WILD ABOUT HARRY
A friend who knew him well remembers HARRY REEMS
by Shaun Costello
The reviews are coming in:
By Geert Claeys on June 7, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
My earliest memory of Golden Age hardcore he-man Harry Reems stems from somewhere back in the still budding Eighties. Our (Belgian) household was still a few years removed from acquiring its first VCR, mighty pricey back in the day, but the local video store would offer cumbersome play-only devices described as “movie boxes” (anyone else remember those contraptions ?) for an affordable weekend rental, throwing in a couple of complimentary tapes as part of the deal. As with any VHS renter, one of the flicks I picked was of an adult nature, in my case the 1974 carnal classic
Sometime Sweet Susan. So it came to pass that my mom (!!!) and I – aged about 15 or 16 at the time – sat down on a Saturday night to sample our first flavor of in-house intimate entertainment. Mom, God rest her weary soul, was a desperate housewife well before TV made the term fashionable, possessed of a tiger’s temperament trapped in the starting to sag shell of a stay at home spouse and mother of eleven, eight sons versus three daughters. The bloom of youth prematurely trampled by daily drudgery, Lord knows she could stand a salacious vicarious thrill to help her make it through the night. Turned out titular Susan, the pic’s perky protagonist, was a particularly troubled young lady with a split personality (the proverbial good girl/bad girl) in dire need of psychiatric support. Enter Harry Reems as the Good Doctor (I didn’t see Deep Throat until several years after) rushing in aid of our ailing heroine. I swear you could have heard both mom and me gasp at his first appearance. Although an amiable actor, certainly by adult standards (a frame of reference I was still unfamiliar with at the time), it was his look that did it for us. Yes, we really were that shallow ! A fine torso with magnificent muscle definition, yet light years removed from the pumped physique of the next decade’s gym bunnies, covered with a thick layer of fur as our favorite tell-tale trademark of virility. Mom liked ‘em hirsute and, then still unbeknownst to her, so did the youngest of her boys… The Sixties’ sexual
revolution had produced an unprecedented permissiveness on worldwide cinema screens by the time strapping young Herbert Streicher, a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn, figured these newfangled fornication flicks were a great way to make ends meet while waiting for his big break in thespian territory. The ultimately short-lived “Porno Chic” phenomenon took sex films out of their storefront ghetto and moved them into fancy first run theaters. For a brief shining moment, it seemed as if carnal cinema had come of age and had permanently taken up residence in the major league to the approval of adventurous audiences everywhere. In such climate, illusory though it was to prove, it was not unthinkable for a struggling actor to seriously consider the option of taking it off and putting it in for pictorial posterity without a care as to how or whether this might affect his future chances. After all, he wasn’t doing anything that didn’t come naturally to most people. At worst, should fornication films prove but a fleeting fad, they would probably sink without a trace leaving no one the wiser, right ? Unfortunately for Herb, who had been trying on professional monikers with “Tim Long” the most persistent until “Harry Reems” finally stuck, an unassuming little XXX flick was to decide otherwise… Gerard Damiano’s groundbreaking Deep Throat and its legal hassles that were to kill off the legit careers of all involved, headed by Reems serving as primary scapegoat, have been extensively covered by Bailey and Barbato’s essential 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat. Shaun Costello, a fellow performer from the industry’s infancy who would graduate to feature filmmaking while upholding an astonishing “Real World” front, was there at crucial junctures in Harry’s life. Now he lifts the veil on the man whose very image was to become synonymous with the prototypical Seventies porno stud : a lean mean fornicatin’ machine with the trademark
handlebar mustache. A close buddy and ally since their days in the trenches, Costello chronologically charts the rise and fall of the reluctant adult industry icon in an instantly ingratiating, flab-free style giving you the how’s and why’s without resorting to amateur analysis or purple prose. Which is not to say that he merely records the bad boy shenanigans he shared with his subject, as evidenced by an astonishingly astute account of an acid trip that reads like something akin to Beat poetry. Carnal cognoscenti are well aware that Reems starred in Costello’s fledgling filmmaking effort, the sexually explicit Vietnam vet on a rampage flick Forced Entry, and the exhaustive chapter on that film’s genesis alone provides enough reason to pick up a copy of the book. Already associated with congenially comedic capers through Throat and other farces of its ilk taking their cues from burlesque theater, the actor gave one of his most atypical performances as the deeply disturbed gas station attendant whose twisted views on morality
