Tag Archives: David Bertolino

“Blush”

By Rich Moreland, October 2012

This post is dedicated to two most gracious individuals I had the pleasure of recently meeting.

Decades ago an old high school chum and I went to Las Vegas, the first time for both of us. In those days, Vegas was Frank Sinatra’s“Rat Pack,” rumors of mob control, and hookers on the Strip. One adventurous evening we decided to find a local grindhouse for a new experience, a porn movie. These were the pre-VCR days; adult film was in its infancy and not yet in America’s living rooms. I remembered stag films in my college fraternity and I’m not sure to this day that my pal had ever gone that far. We were truly clueless about filmed pornography.

After some wandering, we found a theater and paid our money with some of it undoubtedly going to an in-house checker who skimmed profits off the top for the mob. We settled in for what is known today as the double bill that birthed pornography’s golden age, “Deep Throat” and “The Devil in Miss Jones.” I remember little about either film, though I did appreciate the artistic adventure of “Devil.” I left the theater never anticipating that one of the performers on the big screen that night would be a someone I would get to know years later.

*      *      *      *      *      *

I’ve just finished a delightful lunch at Victor’s Delicatessen in Hollywood with people I am fortunate to call friends. Among them is David Bertolino, an off-Broadway producer, and a charming couple, John and Chele Welsh. The Welshs are senior citizens whose love for each other is the stuff of teenage romances. Their marriage of many years is filled with a warmth and adventure that is evident to those who know them. They were especially kind to me when I arrived at their home before our lunch date, but more on that in a minute.

You see, among Chele Welsh’s collection of show business AKA’s (also known as) is Georgina Spelvin whose portrayal of the fictional Justine Jones drove the sexual escapades of the second feature that Vegas evening long ago. To have seen her on the silver screen is one thing; to sit between this wisp of a woman and her husband almost 50 years later is the moment of a lifetime.

The occasion is my way of taking Chelz up on an offer she extended to me a couple of years ago. We established email connections because I am working on a book exploring feminism in adult film and wanted her spin on porn’s early days. She concluded one correspondence by insisting that I save a spot on my “dance card,” as she put it, if I ever got to Southern California. I was cashing in the ticket now.

At our table is Chele’s husband John Welsh, a retired veteran of TV and film. They married decades ago after meeting on the set of an Irish play, The Hostage, in North Hollywood. The other member of our group is photographer Bill Knight who makes my job as a journalist much easier. I’m next to Chelz and across from David, the best seat in this house!

Yours Truly with David and Georgina at Lunch Photo by Bill Knight

Yours Truly with David and Georgina at Lunch
Photo by Bill Knight

David is along for a reason beyond a good meal and history revisited. He is producing “The Deep Throat Sex Scandal,” a play scheduled to open at L.A.’s Zephyr Theater in mid-January 2013. The show is about the government’s attempt to prosecute the film in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1976. Its theme is free speech and offers a look at porn’s early battles with censorship.

The table conversation turned to the late Gerard Damiano, the director of “Devil” and “Deep Throat.” His talent propelled Georgina (as I’ll now address her for the show biz part of this post) onto a public quite ready to embrace filmed pornography. “He was the sweetest, most wonderful man,” she said, “a real pussycat who just wanted to make movies.”

Today at Victor’s, Miss Jones will meet a modern interpretation of the dust-up surrounding the other film on that notorious double bill because our luncheon is more than a historical check-up. The atmosphere is building to a moment that will enhance the authenticity of David’s play. He wants to recruit Georgina for the show.

Ever the persuader, David explains that he has a cast of ten, with two members rotating in weekly. Temporary actors will play the judge in the Memphis trial and the role of the theater ticket taker where the drama begins. These cameos will include personalities from mainstream studios and the adult business. Hollywood will contribute Adam Glaser, Bruce Villanch, and Christopher Knight, to name a few. Adult film will see its own hall of famers on stage.  Hershel Savage, Paul Thomas, Ron Jeremy, Bill Margold, John Stagliano, and Nina Hartley are on the rotating schedule, with Veronica Hart in a permanent role, an impressive lineup for any theater marquee.

