This week we start a series of interviews with lesser-known New York starlets from the 1970s and early ‘80s.
When we contact anyone for an interview, we’re always concerned that we may receive a negative reaction. After all, we’re interested in events that took place over forty years ago, events that some people prefer to forget and hide today.
Ultramax had been an enthusiastic and zany performer in early 1970s adult films, but how would she react to being asked to relive that period?
We needn’t have worried: Ultramax was eager to talk about her past lives with excitement and pride. She invited us to her midtown apartment for the day, and we arranged to film a lengthy interview with her.
In person, she was a combination of Mae West and Joan Rivers, a ballsy, outrageous, and crude dame, every bit as crazy as the characters she often portrayed in films – combative, feisty, and often hilarious. She placed no restrictions on interview topics but did have one demand: in return for an interview, she wanted us to start by chanting. Ultramax explained that she was a Buddhist and wanted to share the joys and benefits of chanting with us. So we knelt down in front of her altar, and after a few practice runs, proceeded to chant ‘Nam Myoho Renge Kyo’ for twenty minutes.
It was worth it. Over the next few hours, she talked about her life, breaking away frequently to watch extracts from a collection of her films we’d taken to show her. She had never seen most of her appearances and was tickled to see her younger self in outrageous movie clips directed by people like Joe Sarno and Eduardo Cemano.
Ok, where shall we start?
I’ll start anywhere you want, honey. How about we start at the top and then work our way down? That’s my favorite…
Er, let’s start with your beginning.
Well, my name is Maxine Hayes and I come from Chicago – but let’s skip over the first few years. They’re borrrring.
In the 1960s, I was living in San Francisco. Lovely place, very sexy scene. I was in my 20s, had a lot of boyfriends, and I was having a great time.
I made some money singing in theater productions and in rock groups, and then, after a couple of years, I felt my first tremor and I said, “I’m outta here!” Forget it… So I packed my bags and went to Hawaii, where I met this crazy guy, Irving Schwartz. We got drunk on champagne and he said, “You should move to Philadelphia.”
I said, “What’s in Philadelphia?”
He said, “Me. And I’ll take care of you.”
So yes, I moved to Philadelphia. Bad decision! It was dirty, it was dark, and I worked as a temporary secretary. Irving put me in this horrible place, basically just a step above a homeless shelter, and I was very upset. I wasn’t happy at all.
So I called my friends in New York and said “Listen, I need a place to stay, I’ll get a job right away, so I’ll pay you back immediately.”
One of my girlfriends said, “Oh yeah, you’ve gotta come, I live on East 57th St between Park and Lexington Avenue.”
So I packed up all my things, and I left a note on the pillow:
I hate Philadelphia and I’m tired of you.
Send my trunk to this address: xxxxxxxxx
Are you going to let me ask any questions?!
You can squeeze yourself into any space you can find, baby.
How different was it living in New York?
This was, like, 1963, and oh honey, let me tell me you: that’s when the fun began.
My girlfriend knew everyone in New York. Every rich Jewish guy. Every millionaire in New York. I mean, it was incredible. So little Maxine started the high life. And I mean the high life!
One of the first guys I dated was Roy Cohn. He was ten years older than me, but already a big shot because of the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s when he went after suspected communists. I shouldn’t say we dated, because he was gay but desperate to hide that. I was more like his beard, but it was fun.
What work were you doing to earn money?
I got a job at a securities corporation downtown on Wall Street.
During the day, the bosses were all over me, and giving me gifts and invitations to go out with them at night!
What was the nightlife like?
Nightclubs! The Copacabana. The Latin Quarter. Every night was a different one. So I was partying very night, working every day. Ad infinitum – as they say in France!
When did you get a chance to sleep?!
Ha! I sometimes wonder that myself.
I liked to smoke, had an occasional drink, and I did a lot of marijuana. I did speed and I loved magic mushrooms too. I found out about cocaine but I didn’t really like it because it made me nervous, you know?
Were you still singing?
Yes. I was singing in different groups, and I thought I was all set to be discovered and become a famous singer.
Honey, I can sing anything. Opera, rock, folk, you name it, I can sing it. I was Maria Callas crossed with Janis Joplin.
So what happened?
What happened? A man, that’s what happened! Isn’t that always the problem?!
Tell me about him.
