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The Pioneers

The pin-ups, porn stars, and provocateurs of San Francisco's sexual heyday.

Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight, Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon and Linda Martinez, 78, North Beach, artist, former nude model, actress, and muse

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Peter Berlin, 1974 and Linda Martinez, 1962

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

David Steinberg, 70, Tenderloin, former “Comes Naturally” columnist for the Spectator, Erotic by Nature Author, and photographer and Joani Blank, 77, Oakland, founder of Good Vibrations, publisher of Down There Press, and sex educator

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Joani Blank, 1977 and David Steinberg, 1988

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Fayette Hauser, 69, Los Angeles; Rumi Missabu, 66, Oakland; Sweet Pam, 65, Pacifica; and Scrumbly Koldewyn, 69, Oakland. Original members of the Cockettes, a psychedelic theater troupe

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Cockettes Fayette Hauser and Scrumbly Koldewyn, 1971

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Cockettes Rumi Missabu and Sweet Pam, 1971

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Jack Fritscher, 75, Noe Valley, former San Francisco editor-in-chief of Drummer, a magazine targeted at the gay leather and BDSM subculture and Annie Sprinkle, 60, Bernal Heights, former prostitute, stripper, porn star, and alternative sex film producer

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Peter Berlin, 72, Lower Haight Photographer, Filmmaker, and ’70s gay sexual icon

Jack Fritscher (with Robert Mapplethorpe), 1979 and Annie Sprinkle, 1995

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READ MORE: Stories about sex and love from the February issue of San Francisco magazine. 

 

What was San Francisco like back when the love was free and bountiful and taboos were made to be broken? We asked 10 veterans of the city's sexual revolutions for their remembrances. 

 

PETER BERLIN
I came to San Francisco in the ’70s because I was interested in having a good time and looking for sex. I had a very overt, blatantly sexual view of how a male should present himself: I sewed my own clothes and altered my pants so that the crotch and the ass and the legs were very much visible—but not naked. Every day, I walked about two miles from where I lived on Filbert Street to the YMCA, where I worked out for maybe 20 minutes. I became known as a person you might run into in the middle of the night, in a bar or the street or a train station. Sometimes I meet people who remember me from that time, and they say, “Oh my god, you were a vision!” It was a thrill to have that effect on people.

I liked how I looked, so it made perfect sense to turn the camera on myself. The image I created was, Look at me: I think I look good, and I will not apologize for it. That is what I was looking for in other people. I had thousands and thousands and thousands of sexual experiences. Not to brag, but that’s all I wanted. I didn’t want to go sit and have a coffee or a candlelight dinner. I never had a boyfriend—I had friends. All my friends started out as tricks.

I think that in 200 years or more, the separation between art and pornography will blur. I know that one day my photographs will be expensive, but all that doesn’t matter to me. You know what my legacy is? If you click on my name on the internet, there are hundreds and hundreds of images. My image is there forever. “But Peter,” they say, “why did you do what you did in life? You were just a pleasure seeker.” But what a time I had when I was Peter Berlin! I must say, my god, my life was great. I can’t wait to be reborn and be young again.

 

JOANI BLANK
In the ’70s, I joined the sex counseling program at UCSF, where we were teaching women who had never had an orgasm before to have them. Vibrators were popular in a certain small population then—San Francisco was way ahead of the rest of the country—but the places to get them were pretty icky. So I opened up a feminist sex toy store, Good Vibrations. It was progressive with a capital P.

San Francisco is the only place where it could have happened. I didn’t care about making money: I often had days where I only sold $35 worth of stuff. Things have changed lot since then. Now there are dozens of stores around the country that will tell you they were inspired by Good Vibrations. When celebrities start talking about their expensive vibrators, it’s good for everybody.

 

ANNIE SPRINKLE
My life’s been a real San Francisco story, for sure. When I was 18, I was the mistress of Gerard Damiano, the director of Deep Throat, and I was into sex work and porn. I was just really interested in sexuality and creativity and performance—I felt like I wanted to learn everything I could about sex.

I starred in mainstream porn at the Mitchell brothers’ theater. I called myself Annie Sprinkle because I’ve always liked everything wet—swimming and golden showers and tears and come and ejaculating. I started doing my own films, and I helped develop gonzo porn: filming people doing what they do in real life. I made the first female-to-male transsexual porn. I think I did one of the first female ejaculation scenes. After that, I started doing performance art, like burlesque and Public Cervix Announcement. I like to think of it as fixing taboos, as opposed to breaking taboos.

 

JACK FRITSCHER
I arrived in San Francisco when I was 22. In the ’60s, San Francisco was filled with sex immigrants and sex refugees, all reeling from the homophobia of the South and the Midwest. It made for a glorious rainbow of kink.

