Chi Chi LaRue Talks Catalina Acquisition

LOS ANGELES - Classic gay adult studio Catalina Video has always had a special significance for director Chi Chi LaRue.

Long before he became one of the industry's most successful directors, LaRue was renting out Catalina tapes as an adult store clerk at Broadway Books in Minnesota. When he decided to make his big move to L.A. in 1987, the future gay porn icon knocked on Catalina's door and got his first job in the industry as a salesman; the company later gave Chi Chi his first shot at directing.

And now, as a partner in Channel 1 Releasing, Chi Chi LaRue has acquired the historic studio that played such a fateful role in launching him on the road to success.

"It's amazing to come full circle in the 20 years that I've been in this business," Chi Chi told AVN of the high-profile acquisition. "The all-time best classics in gay adult video were made at this studio, including GAYVN's Best Gay Video of all time, Powertool. Some of the biggest stars ever were discovered and brought to the public through Catalina Video – people like Jeff Stryker. I'm very proud that Channel 1 has purchased something that is a huge part of the adult film legacy, whether gay or straight."

The Catalina library encompasses over 600 titles, including many directed by LaRue (Billboard, The Rise, Powertool 2, Straight to Bed, Man of the Year, Hail Caesar).

"The exciting part is not only owning the most major classics in gay adult history but also being able to own the movies that I made," Chi Chi said. "We acquired All Worlds last year, and adding Catalina to the mix has now solidified the fact that Channel 1 is the world's largest gay adult video company."

Channel 1 has just begun to sort through the massive archive of video masters, chromes and raw footage in the Catalina collection. But already, the company is talking big plans.

"We're repackaging the movies, we're going to remaster them, and we are going to get the ones that are not out on DVD out on DVD," said LaRue. "The streaming possibilities are endless – it's going to be amazing to get them out on VOD. And I'm really looking forward to making some new big Catalina features; I want to do some sequels to some of the classics."

Where many video companies do not invest the time, money and resources to create special edition DVD extras for their vintage porn titles, LaRue plans to satisfy the collector's market with ample bonus features.

"I think that there is a huge market for these classics that people have heard about," LaRue said. "People love behind-the-scenes footage, commentary, anything nostalgic. And Catalina is very nostalgic. [Perfomer/director and former Catalina owner] William Higgins was the epitome of the SoCal surfer boy look. And something like Powertool will never die – Jeff Stryker is the most famous gay porn star ever, and I think that for every gay adult video fan out there, that's required viewing. In Catalina movies, you'd see boys that would become superstars who did one or two movies and then went away – and I think that's what made people crazy for them. It was so not 'out there' like it is today; it was a little more mysterious. And I think the mystique of Catalina is something that a lot of people remember. So some people will be excited about going back and rediscovering that mystique, and the people that haven't seen these movies will be excited to discover them.

"We've got to root through so much stuff -- it's daunting, but it's very cool," LaRue continued. "Back in the days when I was there, people like John Travis taught me how to really care about the photos you picked; it was very important, going through the photos, and getting the best picture possible. The care that was taken in doing it back then was incredible. And I want to bring that back – Catalina is definitely one of the crown jewels of gay porn, and I want to polish that jewel back up. I want the name Catalina Video to be back at the top of the list."

LaRue described the deal between Channel 1 and Catalina as "quick and painless." While he declined to put a price tag on the acquisition, he noted, "you've got to spend money to make money."

"Over the years, I had stayed in contact with Mike West, who took over ownership of Catalina from William Higgins," LaRue explained. "Just recently within the past year I saw him at the AVN expo, and he came up to our booth and he was very impressed by what we had accomplished in such a very short time at Channel 1. I e-mailed him saying how nice it was to see him, and if he ever entertained the thought of selling Catalina, to make sure to call and give us the first shot. That's how it came about. He came in, we talked about it – and what was really cool was that he commented on how he had followed the rise of Channel 1 and Rascal Video, my line that I do for Channel 1. Mike said he noticed the way we were handling everything with the acquisition of All Worlds, and how we must be doing something right here. There was no hemming and hawing on the deal, no back and forth; this was a mutual agreement, we came to an understanding really easily, which was very nice, and very unlike most of these things, where you go back and forth so long. I think he really wanted Catalina to be in a good place with people who would take care of it and care about it. It's bizarre how much I care about these movies I watched as a gay porn fan living in Minnesota 20 years ago. I remember seeing the ads for Powertool and chomping at the bit to get these movies into the store; who knew I'd move out here and get a job working for the company, let alone own it."

It almost has the ring of destiny.

"It really does," LaRue agreed. "People say if you put out good things in the world, they come back to you, and I believe in that wholeheartedly."