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April 02, 2017

Pioneering Adult Director Radley Metzger Passes

NEW YORK—Radley Metzger, one of the early pioneers of the modern adult cinema, died at his home in Manhattan on March 31 from as-yet undisclosed causes. He was 88 years old. Metzger's first "official" hardcore movie was The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, which he directed under the name "Henry Paris," Henry being Metzger's middle name and Paris one of his favorite cities—he'd shot several of his features in Europe. However, even before Pamela, his works often touched on sexuality in one way or another, beginning with 1964's Dictionary of Sex, a compilation of sexy material from at least six mainstream European films. Having begun his career editing trailers for foreign art film distributor Janus Films, Metzger was much better known for such non-hardcore classics as Therese and Isabelle (1968), starring Danish actress Essy Persson, who had already gained a bit of fame in the U.S. with early (1965) Danish sexploitation pic I, A Woman. Metzger edited the film for U.S. distribution, and credited as the film "that was going to change not only my company's life but the course of independent film distribution in America." I, A Woman apparently inspired Metzger to put more sexual situations into his films, leading to such classics as Camille 2000 (based on the Alexander Dumas novel The Lady of the Camelias) and The Lickerish Quartet, a story about a wealthy couple and their son who watch a sexy movie, then discover its lead actress performing in a local circus and invite her home to feature in each's personal fantasy. All three of these titles were filmed in Europe, as was his next film, Little Mother, an early send-up of the life of Eva "Evita" Peron, the wife of South American dictator Juan Peron. The "company" whose life I, A Woman had changed was Audubon Films, which Metzger had founded with longtime partner Ava Leighton, and which, according to adult film historian Ashley West, creator of the adult industry history site The Rialto Report, "became a pioneer in the production and distribution of his, and others', erotic films." Metzger's next film was another sexual potboiler, Score, which West notes was "an adaptation of a stage play, which he shot in Yugoslavia." "The film contained mildly explicit sequences but wasn't successful—at least not as successful as the new hardcore films that had started to play in competing theaters," West wrote in a press release regarding Metzger's death. "It marked a sea change in Radley’s career: 'Suddenly nobody cared about what we’d been doing. The rules had changed. We resisted X-rated movies. We felt we were way above that sort of thing. Finally we succumbed and decided to do an X-rated feature.'" That feature was the first Henry Paris film, 1974's The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann, starring Barbara Bourbon as a hypersexual married woman whose husband has hired private eye Eric Edwards to follow and report on her sexual liaisons, which he films with an early helmetcam. According to West, the film was shot in six days in Manhattan, but "In some respects nothing had changed [from Metzger's earlier works]: all the elements, such as his fascination with the ennui of the sophisticated, were still there." (AVN reviewed the movie here.) Metzger's/Paris' next film was 1975's Naked Came The Stranger, whose title mirrored the then-popular "confession" novel penned in 1969 by "Penelope Ashe"—actually a collection of 24 journalists under the editorship of Newsday reporter Mike McGrady, who had set out to prove that "any book could succeed if enough sex was thrown in." Metzger's film, though, had nothing to do with the novel. As AVN noted in its review, "The story concerns Long Island-based drive-time radio hosts Gilly and Billy Blake, played by top stars Darby Lloyd Rains and Levi Richards. Their life together seems friendly enough if humdrum, but unbeknownst to Darby—at least until she tries to wake up his cock one morning and he mumbles her name—Levi's got a babe on the side: The baby-talking Phyllis, his office assistant, played by Mary Stuart." The full review can be read here. But Metzger's/Paris' best known films were yet to come: The Opening of Misty Beethoven (1976), a sexual send-up of the musical My Fair Lady, which itself was taken from George Bernard Shaw's play Pygmalion. The film, which received AVN's highest rating, stars Jamie Gillis as a wealthy sex researcher who makes a bet that he can take a trampy, Parisian street whore (Constance Money, in her XXX debut) and turn her into an exquisite, $1,000-a-night society callgirl, and win the Golden Rod Girl award at an annual, high-society party/orgy. He sets to work, transforming the woman from a loose-lipped, twangy-voiced, dumpy waif into a glamorous, sensual sex goddess. A full review of the movie can be found here. Another major Metzger/Paris opus was 1977's Barbara Broadcast, whose title character, played by Annette Haven, has been expelled from her native Puerto Rico for sex crimes and, as the movie opens, has come to the U.S. and written about them, bringing her fame and fortune—and lots of sex. (The full review can be read here.) One of the most fascinating things about Barbara Broadcast, however, was its setting: the lobby of the Royal Manhattan Hotel—now the Milford Plaza—in midtown Manhattan, which was stocked with dining tables upon which a multitude of sex acts took place, just a few feet from passersby on New York City sidewalks. In fact, Metzger's attention to detail can hardly be overstated. With an apparently natural flair for art direction, each of his movies is a visual feast both artistically and sexually, probably best represented by Misty Beethoven and Barbara Broadcast, at least as far as XXX productions, and Camille 2000 and Lickerish Quartet have also been praised by critics for their look as well as their plot and acting. The final star-filled Metzger/Paris offering was 1978's Maraschino Cherry, featuring Gloria Leonard in the title role as a top-drawer Manhattan madam who tries to teach her younger sister (Jenny Baxter) the (sexual) ropes. Metzger retired the Paris nom de porn after this film (except for a 1981 comp titled The World of Henry Paris), and went on to film 1987's The Cat and the Canary, a mainstream murder mystery/horror comedy starring Honor Blackman, best known for her roles in TV's The Avengers and the James Bond film Goldfinger. However, Metzger wasn't done with XXX. According to West, "He told me how he’d returned to X-rated films incognito years after making the five hardcore Henry Paris films. The 'missing' films were The Tale of Tiffany Lust (1979) and Aphrodesia’s Diary [aka The Princess and the Call Girl] (1984). Neither were credited to him as he feared at the time they would compromise his efforts to establish a mainstream career. He slowly opened up about them, saying that French backers had financed them and he’d made them for the money. Now, over thirty years later, it seemed he may be finally willing to accept authorship." West will be writing daily for the next week at The Rialto Report about his memories of Metzger, with whom he had lunch on a weekly basis, and about whom he said, "[L]et’s not mince words. Radley was the reason for the Rialto Report. It wouldn’t exist without him. He was the alpha and omega of the industry for us." For example, West recounts an incident that occurred during one of those lunches at Manhattan's Palace Diner: "Sometimes Radley’s failing hearing meant that he would discuss his films rather loudly, which could be unnerving when talking about the mechanics of how he directed a particular sex scene. "On one occasion, a fellow diner overheard our conversation, and sent over a note to us saying that he was honored to be in a restaurant at the same time as 'such a legendary filmmaker' whom he’d long idolized. He insisted on paying for our food. "I still have the scribbled message. It goes on: "For years I have followed your career and appreciated the artistry that you brought to the field of X-rated films. You took risks and you were brave. I know I will look back and remember today with great happiness. I will be able to proudly say, 'I remember the day I ate in the same diner as Gerard Damiano.' "Radley stood up, went over to the fan, and thanked him for liking his films." "We laughed all the way down Park Avenue." But the fact is, Metzger was finally recognized for his incredible (and incredibly beautiful) work. "Metzger’s work has received numerous awards, honored in retrospectives, most recently at the Lincoln Center in New York, and is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)," West wrote, concluding his press release with, "He is survived by his daughter, nephew and nieces. A private funeral service will be held by the family. An announcement regarding a public memorial will be made at a later date." Pictured, l-r: Radley Metzger and Andy Warhol; photo courtesy of The Rialto Report.

 
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