Summer in Heat (1979) has long been an enigma to film fans.
And it wasn’t just the enigmatic director who supposedly used a mysterious nom-de-porn: the lengthy credits for the crew reveal many people who were seemingly never associated with any other films.
And then there is the film itself, a political melodrama about a senator who is attacked on vacation. The movie contains several violent rape scenes, and is told in flashback by the relatively-unknown Delania Raffino to her boyfriend, the never-unknown Jamie Gillis.
Over the last twenty years, The Rialto Report has spoken to many of those involved, including John Leslie, Jamie Gillis, Desiree Cousteau, Juliet Anderson, Jack Wrangler, Charles DeSantos, David Clark, and others. Finally the full story behind the movie can be revealed.
The Story of ‘Summer in Heat’
Tagline in promotional materials:
…Glistening Bodies Locked in a Smoldering, Shimmering Orgy of Overheated Sensuality…!
I’d been making 35mm and 16mm films since 1971. Many of them were adult movies, but I’d also made political films, commercials, and features like The Grateful Dead (1977).
By the late 1970s, I wanted to push on to work with bigger budgets, so my business partner and I drew up a list of projects that would enable us to make movies that would be a step up in terms of quality.
I knew Charles because he’d been on the scene since the beginning of adult films. Charles had a partner who was an Asian guy named Arthur Chang.
I was turning 30 when I first moved to San Francisco as a still photographer. I had a 16mm camera and I was going to try to make a name for myself. I lived in a warehouse in the Haight-Ashbury. The front of it was like a PO Box place, but round the back was where DeSantos and his partner, Arthur Chang, packaged their movies that they shipped all over the country.
One of the first films we made that had a bigger budget was Honky Tonk Nights (1978) – a movie that, at first, we decided to shoot softcore. We still cast porn actors in it, but we also got some mainstream actors as well.
I worked on a film they shot in 35mm called ‘Honky Tonk Nights’. It was meant to be R-rated – not X-rated – and it starred Carol Doda, famous for her huge chest, and the folksinger Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. We shot it up near Mendocino, and it had a lot of scenes with car chases.
It was really, really ambitious. Over-ambitious actually. Really, really, really over-ambitious.
About halfway through the movie, they realized that they better cover their asses and put in some X-rated scenes… or they were never going to be able to sell it. So all of a sudden, we shifted gears and started making a porno. Needless to say, you can’t change direction in mid-stream like that. The whole film was a disaster.
I remember a scene where Ramblin’ Jack Elliott is going to make love with Carol Doda, and he hugs her… and he just disappears between her boobs.
The next film we made was ‘Summer in Heat.’ I produced it, but it was directed by my sister.
‘Christy McCabe’, the credited director, was a pseudonym for my sister.
The film was written by ‘Christy’ and ‘Jerry McCabe.’ They’re both completely fictional names. That was my sister and her husband at the time.
The directors were Charles’ sister and her husband, neither of whom had ever directed before.
They never directed again come to think of it… That might tell you something about ‘Summer in Heat.’
The credited cinematographer is ‘Harry L. Hotchkis.’ That’s me. I was the director of photography on ‘Summer in Heat.’
By that stage, I’d made films using the names ‘Harry Lee’ or ‘Harry Lewis’, and Hotchkiss was the town in Colorado where my dad grew up.
Alex de Renzy? I heard that the movie was credited to him, but he didn’t have anything to do with it. ‘Summer in Heat’ was a DeSantos family production. I think Charles put up most of the money, and I think his sister put up some too.
The film has become associated with Alex de Renzy for some reason. His name was even mentioned on some of the promotional materials. I don’t know exactly how that happened. Somebody just made a mistake, I guess. Somebody, somewhere along the line, must have thought Alex had something to do with it. He didn’t.
It’s true that at that time, I was working with Alex on some other film projects, and I shot some things at his house, but he was not involved with this film.
The guy who was a sub-distributor on the movie and who helped us put it out there was Mike Weldon. Mike was working with Alex too, but he wouldn’t have connected Alex to the film, so how did that connection get made…? I don’t know.
The plot was something about a senator who was building a dam – except that when he goes on holiday… he comes across local resistance from crazy hillbillies… Have I got that right?
Arthur Chang and I were the active producers in terms of putting the whole thing together. ‘Summer in Heat’ was a fairly big production for its time. The money came from several different outside sources. Firstly, my sister had some friends who were independent investors. Then we got some money from a friend of mine. And the rest was from my production company.
