Performer/Director/Producer Gino Colbert passed away on August 21. He was 58. News of his death first broke out on Facebook in late October. Here’s my tribute for XBiz magazine (published December 1, 2015)
Hollywood, 1992: I was attending my second year at the American Film Institute, moved to an apartment building down the street and there he was… the man I had watched in so many VHS tapes back in Italy. Gino was seldom the most handsome in those tapes, or the most muscular or the most endowed. But there was always a raw, magnetic, ravenous energy about each and all of his performances, they felt ‘authentic’ . And that energy I so vividly remembered.
I didn’t have the guts to approach a pornstar and so I left a note on his car and asked for an interview on his career and the “sexploitation” genre for the Italian monthly “Segnocinema”. Gino phoned me right away, we got together and taped the interview: we’ve been best friends since. For (almost) twenty years, we’ve lived in the same building on Whitley Avenue: we’d go out for a bite to eat every other night and to the movies a couple of times a week. Inevitably, my memories of Gino/the neighbor and of Gino/the mentor blend together: yes, he took me under his wing and turned an AFI graduate into a pornographer, but more importantly he took the nerdy 27 year old film journalist and helped him break out of his Catholic upbringing and grow into the man I am today, a little more adventurous, a lot more assured. I owe Gino so many of my ‘first times’: my first hardcore set, my first ‘porn scripts’ (“Coming Out Bi” and “The Pornographer”), my first ride in a limo (on our way to the Awards at the Bonaventure Hotel), my first boyfriend, my first time in Las Vegas, my first time in a sex club, a porn theatre and countless of Los Angeles’ diners/dives. In fact, I owe him so many indelible memories of a bygone era.
After a prolific career in front of the camera, Gino had stepped behind it for Zane Entertainment, (New York, circa 1987). A couple of years later, he was summoned to Los Angeles by Leisure Time and entrusted with building their gay division (Stallion Video). By the time we met, Gino was already one of the most prolific (and iconic) directors, across all adult genres: straight, transex, bi-sex and above all gay. Even if you don’t know Gino, chances are you’ve watched a Gino Colbert scene –credited or un-credited, chopped up and re-mastered in the countless compilations Leisure Time kept selling for two decades.
In the early Fall of ’92, Gino invited me to the set. It was a bi-sex production, perhaps one in the successful “Switch Hitters” series he helmed for Metro/Intropics. It looked nothing like the mainstream sets I was accustomed to and –because of it– all the more intriguing. I wanted to explore more and Gino gave me plenty of opportunities that Fall: at first as an apprentice, fixing lunch and driving models to/from the locations, then as a PA, pulling cables and rewinding Betacam tapes (remember BetacamSP?) By the early ’93, I had become Gino’s Production Manager. A glorified ‘gopher’, really, but Gino generously credited me as such, introduced me to just about everyone in the business and allowed me take part into dozens of his legendary productions. From development –Gino always had a stack of scripts ready to go– to post. From low-budgeters (Stallion’s) to big-budget, high-profile titles, like “Matinee Idol” and “Stryker’s Underground”, both for VCA/HIS. All tightly scripted, meticulously blocked/rehearsed and expertly filmed.
I’ve often said that Gino’s legacy isn’t with the blockbusters everyone talked about in those days.Yes, he helmed the award-winning “Three Brothers” (for New Age) and co-directed the epic “NightWalk” with Michael Ninn (also for VCA/HIS). Yes, those blockbusters helped shape gay porn in the 90s. But his legacy –the most fertile– lies elsewhere: it’s the 1 day or 2 day wonders, all story-driven, he miraculously pulled off. It’s his commitment to multi-racial casting, before it became ubiquitous. His selfless and patient mentoring of both talent and crew in the 90s and the early 2000. Gino’s sets were efficient and incredibly disciplined –more so than any mainstream sets I’ve witnessed. His ‘decoupage’ and his directions razor-sharp: he knew exactly what he wanted and would often edit ‘in the camera’ , without wasting time with unnecessary coverage: master, medium close ups, close ups… No doubt he was an actor’s director –always concerned with sexual chemistry and always focused on the heat of a scene. “Keep it nasty. Keep it HOT”, he used to remind me. But his apprenticeship with legendary Joseph Sarno and his NY days as a Production Manager and as a camera loader equipped him with the technical expertise so many of his colleagues lacked. So did his appreciation (and knowledge) of porn’s rich and diverse history. Gino befriended and often worked with many of the pioneers: the above mentioned Sarno, but also DeRenzy, Pachard, DeSimone, Rocco…
He was a film buff and had many friends in the mainstream: “LATimes” film critic Kevin Thomas, Production Designer Wynn Thomas, Casting Director Howard Feuer, Directors JoelSchumacher and John Waters. In fact, he had a stint as a casting director himself (for the TV series“The Lair”). More than anything else, he loved the theatre: he got started managing a Burlesque theatre in Toledo and, in later years, appeared on stage for playwright Ronnie Larsen (“Scenes from My Love Life” in Palm Springs and “10 Naked Men” in San Francisco).
The movies and the stage were perhaps manifestations of his unquenchable lust for life andof his volcanic personality : “Acting, cooking, dancing, volunteering for the homeless, lecturing at UC Santa Barbara… I’ve always liked to experiment and to have a good time” he wrote. “Life’s too short to stick to one thing”. Or to one man. Or to one art form. For sure, Gino lived each day and each adventure to the fullest. Despite the fact that life wasn’t as generous with Gino: Leisure Time folded, so did New Age Pictures, which Gino helped build. By the time he launched his own label (Gino Pictures), it was too late: the internet revolution had taken the industry by storm and Gino, like many filmmakers of his generation, got lost. In early 2011, I helped him finance two web episodes for Suite703 and visited him one last time on the set: there he was, the efficient Master and Commander I remembered and his ‘old school’ blocking. But his heart was no longer in it – the spark was gone.
That Summer, our building on Whitley Avenue closed down for renovations and we drifted apart. I recently asked a mutual friend: “Why did he quit? Gino had the know-how, the name recognition, the industry connections…” “Because he didn’t understand porn any more” , he replied. “It was time for him to move on”.