CHATSWORTH, Calif. - The adult movie industry has been written about extensively, pro and con, in theory, polemics, gossip, and tell-all autobiography. But until now its tangled history has never been told in full, certainly not by the people who lived it.
That’s what makes the February 15 publication of The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored History of the Porn Film Industry, by Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne with Peter Pavia, a milestone event.
Published by Regan Books/Harper Collins, it traces the history of the XXX movie business from its first stirrings in the late 1960s until the end of the last decade—entirely in the words of those who participated in it.
The book is the result of hundreds of interviews with producers, performers, law enforcers, both friends and foes. Most were conducted in person; some quotes, from the deceased or the uncooperative, were taken from published sources.
“For a storyteller, this is a great story,” McNeil told AVN.com, “and nobody had done a book on it. The books I found about porn were all theory.”
McNeil, the author of Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, had his first introduction to porn when he worked on the movie Blow Dry in 1974. “I met a lot of people and I liked them,” he said, “and I wondered what happened to them.”
For an oral history, he said, “you need 30 years and core group of people who have been together all that time,” and the porn industry filled that requirement perfectly.
He began work on the book in 1997, the year after his punk book was published. He learned about porn as he’d learned about punk, by talking in depth to the people involved.
But selling it wasn’t easy. The subject was taboo.
“I pitched the idea to every publisher in New York and everybody turned it down,” he said. It wasn’t until 2000, when he produced a three-hour Court TV documentary, Adults Only: The Secret History of the Other Hollywood, that interest was shown.
He made a deal with publisher Judith Regan in 2000, the same year his co-writer Jennifer Osborne came on board. It took them four years to weave a narrative from the enormous amount of transcribed talk.
“It was a ton of work,” Osborne said. “It took as long as it did for me to get my bachelor’s degree.”
Like McNeil, she had her eyes opened along the way. “It was so much more complex than I originally thought when I first entered into it,” she said. “Every time we talked to somebody, new facets of the story would open up, new layers would peel off.”
McNeil feels the book will open everyone’s eyes to the reality of the adult industry. It used to be, he said, that “people could say anything they wanted about the porn industry, because nobody knew what they were talking about.” The Other Hollywood, he hopes, will change all that.
McNeil and Osborne will kick off the book’s publication at a party in New York on February 15. After that they’ll go on a national promotional tour Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, New Haven and other cities.
What follows below is a review by Jared Rutter of The Other Hollywood that appears in the February edition of AVN:
The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry.
Legs McNeil, with Jennifer Osborne and Peter Pavia. ReganBooks. HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022. 620 pps.
This is an easy book to pick up — even at 600-plus pages — and a hard one to put down. It’s a milestone — there’s nothing else like it in its thoroughness and range — and very few history books are as constantly entertaining.
The people who made porn’s history, good guys and bad guys, major and minor, speak for themselves. The endless hours of interviews conducted by Legs McNeil and his team have been skillfully winnowed down to a fast-moving, colorful narrative. Folks who are no longer around, or no longer on speaking terms, are represented by quotes from books and magazine interviews.
This is the story of how a multi-billion dollar industry was created from taking moving pictures of people having sex, and the hucksters, mobsters, opportunists and, yes, artists who cashed in on it.
Not surprisingly from an author who has also chronicled the rise of punk rock, the focus is on porn’s most lurid aspects: scandals, drugs, murders, suicides. But then, the fact is that much of the history of adult entertainment is every bit as lurid as many people think.
Those who believe that porn was created by hoodlums and sleazeballs, with performers who were space cadets or borderline nuts, will find validation here. Those who know that also present at the creation were sexual trailblazers, artists of spirit and talent, and some genuinely swell human beings, will find equal proof in these pages.
McNeil just presents the testimonies; he leaves the judgments to the reader.
For example, actor Eric Edwards’ memories of a shoot with Linda Lovelace (the notorious dog loop) are juxtaposed with hers (taken from the book Ordeal), and the listener is allowed to make his own mind. Even if you thought you knew all about, say, Lovelace or John Holmes or Traci Lords, you’ll learn more here, thanks to the often contrasting views of those who knew them.
AVN Publisher and Editor Tim Connelly, himself a former performer who knew many of the players, provides a running thread of commentary that sets the stage for various events.
The book begins with the first stirrings of the sex film industry, in the form of bland nudist camp movies. Pioneers like Russ Meyer and pin-up photographer Bunny Yeager laid the groundwork for something far more exciting. Producer Dave Friedman, the king of the nudie cuties in their late 1960s heyday, oversaw the remaking of burlesque houses into dirty movie theaters.