In general, people used to invest in X-rated films for different reasons: some wanted to play around being involved with the adult industry. For others, it was a good investment and they could get a tax break or write off some expenses. Or there were guys who just wanted to see a sex flick being made.
In this case, it was a little bit of the first two reasons. These guys didn’t just donate the money to the cause: they wanted to make money. But at the same time, it wasn’t a couple of dirty old men wanting to put in a few bucks so they could hang out with the girls. It wasn’t that type of thing. In fact, the outside investors weren’t present during the shoot. It’s not like they were buying their way in to be able to get on the set. They were serious guys. It was pretty much a one-off for them. As far as I know they didn’t get involved in films again after ‘Summer in Heat.’
I was just hired for a wrap-around device: the whole story is told in flashback by my girlfriend in the movie after we have sex. It didn’t require much of an acting effort from me so when Charles called me, I told him I’d pass.
Then he told me it was going to be two or three sex scenes with an attractive brunette, called Delania Ruffino, that I’d seen around. So I let him convince me.
It was a tough gig, but someone had to do it.
We made ‘Summer in Heat’ at a time where I was pretty active making movies, so I was in touch with everybody already. I knew who was around and who was available. We started putting it together, then made calls, and made it happen.
I don’t recall exactly what the budget was, but there was a fair amount of money spent. It was one of the most expensive films that I worked on. A good bit was spent on location costs, travel, and location rentals. We spent a lot of money on boats too. It was much more expensive than shooting something in town.
And of course we had lots of people. We even took our on make-up guy there for the shoot.
David Clark (make-up):
I got the make-up job like I got all work back then. It was word-of-mouth. I would hear about the next movie when I was on the set of the last one. The work never dried up. There was too much for me to handle most of the time.
Lake Shasta is a large volcanic lake in Northern California, and there’s huge dam constructed there. We went out there because we were trying to pack some production value into the movie.
I think we shot it in October/November of 1978 – up at Lake Shasta. That’s almost a four hour drive north of San Francisco, so it was a schlep to get up there.
And then once we were there we had nowhere to go. Everyone was stuck with each other.
Jack Wrangler (from ‘The Jack Wrangler Story’ (1985)):
Most of the movie took place on houseboats in the water. We had four of them: one for the set, one for the makeup and crew, and the other two for living accommodations. Several cast members like to perform day and night, whether the camera was rolling or not, and they were very noisy about it.
I wish the film had been as exciting as the sex that took place off-camera. That’s what happened when you took a group of highly-sexed, attractive people away for the week. It was wild.
We quarantined the noisy cast members to one vessel, which we called the ‘bunny boat.’ Twenty hours a day you could see and hear them – screwing on the roof, on the deck, in the water, in the galley.
There was never a business better suited to these performers.
We shot ‘Summer in Heat’ over a week to ten days. But it’s not like every day was a shooting day: some days were just spent finding different parts of the lake to shoot. The actors were meant to help us find locations, but some of them took it as an excuse to go AWOL and have a day hiking. They’d come back with bruises and cuts from the wild plants in the mountains. You can see their bruises in the movie – especially on the actresses.
I played a young senator, à la Jack Kennedy, with an unresponsive wife, à la Jackie, who had been instrumental in passing a bill that would raise the water level of the lake. This was helpful to the surrounding land in general but flooded the property of the poor itinerant farmers, à la the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Meaty stuff for a porn flick.
I knew that Charles had a background in left-wing filmmaking because he told me about it one night. I assume that the plot, which was about the suffering of working-class people, was because of his political leanings.
The film culminates with the congressman getting raped by the farmers. Go figure.
I was also the line producer, and I shot some scenes and directed parts of it.
To be efficient, we decided to break off into two crews and start shooting different scenes at the same time. I think that Harry Lewis shot most of the scenes with my sister. I was with my usual crew, shooting other scenes at the same time.
The problem was that neither crew knew what the other crew was doing… and that led to a lot continuity problems.
The thing about Webb’s films was that he couldn’t tell a story. They never made any sense, and so you had to go re-do them again. Sometimes you had to go back to do pick up shots to try and make the story work. That was the classic problem with Webb films.
And ‘Summer in Heat’ was no exception.
Both film crews did a fair amount of improvising by themselves. So at night, we’d have to come back and work out how we were going to combine the footage together in a way that made sense. It wasn’t easy.
That movie had its share of nightmares. I mean all kinds of things went wrong making that movie.
