In 1968, Shaun Costello embarked on a 16-year-long career as the director, producer and sometime-star of over 120 films spanning the 1970's, Porn's Golden Age. Through a series of a pseudonyms, the native New Yorker kept his career a secret from most of his girlfriends and their families as well as the various communities he flitted through, including the New York political establishment, the Nantucket Society, the Duchess County equestrian set, the three television networks and the New York advertising community that provided his cover during--and paid his bills after--his career in smut.
After graduating from nude modeling for cheap skin mags to directing hardcore loops, the sex-addicted Costello--funded every step of the way from here on out by a Mafia bankroll--became the Henry Ford of smut after creating a mathematical formula for making profitable One Day Wonders, cheap porn productions that could be made in a single day with a cast of six and a stripped down crew. He flourished in the early Eighties as the East Coast producer for the infamous Reuben Sturman, supplying his Cleveland-based organization with big-budget 35MM feature films while simultaneously blowing all the profits on the drugs which would ultimately prove his downfall.
Costello's strategy of secrecy lasted over thirty years before getting the shock of his life in 2005, when a snoopy Golden Age aficionado pieced together the extensive filmography that now represents one of the most controversial, foundational and acclaimed careers in the history of the adult film business. RISKY BEHAVIOR: Sex, Gangsters and Deception in the Time of "Groovy" is the story of those sixteen years, a first-hand chronicle of the Mafia's involvement in the porn by the guy who revolutionized sex movies while keeping his moonlit existence a secret to anyone not in the industry.
About the Author:
Shaun Costello was born and raised in New York City, where he attended a Catholic grammar school in Forest Hills until the eighth grade, and Rhodes Prep in Manhattan until the twelfth. Four years later he received a B. A. in Theater from the University of Minnesota. After graduating, he spent two years as the editor of Careers for the College Man, a controlled circulation annual that connected the corporate recruiter with the college senior.
From 1968 until 1983 he lived the contents of RISKY BEHAVIOR.
He left New York City for a three year hiatus in Ohio and Minnesota, where he directed regional television. Returning to New York in 1986, and arriving just in time to see the Mets win the World Series, he had an award winning career directing television commercials for Manhattan based advertising agencies, as well as creating high-end promotional projects for the ABC and CBS television networks, and Time Warner.
Shaun currently lives in Florida and, for better or for worse, remembers everything.
Composite Image by Andrew Shearer
Link to Shaun Costello's Blog
Link to "WATERPOWERED" The Video
(Having some fun with Shaun Costello's infamous classic)
Link to the trailer for Shaun Costello's first feature film - the notorious Grindhouse Classic FORCED ENTRY
An Introduction to the Book
In the Spring of 2005, I got an e-mail from a friend in California, asking me if I’d Google’d myself recently. I found the Google site, entered my name, pressed search, and got the shock of my life. Thirty years after I made them, and twenty two years after I retired from the industry that spawned them, there was a list of fifteen XXX rated pornographic feature films titled: THE SHAUN COSTELLO COLLECTION.
I had never been embarrassed by my connection to the porno industry, but I had never advertised it either, and certainly not under my own name. Unlike most people I knew in the porno business, I had another life, in another world, and was quite successful at not mixing the two. When someone finds out that you’ve directed porno movies, the relentless inquisition begins. People have a fascination with this stuff that can turn an otherwise perfectly acceptable neighbor into an endlessly inquisitive pest, who will never cease asking stupid questions about this girl or that, about this scene or that, about this film or that, ad nauseum. After a few annoying experiences, I decided to keep the two worlds separate, and although there was an occasional leak, I was pretty successful at keeping them apart.
For 16 years (1968 to 1983) I was involved, in one way or another in the pornographic film industry. From 1968, when I answered an ad in The East Village Other that read: MALE AND FEMALE MODELS WANTED, NUDITY REQUIRED, to the late Seventies when I had become the Henry Ford of smut, to the early Eighties when I had flourished as Reuben Sturman’s East Coast producer, supplying his Cleveland based organization with big-budget 35MM feature films while simultaneously blowing all the profits on cocaine, I was a pillar of the business. A sex addict since puberty, my participation in sex movies turned me into a kid in a candy store. I found it hard to believe that they were actually paying me. Keeping my sexual adventure a secret was as exciting as the sex itself, maybe more so. As my life evolved, and my participation increased, the degree of my duplicity became more and more delicious. While sitting in the board room at CBS Sports, where I was a known player, I couldn’t resist holding 35mm transparencies of sex acts (with me in them) up to the light, while the rest of the room debated the pros and cons of televising a new golf event, pitting Johnny Miller against Jack Nicklaus. The element of risk was irresistible, and I couldn’t seem to get enough. Participating in equestrian competitions on weekends (I was a three-day-eventer) and directing porno films during the week, I sometimes wondered which life was real.