For David, Georgina Spelvin is a game changer. She’s the “Grand Dame of Adult Film” and the only surviving member of the original trio who put filmed pornography on America’s cultural landscape.  Linda Lovelace died in 2002 and Marilyn Chambers, the all-American girl sensation of “Behind the Green Door,” passed away in 2009.

If she agrees, Miss Jones will once again be in a “devil” of a show the instant her cameo lights up the theater.

At this point, Georgina relates how she ended up in Memphis, revealing the kind of information historians love while filling in the blanks to complete the story.

She was doing a summer stock production of “Anything Goes” in Brunswick, Maine. On the day of the show’s final rehearsal, the casting director suddenly approached her and said, “don’t go to your dressing room.” Aware that something was amiss, the play’s comic urged Georgina to “go back in the wings and say you’re not dressed.” What was going on? Two “suits” had walked into the theater, Georgina explained, “one tall, one short,” armed with an arrest warrant fully listing all her stage names. The feds wanted to their woman, aliases and all!

Theater owner and the play’s producer, Vicky Crandall, informed the Feds that their mission had hit a snag. Ms. Spelvin could not accompany them, Crandall pointed out, her presence was required for that evening’s opening night. The “suits” backed off. An appearance at the Judge’s office the next morning would suffice.

In the meanwhile, the producer suggested Georgina call an old friend, “a local big wig judge,” as Georgina puts it, and “get this straightened out.”

The next morning his honor ruled that Georgina be released to Ms. Crandall’s custody for the duration of the theater’s season. A victory, but Memphis was still on the table.

Georgina later described how a civil liberties attorney in Maine helped her find a Tennessee lawyer. She traveled to the Bible Belt in a converted school bus, the “Dorabelladonna.” An amusing account of this journey appears in her autobiography, The Devil Made Me Do It.

The Memphis lawyer let her park her bus in his driveway and accompanied her to the police station where she was fingerprinted and posed for a mug shot. With true southern grace, Georgina signed fifteen Polaroids for the assembled officers. Even in their most devilish moments, show biz people always create a buzz.

At the trial, she was on and off the stand in a wink. She gave her name, Georgina said, was asked about how much she got paid for “Devil,” and “where the film was shot,” all very quick and without controversy. A free bird at last, Georgina departed Memphis and headed to California via New Orleans.

Forty-six years later, Shelly Graham, a native Texan who sought fame on Broadway in the 1950’s, is an honoree in the pantheon of porn. David promised to treat her like royalty, not unusual for him actually, if she would walk across his stage. Equity rules are weak when it comes to benefiting actors David reminded us. The pay is low and to get simple amenities like water, juice, and fruit is rare. David guaranteed Chelz that her dressing room would be well stocked and pay would exceed equity expectations (a personal practice of his, by the way).

The now seventy-six-year-old turned to John and asked if he’d take time to drive her to the theater. It was the sweetest moment of our gathering. Hubby gallantly acceded to her request with his characteristic smile and everyone headed triumphantly out. Coincidentally, David just happened to a have a script in his vehicle to give to his newest star!

*      *      *      *      *      *

We left Victor’s and headed back to John and Chele’s home. On the way I played the tourist role to the hilt because they live near the Hollywood sign and I needed to take some pics back to the east coast to impressive my friends. At John’s insistence we made our way to a massive dog park that is just below the historic landmark. I’m forever thankful for John’s lead in this endeavor. Got some great photos and experienced one of the most remarkable settings in recent memory, dogs frolicking with their owners on a hillside with the valley below providing a remarkable backdrop, in fact a real drop for those whose fear of heights acts up in these environs!

