That Old Feeling: Porn Again

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Ziehm's overview: "Porno movies were part of the revolt against 'shame.' That it took a ruling by the Supreme Court to clarify that nudity was not obscene just goes to show how addled the human mind had become. Once you put the diaper on the baby you've created a little nut: 'What's wrong with me, mommy, that I have to be covered up?' Porno offered a door to escape this madness, and the early nudie/porno participants jumped through that door. That the industry has become so successful is testimony that most of society felt the same way. Look at modern mainstream film, television and books. Desperate Housewives, Sex and the City et. al. Even Lynn Cheney's book included graphic sex."

Ziehm, who says he's writing his autobiography, recently edited the book Golf in the Comic Strips, with an introduction by Mr. Bob Hope.

6. Whatever happened to Harry Reems?

There is life after porn acting; indeed, there is long life in porn acting. Proof of both comes in this note from Gillis, who by now has enjoyed a lengthier career in movies (35 years) than Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart did. Gillis chimed in to correct a statement I made: "You probably know that Harry Reems didn't 'end up panhandling on Sunset Boulevard.' He survived that period and is in Park City, Utah, where he is enjoying playing the role of upstanding, successful citizen. Why not also mention that, instead of feeding into the most banal cliches about the business?" (Chuck Mobley of Douglasville, Ga., added: "You did 'Harry Reems' a great disservice. I read that he's a millionaire real estate tycoon in Colorado.")

Good point. Of course I knew Harry turned out fine (I'm shouting at myself), since he was an interview subject in Inside Deep Throat. I should have made that clear. In the film, Harry's easy smile and a thick mop of white hair gives him a Steve Martin look as he reminisces on the Deep Throat starring role that earned him $250 and a Memphis jury's conviction for obscenity (with a possible five-year jail stint). In the late 70s Harry did indeed become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and cadged coins on Sunset. He has said he "developed two ulcers, chronic pancreatitis, a diseased liver." A decade later he wound up in Park City, where he joined AA, converted to Christianity, got married and opened a real estate brokerage. Though he hasn't done hard-core since Cumshot Revue 5 in 1989, he still uses his nom-de-porn. Not Herb Streicher (his name as an off-off-Broadway actor) but "Harry Reems CRS [Certified Residential Specialist], GRI [Graduate Realtor Institute]."

Is he a millionaire? I can't say for sure. But with Sundance Festival types inflating real estate values nearly to Aspen heights, he's probably doing pretty well. I'm pleased for him. Harry radiated a good-natured enthusiasm in a variety of roles. He was an actor whose roles required him to have sex on screen, not a "sex worker" who had to learn how to act. Same with the saturnine sado-master Gillis, who ornamented several 70s hard-cores directed by Damiano and Radley Metzger, and is still working. In The Other Hollywood, Gillis said, "I think of myself the same way Marc [Mr. Ten-and-a-Half] Stevens' mother described him —as 'an actor with a specialty'."

7. Were porn actresses forced?

"I find it difficult to view a lot of the porn from the 70s," writes Mark McKee of Albuquerque, "as it is fairly obvious that many of the women were drugged and coerced. Today that sort of exploitation is reserved mainly for certain web sites where women who grew up on MTV are manipulated, a la 'Girls Gone Wild,' into performing sex acts for little or no money. [In] the mainstream porn industry, the actors are sober and enthusiastic about their work, and the women actors get the big bucks and the most editorial control. I enjoy watching hot sex scenes without having to wonder just what they did to that girl..."

Juliann Brumbaugh of Stow, Ohio, writes: "I do hope you will investigate it deeper and learn how Linda Lovelace suffered (humiliation, physical harm) during the filming of Deep Throat. She was no ingenue. The insides of her legs suffered broken blood vessels that never healed. She was threatened into completing that movie. Porn was and is humiliating to women. There are erotic films, however, that include women's fantasies and do not physically or emotionally abuse women — those are good."

I did indicate that Linda Boreman, later Lovelace, was dominated, perhaps abused by her husband and promoter Chuck Traynor. She may not have been the only woman brutally exploited in the genre. I don't know. I haven't seen other testimony about women coerced to do hard-core. It's tough for me to imagine under what circumstances I, or any man or woman I know, would be photographed having sex. But plenty of folks —prostitutes, underemployed actors, free-loving boys and girls of the swingin' 60s —volunteered. Today, many more men, and especially women, cue for roles in porn videos. Who knows why people do things? Some of us perform, others watch, and one or two lonely souls write about it.

8. Is porn harmful?

"Your article has missed some very important points," writes Helen Earle. "I suggest that you go to your local police station. There you should find statistics, that whenever porn shops open up the crime rate skyrockets. Not to mention the effect it has on marriages, women being raped and abused, and innocent children forever victimized by this supposedly 'harmless form of entertainment.' The men who use these materials and become addicted to them are also victims. Many of whom need to seek years of counseling. Our jails are packed with those who couldn't stop, or stop themselves for harming an innocent person. Would also suggest you listen to Ted Bundy's final speech, before his execution. He does not blame any one or anything for the monster he became, except for his use of porn. In his speech he begs men to stay as far away from it as possible."

Joan Harris of Charlotte, N.C., ups the ante (and the rhetorical volume) when she writes: "I have to ask you why the hell you spent even five minutes writing an article that (at least in the opening paragraphs, which made me too sick to continue) normalizes and in later paragraphs probably glorifies and glamorizes pornography. Are you insane or a deviate? Do you not have any daughters or other female relatives whom you care about?? Or do you sexually abuse them or allow others to?? Because the core issue with pornography is not about allowing men to artificially stimulate/satisfy their exaggerated sexual needs. It's about allowing women and children to be exploited in the production of that porn and perhaps become victims of those stimulated by it. It is not just about promoting degeneracy, which is bad enough. It's about promoting danger for women and children everywhere, even those who are corrupted by articles such as yours into thinking that pornography is chic, so that they want to buy it or do it too. You should be fired for this, not because sex is bad (sex is great in the right place at the right time with the right person), but because pornography is bad anywhere, any time, for anyone. Pornography and your 'freedom of expression' article glorifying it belong in the gutter, where you can "express" yourself any way you want to, not in mainstream media."

I'm tempted not to respond, rather to let these accusations stew in my reader's mind and mine. And really, Ms. Harris, you'll have to ask my wife if I've stopped beating her. The point of the original column was not to describe how some porn directors aspired to be film artists, not to judge the societal impact of their work.

Still, a few points. I won't debate —because I don't have the data —Ms. Earle's "statistics, that whenever porn shops open up the crime rate skyrockets." But porn shops are only one venue for pornography; the rest is over cable and through the mail, and those can't be calibrated by neighborhood. Further, as video porn has become more available in the past 15 years, crime statistics have dropped significantly. Even further, many studies indicate that the sexual release porn gives men reduces their tendency toward sexual brutality. My anecdotal guess: consumption of porn triggers far less domestic violence, and have ruined far fewer families, than consumption of alcohol. Shall we ban booze too?

9. How much hard-core could a soft guy watch if a soft guy likes soft-core?

Toward the end of the story, I blithely and ignorantly dismissed porn of the past 20 years. "Granted, I can't authoritatively swear that today's hard-core stinks. That's because I haven't seen a porn decades. Except once, a few years ago, in a hotel, for about five minutes."

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