On the boulevard of broken dreams with Kip Noll

(There will be plain-talking discussion of men’s bodies and sexual practices of several kinds, so this is not for kids or the sexually modest.)

The boulevard in question is Sepulveda Boulevard (my morning name for Friday), part of which is a piece of the Pacific Coast Highway, the locus of William Higgins’s 1981 gay porn flick of that name (PCH), starring Kip Noll. Meanwhile, what we know of Noll’s life involves a substantial career in all kinds of sex work, including a lot of work as a dance hall boy, that is, a male stripper for men, and almost surely work as an escort for men, that is, as a male prostitute or stud hustler — two occupations that fit senses of the label gigolo (originally the masculine version of a French term for ‘dance hall girl’, and then ‘prostitute’). Which brings us to “The Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, a song that refers to “gigolos and gigolettes” — male and female prostitutes — strolling on a Parisian boulevard. (This is in France, and in a pop culture fantasy, two places where hustlers and hookers are regularly construed as picturesque rather than socially dysfunctional; a similar example, the movie Gigolette, is to come below.)

These investigations wil eventually take us to picturesque locations in Spain (where the Sepulvedas come from) and also to “the dark, underground world of a New York City gigolo”, as presented in Michael Lucas’s penis-heavy gay porn flick Gigolos (2007). A long distance from the sunny surfer beaches of southern California, but Noll eventually danced his dick off (and probably sold it as well) on the mean streets of New York.

An entry point, a publicity shot of Noll from PCH (with his big dick cropped out; X-rated shots of Noll are collected in an AZBlogX posting here):


Cheeky sultry sextwink, at the height of his career. I’ll get back to him in a while. But now I’ll ease into things by going on a road trip, through the fabled boulevards of L.A. — Hollywood, Wilshire, Sunset, Santa Monica, Westwood, Pico, Olympic, La Cienega, and, yes, Sepulveda (which is familiar to me through its proximity, at one point, to UCLA, where I frequently visited the linguistics department). A bit of the map, focused on this piece rather than the PCH piece further south:


From Wikipedia:

Sepulveda Boulevard is a major street and transportation corridor in the City of Los Angeles and several other cities in western Los Angeles County, California. It is around 42.8 miles in length, making the longest street in the city and county of Los Angeles. Sepulveda Boulevard runs from Long Beach north through the South Bay and Westside regions, and over the Santa Monica Mountains at Sepulveda Pass to northern San Fernando Valley. It passes underneath two of the runways of Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Portions of Sepulveda Boulevard are designated as Pacific Coast Highway (SR 1).

… Sepulveda Boulevard is named for the Sepulveda family of San Pedro, California. The termination of Sepulveda is on a part of the Sepulveda family ranch, Rancho Palos Verdes, which consisted of 31,619 acres  of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. In 1784 the Spanish land grant for Rancho San Pedro was issued to Juan Jose Dominguez by King Carlos III… A judicial decree was made by Governor José Figueroa which was intended to settle the land dispute between the Domínguez and Sepúlveda families. The rancho was formally divided in 1846, with Governor Pío Pico granting Rancho de los Palos Verdes to José Loreto and Juan Capistrano Sepulveda.

I’ll come back to the street name in a moment. First, a note on SR 1, from Wikipedia:

State Route 1 (SR 1) is a major north-south state highway that runs along most of the Pacific coastline of the U.S. state of California. At a total of just over 655.8 miles, it is the longest state route in California. Highway 1 has several portions designated as either Pacific Coast Highway (PCH), Cabrillo Highway, Shoreline Highway, or Coast Highway. Its southern terminus is at Interstate 5 (I-5) near Dana Point in Orange County and its northern terminus is at U.S. Highway 101 (US 101) near Leggett in Mendocino County.

(I’ve driven long stretches of the highway, pretty much from L.A. to S.F. Extraordinarily scenic, but a challenge for the driver; it truly hugs the (very irregular) coastline.)

Now: Sepulveda Boulevard is named after the Sepulveda family. Their family name, in turn, came from a Spanish place name, the town of their family’s origin. From Wikipedia:

Sepúlveda is a municipality located in the province of Segovia, Castile and León, Spain [halfrway between Madrid, 145 mi. to the south, and Bilbao, 142 mi. to the north]. The town lies next to the Hoces del Rio Duratón [Ravines of the Duratón River] National Park… A popular town within the province of Segovia to visit for cultural and gastronomic pursuits – a number of traditional restaurants serve roasted cordero [lamb] and cochinillo [suckling pig], with appealing views of the local sierra.

Of course, there is interesting local food!

