Born with a will to survive and thrive, a Greek-born Jewish woman evades the Nazis and
conquers the porn theatre business in ‘60s -‘70s New York
QUEEN OF THE DEUCE
A film by Valerie Kontakos
Between its pre-Depression glory days, and present family-friendly Broadway, New York’s 42nd Street had a colourful seedy period from the ‘60s to the ‘80s when it was known as The Deuce, the porn core of Times Square.
And presiding over several of its busiest theatres was a formidable Jewish Greek-born woman named Chelly Wilson, who lived above one of her cinemas. She was a savvy businesswoman who seldom smiled and made no apologies. She was also a generous surrogate mother to many of the outsiders – straight and gay – who worked in her business, both in front of and behind the projection booth.
Chelly’s remarkable story is told by filmmaker Valerie Kontakos in the documentary Queen of the Deuce, which makes its broadcast debut in Canada on the documentary Channel, Saturday June 24, at 9:00pm ET/PT.
Fleshing out the colour of Chelly’s life amid that notorious era of New York history (shopping bags full of cash in her apartment, Friday night poker games with notorious characters). It also connects the dots between the traumatic loss of Chelly’s family to the Nazis and her creation of a new “family” from among the people she knew and liked within the city’s sex industry. As well, we see her “respectable” last act, as the owner of a high-end Greek restaurant that attracted a movie star clientele.
Queen of the Deuce tells this story in full, with archival material, often hilarious clips of vintage adult films, animation and recollections from her surviving friends and family – including daughters Paulette Pomeranz and Bondi Wilson Walters (the latter of whom joined Chelly in the business with her husband Don Walters), and her filmmaker grandson David Bourla.
Queen of the Deuce is ultimately a portrait of an indomitable spirit, determined to live the American Dream on her own terms, moralists be damned.
“My mother knew Chelly because my uncle was a producer in Greece and he used to send her Greek films back in the 60s, which she would show in New York,” says filmmaker Valerie Kontakos. “When I was about 16, I wanted to work part-time, so my mum spoke to Chelly. I started selling tickets in the Tivoli theatre on Sundays when they would show Greek films. The rest of the week it was all porn.
“I always thought I would make a film about Chelly, but she was such a complicated person that it took me a while to figure out how to approach her story in a way that was true to her personality and that I would also feel comfortable with,” continues Valerie. “I wondered whether portraying her as sharp, funny, and successful would be interesting enough. Over the years, the rest of the world and people’s norms caught up with her, so she was finally embraced.”
Produced by Storyline Entertainment with the participation of Canada Media Fund, Rogers Documentary Fund, Ontario Creates, in co-production with ERT, with the support of the Greek Film Center, MEDIA of the European Union, Jewish Story Partners, with the participation of RTS, in association with Channel 8, and documentary Channel. International distribution by Cinephil.
ABOUT Valerie Kontakos - director, writer, producer
Valerie Kontakos lives between Athens and New York. After graduating from New York University, she worked as a sound editor for the Maysles brothers, Deborah Dickson, Anita Thacher and others. In 1989 she directed her first feature documentary A Quality of Light. In 1994 she became the deputy director of the Hellenic Foundation in NYC, where she started the NYC Greek Film Festival. Her second feature, Who’s on First? (2006), aired in the US, Greece, Finland and South Korea. She founded production company Exile Films in Athens in 2007 and non-profit Exile Room, focusing on social outreach through documentary, in 2009. Queen of the Deuce is her fourth feature.
ABOUT Storyline Entertainment - co-producer
Storyline Entertainment is a Toronto based documentary film and television production company that has been creating award-winning films since 2000. Working with both established and emerging filmmakers, partnering with Canadian and international broadcasters, and supported by both government and private funders, Storyline aims to provoke discussion and action, stir emotion and awareness, and entertain global audiences.