Film director and cinematographer C. Davis Smith (who also used the name Charles Lamont, among other pseudonyms) passed away on September 20, 2017 at the age of 87.
His life in movies was a virtual history of the adult film industry. He started in the early 1960s in the days of black and white films when the glimpse of a breast was considered risque’, and was still working twenty years later when hardcore films were commonplace.
The Rialto Report spoke with Chuck several times over the years, and always found him an engaging and generous storyteller.
This is the second part of our interview with C. Davis Smith. The previous part can be found here.
8. The 1970s Dawn
The Stewardesses (1969)
Altar of Lust (1971)
Tomorrow Morning (1971)
What changes did you see in the New York film scene as the early 1970s dawned?
It was a new world. Truly. The old weird film noir roughies that we’d been making were out. Soft core was out. Black and white was out!
And what’s more – the old school filmmakers who’d been making these movies because they loved film… they were sadly out too. They were replaced by a new breed of people who wanted to make money. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – this was a business, after all. But the people who came into the industry had a different set of priorities.
Take Mike and Roberta Findlay, for example. Mike loved film in every way. He was the driving force behind the strange films they made in the 1960s. By the time the 1970s came along, Roberta started to take over. She wasn’t the filmmaker that Mike was… but she knew how to hustle and make things quicker and cheaper, and sell them for more money.
You had an acting role in one of Roberta’s early solo efforts, Altar of Lust (1971)…
Please don’t tell anyone! I show my butt in that one… And I think you’re exaggerating when you call it an “acting part.” Even though my name is on the one sheet!
You didn’t consider a move in front of the camera?
Never. Roberta had to twist my arm. Actually she lied that she hadn’t filmed my behind in the first place.
Roberta was having an affair with Alan, completely unbeknownst to her husband Mike. Alan introduced me to her, and she immediately told me she was about to shoot a scene in Palisades Park, New Jersey the following day. She told me that if I came along, she’d find some work for me.
Roberta was a strange character but intriguing and funny too. She made fun of Alan by calling him ‘Bonehead’, because he was balding. She was tiny, skinny, and intense. With huge breasts too. I took her up on her offer and went along.
When I got there, she handed me $50 and told me I had the part of an evil stepfather. I hadn’t expected an acting role, and apparently I had to rip the clothes off my step daughter and rape her.
It was all shot without sound, so that Roberta could record a voice-over in post-production from the daughter’s perspective. This meant that she shouted instructions from behind the camera in this New Yawk drawl: “Rip her shirt awf. Slap her haaard. Look mean and baaad. I wanna see some menace.”
Then suddenly she shouted, “Now drop your trousers.”
I was startled, so I kept beating up this young girl while shouting back, “No. I can’t do that. I refuse to do that. No way.”
Roberta kept saying, “Hurry up and drop them. It’ll be awlright. No one will notice.”
Somehow she convinced me, and now I live with the eternal shame of what she immortalized on film…
Where was most of your money coming from at this point?
Largely from sports work I was doing for CBS. I knew a cameraman named Larry Lindberg, who had his own company called Lindberg Productions – and they did a lot for programs like CBS Eye on Sports, CBS Sports Illustrated, and many CBS Sports Spectaculars. I did a lot of work for them, and other television companies.
Didn’t you make a documentary with Larry as well?
Yes, ‘Tomorrow Morning’ (1971)! Another ‘lost’ film that no one has been able to see.
Both Larry and I had just got divorced and we were looking for something creative and interesting to do. We came up with a good concept: Larry had some friends who were notable musicians, such as William Daniel Grey, the original Jesus Christ Superstar on stage, and he persuaded them to form a band for the sake of our film.
The movie was a pseudo-documentary about the band preparing to go on the road. Larry wrote and directed it, and I produced, shot, and edited it.
So the band wasn’t actually a real band?
No, but everything else was real. It was like the reality television shows you see today. We set up the scenes deliberately, and then filmed what happened. We filmed them rehearsing, playing in a nightclub in Bayonne, NJ, dealing with the problems of a band, even scoring drugs from a real drug dealer. In fact, the drug dealer was arrested just after we filmed his scene, and he went to jail for 5 years. So yes… it was pretty real.
9. Doris Wishman in the 1970s
The Amazing Transplant (1970)
Keyholes Are For Peeping (1972)
Deadly Weapons (1974)
Double Agent 73 (1974)
The Immoral Three (1975)
Most of the sexploitation work you did in the early part of the 1970s was for Doris.
