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Exclusive Interview: Harry Reems for "Inside Deep Throat"

By Paul Fischer Thursday February 10th 2005 05:17PM
Harry Reems for "Inside Deep Throat"

33 years ago Harry Reems became an unwilling legend of an era that reinforced sexual liberalisation. The most famous male porn star of all time, Reems became the darling of a new sexual and Cultural Revolution, but when push came to shove, Reems, after being arrested and used as a pawn in the conservative 1970s political arena, Hollywood's establishment eventually abandoned him.

For almost two decades, Reems would be forgotten, an alcoholic and homeless. Now, as Deep Throat has taken on a whole new meaning, Reems is alcohol-free, married and a highly successful real estate broker in, of all places, , home of the annual Sundance Film Festival. Interest in Reems has resurfaced, thanks to the much acclaimed documentary Inside Deep Throat, which chronicles the highs and lows of a film and industry that changed the course of sexuality and American politics. Avoiding the spotlight for over 20 years, Reems spent some time detailing a life that is at times funny, tragic and ultimately uplifting, as Garth Franklin discovered when he spent some time chatting to the once infamous actor about a life less ordinary.

The trademark moustache is gone, and Harry Reems, now 56, is at the Sundance Film Festival to reflect on a life marred with alcohol, sex and renewed faith and optimism. He was at Sundance to attend the world premiere of Inside Deep Throat, marking the first time in over 20 years that Reems, star of over a hundred porn films, would talk openly about the film that made him an unlikely celebrity. Sitting in a small hotel room n Park City, Reems, who was starting to lose his voice at this point, recalled a youth defined by religion and repression. "My grandparents were orthodox Jews from the old country, but my parents kind of broke that barrier and ate ham, fish and lobster as well as played golf on the Sabbath," Reems recalls, smilingly. "They never really taught us very much about Judaism, although my brother and I were bar-mitzvahed, but after that we never even went to synagogue." Harry was born Herbert Streicher in New York's Manhattan "and lived my first five years in the Bronx. Then we moved up to Westchester County to a town called Harrison", Reems recalls. Reems joined the military and left the Marine Corps in 1967. Initially intent on being an actor, Harry studied acting with Lee Strasberg and was a founding member of the experimental theatre company, Cafe la Mama. From such lofty beginnings, Harry Reems was surprisingly born. "I needed to supplement the income, because this was off, off Broadway and so a fellow actor said: I know where you can make 100 bucks and get laid at the same time," he says, laughingly. It was the late 60s and the adult world of porn, was still in its infancy and not an industry. Reems recalls when he first started making adult films, it was all very much under the counter, and "little 8mm, 10-minute epics, which would be shown in private homes." With changes in the obscenity laws in 1968, Reems says that "these little filmmakers who were doing the small films started to do bigger films, all with the pretense that there was an educational value to and social redeeming value." It was during this period, that Reems donned a white coat, and played various versions of the doctor that audiences would see in Deep Throat. " I wore that white coat in hundreds of films before Deep Throat, and stayed very anonymous, as a very small group of people frequented adult films." By 1972, Harry had already appeared in close to a dozen, underground films and was already getting bored with acting. Then in 1972, Harry was asked to fly to Florida as a lighting cameraman for what he assumed was going to be another small, anonymous film. The movie was Deep Throat, its director, Gerard Damiano. "I had acted for this director before, so when the actor that was supposed to play this doctor couldn't act, he threw the white coat on me and said, 'One more time, and have fun with it. Go crazy.' I think there was a six-page script." Nobody thought they were making history, but Reems was ready to act one last time. He remembers the fun times he had on that set, and scowls when we come to the inevitable mention of star Linda Lovelace.

Reems says he had "made movies with Linda prior to Deep Throat, and Linda was never forced at gunpoint to do anything," remerging, angrily, that Lovelace had willingly appeared in "some films that I would never even think of being in", including early bestiality movies. "The name Linda Lovelace was invented, as was the name Harry Reems, and then she tried to catch a train to fame and it didn't work." Reems recalls that Lovelace "wasn't articulate, couldn't act, and so she went to all the Hollywood parties. So eventually to make money she joined the women's movement, anti-porn - 'I was forced at gunpoint' - and of course that lasted for a while, but when she couldn't make money doing that anymore, or when she wasn't a good interview anymore, she went right back to porn, or back to nudity. She was doing nude photographs at the end of her life and films with nudity. " As for Lovelace's literary account of that period in her now infamous book, Ordeal, "it was a total lie. But, she was a nice enough woman and sexually she was fun and when you look at the film you see this big smile, and I was on every set because I was the lighting director, not just the scenes I did, and nobody ever forced her to do anything."

