If gold medals were handed out for making porn movies, Ron Jeremy would be the all-time champion. He has made close to 2,000 of them, including On the Loose: Viva Ron Vegas and San Fernando Jones and the Temple of Poon, as well as about 100 mainstream movies, such as The Boondock Saints with Willem Dafoe. He tells the story of his XXX-rated career in a steamy new book, The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz: Horny Women, Hollywood Nights & The Rise of the Hedgehog! (Harper). And yes, it's illustrated. TIME senior reporter Andrea Sachs spoke with Jeremy from his Hollywood home: (See the 100 best movies of all time.)
TIME: How did you get your start in the porn industry?
Ron Jeremy: Like many Jewish boys, I was working up in the Catskills, as a waiter and the maitre d' at the Paramount Hotel. I was doing theater, and it was a very difficult situation, especially in New York, where you couldn't be an extra unless you were part of the Screen Actors Guild. I was making no money. We agreed my girlfriend Alice and I to take some pictures in the deluxe wing of the Paramount. We knew women could do Playboy and that might lead to a career in theater, film. I thought I would try it out and at least get some kind of exposure, pardon the pun. So my girlfriend took the photographs and sent them to Playgirl. I thought maybe they would agree to bring me to L.A. for a layout, and while I'm in L.A. I'll try to get some work in Hollywood. Then Playgirl called and they said we have good news and bad news. The bad news is they weren't going to fly me anywhere. The good news is that they were going to use the pictures we had taken. (See pictures of Pinup Queen Bettie Page.)
How did the public respond to the photos?
I had used my real name: Ron Hyatt, from Queens, New York; likes to go hang gliding and sailing when he gets the chance, and working on his master's degree in special education. A lot of people looked up R. Hyatt in Queens, New York, but they were getting my grandmother, Rose Hyatt, who lived downstairs. My poor grandmother was being woken up night and day, mostly by guys. Playgirl likes to think that their audience is mostly women, but no, no, the majority is gay. My poor grandma had to move. Then my dad sat me down and said, "I don't know what cockamamie business you are getting into. You want to do something, fine, you're an adult, but don't you ever use the family name again." So I used my middle name, which is Jeremy.
What was your path to the porn industry?
I quit teaching because I was making no money. After Playgirl I went to see a filmmaker I knew. Joe said he only did adult movies, so I said that's kind of sleazy. Then I did theater for a few months and starved. So I went back to Joe and thought, it's not so bad. I asked my family what they thought and they said, [we] aren't crazy about the idea but if you really want to do this go ahead, if you think it may be a shortcut to the mainstream. So Joe put me in my first adult film, Tigresses and Other Man-eaters. I spent an hour in makeup and they never once saw my face.
Were you embarrassed during the filming?
Yes, a little. There were some professionals there who had done it for a while. I wasn't getting the liftoff as quickly as they did. It was embarrassing. It's funny because now, years later when I am not taking Viagra and the other guy does, I am still slow to the punch. I am the slow man on the totem pole. It was embarrassing because I was not used to being nude and having sex in a room full of people.
Were your friends shocked that you were doing this?
The funniest dialogue came from the Catskills, where I had been working as a waiter for so many years of my life. They had this thing called "Bungalow Bunnies," where the women would stay up in the Catskills and their husbands would leave to work. They didn't really care if their wives were messing around because they were doing the same thing with their secretaries back in Manhattan. We were up in the Catskills, and I had a very good sex life, to the point where when I was once late to dinner and told the maitre d' I was with a girl. He said, and I remember his exact words, "Anybody else I would forgive but with you it's like brushing your teeth. You're late; you're being docked pay." So when they heard, Ron's doing porn, they said, "That's not a big shock, is it?"