I think we actually took two weeks to shoot it. It was pretty intense.
And they hired all these different boats. We had big house boats, a speed boat, a kind of a paddle wheel boat.
The female star was Delania Ruffino. She was from San Francisco: we were casting for new people, and she came in.
She wasn’t in a lot of films, in fact two of the others she was in were movies of mine that I shot in France.
We shot three films while we were in Paris, though one of them wound up never getting finished. Delania was in the other two: Extreme Close Up (1979) with John Holmes and Gloria Leonard, and Johnny Does Paris (1981).
I knew Delania. We hung out together a few times. Good actress and very sexy. There was a time when I bumped into her everywhere in San Francisco, and then… nothing. She just disappeared.
Desiree Cousteau was also in a main role, and she had a reputation of being difficult. But on this particular shoot, I don’t recall any problems. It was important to put together a congenial group of people that would get along with each other because we were going to be away together, so I had concerns about her, but I don’t recall anything bad happening.
I was very innocent at that time in my life – oddly enough. It was a simpler period for me. Who knows what combination of factors led me to do that?
Desiree was a sweet child, kind and well-meaning and gentle, but there was something absent about her. It was almost disturbing.
Very beautiful though. And sexual beyond belief. It was difficult to get her to stop sometimes.
Desiree Cousteau might be why somebody connected the film with Alex de Renzy. He was closely identified with her, so that might be how Alex’s name got tagged onto it.
There was a beautiful scene that I shot with Desiree Cousteau. Or I thought it was beautiful at the time. She’s coming through all these ferns. We stumbled upon a beautiful place to shoot it. It was so pretty.
I’ve no idea if it ended up in the final cut.
(In the plot for ‘Summer in Heat’) the farmers and their wives were pissed, so they kidnapped me, strung me up naked between two trees, raped me, and shoved a corncob up my ass as a gesture.
I had a friend named Charlie Stephens. He and I lived together for a while, and he called us the ‘Caca Brothers’ which stood for the ‘Creative Anarchists for Cinema Arts’. We made films together: I was credited as Lee dé CaCa and he was Charles de Caca.
Charlie was the gaffer on ‘Summer in Heat,’ and he actually was a character in the movie. He’s one of the rednecks who kidnap Jack Wrangler. They rape Jack on the side of a hill with a corn cob.
The curly-haired guy redneck that rapes him, that’s Charlie Stevens.
There were lots of things that slowed us down. One of those was caused by a fight scene staged with Jack Wrangler after he gets raped.
(The rape scene) was shot on the first day. Following the corn cob business, I manage to break loose from my ropes, jump one of the hillbillies, and beat the hell out of him. That meant rolling all over the ground, over the rocks, and into the bushes, naked.
Jack went rolling down a hill in a forested area near the lake, and he and some other people got poison oak rash. And it really was a problem. A big deal.
Every one of those bushes was poison oak. When we wrapped for the day…my body was one big mass of itchy swollen red welts.
They got all this bright red skin that soon turned to blisters. We didn’t have any treatment for it so we had to shoot scenes with makeup covering up their terrible rash.
What do you do when this is your first day and you’ve still got another week and half of shooting? What you try and do is cover the mess with makeup. Tons of it.
I’d been doing makeup for a while, but I’d never seen anything like this. It was a terrible sight.
And when we covered their blisters with makeup, it just got worse…
Of course, the makeup spread the poison to wherever it hadn’t been before, including my cock. It swelled up like a case of elephantiasis. In appearance, that could only enhance my career. I was now three times my normal size. But the trouble was I couldn’t feel anything. It just itched – kind of a pleasant sensation, but not very practical.
I saw the film several years later, and surprisingly enough I looked great.
Jack said he couldn’t feel anything? That’s not my memory of the experience.
I just remember that whenever I applied the make-up, he became aroused. Suspiciously so. That’s what caused the swelling…
It wasn’t ideal, but we didn’t have insurance or endless money, so we just had to proceed without medical treatment.
That’s just one of the dangers of shooting outdoors.
‘Summer in Heat’ was one of the first movies I ever made. My first was Pretty Peaches (1978) for Alex de Renzy, in which I had a scene with John Leslie. It was so intense that I asked Alex to keep filming because I wanted to have a real climax on film.
The same happened in ‘Summer in Heat’. I was paired with John for several scenes, and things got a little heated again. There was something about that John Leslie…
I remember the director wanted to shoot an underwater scene with Juliet Anderson giving me head. It took forever to get that ten second scene.