Yes, she was the only one left from the early days. Most of the guys I had started with had moved on, moved away or died. Guys like Sande Johnsen, Tony Orlando, Barry Mahon, Al Ruban, and the rest of them.
Doris kept calling me, and when I was free, I was happy to work for her. Sometimes I’d shoot a few scenes for her and then someone else would take over afterwards.
And one film in that category was The Amazing Transplant (1970).
Yes – and ironically the star of that film was Joao Fernandes, who was a cinematographer that Doris used when she couldn’t get hold of me.
‘The Amazing Transplant’ is a warped film. It’s about a guy, played by Joao, who has a penis transplant… which comes from a serial rapist! Somehow the rapist was attracted to victims with gold earrings, and somehow the penis knows this, so our hero goes berserk and rapes any woman wearing gold earrings.
How about that for a plot?!
Ha, ha, ha, ha… ok, you’ve got me there.
So let’s talk about the star of those films, Chesty Morgan.
Let’s not – she was a pain in the ass! She was the biggest diva any of us ever worked with. She acted like a huge Hollywood star, but was actually an old Polish stripper from Brooklyn. The worst person I came across in my long career.
She turned up to set late, didn’t want to do the scenes that were in the script, didn’t seem to speak English that well, and was the least sexy person I ever met.
And the strangest thing about her was her prudish modesty! This wasn’t hardcore – not even close – and yet she insisted that everyone left the room when she undressed for a scene.
Poor Doris, it wasn’t easy for her.
What was your involvement in the films?
Doris called me up, and told me that several years previously, she’d got Joao Fernandes and Nouri Haviv to shoot some scenes with Chesty, or Lilian, which was her real name.
Doris had never used the footage but wanted to make a couple of films with it, and she needed me to film some additional scenes with Chesty. So the additional footage for both ‘Double Agent’ 73 (1974) or ‘Deadly Weapons’ (1974) was shot at the same time.
We shot most of it at Doris’ cousin’s house in White Plains. Doris’ cousin was Miriam Meth, and Miriam and her husband Saul were union makeup artists in New York, who worked on several of Doris’s films.
The most difficult part of the whole thing for me was that Chesty had such a horrible Polish accent. I was creased up behind the camera trying hard to stifle my laughing…
It certainly wasn’t meant to be a comedy…
No… comedy wasn’t Doris’ strong suit.
Yet Keyholes Are For Peeping (1972) was an attempt at a comedy?
I know, and it wasn’t a good one. Doris thought it was her worst movie. She didn’t understand comedy at all – and it was meant to be a sexy comedy too. The tagline was, ‘It Will Titillate The Cockles of Your Heart!’
To be fair, she hired a stand-up comedian, Sammy Petrillo, who had made a career out of just copying Jerry Lewis.
It was a shame because he was actually a really funny guy when he was just being himself, but he resorted to being ‘Jerry’ whenever he had an audience. The rumor was that Jerry hated him. Jerry was embarrassed and ashamed of Sammy’s version of him, and almost sued him on several occasions. For some reason, Sammy took that as a complement, and kept going with his act! He even advertised himself as “the Jerry Lewis act that is so accurate, Jerry wants to shut it down!”
There was one funny thing about the film however. Sammy played the dual role of a sex–obsessed janitor and his own mother. Doris wanted the mother to be a funny caricature, and so she overdubbed her own voice for comic effect. But the mother-figure ended up being just like Doris. She would never admit to it, but that was her!
It seems that some of Doris’ old footage found its way into the film?
Yes, I remember shooting some of the new footage, but a lot of it I don’t recognize at all. I remember that we shot it at Doris’ apartment, on the 22nd floor of a residential building on Queens Boulevard, where she lived with her second husband. Actually, she was splitting from him around this time, which may be why she added a sub-title to the film: “Is There Life After Marriage?”
What I do remember is that this was one film that was shot with sound – probably because Sammy Petrillo insisted on it.
Do you remember if Doris was seeing much profit from her 1970s films?
It’s difficult for me to say, because I never saw the deals she put together. What I do know is that she started to owe me money, rather than pay me on time. It wasn’t a lot of money, so after a while I let her have it.
