Roy Garrett: The Poet of Porn and Passion

By Kevin Pawlak

Roy Garrett arrived in New York City hungry to explore the sex and porn scenes he’d seen advertised in the Village Voice’s classified section. Porn at the time had its own poetry. Roy knew was brilliant at both. It was 1978. Kevin Pawlak delves into his not-very-long life.

Roy Garrett first started experimenting with his erotic performance at the fag end of the 70s. In his youth, he had surrendered to Manhattan’s shiny lights and was spellbound by the all-consuming drama that unfolded across the theatres in and around Times Square. He performed as a dance and, stripteaser at the Ramrod, Big Top, and The Gaiety, among others. His natural charisma made him a quickly in-demand performer, and he soon found himself cast in adult films. Garrett’s first significant step into adult filmmaking took place with Men Come First by Francis Ellie. The tale of a couple experiencing sexual problems and a novel solution to their frustrations, courtesy of a door-to-door salesman, the film highlights Garrett’s acting abilities and screen presence. This resulted in future projects with such famed directors as Joe Gage.

Roy Garrett, Hot Rod to Hell, cassette and vynil.

Joe Gage, being somewhat of a legend within the adult film world, recognized talent when he saw it and hired Garrett for several films, including the cult classic “Heatstroke.” This is, perhaps, the movie that most people can best remember him for, as he seemed so relaxed and laid back persona-wise for the entirety of his career within the adult entertainment industry. His most famous films are Men Come First with Francis Ellie, HANDsome in 1980 with Joe Gage, and Heatstroke in 1982 with Joe Gage.

Besides his professional adult movies, Roy Garrett immensely enjoyed poetry. To him, poetry was the means to self-therapy and express the most secretive thoughts and feelings. Perhaps, to some people, it seemed strange that he could combine the worlds of a porn star and a poet, but in Garrett’s eyes, this was perfect. In 1982, he issued Hot Rod to Hell, a 48-poem montage with an eerie, atmospheric backdrop by Man Parrish. Stage show and tape-created by Manhattan illustrator Robert W. Richards —it was one lurid search into current male sexuality, an all-encompassing a gage. “Sweet danger” — Hot Rod to Hell, a keen glimpse of the flip side of love that was funny, frightening, and touching.

Poetry Gone Here is a recent vinyl reissue, remastered at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, by George Horn. It includes a 44-page full-color magazine with all 48 poems from Hot Rod to Hell. The magazine also features 44 previously unpublished poems drawn from Garrett’s archive. All proceeds for this project are donated to Housing Works, a New York City-based non-profit fighting the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness.

But Roy Garrett’s life consisted of much more than the adult movies and poems for which he was known. In 1981, he found love with Bob Shane, and the two performed and collaborated on various projects until they retired around late 1983. In a tragic turn of events, Bob Shane died in 1987, and Garrett himself in 1992—both succumbed to AIDS-related issues.

The story of Roy Garrett is the epitome of multi-dimensional human expression and the will to be his person. His trajectory from glittering Times Square stages to the intimate lows of poetry reminds us once again that art has no borders. Garrett once said, “The courage to be naked doesn’t lie in the body but in the soul.” Roy Garrett offers, through his work and living life, another inspiration regarding what makes the artist unique: to be honest, with passion.

Kevin Pawlak is the chief of station in Vienna for GAY45, photographer and staff writer.

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