The early 1970s was mostly about hardcore loops, which flourished in New York. Here’s Fred Lincoln on the free-loving atmosphere of a 1971 hippie porn set: “Everybody fucked while they were waiting to fuck. We’d fuck before — we’d fuck after — we’d fuck during.”
The picture the book paints of mad Manhattan in the ’70s — live sex shows, Plato’s Retreat, endless supplies of drugs — is both exhilarating (the heady freedom) and chilling (the substance abuse).
From that era emerged the low-budget but high earning Deep Throat, which, to the astonishment of the crime family that financed it, became an instant gold mine. There are mind-boggling descriptions of barrels full of cash collected from the theaters that showed it.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the Mitchell Brothers were creating their own box office phenomenon with Behind the Green Door and its Ivory Soap box-cover star Marilyn Chambers.
The success of Throat and Door ushered in not only Porno Chic, but also a flood of investigations, arrests and prosecutions, mostly on the federal level. The Other Hollywood offers perhaps the best record ever of the trials and tribulations perpetrated on the industry, from the Memphis-based Deep Throat trials to the years-long MIPORN investigation.
Quite a bit of the MIPORN data comes from actual FBI wiretaps. At its heart was the creation of a dummy porn company fronted by two undercover FBI agents, Bruce Ellavsky and Pat Livingston. The psychic wear and tear of assuming another identity over so many years led to Livingston’s mental breakdown, one of the oddest and saddest stories in the annals of the Bureau.
These chapters show the essential futility of trying to stop the manufacture of a First Amendment-protected product enjoyed by multitudes. Says agent Bill Kelly, the most quoted of many law enforcement figures: “At the time MIPORN went into operation, pornography was a four billion dollar a year business — and by the time the operation was over, porn was about an eight billion dollar industry. So we had absolutely no permanent effect on interstate transportation of obscene matter at all.”
The life of John Holmes and his involvement in the Wonderland murders is conveyed here much more colorfully than in the recent movie. There are new details about Traci Lords scandal; the suicides of Shauna Grant, Savannah and Cal Jammer; the murder of Artie Mitchell by his brother Jim; and the gunning down of Teddy Snyder, who met his end with a vial of coke in his hand.
The history winds down in the late 1990s, around the time of the HIV outbreak that was blamed, rightly or wrongly, on actor Marc Wallice.
The gentrification of the porn business (much of it, at least), led by such companies as VCA, Vivid, Wicked and Adam & Eve, is barely touched on. Nor is the mainstream crossover phenomenon exemplified by stars like Jenna Jameson and Ron Jeremy — although there’s some fascinating stuff about the Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee sex tape that may have started the whole thing.
Influential directors like Greg Dark and John Leslie are barely mentioned (the former only in connection with Lords). John Stagliano is given his due, though there’s more about his personal travails than about his revolutionary shooting style. But then, this is a book about life, not art.
Some will be downright appalled by such characters as Snyder, Butchie Peraino and Norm Arno. But they should also be moved by the candor, humanity and humor of Fred Lincoln, Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle, Henri Pachard and many others.
If one single person emerges as the book’s hero, it is Sharon Mitchell, whose frank and pungent observations about herself and others appear in almost every chapter. Her remarkable odyssey from rebellious New Jersey teenager to swashbuckling sex star to pathetic junkie to redemption angel is unique and inspiring.
The industry itself has gone on a similar trajectory, from innocence through corruption to prosperity and acceptance.
Speaking historically, probably the most important event covered by the book is the Hal Freeman obscenity trial, which wound its way into California’s Supreme Court and ended, essentially, with the legalization of pornography.
Connelly remembers the day in 1988 when the decision came down: “I was making a movie in Sam Kinison’s old house in the Hollywood Hills; Ron Jeremy was directing it. We’d been fucking all day …when we heard that the Freeman conviction was overturned on appeal. It’s kind of ironic; there we were, in the middle of a shoot, when we found out that we could legally shoot. …”
From then on the porn biz would never be the same. The Freeman decision ushered in its sea-change from a semi-underground operation into, in Tom Byron’s words, “the corporate, legitimate machine that it is now.”
The Other Hollywood is one of the very few books that video retailers would be wise to stock. Customers both old and new are sure to want to learn more about how this crazy business grew.Posted by MK Magazine at January 29, 2005 02:24 PM