David Hurles, the legendary gay pornographer whose Old Reliable Studios featured rough trade models he found on the streets of 1970s San Francisco, died in Los Angeles on April 12. Hurles was 78.
According to an obituary provided to the Bay Area Reporter by the Bob Mizer Foundation, the cause of death was complications from a stroke he suffered in 2008. News of his death was provided to the foundation by his friend and manager of his estate, Dian Hanson.
“The Bob Mizer Foundation extends its condolences to Dian Hansen, to David Hurles’ friends and family, and to his fans,” Den Bell, founder, president, and CEO of the Mizer Foundation, said in the obituary. “David’s work for Old Reliable exposed gay audiences to a subculture in which we found excitement and thrills, an encounter with the type of man we have always been told to avoid. His pioneering work in the field has revolutionized the art of desire.”
Hurles was born September 12, 1944, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and developed an interest in photography as a teen. He later recalled he was always attracted to boys as a youth and had a particular interest in the delinquent boyfriends of his older sister. Following brief stints at university and the military, he gravitated toward work as a photographer, first as an assistant and later producing his own adult work.
He founded the Old Reliable Studio in San Francisco in the 1970s, using stereotypical "rough" men as models. Preferring straight over gay or bisexual models, he also produced audio cassettes of the models performing sex acts as well as verbally denigrating and describing how they would abuse and assault gay men. He additionally produced audio cassette tapes as he had oral and anal sex with his models.
“David realized early that he was sexually attracted to straight criminals, and all of his unique creative work, including photos, films, video, and audiotapes, derived from this erotic obsession,” Hanson explained. “The power emanating from his photos reflects the power his subjects held over him.”
Film director John Waters was a lifelong fan of Hurles and his gritty style of pornography.
“David likes psychos,” director John Waters wrote of Hurles in his book, Role Models. “Nude ones. Money-hungry drug addicts with big dicks. Rage-filled robbers without rubbers. And of course, convicts.”
Shortly after Hurles's stroke in 2008, Waters and Hanson produced an exhibition of his work entitled “Outsider Porn” to help bring awareness to his work as well as help defray the mounting medical expenses related to his care.
In his book, Waters concluded that “Robert Mapplethorpe was a pussy. Mr. Hurles is the real thing.”
Hurles was arrested multiple times on various obscenities and minor drug charges, but later laughed off the time in jail saying it provided him with the opportunity to meet new models and friends. He said he became friends with many of his models, but he was also not infrequently robbed and assaulted by some of them. An accidental kick to the head by one of his models during a shoot in Los Angeles in 1990 left his vision blurred in one eye. Following a stroke in 2008, he closed Old Reliable Studios and left the management of his estate to Hansen. Hansen noted Hurles was only given six months to live at the time.
In addition to his work at Old Reliable, Hurles’s work also appeared with permission in gay author and friend Dr. Jack Fritscher’s Drummer magazine and zine Man2Man Quarterly, and later dozens of other publications often without Hurles’s consent. His work also appears in the books Speeding, Outcast, and The Big Penis Book.
“David Hurles’s importance is that in the late 1970s he changed the ‘Gay Gaze’ as to what many gay men actually prefer in race, class, and homomasculinity beyond white blond twinkies,” Dr. Fritscher tells The Advocate via email.
The Bob Mizer Foundation will provide word at a later time on a planned memorial for Hurles.