A tireless civil-rights activist, a true 1960’s radical, and an evergreen figure of the San Fransisco adult film scene, Ken Scudder passed away on December 20th, 2019.
Scudder’s life, not unlike the man himself, was a bit of an enigma. On the one hand he was, as this Rialto Report article points out, “a perennial stalwart of the San Fransisco adult film scene from 1974 -1984”. That would put Scudder smack in the middle of the so-called Golden Age of Sex Films, when the budgets were big, the performers could actually act (some of them, like the legendary Abigail Clayton, to critical acclaim no less!), and the screenplay actually contained palpable storylines, often in the form of dark humour, slapstick parody, traditional Conrad-esque romance and even grindhouse blood-n-gore. But not unlike many of the golden age talents what Scudder’s films had in common was an emphasis on story-telling and cinematography, engaging the film medium to tell stories that had traditionally been brushed under the carpet by a burgeoisie prescriptive-pseudomorality-ridden mainstream cinema, or stripped of all sexual elements in their presentation when (if ever) allowed on screen. An ever-present personality in the mid-70s through late-80s San Fran scene, Scudder appeared in some of the most memorable productions of the time, including Sodom and Gomorrah: The Last Seven Days (1975), Thundercrack! (1975), Dixie (1976), The Autobiography of a Flea (1976), Mary! Mary! (1977), Babyface(1976), Pretty Peaches (1978), Easy (1978), and Getting Off (1979) to name just a few. Yet, for someone as prolific as Scudder, he was never a star. In fact, few would even consider “Scudder” a household name in the business.
But it all seems to have been deliberate. As involved as he was, and quite centrally so, Scudder preferred to maintain a low profile. In fact, Ken Scudder had never, in his entire life, granted a single interview. To what extent this was due to his apprehensions regarding how his involvement in the so-called sexual revolution would affect, or be affected by, his “other” life remain an open question, owing to the lack of first-person input from Scudder. But clearly, there was so much more to Scudder’s life than some frivolous sexual rebellion. Afflicted by lifelong ADHD, and in between working on the screen, Scudder still found time to tirelessly struggle for civil rights in the dangerous radical movements of the 1960s.
Being in San Fransisco, the heart of the Hippie movement as well as the central stage for some of the most violent demonstrations during the Civil Rights Movement, and being involved in the suffrage movement in Mississippi, Scudder’s activism was certain to have involved at least a few brushes with the law. As Scudder himself once put it “Mississippi was strange and dangerous”. Radicalism in the times of McCarthyism is dangerous enough, but being a 1960s radical in a largely underground adult industry being hounded by the moral police of a violent empire certainly could not have made things easier for Scudder. Perhaps Scudder didn’t want his Civil Rights activism to be affected (any more than it already was) by the ire of the Empire reinvigorated because of his involvement with the adult industry. Or may be Scudder feared that his 1960’s radicalism would imply impending doom for the industry, and everyone in it, if he drew too much attention to himself. We will probably never know.
But let’s focus on what we do know — Ken Scudder was a tireless activist for Civil Rights with a penchant for sexual liberty and being the resident naughty boy, who nevertheless harbored a life-long reputation for being caring, gentle and enjoyed a formidable reputation among his female colleagues for being the “good guy”. That’s one hell of a mantle to wear at any time, but wearing it the way Scudder did, and the time when he did so, just makes us want to remember the man a little more fondly.