She also owed a company called B&O Opticals, who did the credits on her films. She ended up owing them thousands of dollars. I remember one Christmas they cancelled the debt as a favor. So she clearly wasn’t making big bucks. But don’t forget: the market was moving away from her softcore films. Hardcore was now acceptable, so fewer people wanted to see the type of films she was making.
Some films did better than others. I think the Chesty Morgan films did pretty well, because everyone wanted to see Chesty Morgan’s assets. Doris made a third Chesty Morgan film, The Immoral Three (1975), but either Chesty wasn’t interested in appearing in it, or Doris just didn’t wanted to deal with her any more, I can’t tell you, because Chesty is conspicuous by her absence.
In the end, Doris got someone else to play the Chesty role. The only problem was that she looked nothing like her…
‘The Immoral Three’ was shot down in Florida.
Yes, in Miami. In fact, we shot at the mansion where Deep Throat was made. I don’t know if that footage made it into the final cut because we found another great place with an indoor swimming pool, but Doris became friendly with the Count who owned the ‘Deep Throat’ place, and he let us film there. She even gave him a role in the movie.
10. Hardcore takes hold – Working with Leonard Kirtman
Certified Mail (1974)
Badge ’69’ (1974)
Airport Girls (1975)
The Amazing Dr. Jekyll (1975)
Big Abner (1975)
My Master My Love (1975)
Too Hot to Handle (1975)
Sex Wish (1975)
Teenage Housewife (1976)
Miss Kinsey’s Report (1977)
How did you make the leap into more explicitly sexual films?
Several years earlier I’d met this guy named Leonard Kirtman. This would be the late 1960s. Len was a cab driver at the time, but clearly a smart and ambitious guy. He wanted to get into the film biz. He asked me a million questions, so I told him to stop by and visit me in my editing room. When he came by, I gave him lots of information about how to start making films.
The next thing I knew was that he was THE smut maven in New York!
In just a few years he’d started a company, raised money through a public offering, and set up a studio on 29th Street, that was really impressive. He specialized in making films very quickly. Or rather, making several films simultaneously very quickly.
I was immediately impressed with what he’d done, because he’d boiled the production process down to its core essentials. Nothing fancy. Nothing unusual. Just a lot of films that were virtually guaranteed to make good money.
And Leonard was making hardcore films by this time?
Yes – he started out doing softcore films, then he made a few horror films, like Carnival of Blood (1971), before moving into XXX.
When my work in the legit area dried up for a spell, I contacted Len and he immediately agreed to use me on various projects, shooting and/or editing on a freelance basis… which turned out to be my first truly X-rated ventures.
Do you remember the first?
I think the first I shot for Len was Airport Girls (1975), which had something to do with airline stewardesses.
In his studio, he had the inside fuselage of an airplane with all the airplane seats in it. Len asked if I wanted to shoot a movie. I said, “Of course, if you’re gonna pay me.”
He said, “OK, here’s the set, here are the people, make one.”
I said, “Ok, where’s the script?”
Len replied: “It’s just hardcore. Make up a little plot and… you know… show a lot of sexual activity and uh… that’s the movie.”
I had never done that before but I figured… “Well, I’m getting $300 a day, I’m not gonna turn that down.”
I was eager to impress him, so I started to edit within the camera, and move the camera around for different angles. Len stopped me and told me to leave the camera running in one setting facing the action so that he could save on the editing costs.
What was he like on the business side?
He was a hard businessman, but kept his word when he made a deal with you… not like a lot of other people I could name. And he always paid cash at the end of the day. Some people didn’t like him because of his cheapness… but, like I say, this was a business. I never had any problems with him.
He loved his work and invested a lot of his time and money in it. Sure he made a lot of money too, but I can’t say anything bad about Len. Smart man.
You mentioned he made several movies at the same time?
Sure! He would convince some backer to give him the money for his next movie, and then turn around and shoot three movies at the same time, and keep two of them for himself.
That could get complicated because he shot them all at the same time, but he kept it all in his head. I’d ask him what title to write on the film slate before each take, and he’d say something like B-23 or D-12. It all made sense to him.
At that point, the movies didn’t even have titles, but he seemed to know how everything would fit together.
He would issue instructions to everyone, and you’d film all day and night. You had no idea that you were making four or five different movies, or how everything would fit together. He didn’t have scripts, or outlines, or anything. He just knew in his head what he wanted.
Often the plots didn’t quite coalesce together at the end of the day… but who cared?