The Dog Park at Old Hollywoodland Photo by Bill Knight

The Dog Park at Old Hollywoodland
Photo by Bill Knight

Winding down the hilly road we returned to the Welsh’s home. My affection for them had grown. I posed with Chelz and John on the terrace behind their house and just briefly remembered my parents long departed. Bill secured a memory that preserved the three of us in a family-like moment, perhaps routine for the Welshs who are most proud of the lovely terraced hillside that is their backyard, but much appreciated by me, nonetheless.

Sitting on the Terrace Photo by Bill Knight

Sitting on the Terrace
Photo by Bill Knight

Before we left, John showed Bill and me a photo of the Hollywood sign a half century ago. It spelled out “Hollywoodland” and the winding hillside road that the Welsh’s call home today was visible in the brownish-gray photo. I’m a historian who plays at journalism so the snapshot’s frozen moment marked the end of a perfect experience for me. My time in Hollywood served as a constant reminder of the history that was everywhere I went. Americans rarely have an institutional memory of what came before them. Not true of the Welshs, they recognize that they are part of Hollywood’s collective past and narrators of it for those who will listen.

Later I sent Chele an email thanking her for her time. Meeting a legend is rare, if it happens at all, I noted, and she is most memorable for me.

I envisioned her and John looking at my message and smiling together.

“Blush” was her typed reply, a singular gesture from the sweetest, most wonderful woman who altered American culture and befriended an academic striving to chronicle a business so many don’t understand.

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A Porn Tale Wagging the Dog

The Deep Throat Sex Scandal Playbill courtesy David Bertolino

By Rich Moreland, January, 2012

A United States’ President watched porn while on the taxpayer’s dime and he was not a liberal.

Or, so the story goes.

Odd, considering he proclaimed in an October 2, 1970, speech that pornography had the power to “corrupt a society and a civilization.”

You guessed it, the words of Richard Nixon. The man, whose personal playfulness was only exceeded by the mating habits of two-toed sloths, apparently was willing to finesse his shadowy ways. In 1974 he ventured into the erotic, at least for an evening at the White House.

Nixon wanted his porno and an off Broadway play uses the President and his government to teach us a lesson about freedom, truth, justice, and porn.

But first . . .

It’s mid-January in Las Vegas and I’m chatting with Bill Margold over morning coffee at the Tuscany Suites. We were there for the annual Adult Video News convention, in reality  a carnival for fans and a weeklong grind for the industry. Bill and I have known each other for a time and I was anticipating more porn biz news to go with the cream in my java. Little did I realize that within a few minutes I would have the immeasurable delight to meet a clever entrepreneur named David Bertolino. Sandy haired with a cherub’s face and an amicable personality to match, David is the kind of guy who’d buy you lunch (or a beer) and top it off with a fascinating story as a kicker.

You’d leave with the feeling that you have a friend for the duration.

Within a short time, David interested me in his off-Broadway show, The Deep Throat Sex Scandal. He’s brought it cross-country from New York to L.A. for a six month run. Now, I know nothing about drama or film criticism and I haven’t seen his play yet, so I’ll pass judgment on it as entertainment at this point. But I do know history, so we had something instantly in common. When David mentioned the famous 1976 Deep Throat Memphis trial in which actor Harry Reems and organized crime’s Perainos (brothers, father and sons) were indicted on obscenity charges, the native Bostonian was playing ball in my park.

Incidentally, Deep Throat’s director Gerard Damiano and actress Linda Lovelace of oral gratification fame were granted immunity for their participation in the opening curtain of porn’s hardcore age. Harry and his manhood were not so lucky.

Over a second cup and an order of Danish, David treated me to a story I knew nothing of. My ears perked up like a hunting dog sensing its prey. Historians are always seeking their precious droplets from the Holy Grail known as “the past,” meted out in anecdotes, folklore, whispered secrets, and the like. That unknown incident, the new twist no one else has considered, is what transforms us into Indiana Joneses.

