DINAH EAST 1970 lecinemadreams.blogspot.com/2013/06/dinah-east-1970.html
It's a little-known fact, but just three years after 1967's hippie revolution dubbed "The Summer of Love," America enjoyed an unoﬃcial "Transgender Summer." It occurred in 1970 when the ﬁlms Myra Breckinridge, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Christine Jorgensen Story, and Dinah East were all released in the very same month. Before eventually settling into the mundane rut of saturating the summer months with blockbuster action, sci-ﬁ, and superhero movies, Hollywood met the warm weather Drive-In demand with exploitation ﬁlms: Biker ﬂicks, B horror movies, and beach party musicals. It was also the perfect market for softcore sleaze. All of the above-listed ﬁlms, motion pictures brimming with gender-identity plotlines, were released in June of 1970; the lower budget features most likely rushed into production to compete with whatever imagined market was waiting with bated breath for the release of 20th Century-Fox's big-budget Myra Breckinridge. Fans of camp and cinéma de l'étrange will most certainly recognize three of the titles, but what exactly is Dinah East? Well, to put it simply, Dinah East is the best camp classic you've never heard of.
Jeremy Stockwell as Dinah East "Too much love or too little of it...isn't that why people take chances?"
Matt Bennett as Ex-boxer,Tank Swenson "It makes no diďŹ€erence to me whether you're a man or a woman!"
Ultra Violet as Costume designer, Daniela "Dinah, have you thought of what will happen if you are found out?"
Ray Foster as Matinee idol, Tony Locke "You took me home and gave me more liquor than I ever had. Then asked me to drop my drawers!"
Andy Davis as Alan Sloan, Dinah's attorney "Have you always thought of me as...a man? I mean, 100% male in every respect?"
Reid Smith as Jeﬀ East, Dinah's adopted son "I suppose being one's mother gives one the right to look every once in a while!"
Joe Taylor as Bobby Sloan, Alan's son and Jeﬀ's best friend "How did you and Dinah East make love...did you do it to her or did she do it to you?"
Dinah East takes a “What if it were really true?” approach to the age-old rumor about silver screen legend Mae West really being a man. (A legend gleefully kept alive today by West’s understandably grudge-holding Myra Breckinridge co-star, Raquel Welch.) From this premise Dinah East fashions a ﬁctitious, deliriously camp (i.e., dead serious) soap opera about a 1950s screen siren whose death reveals her life to have been one great big drag. The brainchild of producer Paula Stewart, publicist-to-the-stars Phil Paladino, and screenwriter/ director Gene Nash, Dinah East (originally titled The Demise of Dinah East and The Great Put-On of Dinah East , alternately) chronicles—through ﬂashbacks—the guarded life of movie goddess Dinah East, and tackles the subsequent
emotional and psychological fallout amongst those who came to know her, following the headline-making revelation of her death.
WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS FILM Dinah East (a title that not only recalls the whispers about Mae West, but the lesbian rumors surrounding TV personality Dinah Shore during her heyday) is part 1940s "Suﬀering in mink" women's ﬁlm, part Douglas Sirk melodrama, and part daytime soap. Or at least that's how it sees itself. Conceived as the type of glossy, behind-thescenes Hollywood expose Jacqueline Susann came to be known for, due to it's meager budget, amateurish performances, and frequent concessions to it sexploitation roots, comes oﬀ largely as the kind of homoerotic underground ﬁlm of the sort associated with John Waters or Andy Warhol. But what Dinah East lacks in production values it more than make up for in deliciously low-rent '70s ambiance. It boasts gaudy fashions, tacky décor, a cliche-saturated plot, Hollywood insider jokes—Dinah does a pretty good impersonation of columnist Louella Parsons, and matinee idol Tony Locke parodies Tony Curtis' infamous, "Yondah lies da castle of my faddah."—and a sensibility both salacious and sentimental. In addition:
Slow-motion romantic romps!
Lots of full-frontal male nudity!
Scenes in '70s gay bars!
Porn-level Performances! "That's too hard to swallow...love for a son born out of rape? That's much too heavy to swallow!"
Derisible dialog accompanied by theatrical, unconvincing displays of temperament! Alan- "You're nothing but a deranged little faggot!" (*Slap*)
Did I mention the male nudity?
In several ways, Dinah East does indeed recall the work of Jacqueline Susann. That is, if one of Jacqueline Susann's novels were directed by Ed Wood, cast with models from a 1970 Ah Men catalog, and produced by Russ Meyer. From start to ﬁnish Dinah East is such a campy delight, I'm still rather stunned that I never heard of the ﬁlm before a couple of years ago. Everything about seems ripe for discovery by the cult hit/midnight movie crowd, yet no I know has ever heard o ﬁt, and there is no mention of it even in books devoted to trash obscurities. As is often the case with movies slipping through the cracks, Dinah East owes its obscurity to a muddle of copyright and distribution issues. Too bad. This is a ﬁlm deserving of a much wider audience.
