The Other Hollywood:The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry
Much like mainstream Hollywood, the porn industry has a history full of controversy, tragedy, and crime that leads the path up to the billion dollar empire it is today.
Legs McNeil's new book The Other Hollywood (co-written with Jennifer Osborne and Peter Pavia) traces the oral history of the adult film industry from its beginnings in the 1950's to the late 90's. The 620-page book has no written narrative; instead using interviews with the actors, directors, industry players, and FBI agents who weave together the tales of violence, greed, organized crime, drugs, and tragedy that mar the industry.
Starting with the infancy of naughty films, the 'nudie-cutie' era of films is chronicled, using interviews with such characters as Bunny Yeager, Dave Friedman, John Waters, Doris Wishman, and Russ Meyer. Back then they were called "exploitation" films and were shown in tents across the country by 'roadshowers' such as Kroger Babb, who disguised the films as educational. As burlesque eventually faded, films became more and more popular. According the Dave Friedman "...the nudie-cutie films were the answer to the showman's prayer...instead of the voyeurs staring at some tired old burlesque broad up there onstage, they were suddenly looking at gorgeous, young, blond, tan California girls-in Technicolor-on screens forty feet wide and twenty-five feet high. Where would you go?"
Porn didn't break big until the 70's and a little phenomenon called Deep Throat in 1973. Through interviews with Linda Lovelace, Chuck Traynor, Harry Reems, and Gerard Damiano, they recall the huge impact the film had and the abusive relationship between Lovelace and Traynor. They recount the story of one of Lovleace's earliest films, where she had sex with a dog, something she claims she was forced to do, but others who claim she was not. But Deep Throat made Lovelace a star and changed the face of the porn industry. According to Damiano, "For the first time, people weren't embarrassed to be seen by their friends leaving a theater showing a pornographic film. In fact, in certain circles, it became almost a necessity to see the film in order to keep your social status." The obscenity trial and Mob connections surrounding Deep Throat are also covered in depth.
One of porn's most famous and tragic stars, John Holmes, provides a large chink of compelling material for the book. Upon first seeing him nude, porn producer Bill Amerson notes "I looked at it and said 'You're going to be a star!'"
It was thirteen and a half inches and so big that Holmes often couldn't get it hard enough forcing actresses to have to "stuff it in" during their scenes together. Holmes later became immersed in drugs and his role in the Wonderland Murders of 1981 is covered in depth here. Though Holmes was found innocent of the murders, he later contracted AIDS and died in 1988.
The 80's brought on the advent of video and changed the way porn films were made, as well as how the actresses looked. Gone were the earth looks of Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers, replaced with buxom blond video vixens such as Ginger Lynn, Jill Kelly, Jenna Jameson, and Savannah. Traci Lords was the one that almost brought down the industry. Discovered by Jim South of the World Modeling Agency, Lords used a fake ID when she was just 15 years old and made 75 films until the story of her underage career broke days after she turned 18. Many believe Lords dropped the dime on herself and ended up costing the industry millions of dollars. Al Goldstein notes,"it's a shame. She blames pornography, but it was pornography that was the victim because she lied."
Numerous other scandals are covered as well, including the Pamela/Tommy Lee sex tape, the John Wayne Bobbitt porn, the suicide of Savannah, the Mitchell Brothers fratricide, Sharon Mitchell's brutal rape by a crazed fan and her subsequent recovery, The Meese commission, and many others. However, as the book moves towards the current age of porn, it can't help but ignore the AIDS crisis and its effect on porn.
Sharon Mitchell recovered from heroin addicting and a near fatal attack by a fan to become head of AIM, which regulated all the AIDS testing for industry performers in Southern California. By using the PCR-DNA form of testing, they have been able to tightly control the spread of HIV in the industry, but exceptions by careless performers are sometimes likely to occur. In 1998, veteran performer Marc Wallice infected several female performers with HIV after what many believe he knowingly had the disease. Wallice's comments in the book prove him to be ignorant and unsympathetic to the whole ordeal.
The Other Hollywood is an absolutely fascinating and page-turning history of adult films and the people behind them. I couldn't put this book down from the moment I started it. Whether or not you are into porn or despise it, these stories are interesting and compelling to any reader. Hearing the voices of the performers helps put a humanistic value on people who are often though of as unreal and stupid. A must-read for interested in the complete story behind this industry that plays such a huge part in American culture.
The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry, by Legs McNeil, Jennifer Osborne, Peter Pavia
ReganBooks, 620 pages
Review by Libby