Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been forty years since my last confession. It has been forty years almost to the day, because that's when I started work as entertainment editor at Penthouse magazine, which in those days, like Playboy, was selling up to six million copies a month on the newsstand. Oh, those skin magazines so deserved what the Internet did to them!
What I did forty years ago was so bad that I decided to do what most people do in such painfully embarrassing situations: I'd write a book about it. I'd already written two books about people I'd never met - The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, about Hollywood agent Henry Willson, and Party Animals, about Hollywood/Broadway producer Allan Carr - so why not write my next book about something I knew so well: sex and the sinful people who broke all the taboos? If the 1980s were greedy and the 1920s actually roared, then the 1970s certainly qualified as being oversexed. I'd call my book Sexplosion.
The 1970s ended spectacularly, sex-wise, with the 1979 release of Bob Guccione's Caligula, a film that broke the Big-Budget Porn Taboo by inserting triple-X fare (penetration, erections, ejaculation) amid the dramatic scenes with the stars. Fortunately, none of the porn episodes featured the film's stars Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, Peter O'Toole or John Gielgud.
The year before, Guccione, the publisher of Penthouse, photographed child model Brooke Shields for the magazine. She remained fully clothed, but the photo spread was still very provocative, considering that Shields was only about 13 at the time and wore way too much mascara. More shocking, in 1978 Shields played an adolescent prostitute in Pretty Baby, in effect busting the Child Porn Taboo.
In the 1970s, Clay Felker's New York Magazine was especially sex-obsessed, running cover lines like "Bisexual Chic" and "Trisexual Chic." I could be wrong, but I think "S&M Chic" was reserved for the 1974 release of "The Night Porter," which broke the Nazi Concentration Camp Survivor Enjoys Sex Again With Her Old SS Guard Taboo. Dirk Bogarde and Charlotte Rampling were the offenders.
That's when, Father, I had this major epiphany about my book "Sexplosion." The really bad taboo-busting didn't really take place during my tenure at "Penthouse" magazine. No, the real seeds of lust were planted much earlier - during my high school and college years when, like so many others, I was part of that regrettable sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll generation.
Back then, the filmmakers who broke the taboos were very subtle about it. I think it began in 1967 with Joseph Strick's film adaptation of Ulysses, which is when the F-Word Taboo fell. Strick cleverly used the f-word only in direct quotes from James Joyce's revered text. And what student could miss that movie since none of us could get through the novel?
Three years later, Strick tried the same trick with his film adaptation of Tropic of Cancer, this time going after the C-Word Taboo. But somehow Henry Miller's prose and overuse of the c-word slur for women didn't have quite the same snob-appeal punch, and the movie tanked, even on college campuses.
It was Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey who used Joe Dallesandro's penis to break the Erection Taboo in their 1968 film Flesh. At the time, Warhol was recuperating from Valerie Solanas having shot him and took time in the hospital to regret letting his superstars perform in the upcoming movie Midnight Cowboy. As a kind of revenge, Warhol got Morrissey to make a movie about male hustlers and beat Schlesinger's film to the box office. In Flesh, Dallesandro's hustler gets an erection, which some actress ties up with a big ribbon bow. I mean, it's real and not some prosthetic like the one in "The Wolf of Wall Street" with Jonah Hill, thank God for that piece of plastic!
Midnight Cowboy smashed the No X-Rated Movie Wins The Oscar Taboo the following year. When the film was nominated for best picture, the Academy asked Schlesinger to seek an R-rating instead by simply cutting the scene where Bob Balaban's schoolboy performs fellatio on Jon Voight's hustler in a movie theater. The Academy didn't want the Oscar sullied with an X-rated movie. But Schlesinger said, "No way!" to cutting the scene. The movie won, but the Academy never gave another X-rated movie its top prize.
In 1969, Ken Russell had a hard time breaking the Two Penises Taboo in the movies. No, neither Alan Bates nor Oliver Reed achieved erection onscreen in Women in Love. But that they were naked and wrestling and their organs were bouncing around a lot and there were two instead of just one penis in the room made it even more shocking than Dallesandro's in Flesh. Again, the censors didn't object, because the movie was based on a D. H. Lawrence classic. If it had been a scene from Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls, you can only imagine how fast it would have been snipped.
I don't know if I should even mention the next one in a confessional, Father. But here goes: The Death By Dildo Taboo. Sorry. There's no other word for the word "dildo." I checked the dictionary. This cinematic first occurred in 1971 in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange, the scene were Malcolm McDowell's thug bludgeons the Cat Lady with this art object shaped just like a huge penis. I can assure you that Anthony Burgess didn't use that weapon to murder the Cat Lady in his far more discreet and tasteful 1962 novel.
Ken Russell didn't stop with Women in Love. His film The Devils added sacrilege to the sexual brew. The 1971 film supposedly told the true story of these 17th century nuns who, possessed by the devil, tore off their habits and masturbated against this life-size figure of Jesus Christ on the cross. I had to doubt the film was based on fact since none of the nuns I had in Catholic school were ever that well-developed. Oh, I almost forgot: The Nuns Masturbating Naked Against a Crucifix Taboo. Many DVDs do not have this scene, called "The Rape of Christ" scene. It was cut in 1971, but some documentarian found the lost footage a few years ago. You can find the unexpurgated version on Amazon.com. You just have to look for it.
The Butter As Lubricant Taboo fell with the release of Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris in 1972. Researching my book Sexplosion, I was delighted to learn that actress Maria Schneider was very distraught by this scene, even though it was simulated. (The butter had been Marlon Brando's idea.) Schneider didn't know she could complain to her agent. She chalked it up to her inexperience. She would know better the next time when Brando tried to perform anal sex with her onscreen.
That's pretty much where my book ends and why I called it Sexplosion: From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange, How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos [It Books, $27.99].
Ending the book in 1972 makes sense. It leaves room for a sequel.