The tale came to David via Raymond Pistol, owner of Vegas’s Showgirls Video where Margold holds his annual “Legends of Erotica” inductions. Pistol bought the rights to the Deep Throat in the 1990’s from Anthony Peraino. Originally costing $25,000 to make, the film grossed over $600 million, David relates, a figure I’ve heard confirmed elsewhere. Organized crime’s Perainos were in the thick of the profits, or so the government was convinced.

Before we move on, a little background is necessary.

In 1970, a Presidential Commission appointed by former President Lyndon Johnson delivered its findings on pornography to the new chief executive, Richard Nixon. Because of its rumored liberal slant, Nixon had attempted to influence the panel after taking office. He added Charles Keating, an outspoken anti-porn crusader, to the group. (Yes, this is the same Keating who perpetrated California’s S&L scandals in the “go-go” eighties. Remember, he went to jail for conspiracy and fraud. Morality has no boundaries unless one gets caught, except of course, when it comes to sex.)

Nixon’s efforts were futile. To his outrage and Keating’s frustration, the commission’s findings did not substantiate the horrors in porn that conservatives were convinced existed.

Without personally reading the final document, Nixon panned it, declaring quite pompously in that famous October speech, “American morality will not be trifled with.” In short, Tricky Dick wanted nothing to do with the perceived corruption of adult film.

So it seems. . .

It’s no secret that good citizens and porn performers don’t always operate on different planets. After all, sex sells to everyone, including high-minded moralists who have the habit, as Bill prophetically says, of pushing smut away with the left hand while satisfying themselves with the right.

From what David could learn, Raymond Pistol claims that Nixon actually wanted to see Deep Throat and called for a print to be delivered to the White House. To seek legitimacy, the Perainos had opened a company in the San Fernando Valley, soon to be the mecca of adult film, as a way to dodge the organized crime tag. Their business, Bryanston Pictures, was instructed to hand over a copy of the movie to a limo momentarily arriving on their doorstep. The print ended up on a Presidential plane bound for Washington and a “Nixon-and-friends” screening that evening.

For verification, I contacted Pistol; he added that the story came from Lou “Butchie” Peraino, one of Tony Peraino’s sons.

Such generosity did not dissuade Nixon from lowering the legal hammer on porn. “As much as he enjoyed viewing it,” David said, “he still went after it.” Because of jokes and criticism emanating from Hollywood about the emerging Watergate scandal, Nixon, according to Bertolino, wanted to “go after the actor community.”

For those of you who aren’t up on Presidential history, Nixon was famous for his “enemy’s list.”

As we talked, David pointed out that the whole affair was a “true example of the tail wagging the dog.” Censuring the adult film community offered Nixon the opportunity to send a message of harassment to Tinsel Town.

Nixon wanted indictments to excoriate the evils of Deep Throat. He ordered Keating, now his attorney general, to find a conduit for the government’s pursuit of porn, in particular its distribution by the crime bosses.

The State of Tennessee was destined to become Nixon’s partner in purification. It had a smut chasing US attorney named Larry Parrish and a judge already on board to secure a conviction of any sexually explicit material that menaced the sanctity of the family. But political righteousness does not always come easy. Keating discovered that Parrish was unable to “find a single theater” that ran the film by the time the Perainos took over its distribution.

A Memphis grand jury had already handed down indictments based on a showing at the Tri-State Theater in November 1973. The Perainos came on board as distributors in December 1974, or so they claimed. (For those of you following the timeline here, Nixon left office in August 1974.) By that time, no theater would dare put reels of Deep Throat in its projectors.

What to do? David relates that the Attorney General was undaunted, instructing the prosecutor to “keep going, we have to have the trial there.”

An ingenious solution was proposed. A quick phone call from Keating to Parrish was required and that moment is reenacted in the play.

One of the Perainos’ distribution centers was in Florida; a small fact that influenced everything.

