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Pat Rocco Oral History – 1983

Pat Rocco


Pioneering activist and filmmaker Pat Rocco produced short-form gay erotica in the 1960s that was widely embraced by the gay community and received positive reviews from the mainstream press, including Variety, Los Angeles Times and Playboy magazine. Rocco's prolific output of erotic films slowed in the early 1970s as market preferences shifted toward hardcore fare. In the late 1960s through the 1980s, Rocco shot historically important footage of gay demonstrations, parades, marches, festivals and events, providing some of the only existing moving image documentation of the major beginnings of the gay rights movement in the U.S. 

This oral history was conducted by Jim Kepner for ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives on April 27, 1983. Audio transcribed by Kip Hargrove in August 2010.

This is a selection of excerpts from the oral history.  Download a PDF of the complete transcript.

The Hudson House

Pat Rocco:  ... I suppose I should explain what Hudson House is. It’s emergency housing for gay men and lesbians in the gay and lesbian community in Los Angeles. No one is turned away. Jobs are supplied through the United States Mission, which is the founder of Hudson House, and a comfortable place is provided, a residential house that’s fully furnished, nicely furnished, and right now we have four houses, and a dormitory, and someone in an emergency situation can call Hudson House and we’ll help. We’re here for that purpose. It’s a great need in the community that has been ongoing for a long time, and I’m really proud of the growth that it’s had and the number of people – up to now it’s more than four thousand in the years that we’ve been working, that Hudson House has in its way helped. Proud of that. So that’s what’s going to be happening, and I’m making a major change.


PR:  ...the residents who were there, who, as you know, when they come to Hudson House, they usually don’t feel too good about themselves. They come from difficult situations. They’ve been thrown out by their parents, who says “we don’t want a gay person or a lesbian” or whatever “in our house” as a parent. Or they come from across the other side of the country and they come to Hollywood and they try to find a job and things don’t go well and they’re out of the money and they’re sleeping in the parks, or worse, working the streets. Or someone who is working the streets and says “this is not for me.” Hudson House provides that kind of refuge so they can get out of it with a different kind of a job available to them immediately on an emergency basis. Or they’re kicked out by a lover, or they’ve lost their job and lost their funds. 

[W]hen they come to Hudson House, they usually don’t feel too good about themselves. They come from difficult situations. They’ve been thrown out by their parents, who says “we don’t want a gay person or a lesbian” ... There are so many reasons why a person comes to Hudson House. I could tell you stories of people, how they’ve come in, many people with the only thing they have is what they’re wearing.

There are so many reasons why a person comes to Hudson House. I could tell you stories of people, how they’ve come in, many people with the only thing they have is what they’re wearing. I remember one person who I’ll never forget, walked literally from the state of Washington clear down through to Los Angeles, found Hudson House, and when he came in, he could hardly walk. He was only, like, 18, and his feet were so swollen, the first thing all the residents … of course, they’re very supportive. When someone new comes in, they’re very supportive. A big basin, hot water, epsom salts, we soaked his feet and the poor kid, this was just one of so many things...

And when I say it’s like a city within a city, it really is, particularly when we had all the houses together. Now they’re only maybe ten blocks apart, but there still is a feeling of that, because once a month we get all the houses’ people together and we have a monthly party get-together, and each time it goes from house to house. Each house does it once a month. And that’s kind of fun because it’s their only chance really of meeting the other people in the other houses, because they’re not close together any more like they used to be. So we still maintaining that single-family unit in each house, large family unit when all the houses get together, and it’s very warm and very good.

Sign of Protest (1970)Sign of Protest (1970)

Memories of Being a Gay Youth

Jim Kepner:  This thing, I think, that for gays, the first perception of being different, which sometimes can come at remarkably early ages. People react differently on that, but when did you first have a feeling of being not quite what was expected in one way or another? Sexual attraction, maybe, or gender role, maybe.

PR:  Not a gender role but a sexual attraction, and that was probably around 12, 13, where it persisted, where I wasn’t enjoying myself going out on the obligatory dates in high school and in grammar school and whatever it happened to be, where I was obviously attracted to other young boys my age, where I would even occasionally hero-worship perhaps an 18-year-old football player or something of that nature.

JK:  Film stars?

PR:  Film stars? Not that I can recall, but people more closer to the age that I was at the time. And then the beginning of the sexual experience, experiences, I knew what was going on. I knew the words that people were using that they applied to me, the fairy, the queer, all that other stuff. I knew that applied to me. I hid it.