Tony takes Dinah to the ﬁghts Ray Foster (l.) was last seen as the receptionist leering at the male applicants in Mae West's waiting room in Myra Breckinridge
According to producer Paula Stewart (a former Broadway star [Wildcat, What Makes Sammy Run?] and one-time wife of Burt Bacharach and comedian Jack Carter), the X-rated Dinah East opened in Los Angeles (even garnering a favorable review from LA Times critic, Kevin Thomas) and played for a brief time at the New-View Theater on Hollywood Boulevard before the government shut it down and conﬁscated all prints of the ﬁlm due to unpaid withholding taxes. Unable to meet its ﬁnancial obligations, Dinah East was fairly submerged in a quagmire of copyright and legal hassles that extended over several years, rendering the ﬁlm virtually lost. Stewart's account contradicts the more publicity-friendly reason used to promote the 2010 DVD release. DVD promo material attests that Mae West herself halted distribution of the ﬁlm because she was displeased with it and didn't want the potentially libelous ﬁlm to distract from her Myra Breckinridge comeback. Paula Stewart, whom I spoke to by phone before writing this, claims to have known Mae West and says, that while the actress was most assuredly “Pissed oﬀ” by Dinah East's obvious allusions to the rumors that have followed her throughout her career, she did not in any way try to hinder its release. Behind-the-scenes money troubles (of which there were considerable) took care of that.
Dinah East director and screenwriter, Gene Nash, was also a manager, composer, and country western singer (1959 single, "I'm an Eskimo, too"). Photo courtesy of Johnnyreay.com
PERFORMANCES As Marilyn Monroe-esque glamour queen Dinah East, New York actor Jeremy Stockwell (he appeared OﬀBroadway in Fortune and Men’s Eyes - 1969, Nightride - 1971) is a little too stiﬀ and inexpressive to radiate the necessary diva quality to make the character a believable superstar (Candy Darling would have been great). And outside of resembling, on occasion (depending on the wig), a butch Doris Day, Carol Wayne, or Donna Mills, he doesn't really look much like a woman. But on repeat viewings, there’s something about the actor’s lack of skill which works to the ﬁlm’s beneﬁt. Stockwell's performance is infused with so much sincerity that after a while, his constricted body language and modulated line readings begin to look like the behavior of a person holding themselves in reserve for fear of detection. I'm not about to infer any of this is intentional, but what with the character of Dinah being written so sympathetically and the somewhat stilted screenplay leaving viewers on their own to intuit what would motivate a man to keep up such a charade for so long (like Dustin Hoﬀman's Tootsie, the initial goal is to merely land a job); what Stockwell loses in camp points by failing to rise to the ﬂamboyant heights of what we might expect from a Golden-Era movie star, he gains in likability.
Maybe I'm just corny, but the romance that develops between Dinah and ex-boxer Tank, is really sweet.
Which brings me to one of the points I think works against Dinah East ever realizing its true camp potential: the ﬁlm doesn't have a bitchy bone in its body. The ﬁlm is singularly lacking in bitchiness or spite, prime ingredients in gay ﬁlm campdom. The characters in Dinah East are ﬂawed but decent, and treat one another in an uncharacteristically considerate manner for an exploitation ﬁlm (the very odd character of Dinah's emotionally-conﬂicted attorney, Alan,
notwithstanding). Stockwell’s performance falls into arch camp primarily due to the limitations of his acting, the Douglas Sirk-inspired twists of the melodramatic plot, and the camp array of wigs and '70s fashions at his disposal. Beyond those trappings, there's a wellspring of sincerity written into the story of Dinah East that makes the characters too sympathetic for us to want to laugh at them for too long.
A big star requires big hair
But sincerity is not what one watches exploitation ﬁlms for, and Dinah East suﬀersa bit because Dinah is not Margo Channing or Helen Lawson and the ﬁlm (although as you can see from the above screencap, she has both the hair and wardrobe for the latter). Those seeking All About Eve levels of catty dialog and diva posturing will have to look elsewhere. Or at the very least, content themselves with the ﬁlm's clumsy attempts to shoehorn nudity and sex into the plot at clockwork intervals and the brief, but nonetheless priceless, ﬂashback scenes staged in a gay bar populated by bitchy queens and outﬁtted with a nude pirate dancing in a cage (!) and a "Champagne Lady" bubble machine. The rest is played in drop-dead earnestness.
