Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon
July 10, 2008
(Docu) An Automat Pictures production, in association with Making It Big. Produced, directed by Jeffrey Schwarz.
With: Jack Wrangler, Margaret Whiting, Bruce Vilanch, Marc Shaiman, Christina Ebersole, Sharon Mitchell, Michael Musto, Chi Chi LaRue, Jamie Gillis, Rod McKuen, Gloria Leonard, Al Goldstein, Gino Colbert, Candida Royale, Samantha Fox, Joe Gage, Debbi Whiting.
By DENNIS HARVEY
Ruggedly handsome Jack Wrangler was a leading name in gay porn throughout the 1970s, and one of the few such who made numerous straight-sex films as well. But that onscreen versatility wasn’t half as surprising as his finding an offscreen soulmate in famed songbird Margaret Whiting, 20 years his senior. Jeffrey Schwarz’s “Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon” takes a view both admiring and amusing of the man and his times. Lively docu will be a hit on gay fest and specialized DVD circuits, with potential for limited theatrical release a la 2005’s “That Man: Peter Berlin.”
Wrangler, nee Stillman, was raised a Beverly Hills brat, the son of a successful producer and a former top model. He started acting as a child on the mid-’50s religious TV program “Faith of Our Children,” toplining former tap star Eleanor Powell. But eventually, he was just another hungry young actor competing with myriad others in youth-crazed, late-’60s Hollywood.
Seeking parental independence, he drifted into go-go dancing at gay clubs and went nude in a racy San Francisco “gay play,” then in graphic magazine layouts and 8mm porn loops. He quickly graduated to gay adult features, exuding a playful but confidently masculine persona (as well as above-average thesping skills for the genre).
For all his swagger, Wrangler says, “I did it because I felt unattractive … I wanted to be lusted after.” While still identifying as a gay man, he decided to move upmarket into straight porn, appearing in the likes of “The Devil in Miss Jones Part II.” He’d never had sex with a woman before doing so on camera, rising to the occasion then and thereafter.
Wrangler was still active in that biz when he met Whiting, sensing instant rapport — partly from their having been raised just five blocks apart in high Hollywood affluence. Told by her that, “you’re only gay around the edges,” Wrangler found heterosexual commitment difficult at first. He bluntly admits, “Margaret and I did have sex. It was uncomfortable for me, but I felt it was important for the relationship.”
Retiring from porn as Whiting pushed for it (and he pushed 40), Wrangler commenced teaching, directing and writing for the stage — particularly musical theater and cabaret, work that’s gotten him as far as Broadway (via one flop tuner). He seems amused, if not particularly troubled, that no matter how many legit credits he logs, he’ll always be “former porn star Jack Wrangler.”
Wrangler is a naturally gregarious subject; other interviewees are well chosen. Nicely edited and packaged pic makes good use of amusing archival materials. There are eye-blink glimpses of full-frontal Wrangler in stills, but the porn clips are nongraphic.
Camera (color, Beta SP/DV-to-DigiBeta), Gary Corrigan, Kevin M. Graves, David Hallinger, Rob Jakubik, Tanja Koop, Doron Schlair, Clay Westervelt; editor, Jaime Myers; music, Michael “The Millionaire” Cudahy; sound, Schwarz. Reviewed on DVD, San Francisco, June 19, 2008. (In San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. Also in NewFest, New York.) Running time: 85 MIN.