JK:  Did you get it directly or did you just hear it and know that you were included?

PR:  No, it was never aimed at me, it was never aimed at me. I guess I was not effeminate, and I guess like so many other people, hid it. I wasn’t overt, and of course, at that time, it wasn’t the time to be overt, in the ‘40s and early ‘50s. But I would get on a bus and I would go to downtown Los Angeles when I was a teenager, and managed to get into a place called Maxwell’s. You probably have heard of that ... but it was the only place that I was -  and somebody told me about it, I don’t know how – but I knew here were other people like me. Of course, they were much older. And then I went to a place called Le Beouf’s, Le Beouf’s which was in a cellar ... and they had a piano bar and I was a singer and I was a kid and I guess I was considered “chicken” and so they welcomed the fact that I was able to sing and get along and do all that fun stuff, and so it became fun for me to get away from home, nobody knew what I was doing, I would just sneak out and forget the homework and get on a bus, and I don’t know what the age requirements of going into a bar was. They didn’t serve food or anything, but I got away with it. I just went in there and I must have been only 17, 16 maybe. And so, that little singing thing helped out in that thing. I made friends easily. But there were always older people. It was a while before I found people my own age. I thought I was the only young one, you know...

On Becoming a Filmmaker

PR:  Bizarre Bazaar was the first head shop in Hollywood, so-called head shop, posters, paraphernalia. We served a thing called LSD coffee. We sold the underground newspapers. We showed midnight movies. Midnight every night we’d show a movie in the back of – half of it was head shop and half of it was like a little coffee shop, and we had a projector and we just showed movies at night, and people would jam in there and sometimes watch through the windows in the front. It was a very popular little place. Right across the street from the post office in Hollywood on Selma Avenue. And to look at it, I’d put up a huge marquee up at the top, talking about head shop and all this other stuff, and LSD coffee and that kind of thing, that I had made myself. Turned out to be an illegal sign, but we did keep it up for a long time. It was like 4 by 8 going in a crossway thing with letters on both sides, so you couldn’t miss it coming down this little tiny street, here’s this big marquee for a store that is no wider than this room but was kind of long, long enough for  us to make a nice big picture on the wall in the back. It was a popular place, and I enjoyed running it and hiring people to be part of it, and all of that, and made a lot of friends there.

Pat RoccoAnd it was through that relationship, because we sold the Free Press that I always read it when it came in, and I read an ad one day that said we need a photographer for, to shoot male nude studies. I had dabbled in photography all my life. I’d always loved to take a camera around with me and I’d dabbled sometimes with little movie cameras too, and I had made home movies of stuff, and I was interested in photography always. And so I decided to answer the ad. Well, I answered the ad and they gave me a camera, they gave me a model, they gave me a roll of film, and they said go with it, let’s see what you do. And they liked the results and so they gave me more models, and well, you get the gist of it. I wish I could remember that first … It was an author who wrote stories that went in nudist magazines. I mean, when you say nudist magazines, like nudist camps, because at the time, that’s the only they can get away with showing some nudity, by having them playing volleyball, or sitting on the beach or something like that. But that progressed pretty quickly.

At any rate, I was doing that for a while and enjoying it, and I started taking a little 8-millimeter camera along with me and making some minute-and-a-half to three-minute camera studies of some of the male nudes that I was shooting, and sometimes even making a little tiny storyline, until finally I had a kind of a backlog of these little 8-millimeter films, and by that time I’d also graduated to 16-millimeter. And so I decided to put an ad in the Free Press, same place that I’d gotten – this may be six months had passed by, only – or possibly a year. I put an ad in the Free Press saying there’s a catalog of male nude films available, for a quarter. I was deluged with mail, deluged with mail. I had to get hundreds of copies made of all these films, and suddenly found myself in a business. I had to hire somebody to do the mail situation, and the little one-page catalog for a quarter grew to four, five, six, eventually I think to a forty-page catalog. It became quite elaborate, and color catalog. And it was doing very nicely. And I’d closed the head shop at that time and was concentrating pretty much on the mail-order business. I took a great deal of pride in each of the little films, not only that I’d done earlier but the ones that I’d done subsequently, in how they were done, what they were saying, the storylines in them. I’d used some of my own personal relationships that I’d had, sometimes, in developing these silent storylines that could tell a story without any sound, because you didn’t distribute the sound – there were no sound 8-millimeter films at that time, or 16-millimeter for that matter either, along that line.