I started seeing a guy I’d known from when I was in Chicago, and we started going out in New York. Apparently, the love of his life had been killed in an accident, so he was vulnerable and wanted a relationship. But I wasn’t! I was getting ready to go and sing in Europe and become a famous chanteuse!
So, well, you know, I stayed in New York and he moved into my apartment on East 81st St.
I bet that cramped your party lifestyle?
Tell me about it! This guy was waiting for me every evening when I came home from work.
I said, “Well, this is ridiculous, he’s not even helping to pay the rent.” So I took drastic steps: I kicked him out, zipped his clothes up, and I went down to Florida and had a fabulous time. I went on a 1,500 mile boat trip, and forgot all about him.
Anyway, when I came back to New York, he was still there. Calling me, calling me, all the time. So I called him back. And then I married him.
What?! You married him?
I know! I didn’t want to get married, I really didn’t. But he was sooo persistent, darling.
Before we got married, my plan was, “I’ll take some money and I’ll move to Europe and I’ll become famous and life will work out fine.”
Well, that didn’t happen because I got married, so I decorated his apartment and then the relationship broke up because he was a pain in the ass. And quite honestly, I was happy to be free.
Which left you free to resume the party life?
Yes, but with a difference. I met a woman who was a swinger. A real swinger! Back then in New York, swinging was a big thing.
I met her one night at a club when two guys were trying to pick me up. She came over and invited us all to an event the following night: she said, “Why waste your time playing this game of seduction when you cut straight to the action instead?”
So you turned up at this event the following night?
Yes. It was in a Central Park West apartment overlooking the park. Very high-end place. And the people were all educated and intelligent. There must have been 20-30 people there, and we got to know each other over cocktails.
And then people retired into different bedrooms, and… everyone started having sex. It went on all night. People moved from room to room until they were satisfied.
Was there a price to attend to the event?
Yes. You had to pay to enter the apartment. I can’t remember how much it was, but it covered the food and drink, a little something for the apartment owner, and then a cut went to the organizer.
What did you think of it all?
I loved it! Are you kidding? I am a very sexual person, and this was the answer to all my fantasies. Attractive, affluent people, and sex in every imaginable way. I was always uninhibited so I just had a wonderful time.
I went to more and more swinger events and eventually they replaced my nights in the clubs. It was cheaper and more fun!
After a while, I knew I wanted to get more involved in the swing scene and not just be an attendee. I wanted to be the party planner and organizer! I wasn’t happy just being a participant. I’ve always been the leader of a group. I’ve always been that way. It’s much more fun being in charge!
So I became the Queen of the Swingers, the director, the producer. My swing parties became the most exclusive and exciting in the city. I was the hostess with the mostess!
Ultramax (left), at a swinger’s event with Dave Ruby
Do you have events every week?
Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and sometimes on other nights too. It was a full time job.
Did you advertise them?
No… they were all word-of-mouth. My network would spread the word, and my answering service would handle all the requests.
And you continued going to all the parties as well as organizing them.
Yes! I did both! Sometimes, I would start the proceedings by masturbating in front of everyone. Oh my God, I shoulda gotten paid for that. I mean it was the era when Betty Dodson was giving women classes on masturbation. She got paid for it and was treated as a pioneer! Meanwhile I was doing it every Saturday night for free!
How did you find venues for your parties?
I was already well-connected because of the rich guys I knew from the clubs.
For example, I had a wealthy friend who had a gorgeous apartment on Sutton Place where most of my first events took place. And his Jamaican cook would cook. We would have these great parties; it was quite the thing. I was quite the thing!
I really organized everything on the scene for a while.
Did you make money from the events?
Of course! I was still singing in different capacities which earned me enough money to pay the rent – and I had a photographic portfolio which got me some modeling work – but the swingers parties gave me lots of spending money.
But it was about more than just money: it satisfied me sexually, and I expanded my network of influential and interesting people. The swinger’s scene relied on secrecy because so many famous people were part of it. I became trusted to organize the best events because I knew how to keep secrets. Everyone wanted an invitation to one of Maxine’s parties!
So tell me some of the famous people who were in the swinging scene.
No! I’m still keeping their secrets! But just look back at the mayor’s office then, or the New York sports teams, or the local rock stars, and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
And that meant perks for me: I always had tickets to big events, I had tables at the best restaurants, and I was given parts in films. I think the first was called The Telephone Man. No wait, it was called The Telephone Book (1971). I was in one scene with a man on top of me pretending to have sex. I’ve been told that the movie has been become quite a cult hit over the years. I’ve never seen it.