A view of the town:


And a map of Spain, showing the location of the town:


So: from the street name to the family name to the place name, and there the trail gets cold: the etymology of the placename Sepúlveda is uncertain, at best speculative.

Back to PCH. From the typically effusive p.r. for the film Pacific Coast Highway (Laguna Pacific / Catalina 1981, directed by William Higgins):

Take a trip down the Pacific Coast Highway with Kip Noll and Jeremy Scott, and along the way join in their outdoor summer sexfest of cock munching and rump busting. When Kip, Jeremy and the guys aren’t at the beach or taking long hikes in the hills, they’re gettin’ naked and gettin’ down to some man-nasty sex action.

The fantasy and promise of the world resides in Southern California, where golden, godlike boys succumb to primal procreative [I think they meant sexual, not procreative; but maybe after the Gs of “golden, godlike”, the copywriters just wanted to score again with Ps] impulses locked in one another’s arms, flesh and mouths… tracing configurations of lust in celluloid. In gleaming succession eleven youths including superstar Kip Noll juxtapose one against the other’s affection, kisses and sweat in an ecstatic series of incensed seminal explosions.

Scenes include Buddy and Dan by a waterfall, Kip and Jeremy in a waterfall as well, Kip, Jeremy and Steve Richards in a jeep, J.W. King and Troy Richards by a stream, Steve Richards, Scott Anderson and Jeff Hunter in an explosive threeway on the beach and Troy Richards and Steve Savage making their own “pup tent” on the beach. This pair puts a new meaning in the term Brotherly Love.

(I have a fair number of Higgins DVDs, and I’ve seen this flick, but, alas, I don’t have a copy of it to re-view for this posting.)

On AZBlogX, #4 has the front cover of the DVD, #5 the back cover, and #6 the full shot of Noll  that’s abbreviated as #1 in this posting.

On Noll. Let’s start with Wikipedia:

Kip Noll, also Kip Knoll, is an American gay pornographic film actor-magazine model in the 1970s and 1980s.

Noll, who is a lean-muscled, shaggy-haired, free-spirited surfer type, achieved iconic status in the newly liberated gay culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s. After he was introduced into the gay pornographic film industry, he became closely associated with director William Higgins who first had Kip appearing in a few silent film loops in 1977 [Noll’s first films were in 1975, when he was just 18]. Noll was cast as the supposed younger brother of actor Bob Noll, and rapidly became the popular “Noll”. After his video success, several other unrelated models were presented as his brothers: Scott, Jeff, and Mark Noll. By the early 1980s Kip Noll had become one of the first superstars in the gay porn industry, as well as being a regular performer at [several strip clubs; in these performances, he was famous for having sex with the patrons, out in the audience].

Sparse on details, even with my additions. Some of his films, worth listing just so we can enjoy the titles:

Boys of Venice, Pacific Coast Highway, Brothers Should Do It, Kip Noll & the Westside Boys, Try To Take It, Wild Young Fuckers, Class of ’84, Cuming of Age, Grease Monkeys, Room Mates

Some expansion on the Wikipedia entry, from a World News site on the films of William Higgins, “Kip Noll – The Legend” of 5/9/10:

Born in Greenwich Conn 7 Aug 1957, stripper, go go dancer, young Kip Noll became the first twink gay porn star ever. He was an inspiration for director William Higgins, he made of him a superstar of his time, creating the Noll brothers. He was very popular during the 70’s and mid 80’s

In #1 on AZBlogX you can view the roughly 18-year-old Noll, a skinny, shaggy, big-dicked little guy with a ferocious sex drive. He sucked a lot of cock (#2 on AZBlogX), topped a lot of guys (#3 there), and occasionally bottomed.

In time he became a more muscular cute twink, the guy you see in #1 above.

Further expansion on his history, from a gay porn fan site:

Thomas Earl Hagan b. August 7, 1957 in Greenwich, Connecticut. Kip passed away in 2001 [May 21] of a heart attack at the age of 43. His last days were spent in the Salt Lake City Mission.

The information here is from the IMDb site, and it has been disputed. While he was working in the business, his private life was, as far as I can tell, completely masked, and then he dropped out of sight entirely.

His public work persona, however, was sexy-wild, hungry for adoration. He liked to chat with fans, and also to have flagrant sex with them, in public. In any case, he was certainly a dance hall boy, and it would be a surprise if he didn’t hustle mansex for money (almost everybody did, to survive in the business financially). So he was (in a sense) a gigolo twice over.

