The story of Golden Age porn star Jack Wrangler (porn bio) is a tale of expectation defying contradictions — not the least of which is the fact that this post-Stonewall cult hero, view unlike so many of his peers, missed a head-on collision with tragedy. Wrangler’s life and times are explored in a new documentary, Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon.
Jack Wrangler was born John Robert Stillman. Young “Jack” Stillman — a Beverly Hills brat; the son of a Busby Berkeley dancer and TV producer Robert Stillman — continued the family’s show business tradition as a child star.
At seven, he landed a role on an Emmy Award-winning religious-themed series “The Faith of Our Children,” which co-starred his real-life Sunday school teacher Eleanor Powell. (Three decades later he would find X-rated fame as Lucifer in The Devil in Miss Jones, Part II.) As a budding teen heartthrob he made guest appearances on TV shows like “Medical Center.”
But it was in his mid-twenties that his career took a decidedly exotic turn. Jack flexed his acting chops on the dinner theater circuit and in a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama The Subject Was Roses, but he also found work in an all-male erotic dance revue.
Art imitated life when Jack was cast in the role of Denis, a go-go boy, in Dean Goodman‘s gay-themed play Special Friends. The late actor/writer Goodman — a man who counted Tennessee Williams as a friend and Marlene Dietrich as a former mother-in-law — would later sing Jack’s praises on the pages of Vector magazine in an article titled “Paradox.”
The burgeoning sex symbol continued to explore opportunities in adult entertainment, with nude pictorials in gay skin mags like Mandate and In Touch and with performances in hardcore loops for the classic porn purveyor Nova Studios. Jack, who frequently appeared in tight denim trousers and unbuttoned flannel shirts, would eventually polish his Marlboro Man persona by co-opting the Wrangler name from the brand of jeans that were tailor made for rodeo use.
What to make of the fact that his father is credited with such TV Land staples as the westerns “Rawhide” and “Bonanza?” Paging Dr. Freud!
Soon this real life prince of Bel Air — a ruggedly handsome California golden boy with chiseled pecs and eyes like a hound dog — was setting porn palaces on fire in XXX-rated flicks like Kansas City Trucking Co., Gemini, and the recently rediscovered and soon to be re-released Jocks.
Wrangler was also a pioneer when it came to porn star branding. He was one of the first (if not the first) porn stars to market his own line of dildos “in his own image” — molded from his very own 9-inch cock.
At the peak of his gay porn fame, Jack made another surprising career move by crossing over into straight porn in the movie China Sisters. But his first straight porn role (which also happened to be his first heterosexual experience) wasn’t much of a stretch. He played a conflicted gay man who only manages to get it up for a threeway with two women after a cross-dressing nymphomaniac pegs his ass with a strap-on dildo.
He’d go on to more traditional straight porn roles in movies like Misbehavin’. (His Misbehavin’ co-star, Sonny Landham, would eventually pull a reverse Wrangler, transitioning from hardcore porn to mainstream action movies with roles in box office hits like Predator and 48 Hrs.) Jack ‘n’ Jill and Blue Magic would also feature another switch hitter who got his start doing gay porn: George Payne, a handsome top who hooks up with Jack in the vintage gay sailor flick Navy Blue. In the early ’80s Wrangler and Payne both appeared in gay and straight porn films without feeling a need to alter their stage names.
In 1994 Wrangler did the most surprising thing of all. He got married. To a woman. A much older woman, 22 years his senior. But not just any woman. Pop star Margaret Whiting of “That Old Black Magic” fame. They met in 1976 and started dating after Whiting attended one of his strip shows where Jack performed in front of a mostly male audience. To this day the two remain visible players in New York’s social scene.
But he never hid his lifestyle or sexuality from Whiting. According to a 1987 People Magazine interview, when Wrangler told her he was a “fucking faggot” Whiting famously replied, “Only around the edges, dear.”
Clever though that line may be, it’s not exactly true. Wrangler identifies as gay. Not ex-gay. Not bi. But gay. He gave up his porn career and abstains from gay sex out of respect for the woman he married.
This arrangement would be strange enough for any man. But this particular man was not just a sex symbol, but also a symbol of gay pride for countless homos who were starved for visible queer role models in the broader culture. When Dean Goodman called Jack Wrangler a paradox, he didn’t know the half of it.
Additional biographical data courtesy of the Internet Adult Film Database.