Kenneth Anger, who died last month, inspired everyone from the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to Martin Scorsese and Donald Cammell, as well as thousands of readers who delighted in the unsubstantiated gossip of his books, Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II. But perhaps his greatest contribution to American culture, besides his dozens of short films, was the effect he had on the sex researcher Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, the Father of the Sexual Revolution, and a lifelong friend of Anger’s.

They met after the premiere of Anger’s short erotic film “Fireworks,” which Anger made when he was 17. “‘Fireworks’ was a 15-minute psychodrama, quite advanced for my age, dealing with a dream of adolescent sex and sadomasochism and all those things,” Anger told me in 1997. In the film, a dreamer (played by Anger) wakes and has an erotic S&M scene with a gang of sailors.

Anger, year unknown.

“Legally, I couldn’t see my own movie, which was pretty amusing,” he said, “but I showed it at the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles at a midnight screening in 1947, and I had a full house, just by word of mouth.” James Whale, the director of Frankenstein, was there, and so was Dr. Kinsey. Anger recalled that Kinsey “came up to me after the screening and said he would like to buy a print for his archives. So that was my first sale.” Pretty heady stuff for a 17-year-old filmmaker at his first premiere.

“Fireworks,” was considered a gay-themed nightmare movie, like his later film “Scorpio Rising” (1963), which helped establish leather-boy gay iconography for all time. Except that Anger, who was gay, told me that all the bikers were heterosexuals.

“I went out to Coney Island and met this group of motorcyclists on a Saturday,” Anger explained, “because they met there every Saturday under the Cyclone roller coaster to show off the latest work on their bikes. They were making show bikes, which are really art bikes—they’re not practical, because they’re all loaded with extra chrome fins and extra lights.”

Dr. Alfred Kinsey, the pioneering sexologist, at the University of Indiana, 1948.

“They weren’t outlaw bikers,” Anger said. “I mean, they weren’t Hell’s Angels. They weren’t involved in any criminal activity. They were Italian-Americans who worked all night in the Fulton Fish Market, but they were obsessed with motorcycles and put all their money into them. They were straight guys—they weren’t gay—but their mistresses were the motorcycles. They had girlfriends, but the girlfriends knew they took second place, which was very Italian-American at the time. At any rate, they were going to have a Halloween party, and I said, ‘I’d like to do some filming.’ They said, “O.K., buy us the beer.” So that’s all I had to pay them: just buying them about 10 kegs of beer.”

Kinsey “came up to me after the screening and said he would like to buy a print for his archives. So that was my first sale.”

As for the naked high jinks portrayed in the film, Anger claims he didn’t need to prompt the bikers. “I never said take your pants down,” Anger laughed; “that was their idea. They were drunk and just doing all these things! So fine; I filmed it all.”

“The funny thing,” Anger added, “is that their girlfriends were all present behind the camera. I said, ‘Why don’t you just let the girls mix in like you would ordinarily?’ And they said, ‘No, we don’t want them in the picture.’ They saw the film when it was finished, and they liked it, but they didn’t see that it had a satiric edge to it. They just said, ‘Oh, look, that’s me up there!’ The film looks queerer than it actually was.” Still, the raw sexuality of the motorcycle men attracted gay audiences at private screenings around the world.

A still from Anger’s 1947 short film “Fireworks.” Kinsey attended a showing of the film and bought a print from Anger.

After buying a print of the film, Dr. Kinsey invited Anger to take part in a new study he was about to publish: Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. “Dr. Kinsey interviewed me for his book on male sexuality,” Anger stated proudly. “And that took eight hours!”

He explained that Kinsey was filming people gratifying themselves. “They weren’t sex parties. This was serious scientific research,” Anger said. “Dr. Kinsey was present while I was masturbating, and he just let me lie on the bed. Then they turned the lights on, and I did it.”

The key to Dr. Kinsey’s success in talking to strangers about sex was his relying on his ability to relate to people from all walks of life. “Dr. Kinsey was very likable,” Anger said. “He had a way of ingratiating himself with all kinds of people, from the toughest street punks to presidents of corporations. That was his gift. Nuns and priests would open up to him!”

Besides sex, Anger and Dr. Kinsey had another shared interest in Aleister Crowley, “the most talented occultist of the 20th century,” according to Anger, though Crowley was also called “the Wickedest Man in the World,” which Crowley took as a compliment.