Giving a blow job underwater is a lot more difficult that you’d think. They’d get everything rolling, and I’d have to come up for air. I thought I was going to pass out by the end of that scene.
I went to great lengths to get hold of a camera to film underwater, but when we came to shooting it, the water in the lake wasn’t clear at all. It was so murky and consequently the scene was barely useable.
We did get an underwater ejaculation shot though. Was that the first time that had been captured on film? Who knows…? The scene took all day to get right, which was way more than we expected. More delays.
It was a pretty rough film for the time. Several rape scenes, which I was surprised at – given that the director was a woman.
One of the rape scenes actually had a guy raping Desiree… by going down on her… Another rape occurs when two girls give Jack Wrangler a blow job.
That’s an unusual way to rape someone, I guess.
The inspiration for some of the scenes was Deliverance (1972). Except we had hillbillies who were taking revenge on a senator.
When Jack was raped by two female hillbillies. he couldn’t get hard. He was tied up, and Clair Dia was blowing him. Nothing got him going, so we had to film with Jack soft.
He got hard when they used the corn cob on him though…
I joked with the crew, water skied, and would have had a rip-roaring time, except that I missed Margaret (Whiting – Jack’s new girlfriend at the time, and later to become his life partner).
I remember one of the things that really killed me was a helicopter sequence that they had in the budget. Charles and his sister wanted to have an aerial shot coming up the river, and then right over the dam, and then over the lake, and with the houseboats, and that was going to be the opening of the film. They’d rented a helicopter, and I was going to be the guy in the helicopter, getting the shot.
It was supposed to be done on the very last day. But when we got to the last day of filming, they realized that we were just missing so many parts of the script that we had to go back and film lots of pick-up shots… same old story!
Actually, it was me who realized. I pointed this out. I told them, “I know you really want this aerial shot, but forget it. You’ve still got the actors here, you’ve got to get these additional pick-up shots or the story’s not going to make any sense.”
I was mad at myself for pointing that out because I really wanted that helicopter shot, but I just was too practical. I told them they weren’t going to have a movie otherwise.
I vaguely remember hiring a helicopter to do an aerial shot. I think we were talking about doing that but we didn’t do it, because I don’t recall any aerial shots actually winding up in the film.
Oh course, there’s a helicopter shot! That’s at the start of the movie. I went up and did that. One of the first sequences I ever shot.
The credits attributed the original music to the ‘Blink Mo Superstars.’ During those days, I did a lot of original music for a lot of the films. Of course, nobody does that now. I don’t think that the ‘Blink Mo Superstars’ was a real group, but I do remember that we went into the studio and did a lot of original music so we could build our own music library to use in more than one production.
A couple of the finance guys were music producers who went on to their own fame and fortune. But this was in the early parts of their career, so we were getting a lot of well-produced and well-played music because they were using some good musicians. It was a very active music scene in San Francisco.
The music producer on ‘Summer in Heat’ was a guy named Rick Nowels. He did a lot of music for us. He had all the musicians in the studio and everything lined up. Even though we weren’t paying top dollar, it was a paid gig. And he would rather work than not, so he was happy to do it.
Since then, he’s been nominated for lots of Grammys, and won one with Celine Dion. He’s worked with Madonna, Lana Del Rey, Adele, Stevie Nicks, Dido, Joan Jett, and hundreds of others. He’s a big name. He started out with ‘Summer in Heat’!
Was the film successful? I have no idea. We poor actors never found out how much money was being made. It seemed to be successful, and it had a great poster. I had fun.
‘Summer in Heat’ turned out ok. But I wasn’t overly pleased with it, and felt that it could have been better.
It cured my desire to work on bigger budget films. More money gives you more problems.
Having said that, ‘Summer in Heat’ played forever. It was making money for us long after the end of the 1970s.
After ‘Summer in Heat’, my sister moved out of the adult scene and went on to become an editor in L.A. and did a bunch of stuff with Steve Seagal. She became a script supervisor and worked for the movie studios down there.
Delania wanted to distance herself from the XXX scene, so eventually she went off the grid.
Years later, I heard something about her passing away, but I didn’t stay in touch with her so I don’t know if that was true.
I’ve never seen ‘Summer in Heat’. What’s it like?!
I took a girlfriend to see it once, a few years after it came out. We had an afternoon free and I saw that it was playing.
Now that was a real fun afternoon…