Deep Throat would emerge as more than just a porn film, a theme explored in the Inside Deep Throat documentary. Reems says that nothing could have prepared him for the effect that little film would have on America's burgeoning sexual revolution. "I was totally shocked, and I think I now know the reason," says Reems. "Deep Throat was the first film to say that it held no social redeeming value; we are going for straight out burlesque comedy, and just have fun. Of course it caught the attention of a few celebrities, the word of mouth spread and the government started to prosecute it because it was becoming famous, which only led to more people going to the theatres. So, the Justice Department basically made the film succeed." And succeed it did, raking in the money and turning pornography into a virtual legitimate and almost respectable art form. While Deep Throat would emerge as the most profitable film of all time, life for Harry Reems would also undergo a dramatic change. Initially, the world post-Deep Throat was still his oyster. "After Deep Throat's fame I did a few more porno movies, but instead of getting 100 bucks like all of the others I was getting 3, 4, 5-thousand a day. They just wanted my name n the, on the poster and theatre marquees. Reems even got offered adult films in Europe, "so I made several films in Germany which were shoot-em-ups or gangster movies" Then, Reems' world began to slowly unravel. "I came home for a couple of weeks to do my laundry, say hello to friends, before I started another movie in Rome and I got arrested for Deep Throat. The FBI came to my door in the middle of the night, handcuffed me, and took me to the New York courts." While much of this is discussed in the documentary, hearing the actor's recounting of this entire incident, remains an eye-opener, with the whole Deep Throat case emerging as one of the most damaging trials of the 1980s. "They told me to waive extradition, that I'm going to Memphis, Tennessee to stand trial for distributing a movie," recalls an emotional Reems, who understand why he was going on trial for distributing the movie, referring to it as a conspiracy. "If you have knowledge of a crime in the United States and you don't legally disavow and destroy that crime you're held responsible for it. So, I knew the film was in distribution, but what I didn't know was that there was going to be eight members of the Columbo organized crime family, that I was on trial with. I think the prosecutor was trying to do nothing more than get some press and bring his trial to the attention of the public and maybe build up his name. What he didn't realise was I went and got more press. This was the first time an artist acting - first time an artist of any kind was being prosecuted by the federal government. There were new laws and new obscenity statutes in 1981 and they went back to the '76 statutes, and then the broadest use of the conspiracy laws in the history of the United States." Tearfully, Reems recounts going through this trial, every day listening about murders, "about money going in suitcases and the street fights between two families over the proceeds." It was then, that Reems began drinking heavily, as the trial began to bear its tole. " I was told by Alan Dershowitz, who is a law professor up at Harvard, that if the republicans were re-elected I'm going to jail but if the democrats get into office I'd be Scott-free. Of course, Dershowitz knows a lot of people in Washington so I got calls from Ramsey Clark, who is a past Attorney General from the '60s, during the Kennedy era. I got calls from Eugene McCarthy saying, 'Harry, don't worry, if we take the White House we're letting you go', because I'd be crying to Dershowitz because I was scared. I mean, I didn't commit any of those murders. I didn't steal that money. I didn't do those things to those people. I didn't even know it was obscene. It was nothing more than to try to take attention away from his Watergate fiasco." Reems did not go to jail, but his life was a shambles. "I became a real low-bottom drunk and stopped doing movies." He tried to segue into straight acting, was offered the role of the coach in Grease, but the stigma associated with his past, put a stop to that weeks prior to filming. Reems' old Hollywood pals Nicholson and Beatty had deserted him, and all he had, was the solace of the bottle. "I was getting worse and worse as a drunk and was in a hospital in New York city for 32 days, and over the 32 days some friends came by to visit and all of them said 'I don't want to see you again. You look like your 90 years old and you look like you're going to die, and that's a shame, Harry, you're too nice a person, too good a person. You need to stop drinking'. When they released me from the hospital, I had asked for quarters for the telephone from my friends, but I went and bought a bottle of vodka. I woke up six or seven days later in Los Angeles County jail with excrement in my pants and sleeping in my vomit, and had no idea how I got from New York to L.A. I had no money, I was panhandling in the streets and so I went to a meeting, a program of recovery. I went to a 12-step meeting where I'm told other alcoholics learn how not to drink." Reems pauses, sighing at the memory. "I walked in the building and got arrested by the police officers. It was in city hall where the police department was, and the meeting was taking place in the same building and I got arrested. It seems I had three or four warrants out for me. I got to Park City in '86 and I didn't get sober until '89. I guess there was