Brandon Hernández 5 p.m., April 24
Linda Lovelace’s local adventures generated over 10 million San Diego dollars
How two locals got rich off the Deep Throat star
With the bio-pic Lovelace opening, purporting to tell the true-life story of world’s-first-porn-star Linda Lovelace (a story she herself frequently revised), here’s a compilation of local-centric Lovelace-related material from several of our various articles on local 1970s/1980s theater operators Vince Miranda and George Tate, who once ran a string of grindhouse movie halls downtown, as well as the statewide Pussycat Theater porn chain (links to original full-length text-only articles below).
Also included is new, unpublished material culled from an upcoming web feature expanding on the original Pussycat history, this time focusing on the mysterious Tate (about whom little was known when the first articles ran), with all-new chapters investigation how organized crime figures managed to hijack the Pussycat name, rep, and even the logos and marquee designs for hundreds of out-of-state Pussycats.
Despite the mafia’s tight hold on prints of Deep Throat (starring Miss Lovelace, in case you’re coming into this cold), in and outside California, Miranda and Tate held the exclusive rights to screen the film in California, where it ran daily for over 10 years in LA and multiple San Diego locales, generating an estimated 100 million dollars in revenue for the chain.
Miranda befriended Lovelace and talked her into doing Pussycat promotions at his theaters running Throat, including putting her hand and foot prints in the cement outside the Hollywood ‘Cathouse and several San Diego Pussycat promotions, downtown on 4th Avenue (where I worked at the Pussycat in the late 70s and early 80s), in El Cajon, and in National City.
In fact, the El Cajon Pussycat is the only CA Pussycat to ever screen Lovelace’s ill-fated SEQUEL to Deep Throat, albeit only for less than 48 hours before the print was pulled and a lawsuit was initiated. But we’ll get to that in a bit…
Miranda and Tate shared a love for motion-picture exhibition, seeing an opportunity to gain a foothold in San Diego by buying or leasing downtown theaters in decline, beginning with the Cabrillo (leased) and then the Plaza (purchased), and later the Aztec, the Casino, the Savoy/Bijou, the Balboa, and others.
Through much of the '70s and '80s, Vince Miranda was living part-time in his own luxurious suite at the Hotel San Diego, which Walnut had purchased, along with several other downtown San Diego hotels. His partner (and lover) Tate also maintained part time residences in San Diego.
Beginning around 1966, the duo – particularly Miranda – began buying an increasingly large stake in the Pussycat Theatre chain of adult movie houses. One of the chain’s first theaters would open in National City, but originally Miranda only served as a consultant for the risqué moviehouses. In January 1968, Miranda (in partnership with George Tate and their company Walnut Properties) bought a 50 percent share of the California Pussycat theatre chain.
Though operated under the Walnut umbrella, Miranda took great personal interest in the Pussycats. He outfitted each theater with the aforementioned crimson carpeting and velveteen fixtures, as well as decorated walls (usually including selections from his own huge collection of painted nudes), beveled glass foyer partitions, and crystal chandeliers with golden fittings.
By 1970, there were nine Pussycats in the chain. All were frequently advertised together, including the San Diego Pussycats, with the promotional promise of “A New Pussycat Joy-Joy Girl on Every Show (Except Sunset Theatre).”
1 – Hill Street Pussycat (formerly the Town), L.A., 444 South Hill (Fifth and Hill)
2 – Sunset Pussycat, 1508 North Western Avenue (Sunset Blvd at Western - Walnut main office at 5445 West Sunset)
3 – Lyric Pussycat, Huntington Park (formerly the Lyric) 7208 Pacific Boulevard
4 – Park Pussycat, 21522 Sherman Way, Canoga Park
5 – Movie, 345 East Ocean Blvd, Long Beach
6 - Garden Pussycat, 305 East Lincoln Avenue, Anaheim
7 – Torrance Pussycat, 1653 Craven, Torrance
8 – Paris Pussycat, 930 National City Boulevard, National City
9 – San Diego Pussycat, 4th Avenue downtown
Walnut's growing profile, however, also made them visible targets. Though Deep Throat would play at San Diego Pussycats for around ten years and make Miranda and Tate millions, the film sparked dozens of legal battles and mired him in numerous public-relations snafus, police actions, criminal trials, and civil lawsuits.
