My Favorite Dead Pornographers

You know you’re getting old when you keep putting the word “late” before the names of people you’ve known.  In the porn world there have been many who died of drugs, AIDS and—as porn’s detractors gleefully point out—suicides.  This isn’t about them. The subject of porn’s casualties will be reserved for a future entry.  This is about people who weren’t casualties, people who prospered through their work in porn, people I’ve enjoyed working with, people who unfortunately checked out before getting the chance to just slowly fade away.  In the order in which I came to know them, they are Jamie Gillis, Juliet Anderson, Anthony Spinelli, Henri Pachard, and Russ Meyer.  I won’t delve into their biographies; there are plenty of those on the Internet.  These are strictly my recollections from interacting with them, highlighted with details from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry.
      
Jamie Gillis

You know those ads for erection enhancers—the ones that go “For an erection lasting over four hours seek medical attention.”?  Well, in a scene with Serena in my bondage video, Bound, Jamie stayed “up” for at least that long, with no apparent lasting damage.  In fact, for sustained penile performance, his member was one of the healthiest in history. From SKINFLICKS ”During a busy week of shoots, I asked Gillis if he ever got tired of sex. He thought for a moment, then said, “The way I look at it, sex is like food.  After a heavy meal, you might swear you’ll never eat again, but in a few hours, you’re hungry.”

Jamie Gillis and Mauvaise De Noire

The craggy-visaged actor was known for playing sinister characters, and fans mistakenly thought he was some kind of diabolical entity in real life. (My girlfriend—who didn’t know him—exclaimed, “Jamie Gillis! Terrible man!”) On the set, he was one of the nicest, most agreeable people you’d ever want to meet.  Thoroughly professional. A director’s dream. Of course, when given the green light to do his own thing, he liked to treat women like dogs, cuffing them lightly when they didn’t lick fast enough—as he did with Mauvaise De Noire in my bi-racial video Chocolate Cream.  In SKINFLICKS, Lisa DeLeeuw relates a traumatic incident in which Gillis took his beastmaster persona a bit too far—and broke her nose.  His penchant for offbeat scenarios extended into his real life.  From SKINFLICKS: Examining the rectangular leather-covered frame hanging from the ceiling above  the stage, Jamie Gillis tested its strength to make sure it would support Serena, nude and spread-eagled, with her hands and feet tied to its corners.  On the past Halloween, he’d tied her naked in a bay window of their Polk Street apartment, displayed to the crowds below.  Even revelers as bizarre as San Francisco’s could only stare upward, open-mouthed.
.  Despite his kinks, the real reason he got so many strange roles was because, as a polished Shakespearean actor, he could play them so well. In my videos Chocolate Cream and Running Wild, his portrayal of—respectively–an avaricious dating service proprietor and the head of a clan of orgiastic potheads was infused with subtle humor that went beyond the written dialogue. His sex scenes, limited (mostly) to the usual mundane positions, were performed with his customary expertise.  After a long career as actor, producer and director, Jamie Gillis (James Gurman) died of metastasized melanoma on February 19, 2010 at the age of 66.  

 Juliet Anderson

Juliet Anderson was a perfectionist.  I know that from the bracing experience of being her mansionmate.  When I moved in, she presented me with a detailed 13-page list of household chores (“frequently take hair and fuzz off brush while vacuuming rugs”). Her fastidiousness clashed with my neglectful housekeeping.  From SKINFLICKS:  Once I was about to leave for L.A. on the same day Juliet was scheduled to come home from New York.  I’d spent the morning in a cleaning frenzy and thought the results quite presentable.  I was walking out the door just as she arrived. Juliet took one look at the place and let out a shriek that echoed in my ears as I hurried down the fifty-six steps.
Juliet’s perfectionism showed in her image: patrician features, short, swept-back blonde hair and a figure trimmed through compulsive exercise. Her determination to succeed extended to her sexual skills, such as her “famous Aunt Peg blow job.” From SKINFLICKS: “She doesn’t seduce men,” wrote Gary Giddins in Home Video magazine, “she inhales them.” Juliet’s blur of mouth manipulations and head movements kept Joe, in his porn debut, as hard as men half his age.
Juliet was also one of porn’s all-time great “screamers.”  Her crescendos could bring down chandeliers. From SKINFLICKS: Returning from another business trip to L.A., I found a note from Juliet on the door: “Living room is reserved for a mini-orgy Harvey and I are having tonight. The cats have been fed.”  Great, I thought, another night with Juliet’s shrieks resounding through the house.

