A Minute With Director Wakefield Poole

Wakefield Poole

Wakefield Poole (Photo courtesy of J. Tushinski/Gorilla Factory Productions. Used with permission.)

by Flash

Wakefield Poole is one of the innovators of classic adult cinema who brought art and story into the industry and helped bring the adult film industry into the porno chic era. Before Deep Throat became a blue screen hit, Boys in the Sand started the porno chic as well as putting Fire Island on the map. Boys in the Sand brought out the mainstream crowd to the screenings.

“All the Broadway people came,” Poole said. “They all came and saw the movie and liked it and then wouldn’t have anything to do with me anymore because suddenly that line had been crossed.”

Prior to becoming a gay adult film auteur, Poole was a veteran of Broadway serving as both a dancer and a choreographer. After making Boys in the Sand, Poole was unable to get work on Broadway and continued making his new vision for gay adult films.

Poole went on to make the 70s gay adult classics Bijou, Moving!, and Take One along with the softcore film Bible! and several other movies in the 80s. Poole’s influence and contributions to adult film forever changed both the gay and straight adult film industries and how films were looked at.

The independent distributor and archive company Vinegar Syndrome has been exposing Poole’s films to a new audience with remastered releases on DVD. Based on Poole’s 2000 autobiography Dirty Poole, director Jim Tushinski’s documentary I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole recently made its VOD premiere and explores the multifaceted and complex life of Poole with insight and emotion. Dirty Poole is now in its second edition with a new afterword by Poole.

Flash: What was your initial reaction when Jim Tushinski contacted you about doing a documentary version of Dirty Poole?

Wakefield Poole (WP): My initial reaction was yay, I would be able to supplement my finances because I worked very hard at Trump Towers for 15 years for Calvin Kline. After 9/11, I lived about 12 blocks from ground zero and for months I smelled death in the air and I just got very depressed. I was happy in my job, I was making fairly good money, I just said I can’t do it anymore. In a week and a half, I pulled up stakes and moved out, moved back to Jacksonville, my home. I hadn’t lived there since I was 17. That really was my first reaction the financial.

Then also I thought well it’s a way to get interest in my films again, of course, to make money again, but also to move them to the next generation so they would be saved and wouldn’t become lost films. That was the major thing about the book, bringing me back to reality because so many people didn’t remember me, I lost my fan base. Hundreds of thousands of people that I developed over the years were gone. This new generation wasn’t exposed to me. They did not know what my contributions were or enjoyed the pleasure of watching my movies.

Flash: What was it like revisiting your past for the documentary?

WP: I had written a book and it took me six years to write my book because I was working for Calvin Klein, the cosmetic company, and Fridays were half days and I had three weeks vacation. So I took my vacation in half days and every Friday I would take off; we didn’t have a lot of business, there weren’t a lot of meetings, there was no pressure on me taking that and if something came up I wouldn’t take off. I would take off I would get up in the morning, have my cup of coffee, sit down at the computer, and just write. I had dinner one night with Jay Garon, who was John Grisham’s agent and a very successful agent, and he said Wakefield it’s time you sat down and wrote your book. I said you really think so. He said yes, I think so. He said I know you are a story teller so you’ll be able to do it. And I did, I sat down and I wrote the first chapter and I took it to him. He said this is fine just get rid of all the stuff before you come to New York. I laughed and said well I can’t do that cause that has nothing to do with who I am. And he said okay then keep going.