Statewide, Miranda faced obscenity charges over sixty times, in around two dozen municipalities. He was only convicted once, in San Bernardino circa 1977, of a reduced "public nuisance" charge relating to the film Sex Freaks.
On November 17, 1972, Deep Throat opened at the Santa Monica ‘Cat. This was a brave endeavor at the time, given that theater owners all over the country being arrested for showing this particular film, the first widely-released hardcore to play actual factual neighborhood movie theaters. The film had opened five months earlier in New York City at the World Theater (June 12), and was already mired in legal challenges.
In June 1973, Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace was working directly with Miranda on a number of in-person promotions at the Pussycat Theaters. For instance, she appeared at one ‘Cathouse to accept an honorary membership award from the Western Sunbathers Association, immediately before a 10pm Throat performance for which tickets were discounted to only one dollar (usually $4).
At the 4th Avenue Pussycat downtown, she made at least two heavily advertised appearances in '73, one of which included a "parade" (actually around three dozen local Walnut employees marching down the sidewalk carrying signs reading "We Love Linda," "Show Us Your Throat," and the like).
On December 20, 1973, Lovelace put her handprints and footprints in cement outside the Pussycat Theater on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood (aka the Monica 'Cat, formerly a neighborhood moviehouse called the Monica), for a porn version of the cement shrines on the sidewalk near Grauman's Theater that would also feature Marilyn Chambers and John Holmes.
Photos from the event appeared in hundreds of mainstream publications, all over the world. Around the same time, Lovelace introduced Elton John at the Hollywood Bowl, with members of the Beatles in the audience, no less! Having become the world's first "porn STAR," Lovelace's increasingly high profile resulted in even more media scrutiny of the underground-gone-aboveground movie genre that would soon be coined "Porno Chic."
Suddenly, nearly everybody had heard of Pussycat Theaters, mainly by virtue of Deep Throat's meteoric rise in public awareness, and the titular talents of Ms. Lovelace herself.
A brief aside - I have on tape an episode of Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, with a Throat "gag" I still can't believe got onto the air across America. Dan says "Hey, Dick, did you know a Supreme Court Judge is viewing a copy of Deep Throat, to decide whether or not it qualifies as obscenity?"
Dick replies "Yow, here cum da judge!"
On the Tonight Show, Johnny Carson once made a comment about the Watergate tattletale who had adopted the nickname Deep Throat, and the audio tapes of President Nixon talking about Watergate that the White House was refusing to release to investigators. "It's amazing," said Carson. "Judges can WATCH Deep Throat, but they can't listen to those tapes!"
It's also a fact that the Sears chain briefly carried - in its catalog! - a T-shirt reading "I choked Linda Lovelace," at least until someone spoiled the fun by telling them what it really meant –
Another aside showing how the Pussycats were seeping into pop culture prominence - I was watching back to back episodes of the old Norm Crosby's Comedy Shop, from the late '70s and early '80s, and two different episodes had jokes mentioning the Pussycats.
I didn't catch the first guy's name, but he said "I sent my dog to obedience school, but he liked it too much. I caught him coming out of a bondage movie at the Pussycat Theater!" There's a big laugh, and then he says "And my dog used to HATE Pussycats!"
Then the very next episode (possibly the same order they originally aired, judging from the Jimmy Carter/Reagan jokes), a guy named Brad Miller said something like "Isn't L.A. a crazy place to be? Have you been down to Hollywood? The other day, a guy who had enough just jumped off a tall building, he wanted to end it all. When the cops arrived, they asked him 'What Happened,' and he said 'I don't know, I just got here myself.'"
After some laughs, the comedian says "Then the reporters showed up and the guy tried to crawl away. The cop said 'Where are you going?' and the guy said 'My wife will kill me if she sees me in front of the Pussycat Theater!'"
And of course there’s the oft-televised Bob Hope quote – “I thought Deep Throat was about a giraffe!”
