The Rialto Report is often asked how much we’d like to go back in time – and conduct interviews with golden age adult film personnel back in, say, 1973.
Actually, that’s not the case. We always feel that The Rialto Report is based on the equation of adult film events + time. Or to put it another way: what do people feel about their involvement in the history of adult cinema with the benefit of decades of hindsight?
In this installment, we re-visit George Payne‘s first ever interview – one he gave to The Advocate in 1973 – together with his comments on that same interview almost 50 years later in 2021. (And if you want to listen to our podcast interview with George, you can still hear it here.)
We also present a series of rare modeling photographs of George from early in his career. We are indebted to COME, the Collection of Male Erotic Art, for providing these images.
‘Ohio’s George Payne on the Road to Stardom’, The Advocate, April 11, 1973
(Note: George’s 2021 reactions to the 1973 interview are indented and italicized below.)
New York City – “To me, myself, it is acting. You are what you are, and you prove it, in a way, by what you do on the screen. I’d be able to live with being identified as an actor in gay films. There wouldn’t be any difficulty on my part. Now maybe people that are associated with me, that know me one way and then find out I’m another way, they might have difficulty, might say ‘Oh my god, how could you do it?’ or ‘I’m not your friend anymore’. It’s something I could live with – maybe someone else couldn’t, but I could.”
George: “I often got asked that question: why did you do gay films if you weren’t gay? It’s dumb. I’m an actor, and I act parts. Whatever I’m called upon to do. I made many more straight films, and people never ask me about why I made them. You know what I mean?”
A sunny, chilly Sunday afternoon on New York City’s Upper West Side, George Payne has made a one day trip to the city at his director’s behest for the ‘Advocate’ interview. George plays second lead in the new gay hardcore film, The Back Row. The star is Casey Donovan, nee Calvin Culver, star of stage, screen, and ‘After Dark’ covers, but it is George who is drawing the public’s attention. Even the show business Bible, ‘Variety’, singled him out for special mention.
George: “I wasn’t even living in New York at the time, but I came into town for some publicity. Some journalists came to see me and talk, and made out that I was a big star. It was a strange experience for a mid-Western boy.
“I only had one sex scene in the movie – and that was it.
“I was living with my second wife at the time. Let’s see: my first wife was around 1970 to 1971, my second was in 1972, and my third was in 1978 – that was a hell of a year, I can tell you. Then I got married for a fourth time to a casting agent who I’d met in 1970. She divorced me, but we stayed together until she died.”
George makes his home in Ohio, and is employed as a railroad fireman. It was a visit to New York in early 1972 and a chance meeting with Cal Culver that caused him to be cast in ‘The Back Row’.
George: “Yes, I was a railroad fireman from 1969 through 1973. Part-time only. I worked for the Youngstown Northern line. We did a lot of work for US Steel. General Motors was being built at that time, and they took steel down the rail lines. Then they fired me.”
“I met Cal at the showing of the picture he did previous to this, ‘It Ain’t Easy’, and I spoke to him. I had done a cover for ‘Body’ magazine, and I told him about it, and he asked me if I was interested in movies. We talked briefly, and I told him ‘Yes’ on the movie thing. Later we spoke on it again, but considering I was commuting, it was a bit difficult, but then we arranged a few things, and I spoke to Doug (Doug Richards, his director in ‘The Back Row’), and seemingly I got the part.”
George: “That’s not how I remember it now. I recall it was Marty Richards, the theater producer, who introduced me to ‘Doug Richards’ – who was actually Jerry Douglas. I met Cal later, but he wasn’t the guy who first got me into films, I’m sure of that.
“I always call ‘The Back Row’ my silent movie because I didn’t have to say a word. No one did.”
The movie was filmed in March 1972, and since then, George has also played a small role in a general market film shot in New York. He is very earnest about having an acting career, enrolling for speech and voice lessons in the meantime. The long hours and hard work making a movie are enjoyable for him. Even gay movies.
George: “They’re referring to The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973), which was the first ever Kojak movie. I shot that around the same time as ‘The Back Row’. I met Telly Savalas and Marjoe Gortner on that movie. I played a junkie. My grandmother saw it because it was a TV movie, and she was upset because I was in handcuffs in one scene. I had to explain it was just a movie. It’s a good thing she never saw my sex films…
“I was also an extra in Death Wish (1974) but that was a little later. I got paid $35.65 for that.”
It is typical of George Payne that he would strive for self improvement in his newly chosen field of acting. His muscular body is another example. He participated in football and track during his high school years, but being 5’ 8” and 118 pounds, he got nicknamed ‘Six o’clock string bean,’ and this title didn’t set too well with him.
George: “I don’t know about that nickname, but I sure was skinny. I made it my mission in life to change that.
“It wasn’t easy. Now you have all these protein drinks and supplements. I hard to work hard to find out what to eat. Then I discovered weights, and I bulked up.”
With the determination that would have made Charles Atlas proud, George began a bodybuilding program that he has continued for six years. He now trains four days a week, both in a gym and at home, and his weight is up to 160. With one meal a day, vitamin E supplements, and a gallon of water, George maintains his weight and body development, but when he first began bodybuilding, it was a different story.
“I got quite heavy. My chest was my best feature, but it was so large you couldn’t see my nipple. It was tucked under, and that was too large. I sent pictures home to my mother, and she cried and said, ‘What did you do to yourself?’, so I just cut down. I was doing too much of everything. My diet was unbelievable. I was eating anywhere from six to eight meals a day.”
George: “I still work out every day to this day. I have my own routine, and I’m proud of my body. I’m a gym rat.”
George was in the Air Force and stationed in California at the time, living on the base and working as a supply clerk in the evening while attending UC Berkeley daytime under a service education program. This was when student riots were just beginning on the campus, and the Air Force didn’t want its student-airmen involved in them.
