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