AN UNFORTUNATE MISTAKE
FRANK: I don’t know why I did it. You first see it as a stupid joke, a “Yeah, wouldn’t it be funny if I did that?” But then the consequences aren’t factored in, you know? Maybe I was being fatalistic. Maybe I thought that my career was over. I know that I needed the money. I don’t know.
VITTORIO DE KINKA, ADULT FILM DIRECTOR: They happened to be having a Stars of Yesteryear convention at the same hotel as the adult film expo that we were having, at the same time. It made for some great moments in the lobby. I remember Nina Hartley and one of the Darrins from Bewitched getting into this complete shouting match – you see, they had adjoining rooms and one of Nina’s vibrators was making way too much noise. The damn vibrator was keeping him awake at night. What planning by that hotel! Anyway, I end up running into Belmondo while waiting in line to check in.
FRANK: So, I’m waiting in line to check into the hotel, and I’m looking around, and I joke, “This looks like a goddamned porno convention in here. This guy, Vittorio, turns around and tells me that it is. For a moment I think that I’m in the wrong hotel, but I’m reassured that I’m not and that everything’s okay.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: I realize who Frank is, and I notice that he’s a decent-looking guy, tall, relatively fit. So I say half-jokingly, “Have you ever thought of a career in adult films?” He laughs, politely says no, but you can tell that he’s seriously thinking about my question. I’ve piqued his interest.
FRANK: I had never pictured myself as an adult film star. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got the goods, believe me. It’s just that I never saw that as a career. But my agent, Buck, wasn’t getting me any work. The last thing that he set up for me, he had me go to this producer’s house in Malibu for a meet-and-greet and all the guy wanted to see was me playing ping-pong in my underwear. As you can obviously guess, I wasn’t too happy about that.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: He took my card, but I wasn’t expecting to hear from him. A week later, I get a call from him. We set up a meeting, he comes to my office in Van Nuys, and the first thing that comes out of his mouth is, “I’ve been reading a lot of Tennessee Williams lately.” I had no idea where he was going with this, but I was intrigued.
FRANK: I spent that week from the time that I met Vittorio to our meeting in his office watching nothing but porn. You know, as research. I had watched about 32 of them, straight porn, girl-on-girl, fetish, midgets, the whole thing. What I noticed was that every one of those films had the same problem – poor story structure. So, I say to myself, where do you find good story structure? The classics. Not necessarily Shakespeare, that would be too bold and Shakespeare’s been run around the block too many times. But Pinter, Chekhov, Tennessee Williams…there’s a way to make those work; I’d just have to add fucking.
Frank presented to de Kinka the concept of taking classic theatre pieces and turning them into adult films. De Kinka immediately embraced the concept and two titles were put into pre-production, both based on plays by Williams. Frank would write, co-produce and appear in both productions, The Ass Menagerie and A Street-Ho Named Desiree.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: Normally, pre-production would last about three or four days, tops. Scripts are written on the fly. But with this one we decided to give Frank some time to develop these pieces. I felt that these two films would be a breakthrough in the adult film industry, sort of like how Deep Throat opened up the public to…uh, deep throating. Not only that, but having someone like Frank involved – say what you want, he’s still somewhat of a celebrity – and his involvement in the project adds a level of intrigue to the project. I paid Frank an advance immediately – I wasn’t going to lose this idea. Then I told him to start cracking.
FRANK: Buck wasn’t happy with my decision. But it was more money that I had gotten from him in the last year.
LEONARD “BUCK” FENITA: I represent quite a diverse group of individuals – clowns, magicians, pet psychics – but I don’t work in porno. Even an agent must have his limits. It was time to cut ties with Frank.
FRANK: It was sad to lose Buck, but there are times when a young actor has to say to himself, “I don’t need guidance. I have to make business decisions on my own.” I know, I know what you’re thinking, I don’t have a formal education and I’ve never actually handled my own money, but I’ve lived, okay? That should be enough.
Frank was given two months to create a first draft of Menagerie; Desiree would come later. Frank took his advance and drove up to Carmel, California, a town best known as the one in which Clint Eastwood was once their mayor. Frank rented a cabin, which gave him the time to be alone with his thoughts.