“They asked me nicely if I would please quit school, and I said ‘Why?’. Well, you don’t ask why in the service – they tell you and you do it. At the time I had high blood pressure from putting on all that weight. I had orders to go to Vietnam, but the doctors said, ‘Hey, you’re going home’. They used my blood pressure, and also apparently I was a very rare blood type – only 10 people in the whole nation have my blood type. They asked me if I wanted out, and I said no, because I could have furthered my education with another two years, but they released me. You could say that I ate my way out of the Air Force.”
George: “Yes, that’s mostly true. I was at Hamilton Air Force base, and had the chance to fly in some of the fighter jets. I remember there was a weight limit for people allowed to fly in them – a drink limit: you couldn’t drink for 12 hours beforehand. The g-forces made my cheeks go to the back of my head.
“I had a beard back then, and I looked a little like a hippie. The military leadership didn’t like it, and they warned me not to get involved with the protests, so I stayed away from that scene.
“When I left the service, I was given a general discharge for “reasons prior to service.”
George is a first-generation American, the second of four children born to Yugoslavian emigres who first came to Canada, then the United States. He could not even speak English until he was 10 years old, which presented quite a problem in school, but his mother had even more of a problem. She was 18 when George was born, but wanted to attend school, so she enrolled in the first grade and learned the entire curriculum in three fast years.
George: “My parents were Yugoslavian, Croatian actually, by nationality, but my father was Tunisian/Iraqi. I always figured that is why I don’t burn in the sun. My parents got divorced quickly. Theirs was an arranged marriage. My mom was 15 when she got married. She did not want to get married, but my grandfather paid the priest to do the ceremony. I heard she cried throughout. It wasn’t a happy union.
“If you want to see my father, he’s is on the back cover of the ‘Hotel California’ album by the Eagles. He’s the big guy in the background wearing shades. His wife at the time is standing next to him.”
“And it’s true, I was brought up speaking Serbo-Croat, and didn’t speak English until I was a teen.”
George is quick to credit the personal instruction he received in the private Catholic school in Ohio for his good education and tutoring so that now he speaks English fluently without a trace of an accent.
George: “I don’t want to give the Catholic church too much credit. The nuns hated me because my mom was divorced, so they gave me a hard time. There was some crazy fucked up shit going on when I was there, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
His father is a landscape gardener, but George’s younger brother is an artist and his sister a pianist. The arts seem to run in the family, and George feels, in reflecting on his childhood, that he lived in the shadow of his brothers and sister. Perhaps it provided the impetus for him to find something at which to excel, and in the beginning it was his body, which he molded himself, that started him on a career.
George: “I used to work for my father’s landscape garden business. He was based in Palm Springs then, which I loved. Heat and sun. In the summer of 1966, we completely landscaped Robert Wagner’s place.
“I have two brothers, one a school teacher for Youngstown State, and one an artist – in fact, he’s a helluva artist. Real talented. I haven’t spoken to my sister since 1986. I have no memory of her being a pianist – could be though.”
At Berkeley, he modeled for art classes, and when he returned to the east, he posed for picture layouts in ‘Body’ and ‘Gentlemen’s Quarterly’. He was never involved in modeling for any other type of magazine, and being cast in ‘The Back Row’ was his first experience with hardcore movies. George thinks that having played opposite Cal Culver in his first film was his best introduction to gay movie-making he could have had.
George: “Modeling was easy money, and so I took all the work I was offered. I wish I still had some of the magazines I did. In particular there was an ad campaign I did for a lubricant and prophylactics. I think it was called Hechos. That was a good one.”
“Cal, to me, is beautiful. Just the way he looks. There aren’t too many Casey Donovans around. There just aren’t people put together like him. The people I worked with in the picture are very nice, but Casey’s number one. He’s just a turn-on, period. I can’t put it in any other words. He’s beautiful. Everyone else in the picture was very nice, but like I said, Casey – there’s no comparison.”
George: “It’s true. Cal was great-looking. He could’ve been a big success in straight movies. He should’ve done more modeling. He had a toothpaste contract, but then someone in their office saw this interracial gay scene that he did, and that fucked up his deal with them. I don’t know why he kept doing the gay stuff after that. I mean why would he do that when he risked being found out?
“I didn’t do a hardcore scene with Cal. I told Jerry upfront: ‘I’m not doing that.’ Jerry said, ‘Why don’t you just get to know him beforehand, and let’s see what happens?’ But I didn’t want to.
“But I liked the guy. We were pretty much friends.”
But even the rapport between the two stars and the support Cal Culver gave George during the filming didn’t eliminate mishaps, and one potentially dangerous one occurred. It is seen about midway in the picture, in a sequence when George and Cal are in a theater, watching a movie and imagining themselves in place of the actors on the screen. There is a glass-topped coffee table in the scene and the script required them to be having sex on top of it.
“All at once I heard the table crack. Cal grabbed me, and I was trying to hold myself up. If Doug (Richards, the director) hadn’t helped us when he did, it would have been a mess. Glass was all over. Cal and I laughed about it later, but at the time it was embarrassing and dangerous. My calf got a bit of glass, but I was worried about Cal. He was laying right on top of it, and when it cracked, it splintered. We had to spend the next hour literally picking splinters of glass out of our asses.”
George: “True story, I remember it well. Cal was lying down, and I was trying to get under the table. I noticed these cracks in it. Then it all came down and I came within a quarter of an inch of losing my whole scrotum. Yeah.”
At this moment, however, George Payne seems to be in good shape. The 24-year-old soft-spoken Aquarian is at a crossroads, but with the successful initial engagements of ‘The Back Row’ and the response he is receiving, it is entirely possible he could pursue a gay and straight movie career, as his friend Cal Culver has done.