Born in Long Beach in 1941, Fred Halsted said that although they were working class and he had to help with agricultural jobs to earn money for his mom, he grew up in "paradise. A life of being free. As a kid I was able to run naked through a hundred miles of orange groves in fragrant bloom." He maintained his joy in plants -- majoring in botany at L.A. State, owning a nursery in El Monte, doing gardening work for Joey Heatherton and Vincent Price -- but he couldn't yet regain that youthful sexual freedom. He said he was a petit bourgeois and "the biggest closet queen you can be" and even a raw entrapment by the vice squad in 1967 didn't change him. What finally shattered him was RFK's assassination. After that, he decided he wanted to make the world a better place, and make a lot of money, through porn, including the first ever depictions of certain hardcore S/M acts.
Long before video and digital, Halsted spent three years shooting film for L.A. Plays Itself. It was 1972 and he says his was the first gay porn to be told from a sadist's point of view. It was definitely the first to be screened like an art film for big name New York critics. And surely the first to have a sex scene with no sex -- just shots of WeHo traffic while you hear the voice of an older top and young hayseed negotiating their needs. Halsted also arranged a screening for "all these gay liberationists, writers and other artists." Guess what? Hated it! He said "they expected me to give them a poem to sexual virginity... I thought they’d been around, but they acted like they’d never seen a cock before." Soon enough, financial success and critical acclaim caught up with him; his vision helped define the macho man gay look of the 1970s and still today the only hardcore movies in the Film Collection of MoMA are Halsted's L.A. Plays Itself and Sex Garage. But the 80s were a bad time for him, with more commercialized, video porn, his worsening alcoholism, and the advent of aids, which killed his long-time lover, onscreen co-star, and tormentor, Joey Yale, in 1986. Halsted shot himself in the head in 1989. Read William E. Jones' book Halsted Plays Himself published last year by Semiotext(e).