On the boulevard. What took me to gigolos? Two things. First, Sepulveda Boulevard, which led to L.A. boulevards in general, especially the two most iconic, both running east-west: Wilshire and Sunset. Second, cruising for gay sex (as Kip Noll’s surfer twink character always is), along the beach or on the streets, the boulevards of sex, tricking just for pleasure or for money (turning tricks). That led me to a series of boulevard sex songs, most notably the 1933 bittersweet “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”, with its gigolos and gigolettes.

A note on what makes a boulevard in L.A. A piece in L.A. Magazine tells us there’s a Los Angeles County Street Naming Committee in the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, according to which

Perhaps the most-used street designation in Los Angeles, a boulevard, is “a broad formally laid out paved public way, 100 feet or more wide, ornamentally illuminated or decorated.” Once meant to designate its hoity-toity, high-falutin status, “boulevard” now mostly designates its capacity

As for Sepulveda, it’s long, running from the PCH beaches way into the Valley, and that makes it useful, though not especially glamorous. In the (UCLA-focused) map in #2, you can see Sepulveda crossing Wilshire. In this (also UCLA-focused) map, you can see it (the white line next to the 405) crossing Sunset as well as Wilshire:


So, first Wilshire, and then Sunset.

From Wikipedia:

Running 15.83 miles from Grand Avenue in Downtown Los Angeles to Ocean Avenue in the City of Santa Monica, Wilshire Boulevard is densely developed throughout most of its span, connecting five of Los Angeles’s major business districts to each other, as well as Beverly Hills.

Wilshire is as close as L.A. gets to having a Main Street. And from its endpoint at Ocean Avenue, you get to, yes, the Pacific Coast Highway. PCH is the road of the day.

On Sunset, from Wikipedia:

Sunset Boulevard is a boulevard in the central and western part of Los Angeles County, California that stretches from Figueroa Street in Downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway at the Pacific Ocean.

Approximately 22 miles in length, the boulevard roughly traces the arc of mountains that form part of the northern boundary of the Los Angeles Basin, following the path of a 1780s cattle trail from the Pueblo de Los Angeles to the ocean.

The map in #5 shows the Westwood section of Sunset. Going west from there, the road takes you to Pacific Palisades and then, yes, the Pacific Coast Highway again (back in the 1960s, there was a fabulous abalone restaurant at the beach). UCLA in the map is just across Sunset from Bel-Air, and then going east from there, you get Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and Hollywood on your way downtown. West Hollywood is the crucial gay stop; from Wikipedia:

West Hollywood, occasionally referred to locally as WeHo, is a city in Los Angeles County, California, United States. Incorporated in 1984, it is home to the Sunset Strip. As of the 2010 census, its population was 34,399. It is considered one of the most prominent gay villages in the United States.

… According to Walkscore, a website that ranks cities based on walkability, West Hollywood is the most walkable city in California with a Walkscore of 89. Commercial corridors include the nightlife and dining focused on the Sunset Strip [along Sunset Boulevard], along Santa Monica Boulevard, and the Avenues of Art & Design along Robertson, Melrose, and Beverly Boulevard.

So, gay village, plenty of cruising. And it’s easy to walk around. And the Strip is really gaudy.

In any case, Sunset is the boulevard of gays and glamor.

Sex on the beach, sex on the boulevards. And beach music, hundreds and hundreds of songs. And boulevard music, dozens of songs. Three notable examples: from Green Day (with a direct Sunset Boulevard connection); from Alabama (shagging on the beach); and that 1933 song (set on the boulevards of Paris).

An artistic digression. About the artist Gottfried Helnwein; bear with me, this will immediately get relevant. From Wikipedia:

Gottfried Helnwein (born 8 October 1948) is an Austrian-Irish visual artist. He has worked as a painter, draftsman, photographer, muralist, sculptor, installation and performance artist, using a wide variety of techniques and media.

His work is concerned primarily with psychological and sociological anxiety, historical issues and political topics.

… Among his widely published works is a spoof of the famous Edward Hopper painting Nighthawks, entitled Boulevard of Broken Dreams [referring to Sunset Boulevard], depicting Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Humphrey Bogart [all four of them sex symbols, in four different ways]. This painting also inspired the Green Day song of the same name.

The painting (discussed along with other Nighthawks parodies in a 9/9/12 posting):


Then on Green Day:

Green Day is an American punk rock band formed in 1986 by lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong and bassist Mike Dirnt. … Green Day was originally part of the punk scene at the DIY 924 Gilman Street club in Berkeley, California.

and on the song:

“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a song by American punk rock band Green Day, recorded for their seventh studio album American Idiot (2004). … The song speaks from the point of view of American Idiot‘s main character, Jesus of Suburbia, and is a moderate midtempo song characterized by somber and bleak lyrics: “I walk this empty street / On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams / Where the city sleeps / And I’m the only one and I walk alone”

You can watch a video of the song here.