Deep Throat played at the Hollywood Boulevard Pussycat for nearly ten years, earning (according to Variety) $11,000 weekly during peak seasons, until the theater's throat was finally cut on December 12, 1981.
Around San Diego, Walnut came to operate four 'Cat-houses, in all four corners of the county: downtown, in National City, in El Cajon, and in Escondido. In addition, regular theaters in the chain were occasionally converted into temporary local 'Cats, including downtown's Aztec Theater, the Casino Theater, The Bijou (renamed Cinema XXX), the Plaza in Horton Plaza, Miranda's former legit stage theater the Off Broadway, and the Towne Theater in Oceanside.
Downtown's Pussycat on Fourth Avenue (above) -- open from noon-5:30 a.m. daily -- screened Throat for around ten years as well (below ad from 5-29-77 courtesy http://www.myspace.com/sandiegocinerama ).
After it was finally retired for newer flicks, the locale was notorious for sidewalk posters featuring graphic (not quite explicit) images from triple-X features with titles like Talk Dirty to Me, Taboo, The Budding of Brie, and A Scent of Heather.
Yeah, the marquee was a work of glowing art, in keeping with Miranda's mandate to "Keep it classy," but pedestrians found the sidewalks of '70s San Diego to be a walking tour of sexual excess and sinful indulgence.
The Pussycat's exterior decor was mildly seedy, if era-apropos: faded and cracked faux-bricks, twin poster marquees ringed with flashers and lined in crimson velveteen, lit by flashing red and purple lights, with its ticket booth taking up the outside corner of the entranceway, stationed right there on the precipice of colorful, crazy lower 4th.
Longtime Walnut projectionist Dan Whitehead recalls opening Deep Throat at the downtown 'Cat, where the film would screen almost continuously. "I worked for three days straight, because the day projectionist, Michael Knight, was a college student and afraid of getting busted; he later became management. Those were 18-hour shifts, back to back. After the third day, I literally couldn't go on any longer and went home and crashed."
"That was the night the vice squad came in and confiscated the print."
Walnut's head of public relations, Don Haley, was staying in town and prepared. "He brought a second print over from the St. James Hotel -- the cops could only take one print until a court decided if it was obscene -- and then he proceeded to call all the radio and TV stations in town.”
“When I got to work the next night, people were lined up way down the street and around the block, and it stayed that way for a long time. It was so busy that we were answering the phone in the projection booth, because the concession stand and box office were literally too swamped to do it.” Walnut battled the city over this and other Pussycat matters for years.
Singer/Model/drag queen RuPaul recalls at RuPaul.com "I saw the original film [Deep Throat] at the Pussycat Theater in San Diego when I turned 18. The only thing I remembered of the film was her driving my favorite car ever made, a 1969 Cadillac El Dorado, and Harry Reems...oh, and yes, I remember feeling really self-conscious as I sat down in a triple X-rated theater, surrounded by six older dudes in trench coats."
During this period, the 4th Avenue 'Cat wasn't Walnut's only downtown theater to screen Throat.
"One night," recalls Whitehead, "Mr. Miranda was down at the Pussycat and, as each reel of Deep Throat came off the projector, he sent it down to the Cabrillo and they ran a sneak preview (I'm sure illegal) of it at the Cabrillo. Needless to say, there's no way I can prove this, but it really did happen. If I remember right, we sent the first two reels down and then sent reels 3 and 4 as they came off the projector. It was real close timing, I remember that."
By 1977, next door to the Cabrillo, porn also briefly screened at the Plaza Theater. "At the time," recalls Whitehead, "the Plaza and the El Cajon were being run by a small outfit called Preferred Theatres, until Walnut purchased both properties. Preferred's manager at the Plaza, a guy named Royal Fox Walker, stayed on as a handyman for Walnut."
"Walker swore up and down that he'd quit if Walnut started showing porn at the Plaza. Well, they did, but he didn't quit - so much for bluster. I've often wondered what happened to Mr. Walker. He used to live in El Cajon...his assistant night manager from Preferred, Mike Cotting, also ended up disappearing completely."