All this had happened so long ago that I thought it was long forgotten. As I sat dazed, looking at THE SHAUN COSTELLO COLLECTION, I noticed that there were discussion forums listed where people were talking about these films. So I clicked on A.V. Maniacs, became a member and started reading. The site was populated by film geeks from dozens of countries who had been watching my old films for years, collecting posters and memorabilia, debating the comparative values of my old movies, and generally being fans. And they knew my real name. I was stunned. I had taken great pains to keep my real name private. By the mid-Seventies the volume of product I was creating was huge, and the one thing I did not want was to become a porno icon like Harry Reems or Gerry Damiano. So I created a long list of aliases whose names would receive the director’s credit for my movies. One backer got Warren Evans, while another got Amanda Barton, and yet another got Helmuth Richler. None of my underworld clients really knew the amount of films I made, or that their very own Amanda Barton was also a competitor’s Warren Evans. I just wanted to make my weird little movies and be left alone.
So I kept reading the posts on this forum, populated by film geeks, who seemed dedicated to constructing a filmography, now that they knew that Shaun Costello was: Warren Evans, Amanda Barton, Helmuth Richler, Nicholas Berland, Oscar Tripe, Russ Carlson, etc. What they knew was astounding. Not only did they piece together almost all the pictures I had made, they knew the story lines, the casts by their real names, and even the locations where they were shot. Boy, was I outed. I followed their conversation for a few days, until I couldn’t resist any longer. I clicked on the little box, and typed in an answer to one of their questions, clicked on submit, and……………..pandemonium. The word spread quickly that I was on this site answering questions, and the site hits went from three hundred, when I gave my first answer, to over FORTY THOUSAND in just a few weeks. To me this was a staggering number. I told them, although all this happened long ago, that I would try to answer all their questions as truthfully and accurately as I was able, and I believe I did just that.
After a period of intensely reliving long buried memories, I came to a multifaceted conclusion:
1…..That I’m probably the only one living who knows as much as I do about a business and an era that still fascinates so many people, even after all these years.
2…..That I’m an acceptably good writer with time on his hands, and a story to tell.
3…..That there’s a market out there for a true story about an educated guy with a sex addiction who, unknown to his family and friends, took secret a run at the porno business when that business was in its infancy and became successful, but stayed too long at the fair and paid the price.
4…..That sex addiction is an often ignored and embarrassing affliction which can, and often does, have serious consequences.
5…..That this all took place in the Seventies, the last great romantic decade. The time of Johnny Carson, and Watergate, and Studo54, and Rocky, and Reggie, and “Groovy”, and cocaine, a white-collar drug that couldn’t possibly hurt anyone. It was the last decade before promiscuity could kill you.
As I began the process of reliving long forgotten events I found this story’s narrator to have maintained a strangely appealing innocence, considering his chosen journey. He took a magic carpet ride, like a modern day Candide, through a murky world of pleasure, and danger, and risk, and enjoyed every moment until the drugs took hold, and the phantasmagoria dissolved to pathos. This chronicle is a unique look at a fascinating era, as told by one of its major players. A story like this doesn’t come along every day. Properly handled, I think it could become a successful book.
This is not literature, and I’m not Edgar Doctorow, but I’m an acceptably good writer, and can spin a tasty yarn. This story’s narrator has a gritty, yet amusing and almost innocent voice. The key to this bizarre story is that it’s all true. It’s about sex, and gangsters, and deception in the time of “Groovy”, and I have every intention of turning it into a tasty read. How can it miss? In terms of my privacy, thanks to the advent of the search engine, it no longer exists. Since the whole fucking world already knows what I did, they might as well have the details.
So what is this story about?
In 1968, two years out of college, I was an editor at a Madison Avenue magazine with an adorable/smart/sexy girlfriend and what seemed like a bright future. But appearances can be deceiving. Underneath all the seemingly-positive prospects I secretly suffered from a serious sex addiction which was taking over my life. “RISKY BEHAVIOR” is the true story of that sex addiction and the dark journey on which it took me, down a road to a secret life where I became a major player in the birth of the Adult Film Industry, where it is generally accepted that I invented the sex movie.
It’s the story of my sex addiction. The story of a guy with an Irish Catholic upbringing whose fascination with all things sexual became a chronic problem that took over his life. It’s the story of New York street life in the late Sixties; the runaways, the hustlers, the dirty bookstore owners, the whole sleazy underbelly of a city going through a great moral transition. It’s the story of how kid a from Queens learned how to make porno movies, and began a sixteen year journey of sexual decadence and depravity that was almost acceptable behavior in a time when America was going through a revolution of sexual curiosity and expression that began with Woodstock and ended with Aids.