When did you start making sex films?
I ran into a guy named Eduardo Cemano. That wasn’t his real name – he was actually a horny, nebbishy Jewish artist named Ed Seeman.
I met him at my girlfriend’s house, and liked him so I invited him to one of my swing parties to get to know him.
How did that go?
Eduardo was a nice Jewish boy and he was very creative, but, let me tell you honey, he didn’t know anything about swinging!
I was dating a very wealthy man who had a beautiful townhouse in the East 70s, and this man had a Chinese houseboy who cooked the most divine Chinese food. So I arranged for couples to come over and have a great sit-down dinner, and then we retired upstairs to start partying with angel dust, marijuana, some of the finest liqueurs. That was Ed’s first introduction to mass seduction. He was like a kid in a candy shop… he went wild!
Afterwards he said, “Oh Maxine you’re so perfect, I want to make a sex film and you’ve got to become a porno star!”
I said, “I’ve always wanted to be a star… but not so much a porno star.”
He said, “But you’re a swinger. Not just a swinger, but the Queen of the Swingers! You’re talented and funny, so why don’t you get paid to do something creative?”
So I said, “Well, I’d have to have a stage name.”
At first, I suggested ‘Supermax’ but then I found out that was also the name of a hair dryer. Then Eduardo said, “How about ‘Ultramax’? An ‘Ultramax’ is even more impressive than a ‘Supermax’!”
I said, “That’s good!”
Admittedly we were completely stoned when we had this conversation but the name seemed to stick. And so I became Ultramax!
I loved Eduardo, he was a great guy: he’s the reason I agreed to consider it.
How did you ‘consider’ it?
I’d never seen a so-called ‘porno film’ in my life. I had to go to Times Square to see one. Times Square was theater after theater showing porno films. I mean, you walk into one, it’s like you’ve walked into all of them.
I went by myself. Big mistake! All these guys in raincoats, jerking off, underneath their coats.
As for the film, it was so boring and pathetic, there wasn’t a story line, it wasn’t well photographed, I don’t even know if it was in color. It was such a bad experience. I said “This is terrible, we could do much better than this.”
And then Eduardo asked you to play one of the lead roles in his first sex film?
Yes, I think that first film was The Healers (1971). I played an opera star and I got the chance to sing in it! It was a broad comedy so I hammed it up.
What did you think of the experience?
I had a ball! I had so much fun doing it and all the people I met were so funny. It was a riot – and I was at the heart of it all!
I also got parts in the film for a few people I knew. My girlfriend Beth appears in the film as the Nurse. I think that was the only time she ever made a film – she was a nurse and a sex educator in real life, so she took the porno name, ‘Margo Sanger’, in honor of the birth control activist with the same name!
And I was singing in a group with Joey Negroni. Joey had been in a doo-wop group in the 1950s called Frank Lymon and The Teenagers, and they’d had a few big hits. Joey had a sex scene with Beth in ‘The Healers’.
I assume performing sex in front of the cameras caused you no problems?
Of course not! The funny thing was that ‘The Healers’ was softcore even though everyone was really having sex!
Well, Ed shot it in a way that you couldn’t see all the… ins and outs… the ecstasy and explosions! You just saw all the writhing and passion. But we were actually having sex. I insisted on that!
Did you go and see your first film in the theater?
Yes, it was very cute so I told everyone I knew! I remember telling one of my girlfriends, “Listen, I made this film, it’s a soft porn, it’s playing on Broadway, would you like to see it?”
And she said, “Oh my God, are you in it?”
I said, “Yes, I’m one of the stars!”
So she took her boss’s girlfriend, and the next day she called me up: “I went into the theater with my friend, and I looked up at the huge screen and there’s your pussy right there in living color!”
I laughed and said “So did you enjoy the film?”
She said “Maxine, this girl went crazy. We discovered we both like girls! And now, we can’t keep our hands off each other. You’ve brought this out of us!”
I said, “Well, I can’t help that…”
And Ed hired you for his next film too?
Eduardo said to me, “I want to do something in Florida. We’ll take a couple of days and we’ll fly down there. I’ll pay for everything.”
So I helped him make the next film, in which I played a witch in a big orgy scene. We had a ball with that film too.
I met lots of porn regulars on that movie – like Jamie (Gillis), Helen (Madigan), Marc (Stevens), and Georgina (Spelvin). I realized it was the same people in all the same films, over and over again. It was like a small repertory company for porn.