Screening porn at the Plaza's high profile locale, facing the Horton Plaza fountain, apparently caused enough backlash from city officials and residents that the Plaza soon went back to lowbrow grindhouse fare.
The 4th Avenue Pussycat in San Diego, like many of the 'Cats, used to screen its own film loops between features, listing all the locales housing California 'Cat houses. "We also had the Pussycats listed on 16mm film strips that we ran just before the 35mm previews of coming attractions," reveals Whitehead.
"The Pussycat San Diego had a beautiful full-sized, professional, floor-standing Norelco 16mm with a little Cinemecanica xenon lamphouse that we used for that, as well as for some short films, which I think were called 'beavers.' They had stopped using the 16mm by the time I returned and took over as chief projectionist in 1978."
Worth noting here is that hardcore films - before and after film ratings were introduced - were almost exclusively distributed in 8mm and 16mm format through the late '60s.
Then, plotline-bearing features like Mona the Virgin Nymph and Deep Throat came along to prove that theaters could wind a porno around the same projector that ran Disney flicks, and the seats would sell out. It was this technological leap in production that helped to turn fading neighborhood theaters into x-rated houses, and enabled Walnut to turn virtually any screen into a Pussycat screen.
In San Diego, one early Pussycat regional manager was Yugoslav immigrant Gojko "Greg" Vasic, who'd later borrow money from his parents to launch his successful F Street Bookstore chain.
“Vasic was the longest lasting of Walnut's district managers,” says Whitehead, “and his office was in a tiny little cubbyhole in the 4th Avenue Pussycat’s projection booth. This was back when Mr. Peña was still the manager at that theater and Stephan Enyart the assistant manager, though ALL the San Diego management reported to Vasic.”
“Vasic still worked for Walnut after he opened his first F Street store across the street from the Cabaret/Off Broadway. Mr. Tate was very fond of him. He was certainly a strange character. His family name was actually spelled Vasich, and they used to have an egg ranch in Ramona. His uncle delivered their produce to many of the downtown eateries.”
National City's Paris Pussycat, at 930 National City Boulevard, was originally known as the Bush Theatre and then the National Theatre. The venue opened in February 1928, with a live production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. It was renamed the Aboline Theater around 1950, until becoming the Paris Theater in 1961.
It was converted by Friedman and Sonney to an X-rated Pussycat house in 1967, the eighth ‘Cathouse in their growing chain.
The Escondido Pussycat at 309 East Grand Avenue was in a building that formerly housed the Ritz Theatre, which opened in 1937. A fire in 1950 closed the Ritz, but it was rebuilt with a large Cinemascope screen and reopened three years later.
In 1973, the manager of the Escondido Pussycat was arrested over a showing of Deep Throat. Considering Linda Lovelace had done a well-publicized in-person promotion at the theater just five weeks before the raid and arrest, it's not inconceivable that Lovelace's appearance is what sparked the sudden eruption of civic indignation.
Though Walnut successfully fought the obscenity and pandering charges, theater neighbors and city officials began putting public pressure on the locale, hoping to force its closure.
In 1975, Lorraine Boyce became the first woman mayor in the City of Escondido. "The only movie theater was on Grand and Juniper," she writes in an essay posted at www.channels.com. "Shortly thereafter, the Pussycat Enterprises bought it, and we soon learned that it was showing pornography films. We couldn’t figure out how to get rid of them because they had a legitimate business license."
"As word got out, there was an uproar in town as most people didn’t want that kind of thing in our community. I met with a group of men and women who stood outside the theater with picket signs and sent two undercover police officers in to the films. Our attorney advised us to file a lawsuit to show that the theater was a nuisance."
"When I called the owner in Beverly Hills to discuss the matter, he merely stated, 'I don’t care about little old ladies with tennis shoes in Escondido.' He then declared that as long as the Pussycat Enterprises theater was making money, they would stay. The lawsuit went forward, and when our day in court came, we packed the courthouse with people who opposed the theater."
"Their Beverly Hills lawyers showed up looking like the Mafia. Our argument was simple: the theater does not fit the image of what we want in Escondido. To our delight, the judge ruled in our favor: No more Pussycat Theater in District 11. We won and the theater disappeared."
