In 2007, I was invited to a private premiere of a gay porn movie. This was the kind of thing that was par for the course for the editorial staff of now-defunct NYC gay weekly HX Magazine, but even so I was shocked by two things upon arriving at the Upper West Side apartment: wall-to-wall carpeting and indoor smoking.
Those were not things one typically saw in Manhattan abodes, not even in 2007, but that was very much Jerry Douglas’ style. Along with my editor, I was at his apartment for the premiere of what would be hist last film as a director, Brotherhood.
I was decidedly a non-boldfaced name at this small party—also in attendance were Will Clark and Robert W. Richards (another fabulous older man with whom I was lucky enough to spend some time)—but Jerry couldn’t have been lovelier. A collector, he had everything proudly out on display—including every Betty MacDonald book and an entire wall of movie star memoirs and biographies. Another room was shelf after shelf of records—I spied Tammy Grimes’ rare first album—and in his movie room-office, rows and rows of movies, even VHS copies of Billy Wilder’s Fedora and Shirley Booth in About Mrs. Leslie.
These references are meaningless to 98 percent of the world—but for the other 2 percent, they’re skeleton keys to a different world. And Jerry welcomed me into his that night. My editor and I stayed long after the film screened and the guests left, and Jerry gossiped about old Hollywood stars while he and I smoked cigarette after cigarette in the comfort of indoors.
God, the gossip! Jerry called Anthony Perkins’ cock the most beautiful he’d ever seen; according to my diary from the time, his actual words were, “as if carved by Michelangelo himself.” After having sex with William Inge’s housesitter, his partner rolled over and said, “My friend has just written a new book and I have the galleys. Do you want to read it?” The friend was Truman Capote and the book was Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Later, Jerry took me to my first time at the Paris Theatre, to see Lars and the Real Girl, and afterwards we had burgers at the Brooklyn Diner around the corner. Our friendship petered out after that, but I remember so vividly having a glimpse at the life I thought I’d be living in New York City when I lived here. Jerry was warm and witty and a chainsmoker—everything I wanted to be in my early 20s (and now, if I’m being honest). Most importantly, he was a renaissance man who had successful careers in any number of fields—adult films, journalism, playwriting—treating gay porn as just one of many areas in which his varied interests lay.
In a world that treats ambition like a narrowly defined lane, that kind of freewheeling, free association was inspiring. I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that Jerry was showing me an alternate career path, one that ambled rather than flowed cleanly. And I don’t think it occurred to me at the time that Jerry was proving that porn can and should be taken as seriously as camp classics or B-movies are. But we learn the lessons in life when we most need them, and Jerry was on my mind a lot over the summer and the fall. He died January 9 at the age of 84, just a few months after re-releasing collections of his interviews. Like most of us, I regret that I never told him the things I should have told him. But I also know how lucky I am to have been in his orbit, however briefly.
I hope he’s lighting another cigarette somewhere, asking Anthony Perkins to show him again.