And that was the start of my journey into becoming a porno star. The directors liked me because I could act. I wasn’t just “Ohh” “Ahh”, and “Yeah baby.” That wasn’t me at all. Most of the times I had orgasms, real orgasms, right there on camera. That was unusual. 99% of those girls never did that. They acted. I didn’t act, it was really happening for me. So, I was the real deal, baby!
Why did you think you had no trouble achieving orgasm on film: was it because you were turned on by the making of the film?
Oh, honey, I loved sex. I loved everything about it. I just got so turned on. Don’t over-analyze it. Just look at my films and you can see that I wasn’t acting. I was coming, baby. I didn’t care who was watching. The more the merrier.
After the first couple of movies in 1971, sex films changed almost overnight and became hardcore.
Yes. That was a shock to me. I’d just gotten used to the softcore, and suddenly we were expected to be filmed in a very different way… In fact, when hardcore started, I didn’t want to do it.
What were your reservations about doing it?
Well first and foremost, I had a cleanliness concern: I had to make sure everybody was clean because, you know, guys like Jamie, they were doing everything! So I was worried about disease because we weren’t using condoms. I’d never had a disease but coming from the swing background, it was something I was really concerned about it.
Ultramax, in Joe Rock Superstar (1973)
How did you get film work? Were there any agents? Was there a network?
It was word of mouth. Producers watched the films and then you got a phone call if they liked you. I never went through an agent: nobody ever made 10% off me, no way! People just called me. Or if I found out there was a film being done that I wanted to do, I called the director up and introduced myself: “Oh hi, I’m Ultramax.”
Sometimes if they didn’t know you, you’d have to take your clothes off for them. I remember one guy saying to me, “You have a little cellulite – forget about it.” That was rude.
You were older than most of the performers in the business.
How dare you?!
First of all, I was not a ‘performer’. I was an actorrrrr, darling. An actor! A professional. A dedicated practitioner of the craft!
And secondly, who said I was old?!
You were born in 1936. You were appearing in these films in your late 30s. And most of the other women were in their early 20s.
Well, I got a lot of work because I could act and I was funny. So everybody told me.
Can you remember what you got paid for the films? Or was the pay less important to you?
Oh, pay was important: I had to pay the rent, and the pay was very little. It was around $100 a day, something like that.
The funny thing was I don’t ever remember signing any legal releases so I could’ve sued all these people and gotten some money, but we were all so young and stupid in those days. (Although some of us were older than others, apparently, Mr. West…)
You acted in twenty or so movies: which ones stand out?
With a few exceptions, I never knew the names of the films I made. I still don’t know them.
Most of them were quick and dirty ones shot over a weekend – often for a sleazebag like Shaun Costello. Wall-to-wall sex in a dirty apartment.
There were a few that took themselves more seriously. I was friends with Jerry Denby, and he made a private detective film noir thing called Whatever Happened to Miss September? (1973). That was a more serious attempt to use sex within a plot – and make a film that engaged both the head and the groin. It was about a private dick – which was ironic because there were a lot of dicks in the film, and let me tell you honey, none of them were private….
Jerry was a proper filmmaker and he had some skill.
Were you friends with anyone in particular on the film scene?
I became friendly with Erica Eaton, who was a publicist/writer/actor. She had a gay boyfriend, David Davidson, and they made a film (Call Me Angel, Sir (1976)), and they asked me to act in it. That was ok – except that my character had to have sex with a little person (Luis ‘Short Stud’ De Jesus). I didn’t find the idea… titillating, but they insisted. Eventually they got Annie (Sprinkle) to do it, so I dodged a bullet there, thank God.
What do remember about working with Joe Sarno?
Joe was a sweetheart but rooted in the previous era of sex films: he liked softcore movies and thought that hardcore was cheating and ugly. But… he also wanted real emotions and real heat… so he was happy for the actors to have sex for real, even though he would just film their faces.
I made this film with Joe (A Touch of Genie (1974)) with the ugliest kid I have ever seen! This guy was supposedly my son in the movie! I don’t know where Joe found this kid, but you had to see his face to believe it. I was acting a typical over-protective Jewish mother: “Darling when you go to the bathroom don’t shake it too much now.” I made that line up.
I remember I had to stick a cucumber up my pussy or something, I don’t know… it was a bizarre film.