Who was working for him?
Len was canny. He would hire people who were new to filmmaking and who needed experience. His pitch was always, “I’m not going to pay you much, but I guarantee you will learn how to make a film.” Then he hired guys like me, to show the new people the ropes.
I can’t even begin to guess how many films I worked on for Len. It must have been hundreds…
Do any stand out?
Another character you worked with was Sonny Landham, before he achieved mainstream success in Hollywood.
Oh boy… Sonny Landham [sighs]. I remember shooting him in Big Abner (1975) in which he was the lead. This was another Leonard one day wonder. We made it up on a farm in rural New York.
Sonny spent the whole time wandering around the set, bellowing at people, “Hell, I’m not Lil’ Abner, I’m Big Abner!”
I couldn’t believe it when I saw him running for political office in Kentucky a few years later!
You worked with Ralph Ell too?
Ralph was a graduate from Len’s filmmaking process. He was an all-round production manager for Len – he did everything from sweeping up to shooting. He always wanted to be a producer. Credit to him, he started out knowing nothing, and before long, he was making his own films.
Sweet guy. I wonder what happened to him?
He’s still around living in New York. I see him fairly often. Did you know that he originally trained to be a Roman Catholic priest?
No, really?! That just shows the unusual mix of people who ended up in the sex film business.
We shot a gay film too: American Adventures of Surelick Holmes (1975). That was an eye-opener…
Annie Sprinkle got her start in X-Rated films working for Leonard Kirtman too.
Yes – she was always around Len in those days. First as a script girl, and general on-set helper, before she eventually started appearing in the sex films. She was a lovely person – a scatterbrained hippy, a “make love not war” type. Witty – and sexy too.
What format were you shooting with Leonard?
Films were shot in both 16mm and 35mm – probably about 50% of Len’s films were in 35mm.
He was a legit film producer who lived just off Houston St. He hired me for commercials too, and I did a lot of mainstream work with him.
Of course he made a lot of money from one day wonders too, and I worked on many of those – films like Sex Wish (1975), Sherlick Holmes (1975), The Amazing Dr. Jekyll (1975), and others. In fact ‘Sherlick Holmes’ was shot straight after the gay film that Ralph Ell and I made.
Victor was a good guy, but he was one of those people who was insistent that his two parallel careers were kept entirely separate. He didn’t want either one interfering with the other. He was paranoid almost. But he was a good filmmaker, and I know he’s still at work down in Florida today.
By now you were using your alter-ago, ‘Charles Lamont’.
That was my hardcore persona. I can’t remember that first film I used that name on, but I wanted to create some differentiation between the work I had done with Doris and the others.
It was Roberta Findlay who gave me that name. She’s a knowledgeable film historian, and Charles Lamont was a filmmaker from the 1920s to the 1950s.
How hard did you try to keep your XXX career separate from the television work you were doing?
To be honest, I didn’t try to keep it a secret from my friends. When I worked for CBS Sports, all the guys there knew, and they just wanted to come and see a shoot.
What was your reaction to seeing explicit sex in front of you so often?
After I had done my first and second sex film, it was a psychological release for me. Up until that point I was the all-American boy – who was excited to look at nude women in every imaginable attitude, shape, and place… doing things that I hadn’t even dreamed of.
But after a while, it became just another job. It’s like I went to work every day, and I ground out nuts and bolts in a factory. And that’s how it was.
11. The Zebedy Colt films
The Farmer’s Daughters (1976)
White Fire (1976)
The Affairs of Janice (1976)
Unwilling Lovers (1977)
The Devil Inside Her (1977)
Virgin Dreams (1977)
How did you meet Zebedy Colt?
I met him through Leonard Kirtman. Zeb was another one of Len’s acolytes who had what Len was looking for: that’s to say, creative aspirations and a warped, sleazy mind…
Were you aware that Zebedy was leading a double life at the time?
Yes – I got to know him a little. Zebedy was actually Edward Earle, a gay stage actor and lounge singer. At the very time we were making porn films, he was the lead understudy on Broadway in a Tom Stoppard play – so he had to balance the porn work with his theatrical career.
In fact, he told me once that he was acting in an off-Broadway production once with Sandy Dennis. Apparently, she took her mother to see their first porno film in a Times Square theater – and it was a Zebedy Colt production. Sandy Denny recognized Zeb on-screen, and told him he was great!