The Escondido Pussycat closed in 1976. New owners reopened it as the all-age Bijou, and then again as the Big Screen Theater, offering family fare. As the Bijou Picture Palace, it became a Spanish-language theater and social center. It was briefly known as the Ritz again in February 1998, though it only managed to stay open for nine days this time before closing again. Periodic attempts are occasionally made to revive this house.
The El Cajon Pussycat at 330 West Main Street began screening softcore porn in late 1971 and then hardcore beginning in late 1972. This generated an endless array of controversy, especially once the city began “revitalization” efforts in the neighborhood around where the old art deco-style theater sat.
Eventually, weekly protests were held in front of the pink-and-mauve theater by the Santee Bible Missionary Fellowship (more on that later….), and the city council made no secret of its wish to close the theater down and/or force it to return to screening family films.
The El Cajon 'Cat occasionally screened a print of Deep Throat, even in 1974 while that film was still a downtown staple. However, it was the FIRST (and possibly ONLY) California Pussycat to exhibit the ill-fated sequel, Deep Throat II.
Shot in 35mm by sexploitation filmmaker Joe Sarno, the film featured music by mainstream hitmakers Jay and the Americans and a walk-on by then-unknown comedienne Judy Tenuda. With Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems reprising their roles from the notorious original, Deep Throat II was surely received by Walnut as another sure-fire moneymaker.
Vince Miranda was reportedly livid to discover that Deep Throat II was only R-Rated, with no hardcore footage whatsoever.
This had somehow not been mentioned by the exhibition rep who persuaded the El Cajon 'Cat into an expensive pre-paid two-week booking. In actuality, the film probably only screened for one or two nights, and the manager was instructed to approve refunds for any patrons who asked. By the third day, another feature - fully X-rated - had replaced Throat II.
Miranda actually initiated a lawsuit over what he declared to be a "duplicitous ruse," but it's unclear if there was ever a resolution or settlement.
When your humble narrator JAS arrived in San Diego in 1979, my first full-time job was working for Vince Miranda at his downtown theaters – mainly the Casino and Aztec, but also the Balboa, Cabrillo, Plaza, and, yes, down the block on 4th at the Pussycat.
I didn’t like working at the Pussycat as much as I thought I would. The novelty of fifteen-foot tall genitalia wore thin after the first few hours and the non-stop moaning and groaning (usually listless overdubs recorded by bored, fully-clothed “thespians”) quickly grated on the nerves to the point where I could barely recall what actual, factual sex sounded like.
Plus, I hated handling money peeled from the sticky palms of sweaty looking men who smelled like a gangbang where nobody remembered to bring towels.
People literally hid their faces when they walked up to the Pussycat, and the first thing the manager said to me on my first night of training was “If you see someone you recognize, pretend they’re a complete stranger no matter how well you know them.”
This was good advice - later that night, when I saw the guy who worked at a sandwich shop down the street, I resisted the urge to say “Hey Scotty,” even as I vowed to myself never to eat a sandwich there again.
For awhile, the Pussycat had a swinger couple, in their early 30s maybe, good looking, who’d come in at least once or twice a week to watch a movie and then, well, put on a little show of their own. All the clerks liked this couple ----- we found a lot of excuses to whip out our big black flashlight and do an auditorium walk-through.
Some things the other clerks told me about their own encounters with The Swinger Couple seemed even then to be the stuff of urban myth, but I did see the two of them in action, in the seats, and can attest that they were into public sex in a big way. They never talked to me, but I often saw them talking to other patrons, before or after (and at least once during) their private showtime, and usually the couple would leave with a patron or two exiting right behind, if not with, them.
This was not an aspect of social interaction I’d ever encountered before.
In the years since, I’ve spent an obsessive amount of time wondering what possible “pickup lines” were appropriate & effective in that particular situation:
“Excuse me, but it’d be a shame for that erection to go to waste.”
“The two of us are doing an in-depth survey on threesomes for the Kinsey Institute, can you help us out?”
“You know, my wife can do that with her hands tied behind her back.”
