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Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon, Better Than You’d Expect

The first hour of “Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon” (TLA, $20) is a by-the-numbers biography about one of the leading stars of ’70s porn. Aficionados may be disappointed at the lack of hardcore footage: You’ll have to check out the original films to see what made Jack Wrangler, pictured, famous. The story incorporates social history — about growing up in the repressed ‘50s and coming out in the late ‘60s; and the burgeoning of gay porn from physique magazines to 8 mm. “loops” to feature films shown in theaters to videos.

Jack Stillman was born in Beverly Hills in 1946, the son of a Hollywood producer. Small in stature, he couldn’t be the jock his father wanted. And appearances in TV shows with his Sunday school teacher, the legendary Eleanor Powell, got Jack hooked on performing.

Attracted to masculine men, Jack feared any traces of effeminacy in himself. A highlight of his early career was a failed audition for “The Christine Jorgensen Story,” where he was told he’d never play a woman. Working as a stripper in West Hollywood, Jack took the name Wrangler from his work shirt. He continued wearing flannel shirts and tight jeans when he made the transition to film, giving gay men a macho image to relate to in films starting with Joe Gage’s “Kansas City Trucking Co.”

Despite his ultra-masculine image, Wrangler was versatile in gay porn. He took that versatility a giant step further when he started appearing in straight porn.

But “Wrangler” takes a sharp turn to become an unusual true love story. At a New York restaurant, porn star Jack Wrangler meets legendary singer Margaret Whiting, 20 years his senior. And they’ve been together ever since!

The film goes into some detail about external pressures — especially Jack’s clash with Margaret’s daughter, Debbi, who was horrified.

Jack, who had only recently started having sex with women, suddenly had to make love to a woman who could be his mother. That wasn’t as difficult for him as giving up sex with men, which she demanded if they were to be together.

“Wrangler: Anatomy of an Icon” isn’t what you’d expect from the biography of a gay porn star. It’s better.

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