FRANK: During my time in Carmel, I had originally planned to eat only food that I had caught, so I brought my crossbow and rod-and-reel. But then I realized that Carmel was more of a resort town, and that crossbow hunting wasn’t an option. Also, I usually only fish for sport, as I’m not much of a fish-eater. Besides, I found out that Carmel has some really nice restaurants up there, top-notch, and I wasn’t going to let that opportunity go to waste.
Meanwhile, down in Van Nuys, a great amount of buzz was being created over the new project.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: We started a word-of-mouth campaign that started getting everyone in the industry very excited. Several of the top actresses in the business so much wanted to be a part of the project that they started taking actual acting classes. Method acting! You never hear about that.
LEZLEY PUNANI, ADULT FILM STARLET: In my class, it was the first time that I started performing in pieces where there were four-syllable words other than “penetration”.
AL GOLDSTEIN, PUBLISHER, SCREW MAGAZINE: I was very curious to see how Belmondo would combine the Southern lyricism of Tennessee Williams with hot girl-on-girl action.
But during this time in Carmel, Frank learned that writing a script for an adult film was not going to be easy.
FRANK: After struggling for several weeks with the script for Menagerie, I decided to write down a list of issues that I was having with the script.
FRANK’S LIST OF ISSUES WITH THE SCRIPT OF THE ASS MENAGERIE
- Tennessee Williams was a really good writer. Don’t want to cheapen his work with a poorly-written script.
- Only four characters in The Glass Menagerie. Three of them are family. Will need to add more characters so the whole thing doesn’t get creepy. Consider adding lesbians.
- Should probably change references to the pre-World War II climate to something more current. Perhaps Operation Desert Storm could have a few sexual connotations.
- Instead of having a collection of glass animal figurines, Laura’s collection could be Kama Sutra statues. Possible co-promotion there. Remember to talk to Vittorio about that.
- Laura’s weak leg will not work in an adult film. Give her another ailment. Nymphomania? Or maybe the weak leg could bring in a kink audience. Tough call.
FRANK: For a while there, I was thinking that I should have tried Jane Austen, instead. But I’m not a quitter.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: When Frank came back from Carmel, he only had 29 pages completed, and he had gained 12 pounds. Don’t get me wrong, there was some brilliant stuff in those 29 pages, but there was only one sex scene and it was in the missionary position, for crying out loud. Let’s face it, most people fall asleep after ten minutes of an adult film – they do their business and that’s it. If we were trying to create something that transcends the genre, we can’t have them falling asleep through five minutes without even doing their business. That’ll just make people angry.
FRANK: I realized that I had to get focused. I agreed to pump up the sexual content, which, it turns out, was surprisingly easy – when Amanda talks about the day that she received seventeen gentlemen callers in a single afternoon, make it a three-way flashback; when Laura is polishing her figurines, morph it into a sex fantasy; when Tom says he’s going to the movies, have him go to a bordello, instead. It all started to come together. I didn’t realize how easy it was to turn Tennessee Williams into hard-core porn. Maybe I just had a block in Carmel.
But while the writing was going much better for Frank, there was still one hurdle for him to clear – acting in an adult film.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: Yes, Frank had acted before, it’s true. But acting in an adult film is much, much different. It takes a certain kind of…mental toughness, let’s say…to handle it. We decided that we needed Frank to appear in a smaller-scale scenario, just to see what he can do.
The producers of the film had a meeting and it was agreed that Frank would appear in a test scene with veteran adult film starlet Holland Tunnell. The scene would be shot one week from the day of the meeting.
VITTORIO DI KINKA: For the test scene, we had problems right from the beginning. First, Frank insisted that he wear a Mexican wrestling mask during the entire scene.
FRANK: I was always a big fan of Mil Mascaras, the old-time Mexican wrestler. It was a tribute, really.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: The next thing, he wanted the scene shot in 70MM film. Do you know how expensive that would be? We’re not shooting Ben-Hur, and, last time I checked, my name wasn’t Vittorio Spielberg. He also wanted, Jesus Christ, the original cast recording of Sunday in the Park with George. Not to mention, his performance, well…
HOLLAND TUNNELL, ADULT FILM STARLET: The guy screwed so bad…it was like watching a dog trying to drive a car. He had no idea what he was doing.
