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The Afterlife of a Porn Star

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Reems's mug shot from 1974; his business card today.  

Even Reems was disturbed by what was revealed at the trial. “I started hearing about people being killed, baseball bats on projectionists’ heads, money going to the Bahamas, and I soon realized that I was mixed up with the wrong crowd,” he says. “Every day I sat on the witness bench, I’d move a little farther away from them.” Still, he couldn’t shake the association. On April 30, 1976, a jury found all the Deep Throat defendants guilty. Reems faced a prison sentence of up to five years.

He immediately went to work to clear his name, setting up a legal-defense fund and retaining Alan Dershowitz for a possible appeal. He was the beneficiary of fund-raisers thrown by the likes of Warren Beatty and editorials penned by writers across the political spectrum. A year later, he was finally granted a new trial (on the grounds that Deep Throat had been made before the Supreme Court’s 1973 “contemporary community standards” ruling) and his conviction was overturned. “Had Harry Reems been imprisoned, actors would be terrified to do anything even vaguely romantic,” says Inside Deep Throat producer Brian Grazer. “All our rights in the area of freedom of speech would have contracted.”

It looked as if Reems might emerge unscathed. In the late seventies, after relocating to Los Angeles, he was offered his first role in a studio movie: Coach Calhoun in Grease. But two weeks before filming began, he was kicked off the project for fear that his notoriety would jeopardize its box office in the South. “Acting was my true love, and I buried that possibility by going into adult films,” Reems says. “The writing was on the wall. There was no place for me in conventional entertainment.”

Severely depressed, he continued to appear in porn films and became a raging alcoholic, consuming as much as half a gallon of vodka a day and blacking out for months at a time. When he wasn’t panhandling on the streets or stealing from his friends to raise booze money, he was contemplating suicide. “I lived in a little house in Malibu with a 25-millimeter pistol,” says Reems, “and I held it up to my head so many times. Fortunately, I didn’t have the courage to pull the trigger.”

It was at the bottom of a bender in 1986 that Reems found himself in Park City and decided the quiet mountain town would be his new home. He joined a twelve-step program, and, after he sobered up, went for his real-estate license. The real-estate commission granted it, with a catch: He’d be on probation for five years, to make sure he didn’t exhibit any behavior unbecoming an agent. He felt it was a fair price to pay for the redemptive possibilities of small-town life. “You’ve got maybe 2,000 households in Park City,” says Reems. “It didn’t take long before everybody knew I was here. And after a year or two of good, hard work, I became known as the Realtor, and very few people questioned my background.”

Since 1990, Reems has been married to a woman he fell in love with through his twelve-step meetings. “It wasn’t that I was an alcoholic,” his wife, Jeannie, explains. “I wanted to meet someone that believed in God.” (Like many twelve-steppers, Reems had converted to Christianity: “I just look for one person to fill my spiritual gas tank once a week,” he says, “and away I go.”) Not everyone in Jeannie’s social circle was enthusiastic about the union. “I always had a good feeling about Harry as a person, because he’s not what you’d expect,” she says. “But I had some not-even-friends who were very upset about it. One of them said, ‘Oh, he must have AIDS.’ They’re not my friends anymore.” Jeannie is not especially fond of Deep Throat (“It’s amusing and dumb”), but she is a fan of Inside Deep Throat, even though it shows Linda Lovelace and her husband engaged in the act that gave the film its name. “In some ways, I wish they had toned it down a little bit,” she says, “but I suppose you have to show people what you’re talking about. It’s just so odd to see.”

Over the years, Reems remained in limited contact with Lovelace. For much of the eighties, she was an anti-porn advocate, but in 2001, at 52, she appeared in a pictorial in Leg Show magazine. “She was always jumping on the next bandwagon,” says Reems, who remembers donating $1,000 to a fund that helped the actress pay for a liver transplant in 1987. “There was no consistency to her life direction.” In 2002, Lovelace died of injuries sustained in a car crash.

Though Reems regrets his hard-drinking ways, he has never renounced his own pornographic past. In fact, he’s proud of his role as First Amendment cause célèbre: “I was the first artist of any kind ever to be prosecuted by the federal government,” he says. And despite the fact that he never saw a dime of Deep Throat’s record-breaking profits (an estimated $600 million, virtually all of which went to the mob), he has retained the alias that the film made infamous, as a badge of honor from an era when he felt he had nothing to hide. “I didn’t want to go through the process of convincing people that I was trying to deny who I was,” says Reems, who is listed in the local phone book under his porn name. Besides, he adds, “nobody under 50 even knows who I am now. Unless you’re a porno historian, and then you’re really sick.”

Two days into the Sundance Film Festival, a young volunteer spotted Harry Reems pacing outside an auditorium, waiting eagerly for a screening of Inside Deep Throat to end. Mistaking him for a nervous director or an agitated producer, she asked, “Are you here for your movie?” “Oh, no,” he replied. “I already did my movie.”

When the film ended and the house lights came up, Reems was whisked into the theater to a standing ovation. In a Q&A session, the audience ignored the movie’s directors and Über-producer for nearly half an hour, addressing every one of their questions to Reems: Had he been bankrupted by his legal fees? Was he frightened by the prospect of going to jail? Did Roy Cohn ever come on to him? Reems answered his fans with characteristic candor, taking particular delight when someone asked if he had any advice for the porn stars of today. “Plan ahead,” he responded with a chuckle. Another round of applause followed Reems up the aisle and out the door, where a chauffeured Escalade waited to drive him back to his old new life: the wife, the dog, the real-estate business, the house in the mountains. It had taken more than three decades, but for just one day, Harry Reems was a movie star.


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