Here’s the tale as told to David via trial lawyer Alan Dershowitz of O.J. Simpson fame.

American Airlines and the Greyhound Bus Company provided transportation over and through the Volunteer State giving the feds the silver bullet for their porn target. You see, Tennessee is on the way to the Sunshine State. The prints carried on the planes as they made their way to the Atlantic coast and the film copies on the buses motoring over the roads that served the solid citizens of the Bible Belt tainted the state. The populace was endangered; morality teetered on the abyss of oblivion.

What little choice did Nixon have?  “Citizens were harmed,” David tells me with tongue firmly implanted in cheek. Prosecutions were the only answer. Please note that corporate America, the play pal of politicians, dodged the bullet. American and Greyhound would end up as un-indicted codefendants.

The story of the trial and its challenge to free speech and justice is the essence of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal. It’s in two acts and I’ll comment later on how Betolino blocked out the scene when Linda does Harry, an cinematic flashpoint that brought filmed pornography to Middle America’s doorstep and showed every woman that sex is more than a poke. It is ingenuity that even Nixon and Keating would love, done with obfuscation and a collision of sobriety and tomfoolery!

A note of interest on this production that tells us everyone involved has a great time. Alan Dershowitz was Harry Reems’ lawyer for his successful appeal of his Deep Throat conviction. It turns out Alan has quite a sense of humor. David says the attorney saw the show in its early previews, loved it and lingered afterward “for a generous photo session with all the cast and crew.”

Here’s the best part. After the performance, Alan complimented everyone on reenacting a significant moment in the history of free speech. Then, turning a little somber, he commented there was a small problem. I’ll let Alan speak for himself.

“The actor that played my role should have looked more like Brad Pitt!” he said with an impish twinkle in his eye.

There certainly is a lot of wagging of assorted tales in this production!

See The Deep Throat Sex Scandal if you have a chance. I suspect the tale wagging is worth the price of admission.

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For a link to the play check out http://www.deepthroattheplay.com/

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“No One is Famous in Porn?”

Nina Hartley talks feminism and respect

by Rich Moreland, January 2012

I just returned from four days in Las Vegas. It’s January and that means the Adult Entertainment Expo, the industry’s annual festival and awards show, made its way onto my calendar again.

While there I had dinner with some interesting people at an upscale Italian restaurant near the Strip. Among them was Bill Margold, founder of Protecting Adult Welfare and a veteran of the business; David Bertolino, off Broadway producer of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal; and adult film performer, Tara Lynn Foxx, about whom I have written in the past.

Tara is not a newcomer to the business.  She entered three years ago at eighteen, an age too tender to fully understand her decision.

Conversation turned to being famous in porn and Margold asked Tara if that was one of her goals. Knowing Bill, he was probing Tara to measure her commitment to the industry. She replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” though she appeared to be slightly uncomfortable with the question.

My thoughts drifted momentarily away from the table talk to what “famous” means in an industry that defines acting as a set up for fornication. A bit of searching for a definitive idea as it applies to pornography danced through my mind’s neural networks.

Two names popped up, Nina Hartley and Bobbi Starr, superstar women of separate generations and feminists in a business that is not considered receptive to empowered women.

I had the pleasure on this trip of interviewing Nina in person, though we knew each other from emails. She is the definition of “famous” when it comes to adult film, I believe, if such a thing exists. To say that she bowled me over is putting a soft spin on our chat. Total force, total domination of an hour’s time.

On Friday, I interrupted Bobbi Starr while she was signing on the floor of the Hard Rock Hotel ballroom. I wanted to say hello and my impatience took over, so I politely drew her attention away from a fan. As is her habit, Bobbi gave me that charming smile. She has a talent for this. We exchanged a few words and I mentioned that I wasn’t seeking an interview, this was just a quick “how are you.” She has been generous with her time in the past, but my intrusion at the moment was blocking her fans and I know how important they are to her. We made arrangements to visit later.