In a very different vein, there’s Alabama’s “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard”:

Dancin’ on the Boulevard is the seventeenth studio album by country music band Alabama, released in 1997 by RCA Records. It includes the singles “Dancin’, Shaggin’ on the Boulevard”, “Sad Lookin’ Moon,” “She’s Got That Look in Her Eyes” and “Of Course I’m Alright”. (Wikipeda link)

The shagging here is a style of dancing, and all that dancin’ and shaggin’ is goin’ down at Myrtle Beach SC. You can watch the video here. (The band is no doubt aware that the verb shag is also slang for ‘fuck’. More sex on the beach. More of the saltwater tang and smell of sex that suffuse PCH.)

And then back to 1933. From Wikipedia:

“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” is a 1933 hit song by Al Dubin (lyrics) and Harry Warren (music), set in Paris. The narrator says “I walk along the street of sorrow / The Boulevard of Broken Dreams / Where gigolo and gigolette / Can take a kiss without regret / So they forget their broken dreams.”

The song appeared in the 1934 film Moulin Rouge and was sung in the film by Constance Bennett. However, Bennett never made a recording of the song. It was originally recorded by Deane Janis with Hal Kemp’s Orchestra on October 31, 1933, in Chicago before the release of the film

The song has been covered many many times. Probably most famously by Tony Bennett, who made it one of his signature tunes. You can listen to Bennett performing it here.

Now we’re face to face, mano a mano with gigolo.

gigole, gigolo, gigolette. From NOAD2:

noun gigolo chiefly derogatory a young man paid or financially supported by an older woman to be her escort or lover. ORIGIN 1920s (in the sense ‘dancing partner’): from French, formed as the masculine of gigole ‘dance hall woman,’ from colloquial gigue ‘leg.’ [OED2 glosses Fr. gigole ‘tall thin woman, woman of the streets or public dance-halls’]

First, she pays him as a dancing partner, then she pays him as a sexual partner.

In the real world, both women who are paid to dance with men (dance hall girls in one sense) and women who are paid to dance in public, typically for men (chorus girls, pole dancers, strippers — dance hall girls in another sense), sometimes double as paid escorts or outright prostitutes, so a word referring to a dance hall girl in either sense could develop another sense as ‘prostitute (serving men)’. Similarly, a word referring to a dance hall man in either sense could develop another sense as ‘prostitute (serving women)’ — which seems to be what happened with gigolo. With several provisos that are obvious in the Wikipedia entry:

A gigolo is a male escort or social companion who is supported by a woman in a continuing relationship, often living in her residence or having to be present at her beck and call.

The gigolo is expected to provide companionship, to serve as a consistent escort with good manners and social skills, and often to serve as a dancing partner as required by the woman in exchange for the support. Many gifts such as expensive clothing and an automobile to drive may be lavished upon him. The relationship may include sexual services as well, when he also would be referred to as a “kept man”.

The term gigolo usually implies a man who adopts a lifestyle consisting of a number of such relationships serially, rather than having other means of support.

(There seems to be no generally used term for a gigolo’s patronne.)

In any case, a gigolo is not just a guy who turns tricks for women. The relationship is considerably more complex than that, and it includes a substantial class component: both participants are, or present themselves to be, at least upper middle class.

There’s an issue about the etymology of gigolo that now impinges on my discussion. The OED‘s treatment seems to say that French gigole had itself developed a ‘prostitute’ sense but that gigolo was borrowed into English initially only in the ‘dancing partner’ sense and then extended in meaning in English. The Random House Unabridged and Collins dictionaries, however, posit a French gigolette ‘woman of the streets or public dance halls’, from which gigolo was derived in French by back-formation and then borrowed into English. That would be merely a matter of (mostly Fresh) etymology, decidable by examining French materials — except for the fact that gigolette appears in English in the text of the 1933 song and in the title of a 1935 American movie, where it clearly refers to a prostitute (or a certain sort, roughly the woman-serving-man counterpart of the man-serving-woman gigolo):


Gigolette is a 1935 American romance film directed by Charles Lamont from a screenplay and story by Gordon Kahn. The film stars Adrienne Ames, Ralph Bellamy, Donald Cook, and Robert Armstrong.

