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"Can we, as a country, all agree

xmag.com : May 2005 : A.C. Rhodes


It might take as long to get to know Legs McNeil as it did to become Legs McNeil. Making an early start of it, striking out on his own as a teenager, he landed in New York City just as the burgeoning underground scene was to erupt as the punk rock movement. In a pre-emptive strike, he started up Punk Magazine with friend John Holmstrom, the launching pad of his writing career that would later take him to places as far away as El Salvador and Wonderland.
Yes, Wonderland. McNeil’s latest jaunt—which turned out to be an eight-year odyssey—took him to Los Angeles to research the pornography industry for a book he and cohorts Jennifer Osborne and Peter Pavia were writing. The Other Hollywood, An Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry (Regan/Harper-Collins) was first a Court TV special which earned the highest ratings for the network. This spring it was released in book form.
Legs took time out of his considerable schedule to talk about what a long strange trip it’s been (from ‘nudie cuties’ and Deep Throat to the Mob and FBI stings).

A.C. RHODES: How did you first come to be interested in a story on the porn industry?
LEGS MCNEIL: When Please Kill Me came out I was involved with a sexual harassment suit where I was an unindicted co-conspirator and I always wanted to be an unindicted co-conspirator. [The victim] didn’t say it was sexual harassment; rather she was forced to work in an environment where sexual harassment was taking place. And there was a big article in the Village Voice and they had the victim, the conspirator, the girlfriend and they had the punk. All the images were gray and somber, then there was a very high contrast black & white which looked like I was coming out of a courtroom hiding my face when really I was coming out of a party. No sexual harassment was taking place and I wanted Bob (Guccione, Jr., publisher of Spin) to fire her long before this. But for me the bigger question was, we work at a rock and roll magazine, aren’t we supposed to be talking about sex? Isn’t rock and roll an old blues euphemism for fucking? So it really got me into the mindset where we should be talking about sex and thought the porn industry would be a great place to start and show how America kind of eats its own. And it was fun for eight years.

AR: So you saw a need for this subject to be addressed in an objective manner?
LM: I saw a need for people to read and talk about sex without using these euphemisms. There were so many lies about the porn industry. And that’s why I wanted to do this book. I wanted to say, ‘here’s what it is, not these lies over here’ and I thought that was important. Being sexy is very difficult, that’s why porn sucks. If you think of truly sexy scenes in movies, there are very few. Like the table scene in The Postman Always Rings Twice, that was very sexy. It had all the elements of humanity in there about power and the exchange of power and acquiescing and submitting. And it was very sexy but most porn is not like that. Ninety percent of TV sucks, ninety percent of movies suck, it’s only five or ten percent where things are communicated in a real way. I wanted to take this bastardized industry and talk about it and figure out why no one had ever told the story of the porn industry before. And because of that, anyone could say anything they wanted to about it and it would be perceived as true, when it wasn’t. That’s what Linda Lovelace did with Ordeal, she said this is the porn industry, they forced me with guns into having sex with dogs. And I found out that was patently untrue, but that’s what everyone believed it to be and that’s what started Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon on that rampage about how we need laws so we can sue the producers of porn for the abuse that they mete out. See once you start changing the language with words you can really make up anything you want and I wanted to go back and write the real history of the porn industry so they couldn’t do that.

AR: Because it’s tantalizing, but then causes fear, like it’s all coerced or assault when really…
LM: Right, I wanted to talk to some of the ones who were abused and talk to Linda Lovelace and those around her who knew she hadn’t been. If you even mentioned porn, people would be up in arms when I started the book eight years ago; we were coming out of that. I wanted to write something that was true.

AR: And you used the oral history format (excerpts of interviews within a timeline context) to best convey that?
LM: Well, I wanted it to be entertaining and the quickest way to tell the forty-year history.
AR: How did you go about pitching it and to whom?
LM: Well, everyone at first. My agent sent it out as a proposal, but no one would accept it. People are very wary of anything having to do with pornography, unless it’s critical. People forgot how virulently Americans were anti-porn. It wasn’t until they saw the documentary that they could see a book. So we went to Judith Regan. I had gone to Graham Carter from Vanity Fair and sold the excerpt for $22,000 in the morning and got the book deal in the afternoon. I actually sold the book after the TV show aired. And that’s after it was buried on a Sunday night. It had taken three years to get the ball rolling. We got an advance from Court TV. It was produced by Bert Kearns—an old punk rocker—and Bret Hudson, who had an in there.

AR: This book was a long time in the making. Did you think it would turn into such rigorous research?
LM: I knew it was going to be big, but I was prepared to do it.

