often have sex with the girls when I interviewed them in the studio as I needed to see how uninhibited they were. I would talk to them so that they knew what I was doing and they were free to leave at any time. It was a beautiful experience. I also appeared in my own films when the leading male had performance problems.
Did you have any favorite performers from that time?
One day, this girl called Sylvia Bourdon (left) walked into the studio. We immediately became friends. She was from a rich, aristocratic family, and was intelligent and artistic. And she liked rough sex.
I featured her in a new series called ‘Bondage’. She became a big advocate of mine when she returned to Paris.
She’s been very successful in her life and is now an expert on art and design. She advises the European Commission.
So the Breda studio was a big success?
Yes, but we over-extended ourselves. I expected Germany to pass similar legislation to Denmark, and so we prepared to take advantage of a big increase in the number of stores in Germany. We printed 500,000 copies of a magazine called ‘The Lasse Braun Magazine’ that consisted of very high quality photography of sex.
Then Germany changed direction and actually passed more repressive laws, and we lost about half a million dollars… There was just nowhere to sell that number of magazines.
And yet this was the opposite of what was happening in the U.S.?
Yes, ‘Deep Throat’ had come out in New York and so you could now see a sex film in a regular cinema there. And Reuben Sturman was making millions with his company too, and he started selling our films to Larry Flynt who was putting out his own peep machines too.
For the first time, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now there were articles about me which concluded that our sexual revolution had been a failure.
I wasn’t so sad to lose money, but the continued repression was the worst.
How did your short film ‘Cake Orgy’ end up in court in the U.S.?
Reuben and I often joked about one day producing a film that was so ridiculous and offensive that it would result in a full Federal prosecution in America. So in the summer of 1973, I went to Terschelling, a beautiful island in the northern Netherlands, and made this Fellini-esque film in which three women and two men have sex whilst covering themselves in cakes. And it ended with one of the girls, Claudine Beccarie, urinating on the others. It was an orgy in every way…
I thought that the film was a masterpiece! It was symbolic and surreal.
‘Cake Orgy’ was seized in the U.S. in 1974, and Reuben Sturman was charged with obscenity. One of the jurors held out stating that it was impossible for a normal person to have a morbid and degenerate interest in sex, and managed to convince the rest of the jury. Sturman was acquitted.
Claudine Beccarie became one of the big stars of the new adult film industry in France; what do you remember about her?
Sylvia told her about my films. Claudine was excited and wanted to find out more for herself so she came to Breda to stay with us. She’d never done a film before she arrived.
It was Claudine and Sylvia who came up with the idea for ‘Cake Orgy’.
Did you ever make a film that was rejected by buyers as it was too shocking?
Reuben rejected a few – but that was because the American market did not tolerate the combination of sex and violence.
One controversial series was ‘Forced to Sex’. Claudine featured in a film called ‘Hooked’ which was about a country girl who is caught stealing. She is punished by this old man who has a hook for a hand. Claudine was amazing in it. It had humor but also violence, golden showers, anal sex… I can’t believe Reuben refused to take it!
8. Breakthrough: ‘Penetration’ / ‘French Blue’ (1974)
And all your films were still being sold via mail-order?
Yes. I was frustrated because I saw that in America hard core films were being exhibited in theaters. There was nothing like that in Europe. My films were still being sold on 8mm reels through our catalogues and in a few stores.
Is that why you decided to make a feature length film to break into the American theater market?
Yes. I wanted Reuben to help me distribute a film that would become a big porno/art hit in the U.S.
This was the film ‘Penetration’ (1974) (aka ‘French Blue’). How did that come about?
I had a young English guy working on and off with me in Breda from 1973 to 1976. He was called Falcon Stuart.
Falcon Stuart was a London photographer whose fashion shots were featured in magazines like Vogue in the late 1960s. In 1969 he enrolled at the London International Film School and became involved in underground film-making, winning the ‘Sucker’s Award’ at the first Wet Dream Film Festival in Amsterdam in 1970. After graduating in 1971, he worked with Nic Roeg, and directed films on Peter Blake and Robert Altman.
What was Falcon doing for you in Breda?
I was always looking for people to direct new Lasse Braun films so that I could increase the number of films we had for sale. I taught him the basics of how to shoot pornography, and together we directed a film called ‘Funny Priest’ which was a satire on the Catholic Church.
Falcon was talented and I was impressed with him so I made him the director of another film, ‘Tour Eiffel’ which was shot in Paris. I couldn’t go into France for legal reasons so he worked with Sylvia Bourdon there and made a good film.
He had the idea of filming a documentary about the making of an adult film. It would show how unglamorous and technical it was, and it would be both sexy and a satire of our industry. It would be the first time anyone had seen the backstage of a porn film.
How did you find the lead, Brigitte Maier?
First I considered Claudine Beccarie and an American girl, Joan Kohler, that I knew in Amsterdam – but I wanted to use an American star if possible so that the film would be easy to sell the U.S. market.
Lavelle Roby was an aspiring actress who had known for small roles in ‘Finders Keepers, Lovers, Weepers’ (1968), ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls’ (1970), and ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song’ (1971).
Brigitte Maier had made a few short appearances in adult films in America.
They had come to Sweden for two weeks to appear in a local softcore feature, and they finished their work on it the previous day. Brigitte was intrigued by the idea of appearing in a live show and Lavelle was accompanying her to check it out. They were returning to America the next day.
I invited them to come to Breda and stay with me there.
What was Brigitte like?
Beautiful, like an angel. She had this incredible white skin.
