Los Angeles and its LGBTQ community lost one of their great chroniclers with the passing in November of filmmaker and activist Pat Rocco. Brooklyn-born Rocco was a child of Los Angeles since relocating here with his parents in the mid-1940s. Singing stints on local television talent shows led to professional gigs working alongside Phyllis Diller and as a regular player on The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, but Rocco found his true calling when he answered an ad in the Free Press for a photographer of nude males. Successful photo shoots led to short 8mm and 16mm films with his models enacting stories written by Rocco ranging from brief romances to pie-throwing slapstick. Having come out at 13, Rocco was equally open with his films, debuting a selection at the Park Theatre in Westlake in the summer of 1968 in the city’s first public on-screen exhibition of overtly gay films with male nudity. More than titillating erotica, they exhibited a personal vision that celebrated a romantic, joyful positive image of men in love that critic and author Jim Kepner then described as “exhilarating, fresh, ideal, basic, and agonizingly beautiful.” And his films were a hit, attracting coverage in the mainstream press and sold-out audiences, which allowed Rocco to branch out into features.
As he revolutionized the representation of gay love on screen, Rocco also used his camera to capture the simultaneous revolution of gay identity in the streets. He documented the city’s earliest Gay Pride parades, the flavor of local nightclubs and in Sign of Protest (1970), the landmark demonstrations against the homophobic policies of Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. For a community long forced underground, Rocco shot movies guerilla-style on location all over the city, in Griffith Park, Los Feliz, Echo Park, Hollywood and, most notoriously, inside Disneyland, the surreptitious setting for his tale of young gay love Disneyland Discovery (1969). A one-of-a-kind storyteller and entertainer, Rocco was a great friend and supporter of UCLA Film & Television Archive, Outfest and ONE Archives. We are proud to join with these institutions to remember and celebrate Rocco’s inspiring life and career with a selection of films, clips and remembrances.
Special thanks to David Ghee, Cynthia Lurie, Outfest, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives at the USC Libraries.