It’s also an inside look at the DeCavalcante crime family (the inspiration for the TV series The Soprano’s), who took over the adult film industry along with the Gambino family, whose Capo’s name was so secret that it was whispered, and then only by his initials (he was shot in the head by Sammy ‘The Bull’ Gravano in 1986), and of their takeover of Franklin National Bank, which had been bought by the Sicilian Mafia and administered by the Gambinos, and whose vaults contained huge corrugated cardboard boxes of cash (freshly laundered), from which I was given hefty stacks of hundred dollar bills to make movies.
It’s the story of the men whose money backed the making of porno movies; Reuben Sturman in Cleveland who started out selling girly magazines out of the trunk of his car and was worth over a billion dollars when he died in federal prison. Dominick “Lil Dom” Cataldo, who was introduced to me as a wiseguy with a gambling operation, but who was also known as “Double Decker Dom”, a serious hit man who liked to stack his victims on top of one another in shallow graves in upstate New York. Teddy and Tom, “The Greeks”, who owned some Eighth Avenue “Adult” theaters, and who sent most of the substantial amount of money they made in porno to their families in Greece to buy more sheep.
It’s an intimate look at what really happened at Studio 54, Mudd Club, Eros, Hellfire, and all of Manhattan’s cocaine-driven after hours venues that were run by the Mafia, and frequented by the ‘children of the night’. Included in this saga is the previously-untold story of the grizzly demise of Woolworth heir Jimmy Donahue, an infamous omni-sexual predator, who, along with his cousin Barbara Hutton, spent over two hundred million dollars of their family fortune on parties, palaces, and opulent orgies of shocking decadence, the guest lists of which, until now, had been kept secret; and whose penchant for the mutilation-murders of gay companions, repeatedly covered up by the deep pockets of the Woolworth family, led to his horrific dismemberment in what must surely be the most ghastly and hushed-up mob hit of the century.
And also, the story of a wedding reception in Brooklyn in 1978, hosted by a ranking member of New York’s Colombo crime family, that would be secretly attended by members of organized crime from all over the United States, the largest gathering of it’s kind ever attempted, in order to settle old disputes, redefine territorial boundaries, discuss new opportunities, and plan defensive measures against an aggressive Justice Department, and something new called the Rico Statute. I was there, and am one of the very few who remain alive to tell the tale. This secret gathering of a much-romanticized and questionable brotherhood would become the last hurrah for La Cosa Nostra.
It’s the inside story of American smut – the gangsters, the theater owners, the actors, the discos, and the hangers on. The winners. The losers. The suicides. The drugs. The murders. The sex clubs. The humanity. The inhumanity. The fun. The depression. All of it. Not to mention Steve Rubell, Huntington Hartford, Reuben Sturman, Jerzy Kosinski, Mickey Rourke, Gael Greene, and celebrities galore on their knees at the Hellfire Club.
And most of all, it’s the story of an educated kid from Queens, who became the biggest supplier of XXX feature product to the DeCavalcantes and the Gambinos, and somehow managed to keep it a secret from his neighbors in Duchess County, where he competed in equestrian events, and led the other half of his double life.
For sixteen years I led a carefully compartmentalized existence. Shooting scenes for a sex movie all day, and attending a ‘black-tie’ dinner celebrating the election of Robert Morganthau as Manhattan’s new District Attorney that very night. In the early Seventies my girlfriend’s father was the Executive Vice President of Eastman Kodak, whose corporate jet would pick me up at Butler Aviation at LaGuardia, and whisk me to their summer home on Nantucket for a weekend of Yacht Club dances, and Gallery openings. On Sunday night that same Kodak jet was waiting for me on the tarmac at Nantucket Airport, ready to return me to New York for a week of depraved behavior. And no one suspected a thing. During the week my girlfriend’s mother would be peppered with questions like, “Who was that ‘Nice young man’ that your daughter brought to the Yacht Club dance on Saturday?”. The fact is that I really was a ‘Nice young man’. I was educated, well read, traveled, politically astute, and could fox-trot with the matrons. The mothers wanted to know my opinion of Lawrence Durrell, and the fathers wanted to know my thoughts on Ford’s pardon of Nixon. It’s just that there was another side to this ‘Nice young man’ that these people could never have understood or accepted.
During my sixteen year adventure in the dark world of the Adult Film Industry, directing and producing over one hundred feature films, I managed to conceal my involvement from the New York political establishment, Nantucket Society, the Duchess County horsy set, the Council on Foreign Relations, the New York advertising community, the three Television Networks, most of my girlfriends and all of their families, and along the way it seems that I invented the sex movie. For sixteen years ‘That Nice Young Man’ fooled them all, sometimes even himself.