He was going to help me out and get a publisher and he had a heart attack like a month later. So I said the hell with it and I’m going to go ahead and write the book and I did. On every Friday I would sit down and write until five, five thirty, at night and save it on the computer and go about my life and the next Friday I would start again. I actually spent six years reliving my life. I wrote a lot, a lot, of pages. I mean I had like a thousand two hundred pages when I’d finished it and I still didn’t have a publisher. So I wrote down just everything that I thought of, I wasn’t thinking about the length or anything I just was spilling it out. I got a call from Roger Edmonson to do some answers for a book he was writing called Boy in the Sand, which was about Casey Donovan. And I did that. It came out very well, they made a lot of money on it and I got a phone call from Brassart, who was the head editor at Alyson Books thanking me for my participation in Calvin’s biography. I said I am writing a book. He said if I had a name for it and I said yes Dirty Poole and he said I’ll take it. I said when I’m finished I’ll send you the manuscript and he said fine. And that’s what I did, I finished I sent in the manuscript. He read it and loved it and said well we are going to have to cut it down to 390 pages. I said well I would like to do that if possible. He said you mean you don’t want an editor and I said no I would like to do it myself. So I did, I edited it myself and he wasn’t too happy about that but he did finally publish the book. The bad thing about it was they treated it like an X-rated book and said I’d never heard of such a thing. Their Christmas ad came out in all the gay publications and it had all their books on a table facing out so you could read the titles. And they had Christmas gifts wrapped of books. I looked at it and mine was nowhere to be found. So I called them and I said why aren’t you advertising my book? He said well it’s X-rated we couldn’t put it in the Christmas thing. So I thought boy I sure made the wrong decision, you know someone who’s afraid to publish it and publicize it.

It did very well, it went through the first printing, and now it is in the second printing. Lethe Press is taking it over. It has a new cover, I wrote an epilogue so we would have something new, we put some new pictures in, and it’s a little bit larger in size. So I had really gone through all that so I didn’t have a lot of problems when Jim would ask me questions. I would just play the tape because I’ve been through it and watched it so much and thought about it so much. I still remember things though I didn’t put in the book and I remember things that happened, little incidents, I could probably write three more books.

Flash: Which parts of your past, if any, were the hardest to revisit?

WP: A lot of them; I’ve had a lot of challenges but I’d say the hardest was moving to San Francisco because I moved there with great expectations Peter, my lover at the time, and I were going to go out. I originally wanted to go to Los Angeles because I had friends there, I knew people in the business, I knew people in the porno business there that had a lot of connections, but Peter talked me into going to San Francisco. We had only one friend there, that was Harvey Milk. I said well okay, we’ll go to San Francisco. I liked the idea and I’d been there many times – loved the city. So I said okay we’ll go to San Francisco. My partner in the first movies, the three movies Boys in the Sand, Bijou, and the Bible!, was going to come out and join us after we got everything set up. We were going to have a production company out there, an actual location and a studio and all this. Even though we lost $140,000 on the Bible! we still had funds to do that. We moved out and went to see Harvey at the camera store and told him we were looking for an apartment and did he have any ideas. He said there is one right across the street and I know the owner, we’ll talk. And we did and I took the apartment so I was right across the street on Castro. I had no idea what Castro was, I didn’t have any idea it was like Christopher Street in New York. But it was like the Christopher Street of San Francisco, that and Polk Street. So there I was living the hub of the gay world out there.

Then I found out that Peter had met someone while he was transporting a film to play in San Francisco. We couldn’t send things through the mail because it was against the law. We could be prosecuted for it. So if we got a booking in San Francisco, Peter or I or somebody would hop on a plane and deliver the film to the theater and then we would go pick it up when the run was done. And that’s the way we did our distribution. So Peter had gone out to do it and evidently he met someone and fell in love. He really made me a cuckold because I didn’t have any idea he never mentioned it. We got out to San Francisco and after two weeks I hadn’t seen him that much so I finally realized he must be having an affair. And he’d met Rusty before and he introduced me the day of the gay parade in ’74. I broke up with Peter.

