QUEEN OF THE DEUCE – Review by Loren King

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The colorful and unconventional Chelly Wilson’s life story might seem incredible if Queen of the Deuce were not a documentary.

The Jewish Wilson fled the Nazis and World War II but the Holocaust claimed nearly her entire family in Greece. She settled in New York City where she sold hot dogs from a truck before buying her first theater, the Cameo, and screening Greek films for the immigrant community. By the 1970s, Wilson owned six X-rated theaters around Times Square and 42nd Street aka “The Deuce.” Author and activist Jeffrey Escoffier credits her as “one of the first, if not the first, to show gay porn in New York City.”

Wilson bought the posh Tivoli theater on 8th Avenue, renamed it the Adonis, and in 1975 turned it into the premiere gay porn theater in Manhattan. It even inspired its own porn film, A Night at the Adonis, in 1978.

Wilson lived in a walkup above another of her Eighth Avenue porn theaters, the Eros I. Her grandson, David Bourla, describes her kitschy lair as a “melange of strangeness,” where Wilson sat on a sofa next to piles of cash and held court, like Mama Rose crossed with a Mafia don, over a constant stream of friends that included mobsters, porn stars, artists, and gays and lesbians, some of whom were Wilson’s lovers.

Wilson’s daughter, Bondi Wilson Walters, and her husband Don Walters who both worked at producing and distributing the adult films that played at Wilson’s theaters, give lively and revealing interviews. But Wilson, who died in 1994, gets to tell much of her own story thanks to an audio recording she made about her youth in Greece and her colorful life in New York. Director Valerie Kontakos blends the audio and video interviews, photographs, playful animation, historical imagery of Greece and archival footage of 1970s and ‘80s New York, all seamlessly and stylishly edited by Rob Ruzic.

Queen of the Deuce is memorable both as a time capsule of the long-gone Times Square when it was packed with porn, peep shows, strip clubs and pulsating neon, an era mourned by some but not all, and the one-of-a-kind pioneer who presided over a piece of it.

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Loren King

Loren King's features and film reviews appear regularly in the Boston Globe, Boston Spirit magazine and the Provincetown Banner. She writes Scene Here, a localfilm column, in the Boston Sunday Globe. A member of the Boston Society of Film Critics since 2002, she served as its president for five years.