Ultramax with Douglas Stone, in ‘A Touch of Genie’ (1974)
Which actors do you remember working with in particular?
I did a lot of films with Jamie (Gillis), and let me tell you, Jamie and I always used to have a blast. He was one kinky puppy, and I responded to that. One time he came over to my apartment and we got stoned, and I said “Let’s go to the Pleasure Chest.” It was on 2nd Ave, and I lived between 2nd and 3rd in those days.
I put a dog collar round his neck, a studded dog collar, and I had a dog leash, and I said “Darling, let’s take a stroll down the avenue.”
We strolled past my building doorman, he didn’t care, and walked out the front door. I led Jamie down the road laughing and having such a ball. Everybody was looking, pointing and exclaiming, “Oh” and “Ahh”.
We got to the Pleasure Chest, which was a sex shop, and they had these great big dildos. I’ll never forget these two old ladies were in the shop, maybe they were part of a bus tour, and were curious about us. I was giving Jamie commands: I said “Get down on your knees,” “Lick my boots,” or whatever. These two ladies just stood there and stared at us with open mouths. It was such fun. Then I took him into a changing area to have sex and they listened. We used to do crazy things.
I did a lot of pictures with Marc (Stevens). Marc was ‘Mr. 10 1/2’ and he once jammed his cock down my throat. I’m telling you, I gagged and was ready to bite it off. I thought, “How rude!”
But we became very dear friends, I really loved him, he was so nice and so funny. He was very flamboyant and he wanted us to be a couple. He said, “I’m gonna be the Richard Burton and you’ll be the Elizabeth Taylor!”
I said “Honey, you can’t even act. I can act, but you can’t act your way out of a paper bag.” Anyway, he was such a doll.
Two other actors I loved were Harry (Reems) and John Leslie. I got to know John in The Honeymooners (1976) and he was a gentleman who breathed pure sex. He just had to look at me and I became squishy. Oy!
What do remember about Tina Russell?
She was so sweet. A very quiet person. She wasn’t gregarious or crazy like I was, but she was just a really sweet young woman. I liked her a lot, she was very nice, and her husband, Jason, was very sweet too. She was just a nice kid that did what her husband wanted her to do, you know?
I was thinking about Terri Hall the other day. She and Tina were both lovely, but they didn’t have that hard shell that allowed you to survive in this business. If you were weak, you’d get swallowed up. I think that’s what happened with both of them.
Was there ever anything you were asked to do that made you feel uncomfortable?
I wouldn’t do any anal at all. ‘Cause I realized that you can get disease that way, so I just never did that. I couldn’t anyway: I wouldn’t and I couldn’t!
I hate to contradict you. You have an anal scene in a film called Joe Rock Superstar (1973)…
What?! Are you sure?
(We pause to view the scene from the film.)
Well, how is that possible? I guess I must’ve been stoned on that day. I have no recollection that I ever did that. Or that, I was capable… wow.
What about Dominatrix without Mercy (1976), where you do a golden shower?
Did I do that?
I think you did.
I probably did…(laughs). I’m sure I did, because I told you I had very few inhibitions. I had inhibitions about the other thing – the anal, I wouldn’t dream of it, so that’s a surprise – but the golden shower… yeah, I probably did that. Was that with Jamie?
No – Grover Griffith.
Oh well. I’m sure I did it with Jamie a few times as well.
(We pause to verify the scene.)
Ultramax, with Marlene Willoughby, in ‘Dominatrix Without Mercy’ (1976)
What film do you have the most positive memories about?
The film that stands out is Through the Looking Glass (1976). I came across the director – Joe, who insisted on being called Jonas. He auditioned me for an interesting film – which ended up being Through the Looking Glass. I was very interested in it because it was obvious it was going to be a pretty big production, and there were some pretty artistic aspects to it.
I really wanted the leading role but Jonas didn’t give it to me: he gave that part to a Long Island ice-queen princess (Catharine Burgess). Instead, he wanted me to be a character actress – the one that was very wild looking. I think I had a silver/white Afro wig and I did my own makeup for a surrealistic scene. I did the makeup in whites and violets and blues. I had giant eyelashes out to here (gesticulates long eyelashes.)
What do you remember about the film?
Joe hired this incredible big estate on Long Island where we lived while we were filming there. It was so hot, it must have been over 98 degrees, and the klieg lights made it even worse, it was just incredible. The candles started to melt, which was good for the strange surreal story. It was like a film by that Italian guy, what’s his name?
