It is with heavy hearts we heard the News that the trailblazing gay filmmaker and scene personality had sadly passed away at 85 years of age in Jacksonville, Florida the same City that he had been born in. The filmaker is arguably most famous for directing and inspiring the first ever ‘proper’ gay adult/porn film ‘Boys In The Sand’ in 1971 which is now rightly seen as an absolute queer classic, a moment in History and a landmark which launched the entire gay porn industry, endless gay XXX cinemas/magazines/books and coming within a few months of Stonewall was an important integral part of the explosion in growth of gay visibility and gay rights.
(Walter) Wakefield Poole was so much more than a one trick pony though. He was a successful dancer joining the famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in 1957 before moving into chorography and directing TV directing as well as productions on Broadway. He was married to Nancy Van Rijn for 5 years in the mid-sixties before he moved onto his beautiful lover Peter Schneckenburger (later known as Peter Fisk) who would go on to be one of the stars of the landmark Boys in the Sand.
Through the 50’s and 60’s being gay was illegal everywhere and so gay men got their jollies from male underwear catalogues and sports journals with very limited nudity whilst fantasizing about great looking straight men like Marlon Brando, Clint Eastwood and Tony Curtis in mainstream cinema releases. Denmark was the trailblazer for legalising gay imagary in 1969 (just 4 weeks after the Stonewall Riots) and as the 60’s came to an end with gay rights demos and Prides on the rise we got our first magazines, books and films produced especially for gay men. Although there had been a couple of ‘art’ films showing mano et mano action like Andy Warhols ‘Blue Movie’ these were hardly gay products with as much of that film devoted to Viet Nam War discussions as fit male physiques and they were generally deemed as art projects.
Step in Wakefiled poole….. who set out with his co-producer to make the first ever widely released proper gay erotic film, Boys In The Sand. The film was hugely popular and became the first film of its kind to be reviewed by Variety magazine, It was released and opened in theaters across the United States and around the world and from then on there was no holding back the gay adult industry which would grow into a multi-million dollar business within a decade driving VHS technology and all forms of gay erotica to the heights . The film’s title is a parodic reference to the 1968 play by Mart Crowley, and the related 1970 mainstream film adaptation, The Boys in the Band. ‘Sand’ was filmed on Fire island at Cherry Grove over 3 weekends in August. The location was becoming a growing popular gay destination not far from downtown New York (see our recent feature on Tea Dances).
Wakefield Poole wrote, directed, co-produced, marketed and distributed his film which set the template still used today of adult films parodying the name and plots of Hollywood films.
Produced on a budget of about $8,000 the film depicts its main star Casey Donovan’s sexual adventures at a gay beach resort. Promoted by Poole with an advertising campaign unprecedented for a pornographic feature including Ad’s in the New York Times, it premiered in 1971 at the 253-seat 55th Street Playhouse in Manhattan. Its reception was incredible as this is what the gay world had been waiting for and the lines for that cinema alone stretched along 7 city blocks. It made its production costs back in an hour, making $25,000 in its first week becoming the first gay film to enter the film box office charts on its way to making an incredible $140,000 just 6 months later making it arguably the most profitable film to budget ratio of any sort in cinema history even outstripping the Blair Witch Project…..so an entire industry was born out of Wakefield Poole’s vision. This led to the production of many gay films and also largely birthed the staright porn industry with the likes of Behind the Green Door, The Devil In Miss Jones, Last Dango In Paris and Deep Throat all coming out within a year to great success and they all owe a chunk of their popularity and possibly their very existence to Wakefield Poole’s breakthrough film.
Poole, his co -producer and stars all went on to great things over the next 15 years with Casey Donovan turning his film stardom into becoming the highest priced escort in the States for a while before he died of AIDS in 1987. Poole would go on to direct over twenty gay movies including notable works such as Bijou, Bible and The Hustlers as well as a Boys in the sand sequel. He then turned his attention to books and producing/directing and/or starring in musical theatre productions. He was inducted into the GayVN Hall Of fame in 2003 for his importance to the gay addult industry.
He was according to those that new him personally a very amusing, educated gay man who was great company and always fun to be around. His legacy and importance is intact for being the right gay guy, in the right place at the right time, reading the zeitgeist superbly with a big enough pair of balls to put his money, reputaion and name where his mouth was. Therefore changing our gay world forever and for that every queer person will be eternally in his debt as he ushered in what became known as ‘The Golden Age Of Porn’ breaking down if not exploding barriers in his wake. In the last week of 1971 Variety magazine in their review for Boys In The Sand stated ‘There are now no more closets left’; and a period of ‘porno chic’ had begun where pornographic films were seen as hip, cool, trendy, acceptable and indeed art which is a tremendous epitaph for a true genre pioneer…. Walter Wakefield Poole Rest In Peace as your historic films will be forever enjoyed and admired; your place in queer history is unquestionably secure and we hope there is a projector in heaven.