Zeb wasn’t the only one with Broadway connections in Lenny Kirtman’s world. Spalding Gray who became a Broadway star as a monologist in the 1980s, appeared in a film or two. He was part of the Wooster Group theater troupe when I knew him. Good guy, always committed to giving his best performance.
What was it like working with Zebedy?
I had more fun than usual on Zeb’s shoots. He had more of an artistic sensibility than most people I worked with, and this often challenged me as I was the guy with the camera. It kept me on my toes.
That’s not to say his films weren’t weird sexually… they definitely were. His scripts were full of incestuous, abusive relationships. I don’t know much about his background, but there was something dark going on.
I recently re-watched Unwilling Lovers (1977) which you gave me… that’s creepy and nasty! It’s a ‘Psycho’-type plot, with Zebedy playing this strange man-child who lives in the woods with his mother, and kills women to experiment with their bodies. That’s not the product of normal mind!
A number of films were shot in bucolic locations – was it true that they were shot at Zebedy’s country house?
Yes – that’s absolutely accurate. He had a place in Lambertville, New Jersey, which is this small village with only a couple of thousand inhabitants. It’s a pretty place on the Delaware River bordering Pennsylvania.
My favorite was The Devil Inside Her (1977) – which Zeb starred in as well. He wasn’t a great looking guy, so on the face of it, it was strange having him as the lead actor – especially because he was gay too. But he had a ball acting these deviant characters that he wrote in his scripts, and he could certainly act weird!
He was an auteur, in that he did everything – from directing, writing, starring, casting, location managing, and he even edited some of them too. Don’t believe what you see in the credits… Zeb did everything. I think he provided all the costumes from his Broadway contacts too.
I remember Terri Hall well. Beautiful, graceful girl, like a delicate flower. She moved like a dancer, which I heard she was. She didn’t talk to anyone too much and kept to herself, but she was always willing to please.
Sad to say, I remember witnessing some kind of meltdown. I think it was on the set of ‘The Devil Inside Her’. I don’t know what the problem was, or even if there was something specific that triggered her, but suddenly she was flailing around on the ground, wailing, crying, and clearly troubled.
It was awful, because none of us knew quite what to do to help her. She was clearly in distress.
After that, I heard that her family came down to New York and took her back to her hometown of Elmira. I don’t even know if she made any other films after her meltdown.
Was Zebedy’s house the one with a swimming pool that you can see in a number of the films?
I remember his neighbor because he tried to help me with unpacking the camera equipment. Unfortunately he dropped the lens case, and the lens became stuck on one setting – I think it was 5.6. I didn’t have a spare lens so we had to use the same fixed F-stop for everything.
Leonard became suspicious and realized something was up, but I told him that we needed to match all the footage together so it was easier if we used the same F-stop. I told him it was an old Hollywood trick, so there was nothing to worry about. He bought it, but it wasn’t easy filming it that way…
12. Other Hardcore Productions
In Flight Service (1975)
Portraits of Pleasure (1977)
Dial ‘P’ for Pleasure (1978)
Do you remember anyone else who came through Leonard Kirtman’s ‘school’?
One guy was Bill Bukowski. He was a smart guy, who was interested in the technical side of filmmaking. He went on develop this Optimax system which was a 3-D set-up. In the 1980s, he was the supervisor for the western film Comin’ At Ya! (1981) and The Man Who Wasn’t There (1983), starring Steve Guttenberg.
Back in the early days, he was a jack of all trades – editing, shooting, and he directed a few low budget sex films that I shot for him.
I believe that Bill used the name Bo Koup when he directed some of his films?
Yes – you’re right! How did you find that out…? I had forgotten that.
I worked with him on a few like Portraits of Pleasure (1977), Sweetheart (1977), Dial ‘P’ for Pleasure (1978) and some others, I think. It’s hard to remember the names – and sometimes I didn’t know the titles in the first place!
He dated C.J. Laing for a while I think. That was unusual. The crew almost never had relationships with the actors… Lucky him. C.J. was a wild and beautiful girl.
And you weren’t averse to making your own adult film?
Just the one! I made In Flight Service (1975), and that was enough for me. After that, I was happy to just be the camera guy…
Why… what went wrong?
Nothing went wrong, but it was just about the cheapest thing I ever shot… and as you know, that’s saying something! We shot it at Leonard’s studio using his airplane set-up again – so of course we took advantage of that.