A still from Anger’s 1963 short film, “Scorpio Rising.”

“Crowley was born in 1875, and he died in 1947, the same year I made ‘Fireworks,’” Anger said. “But I knew his magical godson. Not his actual son, but the successor to Crowley, whose name was Jack Parsons, a scientist at the Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena, California. Parsons had a lot of original Crowley books that he’d lend to me, but unfortunately, he died when he blew himself up in his garage after a science experiment gone wrong. It was a very melodramatic ending.”

That idea that Dr. Kinsey, an eminent biologist and entomologist, the foremost expert on gall wasps, and the man who helped launch the sexual revolution, would be interested in a charlatan like Crowley seems inconceivable. But Anger insisted it was true.

“Dr. Kinsey was interested in Crowley’s ideas of sexual energy and how it can be channeled and so forth,” Anger said, adding that “Kinsey was an agnostic. He wasn’t a believer in anything, really, except science.”

The Abbey of Thelema

In 1955, Dr. Kinsey accepted an invitation by Anger to tour the brothels, bordellos, and sex dens of Italy. Again, Anger insisted it was only for research.

“Dr. Kinsey was always a gentleman,” Anger said. “He never made any inappropriate overture in front of me, or anything—like, ‘Why don’t you come to our orgy tonight?’ He was not that type of guy; he was a serious scientist.”

Anger and Kinsey had a shared interest in the occultist Aleister Crowley, seen here in an undated photo.

“[Dr. Kinsey] was very excited by our Italian sex tour,” Anger said, “because he wanted to see, with his own eyes, this blatant behavior. There wasn’t enough that I could tell him—he wanted to go and see for himself. So we’d spend all night going to places in Rome or Naples.”

After their sex tour concluded, Anger went to Cefalù, a tiny village near Palermo, in Sicily, to restore Crowley’s pornographic paintings that had been whitewashed over by Mussolini’s henchmen.

“Cefalù is where Crowley lived in the 1920s,” Anger said. “He created the ‘Abbey of Thelema’ after Rabelais—this old 18th-century farmhouse. Crowley lived there in a commune of freethinkers, and one of the people that came there was a famous model, Nina Hamnet, who modeled for Modigliani. And there was a student from Oxford named Rao Loveday.”

“[Dr. Kinsey] had a way of ingratiating himself with all kinds of people, from the toughest street punks to presidents of corporations. That was his gift. Nuns and priests would open up to him!”

According to Anger, Crowley told his disciples never to drink the local water. “Loveday, who was only about 24, disobeyed him. He took a drink of water from a stream and died of typhoid. And that started the rumor that there was a human sacrifice, which is absolutely bunk.”

“The authorities and the tabloids had a problem with the Abbey of Thelema because Crowley and his fans made a religion out of sex,” Anger said. “Crowley’s philosophy was in exalting and spiritualizing sexuality, so they were experimenting sexually. That was the whole point! To surpass individual jealousy!”

“But that wasn’t completely successful,” Anger said, “because there were women who were the favorites—and then there were women who were not the favorites. There were some very comic scenes going on! I wanted to make a comedy, a black comedy, just based on the sexual antics at the Abbey of Thelema. That’s why I stayed there and rented the place for one summer [in 1955]. And that’s when Dr. Kinsey came to visit me.”

Anger was happy to see his old friend in Cefalù, but he was concerned about the sexologist’s health. “I was concerned he was driving himself too hard. And he did. Dr. Kinsey died a year later, when he was back in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, on August 25, 1956, at the age of 62—much too young.” The cause of death was reported to have been a heart ailment and pneumonia.

Kinsey visited Anger at the Abbey of Thelema, in Cefalù, Sicily, where Anger had gone to restore Crowley’s pornographic murals, which had been whitewashed by Italian Fascists.

Besides grieving his old friend, Anger took issue with James H. Jones’s biography, Alfred C. Kinsey: A Life, where the author claims his subject was homosexual. If anybody would have known if Dr. Kinsey was gay or not, it would have been Anger.

“He was perhaps a bisexual, but he was married, and he had four kids and a happy, long marriage,” Anger said. “He did experiment with members of his own staff. Apparently, he had an affair with one of his male students, Clyde Martin. But the purpose was not to have a wild sexy time—it was for science. In other words, it was what you call ‘hands-on research!’”

Legs McNeil is the co-author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk and The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry