Playwriting & Pornography: Remembering Jerry Douglas
Author: Adam Baran
January 11, 2021
This past Saturday my friend Jerry Douglas passed away, after a long, protracted period of declining health during this awful first year of COVID. Jerry was one of the most important figures in the adult gay media world, with a long and passionate career as a playwright, author, director, screenwriter, journalist, ardent theater-goer, film watcher, and raconteur. He was 85 years old.
During the early days of post-Stonewall gay liberation, Jerry Douglas got his start writing and sometimes directing gay plays which drew New York audiences in with erotic themes and full-frontal nudity, including Tubstrip, Rondelay, Circle in the Water, and most famously, 1973’s Score. A brilliant bisexual riff on Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Score told the story of a swinger husband and wife duo who challenge each other to a wager to see who can be the first to seduce a pair of sexy squares. The play became the basis for film director Radley Metzger’s 1974 adaptation, which starred early gay porn icons Casey Donovan and Gerald Grant. Jerry’s clever dealing got him invited on set, where he learned the ropes of filmmaking from Metzger and was soon tasked with directing the actors. It was not the usual treatment writers got on film sets.
Though Score became a cult hit later on, the removal of the hardcore scenes from the theatrical version made it slightly out of step with the porno chic hits like Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door. Those hardcore scenes were finally put back in on the uncut Blu-Ray release last decade–and the film remains a masterpiece in any form: witty, smutty, silly, and hot.
Jerry then directed his first gay porn feature, The Back Row with Casey Donovan (Cal Culver) as a horny gay man who journeys in and out of the many erotic gay sex spaces that proliferated in the Village and Times Square. Jerry followed that up with a bisexual porn film called Both Ways–starring Gerald Grant and soon to be disco diva Andrea True–which flopped. Jerry later felt that the film’s mistake was starting with the gay encounter instead of the straight sex scene. The film’s dramatic depiction of a family man struggling to balance life with a wife and young son and an affair with a male lover was ahead of its time in many ways, but the presence of the young son in the non-sex scenes meant the film had a tough time on home video, where it was cut by a third of its length. It was restored and rereleased with a commentary track featuring Jerry and I–by Vinegar Syndrome in 2016.
After Both Ways lost money, Jerry stayed away from directing for a while, instead focusing on journalism, then creating and editing and doing the majority of the interviews for Manshots magazine, the greatest gay porn magazine ever, which featured extensive interviews with leading directors, actors and other figures. The publication remains invaluable as a resource and record of gay porn history. Many of those interviews have been compiled in porn scholar Marco Siedelmann’s incredible new double collection of Jerry’s interviews.
Jerry got back into porn in the late 1980s, with a series of films that always wore their influences proudly on their sleeve. He’d describe one film as “my Hitchcock film” or “my John Ford film”. Titles like More of a Man, Flesh and Blood, Fratrimony, and Buckleroos won countless GayVN awards for Jerry and stars during the 1990s, and he kept on going until the early 2000s when he made his final masterpiece Brotherhood.
Jerry also wrote several books including The Legend of the Ditto Twins, though it was always a struggle getting his agents and publishers to find an audience for his clever erotic tomes. The last time we spoke was in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jerry told me that he had finished his most recent book and he felt it was his masterpiece. There were also unproduced scripts for films and plays and more. We met when I interviewed him for my “Fisting For Compliments” column in The Sword (NSFW) and we remained friends ever since. I loved going up to his apartment and watching him chain smoke, talk about old movies, talk about filmmaking, and hear dishy stories of theatrical and celebrity gossip, not to mention tales of erotic exploits during the 1970s. At his last big birthday bash, he delighted in taking me aside and pointing out a quaint grandmotherly woman who had appeared in Deep Throat.
Jerry was well-looked after for decades by his loving partner John Stellar, who Jerry loved immensely. The last time we saw each other in person was after an event at the Bureau of General Services Queer Division in 2019. Jerry and a group of his friends went out to eat dinner afterwards. I tagged along, and saw how excited he was by the galleys to Seidelmann’s new volumes of his work. He confided he was in lousy shape, and we had to walk very slowly to the restaurant as walking took a lot out of him. He was still in top form mentally though, offering cutting and hilarious opinions of a variety of filmic and gay porn topics.
We spoke on the phone a bit early last year and he talked about his intense disgust at our soon-to-be-ex-President and his excitement over his recently completed book. We traded a few emails after that but he was not up to phone calls when I rang over Christmas. I asked John to pass on my love. My condolences to all who knew him and whose lives were touched by his remarkable career and always delightful presence. He was a one-of-a-kind New York character and I’m proud to have called him my friend.