FRANK: I have to admit, I was nervous. I also was trying to do a couple of new things that I read in a book. I wanted to take adult films to somewhere it hadn’t gone before. Maybe I was overreaching.
HOLLAND TUNNELL: At one point I think he was trying to stick his dick in my ear. A Chinese virgin with the hiccups would’ve had a better performance. It was like watching Jean Van de Velde in the 1999 British Open, what a choke. I’m a big golfing fan, by the way.
VITTORIO DE KINKA: This put us in a delicate situation. We needed Frank to appear in a film, to build up some credibility in the market. Also, we wanted Frank to feel like he was still involved in the process. My production crew sat down and we came up with Frankie Belmondo’s Peephole Classics.
The idea behind the project was to put Frank in voyeuristic scenarios where he would walk in on sexual situations. Frank would act as an investigative reporter studying the sex lives of suburban America. But even that proved to be difficult, as Frank had constant squabbles on-set with di Kinka.
The following is an excerpt from newly-discovered behind-the-scenes footage from the filming of Frankie Belmondo’s Peephole Classics, Vol. 1:
DI KINKA: Okay, Frank, you’re going to walk through the door and you’ll see Rebecca and Tiffany on the dining room table. Then you say your line. You know your line?
FRANK: Sure. (louder) Hey, that’s a vagina!
DI KINKA: Good, good.
FRANK: Hey, V, I was wondering, what’s my motivation for this scene?
DI KINKA: Your motivation?
FRANK: Yeah, what am I feeling at this moment?
DI KINKA: I know what motivation means.
FRANK: Oh, sorry. So, what’s my motivation?
DI KINKA: You’re surprised to see a vagina.
FRANK: I see, I see. What if I said the line as, “Say, that’s a vagina!”
DI KINKA: No, no, I think “Hey” works much better.
FRANK: Okay…but what about a trumpet?
DI KINKA: A trumpet?
FRANK: A trumpet. Wouldn’t it be great if – hear me out on this one – after I say the line, you have a trumpet going WINK-wah, sort of like a Laugh-In kind of moment. Give the scene a little levity.
DI KINKA: (long pause) I don’t think so.
FRANK: Uh, okay, maybe you’re right.
Di Kinka walks away, the CLAPPER stands in front of camera with the clapboard.
CLAPPER: Peephole Classics, scene four, take one.
DI KINKA: And…action!
Rebecca and Tiffany, both naked, start making love to each other on top of the dining room table. Moments later, Frank barges into the room.
FRANK: Hey, that’s a – you know what, V, I’m not feeling this line reading.
VITTORIO DI KINKA: We realized that Frank was just not cut out for an acting role in one of our films. It just wasn’t going to work.
FRANK: To be told that you’re not a good enough actor for porn…that, that’s just something that’s really hard to take. It was definitely a low point in my career,
VITTORIO DI KINKA: We were just going to produce the Menagerie script for Frank, but then the estate of Tennessee Williams got word of our production and all hell broke loose. They threatened us with lawsuits; it would’ve been quite ugly. It’s a shame, really. He may not be able to act in adult films, but he could write one hell of a script. It would have moved adult films into a whole new realm. Imagine…legitimate scripts with real acting…
FRANK: At that point I was adrift, searching for some guidance. I guess that I was susceptible to temptation, and that’s when Martina appeared.
MARTINA SUNSHINE, MEMBER, THE SOLEMN VOW: I saw Frank on the Venice Boardwalk. We recruit members there. Usually, they’re homeless teenagers or drug addicts, people lost in the world, so we saw getting Frank to join our collective as being a real coup. The Solemn Vow’s goal is to help people find spiritual harmony within the universe through our teachings and give them a sense of self-worth.
FRANK: I just thought that Martina was really cute, and that we could hang out, that’s all.
(To see Chapter 11, click here)
(To see Chapter 11, click here)