(punishing women for making themselves sexually available to all and sundry) blow up in his face when the tables are turned in deliciously ironic fashion. Although Reems was to subsequently feign shock at the movie’s heady mix of real sex and phoney violence in his 1975 autobiography Here Comes Harry Reems !, it remains one of his standout achievements, providing a strong glimpse of what might have been had mainstream movies embraced rather than rebuffed him. Costello chronicles Reems’s fall from grace in harrowing detail, deftly side-stepping sensationalism at every turn. The actor’s own words quoted from various credited sources paper over the periods when the longtime pals’ paths would diverge. Their fleeting reunion towards decade’s end, when Costello was on his way up with bigger budgets allowing for more ambitious endeavors (the “Warren Evans” era, for those in the know) and Reems was fighting an ever escalating alcohol addiction in order to cope with the mounting frustration over his erotic entrapment, yields one of the book’s most poignant passages guaranteed to break a reader’s heart. Had the author ended right there and then, he would have wound up with one hell of a cautionary tale. Thankfully, life rarely comes as cut ’n dried as your average Movie of the Week would have it and Harry Reems ultimately did have a “life after porn”, finding both God and true love as well as widespread acceptance by his small town community in the unexpectedly enlightened State of Utah. Of all the lavish illustrations, mostly candid movie stills and eye-popping poster art, one stands out in particular. It’s a teeny tiny snap shot of Harry and his wife Jeannie Sterrett at the Inside Deep Throat premiere. Even the usually unsentimental Costello goes on record to concede that this apparently unassuming lady did nothing less than save his life. Moving back to where I started from, my mom never wished ill on anybody, not anybody who didn’t deserve it anyway, certainly no past or present object of her cinematic affection, secret sex fantasies or whatever the case may have been. Knowing her as well as I did, I’ve got a pretty good hunch she would have been tickled pink to learn that this lovely hunk o’man who stirred her loins many decades ago finally found happiness and got to lead a good life before his untimely passing at the age of 65. Makes me kinda happy as well, truth be told… Dries Vermeulen a/k/a the former (and future ?) Dirty Movie Devotee temporarily trapped in Limbo
“Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine. A fantastic evocation of a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.”
by Julian Marsh on June 1, 2015
From The Erotic Film Society in London
For such a prolific director – at least 66 films between 1973 and 1984 – Shaun Costello remained one of the New York XXX scene’s best kept secrets for many years. One reason is the number of noms-de-porn he worked under. He made more than his fair share of films that are now recognized as classics but not always under the same name – he was ‘Kenneth Schwartz’ for FIONA ON FIRE but ‘Warren Evans’ for DRACULA EXOTICA, for example – and this prevented him from getting due recognition until relatively recently. For notorious roughies FORCED ENTRY and WATERPOWER, he was ‘Helmuth Richler’ but ‘Amanda Barton’ made the sensitive PASSIONS OF CAROL. At Avon Productions he was ‘Russ Carlson’ and for a while he was even ‘Oscar Tripe’; plus there were numerous uncredited one-day-wonders.
In ONLY THE BEST, published at the dawn of the video era, critic Jim Holliday indicated that one person was behind some of these pseudonyms; but pre-internet it was pretty much impossible for even dedicated pornologists to crack the Costello code.
With the advent of the web, the IMDb and IAFD and dedicated discussion forums where smut-hounds could compare what they’d discovered, facts began to surface.
Then something occurred that every film historian dreams about; Shaun Costello himself joined the forums. He posted on IMDb. He corrected. He clarified…
And suddenly his incredible career came into sharp focus. Not just those 66 films that he helmed but around the same number of appearances from 1971 to ’89 – and that doesn’t include loops – plus at least 50 films he produced and a similar number of writing credits. It’s a wonder he ever found time to sleep.
On the evidence of WILD ABOUT HARRY, his by turns hilarious and moving memoir about his friendship with Harry Reems, during the pre-DEEP THROAT days of Big Apple hard-core, sleep was often the last thing on his mind. Whether he was editing into the early hours – the only way he could afford post-production facilities – or heroically carousing with his buddies – ‘the Three Musketeers of 42nd Street’ – those years in the late 60s and early 70s seem to have been one madcap adventure, where anything was possible.
A voracious film fan, from art-house masters to grindhouse smut, Shaun absorbed everything. He fell into the pornographic loops business by happy accident, just as they were on the borderline of becoming legal, or at least tolerated, in the adult bookstores of the Deuce.
And he was there when a handsome, young, legit actor – still known by his birth name, Herb Streicher – made his debut in an explicit 8mm film destined for ‘under the counter’ sales.
(Assumed names were cast aside faster than underwear: Herb wouldn’t settle on Harry Reems for a couple of years, after he’d tried on ‘Tim Long’ among other aliases.)
It wasn’t just the start of a professional relationship – Shaun cast Herb/Harry as a disturbed Vietnam Vet in FORCED ENTRY, his first feature as director – it was the beginning of a deep friendship.
