Sunday 21 April 2019

My Dad would have loved all this Joy of Sex

Fresh from the Hollywood premiere of rom-com 'Sex Tape', Nicholas Comfort explains how the classic 1970s sex 
manual written by his father finally got big-screen billing

Caught on Camera: Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel in 'Sex Tape' which references the classic 'Joy of Sex' book.
Caught on Camera: Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel in 'Sex Tape' which references the classic 'Joy of Sex' book.
The Joy of Sex

Earlier this month, my wife and I were guests at the Hollywood premiere of Sex Tape, the adult rom-com starring Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel.

Diaz and Segel are a 40ish couple whose sex life has gone stale. They find a copy of The Joy of Sex in their bookcase, and decide after a few drinks to re-enact positions from the classic sex manual and film it. They then spend the rest of the movie trying to stop the film going viral online.

The Joy of Sex was written by my father, Dr Alex Comfort, as the Swinging Sixties made way for the Sexy Seventies, and sold millions worldwide. He subsequently sold the movie rights to Paramount and the studio went on to make The National Lampoon's Joy of Sex, which actually had nothing to do with the book.

Dad was no stranger to the LA showbiz scene. After the success of his book, he became a regular on chat shows in the US and today is still remembered for his reaction when asked if he considered President Lyndon B Johnson (LBJ) a "happening". His reply: "No, he's more of a bad trip", convulsed the studio audience.

Fast forward more than four decades, and I get a call from Stephanie Jackson, publishing director at Octopus Books, which looks after Joy and is publishing a facsimile of the original. Columbia were shooting a rom-com about a 40ish couple, etc, and needed my approval to "reference" Joy in the film. Otherwise Cameron Diaz would pull out another, less seminal, sex manual from the bookcase. It turned out that Columbia had first approached Paramount over the rights. The bean counters at Paramount had gone through their contracts and discovered that while they owned the rights to Joy for the rest of the world, they no longer did for the States. Under a quirk of US copyright law, my father had to live for 28 years after signing before Paramount acquired an enduring title. He had died, aged 80, some months short of this in 2000. So, unbeknown to me, the US movie rights to Joy had reverted to his heir. Columbia needed my approval ... and would have to pay me for it.

I contacted Columbia (now part of Sony), and they mentioned a figure. A showbiz lawyer suggested I go for a little more, then I drafted a reply with my partner Jeanette shouting: "Hold out for two tickets to the premiere." A few weeks ago, Columbia emailed me to say that there would indeed be a premiere - there isn't always - and suggested we book into the hotel where the after-party would be held.

I Googled 'what to wear at a premiere', but none of the advice was for men. Jeanette had no problem: an evening gown and her Jimmy Choos. Torn between a DJ or a tuxedo, I discovered just in time that a suit would do.

On the day, we still had little idea what to expect but while relaxing by the pool, I heard a shout of: "Are you going to the premiere?" It came from a bubbly casting agent called Rosie, who filled us in.

The venue wasn't Hollywood's renowned Chinese Theatre (now an IMAX) with its 'Walk of Fame', but the larger Regency Village Theatre, distinctive for its 170ft Spanish tower, where Harry Potter premieres have been held. We arrived to find a street blocked off to accommodate a U-shaped red carpet where the stars of the film would give interviews and pause for the paps. We collected our tickets for the premiere and party and watched as the circus got going. Then the throng was parted for us as we crossed to another shorter stretch of red carpet provided for all-comers. Jeanette got an almighty cheer.

Our seats were 12 rows from the front, next to the proud parents of the boy who plays Diaz and Segel's 11-year-old son (I suspect they had a lot of explaining to do, given the film's content). There was no grand entrance by the stars, nor - as happens with more serious films - a speech from the director. Instead, the lights simply went down and the movie began. Watching a film with the folk who made it is a strange experience. Every so often there were isolated guffaws or applause as people spotted "their" scene or one-liner. Most of the laughs were triggered by a brilliantly self-deprecating cameo from Rob Lowe.

At the end, there was applause and the audience sat through all the credits. We stayed too: the very last credit was to "The Estate of Dr Alex Comfort".

At the hotel, the restaurant had been transformed into a party venue, with throbbing music, and in the innermost sanctum either side of a bed with pillows labelled "Sex" and "Tape" was "Miss Diaz's table" and "Mr Segel's table". Further out were tables for the rest of the cast, the director (Jake Kasdan), financial backers, the production team and the studio lawyers. Great care goes into positioning these: status is everything. Cameron Diaz stayed in her sanctum and Rob Lowe left before we could catch him. Rosie, our casting-agent friend, managed to grab Jason Segel's arm while he was talking to somebody else and he shook my hand. Rob Corddry, who plays Segel's buddy, broke off for a friendly chat.

We mingled with and talked to the production team, and the animators, who told us they had originally hoped to act out the positions in Joy using Morph-type figures. All this while trays of wine passed freely and mountains of food remained largely uneaten. There were copies of Joy circulating, too, and the opportunity to be snapped for your own publicity poster.

It was well after midnight when the party broke up. We'd had a great time, and all that remained was to see how Sex Tape does at the box office. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes got out of the trap faster; hopefully audiences will find time for both.

In his later years, my father wanted to be remembered for his poetry. But in 1970s mode, he would have loved the movie, the premiere and the party. And I am sure he would have had a table of his own. The irony is that when he sold Paramount the rights, he suggested they make a rom-com about a 40ish couple whose sex life goes stale, and who find a copy of Joy, decide to re-enact the positions on tape, then spend the rest of the movie trying to retrieve it.

Irish Independent

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