It had a couple of non-consensual sex scenes, some stock footage of airports and planes… and there you have it! Another sex film!
The only notable part of it was that it actually featured an acting role by Len himself. I think he may have been covered in a sheet – but that’s him!
13. Doris Does Hardcore
Satan Was a Lady (1975)
Come With Me, My Love (1976)
A Night to Dismember (1983)
Even Doris was getting in on the hardcore scene…
‘Satan Was A Lady’ was a joy because Bobby Astyr was in it, so I knew I was going to laugh a lot. And secondly, C.J. was one of the stars, and I was happy to stare at her all day long.
Funny story about C.J. After filming her in the throes of passion for several hours, I had convinced myself that she was getting turned on by me watching her, and that perhaps she had an interest in me. A few days later, I was walking down Fifth Avenue, and who comes strolling towards me…? C.J.!
I greeted her like a long lost friend, and I started up a conversation with her. But sadly it was clear straight away that she had absolutely no idea who I was, and she had no recollection of having worked with me… My ego was crushed!
To be honest the same thing happened with Terri Hall. I bumped into her, but she looked at me with a blank stare as if she had never seen me before in her life… and walked on.
Ah… the invisibility of the cinematographer!
‘Come With Me, My Love’ may have had sex in it, but it’s clear that Doris wanted to make a horror film.
Isn’t the alternative title, ‘The Haunted Pussy’? That tells you all you need to know about it.
The funny thing was that Doris denied for years that she ever made a sex film! The irony is that she was probably correct, in that she was never around for the sex scenes.
She was nowhere to be seen when the action got hot and heavy. That was left to other people to film. Like me.
What do you remember about A Night To Dismember (1983)?
I remember it was a mess… Doris shot most of it in around 1977, and then years later, she edited together a film with some new footage and outtakes from all sorts of sources.
The main problem was that the film world was changing and she was having difficulty raising money. Her family had always been a reliable source, for whatever reason, that stopped being a viable option. It was sad to see her at this point, as she was like a woman out of time. Once upon a time, she had connections everywhere and she knew everyone, but the world had changed, and Doris was having difficulty adapting.
Did you shoot some of the newer footage for the film?
Yes. And my son Chris acts in the film too, as the lead character’s brother.
So a new generation of the Smith family worked with Doris?
With a lot less success, I should add.
Chris just didn’t get along with Doris. He found her vague and indecisive, and her unclear instructions very frustrating. From the early days, she could never make up her mind what she wanted – and this had just got worse with age. I guess I was used to her by now… We were like an old married couple. She wore the pants though.
14. The Last Hardcore Films
Steam Heat (1979)
Neon Nights (1981)
Coed Teasers (1983)
Yes – he was an unusual character in that he was a very money-conscious businessman, as well as being an artistic and creative filmmaker.
You made two films with him?
I liked the amount of care he put into his work. His sets were very different to the others in the industry. It was like working on a big production movie. You know, 35mm, color, big crew… We even had a production manager who had an Emmy. So it was all done right.
In fact, I would have worked more with Howard if he hadn’t been so stingy and greedy. He always wanted more, and he always wanted to pay you less.
He was snobbish too. He didn’t like Arthur Morowitz and Howie Farber from Distribpix, and he was suspicious of Kirtman too. I don’t know what his beef was with Leonard – maybe it was because he thought his own films were a cut above Len’s movies. I remember him saying, “Charles Lamont shoots really shitty-looking movies”.
Whatever it was, he made me use a different screen credit on ‘Neon Nights’ because he didn’t want the association with ‘Charles Lamont’. So I became Carl Davis.
I also told him that if he want better-looking scenes, he would need to give me more time than I was used to having for lighting set-ups.
What was his reaction to that?
He grumbled about it and said I was taking too long, but we shot ‘Neon Nights’ over eight days, which was way more than the Kirtman and Zebedy Colt productions I was used to.
It’s an accomplished film.
Yes, I was proud of my work on that one. It’s about Lysa Thatcher who runs away to New York and has sexual adventures with a number of people, including a magician. I worked out a levitation effect that we used. You didn’t often get the chance to do that in porn!
In the end, Howard and I had a falling out so we didn’t work together any more.
What was the disagreement about?
Money. It’s always about money!
