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The Anatomy of
Jack Wrangler

The Anatomy of
Jack Wrangler


John Stillman -- a.k.a. "Jack Wrangler," one of the first gay porn superstars -- opens up with The Advocate about the new documentary on his life, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon.

John Stillman got his start in show business in the mid '50s at age 9 when he starred with America's tap-dancing sweetheart, Eleanor Powell, in the religious-themed TV show Faith of Our Children. Now he's a producer and director of Broadway musical reviews and is married to Margaret Whiting, chart-topping singer of the 1940s and 50s.

But in between being an emerging religious star and a happy husband, Stillman was known as Jack Wrangler, the rugged blond stud who exploded on the gay porn scene in its 1970s golden era. His charisma, which extended to an acting ability beyond the sex scenes, and his unique gift to be able to deliver a money shot on cue made him in demand by the adult film industry. So much so that when he decided to make a shocking and unprecedented foray into heterosexual porn, he continued to prosper until his retirement in the mid 1980s.

Stillman's rich life story is explored in the new documentary Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, produced and directed by Jeffrey Schwarz.

The Advocate:While you've never fully escaped the fame you established as a porn star, with this documentary coming out you're back in that spotlight. How is that for you?Stillman: I was involved in two very legitimate projects when this whole thing came up, and I wasn't sure it was a good idea. I'm never sure anything that I do is a very good idea! It just happened. I think my whole life has been a "happening." One of my parents said, "Just open yourself up to all the wonderful possibilities," and I always have. I get in a lot of trouble, but I have an awful lot of fun. [Laughs]

When were you first aware of your homosexuality? I was about 12...or 10...or 9 or 8. I saw a man with his shirt off. My father [TV producer Robert Stillman] was shooting Bonanza at the time. I was very attracted to Michael Landon, of course -- everyone was. I know I got caught by my father around 10.

Got caught doing what? Masturbating! [Laughs] I had a big walk-in closet -- a huge walk-in closet, and --

You were literally in the closet? Masturbating? I was literally in the closet. [Laughs]

What was your first sexual experience with a man? Uh, gee... This is a strange story -- a story I've never told. There was a guy named Toby Stuston -- I can say the name because it appeared in all the papers eventually. He went to a military school. Dean Martin's kids went there, Jerry Lewis's kids went there. It was an expensive private boys school. Toby's parents had a strange relationship. They used to bring all these ashtrays on board their yacht and throw them at each other at night. He used to take me out on [the yacht] on weekends and he'd blow me. [Both laugh] And that was my first experience.

You said his name appeared in papers later. What for? Little Toby Stuston became big Toby Stuston. He organized, I guess, a male prostitution ring out in the Valley [Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley] -- and his chauffeur whacked him. Beat him to death. Real bloody, real horrible. They found him in the car -- throat cut and everything. That's what happened to Toby Stuston. That's the first time that name's come up in a lot of years.

Your father watched some of your gay films; can you tell us about the conversation you had with him after that? He never said a word about it. I found out later. One thing he did say to me was "I hope you know what your next chess move is gonna be." He hoped that I had a plan in mind. People always thought I had some big master plan. Things just happened.

Your first time having sex with a woman was captured on film and is a scene in your first straight porn film, China Sisters. Was the actress who took your hetero virginity aware that it was your first time? It was two women. They were supposed to be Chinese girls; they actually were blond, charming, funny girls from Santa Barbara with a whole lotta "Chinese" makeup on. [The film crew] were all aware that it was going to be my first time. It was very awkward, and then with all that "Chinese" makeup...that "Chinese" got all over everybody! [Laughs]

Having done pornography, do you find that people are unwilling to let your personal sex life be private? And does that bother you? I don't talk about it. If anything's ever written about me, it's always "Jack Wrangler, former porn star." They always say that, whether I'm doing a ballet or a Broadway show, and that bothered me for a while, but not much.

Your romance with Margaret Whiting transcends so many stereotypes and expectations. Has it informed or changed your views on sexuality? I'm not bisexual and I'm not straight. I'm gay, but I could never live a gay lifestyle because I'm much too competitive. When I was with a guy I would always want to be better than him: what we were accomplishing, what we were wearing -- anything. With a woman you compete like crazy, but coming from different points of view, and as far as I'm concerned, that was doable. I love competing with Margaret on things, whether we're both in a show -- one wants to get better reviews than the other -- or when I wrote my autobiography, immediately Margaret had to write hers, and she never had any intention of writing an autobiography until I wrote mine! [Laughs] That's the kind of thing that I can live with. Also we make each other laugh.

In 1980 you, your step-grandmother, and manager were assaulted by a gang of six thieves who tied you up and beat you up -- We were followed home from a restaurant in Beverly Hills. I thought we were gonna be killed. At the time Margaret was appearing in Las Vegas. I called Margaret and said, "I can't join you in Vegas, I've been in this terrible robbery," and she said, "Oh yeah yeah yeah, Jack." She thinks I'm fooling around again. And then Rosemary Clooney brought a newspaper to Margaret [reporting the incident] and said, "My God! Did you hear what happened to Jack?" And Margaret's felt bad about that ever since. [Laughs]

Of all your non-porn accomplishments, what are you most proud of? The show I'm working on right now. It's called Ain't We Got Fun. We took three F. Scott Fitzgerald short stories and scored them with music by Richard Whiting [Margaret's father].

Well, that's all my questions, Jack. We're done! Hey, we did all right. You know, The Advocate is about the only gay tabloid that existed before I started in the business. I'm honored to be in it.

The honor is ours.

Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon is available now on DVD from TLA Releasing.

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