Yes! It was like a Fellini fuck-fest! Just like that. Very well made too.
I remember there was a girl on a lazy Susan and she had carrots and all kinds of different things stuck in her. It was a wild, wild scene.
In one scene, I had to go down on this girl and she had never done that and I said “Listen honey, relax, I really know what I’m doing.”
So we got started and this girl went nuts! I mean, I am good… what can I tell you? So we did this crazy sexual scene, that you can see in the film.
I also remember there was a brilliant Brazilian guy doing the camera work on ‘Looking Glass.’
Yes, he was great! We partied a lot. Very sexy. Very good in bed too.
Then after a few years of acting, you wanted to move behind the camera?
Yes, because of my drama and music background, I knew I could write, direct, and produce.
Were you given the chance?
The first time was with this German director, very puffy guy. He hired me to act, and he had a film set in a furniture store down on the lower East Side, and it had all these beautiful bedrooms. Straight away, I could see that he didn’t know what he was doing, so I told him that he’d better pay me some extra money and I would direct it. I said, “I’ll be in it, and I’ll help write it, because nothing’s happening on your end, kiddo.”
I made a deal with him and that’s what I did. We had a blast.
And then I started to help other directors with their films.
What kind of help?
For example, I auditioned new people… and that was always funny.
I had this gorgeous apartment on the east side with big couches and shag rugs, very luxurious, and I would sit in one of the big chairs. I’d have the guys come in, and I’d say “Ok take off your clothes. I’d like you to get a hard on. I am not going to touch you, but if you’re lucky, I might say a few things. But you have to get a hard-on and you must keep it hard.”
So that’s the way I auditioned guys. If they didn’t get a hard on, I sent them out the door: “Sorry, put your clothes back on, thank you very much, bye-bye.”
We really needed people who could perform: this really was very important especially with the guys, they absolutely had to be able to perform.
Did many of the actors have performance issues?
Most of the actors were talented, but occasionally you had deal with inexperienced and in-expert performers. I remember one film where I was draped over a big arm chair, which was turned halfway upside down, and some actor was supposed to stick his dick in… where else, my mouth. Anyway, the guy couldn’t get a hard on, and I was so uncomfortable lying over this chair, I started screaming: “Will someone please get me a hard prick? Just get me a hard dick! I’m dying here!” In the end, the cameraman was so turned on by the situation that he stepped in and did it. He was really adorable.
These were not Hollywood productions: I mean, we really had to work. Everyone was working hard.
Did your family know about your films?
My family never knew anything. Never, ever. I never got my family involved, I mean I would be a pariah, you know?
This one guy I dated, when I kicked him out, he had my mother’s telephone number and he called my mother and father up and said “Do you know that your daughter is a porno queen? And she’s a lesbian too?”
I really caught hell from that. I had to deny everything. That was a horrible thing for him to do.
How was it dating people when you were making films?
Well, I was already into swinging so that’s what we did. I went out with a lot of guys and I usually took them to swing with me, so the films weren’t a problem for anyone I was dating.
I remember taking my gynecologist to a swing. Oh my God, he went wild. I’d never seen him like that! He took his work home after that!
Did anybody ever recognize you?
Oh yes. I remember a guy I knew from the gym. He called me up one night and said, “Maxine, you’re a naughty girl! You’re a very naughty girl!”
I said, “Well yes, I am. But why are saying it?”
He said “Because I watched you in a movie today…”
I said, “Aren’t you a bad boy for going to see a dirty film…?”
Did you ever feel taken advantage of in the business?
We should have gotten paid more money. I was always after the producers to pay us more money, and that’s why I wanted to go into my own business and make films myself.
How did that come about?
Sometime in 1975, I was introduced to this mobster type with a little crooked nose. I decided to produce and direct a film for him. This guy gave me some money and told me not to fuck it up. So I hired a cameraman who had a flatbed and all the equipment that I needed, and I gave him precise instructions. I knew exactly what I wanted, exactly how I wanted to shoot everything: I mean, I almost wrote storyboards for him. I told him, “I want you to do this shot” then “pull back” and I really directed him as to how I wanted everything done.
When I started editing it, I realized the footage we’d shot was garbage. I said “My God, he didn’t do anything like I told him to do.” I panicked and thought, “How could I present this rubbish to the mobster guy?” I couldn’t use any of the film we’d shot. So I returned the money, even though I’d already spent it. I was really upset because now I was in debt. It was a terrible experience.
