The opening ...
"The Bijou Theater opened in September 1970, but it wasn't an adult theater when it opened. Actually, now I come to think about it, I opened it with only one program for two weeks and then it became a gay theater. I opened it with Richard Nixon's Checkers speech, where Pat Nixon was in the back looking like a cardboard cut-out, and Checkers was the name of his dog, and he was telling how no-one was going to kick Richard Nixon around anymore. We showed that and the Bijou became a gay theater two weeks later.
"The Bijou was going to go gay in the first place, but I couldn't get a license if I told the city it was going to be an adult theater. So when they asked me what kind of theater it would be, I said it was going to be an art house, so the first program was Richard Nixon's Checkers speech. After I got the license they couldn't do anything to stop me. That's just how things were back then.
"There was no other gay life down in the Wells Street area back then. The only gay organization was Mattachine. The Stonewall Riots were in 1969 and we opened six months to a year after that, and there wasn't any recognition of gay life except quiet bars where you had to knock on the door or they had certain dress codes."
The movies ...
"Within the first two years we showed Boys in the Sand and then other films that were coming out of New York and California. They were all put together quickly. Most of them were just sex films to begin with, there wasn't much of a story line. The reason for that was that nobody wanted to make a large investment into making a movie, they didn't know what was going to happen.
"Then around 1972 in Illinois and, I think, in New York too, two men were allowed to dance together without being arrested. You see, the police would come into bars and because men couldn't have contact, the dancefloor would clear. The police would go into the bathroom and if somebody went for a pee they would arrest them for exposure. Well, of course, you've got to get your dick out when your peeing.
"During that whole period of time when they passed these laws saying it was discrimination to arrest two men or two women who danced together, a whole bunch of things opened up. People started making investments in adult gay films. They felt that things were changing and people started making investments of $20-$30,000 to make a movie, which today would be around $110 -$120,000.
"At that time the only movies you could buy were the 8 mm films and there was a couple of companies who did those: Brentwood and Falcon. Other than that the only other place you could see an adult film was in a gay theater. Gay movies meant gay theater.
"At the Bijou we had a little bit of cruising in the back and the bathrooms, then in '78 I put some booths in and they went over well. It was around 1981 that I opened up the second floor."
Making movies ...
"I started making movies around 1972. We were doing some in California and then we were shooting some in Chicago. Here in Chicago we shot on location in the woods where people wouldn't be, and we were shooting 15 minute films, which were called loops at that time. In California it was a little bit easier so we shot features back then."
Finding actors ...
"In California it was much easier than it was in Chicago. In California it was easier to advertise to find people, San Francisco and West Hollywood in Los Angeles. At that time San Francisco and New York were the gay Mecca's. There was a lot more freedom out there because of the concentration of gays and especially those gays demanding recognition, more than in Chicago."
Then came video ...
"When video came along it was so much easier to make a film because you could see exactly what you shot at that moment. With film you had to wait for it to get back from the lab after being developed. So a lot of times you tried to shoot a film in two or three days and you would maybe get it back two or three weeks later. So we stopped shooting with film and went over to video."
Bijou video ...
"I bought 80 percent of the better companies in the '70s and '80s. I knew all the distributors back then. In the '80s they started coming out with less and less gay 16 mm movies, so the few adult film houses started closing up. You pretty much had the Century Theaters in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the Knob Hill in San Francisco, then you had two or three theaters in New York and the Bijou in Chicago. There was also another theater in San Francisco that I owned called Savages. As the '80s went on all the theaters changed over to video, except some of the theaters in New York didn't change over and they went out of business. So there became less and less theaters around the country showing films.
"Today there's the Knob Hill, the Bijou and I think there's a theater in New York. The world had changed and you could now pick up an adult film in a bookstore or rent them in a video store, so the theater became like a dinosaur, there was no reason to go there to watch a movie."
Future historians take note: The memory section in this column contains just that— memories—and are only to be used as a starting point for your research. Send your stories to Sukie de la Croix at Windy City Times. You can leave a message on his voicemail at 773-871-7610. He interviews over the phone, in person, or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org