"I'm the only artist ever, good or bad, of any kind, to be prosecuted by the Federal Government."
With the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, actor Harry Reems has ended almost 20 years of public silence and teamed up with directors Fenton Baily and Randy Barbato to take an inside look at the film, and the trial, that took the world by storm. I had the opportunity to sit down and have a one-on-one with Mr. Reems to discuss the trial, the original film, and the new documentary about the whole shabang.
He let me know that he had been approached in the past by people to make sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll stories, books, and just about everything in between, but he continued to stay quiet until now. So what was the difference with this particular approach that attracted him to the project, and why did it take this long for his story to come out? Harry says, "I wanted to tell the story of a redemption, turning your life around... So for the first time in almost 20 years, I went in front of the cameras and told my story..."
Harry discussed the details of his personal turnaround after the trial had ended, "I was a fall down, blackout drinker... ending up in jails, panhandling in the streets... and I got clean and sober in 1989. I haven't had a drink in 16 + years, happily married, converted to Christianity, became a trustee at the local Methodist Church, I own and operate a very successful real estate brokerage, and, you know, God is my savior, and I hate to throw that out, it sounds corny... but I'm very active in my church and very, very active in a 12 step recovery program, call it what you want, that's all I'll call it."
In the late 1960's, adult films were short, 8mm, black and white, silent movies made on very low budgets. Those early stag films evolved into "white coaters", adult movies that were laced with socially redeeming values. Harry told me that the sexual content was approached through a medical context involving an actor dressed in a white coat that would come in and discuss sex in a clinical fashion before the film began, hence the name white coaters.
He also took an interest to production and post-production, editing, and worked on crews in different departments. Initially, he was hired on DEEP THROAT as the lighting director, but when the actor couldn't perform, Harry took over the role. In 1972, DEEP THROAT was a quick hit at adult movie houses nationwide and quickly became a huge success. Made on a budget of $25,000, the film went on to gross over $600 million dollars worldwide.
While DEEP THROAT was embraced and discussed by fans and celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Bob Hope, it also caught the attention of the authorities. Labeled a farce by critics, it was eventually busted and banned in 23 states. Due to shaky and questionable obscenity laws, the FBI arrested Harry Reems in his New York City apartment 1974, brought him in front of a judge late at night, and moved him to Memphis, Tennessee to be charged. The charge handed down to him in Memphis was conspiracy to transport obscene material interstate, and implicated uncharged co-conspirators as Greyhound and American Airlines.
"There were 9 defendants, me and 8 Mafiosos, members of the Colombo family." Reems says. "There was evidence that they had an inside informant, he ended up murdered, they found his car with 2 bloody fingers..."
"This was the infancy of the industry... There were a lot of rough people around."
"The director Jerry Damiano sat on trial, sat on the witness chair and pointed and said, 'yeah, that's the guy who had sex in my movie' and he was let go. Same with Linda Lovelace, 'That's the guy I had sex with in the movie DEEP THROAT', I was the defendant, they were witnesses, it makes no sense."
"All this evidence about murder, and under the conspiracy laws, I'm responsible for this stuff. All the tax evasion, all the murders, all the beatings, I'm responsible for all this stuff. I'm the only artist ever, good or bad, of any kind, to be prosecuted by the Federal Government."
Harry says that the new film INSIDE DEEP THROAT, "Shows the social and cultural changes in America from the late 60's early 70's to the present. And the White House is exactly the same, one was Nixon, one was Bush... There was a memo from Nixon to prosecute pornography to the fullest extent and shop it into Memphis, Tennessee, and that's why the District Attorney in Memphis was a Nixon appointee and so was the Judge... he was trying to get attention away from Watergate. I become the fall guy."
Coincidentally, the trial took place in the same Federal District in Memphis as the Scopes trail, where High School Biology teacher John Scopes was charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution in his classroom.
"The trial ended in 1975 and the conviction came down in 1976. I was convicted to 5 years in prison. I also had another 2 indictments waiting for me... both Jerry Damiano films, of which, he would be a witness for the prosecution."
"Eugene McCarthy called me... to say, 'Just relax, if the Democrats win the White House, you're going to be set free, and the indictments against you are going to be dismissed. If the Republicans win, there's nothing we can do. Sure enough, Jimmy Carter won, and you will find that in the first three days in office, my conviction was overturned, and all the indictments against me for future trials were dismissed."
So with everything as it has been, would Harry Reems do it all again? "Yeah, to be the person I am today. I'm happier today than I've ever been in my life. I never felt like I fit in anywhere, I always felt different, growing up as a kid. But today, I feel whole... it's a miracle that I'm alive... and if I could help people ... let them know that no matter how bad their life is, they can get better... that's better than any payday anywhere." And that's Harry Reems everybody. Thanks for talking with us, and good luck with the new book! You can check out INSIDE DEEP THROAT on DVD September 20th.