The owner of the Park Theater on Alvarado Street somehow got wind of what I was doing through another person and called me and said we’d like to take a look at your films. I’ll never forget the session. It lasted all day, where they wanted to see everything, so I threw everything on the screen in my living room there on Detroit Street. One film after another. The end result was they said these films are good enough to be shown in a regular theater rather than just mail order. How about let’s trying a couple first. So I took a couple of films – I think it was Love Is Blue was one of them, and the other one was Fanny’s Hill. One was a comedy and one was very serious. I put a musical soundtrack to them and they squeezed them in another program that didn’t have any nudity in it. I think it was Jason or something like that, at the Park Theater, just to see what the reaction was.

JK:  That was about…

PR:  This is, now we’re now talking about 1968, June, about June of 1968. That really started it all, those two films.

The Films of Pat Rocco & Gay Visibility

JK:  And for a while, during the period when TV was hitting the film industry badly, the Park [Theater] on the nights of your openings and so on out-grossed any other theater in town.

PR:  That’s true. I’ll never forget the out-grossing of one of my films, I think it was Sex and the Single Gay, where it out-grossed Funny Girl, which was playing at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater at the time. That was a real pleasure. The financing from the films came from the income from the previous film.

JK:  … The first time, at one of your openings, and I think it may have been Mondo Rocco, or the one before that, Dares – was [Pat RoccoDares before Mondo Rocco?

PR:  Yes.Sex and the Single Gay (1970)

Sex and the Single Gay (1970)

JK:  It was Dares then when, for the first time, there were double lines around the block both ways. People were not hiding, and when cameramen came out there to photograph the crowd waiting in line, my first reaction was, “What are those cameras going to do? Everybody’s going to disappear!”

PR:  Mm hmm. 

JK:  And no one reacted. It was as if all of a sudden I realized we’re beginning to be free …

PR:  That first step. I hope that maybe the films and their content had something to do with that, because the storylines were always positive. I only made one downer film, and that was Joe Adair, who you mentioned earlier, and that was called A Matter of Life, where there’s a suicide at the end. I don’t know why I did that. I think he talked me into it. He says, this is a great drama, and I want to act, and all this. So I went along with that. But the films were otherwise all positive, all up, all I think honest. And that part of it, because of their popularity, was picked up by the press, which was particularly endearing to me, the fact that these little films that were made on such a small budget and that managed to go in this nice little homey theater and do so well, that the press – and I’m talking about not just the gay press, but then like the Los Angeles Times, Look Magazine, Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, were reviewing them and reviewing them well. I never got a bad review on the films. And there were some really interesting things that were said about them. I think I had some blowups made and I think I’ve given those huge blowups of those reviews to you for the Archives. 

Ron and Chuck in Disneyland Discovery (1969)


PR:  So in a way, the films itself made me kind of a gay liberationist, because of how they were done, the fact they were up front, that they were the first really overt gay films with nudity in a public theater, and that they had something to say that was positive. And that – I’ve had a number of people tell me that “I came out because of your films.” I can’t tell you, the letters, the phone calls, the things like that. “They made me feel like I was not alone.” “They gave me a real positive feeling about myself because I could relate to the people on the screen.” I just can’t tell you, they have done, they have changed people’s lives, and that made me feel very good.

JK:  They frequently had a … quality and the sort of romantic idealism that the Disney films had at their best, and the MGM musicals of the ‘30s and ‘40s had at their best, where many of us growing up looked on the screen and saw all of this solid heterosexual idealism and just wished that we could see ourselves, our own kind, dancing through the same kind of thing, and in your films for the first time, that happened. [...]

PR:  ...As the films went on and I was going from story to story, I started doing some interjecting of news events rather than just stories, male-oriented gay stories with nudity. The very first gay march in Los Angeles that I’m aware of, which went from Olvera Street to the California State Building, was photographed in sound, and those speeches are recorded. No one else showed up of any media kind, so some of those early films of marches and demonstrations that were used in film programs, along with the other films, became the first historical films to be made of what was happening in Los Angeles, as far as people growing up and saying, “Hey, listen to me. I’m gay and I’m not — I don’t feel bad about it.”

Learn More

Discover the Pat Rocco Collection at UCLA, which features his gay erotic shorts, features, documentaries and home movies, approximately 700 items.

Search the Pat Rocco Papers at the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives, which include photographs, scripts and other documents related to Rocco's career.