“Did you ever want to be in your own porno movie?”
Or perhaps, simply, “F*ck my wife…please.”
I only spent a few weeks at the Pussycat but, when I went back to the Aztec and Casino, the two 5th Avenue theaters were switching off showing X-rated features as well, serving a three-pack of porno at the Aztec one week and at the Casino the next.
In a Forbes Magazine article “The X-Rated Economy” (9-18-78), California Pussycat Theater co-founder David Friedman of the Adult Film Association surmised that "Our basic audience is still people over the age of 35, and though we are beginning to attract some young marrieds and younger couples in their middle-to-late 20s, the audience is still composed of people who are probably more sexually repressed than people are today."
According to the same article, adult film theaters were selling around two million admissions a week, at an average of $3.50 per ticket, at around 780 adult film theaters in the U.S. Together, they grossed an estimated $365 million in 1978.
1979 marked both the peak of the Pussycat reign and the beginning of the chain’s quick descent and ultimate disintegration. That year, Vince Miranda told the L.A. Times that he couldn’t estimate his personal wealth, but that it was in excess of $12 million. "I figure if you know exactly how much you are worth, you can't be worth too much," he said.
Meanwhile, downtown San Diego was becoming increasingly seedy --- Walnut’s grindhouse theaters responded by shortening their hours to open at noon and close at midnight. "They were finding needles in the alley behind the Casino Theater," recalls Whitehead.
The 1979 film Hardcore shows downtown at its Sodom and Gomorrah peak, with George C. Scott stumbling through wall-to-wall porno shops in search of information about his missing porn-star daughter. He makes his way down Fourth and Fifth Avenues, dodging hunchbacked junkies and drooling perverts at every step.
Peter Boyle shows Scott an 8mm hardcore featuring Scott's daughter, and off Scott goes to California in search of her…pics below show Miranda’s Bijou/Savoy Theater/Cinema X, across the street from his Casino Theater on 5th Avenue, AND the 4th Avenue Pussycat.
“One time when my brother David was running the Casino projection booth,” says Whitehead, “they were closing and couldn't get this old guy in the balcony to wake up, and it turned out he’d had a heart attack or something and died. Another time, they found a dead guy out behind the rear exit doors. He'd crawled into a fenced in area and had probably died in his sleep several days before, so he was pretty ripe, which is how the manager found him, from the smell.”
Around this time, Deep Throat became available on video, selling more than 300,000 copies by 1981.
Retailing at $100 each, its success sows the eventual seeds of the home video revolution, which would inevitably cause the gradual shutdown of X-rated theaters that had been pooping up all over the country throughout the previous decade.
In 1981, time was up for Fourth Avenue San Diego Pussycat.
“On the day we removed all the equipment,” remembers Whitehead, “I was instructed to give a guy from the city the keys when we were finished. So I called and he was there in just a few minutes, as if he'd been waiting right beside the phone or something. I had removed all the identification from all of the keys, just to make his job difficult. When he put out his hand for the keys, I deliberately let them fall to the floor, turned my back on him, and walked out the door without a word.” “Yes, that was small and petty, but it felt good to do it.”
In May 1985, Vince Miranda -- a lifelong heavy smoker -- was battling lung cancer in an L.A. hospital. "My Aunt Susan spoke to V.M. several times about my future with Walnut," says his godson Tim David. "Something must have been going down at the end, because V.M. called her and said he was planning on getting married! This is very strange, due to the fact he and Tate had been live-in lovers for decades."
Vince Miranda died June 3, 1985, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, of complications related to cancer. He was 52. Survivors included his mother, Belle Mida of Palo Alto, his brother (Tim David’s biological father), and a sister.
"He denied the fact that he was dying up to the end," says Miranda’s godson Tim David. "The last time I saw him was at Walnut Acres...he was bald from the chemo treatments but insisted that he was in remission and was going to be fine. He kept it a secret from all of us."
Then the IRS hit Miranda's estate with a federal tax lien of $6,047,760.00.
Walnut properties all over the state were sold, leased, or traded away, with many real-estate holdings being handed over in lawsuit judgments. Several claims against the estate were connected to ongoing litigation dating back years.