vagrancy and lewdness, breaking and entering, you know I'd walk into somebody's door and sleep on their living room couch. I didn't know who they were. They'd wake up and see this person and they'd call the police. So, the police officer very kindly said, 'Go to that meeting, you need it, but come out of that meeting and come right back here because I've got four warrants out for your arrest. Do you promise me you'll come back here?', and I said 'Yes, I just wanna go see what these people do, how this things works'. And, I walked back out after the meeting and he put the handcuffs on me and we... our jail is up at the County seat about twenty minutes away, and this officer, said to me, 'Harry, if you could only get sober, if you could only fix this problem, you have no idea how many people you could help, how many lives you can save, how valuable your life could become', and nobody had ever told me I could be of any value. I spent that week in the jail, I paid my fines. I got sober. I went to 20 or 30 meetings a week in Park City and Salt Lake." Reems was finally determined to put the past behind him. "It took a long time for me to learn how to sleep again, have bowel movements, to keep food down, because I was the kind of alcoholic that seizured and had DT's, and eventually it went away. Eventually that program taught me how to love myself, how to be a help to others, how to find God in my life, and I found God in those rooms. Today I live a very honest and loving life." The former Jewish kid from Manhattan is now a born again Christian, living a quiet, but successful life in Park City. "I have a wonderful marriage, a beautiful home, a very successful business, and I still go to those rooms and still go to those meetings." Reems would have been more than happy to go about his business and let the past take care of itself. Until recently, Harry had never discussed his past, declined all interview requests and preferred to live the life of an entrepreneur in this ski resort. Then he was contracted about a new film being made, a documentary on a time that he would rather forget. "I was ready to say no. Over the twenty years since I had done my last film, and living here in Park City, I have 3, 4, 5 times a week somebody wanting to do an interview with me, or would I come out and do this talk show, or you know, let's do your life story as a movie of the week - lots of comedy, sex, drugs, rock and roll - and I had been through this horrible experience, so I never wanted to tell that story. When I met directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato and they were out here at Sundance three or four years ago, we sat down and we met and they said 'what's your fix'. I mean, I had refused to do interviews. I had refused to do anything. But, when he mentioned Brian Grazer's name it perked my ears and I wanted to know what direction the film is going in." The directors' response was 'we won't know until we get the footage shot'. But, they saw it as taking Deep Throat and using it as a thread to show the social, cultural change in America that took place in the last 60's and the 70's and 80's, and they were going to tie that all together. "I said 'well, do you know about me being a drunk' and they said 'it's a wonderful story of redemption'. I said THAT'S the story I'd be willing to tell, and so I agreed to cooperative, to be in the film, and I'm very impressed with the final product" Surprisingly, Reems insists, watching the documentary for the first time at Sundance, did not bring back any unwanted memories. "I have a new life now. They flew my wife and I out to L.A. about two weeks ago to see a rough cut and to ask if I would participate in a promotion and I said, well, let me see the film and, I was quite pleased. I mean, they had things in the movie that I didn't even know about." Reems says the film didn't touch the surface but it what it set out to do. "I mean, they didn't go into any great depth about the mafia, they didn't go into great depth about my journey, but they did go into depth about the sexual revolution that took place in America in the 60's, and I was right in the middle of it all - in the East Village, a hippie, in the late 60's, Mama Cass, Jimi Hendrix, all of them, Janis Joplin, the bell bottoms and the crazy hair and the free love, and I came from such a repressed Jewish background. You bet I became a hippie - even though I got caught up in it and the next thing you know I'm a voice. But this movie is factual, accurate, in-depth and it really captures the world as it was, that world as it really was, and I'm proud to be a part of it, I really am. I never thought I'd come out the hero, or that they would use me as the redemptive sort of angle in the movie." For Reems, Inside Deep Throat remains but a memory, the glare of the spotlight has once again dimmed, and Harry Reems says that he looks forward to returning to reality. "On Tuesday morning I have a listing appointment to list a house." Reems is more than happy being a real estate broker, finally saying, laughingly, "if you love your work you're not working." Charles Dickens once wrote, 'They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.' It's a fitting prologue to the life and times of Harry Reems, actor, porn star, alcoholic and gentleman capitalist. He hopes the documentary and the recently announced re-release of that original porn classic, will remind us of an era that forged a revolution and the beginning of one of the more unique film industries in Hollywood history.

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