I spent my time observing and participating in people’s fantasies on Castro Street. I saw the transgressive value of gay publishing and wanted to bring it out of the closet. There were a lot of leather men running around in the early ’70s, and I thought that a magazine could be pitched to that demographic. I went into the bars and the baths and reflected what they did at night. Really, I added journalistic realism to the magical thinking and masturbatory desires of Drummer readers. It was the original bible of leather culture.

My legacy is that I was able to give people permission to do what had been forbidden in the 1960s. That was the golden age of leather. I call it the Titanic ’70s because the first-class party was unknowingly speeding toward the iceberg of HIV that lay ahead. History gets skewed because so many men from that period are dead. Fate left me standing.

 

DAVID STEINBERG
I arrived in 1969 for reasons that were partly personal, partly political. I was very much involved in the feminist movement, and I was convinced that a lot of people bought porn magazines back then not because they wanted that, exactly, but because those were the only depictions of sex available.

We started a magazine called the Pan Erotic Review because we saw a market for something erotic and artful, not stupid and shame-ridden and giggling in the corners.

For the last 15 years, I’ve been exploring the intersection of sex and art as a photographer. I’ve shot 160 couples aged from 19 to 75, of all body types and sexual orientations and persuasions. Lately, I’ve also been doing a lot of photos of people with disabilities being sexual. I want to show that you don’t have to be young and thin and glamorous to be a sexual person.

 

FAYETTE HAUSER, SCRUMBLY KOLDEWYN, SWEET PAM, AND RUMI MISSABU
Rumi Missabu:
We met in San Francisco and Berkeley in the summer of ‘69. We were a bunch of freaks who came together like magnets.

Sweet Pam: Most of us had dropped out of college, looking for something. Nobody was famous yet. We all just happened to come together, like in Paris in the ’20s.

Fayette Hauser: My whole generation was there. Everyone was beautiful and psychedelicized and dressed so imaginatively. I jumped in with both feet, absolutely ready to transform myself.

RM: And it was highly incestuous. Even if you had a boyfriend, he was community property.

SP: There was no gay or straight—we were unclassified and tried whatever felt good. We broke taboos: a man in lipstick with a beard?

FH: If you were an exotic creature and people couldn’t tell what your gender position was, that was even better.

Scrumbly Koldewyn: Sex was like shaking hands. There was love in the air, and it needed to be spread around.

RM: We all congregated at the Palace Theater, where they had an experimental midnight movie scene going on. We got away with murder then.

FH: There were joints raining from the ceiling. You would take acid and watch movies and have sex in the balcony. One night, Hibiscus came to us and said, “I want to have a spiritually enlightened theater group.” So we said, “right on.”

SK: Our first performance was at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve. The audience was stoned, smoking pot and drinking cheap wine.

RM: We all came out dressed to the nines. Originally there were 13 of us—which included an infant.

SP: Dusty Dawn was onstage nursing her baby a lot.

RM: We put on an old phonograph record of “Honky Tonk Women” by the Rolling Stones and literally did a striptease.

FH: The whole place erupted into this mad frenzy! People rushed the stage!

RM: They loved it so much that we just put on the same record and did it all over again. It was like the Little Rascals in drag doing Busby Berkeley on acid—a cocktail of chaos, glamour, and anarchy.

FH: It was free in a way that i don’t think young people can imagine right now, which is really sort of tragic.

 

LINDA MARTINEZ
Arriving from Burlington, Iowa, in 1960, I thought San Francisco was heaven. I had been working as a nude model in art school, and I was no stranger to clothing-optional situations—my aunt and uncle had started a nudist camp in the ’30s.

From 1963 to 1965, I was Dolphina, the “girl in the fishbowl” at Bimbo’s 365 Club—it was a nude act of illusion. The tricky thing about that job was that mermaids don’t have pubic hair, so I had to shave. But i was paid $100 a week, which was better than what I was making at my office job.

In 1986, I saw an evening of George Kuchar movies at the Palace Theater, and I was never the same. George and I were meant to work together because we both loved the naturalism of the human body, and the creativity of it. My first role in a Kuchar film was a governess, and after that one George said, “No more goody-goody roles for you, Linda.” In the next one, I played the wife of a philandering philanthropist; I was completely nude from the pubic line up, with a wind machine blowing at me. After that, I became Kuchar’s Sharon Stone. He could tell me to do anything, and I wouldn’t hesitate one second. I love collaborating with artists—I’ll keep doing it until I die.

I’m very young, and I just turned 78. I’ve always had a dash of curiosity and a tendency to dip into Pandora’s box. As Rhett Butler famously said, “with enough courage, you can do without a reputation.”

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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