Kay Parrish is the daughter of a former millionaire who lost everything in the stock market crash in 1929. She works as a waitress in a small country diner, where she meets Terrence Gallagher and Chuck Ahearn. Gallagher runs a speakeasy in New York City, where Ahearn works as his bouncer. Gallagher gives Kay his card, and tells him to look him up, but she scoffs at the idea. After they leave, Kay is told that her father has committed suicide. Determined to make something of her life, she travels to New York City to “make it big”.

Once in New York, however, she is unable to find a job. Desperate, she looks up Gallagher, who hires her as a “gigolette”, a young prostitute to entertain male clients at his club the “Hee Haw”. Not in love with her work, and having a budding romantic interest between her and Gallagher, she repeatedly attempts to get him to open a “legit” club. He refuses, and during her work, Kay meets the wealthy Gregg Emerson, who she becomes romantically involved with.

And on from there.

The term gigolette doesn’t get a lot of use in English, and it’s not in the OED, so maybe the 1933 song and 1935 movie occurrences are borrowings from French, and not creations in English at all. Still, the term names a recognizable social role, one more specific than simple prostitute.

A role that continues in significance, with a whole new set of terms invented to cover it and related concepts: the sugar X family of compounds, generic sugar baby, gender-specific sugar girl and sugar boy, both naming younger people serving an older sugar daddy or sugar momma. Discussion in a 4/9/13 posting.

Along with the sugar X family of compounds came sexuality-equal treatment: sugar babies can work for same-sex employers; in particular, guys can have sugar daddies (and they do, Blanche, they do).

Finally, back to gigolos: not only can they work for sugar daddies, but they can work as one-trick ponies and for any john who can front the money. In the context of mansex, gigolo can now function merely as a (somewhat euphemistic and high-toned) synonym for stud hustler. We are now in the world of Michael Lucas’s gay porn flick Gigolos. Information from the Lucas Entertainment site:

released 11/9/07; with Anthony Marks, Arpad Miklos, Ben Andrews, Erik Grant, J., Jason Ridge, Jason Sparks, Jimmy Trips, Kurt Wild, Michael Lucas, Ray Star, Scott Tanner, Spencer Quest, Zack Randall: The dark, underground world of a New York City gigolo is as cutthroat as it is kinky. Hustlers hit the streets hunting for their next john. Pimps demand their cuts. Loyalties are lost at the wayside. After the tragic death of his lover, ex-hustler Louis McMann (Michael Lucas) is thrust back into that sordid world in order to survive and gets caught in a web of deceit, lies… and murder. Sometimes life can become unbearable. Will Louis get his ultimate revenge?


Lucas looking steamy and dominant on the DVD cover

The flick has the usual high production values of Lucas films, and there’s a ton of big dicks, engaged in very hot sex (Jason Ridge puts in especially fine performances), but the movie is in fact dark: there’s a string of violent, sleazy characters; the romance in it is between the protagonist and his recently dead lover, in sad retrospect, and the protagonist is murdered. I’m not giving anything away here: the movie opens with a shot of his dead body being examined by the police and then goes back to trace the path to his wretched end. Yes, it’s an homage to Sunset Boulevard, which opens with the body of Joe Gillis (played by William Holden) floating in the Sunset Boulevard swimming pool of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swansn), and then goes on with Joe relating the events that led to his death.

Yes, we’re back on the boulevards of L.A. If you look carefully, you can spot Kip Noll cruising the sunny Pacific Coast Highway by day and the steamy Sunset Strip by night.

3 Responses to “On the boulevard of broken dreams with Kip Noll”

  1. Jerry Says:

    It is nice to have a thoughtful article about Kip Noll as this. It is so easy to slip into drooling about that young man. He was so exceptional for his time or any other. Unravelling his appeal and ethos is not something that is easy to do. So, all the more am I glad to read this text!

  2. Duncan Mudge Says:

    Thanks for a thorough summary and review of a lost time in American History. I also have several of William Higgin’s films featuring Kip Noll and I’m thrilled to read the back story. Kip Noll really was a magnetic personality who used the talents that he had to the fullest. Strange that he also seems to have hid a private life, where he appears to have actually been straight, even though he very publically engaged enthusiastically in gay sex.

  3. simon Says:

    What an amazing trip down Memory Lane! The Californian world Kip’s films conjured up seemed notable for its lack of furtiveness. His road trips seemed anything but guilt trips and this was hugely important to those of us who were coming to terms with our sexuality across the western world. I am so sorry he died quite young because unwittingly or not, he was inspirational. And thank you for an article which once again captured and also gave us greater truth about the hustlers of Pacific Highway.

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