R.I.P. Peter de Rome

Text by
David McGillivray
Photography by
Ethan Reid

BUTT profiled porn pioneer Peter de Rome in 2012, around the time the British Film Institute was re-releasing his most revered collection of films, The Erotic Films of Peter de Rome. ‘I’m holding up, thank you very much,’ Peter told Alex Needham. He held up for another two years, passing last Saturday, a week away from his ninetieth birthday.

Peter emigrated from the UK to the USA in the 1950s, after a stint in the Royal Air Force during World War II. In New York City, he made ends meet by taking a job at Tiffany & Co. (where he confessed to being a major flirt with the janitorial staff, getting into all kinds of trouble after hours). Eventually, he left NYC and got involved with the Civil Rights Movement in the Deep South.

By the 1960s, he was shooting arty gay porn on 8mm film, mostly for his own amusement until his short, Hot Pants, took a prize at Amsterdam’s Wet Dream Film Festival. Teaming up with producer Jack Deveau in the 1970s, his films were transfered to 16mm and began to screen in movie houses across the States, bringing him a larger audience, some famous fans — Hockney, Jarman, Burroughs and Warhol among them — and critical acclaim.

Peter’s pioneering porn included many of his real-life encounters, and serious doses of wit and humor. Among other innovations, he was responsible for the first first-person cum shot and the first no-hands cum shot.

I had the pleasure of making two films about Peter, and learning more about his remarkable life. My documentary about him, Peter de Rome: Grandfather of Gay Porn, played in Sheffield this month, prefaced by a filmed message from Peter that I’d shot days earlier. A lifelong movie fan, Peter wanted his last film to end with a fade to black. I did what he wanted, but it made me cry.

Published on 25 June 2014