Graver was beloved in Hollywood. He learned filmmaking in Vietnam, in the Navy Combat Camera Crew. He worked for Roger Corman, shot countless horror classics, and photographed Ronnie Howard's first spin as a director in 1977's original Grand Theft Auto!
Just a few years ago, he appeared at American Cinematheque with Peter Bogdanovich and Oya Kodar, Welles' executrix and last lover, to show fragments of Orson Welles late, unfinished movies. He didn't have much time left.
But the talented D.P. had a secret. It's one of those old-fashioned secrets that half of Hollywood takes it for granted, while the other half is so intent on keeping it under wraps that it appears nowhere in the man's obituary.
Graver was memorialized everywhere, acclaimed in every paper from New York to L.A. But nowhere is it mentioned that for twenty years, Gary Graver directed and shot more than 135 erotic, X-rated films— several of which are considered among the best "adult" movies ever made: 3 AM, Amanda By Night, and V:The Hot One. The man is an Adult Industry Hall-of-Famer. The idea that people involved in Gary's legacy are covering up his true accomplishments because they're so prejudiced against sex is both mysterious and pathetic.
In porn, Gary Graver was known as Robert McCallum. He worked in the sex biz for twenty years, and as porn critic Mark Kernes wrote in AVN:
Nearly all of McCallum's better hardcore movies have been available continuously on videotape and later DVD since they were completed – which is more than can be said for many of his mainstream productions. In that sense, it could be argued that Graver's legacy in the adult industry is on a par with the bulk of his Hollywood accomplishments.
I worshiped Robert McCallum's work; I studied his porn like it was D.H. Lawrence with a lens. His first explicit feature, 3 A.M., became my inspiration for my own first big-feature erotic screenplay— the scenes between lesbian lovers "Violet and Corky" in the Wachowski Brother's Bound.
If you look at Bound, and then go watch McCallum's 3AM shower scene between Georgina Spelvin and Judith Hamilton, you will see where I got all my thrills. Georgina was the best actress porn ever had (Devil in Miss Jones) and Judith was her real girlfriend at the time. I sent a copy of that tape to Larry and Andy Wachowski, with the note: "watch the master at work."
As critic Jim Holliday wrote in Only The Best: "[3AM] succeeds not only as a sex film, but on a much higher level as well. In addition to the great acting and the solid story, there is a character development seldom seen in erotic films."
Graver's best porn work was from the era in the late 70s and early 80s when X-rated movies were still "allowed" to be heavy, to be dark. 3AM and V don't have sunny endings. The level of emotion, and in both these cases, loss, is something you'd never see in the perky popcorn of today's XXX. His cinematic style, the eroticism created by his camera and lighting, is unsurpassed. None of the contemporary young directors or actors in adult would even know how to pull it off. It's practically a lost art at this point, just like Orson's movie that is never going to be finished now.
Is Gary's surviving family ashamed of his erotic work? Does the Times think his full resumé is beyond the pale? What gives? It seems like a strange omission in today's film-geek atmosphere. What did Orson think of his blue work? Did Gary use the porn money to further Welles' unfinished work, or was it just the fun of sex, drugs, and rocknroll? Did Gary ever go on the record about his whole career; did he talk about his best erotic work?
Graver's horror movies were sometimes just as "silly," for better or worse, as anything he ever did with actors fucking on camera, and yet all his exploitation flicks are still on his official CV. I'd rather see 3 A.M. over Satan's Sadists any day of the week!
It's understood in Hollywood today that most of the legends have worked both sides of high and low culture. It's considered backward to think there's a definitive aesthetic difference! Can you imagine John Water's disowning Pink Flamingos?
Ten years ago when I choreographed and consulted on Bound, I wrote a story about how we put the erotic scenes and characters together.
I offer my essay here again, as my homage to Gary Graver's/Robert McCallum's legacy: how to show two beautiful, complicated women make love, and never let anyone forget it.
Sex Consultant to the Wachowski's on "Bound"
I've given a lot of tips to people about their love life over the years— but I can't say I've ever had the chance to watch and see if they actually followed my instructions to the letter.
That's what I found so satisfying about getting a job as a cinematic sex consultant— for once I got to ensure that all those techniques I raved about, my emphasis on the perfect caress— were played out to my most exacting standards. Yeah, it was sweet all right; I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with handing out free—not to mention unverified)— bedroom advice ever again.
I was the "technical consultant" to a movie that soaked many a critic’s wet test: Bound, starring Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly. It was the first-time feature from Matrix writer/directors Larry and Andy Wachowski, a film noir thriller about a pair of lesbian lovers who try to double-cross the mob.
What was so “technical” about this film? There's quite a bit of suspense and graphic violence— and I'm the kind of girl who can't even handle the buildup of a surprise birthday cake.
No, my expertise was developing the characters of the butch/femme lovers: Corky (a James Dean look-alike, recently paroled) and luscious Violet (a curvy mobster mistress).
It all started two years before the picture’s release with a modest little fan letter. I got a package from Larry and Andy, attached to a script, saying that they loved my writing. They held my early bible on dyke sex, Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World, in high esteem. They said they would be honored if I would consider making a cameo appearance in their new film.
"That's nice," I thought— and not to sound spoiled, but this invitation didn't electrify me. It seems everybody is making their own movie today— including me. I've been part of many an amateur production with untrained enthusiasm. I frequently get asked to pull my dress up over my head on camera, or write dialog for some experimental performance art. I once lent out my Spain-autographed thigh-high leather boots for a comrade's dominatrix documentary. While I applaud my friends' virtuosity, working on their movies was a grind, and I've become more discriminating.
Here's what was intriguing about Andy and Larry’s letter: the letterhead didn't sport their name. Instead, it was embossed: "Dino De Laurentis Studios." Quite a calling card. I decided to postpone loading the dishwasher and sat down with the script.
I didn't budge for the next hour except to scream between pages. It was one diabolical setup. The action was razor tight, the characters were whispering in my ears. This was fantastic writing. There was only one thing missing.
I wrote back to Mr. and Mr. Wachowski:
"Your script is outstanding. I'd be delighted to play your bar girl cameo. But if you don't think I'm too presumptuous, could I be your lesbian-sex consultant? I notice that whenever the two lovers fall into an embrace, it doesn't say exactly what happens next. On behalf of every movie-goer who can't live through another cornball lesbian love scene, could I please, please, give you my words of advice on what two women like this would do in bed together?"
They said yes. They may have even said, "Yahoo!...."
Continued in Susie Sexpert's Lesbian Sex World, "Sex Consultant to the Stars"
That's Gary with Orson, then Gina and Jennifer in a promo still from Bound, and finally below, a polaroid of me on the set before my big cameo with my one-word line: "Hello." Didn't Marilyn start that way too?