Legendary pornographer talks rough trade, homeless lovers, and spontaneous erections
Twenty years ago, David Hurles was rolling in cash. He had spent the better half of his life photographing and filming the surliest, dirtiest rough trade motherfuckers the West Coast had to offer and selling these photos and videos under the name Old Reliable Tape and Picture Company. His fans ranged from patron of filth John Waters to cerebral playboy Gore Vidal. He lived the sweet life in a gigantic home in the Hollywood Hills. When I met David two years ago, things had soured a bit. He shared an apartment with his longhaired 30-something boyfriend, Mykey, much closer to Hollywood Blvd. than the Hollywood Hills. They survived off of David’s Social Security checks and occasional government-issued cans of food, generically printed with the names of their contents – FISH, CHICKEN, BEEF.
Today, David is the most popular resident of a state funded nursing home in East Hollywood. Having suffered a stroke over a year ago, he spends his days in bed, listening to the constant noise of his roommates’ TVs, sleeping and gossiping with his close friend, and de facto caregiver, Dian Hanson[i]. The place is a dump, really, mere miles from the palace that porn built, but David isn’t altogether bitter. Sure, he’s pissed – understandably so – but if you catch him at the right time, you’ll find him transported to another place in his memory, a place where the rough trade runs free. With a retrospective of David’s outsider porn photos (curated by John Waters) set to open at Marianne Boesky gallery in New York in June, and a Joe Gage-directed documentary about him in the works, I sat down with David to find out just what got him to where he is today.
When was the last time you got laid?
Ah, that was a homeless person in the Hills. It’s been at least two years, because I’ve been in here over a year.
Do you remember his name?
Ha! No. But his whole chest was tattooed. It said, ‘I Hate Hollywood Police.’
Was it any good?
It was very good – very good. I should remember his name. He was 48 years old – an exciting youngster. Before, I probably would have said he was too old, but not any longer. Still, he’s almost a record. I didn’t make a career of shooting older men. On the contrary, I made a career of shooting younger men. It was very hard.
How did you meet him?
Well, he lived up in the Hollywood Hills in a homeless encampment – yeah, tents, sleeping bags. It was sort of a M*A*S*H unit.
Did you just bring him over to your house?
I had to use an intermediary – it took six months. I used Joe, who lived in the homeless encampment. Joe is a 45 year-old homeless man. Well, Joe arranged it. Joe understood me. Joe was straight. He saw my longing.
So that was the last time.
Yeah, that was the last time that I can remember.
Two years ago?
Yeah, about. A time or two of opportunity occurred after that. I had the opportunity, but I didn’t take it.
Would you do it, if you had it to do over again?
Dian [Hanson] and I talked about this. I would if I could, but I don’t know if I can. I assume a few things would fall into place.
It’s like riding a bike, huh?
Yeah. I don’t have wet dreams. I don’t have desire. I don’t have anything. It’s just turned off. But I do get spontaneous erections.
If you had to guess, how many guys would you say you’ve slept with?
At least a thousand – possibly more. Generally, they fall into three types; all the boys on Polk St., all the hustlers, and all the models. You just have to add the groups together. During the heyday on Polk St., I was sleeping with two a day, or more. I had no shame about sex, but neither did anybody else. Ah yes, Polk St. was sweet heaven.
So you were in San Francisco in the late 1960s. That was before you started taking pictures, right? Yeah, I was just a normal person then.
And then you went to Washington and you met Lynn Womack[ii], the man behind the erotic publishing company The Guild Press, right? That was the best investment I ever made – investing in myself.
You fucked him, right?
Well, the other way around. It was a very cold winter night in Washington. We were alone in his house. We drank, we talked, we drank. It was leading up to something. What could I do? He was certainly not desirable, but I had to think of my career. The alternative was out into the cold night. He was really a nice man. Usually when I’m going to fuck, nice has nothing to do with it. But he eventually led me to the guest room. He said, ‘Come with me,’ and we got into his king-sized bed – I gritted my teeth.
Did you ever turn tricks after that?
Once, in San Francisco. I didn’t have any rent. I went down to Flag Brothers shoe store on Market Street. That was a good place to go because you had a lot of room out there on the sidewalk to stand. I didn’t know what to do, but I needed $15 for rent. I remember the first old man who came down. I said I wanted $15. He acted like I was crazy. ‘Fifteen-dollars?’ He said, ‘Who do you think you are?’ I was devastated. I didn’t want to have to do it twice.
So did you?
No, he eventually came up with the money.
You must have been good. Boy, was I good.
You know the first time I looked you up, I came across an excerpt from an article in the Washington Post that said, ‘Model, David Hurles, who performs auto-fellatio in his films…’ Well you’re certainly the only person I know who’s shown up in the Washington Post for sucking his own dick. Oh yes, the Washington Post. I was in there one time. I was a witness at a federal trial for Dr. Lynn Womack – he asked me to, I was his friend. The trial was for obscenity. I didn’t have to be a witness either and we didn’t get any further than my name. I took the Fifth. But, I had to go back three times. I’d fly back to San Francisco and I’d get notice that they had scheduled another appearance. That’s the government for you.