She was born in Austria to Austrian parents. Her parents moved to the U.S. when she was two years old. She was still Austrian when I met her – she had a green card to live in America but no U.S. passport.
She fell in love with me immediately – which caused big jealousy problems with this other girl that I was seeing back at the ‘Satellite’ in Breda…
Was Brigitte interested in appearing in your films?
I proposed that she appear in a film called ‘Double Pleasure’ that was part of my next series called ‘Deep Arse’. I wanted to try and shoot a double anal penetration with her. Falcon found the idea so ridiculous, and suggested that he would film this for his documentary.
It became a famous scene in the documentary ‘Penetration’; what do you remember about it?
We wanted to show how ridiculous sex can be… so I played the director who takes everything very seriously. For comic effect, we hired two actors who were ugly and thin which contrasted with the magnificence of Brigitte.
We didn’t shoot it in Breda because we needed a bigger studio – so went to a place in Hilverenbeek which was a town nearby.
What did you think of how that sequence turned out?
We then added footage from my other short films that had a comic element, like ‘Casanova and the Country Girls’, ‘Penetration’, ‘Tour Eiffel’, ‘Funny Priest’ and of course ‘Cake Orgy’, and we got my friend Siné who was a famous French cartoonist to put together a four minute cartoon which we added to the beginning of the film (right).
We finished the film in early 1974, and it was better than I expected. It was a great.
How much did it end of costing?
We spent about $45,000 – and that was everything… music, editing, all post-production.
How did you intend releasing it?
I had this dream of showing a porn film at the Cannes Film Festival – which had never seen a sex film… not even a soft-core one. I wanted our film to break down barriers and be a pioneer… I wanted to shock middle class values with a hard core sex film… so I wanted to show it there.
But you were still barred from entering France?
Yes – and France was still heavily repressed in terms of censorship. Falcon liked my idea but we knew that the film would never get import approval. But then we had some luck… the conservative president of France, Georges Pompidou, died a few days before the festival opened. He was replaced by the more liberal Giscard D’Estaing, and during the period of confusion after Pompidou’s death, we got the film approved by the French customs.
This was the start of a unique, but short, period in France where censorship was abolished. Sadly it only last a few months.
Who was present from your production team when the film premiered in Cannes?
Just Falcon. I didn’t tell Brigitte because I didn’t want her to go there and make a big scene like a typical starlet. I wanted our film to be taken more seriously than just a cheap sex film, so I sent her back to the U.S.
What was the response to the film at the 1974 festival?
Falcon presented the film in three midnight showings, and they were all sold out. We had a lot of press coverage. It was a ‘succès de scandale’. For the first time, I made something that everyone was talking about.
And your big intention was still to take it to the U.S.?
Yes. I called Reuben and told him about the success in Cannes, and he sent a guy over to Breda to see it. Unfortunately this guy was an idiot and he told Reuben that ‘Penetration’ was just a spoof sex film, and that Americans preferred sex that was erotic and ‘real’. So Reuben wasn’t interested.
Fortunately a Greek/American guy from New York like it a lot. He had been to all the showings in Cannes and became friends with Falcon.
He was called Daniel Bourla and he was involved with an American distribution company called ‘Variety Film’.
Wasn’t Chelly Wilson connected to ‘Variety’ as well?
Probably – the Greeks owned many of the dirty cinemas in New York at that time.
I sold the North American rights to Variety for $100,000 plus royalties. I could have asked for more but I just wanted to get into the American market to challenge people’s conservative way of thinking.
Daniel suggested that we change the title from ‘Penetration’ to ‘French Blue’ for the American audience – which was a good idea.
Did you have any problems in physically getting the film into the United States?
Daniel took care of that. There were seven film cans which made up the inter-negative that he would use for the duplication, and they were heavy! He flew them into Canada and then someone drove them down into the U.S.
I assume Variety Films handled the publicity for ‘Penetration’ / ‘French Blue’?
We had some luck because when Brigitte returned to Los Angeles she appeared in Penthouse magazine – which was as big as Playboy then. Daniel put together a campaign for ‘French Blue’ that announced ‘Brigitte Maier – Penthouse Cover Girl’. Bob Guccione, the owner of Penthouse, didn’t like that.
He said that he didn’t want Penthouse associated with a hardcore film… and he took legal action to get us to remove all mention of ‘Penthouse’ from the publicity. We got a good attorney and fought the case. We won on the basis that Brigitte had the right to own her own image which included all references to the work she had done. It was a great defense, and we got good publicity for the film from that.
Where did the film premiere in America?
It opened at Cine Lido on West 48th St and at the Lido East on East 59th St in December 1974.
Were you in New York for the premiere?
Yes – I flew in from Breda and stayed with Daniel. I went to the premiere and it was full of people. I also went to see other showings in New York so that I could see what people’s reactions were. People responded very well.
Daniel was always looking to have more publicity so he tried to arrange for me to do a press conference. I refused; I didn’t want to have a high profile because I knew the FBI would be interested in talking with me because of my association with Reuben. Reuben told me that whenever he was raided in Cleveland, the cops always asked him, “Who’s ‘LB’? And where is he?”
How did you market the film if you were keeping a low profile?
Daniel did a great job – but Brigitte worked hard too. She was busy granting interviews all over the place to big newspapers like the New York Post, and she did a number of personal appearances at the theaters too. She would do anything for me.
How successful was ‘French Blue’?
It was big! For months, we were in the top twenty biggest grossing films in the country according to Variety magazine. It opened in many theaters all over the country.
I felt that the world was ours, the future belonged to sexual freedom. The modern era was about to begin.