tagReviews & EssaysThe Seventies, Deep Throat & Harry Reems

The Seventies, Deep Throat & Harry Reems

byMungoParkIII©

For college students, the mid-seventies proved to be a confusing and difficult time as suddenly, after watching the flower children and student activists so successfully protest the war in Viet Nam and seemingly change the world, when the time came to grab the torch and continue the revolution there suddenly was no real issue to gather and protest. America's involvement in the war was ending, the Watergate investigations seemed to be going strong and our government and the media kept everyone oblivious to what was happening in Laos.

Sure, the Shah of Iran was still in power and the Iranian students protested, with their faces covered to conceal their identity from their government who was more than happy to cancel their student visas and bring them home. These protests really didn't interest the rest of the student population. How could the problems in Iran ever really affect America? The most interest that developed here was when the truckload of rednecks drove past the protest chanting "Hurrah for the Shah, Hurrah for the Shah."

There were some demonstrations, for example at The University of Texas there was nearly a riot as students opposed the Campus Police who were busy arresting streakers one weekend. After the crowds gathered and a police car was nearly turned over, the police stepped back and actually blocked off the streets the next day allowing unimpeded streaking all over campus. After that the sight of a naked person running past was simply part of campus life. Even when a few women joggers at UT's Memorial Stadium (now Darrell K. Royal Stadium) decided that if male joggers could run shirtless so could they. The police were called but, the situation diffused itself and after the horny freshman gawkers got bored at the bouncing breasts it became a non-issue.

In my days amid this history I couldn't help believe we were a generation without a cause, desperately wanting to be like the flower children, but just not having something as important as the war to make a stand against. I studied engineering at The University of Texas enjoying some of the success and excess of the sexual revolution while having sex with my girlfriend on weekends and unfolding the pages of Hustler magazine while jerking off during the week. Little did I know that when I went to a playing of "Deep Throat" in one of the University's auditoriums with my girlfriend that I was witnessing the culmination of one of the most provocative and often ludicrous set of legal proceedings our country had ever endured.

My extensive and detailed research in Hustler magazines at the time did go beyond the photographs, so I had heard of the movie "Deep Throat" and I had some familiarity with the ongoing crusade against pornography. I did not realize how strongly (perhaps in an attempt to diffuse some of the media attention from Watergate) Richard Nixon was pressing prosecutors and lawmakers to fight pornography. In spite of the fact that the country was unable to agree on a legal description of obscenity or pornography, Nixon wanted to fight for decency. Supreme Court Justice Rehnquist went as far as saying, "I may not be able to define it but I know it when I see it."(2) Judges were actually hearing cases where people were charged with something that the courts could not define in legal terms.

Wrapped up in school work and planning my sexual dalliances on the weekends I was oblivious to the fact that Deep Throat was raking in the money with revenues that would exceed $600 million over the years. This was from a film that originally cost $25,000 to make, that's twenty five thousand dollars. Gerry Damiano, the director and producer of the film didn't make a cent on the project, the star Linda Lovelace was paid approximately $1,200 and supporting actor Harry Reems was paid $250 for his role in the film. The rest of the money went to distributors many of whom were involved in organized crime.

What was unique about the government's case against "Deep Throat" was not that they went after the people making the money, or the producer or creaters of the film or even against the people who were actually committing crimes in strong-arming theaters into playing the movie (there were tales of beatings, several dead bodies and rumors of huge quantities of money moved out of the country). No the FBI stormed into Harry Reems' NY City apartment in the middle of the night and took him to Memphis, Tennessee to face trial.

Charged with conspiracy to transport interstate obscene material, he was arrested based on the grounds that he had knowledge that an obscene film was being distributed moved from state to state. Never mind the fact that he was only an actor playing a role in the film, never mind that the state in which he starred in the film (Florida) did not deem the film obscene, and never mind the fact that he was only paid $250 for his participation he was the one to face trial on this monumental case.

With all the notoriety from the film, Reems had picked up parts in other films and had made some significant money. Unfortunately, that money was immediately spent in the retainer for his lawyer. It quickly became evident to Reems and most others that the actor was about to be railroaded. The prosecutor, Larry Parrish from Memphis, brought in the director/producer Gerry Damiano and actress Linda Lovelace to testify against Reems. They were given immunity to basically testify that Yes I directed Reems as he was filmed having sex for the film and Yes I had sex with Reems while being filmed.

One of the highlights (or lowlights, depending upon your viewpoint) of the trial had to do with the premise of the film, where a woman's clitoris was located in her throat rather than between her legs. The proceedings actually devolved to the point where a group of grown men were arguing with each other as to whether clitoral orgasms (as compared to vaginal orgasms) were truly gratifying and good for women. Insanity prevailed and in 1976 Reems was convicted in proceedings where the prosecutors were able to tie several of the real criminal distributors into the verdict.

Ironically, the prosecution's tactics to convict Reems almost immediately backfired when President Carter came into office and courts overturned the verdict. Unfortunately, because of the way the distributors were tied into the case by the prosecutor, they went free with Reems. It appeared the misguided prosecution of Reems opened the door for the only real criminals involved to go free.

While Hollywood and the adult film industry celebrated the victory the joy was premature. The development of video tape and home VCRs vastly changed the industry as pornography flourished, but not in movie houses but in private homes. Sadly, adult films became an oddity as porn videos featuring slim or absolutely no plot, only sex flooded the marketplace.

Harry Reems, the first actor to be arrested and prosecuted for playing a role in a movie, received some notoriety after his guilty verdict was overturned, but soon saw prospects dry up. He had attempted to act in the Hollywood mainstream and actually was cast in the role of the gym teacher in "Grease," starring John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John, only to be replaced by Sid Caesar prior to start of filming. He now is in real estate.

There are many who believe that Larry Parrish, the Memphis prosecutor who now works in private practice, is probably the person to have seen "Deep Throat" more than any other person. Parrish claims to be deeply scarred from the viewing experience saying he still has nightmares from the visions he saw viewing the film. Someone might question are the nightmares from his visions from the film or in his trying to explain to his wife about all his wet dreams. More seriously and frightening Parrish claims that even with the overturning of the decision in the Harry Reems/Deep Throat case, the laws were not changed and current pornography could be similarly prosecuted if only the justice system wasn't so tied up pursuing terrorism.

Like Reems, Linda Lovelace did receive some notoriety during and after the trial, being featured in Playboy and other magazines and films. Years later she wrote a memoir titled Ordeal and worked with Gloria Steinham opposing the denigration and victimization of woman in adult films. Lovelace died in 2002 from injuries she received in a car accident.

Remembering the film I watched in the auditorium back in early 1977, it is hard to imagine that a silly film with such memorable scenes as a woman with her lover's head between her legs politely asks, "Do you mind if I smoke while you eat?" or the first instance I ever noticed of product placement as Linda Lovelace shaves her pubic hair using an Old Spice shaving kit while the famous music from their commercials plays in the background. It is hard to believe that this film changed the industry the way it did, but you know, things were like that way back in the 1970s.

 

Sources:

1.) Imagine Entertainment, "Inside Deep Throat" written and directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.

2.) MovieWeb, "EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Deep Throat Star Harry Reems Talks with MovieWeb!"



3.) Rotten Tomatoes,
"INFO & TIDBITS ON INSIDE DEEP THROAT"

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