Walnut Properties and/or company principals were served with over 100 civil lawsuits filed between 1973 and 2005, the majority related to Pussycat locales.
By the mid-eighties, in San Diego's rapidly evolving Gaslamp Quarter, the Fourth Avenue Pussycat had been forced by the City to close. However, Walnut managed to keep the Pussycat brand alive downtown, by converting other theaters into temporary ‘Cat houses, including the Aztec at 5th and G, the Casino down the block, and Miranda’s old Off Broadway/Lyceum building.
The sidewalk in front to the El Cajon Pussycat became a regularly scheduled battleground. Each and every Friday night, members of Santee’s Bible Missionary Fellowship showed up with protest signs, rain or shine, Hell or high water.
By 1987, Walnut was down to operating only 29 Pussycat Theaters. According to the Adult Film and Video Association in L.A., adult movie theatres had dwindled from about 750 in 1983 to around 250, a drop of 67 per cent.
An article in the San Francisco Globe (6-12-87) reported that Pussycat box office proceeds had dropped 20 per cent since 1982, when VCRs became common consumer items.
In early December 1989, after 15 years as an X-house, the El Cajon Pussycat surprised everyone by announcing it would no longer screen X-rated films.
"I think the community is going to be very supportive of it once they see what we've done with the place," new manager Terry Wiggins told the Union-Tribune (12-15-89). Wiggins – who leased the El Cajon theater from Walnut - was also running San Diego's Aztec, Bijou, and Casino theaters, as well as Oceanside's Star and Crescent Theaters.
By summer 1990, less than 20 California Pussycats remained in the X-biz, according to Walnut’s office manager Ethel Edwards. "We were losing business in a lot of the theaters that were closed up,” she told the L.A. Times (8-14-90). “And videotapes were the reason."
In June 1991, the El Cajon Theater that had housed a Pussycat through late 1989 announced it would soon be shuttered for good. Walnut rep Barry Hartsfield said the price the city had been negotiating for the past year was acceptable.
"We are ready to sell," he told the San Diego Union-Tribune (6-13-91). Hartsfield had risen quickly through the Walnut ranks when George Tate sought his help after suffering various health setbacks, including a stroke that sidelined him for the better part of the next few years.
Walnut Properties ("a real estate holding and investment company") filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June 1994, claiming liabilities of $17.7 million. Creditors with the largest claims included First Fidelity Savings and Loan of San Diego ($2.08 million), Queen City Bank in Long Beach ($2.38 million), and Topa Thrift and Loan in Century City ($2.8 million).
Walnut’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy actions were converted to Chapter 7 actions in August ’94, by which time George Tate had also passed away.
In National City, Walnut had withdrawn from managing the Paris Pussycat in the mid-'80s. Former Aztec Theater owner Wesley "Andy" Andrews leased the 500-seat property from Walnut and kept it open under the Pussycat name until the late ‘90s, after all but the last few California 'Cats had closed.
National City purchased the property (which included an adjacent furniture store also owned by Walnut) for $1,066,000. The theater by itself was valued at around $336,000, according to county tax records.
“I guess you can call it progress,” Wesley Andrews told the San Diego Union Tribune (8-4-98). “I don't know that there's anyway to fight it."
Mayor George Waters padlocked the National City Pussycat for good in July 1999. According to the Star News (7-17-99), Vice Mayor Ron Morrison found an old 1971 reel in the projection room, from a Walt Disney film rather than a porno. "It was probably used in case of a raid," he reportedly quipped.
The National City Pussycat sat abandoned and ignored for awhile, like so many other formerly thriving X-houses all across the country. The building was later bulldozed to make way for an intended student-resource center dubbed the University Education Village.
Walnut Properties was still being divvied up in tax sell-offs in 2006, when the city of Baldwin Park obtained a Walnut property at 4024 East Pacific Avenue for $20,355 (assessed value $107,374).
Deep Throat star Linda Boreman (aka Lovelace) maintained for many years that “When you watch Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped.” Below letter from Linda dated 1986 restates the claim yet again ----
Then, she surprised everyone by posing for a nude spread in Leg Show magazine.
