Legendary Adult Director Cecil Howard Passes

NEW YORK CITY—Cecil Howard, one of the most respected and talented directors of adult movies' Golden Age, has passed. According to his son, although Howard was thought to be in good health, after having had heart surgery several years ago, he died in his sleep Friday morning. He was 85 years old.

Originally trained as an artist, Cecil Howard spent several years as the art director for Lancer Books, but began his filmmaking career by assisting, as both a photographer and investor, his childhood friend Armand Weston in making the softcore feature Hot House. Howard's XXX career began as a producer for Weston and established directors Henri Pachard and Chuck Vincent. Even then, Howard was very protective of his "brand," never licensing the films to any other company, never allowing the scenes to be compiled, and it was only in 2010 that he entered into an arrangement with HotMovies to make some of his classics—Scoundrels, winner of AVN's first Best Film award; Foxtrot, October Silk and all four volumes of The Last X-Rated Movie—available on video on demand on a limited basis.

"The first time we sold videos was in the lobby when [Pachard's] Babylon Pink opened in 1979," recalled Howard's son Brad. "Cecil Howard and Henri Pachard felt so strongly about this movie that they went ahead and four-walled their own theater so they could reap the profits. They paid the theater a weekly rent and all the box office receipts would go to them. The theater they rented was a gay theater called the Rendevouz on W. 54th Street in Manhattan and it was a smash hit with couples lined up to see it.

"He continued to put out the new films on video almost a side business to the theatrical distribution part of the business," Brad continued. "It was after the CES show in Chicago in 1982 when Foxtrot was released that we really went full steam ahead on that business. I had just finished college and went with him to Chicago. He had been thinking about selling his entire library at that time to one of the major video companies. When we got back to New York, I told him that I could run the video business. Foxtrot was a huge hit in the theatres and on video but the next movie Scoundrels in 1983 was monumental on video."

Howard entered into similar theater rental arrangements for several of his other films including Platinum Paradise, Firestorm and Spitfire, though in those cases, the theater was the Pussycat at 1607 Broadway in Times Square.

Howard directed (or co-directed) 31 adult films in his career, beginning with 1971's Fantasex, though one of his most famous, Scoundrels (1982), won AVN's first Best Director, Film award in 1984, and Star Angel (1986) took home the same award in 1987. Howard's final adult film was 1992's Red Room And Other Places.

"Firestorm (1984) was my dad's favorite, without question," Brad said. "Anne and him put their heart and soul into that. For the most part they always used actors/actresses based in New York but for that film they had people in mind to play the characters such as Kay Parker and flew them in from California. It was his biggest budget, longest shoot. He felt it was their best script and the most they could accomplish in the genre. After that, he had strong feelings for Scoundrels. One of the reasons was, he was really happy to have a movie where he could give Ron Jeremy a lead and it was somewhat autobiographical in that Howard commuted by car to the suburbs every day and Ron's character was a commuter. Finally he always had a soft spot for Platinum Paradise (1980)."

Regarding Howard's directorial style, Brad describes his father as "thorough and demanding. He always made sure he had enough footage from multiple angles so when it came time to edit, he had enough coverage to make every scene exciting—especially the sex scenes. If you watch his movies you'll never see long scenes of the same type of act; you'll always see multiple cuts; same in the acting scenes. When he was filming, it was always about getting it right and never about trying to finish a scene in as few takes as possible. The editing process would take months for the movies shot on film, and the process drove everyone crazy, but he always said as long as the movie has his name on it he's going to make sure everything is perfect. He got the nickname 'Cecil' from Roberta Finley, who was the camera woman on Fantasex because he was such a perfectionist, as in 'Who do you think you are? Cecil B. Demille?' Many of the young editors he worked with went on to have very successful careers in mainstream movies and TV."

Some of Howard's favorite actors/actresses included Samantha Fox, Veronica Hart, Sharon Mitchell, Nina Hartley, Vanessa Del Rio, Jamie Gillis, Eric Edwards, John Leslie, Paul Thomas and Ron Jeremy.

"I remember an interview I saw my dad do with an actress who was trying out for her first adult part," Brad said. "During the interview, most of what he did were give her all the reasons she might regret doing an adult film. When I saw Boogie Nights, I recall Burt Reynolds character doing the same thing, and I was thinking that sounded a lot like my father."

