Rescued by new muscle, a home to erotica rebounds

Wyatt Buchanan, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007

Four years ago, the renowned Colt Studio was on the verge of closing its doors, thus ending the existence of one of the original and most influential producers of male erotica.

Instead, Colt — known for its portrayals of traditional masculine imagery — will celebrate its 40th anniversary tonight with a lavish party and with praise from even its competitors for its remarkable turnaround.

That success includes the expansion into mainstream markets — a Colt poster hangs from the second-floor window of the Virgin Megastore on Market Street in San Francisco, and Barnes & Noble carries some of the company’s nonvideo products, such as calendars and note cards.

Industry observers and leaders say the change is due to the work of John Rutherford and Tom Settle, who bought the company from founder Jim French in 2003.

French, who started Colt in 1967 in New York with erotic male drawings, soon switched to photography and moved the enterprise to Los Angeles around 1978. The image-making continued, along with the production of some videos, over the next decade and a half.

But in the 1990s the Internet created a forum for people to post and download Colt pictures for free. By 2003, the situation had turned grim.

It was at that time that Rutherford, who had spent his career as an acclaimed director with Falcon Studios, bought Colt from French.

"I always admired Colt because it’s a brand I knew for its quality and, if you relate it to Playboy and what Hugh Heffner has done with Playboy, he built not just a porn company but a lifestyle brand," Rutherford said.

Rutherford had trouble convincing French to speak to him about buying the company, though, and said he finally convinced him that the Colt aesthetic would not change. It has stayed largely the same while the company has expanded into more films, clothing, sex toys and accessories like wallets. Rutherford is even considering creating a franchise of Colt bars.

Colt Studio Group has been nominated this year for 24 Gay Video News Awards, the most of any studio group.

"Colt has emerged as a major, dominant player in the industry at this point," said Jeffrey Escoffier, a New York writer documenting the history of the gay adult industry. "That’s just in the last three or four years since John bought it."

E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at

Tom Settle and John Rutherford

Thank you guys for showing those of us who believe we can make a difference in this industry that hard work and great talent can pay off!

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