After an accident, Linda died April 22, 2002, at the age of 53.
According to the documentary film Inside Deep Throat, Linda watched the movie for the first time in many years, shortly before she died, commenting that “I wonder why everyone made such a big deal out of it?”
Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano died in October 2008. By that time, only one Pussycat theater remained in operation in California, in LA, where it still screens both straight and gay porn films to this day.
THE SAN DIEGO 'CAT HOUSES --- listed more or less in the order in which they opened as Pussycats. Dates reflect their X-rated Pussycat incarnations. It should be noted that Walnut still ran many of these locales before and/or after their ‘Cathouse days, with some theaters going back and forth between adult and mainstream fare at various times. A few were leased to non-Walnut operators, but maintained Pussycat signage (such as the National City and Sunset ‘Cats in their final years), while some others were leased FROM non-Walnut owners.
Paris Pussycat (formerly the Bush, National, and Aboline Theater), 930 National City Blvd, National City – open 1967 to July 1999 (Walnut had been leasing it out since the mid-‘80s, with Pussycat remaining on the marquee)
Pussycat San Diego, 4th Avenue at F Street, San Diego – open 1968 through 1981
El Cajon, 330 West Main Street, El Cajon – open 1972 to August 1989
Escondido Pussycat (formerly the Ritz Theatre), 309 East Grand Ave, Escondido – open 1972 to 1976 (manager arrested over throat in 73)
Oceanside Towne Theater (short term), Oceanside – open late ‘70s to early 80s
Oceanside Star Theater, 402 North Coast Highway, Oceanside - open as a Pussycat 1988 to April 1989
Oceanside Palomar Theater, 314 N. Coast Highway, Oceanside (short term)
Plaza Cat, 323 Horton Plaza, San Diego (short term 70s)
Aztec Cat, 665 5th Avenue, San Diego (short term early ‘80s)
Casino Cat, 643 – 647 5th Avenue, San Diego (short term early ‘80s, spent most of 1983 as a ‘Cat)
Bijou Cat (aka Cinema X), 5th Avenue, San Diego (short term ‘80s)
Off Broadway/Cabaret/Lyceum (formerly the Hollywood Burlesque Theater), 316 – 316 F Street (Third and F), San Diego (short term off and on circa 1976 through 1983, sometimes also carrying the same Cinema X signage seen at the Bijou on 5th)
Finally, here are some excerpts featuring Lovelace from my book Triple-X Cinema: A Cartoon History (which, quite frankly, is selling like crazy this week, what with all the press surrounding the Lovelace film – I guess that makes me yet another San Diegan earning $$$ off her performance over 40 years ago):
"Field Of Screens" -- Cover story 7-6-06: Complete theater-by-theater history of San Diego drive-ins thru the years, including interviews with operators and attendees, dozens of rare and unpublished photos, vintage local theater ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Before It Was The Gaslamp: Balboa’s Last Stand" -- Cover story 6-21-07: In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, I worked at downtown San Diego's grindhouse all-night movie theaters. This detailed feature recalls those dayz, the death of the Balboa Theatre, etc., including interviews with operators, vintage local movie ads, and more. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
"Pussycat Theaters: When 'Cathouses Ruled California" -- for the first time, the inside story of the west coast Pussycat Theater chain of adult moviehouses, which peaked in the '70s but later died out. Company head Vince Miranda owned and lived part time at the Hotel San Diego, operating several other local theaters downtown and in Oceanside, Escondido, etc. Told by those who actually ran the theaters, with a complete theater-by-theater encyclopedia covering every Pussycat that ever screened in CA -- http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs...
More like this:
- Review: Lovelace — Aug. 12, 2013
- Trailer Park: Seventh Son — Aug. 2, 2013
- How did San Diego go from two dozen drive-in theaters to only two? — Feb. 14, 2013
- Pussycat Theaters - a comprehensive history of a California dynasty — June 29, 2010
- Before It Was the Gaslamp: Downtown's Grindhouse Row (updated 8-22-09) — July 23, 2008