Peter O’Toole’s Porn Valley Contributions

Peter O'Toole
Peter O’Toole, who died this weekend in London at 81, in 1979 co-starred in “Caligula,” the most massive adult-oriented trainwreck/cult-classic in film history.

O’Toole was already legendary for playing the title role in David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “The Lion in Winter” (1968), but it couldn’t have been his equally-legendary drinking that caused him to accept the role of the syphilitic Emperor Tiberius in a movie co-produced by Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione — after all, sober master thespian John Gielgud (later Sir John Gielgud) was also in the movie.

(It would become the Giel-gud movie of the summer.)

No, it must have been the same thing that sent Alec Guinness to Tattooine, Orson Welles to those Paul Masson ads, and John Houseman to Antonio Bay: an obscenely big paycheck at the twilight of a heralded, but not necessarily remunerated, career.

Guccione shelled out $17 million for “Caligula,” which featured hardcore sex scenes, themes of incest, castration, male-on-male fisting, and the always-enviable Prima Nocta, along with thousands of extras and sets that seemed like the living representation of every excess that the coming decade of AIDS would shut down.

It was re-edited at least nine times and took years to make its money back, proving even in the shadow of the Porno Chic years that sex didn’t always sell.

O’Toole starred alongside Malcolm McDowell as the even more depraved Emperor Caligula. McDowell had made his own contribution to porn history in the beginning of the 1970s, starring as Alex in Stanley Kubrick’s “Clockwork Orange.” “Caligula” took the ultraviolence up to 11, but with none of Alex’s redemption.

Filling out the cast was a young Helen Mirren, who would appear alongside Professor Dumbledore a decade later in Peter Greenaway’s “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, And Her Lover,” a movie that got debauchery and violence right.

Though “Caligula” remains Penthouse’s biggest-grossing movie, critics like Roger Ebert deemed it unwatchable (it is pretty unwatchable) and O’Toole and Gielgud distanced themselves from it, saying that Gore Vidal’s original script did not hint at the hardcore sex scenes Guccione and original director Tinto Brass would later add.

But it couldn’t have been that much of a surprise.

The year after “Caligula” was released, O’Toole starred in “The Stuntman” (1980), playing mercurial and autocratic director Eli Cross. It is from this character that a talented adult director takes his porn name. Eli Cross (as Bryn Pryor) is also working with Malcolm McDowell in the independent steampunk picture “Cowboys And Engines” (co-produced by James Deen), but that doesn’t quite wrap up Peter O’Toole and porn just yet.

Because the guy who played Walter in Lee Roy Myers’ porn version of “The Big Lebowski” chose the name Peter O’Tool.

What is it about Peter O’Toole that inspires such admiration in the Porno-American community? I think it might have something to do with having gotten away with it.

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