Years ago I had the chance to ask playwright and screen writer Mart Crowley (The Boys in the Band) what he thought about Wakefield Poole taking off on his award-winning play and film title to make Boys in the Sand, a porn film.
Mart just rolled his big blue eyes and said, “Imitation is…” He didn’t even need to finish.
But it wasn’t just the clever riff on Mart’s groundbreaking smash hit that made Boys in the Sand such a culture-changing film. Poole is an unrestrained showman along the lines of P.T. Barnum. He was almost too talented and intelligent for his own good. These are the kinds of folks that often end up with substance abuse problems, as he did. Filmmaker was just one of his hats — he was also a child singing sensation and a Broadway dancer, and worked alongside Stephen Sondheim and Richard Rodgers.
In the late ’60s, the sexual revolution was in full swing. The Stonewall riots and subsequent Pride events gave gay men a new sense of unashamed sexual expression, and Wakefield Poole — way ahead of the pack — saw gay sex as something worth portraying in art and film.
Because Poole's artistically shot films were unhindered by the current sleaziness of porn, even though they included very explicit hardcore sex scenes, they had a universal watchability for men and women who would eschew the average stag film.
As we see in I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole, Poole opened up a new market for gay porn: straight men and women. Celebrities began to flock to the 55th Street Playhouse in midtown Manhattan to see Boys in the Sand. Film magazines wrote about it. John Gielgud bought copies to take back to England. Eventually, the head of the Columbia University Psychology department summoned Poole to his home on Easter Sunday to screen the film for some colleagues, his wife, his teenage children, and his mother. The National Organization for Women screened Poole's subsequent film Bijou as an example of a nondegrading sexually explicit film.
One specific reason the film was so palatable: Casey Donovan. Donovan, who also worked under the name Cal Culver, was the Marilyn Monroe of gay porn. He was universally appealing; he had a confident charm and an exuberant personality. He made the dirtiest sex seem clean and fun. He was shame-free.
So two important aspects of gay life were now there for the world to see: real, balls-deep gay sex and the ease with which it happened. In one scene in Boys in the Sand, Casey simply looks out the window and porn ensues. No one could believe it was that zipless. And that the Eden-like glories of Fire Island were revealed just added to the glamour of the previously-unknown-to-straight-folks world of cruising and gay sex.
Poole’s film broke ground not just for the gay sexual world but for the sexual world at large. The first big mainstream straight porn film, Deep Throat, could never have happened without Boys in the Sand opening the theater doors.
I Always Said Yes: The Many Lives of Wakefield Poole is available on Amazon Instant, iTunes, Google Play and Vimeo on Demand. The documentary and Poole's classic films are also streaming on Fandor.