So there I was in San Francisco and Marvin had also backed out. Michael Bennett was doing A Chorus Line and was ready to open. We knew that was going to be a big hit. Marvin was partners with Michael Bennett as well as me he was our business manager, so he said well I’m not going to move out there right away, it will have to be later if I do and I don’t know if I am going to. I had lost my lover, I had lost my partner, I had lost all my friends because I’d left them in New York. I had Harvey but he was preoccupied with his political career. Then I had to make another movie because Marvin wanted to generate money so that Michael could take a year off and develop A Chorus Line. I went back after using $170,000 on the Bible! I went back and made another film for $48,000 which is what I made Boys in the Sand for. We made a lot of money on it and was able to support Michael for a year and myself as well. That was the hardest point because I had nobody and I had nothing.

Flash: Which of your films did you enjoy making the most and why?

WP: I enjoyed making Bijou. I was in a fog when I made Bijou. Nobody knew what I was doing except me. Even Peter, my lover, didn’t understand what I was doing. He was very helpful to me, editing Boys in the Sand and working with me on it, but he was in this movie and I didn’t want him to know what I was doing because that was the whole point of the movie was to let people be in the dark and really not know what they were going to experience. That one I made totally on my own. I had a cameraman, I had a lighting man, Gene Kelton, who was a Broadway dancer, and I brought him in to do the lights for Bijou and he knew all the technical things and we worked very closely on the lighting.

We only had one disagreement and I said you just do it, it’ll work and of course it did. If I could see it in the lens it was going to be on the film. I had him, at one point, look through the lens and I said now you see, this is what happens. It’s when Bill Harrison looks at a mirror, full length, and suddenly the lights change and behind the mirror is Peter. You can see Peter and Bill’s image changes to Pete. I didn’t want to do any lab effects. I wanted it all to be natural and in camera. I could do double exposures, I could do stop action, I could do everything I want because I bought a new camera with the profits from Boys in the Sand so I enjoyed making that film.

But the film I really enjoyed the most was making the Bible! First of all, I had access to $160,000 to $180,000. It varies at times depending on what I feel at the moment but it was over $160,000. I had Richard Avedon’s make-up man, Frankie Welch, I had a wonderful cast, I had Stanley Simmons, who did costumes for the Metropolitan Opera and several ballets and a lot of television specials. It was a professional production. For my third movie and to go from Boys in the Sand — I was everything. I was the cameraman, I was the director, I loaded up the camera with film, I had to protect it from sand getting inside. I had two people who had never made a porno film together in front of me. It was just me and the two guys. It was a big jump to go from that to only worrying about looking in the camera, and working with the actors, and getting on film what I wanted. Really becoming a director instead of an auteur where I did everything. I had people supporting me. That was a great experience. 35:15 Even Shelley Graham, who was Georgina Spelvin, she said my God, what production. She said I’ve got a make-up man, I’ve got someone to do my hair, I’ve got someone making sure that I look okay. She said I’ve made 54 fuck films and I’ve never had this kind of treatment. That was what was fun. I was playing a big director. I was able to do what I wanted. If I wanted a dolly I got a dolly. Every time you make a film you learn so much. What I would do is I would take from what I learned on one film and put it into the next one. On Bijou, I learned more than I even thought I could learn and I put it into the Bible! And on the Bible! I learned even more. The Bible! is the one I had the most fun in, the one I think the results are better. Technically it is a gorgeous film.

Flash: Vinegar Syndrome has been exposing a new audience to your films by releasing them. Did you expect there to still be a demand for your films over thirty years after they were made?

WP: I figured we’d have to find a new audience and if anyone could do it, it’s a straight house who has as much love for film as I have, and it’s Joe Rubin. The man is absolute work-alcoholic as far as film is concerned. He has restored more films than MGM has, I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re usually independent films, he’s done a lot of pornography – mostly straight – and he decided he would take a chance with the gay films and his whole clientele is all straight. Here’s a straight company putting out gay films. He sold them as classics and masterpieces and the reviews have been phenomenal and the response has been good.

He just released Take One, I think about a week ago, and he got one back from someone who isn’t gay and he said this is a gay film I wouldn’t even watch it, I want my money back. I’m sure he is taking the prod of that from a few customers. But mostly they’ve all had a positive response and sometimes the first time a man has seen two men do it. And he is getting that kind of response about ‘it taught me something’ and ‘I learned a lot’ and ‘my God, I didn’t know that they did those things.’