Juliet Anderson and Billy Dee in Physical

Juliet’s years as a teacher (Among other things, she’d taught English in Finland.) prepared her for the role that brought her fame: “Aunt Peg” in the Swedish Erotica loop series, where her sexually sophisticated character taught eager young men the arcane secrets of pleasure. Juliet’s lifestyle was a sex workaholic’s frenzy of porn work, stage shows, mail-order items, phone sex recordings and “fantasy sessions” with admiring sugar daddies. From SKINFLICKS: I encountered a fat old man in a bathrobe breaking our “no smoking in the house” rule, puffing a pipe in our living room. Juliet whispered to me that he was a big fan of hers who’d made a fortune in medical devices. One weekend I had to sleep on Joe’s padded floor, consoling myself with my $80 split of the rental of our house to a Rajneesh group.
Like so many of porn’s “lifers,” Juliet knew her future lay behind the camera, not in front of it. She made her directing debut with my Superior Video feature, All the King’s Ladies, where she kept her cool through this staggeringly problem-plagued production.  In my next feature, the hot-selling Physical, she played the lead role of a magazine publisher who uncovers a sex-contest scam. Juliet traded her work in Physical for my future services as videographer in a movie she planned to produce.  Her 1984 video feature, Educating Nina, turned out to have historical significance as the debut of future porn legend Nina Hartley. Unfortunately, Juliet didn’t have the steely, negotiator nerves required for dealing with porn’s inner-circle barracudas. After years of getting screwed in the best way, she got screwed in the worst, lamenting that the process of marketing Educating Nina was “an emotional and financial disaster.” Disillusioned with the world of porn, Juliet turned to less harsh pursuits, managing a bed-and-breakfast and running a massage therapy company.  She finally returned to porn in the mid-‘90s, focusing on videos of older people having sex.  All her life, Juliet had battled Crohn’s disease, keeping it at bay with a healthful lifestyle.  The disease finally won.   It came as a shock to those who knew this vital, energetic woman when she was found lifeless in bed. Juliet Anderson (Judith Carr) died on January 11, 2010. She was 71.

Anthony Spinelli 

From SKINFLICKSHaving survived two heart attacks and lost an enormous volume of weight, Anthony Spinelli appeared to have found the wry peace of a grizzled Buddha.  On a shoot bedeviled by a beeping audio pulse nobody could identify, I turned to him and blurted, “Maybe it’s your pacemaker.”  I immediately wished I could swallow the remark, but the great, bearded bear of a director roared.  Cinderella Distributing’s Jack Stephan said of Spinelli, “I’d love to be a first-time comic with 500 like him in the audience.”
Anthony Spinelli was a unique pornographer; he had no interest in shooting sex.  From SKINFLICKS: After his usual meticulous direction of a long dialogue scene, Spinelli turned Kay Parker, Herschel Savage and Helga Sven over to his cameramen, Joe Farmer and me, and left the set.  We were pleased with the hot sex we shot.  Before spot-checking the video, the tape operator called out, “Sam? (Spinelli’s real first name)…Sam, you wanna see this?…Sam?”  We went looking for the man whose livelihood depended on the kind of action we’d just taped and found him in the green (utility) room, snoring soundly.
Pornographers crave distinction, something that makes them stand out from the rest of the wham-bam crowd.  For Spinelli, it was his ability to wring outstanding thespian performances from “stars” whose idea of “acting” was to vary the pitch of their moans.  Spinelli had the tenacity of a Jewish mother (He referred to himself as “an old Jew.”) in not allowing even the most lackadaisical performers to slough off a single line.  Actors learned that the sooner they followed his directions, the faster things would move. (The oft-repeated Spinelli line: “What’s your motivation?…To get outta here by 9 P.M.”)
Spinelli saw intonations, beats, flickers and emotional textures in a scene that I never could. On his shoots, my co-director Joe Farmer and I saw the importance of a good crew, who were like family to Spinelli. (After he twice suffered on-set heart attacks, Spinelli’s crew took it upon themselves to finish shooting his films.) Their loyalty, competence and dedication put pressure on cast members to do their best, also.
After his movies won acclaim in porn’s “big-budget” Film Age, Spinelli’s Plum Productions prospered in the leaner Age of Video. From SKINFLICKS The Spinelli clan had adapted well to the age of the micro-budget.  Like haiku, the short stories of H.H. (“Saki”) Munro, and Twilight Zone reruns, their spare, interior dramas appealed to the cerebral end of the market.  Plum’s “one-act morality plays”—as AVN’s Joe Daniels called them—gave couples a springboard for more elevated post-coital conversation than “Was it good for you too?”
Anthony Spinelli (Sam Weinstein) died of pneumonia on May 29, 2000, at age 73.  His son Mitch carried on the family tradition of high-quality cinema.