Frightening too. They paid me a visit and said, “Well Maxy, we expected you to do the job, and you let us down.” It was just like in the movies. Very scary.
They accepted that I couldn’t deliver the movie, so they told me that now I was on the hook to make them three films after that.
That’s when I decided to go to film school. I learned editing, sound, shooting, everything.
And you made three films for them?
I made six films… the first three were for the same connected guy. They didn’t let use my name in the credits. I guess it was because they were blackmailing me to make them, they didn’t want to draw attention to me.
After I made the first three, I went to Chelly Wilson. She was a big theater owner in Times Square, and she knew what worked in terms of porno films. So I said, “If I make a film, will you exhibit it?”
She said, “As long as it’s got the right content.”
I asked, “What’s the right ‘content’?” I figured that she was going to tell me that it should be a sexy melodrama, with three strong leads, attractive sets, and an interesting plot, or something like that.
She just said, “I need six blowjobs, two girl-on-girl jobs, ten insertions, and eight cum shots. And you need to prove that the guy actually came, so make him pull it out and let him cum on the girl’s stomach or her tits.”
That’s what I was dealing with!
You weren’t involved in adult films for very long, just three or four years, yet the business changed considerably during that short period. What changes did you notice?
The audience changed. When we started making our films, it was the early 70s: we made movies with a story that were funny and interesting. And when I went to see one of our films, I looked around the audience and there were couples, and lots of young people. These were all curious and interesting people. They came from a real revolution, you know, the 60s, and flower power that had carried over to the 70s. People felt freer about smoking marijuana, having sex. But then in the late 70s, the audience changed totally. They became boring.
I saw the same change in the sex clubs in the city: at first, we had posh sex clubs like Plato’s Retreat. My God, that was incredible. It had swimming pools, a lot of tile (because that’s easier to keep clean, right?), and cushioned areas. There was another one, I forget the name, that was gorgeous. It had a huge dance floor, a large bar, and very intimate little gazebos – and it was very lovely. I would find people there for swing parties. I would look around and say “Ok, we’ll invite this couple,” “We’ll invite that couple” and so on.
But after a few years, the bridge and tunnel crowd started to turn up. They were boring, middle-aged couples from Jersey or Long Island, not my cup of tea. It wasn’t the fun, hip people any more. I was bored by these new suburban people.
I only went to the sex clubs a few times after that, and the last time I was there, I thought, “What a turn-off, I’m outta here.”
What was the main reason for you leaving the XXX business?
I stopped in ‘76 because Harry Reems was going to get thrown in jail.
Several people started getting arrested for adult films. I got nervous. We were all getting nervous! I thought, “Forget about it, I’ll take a day job, thank you. I don’t need this risk.” That’s why a lot of us stopped.
I’d also just started being a Buddhist and I was chanting. I realized I was living in a golden sewer: I was making money and it was fun, but I wanted to improve my life, to create value in my life, you know? So that’s why I left.
When you think back to that time of your life, those 4 or 5 years when you made adult films, how do you remember it?
I had the best time of my life! I had so much fun, I met such great people. I don’t regret anything, not one thing. I just regret not making more money, because those guys took advantage of all of us, and they really made a lot of money on us. A lot of these films went to Europe and all over the world… and we got paid zilch.
Recently, I wrote a script called ‘The Adventures of Ultramax,’ and it’s the story about what happened to me in the ‘70s after I got my divorce from that guy who drove me crazy. It includes all the weird and wonderful events that happened to me after that. I never produced it because it needed a big budget. I have it, you can read it, it’s great!
Now they’re making all these crappy internet sex films. I don’t think they’re good at all. It’s a shame.
Do you ever discuss your X-rated exploits with friends nowadays?
No, I don’t talk about my past at all except to old friends like Ed, because nobody knows that part of my life.
Nowadays, I help a lot of people, I encourage a lot of people, I help alleviate their sufferings, and my spirituality is the most important part of my life. I feel that my life has totally changed, and I attribute that to my spirituality, to my chanting, It’s all about building your indestructible happiness, changing poison into medicine. Creating something that nothing and nobody can take away from you.
Something that lasts now and forever – ad infinitum, if you understand Latin or French or whatever.
Ultramax died on July 20th, 2020.