R.I.P. George McDonald (1949-2019)

R.I.P. George McDonald (1949-2019)
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George McDonald, star of Behind the Green Door (1972) and perhaps the first male star of the adult film industry, died yesterday in California. He was 70 years old.

Ashley West records his memories of George in a new introduction to our podcast interview with George.

This podcast is 99 minutes long.

The musical playlist for this episode can be found on Spotify.

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George McDonald

When I started The Rialto Report, George McDonald was one of the first people I wanted to include. Of course I did: George McDonald was an adult film star at a time when there were no adult film stars. This was an era of shame and secrecy when no one used their real name, and most people didn’t use any name.  But for a time, his name was everywhere – he once counted nine theaters showing his films in San Francisco at the same time.

George McDonald

He started in the era of short, silent 8mm films and saw first-hand the progression to full-length pornographic features within a couple of years. He was in the industry so early that one of his last films was the Mitchell BrothersBehind The Green Door – which is often cited as one of the first adult films.

Behind The Green Door

I knew that back in the 1970s he lived in Sausalito, a beach-town full of houseboat enclaves just four miles north of San Francisco, so I looked him up online – even though I never expected George McDonald to be his real name, or that he still lived in Sausalito. I found a number, called it, and to my surprise, a few moments later I was speaking to George.

So what kind of person ends up being the original porn star?

Maybe not the kind of person you’d think. George McDonald was an all-American boy, high school athlete, good-looking, good grades, good future. He signed up to the Air Force when the Vietnam war was going on. And he had political aspirations too. He was sure he’d be mayor one day.

George McDonald

But along the way he ended up working in porn films, headlining a live sex show in Hawaii where he competed with John Holmes, and living a life no one that had ever really lived before.

He made loops, cheap one day wonders, and big budget films. He worked for every one of the early west coast filmmakers. He even wrote an autobiography, called ‘Dirty Movies’ – by far the best, though perhaps the only, first-hand account of what was like to be in the adult film business before there was an adult film business. We published the book exclusively on The Rialto Report website – and you can read it there free of charge. A few years ago, Robert De Niro heard about George and his story and flew out to Sausalito to meet him. They spent the afternoon together discussing George’s life and film career. De Niro said he was interested in making it into a film, though in the end, nothing came of it.

Behind the Green Door

When George retired from the industry, he opted for the quiet life. Which in his case meant that he joined his friend and filmmaker Alex de Renzy on a drug-smuggling round the world boat trip. Seriously. George and I planned to tell the story of this crazy trip, which involved a wild group of porn filmmakers traveling to the Far East trafficking in contraband, but we just never got around to it.

Over the years, I visited George in Sausalito. He took me to the locations where the opening scenes of ‘Behind the Green Door’ had been shot. We’d have dinner at the No Name Bar, at the same table where George would meet Alex de Renzy or the Mitchell Brothers for production meetings. And in between visits, we have long phone conversations about incidents in his life that he’d suddenly remembered. He last called me three weeks ago to tell me his illness was in remission, and that he was feeling better. He wanted to talk about what a good life he’d had. With hindsight, it feels that he was calling to say goodbye.

George would also send greetings cards. He sent cards to everyone he considered a friend, for every single holiday you can think of – Christian, Chinese, Jewish, Indian, Mexican… you name it. That meant I got a card about every two or three weeks throughout every year. Each one was a ray of sunshine that reminded me that I was friends with George McDonald. A good, good man.

George McDonaldGeorge, with fellow adult film star, Richard Pacheco

  • Posted On: 15th December 2019
  • By: Ashley West
  • Under: Podcasts

15 Comments

  1. Brad V. · December 15, 2019

    George was truly a pioneer, and the kind of man we don’t see in the industry any longer.
    I wish I’d had the chance to meet him.

  2. James Rossi · December 15, 2019

    There is only one place which could provide a fitting memorial to George – and that is here on The Rialto Report.
    Having been a fan of George’s for years, I was moved to tears listening to the intro.
    Thank you and R.I.P. GM.

  3. Sausalito friend · December 15, 2019

    Rest in peace George. You were a gentle man.

  4. Thomas · December 16, 2019

    I’ve been revisiting some old RR podcasts this week. Tonight is for George.

    Having just listened to the new introduction, I am in tears.

    Thank you so much Ashley. May peace find you and all those who loved him.

    • April Hall · December 16, 2019

      Thank you so much Thomas.

      • George A Maranville · January 3, 2020

        Was this few years ago meeting with a DeNiro perhaps more than a few and when DeNiro met with Marilyn Chambers to discuss adapting one of the two books based on the Mitchell Brothers?

  5. Adrian deRenzy · December 17, 2019

    All the legends are gone

  6. Avatar610 · December 19, 2019

    I wrote to him backl in 2018 and he signed photos for me. A true gentleman who found happiness outside of the industry and always looked back on his past with laughter. RIP, and say ‘hi’ to Marilyn Chambers (and I hope you two are having fun up there if you get my meaning…..).

    • Mary K Hayden · January 10, 2020

      He was one of the most genuinely best humans ever to have graced this world.
      He is missed terribly by his friends and loved ones. We were so lucky to have him when we did.

  7. Susie · December 22, 2019

    Gentle George and his Christmas cards. No one articulated the loneliness better.

  8. Oren Nayler · December 24, 2019

    Sad, He’s the last man standing from the Mitchell Bros. era. Jim&Artie, Marliyn, Johnnie, John, and now George… All Gone! 🙁

  9. Gina Sausalito · December 27, 2019

    To my favorite thriftstore buddie..Goodwill won’t be the same without you..hugs and kisses forever..Miss U!!

  10. Al S. · December 28, 2019

    What a terrific interview. Kudos to you for getting such a great conversation recorded with such a nice sounding guy. I was particularly impressed with his ease as a raconteur- he remembered details of events long ago, and spoke easily and entertainingly. He was so low key and relaxed about things that usually torture people — his childhood as an orphan for example . . . that’s usually anguishing stuff for people.

    That 1970s smuggling adventure with Alex de Renzy was so gonzo fantastic a yarn, and you just dropped it in at the end as though it were no big deal, that’s a Hunter Thomson novel that never got written . . . and the irony of it all being that after sowing more wild oats than you’ll find at a vegan breakfast, the guy settles down to married life, no regrets, and just enjoys a quiet life.

    A fantastic character portrait. Most people tell you “the story of my life” and round about the “and that’s when my ex wife got the kids” you check out because there’s not a word that you haven’t heard a dozen times before. . . no one could say that about George. Everyone wants to be an original . . . not too many achieve it.