AR: How did you collect all the subjects; living, dead and underground?
LM: I just tracked them, called them and we made friends with them. One or two at first, like Sharon [Mitchell] and Jane Hamilton [Veronica Hart] and they connected us with others. I didn’t know Linda Lovelace or Chuck Traynor were going to die, but I kind of knew time was running out because Butchy Peraino and Reuben Sturman had died. All you need are people to talk about them to make them come alive. And there was a lot going on at the same time. Porn was just starting to open up. The People vs. Larry Flint came out and they were shooting Boogie Nights, so I began to realize that people were seeing things the way I saw them. There were a lot of myths dispelled by that movie.

AR: How much danger was involved, either real or imagined?
LM: I thought it was violent and sleazy, but I thought it was going to be more violent and sleazy than it actually was. I mean, there’s a murder in every other chapter, but it wasn’t like they had described it. And it brought up new questions in a different way, that’s what was interesting about it. Someone said something to Eddie Nash and that’s why I got a gun. Did I think he was going to kill me? No. By then he was seventy-five and had throat cancer and so much time had gone by he wouldn’t care. It could be violent, but not in the way society said it was. And that’s what I wanted to do; I wanted to set the record straight and rewrite history.

AR: How well did you survive outside of your element?
LM: Well, I’ve lived outside of New York before. This was sort of like being in witness protection. You learn very quickly and I knew instinctively not to come on to any of them because they’re highly sexual people, more so than I was; basically they are professionals and sexual athletes, so you want to treat them with respect and find out their stories. And that’s why I was there, to get their stories. So I realized early on that I was the one guy to do a story on porn and not get laid. That’s probably why it took me longer.

AR: About Linda Lovelace, you were the last to interview her before she died. How do you think her story was flawed?
LM: I needed to talk with her because she was alive and it would have been a disservice not to. I thought I was going to get exactly what I got; which was her being a victim. She was a victim of Chuck Traynor, she was a victim of Larry Marciano, her second husband, and she was a victim of Women Against Pornography. She was an unending victim and I wanted to show that. But she was dumb, just sad and pathetic. I think she believed it because she had told it so many times. I talked to many other people who were there. Erik Edwards, who is a very nice single father, was on the set all day and said nothing like [Lovelace described] went on. And Chuck Traynor wasn’t even there. So I believe him and Eric over Linda. She wrote four or five books, some people don’t realize that, and all her stories changed. And the interviews I read with John Holmes weren’t any good—he was just lying. I talked to enough people who knew the reality of him. He is in there in two instances, but most of the time he just lied. He was so full of shit. I didn’t think I needed to talk to Tracy Lords because I knew what I would get, "I was on drugs, I didn’t know what I was doing and everyone took advantage of me;" which is untrue so why go to her and get that? I would rather print what she said at the time in ’85.

AR: What was especially enlightening or most surprising in your journey?
LM: My preconceived notions were shattered every day. One was that every girl had been abused, but there were a lot who hadn’t. Some were just oversexed. And Jane Hamilton was pathologically romantic. She just liked sex a lot and was a really decent woman. She has two grown sons and is delightful. Another interesting thing about it—that no one in the anti-porn organizations spoke to—is the guys who actually shoot, the grips, cameramen and directors, all have to take a break from it because they become so over-saturated and anti-sexual that they can’t even think about sex. If you go on the set all they want to talk about is baseball or World War II. They become bad lovers because it’s too technical and gynecological and turns their sex life off. It doesn’t become a stretch to take a lot of drugs because you’re doing something that is condemned by society. There was a sign on a set that read, ‘I just want to get laid, paid and leave.’

AR: So now that you’ve graduated from your own porn history class, what do you find you’re particularly partial to?
LM: I like stuff that I believe, which makes things pretty hard. Like the woman who doesn’t have the money to pay the pizza delivery guy... It’s fine if I can at least believe she wants to fuck the guy. So I have to find stuff that’s really sort of genuine. I believe the amateur, gonzo stuff John Stagliano and Paul Thomas do. They basically started to show people who are real. They broke down the fourth wall. In Never Say Never to Rocco Siffredi there’s this girl, a small girl, small breasts, and he says to her "I’m kind of a pervert." So they go off to a street where these things take place. It really looks like this girl is having a wild sexual experience and it works. And it goes back to being the opposite of what we’re about, sort of like German businessmen who want to be spanked. Now the Puerto Rican janitor doesn’t want to be spanked. He gets spanked every day at his job. Basically porn is to get you hard and to ejaculate. I just like the word "whore." There’s something about it. It’s great, wonderfully human. There’s a beauty to it.

AR: Do you think ‘reality’ entertainment detracts from the general porn industry at all, like Girls Gone Wild?
LM: No, that’s just instant gratification. They don’t carry through. It’s fake.

AR: Is it fair to assume that you won’t be doing Oprah’s Book Club?
LM: What’s that? No, I don’t think so.

AR: How did you decompress after immersing yourself in the industry and all of the stories?
LM: I’m decompressing right now. I just got home from a month-long book tour, so I don’t go out of the house much. I got off drugs and moved to Pennsylvania. Here we have corn not porn.






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