Nina and Bobbi, what can they teach us about fame?

Making everyone else seemingly disappear when she turns her eyes to you is an ingredient in being famous.

Leaving you with the feeling that you are the focus of her entire moment is an ingredient in being famous.

Speaking intelligently and voicing an empowerment is an ingredient in being famous.

Nina does these things really well, as does Bobbi. But few do.

In fact, the real issue is respect. Genuine fame follows respect.

At the Saturday night awards show, Bobbi finally garnered “Female Performer of the Year,” a deserved honor that has eluded her. Bobbi is a director now, as well as a performer, and you can read an earlier entry on her on this blog. To suggest that she is a living legend is an understatement. She, like Nina, is a wily veteran who has forged her own path in a business that can be filled with misrepresentations, sleaze, and shady behaviors.

Most important, both women operate under Nina Hartley’s in-your-face feminist tenet, “my body, my rules.”

Nina and Bobbi have paid their dues and have earned the right to speak their minds. Trust me, both will when openings are offered. Earning respect, Nina suggests, in a business that is primarily an “ole boy network” is a mighty task. Women are valued for their “hotness,” but not necessarily for their input into the day-to-day operation of making and distributing film. This is not to say that women are non-existent at the production level, Nina points out, but being a performer is a different scenario. The money flows to the top. Profit is made off the performers, not for the performers.

Incidentally, Nina commented that many men in the business “have women issues.” They don’t necessarily “want women as companions,” as in building a long-term relationships. They are perpetually dating, rarely settling down. Nina believes this male state of mind inhibits respect. She did concede, however, that attitudes are slowly changing. Bobbi’s new career opportunity behind the camera supports her assertion.

Though Nina is not involved in the business end of adult film, I can guarantee you she is respected, as is Bobbi. Why? From my limited knowledge, I can cobble together an answer.

First and foremost, respect is earned as veteran performer and director, Veronica Hart, told me. Porn is a business; making money is its reason to be. Nina and Bobbi are moneymakers because they demonstrate a control of their personal sexual agency that exceeds that of most women who ever walked onto a set. When on camera, they orchestrate the scene in fashion that dictates the flow of the other performers.

Both of them do the things that everyone in a business setting is expected to demonstrate. Show up on time ready to work; take responsibility for on-the-job performance; transform the word “dependable” into a personal mantra; and make every performance the best it can be at the moment. Of course, the pornography industry is not an ordinary corporate environment nor is it a bureaucracy where a person is a cog in a machine. Not everything is believed; not everyone is honest. Promises are made and can vaporize instantly. And, as Nina said, she’s always unemployed until the next shoot. That’s the norm.

By now, the table conversation had moved on and I made my way back into it, but not before one final thought.

Where does this leave the definition of famous in porn?

Mention Nina Hartley and Bobbi Starr to others in adult film and compliments are immediate. Both women are dynamic and their presence in a room lights up your senses. Their energy is infectious. Their personal opinions are valued. The proof hangs around during an industry event; someone will always be nearby with mic in hand, seeking an interview. That’s respect.

Will Tara Lynn Foxx earn such accolades and consequently become famous? Too early to tell, but I think she is on her way, if ever so slowly. She is dynamic in an interview and she is exploring empowerment. That’s a start.

But it takes awhile. Nina entered the business in 1984, the year after Bobbi was born. Bobbi is nearing thirty, moving into her seventh year in the industry. She has indicated to me she will leave adult film one day, but that may far off.

Longevity in porn is rare. Can a woman gain fame without it? Sure, but who admires the likes of Traci Lords?

At her tender age, TLF is just beginning. She has the ability and the brains to make it happen, it remains to be seen if time is at her back.

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Three years ago I asked Bobbi the same question Margold posed to Tara. Bobbi’s response is one I have yet to hear repeated.

I remember it to this day.

“No one is famous in porn,” she said.

I disagree. There are an iconic few and I have the good fortune to know two of them.

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