Gregory Harrison Remembers ‘For Ladies Only,’ His ’81 Stripper TV Movie

Gregory Harrison in 'For Ladies Only' (Credit: NBC/REX/Shutterstock)
Gregory Harrison in ‘For Ladies Only.’ (Credit: NBC/REX/Shutterstock)

Recently, Yahoo TV was chatting with Gregory Harrison for a piece on Hallmark Channel’s annual Countdown to Christmas and eight of our returning favorite actors. After he discussed his decision to get a cat, Doobie, after co-starring in 2014’s The Nine Lives of Christmas, and the joy of filming this year’s My Christmas Love (premiering Dec. 17) while wearing “dad sweaters” in 90-degree weather, we realized we couldn’t let him off the line without bringing up another of his TV movies: 1981’s For Ladies Only.

It premiered 35 years ago today on NBC, and, as you can guess from the photo above — and confirm by watching the clip below — it starred Harrison as a male stripper. He shared the truly amazing story of how it got made.

How did this movie happen?
Gregory Harrison: I created that whole possibility. I had just started Trapper John like, a year earlier, and it had become this huge success. I knew I had entry into just about anybody’s office, to pitch any production that I wanted to make. I started a new production company called Catalina Productions. I got a photographer to take a picture of me after we had poured a bucket of water over me and stripped off my clothes and put a towel around my waist, and we blew it up and wrote “For Ladies Only” on it. I took it into a pitch meeting at NBC. They said, “What is it that you’re thinking of making?” Chippendales had just opened a year earlier — the first male strip joint ever in the world, as far as we knew. I said, “I want to make a movie where I play a male stripper. This would be the poster for it,” and I held it up. They said, “All right, green light!” [laughs] and they gave me like a $3.5 million budget for it.

I didn’t have a script. I didn’t even have a storyline figured out yet. It was just me taking advantage of a little heat that Trapper John had created. I knew that I could come up with some story, you know. I created a story that was sort of reminiscent of what I had gone through when I was a struggling actor … I’d do scenes at the little plays in Los Angeles. You’re always hoping a major producer or someone is sitting in the audience and will give you their card and ask you to come in and meet on a movie. I had a lot of people giving me cards, but they were all porn producers. They were probably going, “OK, this guy’s obviously struggling. Let me see if maybe he’s interested in doing some porn.”

I was starving, you know. I spent like six years in Hollywood before I got an agent. All I did was study and do odd jobs. I always looked back on that and thought to myself, “What if I had taken one of those jobs in my desperation? Would it have come back to haunt me? Or would it have changed me forever and I never would have become the actor that I am now, which was to say somebody who was making a living out of it?” I switched porn to male strippers, and I thought, “OK, here’s a guy who’s in New York. He just wanted to be a serious actor. In one of his acting classes, he meets a guy who’s making a decent living working in this club. He says, ‘Can I be a waiter there, too?,’ and then he gets called on, like, All About Eve. He gets called onstage one night, and he’s such a hit that he becomes a huge success as a stripper. Nobody will hire him as an actor because of it.”

I got to write that script, we made the movie, and it was the most successful TV movie of all time at that point in history. It really started off my company: It was the first thing my company ever produced, and we went ahead and produced about 25 movies after that. As much as it haunts me in one way, because of the subject matter, it also was a real plus to me in terms of credibility as a producer.

What’s your favorite memory of filming any of the dance scenes?
Because [my character] was the actor in this story about these strippers, I would create these characters and then I’d strip down from those characters. The most fun was where I start out as Zorro … I’ve got a cape and a sword and the Spanish hat with the little balls hanging from it. I strip down from that, to what we ended up calling my “Z string,” because it had a little Zorro “Z” on the front of it. We shot it all at a club in Atlanta. We spent about two weeks there. That was the most fun part — shooting all of these strip scenes in this club with about 400 ladies. Every day, we’d get these ladies filing in, extras, you know, that were just Southern girls who wanted to watch. We put in the newspaper “Gonzo Gates, Gregory Harrison, needs extras to watch him strip.” Of course, all these ladies showed up. It was just a crazy time in my life.

It was like Magic Mike, decades before Magic Mike.
Magic Mike was a direct ripoff of it. More power to them. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it anymore.