A poster for one of her ﬁlms adorns the wall of Dinah East's home
And while it's true the ﬁlm is slim on intentional humor, thank god there is plenty of unintentional humor to go around. Laughs born of the ﬁlm's pushed-to-its-limit budget, weak actors, often hilariously tin-eared dialog, and the curious commingling of sincere soap opera with grindhouse sex exploitation. While Dinah East's endearing ineptitude is to die for, I also found the ﬁlm to be rather refreshing in its lack of the kind of cynicism and the kind of self-aware snark usually found in transgressive cult ﬁlms. So many of the movies that have gained cult status in the gay community have done so in part because of their outre homophobia (Valley of the Dolls, Myra Breckinridge), Dinah East at least comes oﬀ as far ahead of its time in its empathetic depiction of gays, lesbians, and transgender.
Cornball montages were very popular in '70s movies, and Dinah East has a romantic montage that wouldn't be out of place in a Debbie Reynolds or Doris Day ﬁlm. Tank and Dinah fall in love (rather appealingly) to the wince-inducing strains of, "Thank you, Alexander Graham Bell...you're swell!" An original song (by director Gene Nash?) sung by '40's singing combo, Jon and Sondra Steele (My Happiness- 1948).
THE STUFF OF FANTASY Movies about Hollywood can always be counted on for the camp recycling of over-familiar soap opera tropes and hoary show business clichés. Dinah East is no exemption. The ﬁlm's obviously slim budget not allowing for even a passable representation of the 1950s or a convincing depiction of the opulent high life of a major Hollywood star (Edgar Bergen’s home stands in as Dinah’s Bel Air mansion), the one thing Dinah East gets incredibly right is its depiction of Hollywood as a town where it's possible to keep lifelong secrets simply due to the fact that absolutely everybody else in town has secrets they also don't want to have exposed. In the satiric 1973 Hollywood murder mystery, The Last of Sheila (penned by Anthony Perkins and Stephen Sondheim, two then-closeted homosexuals who obviously knew a thing or two about the need to keep secrets), the character played by Raquel Welch sums up the phenomenon perfectly when she says: "That's the thing about secrets. We all know stuﬀ about each other...we just don't know the same stuﬀ."
Dinah and Daniela forge a friendship out of a commitment to keeping each other's secrets.
In a welcome change of pace from most hetero-centric exploitation ﬁlms full of shapely but untalented bimbos hired with an eye towards the director’s casting couch, Dinah East is loaded with good-looking himbos and male eyecandy who can’t act their way out of their tight pants. Happily, they're never required to wear them for very long.
THE STUFF OF DREAMS With all the great purveyors of cinema camp either dead (Jacqueline Susann, Andy Warhol, Ed Wood, Russ Meyer) or unoﬃcially retired (John Waters, Roger Corman), I can't tell you what a kick it was unearthing an honest-to-god, period-perfect, classic piece of ripened '70s cheese like Dinah East. Although virtually every frame feels made-toorder for my personal warped sense of aesthetics, it was actually my partner who brought the ﬁlm to my attention after discovering it on Netﬂix. I fell in love with Dinah East on ﬁrst sight. It's funny unintentionally, sometimes it's even funny on purpose. It's bizarre, silly, audacious, tacky, unevenly paced, and mostly terribly acted. But it's also marvelously entertaining, better-plotted than most movies today, and as a bonus, given the subject matter's potential for vulgarity and oﬀensiveness, it's a surprisingly sweet-natured, forwardthinking ﬁlm. It has become an instant favorite mine, and I understand that it has been re-released on DVD in a restored, widescreen version that should be a good deal brighter and crisper than these screencaps indicate. Still, Dinah East is one of those ﬁlms worth seeing any way you can get it. They don't make 'em like this anymore. And more's the pity for us lovers of retro camp cinema.
Dialog between two grave-diggers at the end of the ﬁlm (one being Studio-54- ﬂash-in-the-pan-to-be, Sterling St. Jacques) "Just goes to show you; you can really put the world on if you try hard enough." "Yeah man, but who wants to go to that much trouble?" BONUS MATERIAL Some of My Best Friends Are... (1971) Dinah East's Joe Taylor (bottom left) went on to appear with Warhol superstar Candy Darling in another gay-themed ﬁlm that has somewhat disappeared. That's Gil Gerard of Buck Rogers fame to Taylor's right. Also in the cast, future TV stars, Rue McClanahan, Fannie Flagg, and Gary Sandy, in addition to Sylvia Syms and Carleton Carpenter (of
MGM, Debbie Reynolds and "Abba-Dabba Honeymoon"). The ﬁlm is not on DVD that I know of, but available for instant view on Amazon.com. Read more about this underappreciated '70s curio at Poseidon's Underworld Copyright © Ken Anderson
Actor Jeremy Stockwell out of drag. Photo by Kenn Duncan from the 1969 Oﬀ-Broadway production of Fortune & Men's Eyes