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The Lion of Chelsea

Michael Lucas has built an erotic empire for himself—but it’s not always easy being on top.


Michael Lucas stalks up Eighth Avenue like a jungle cat on a fashion runway. A lot of hip motion is involved. Enormous Prada sunglasses shield his eyes. Three buttons of his fitted lime-green shirt are undone, revealing a Star of David necklace resting in a patch of chest hair. His gait and all-around grooviness recall Travolta in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever. “Porn is show business,” Lucas says in his strong Russian accent. “You’re in show business whether you are an actor or an anchor doing news or fucking.” Then he crosses the street to seek refuge in the shade—though thoroughly bronzed, he has a vampiric aversion to the sun to match his Count Chocula voice. “And whatever you do, if it involves cameras, you cannot allow yourself to fry. There are great self-tanners.

“This place is the most difficult,” he adds, pointing to an orange patch on his forearm.

New York may be in the middle of a Hollywood moment, but when it comes to the X-rated-movie business, the city will never rival the Valley. We have few porn kings living among us, much to the chagrin of just about no one. In fact, now that Bob Guccione has been stripped of his townhouse, we may have only one bona fide member of porn royalty, self-styled emperor though he is: Michael Lucas, age 34, the president of New York’s largest gay-adult-film company, Lucas Entertainment, and its biggest star, and a man perfectly incapable of keeping his inner monologue to himself.

Lucas has been rather busy of late. There was some pesky legal business to attend to, and he just wrapped his newest film, La Dolce Vita, a glossy gay remake of Fellini’s classic that includes a “non-sex” cameo by triple-X starlet Savanna Samson. For a porn production, it’s had an unusually public profile. Photographs of Lucas and Samson cavorting in the City Hall fountain (all proper permits were obtained) made it online, raising the ire of government officials, who with the most cursory of Google searches could have avoided this problem. Lucas also shot in the Marc Jacobs store on Bleecker, with the full knowledge and approval of the designer—the staff brought the crew cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery.

La Dolce Vita is the follow-up to Dangerous Liaisons, a film Lucas has repeatedly touted as the most expensive gay-porn movie ever made, with a budget of $250,000. “The clothes had Century 21 tags you had to tuck in because they were returning them,” scoffs 27-year-old porn star Owen Hawk. “A great analogy for Michael is Ann Coulter. He’s a person who doesn’t really have anything to contribute artistically, so they compensate with outlandish claims.” Of course, Hawk, who has appeared in three of Lucas’s movies, is probably not the most impartial judge of his talent as a director. Hawk and his boyfriend, Matthias von Fistenberg (a nom-de-porn homage to Diane Von Furstenberg), are co-owners of a fledgling production company called Dark Alley Media, whose pornographic output tends to be much darker than Lucas Entertainment’s. One of their movies shows Von Fistenberg, a former classical-music producer, sitting down to play at a grand piano before having a jockstrap thrown at his face. They recently sued Lucas for $750,000 for slander, libel, interference with trade, and a host of other legal complaints. Among Dark Alley’s contentions was that Lucas was trying to have their videos removed from local sex shops. “I have a right to do that,” Lucas said at the time. “I can tell anyone, ‘You want my product? Don’t go to them.’ ” In August, the suit was settled out of court (both parties have agreed not to discuss the settlement). Shortly thereafter, Lucas signed on as a major sponsor of September’s Gay Erotic Expo in Los Angeles, the biggest annual industry convention, and Dark Alley’s registration fee for a booth was mysteriously returned.

It is obvious, upon stepping out of the elevator into the hall of Lucas’s Chelsea building, which apartment is his. All the doors have traditional peepholes and push bells, save for the one that has a large lion’s head with a ring in its mouth.

Lucas lives in the multilevel apartment with his boyfriend of five years, Richard Winger, a 50-year-old Austrian international investor; their enormous Great Pyrénées dog, Bianca; and a long-haired Peruvian guinea pig, a local delicacy that Lucas smuggled back from a recent vacation in his carry-on. He gives a tour while nibbling on fresh dates from a silver chalice. In the kitchen, he motions to a Richard Avedon photograph of a nude Nureyev, his penis almost touching his knee. “A lot of people think I look like him.”

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