In that case, he wanted me to film some more scenes, but I told him I had already signed up for some television work down in Florida. He tried to blackmail me into staying by withholding my pay. I told him I wasn’t going to be treated like that, and so I walked.
He was in a state of shock: he just couldn’t believe someone would walk away from money. But that was the difference between Howard and I.
After ‘Neon Nights’ your career in XXX slowly came to a halt.
To be honest, there were a number of reasons.
Firstly it had stopped feeling like a family. When I started, there was an optimism and an excitement to making films – even if they were nudies or sex films. That was disappearing. New people were coming into the industry, and they were dishonest cowboys.
Then there was VHS. I didn’t want to start shooting movies on video. That went against what I liked to do.
Thirdly, there were just more regular paying gigs. Adult films were just too sporadic and I couldn’t rely upon them to pay the rent.
And finally, maybe I was getting old… but I found that filming sex had become a little… well, disgusting. I don’t know how to describe it but it had lost any sense of excitement, and it was just bodies. Sweaty bodies.
I remember nearly getting arrested on The Erotic Adventures of Lolita (1982)! Actually we were shooting a couple of films in true Kirtman style – Coed Teasers (1983) was the other one – and we were using the same people on both movies.
We were on location in the middle of the country in the Catskills in upstate New York. Ron Jeremy was there. Most of the cast and crew were staying in a big house, but one night some of the actors went into the nearby town, and they had too much to drink. They raised some hell, and told the locals about the porn film that we were making.
Before you know it, the police turn up and arrest Leonard and some of the others, and throw them all in jail overnight.
What reason did the cops give?
They said that they thought we were connected to the John Holmes murder case on the west coast! It was a crazy idea that made no sense.
It was quite a case though. I remember there were articles about our bust in the newspapers – including Screw magazine. It was another sign that the industry was still an underground business.
15. Life After Sex
What did you do after you stopped making sexually-oriented films?
I was mostly doing editing. I worked for The Maverick Group, a New York company, who gave me a lot of work. I did rock videos like Run-DMC’s The Kings of Rock (1985), cable TV shows for HBO, and lots and lots of industrials.
I’m always curious as what products featured in the industrial films?
Well, how about Leotards in Lycra? That was a good one. I did a bunch of panty hose films too… and I wasn’t even asked to film endless close-ups of ashtrays like Doris wanted!
They paid well, and it was easy work. From time to time, I did something different, like producing and shooting a film for my son Chris. He made one called ‘Red Flag Down’ (1992) and we shot it on Hi-8 video.
In fact, Chris and I formed our own company together, called Sandcrest Media, so we worked together a lot.
16. The Doris Wishman Epilogue
Each Time I Kill (2007)
How did Doris Wishman come back into your life?
That was in the mid 1990s. My friend John Donaldson told me that he’d come across Doris down in Miami. I called her up and we had a blast talking about the old days. It made me realize just how much life we had lived, and a lot of the experiences we’d shared.
It was great to talk again – the only problem was that she wanted me to shoot her new film! She even showed me a trailer that she’d made…
What was it like?
It was like traveling back in time. Time had stood still for Doris. It was called Dildo Heaven, and it was exactly like the films I had shot for her all those years before!
It was the usual offer: She wanted me to shoot some new footage that she intended adding to older film clips from films like ‘The Immoral Three’. Dildo Heaven eventually came out many years later, and predictably was a strange mix of film footage and video.
Amazingly, Doris even appeared on Conan O’Brian to promote it – though she was too embarrassed to say the title: ‘Dildo Heaven’! Typical Doris… still a prude!
I shot Each Time I Kill just before she died in 2002. Now bear in mind, she was 90 by this stage, which was pretty incredible. For her to have made films for so long is truly incredible.
The plot was about a teenager who finds a magic locket that gives her the ability to trade a physical feature with anyone she murders. Another standard Doris caper!
Doris announced ‘Each Time I Kill’ on the Conan show, but it wasn’t released until five years later.
How do you look back at your career making sex films?
The strange thing was that I never saw the films I worked on when they came out. So its only been in recent years that I’ve started to see them for the first time. That’s been strange!
Many of them show we were having a good time. And now I can appreciate that they gave other people a good time too. That’s a good feeling. I’m enjoying being rediscovered.
Somebody asked me to write a book about my experiences. I was gonna title it: “Twenty Years in the Porn Business, and I Never Got Laid.”
Sadly it’s a true story!