Harry Reems has been immortalized in two projects this past decade: Inside Deep Throat (2004 documentary) & The Deep Throat Sex Scandal (David Bertolino’s ongoing theater production at The Zephyr, Los Angeles).
Harry passed away yesterday, so I want to take a moment to remember what he went through as a porn performer and as a United States citizen.
Herbert Streicher was working as an off-Broadway actor when a better moneymaking opportunity presented itself in the form of adult scenes, or “loops”. Originally hired as a crew member for the 1972 movie Deep Throat, director Gerard Damiano had Reems fill in for another actor. The result was campy, fun, classic adult cinema.
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Reems was arrested two years later in 1974 on federal charges of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines even though he’d signed a model release and relinquished all rights to the material. He had no creative control over the film–not editing, and certainly not distribution; yet he was targeted for the purpose of being made an example. The charges had far-reaching implications, which is why mainstream Hollywood stars, Warren Beaty and Jack Nicholson, offered support.
The charges were overturned in 1977, but the damage was already done. Reems lost the role as Coach Calhoun in the film Grease because company executives didn’t want to deal with backlash from casting him, and he spiraled into alcoholism before moving to Utah to become a real estate agent.
The details around Deep Throat are as seedy and bizarre as anti-porn efforts around the industry today. From Inside Deep Throat:
Dennis Hopper narrates: In 1968 the government launched a scientific commission to determine if pornography really was harmful.
1968 Newcaster on The Report of The Commission on Obscenity and Pornography: Well, today the final results were public. The presidential commission recommended doing away with most of the laws that cover pornography because they don’t seem to be doing much good and because pornography doesn’t seem to do much harm to the adult mind.
Georgina Spelvin: For one brief shining moment it did look like society was going to become a little more adult about their sexuality.
Narration: But committee member Charles Keating, appointed by President Nixon, fought to dismiss the findings.
Charles Keating: Obscenity does indeed effect. The effect it has is detrimental to society.
Hugh Hefner: Charles Keating was a notorious censorship bug. Later on we discovered he was a good deal more. He was a swindler, and went to prison.
The terms may change but the angle is the same. And though these days it’s Michael Weinstein of AIDS Healthcare Foundation and his financial stake in condoms, the industry is still full of people just trying to have fun and carve out a living while they do it; always at great risk to their personal freedom.
Harry is a well-remembered man. His death has been covered by every major news outlet. I’ve never heard a negative word about him and I hope his family and closest friends find comfort with each other during this difficult time.
R.I.P. Herbert Streicher, aka Harry Reems
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