Flash: With all of your life experiences, are there any films you wish you could make now?

WP: Yes, at the height of my success, instead of making the Bible!, I would like to have made One Arm a collection of short stories by Tennessee Williams. There were three that I wanted to make, one was One Arm, another was Field of Blue Children, which is a beautiful straight woman who’s dissatisfied with her marriage and her life, and The Black Masseur, which is a very heavy gay story. I wanted to make a trilogy and call it Tennessee’s Trilogy and I couldn’t get anyone interested, I guess because I was a pornographer.

Actually, Tennessee had come to my loft in the village to see the Bible! and loved it. He got cocked as a coot, but he loved it. A friend of mine, Paul Jasda, who also worked with me on Bijou (he did the poster for Bijou), brought Tennessee. I got the pleasure of meeting Tennessee anyway. If under different circumstances, it hadn’t been a screening of the movie, I probably would have asked Tennessee for permission or at least let’s discuss my making a film of that. The time and the opportunity never arose but I think it would have made a very, very, successful crossover film for me and would have probably changed my life had I been able to do that. But that’s another story.

Flash: If viewers only get one takeaway from I Always Said Yes, what would you like that to be?

WP: That’s a really hard question, God that’s like saying, what from the narrative of your whole life, in a nutshell, would you like people to take away. Quite honestly it has nothing to do with film but information. The way I described my bottoming out and rehabbing myself because I did it all alone. I had no help, I had no psychiatrist, no psychoanalyst, no doctor, no pills, no nothing. Is to take away my formula for rehabbing themselves and that’s a lot of people who don’t have any money for it. But you have to bottom out. Once you bottom out if you do simple instructions – what I say in the book and I also say in the film I think – get away from where you are. Move to another city. Go to someplace where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know any druggies, you don’t know any dealers, and sweat it out because you won’t be able – well, you can, you can go to the seediest section of the city where ever you go and you can find some drugs, probably drugs that will kill you — but if you really want to do it and you want to get away from all the temptation you have to follow those simple instructions. It is wonderful if you have someone to go with you, like I had my lover, but he was doing the same thing, we were both rehabbing and I even said to him, Paul we are in the train station on the train and we aren’t going anywhere so it is time for us to get off the train. And that’s what we did, we moved away from San Francisco. We moved away from our druggie friends, we moved away from our dealers, we left our business in shambles, we left our apartment – the next morning the sheriff was coming to literally throw us out – and that’s just to get away and if you really want to do it, that’s the way you do it. You have to bottom out and start over.

The secondary thing is the pride in your sexuality. Don’t let anybody tell you that you are doing anything that’s wrong. Everything you do sexually is right if it’s what you want to do. Don’t let anyone tell you, oh you shouldn’t do that. The only thing is you shouldn’t have sex without a rubber. That’s the only rule I think that should be as far as sex is concerned and that’s only because it’s a necessity.

The documentary I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole on Wakefield Poole is available now or coming soon to your favorite VOD or download service. The Vinegar Syndrome double feature DVD release of Poole’s films Take One and Moving! was released last month.

Flash is an adult film reviewer and can be reached via e-mail at adtflash@gmail.com. Flash’s adult film reviews can be read at www.adultdvdtalk.com/reviewer/flash. Flash’s other interviews can be read at interviews.adultdvdtalk.com/category/interviews-by-flash.

Wakefield Poole’s website is www.wakefieldpoole.com. The website for I Always Said Yes is www.ialwayssaidyes.com and the Facebook page for I Always Said Yes is www.facebook.com/IAlwaysSaidYes. Poole’s autobiography Dirty Poole is available from Lethe Press. Wakefield Poole’s films are available from Vinegar Syndrome.

I Always Said Yes review

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.