Deep Throat porn star Harry Reems became a free-speech cause célèbre in the mid-1970s
Harry Reems, star of the landmark 1972 porn movie Deep Throat and a free-speech cause célèbre following a federal conviction for obscenity in the mid-’70s, died at age 65 on March 19 at a Salt Lake City hospital.
Born Herbert Streicher in The Bronx in 1947, Harry Reems entered the entertainment industry after serving in the U.S. Marines. It’s a classical show business story, (somewhat) along the lines of the Ruby Keeler-Bebe Daniels switch in 42nd Street: when Deep Throat‘s original male lead failed to show up on the set, writer-director Gerard Damiano got lighting director Harry Reems to go out an unknown and come back a star.
Deep Throat featured Reems as a doctor who discovers that the clitoris of a sexually frustrated patient (Linda Lovelace) is located at the back of her throat. Therapy ensues. (See also: “Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat Reaches the UK 35 Years Later.”)
Deep Throat: censorship and notoriety
Unhappy with the medical procedures found in Deep Throat, Manhattan judge Joel J. Tyler called Damiano’s film a “feast of carrion and squalor,” “a nadir of decadence” and “a Sodom and Gomorrah gone wild before the fire.” Tyler fined Mature Enterprises, the company that owned the Times Square theater screening Deep Throat, $100,000. (The fine was later reduced on appeal.)
In large part thanks to Judge Tyler and his ilk elsewhere in the United States and other countries, Deep Throat became such a cultural phenomenon in the early ’70s that it inspired the nickname for Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s secret source (later revealed to be W. Mark Felt) during their investigation of the Watergate scandal, which eventually led to the resignation of disgraced Republican president Richard Nixon. In 1976, Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman played, respectively, Woodward and Bernstein in Alan J. Pakula’s Best Picture Academy Award nominee All the President’s Men.
Ironically, the same year All the President’s Men depicted a series of obscene threats to American democracy, the U.S. federal government convicted Harry Reems on charges of “conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines” as a result of his participation in Deep Throat. Frightened by the anti-free speech precedent – Reems reportedly became the first American actor to be convicted on obscenity charges – Gregory Peck, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, and other Hollywood celebrities came to his defense.
Celebrity attorney Alan Dershowitz represented Reems during the appeals process. As mentioned in a Los Angeles Times editorial blasting the U.S. government’s case against Reems, “The Anti-Freedom Conspiracy,” Dershowitz declared that “if this conviction stands, no actor and no writer anywhere in the country will be safe from prosecution.” Ultimately, the charges against Reems were dropped and the conviction – which could have led to a five-year prison sentence – was dismissed.
Harry Reems: Post-Deep Throat career
Made for less than $50,000, Deep Throat went on to gross millions at the worldwide box office and later on home video. How many millions is debatable: the $600 million figure espoused by some is patently absurd. Either way, despite the film’s financial success none of the talent involved in the making of the ultimately mafia-controled sex comedy became multi-millionaires.
At least at first, Harry Reems took his celebrity in stride: “You could call me the Shirley Temple” of adult films, the actor was quoted as saying at the time. “Take an X film and make it an R because I have a PG body.”
Following Deep Throat, the PG-bodied Reems was featured in dozens of porn films, most notably Gerard Damiano’s other epoch-making X-rated movie, The Devil in Miss Jones (1973), co-starring Georgina Spelvin, and not to be confused with Sam Wood’s 1941 socially conscious comedy The Devil and Miss Jones starring Jean Arthur, Robert Cummings, and Charles Coburn.
Harry Reems was also seen in the American edited version of Roberto Bianchi Montero’s giallo So Sweet, So Dead, starring Farley Granger and Sylvia Koscina (1972); Shaun Costello’s Forced Entry (1973), as a woman-killing Vietnam veteran; Sean S. Cunningham and Brud Talbot’s sex mystery Case of the Full Moon Murders (1973), with Sheila Stuart; in the title role in Victor Milt’s sexually charged Sherlock Holmes (1975); and, inevitably, Deep Throat Part II (1974), directed by Joseph W. Sarno and once again starring Linda Lovelace (who, along with fellow government witness Damiano, testified against Reems at his trial).
According to the IMDb, Harry Reems had been featured in several minor adult films prior to Deep Throat. He had also had a bit role in the 1971 Jane Fonda / Donald Sutherland crime thriller Klute (coincidentally directed by All the President’s Men‘s Alan J. Pakula). Reems later claimed that he almost got the role of the coach in the 1978 John Travolta / Olivia Newton-John musical blockbuster Grease, but the filmmakers ultimately decided that Reems’ association with porn would have been a liability to the Paramount production.
Reems continued working in the adult movie industry throughout the ’80s. Also as found on the IMDb, his last credit – by then the porn industry had transferred its output to video – was Steve Scott’s Too Good to Be True (1989), with Ginger Lynn and Peter North. In 1988, Reems was an Adult Film Association of America Award nominee for Marga Aulbach and Jack Remy’s L’Amour. (Needless to say, no connection to Michael Haneke’s 2012 drama Amour.)
Harry Reems’ post-porn life
In 1989, the same year he was last seen in a porn movie, Harry Reems was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to pay back taxes on $35,000 in movie earnings. At the time, he was also ordered to undergo an alcohol detoxification program. Reems, who became a Christian convert (much like Linda Lovelace), later blamed the adult film industry for his “downfall” – even though he would tell the Los Angeles Times that his drinking problem began as a result of the U.S. government’s persecution.
Following a move to Park City, Utah (where the Sundance Film Festival is held each year), Reems began working as a real-estate agent. He got married in the early ’90s.
In Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s upcoming Linda Lovelace biopic Lovelace, screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Adam Brody plays Harry Reems, Amanda Seyfried is Lovelace, Peter Sarsgaard is her abusive husband and manager Chuck Traynor, and James Franco is Hugh Hefner.
Regarding the movie Lovelace and Linda Lovelace’s allegations – embraced by the feminist anti-porn movement – that she had been brutally abused during the making of Deep Throat, Harry Reems remarked a few months ago: “I’m hoping [the movie Lovelace] will be very accurate. There’s enough people alive who know if she was beat on the set. She was never beat on the set. She was not. That’s not true. I was there [on the Deep Throat set] for the 12 days.”
Also in the Lovelace cast: Juno Temple, Sharon Stone, Robert Patrick, Chris Noth, Hank Azaria, Wes Bentley, Eric Roberts, Chloë Sevigny, and Bobby Canavale. Screenplay by Andy Bellin. As per the IMDb, Lovelace will be released later this year in Brazil. There’s no scheduled U.S. release date as yet.
Following injuries suffered in a car accident, Linda Lovelace died in 2002. Deep Throat writer-director Gerard Damiano died in 2008.
Deep Throat on TV
In February 2008, despite opposition from right-wing and Christian political parties, Deep Throat was broadcast on Dutch public television as part of stations VPRO and BNN’s history of pornographic films. In that country of 16 million, the porn classic was watched by an estimated 900,000 viewers.
Deep Throat‘s Dutch viewership via De Volkskrant.
Adam Brody as Harry Reems, Amanda Seyfried as Linda Lovelace in Lovelace movie photo: Millennium Films.