 Henri Pachard

From SKINFLICKS: Henri Pachard pointed to the “D” on his ever-present Detroit Tigers cap. “Know what that stands for?” asked the winner of 1985’s Adult Film Association Best Picture award (for Taboo American Style).
    “Director?”
    “Close.” In the resonant tone of an attorney or politician—his aspirations before being expelled from college for gambling, Pachard said, “It stands for ‘directator’: part director, part dictator.  I’m tough: I’m very demanding. I’ll ask a lot out of you, and you’ll have to work hard.”  Then he said the magic words: “But if you follow my directions and do exactly as I say, I promise you I’ll get you out of here on time.” 

In contrast to Spinelli, Henri Pachard was very concerned with the sex. Unlike so many pornographers who claim a lofty “professional distance” from their actresses, Pachard admitted to casting women he’d like to screw, hastening to add, “Not that I’d ever have sex with them, but…if they turn me on, I hope it shows in my direction and the various situations I put them in.”  He was proud of being called, “The King of the Commode,” gaining that title though the engineering of scenes on bathroom fixtures. One of the most athletic skits I ever witnessed—described in SKINFLICKS—was on Pachard’s Harlem Candy shoot.  It involved Angel Kelly, Honey Malone and F.M Bradley, teetering on the rim of a laundry tub, with the tall, black Bradley, his face enshrouded in red panties, tilting his head to fit under the ceiling, while Pachard played the “directator.”  From SKINFLICKS: Like a coach on the sidelines pep-talking his team, Pachard put the trio through twisteroo positions with a running commentary: “Oh yeah!  That’s beautiful!  That’s sensuous!  Sensuous!  (to a cameraman) Get that expression on Angel’s face.  Lookit that!  No, don’t turn your head, Honey. Stay exactly like that.  Oh, that’s beautiful!  What an angle!  What an angle!”
As budgets grew skimpier during the late ‘80s “smut glut” era of cheap videos clogging the market, the resourceful Pachard managed to shoot three features in one day (The trick was to shoot three separate dialogue scenes with the same cast on each setup, to fit three different stories).
One scenario the “directator” couldn’t control was his last one in life.  I don’t know if his fondness for vodka helped precipitate the cancer that killed him. On September 27, 2008, Henri Pachard (Ron Sullivan) passed away.  He was 69.  Some wag on a website posted the remark that the age number was appropriate for a pornographer.

Russ Meyer

When I think of Russ Meyer, I think of food. Good food!  Whenever Superior Video exhibited in trade shows across the America, Russ was there also, selling his RM Productions videotapes.  He made the decision of where to eat dinner after a long day of jawing with retailers easy. The well-travelled gourmand knew the best restaurants in every city of the United States (and in other countries, I presume).  His suggestions always kept Superior Video’s crew looking forward to our evening meals.  Russ was never wrong.
I include Russ here even though he was not a pornographer in the hardcore sense.  His celebrated films were more like Hollywood fare—with extremely buxom women: Extremely, extremely buxom women.  Russ didn’t put sex in his flicks—just plenty of bounce.  He would bristle at any suggestion that he was a pornographer, explaining that he made comedies, not pornos.  He was a true  auteur de cinema.  When I asked him what he would title his autobiography, if and when he wrote one, he puffed out his chest and proclaimed, “Russ Meyer: The Rural Fellini!”
For a non-pornographer, he helped the hardcore Superior Video make a lot of money. At every CES (Consumer Electronics Show) and VSDA (Video Software Dealers of America) extravaganza, we somehow had the great, good fortune of having Russ Meyer’s booth right across from ours.  Russ, truly a rugged individual, came to every trade show alone, his entire exhibit neatly compacted onto one hand dolly. Within minutes, he’d have his booth up and running. And attracting crowds. Russ had the perspicacity to edit a trade show trailer consisting entirely of damsels in distress.  Their screams would fill the auditorium, and people would come running like oglers at an accident. Of course, many of the retailers and distributors in these SRO crowds would turn around and order tapes from Superior.
My only contact with Russ Meyer came through trade shows.  After I left the adult video industry, I never saw him again.  I was saddened to learn that he had died on September 18, 2004, of pneumonia. He was 82. Since he also suffered from Alzheimer’s, Meyer was the only one in this article to come close to “slowly fading away.” 
Russ Meyer, the embodiment of rugged individualism, lived life his way: He got rich by exploiting his fascination with watermelon breasts.

We all want to go out as painlessly as possible.  My aunt, Margaret, a health food advocate who taught me to read at age three, did it right.  She was 89 when she went to bed with a cold and didn’t wake up. We should all be so lucky.

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David Blander

David Blander had had many careers. As a director, he made commercials for clients such as Magnavox, the State of Michigan, Clark Equipment and Amway. As a video engineer, his biggest accounts were the underworld porn kings who pioneered the home video revolution of the 1980s. When California legalized medical pot in 1996, he developed a trophy-winning strain that he distributed to northern California dispensaries—until Feds and local sheriffs busted his grow-op warehouses. Now retired, Blander is beginning another career: writing. Plato said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Blander’s professional history gives his life plenty to examine.

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