And now Shaun has published this memoir of those heady days – and that double entendre is very much intended – as a tribute to his buddy, who passed away in March of this year. Anyone who knows the recipe for Automat Soup (a container of ketchup and hot water, if you’re asking – gourmets break some gratis crackers on top to simulate croutons) will probably already have a copy.
But what if you’re not a dedicated devotee of the Deuce and are wondering whether to purchase? Or what if you – horror – have to ask, ‘What’s the Deuce’? Well, let Mr Costello explain…
‘The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the overmodulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.’ (from WILD ABOUT HARRY © 2015 Shaun Costello)
From this vivid evocation of arriving at 42nd Street, you should immediately have discerned that our guide to all this decadence has a very neat turn of phrase indeed, which he puts to fine effect throughout the book. It’s prose that encapsulates the sights, the sounds, the smells, the animal excitement of the city – and the only reason not to enjoy it is that it makes you break down and cry, lamenting the passing of such delightful debauchery. ‘Delightful debauchery’? Well, yes. Shaun Costello is aware of the oxymoron. On the one hand, he’s a cultured chap, dating a wealthy heiress. On the other, he’s working his way up the porn ladder. And he’s having fun all the way, along with his lifelong friend Jimmy and – of course – Harry, who is seemingly ever ready for an adventure.
Such as one hallucinogen-fuelled romp which takes them from Times Square to the East Side via various apartments whose inhabitants are woken at unearthly hours, before disgorging them on a pitch-and-putt golf course by the beach… all described with a panache that matches Hunter S Thompson’s knack for conveying altered reality.
When DEEP THROAT made Harry a porno chic superstar, his world suddenly became a round of press and promotion and personal appearances, followed equally swiftly by the traumas of the authorities’ attempts to prosecute him for merely appearing in the film. During this period, Shaun lost contact with his buddy, so he has to rely on the interviews that Harry made when he reappeared from anonymity (he’d become a real estate salesman in Colorado) in the wake of the documentary INSIDE DEEP THROAT, to describe what happened.
Initially I was worried that this could turn into a cut and paste job, but Costello has chosen and edited the quotes with great sensitivity. It’s rather like that moment in a jazz number, when the star soloist comes forward. We’ve enjoyed Shaun talking about his friend and now we get hear Harry’s own voice. And what a lovely voice it is, especially talking about his conversion to Christianity and the spiritual belief that saved him from alcoholism (with the aid of a 12 step programme). This sort of tale could so easily be preachy. And how often have former porners turned on the business, their former friends, their whole past life, when they found God?
But Harry – or Herb – was clearly such a sweet guy – and his story of salvation comes over as so genuine – that even if you don’t believe yourself, you can’t help but feel glad that he found that faith because it saved his life.
And then there’s a coda: a meeting years later; a final phone call. It’s deeply touching and heartfelt. Shaun Costello has written as beautiful a tribute as anyone could imagine.
Any quibbles? Just one. I was left ravenous for more of Shaun’s own autobiography. From his contributions to various forums, I know he has great tales to tell and that he tells them in an exceptionally entertaining manner. I hope that further memoirs will be forthcoming from this fine raconteur, drawing on about his raunchy history.
But that is not the aim of WILD ABOUT HARRY. It’s not a long book but it’s an intensely warm and wonderful one. A fantastic evocation or a time, of a place and – most of all – of a friendship.
The Erotic Film Society
By Robin Bougie on June 1, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Very worthwhile look at the life and times of 1970s and 80s porn performer, Harry Reems by director Shaun Costello. If you’ve read any number of Shaun’s elaborate blog posts about his experiences working in adult films back in the day, you know that he’s got a flair for storytelling — crafting very readable tales from his memories of being in the XXX trenches. The man has lived some crazy stuff amongst some amazing personalities, and lived to tell the tale! Here, he focuses on his intimate run-ins, on-set adventures, and informed opinions with and about Mr Reems — the famous co-star of Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT. There are some good photos and such as well, but the real draw here is the text. The story about the making of the infamous “roughie” porno FORCED ENTRY alone is worth the price of admission. A real “must” for those who have an interest in vintage adult filmmaking, and for those who want to know more.
By Jeff Eagle on June 1, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Shaun Costello’s story about Harry Reems had me at page one. Even if you didn’t know Harry you will feel as if you did. Shaun crafts a memoir that brings the Golden Age of adult films to an outrageous and hilarious story between two friends and the deliciously demented people they ran with. The stories are so well written you will feel as if you were there… or wish you were. It’s a great read about some great guys in a great era. You won’t be able to put it down.
By Elizabeth Main on May 29, 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
I was so happy to come across this book, I loved it. A time and place that only the writer could bring to life the way he did. Completely held my interest with every word. I love the way the writer explained their relationship along with the character development. A real page turner, great fun summer read, could not put it down.
More reviews will be added as they appear on Amazon.
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