Ron Jeremy also noted some similarities between Reynolds' and Howard's ethos.

"What makes Howard stand out is, if you look at Boogie Nights, for example, it shows the resistance of Burt Reynolds' character to do soap opera type acting; he wanted to make a good film, and he stuck to his guns to make it realistic," commented Ron Jeremy about his experiences with Howard. "In that aspect, Howard was very similar to some of the other great directors, Anthony Spinelli, Radley Metzger and Gerard Damiano. These guys were used to shooting on film; they had gaffers, grips, best boys—it was a real movie. He really couldn't adapt to the video era, didn't like that medium, and a lot of the early directors stuck with film. Howard took absolute pride in his work; he wanted it to look like a regular feature film except with sex in it. I went to his home for rehearsal with him and his assistant and writing partner, Anne Randall, who between the two of them turned out some of the best classic films of all time. I emember he put his arm around me, was very fatherly; he had a very fatherly attitude. He was grumpy, he made no bones about that, but when he liked you, he treated you well. He really cared about his work. He felt he had a great product and he wanted to get compensated for it. He really took pride in his work, always wanted to make a very, very good project."

Jeremy recently took part in recording a commentary track for the Blu-ray release of Scoundrels.

According to Brad, there were several factors that led to Howard's retirement from adult filming.

"It was a company wide decision," he said." Dad wanted to make a general release film. The adult theater business was over. Everyone involved at Command loved the entire process: The production, the ad campaign, the grand opening at the theater followed by the video campaign and then the video release. By the late '80s, the business had changed so much. While he did shoot a bunch of videos at the end that he released over time, that's not what he got into this business for. He loved the big screen. He loved the excitement of opening night. So in the summer of 1988, he shot what became Dead Boyz Can't Fly. The videos he released after that, like The Last X-Rated Movie, were shot before that and edited after."

"I'm sorry to hear of the death of Cecil Howard, one of the last remaining directors of my early career," said Nina Hartley, after having been informed of Howard's passing. "It was a pleasure to be cast in The Last X-Rated Movie, 1-4 and to work with a true professional. My deepest condolence to his family."

One industry personality on whom Howard had a profound effect was former AVN owner Paul Fishbein.

"Cecil Howard was the first adult director I met in person," Fishbein recalled. "We had published the first issue of Adult Video News and sent it to everyone, and he wrote a really nice letter and invited me up to New York. And we've had a great relationship ever since. I went to New York several times a year and we ended up spending quite a bit of time together. He really was a huge supporter of AVN and big believer in what we were doing, always very complimentary. Actually, he was one of our very first advertisers as well.

"In the 1980s, even after everything was coming out on home video, the directors who still shot on film still screened their films in theaters for critics," Fishbein added. "In 1984, he invited me to a premiere screening in New York for Firestorm. At that screening I met John Leslie, Jamie Gillis and Joey Silvera who were hanging out together. I also met Ron Jeremy and Al Goldstein at that same screening and that’s how I got friendly with them. Howard had such respect from everyone in the adult film community that they were all there to support him even though Leslie was the only one actually in the film.

"Howard won Best Director and Best Film for the first AVN Awards but we weren’t doing a show yet. So I took a train to New York and had a Polaroid taken of me handing him the award so that we could run it the next issue of Adult Video News. However, Howard treated it as if he had won a Academy Award."

It's hardly a surprise, then, that when Fishbein was creating his feature X-Rated: The Greatest Adult Films Of All Time, he thought of Howard, and of the 32 classics included, Howard's Scoundrels and Neon Nights were among them.

"I’ve spoken to Howard quite a bit over the last few years, starting when we were doing the pre-production on X-Rated," Fishbein stated. "We hadn’t been in touch much for a few years and it was great to reconnect. Other than the fact that he was hard of hearing, he seemed to be in perfect spirits, great shape and he was still as protective of his movies as he had always been. We e-mailed a couple of weeks ago, in fact. He even voted for the people we chose for the new documentary X-Rated 2: The Greatest Stars Movies of All-Time, and told me he'd watched it on Showtime."

There's little doubt that Cecil Howard was one of the most talented, even iconic film directors in the adult industry, and he will be sorely missed. A small, private service for Howard will reportedly take place near his home in Westchester County tomorrow.