|Please note that this blog entry is a little more explicit than usual. It contains no graphic visual material, but does discuss some of Toronto's more "adult" history.|
"Count Yorga" (1970) : a horror movie, with the lead character being a vampire gang leader who seemed to take all of his cues from Charles Manson.
"The Incredible Two Headed Transplant" (1971) : the story of a wealthy, deranged scientist who surgically removes the head of a demented murderer, in order to graft it on to the shoulders of his own mentally challenged son.
And the greatest shock of all, to the supposedly prudish audiences of Toronto might have been ...
"The Christine Jorgensen Story" (1970) : the biopic of Christine Jorgensen, the first widely known person to have sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen was born on May 30, 1926, as George William Jorgensen. Returning to the United States after a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Jorgensen travelled to Denmark to undergo sex reassignment surgery. Jorgensen returned home to New York in 1953, and she was acclaimed as an instant celebrity. She spent the next several years giving lectures as well as doing a regular nightclub act. A frequent song in her act was titled "I Enjoy Being A Girl". The 1970 movie, which played at Toronto's Downtown Theatre, was a sensationalist biography of Christine Jorgensen. Tag lines include "I couldn't live in a man's body", "Sex with a woman was strange and impossible", and "But I had to make it as a woman, there was no return".
The Downtown Theatre was finally closed and demolished in 1972, but not before pushing the boundaries of move advertising in downtown Toronto.
|THEN : The movie poster for "The Christine Jorgensen Story" pushed the boundaries for public advertising in downtown Toronto, back in 1970.|
|THEN : The slightly less scandalous version of the movie poster.|
Other theatres on Yonge Street stuck with simple gore. The Coronet Theatre, at 399 Yonge Street, at Gerrard Street, opened as the Savoy in 1953, with 1,327 seats. It showed a lot of double bills, with second rate, second run movies. During a high point, or perhaps low point, it was showing five movies on the same bill, all for only $3.50. It catered to the masses, and the management and ushers turned a blind eye towards any patrons bringing in their own concessions ... food, beverages of any kind, including liquor, or "anything else" that might help you zone out from the run down nature of the theatre. One of the memorable double bills at the Coronet in the early 1970s included "Mark of the Devil" running next to "Satan's Sabbath". Critics panned these as two of the most pointlessly violent movies ever made, both because of the level of violence and the almost complete lack of a plot. The management of the Coronet agreed with the critics, and as a marketing ploy, handed out "barf bags" for the screening.
But it wasn't the horror movies that gave Yonge Street it's seedy reputation. The 1970s were a time when those in the public eye faced censorship, and you couldn't always directly express what you wanted to say. Toronto's central drag earned a nickname as the "Yonge Street Strip", and it was definitely a double entendre. Many down-at-the-heels vaudeville theatres had turned from the glory days of big releases, to second run movies, to the trash and violence of the drive-in genre, to pornography. In the early 1970s, pornography was just entering its mainstream phase, at least partly due to the changing laws regarding the public display of such material. Pornographic movies appeared almost right away, as soon as "movies" themselves were invented, but they were considered obscene, of course, and illegal. With the advent of home cameras and projection equipment, amateur adult cinema started to appear in the 1940s, and was sometimes seen in public at members only cinema lounges. The first legislation to make the public display of adult films legal came in 1969, and the rest was history.
|THEN : The 1972 movie "Behind the Green Door", starring Marilyn Chambers, was another early adult movie to either shock or attract the crowds along Yonge Street, during the dirty heyday of the 1970s.|
|THEN : The movie poster for "Debbie Does Dallas". Released in 1978, the title, at least, became almost a household reference to early adult films. At the time it was released, there were calls to finally clean up Yonge Street.|
|THEN : Bambi Woods made one well known adult movie, and a few minor ones, before vanishing completely. Today, she'd be in her fifties, although it's not known for sure if she is alive or dead.|
|THEN : An advertisement from a Toronto newspaper in the 1970s, showing some of the public offerings at the cinemas on the Yonge Street strip. It's hard to imagine this kind of thing being advertised in a public, mainstream movie theatre today.|
|THEN : The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre, in 1982, in preparation for restoration. The marquee promises that the Winter Garden will bloom again.|
|THEN : "What the Swedish Butler Saw" played at the Elgin in 1981. The theatre was then closed and restored. The scandalous days of Yonge Street was coming to a close, and Toronto once again drew a breath of respectability.|