Is that when you started taking pictures?
I was already taking pictures. I just wasn’t making any money.
When did the money start rolling in?
After I met Dr. Womack. He paid me $100 a session, which was a good deal. I was in heaven. At that point in San Francisco that was a good career.
Not only were you paid $100 to photograph these guys, but you were really getting paid to sleep with them, too. Oh yeah, I would pay the models $15 a session.
So you paid them $15, but you got paid $100? You were getting at least twice as much out of it as anybody else.
Yeah, more or less. That’s when I learned about the sacredness of sex. It was available in quantity. You see, the government just allowed nudity in magazines. Womack had a press, and he took all I could produce. So I started producing non-stop – a couple times a day.
So you shoot two guys a day, and you had sex with all of them?
Most of them. I remember one boy turning me down. He wanted to be a model not whore. He picked the wrong vocation.
How many of your models were prostitutes?
Almost all. Almost all had no problem with having sex – they had a hard-on anyway. And the models came from everywhere; Downtown, Haight St., model agencies, people bringing their friends, Flag Brothers, the Strand Theatre…
It seems like there was a non-stop flow of talent. It was San Francisco in the 1960s.
So how did you get your models in LA?
Well, first of all, I worked for DSI, which was mail-order nakedness – porno.
Did you see a big difference between the system here, and the system in SF?
I hadn’t shot that many out here, but Conrad, who was one of the owners of DSI, switched tricks with hustlers. LA was full of pornographers shooting Vietnam Veterans. There were no better models than Marines.
Why were they such good models?
They weren’t strung out.
But don’t you like that crack-y look?
Of course I do, but I didn’t know it yet.
What is it about the crack body that turns you on?
It’s lean and it smells good.
What does it smell like?
Sweat and flesh.
I’d say that’s a pretty unusual predilection.
It is original – not that many people are turned on by the crack-body.
One of Mr. Hurles’ classic Old Reliable subjects
So you moved to LA… I moved to LA in ‘68. I was a model myself, for Hal Call[iii]. He introduced me to Conrad [at DSI].
Is that where you took your famous auto-fellatio pictures?
Indeed it was.
You were pretty popular. Not deservedly. I was a mediocre model and Hal Call was a mediocre photographer. I was on the cover of ‘Bobby Bears Boys,’ a magazine of average guys.
Where did you learn to take pictures, then?
I used to shoot weddings when I was in Ohio and took classes through a famous mail-order school. I couldn’t afford it and had to drop out. That’s when I moved to California.
What was your favorite kind of model? Breathing. I was actually a muscle queen. I liked good bodies. Not crazy muscle – just good bodies, just natural bodies.
Natural boys and speed freaks… I didn’t know that I liked speed freaks. That didn’t come until the 70s. A model informed me. His name was rabbit and he said, ‘Dear old dad you like us [junkies].’ He was right. I was appalled. I didn’t believe him, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind.
Don’t junkies come with a little bit of extra baggage? They do, but they were available. I had no idea that the boys I wanted were speed freaks. Yes, I knew they were speed freaks. No, I didn’t think I liked them.
But, those are the guys who made you famous. Yes they are, because I knew who they were. When I knew that I liked them, it made my job easier.
What made it easier? Well, I didn’t have to fool myself. When I was with a boy and he took off his clothes I knew he was trouble from the looks of him. I knew that he was going to take the money for drugs. And I knew he was going to be available. But I could deal with it. I could deal with the baggage. They were nice boys, turned aside by society. They were my people. They were nice to me.
So did you ever get robbed?
Sure I did. Many times, but I never got hurt – never got hit. They’d kill many people, but not me. They liked me somehow, because I respected them. If they gave me the creeps I avoided them.
How do you gauge who’s creepy and who’s not?
It’s a sixth sense. Not everybody has it. That’s how they end up dead. There are a lot of tombstones.
[i] Before making a name for herself as the editor of such timeless classics at Bob’sWorld: The Life and Boys of AMG’s Bob Mizer and Tom of Finland XXL, Dian Hanson ruled the roost as America’s reigning queen of printed smut. As an editor for Mavety Media, she stood at the helm of esteemed publications like Juggs, Leg Show, and Oui. She and David met during the making of her piece de resistance, The Big Penis Book.
[ii] Aka: Henry Lynn Womack, PhD. The rotund albino was constantly entangled with the federal government over obscenity laws. During one such imbroglio, he was rumored to have avoided jail time by arguing insanity, thanks to the American Psychiatric Associations categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness. Very clever, Dr. Womack.
[iii] Aside from his work as the editor of the Mattachine Society’s in-house publication, the Mattachine Review, Call was also a staunch assimilationist, pornographer, sex club proprietor, and publisher of such flaming masterpieces as A Cretan’s Adventure and Camel’s Farewell.