Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Trial of Harry Reems

by Jim Kopetz

    "They told me, if the Republicans get elected, you're going to jail. If the Democrats get elected, you'll go free."

    It was late into 1971, the world of pornography was beginning to expand and small-time pornographer Gerard Damiano was looking for something new, something fresh. It was a meeting with Linda Boreman (through her sadistic "boyfriend" Chuck Traynor) and seeing her unique talent he came up with the idea of 'Deep Throat'; a woman who finds out her clitoris is located in the back of her throat, meaning she must...well I'm sure you get the gist. Now all he needed was a leading man.

    It was early into 1972 when a young Herbert Steicher was hired as part of a lighting crew for an "independent film" entitled 'Deep Throat'. At this point Gerard was unsatisfied with any of the male actors auditioning. One may ask what his criterion was based on, but whatever it was he saw it in young Herbert. He was cast as Dr. Young, the physician that finds her clitoris and then suggests, as any good doctor would, some experimentation.

    'Deep Throat', starring newly heralded Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, premiered on June 12, 1972 and became an instant sensation. People were waiting hours, lined down the street to see the film. It made its way into pop culture, into mainstream America. People of all sorts were going to see it. There's a great scene in the the documentary Inside Deep Throat (2005) where a woman in what must be her sixties comes out of the theater proclaiming it to be quite enjoyable. The film is credited with coining the term "porno chic" by New York Times columnist Ralph Blumenthal.

    While all this excitement was going on, an important Supreme Court case was in session, Miller v. California, 413 U.S.15 (1973). I won't get into the the specifics, see the link, but it is one of a number of cases dealing with the Court's definition of obscene. Think of 'The People vs. Larry Flynt', depicting and distributing obscene materials. It was one of the few times in our judicial history that the ruling allowed for MORE prosecution of individuals for what society seemed to dictate as accepted. But remember, this was the time of Richard Nixon and newly appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger one of his cronies. Burger also happened to believe that homosexuality was of "deeper malignity than rape". So it goes.

    Jump forward to July 1974, Harry Reems is arrested in New York City by FBI agents for appearing in the film 'Deep Throat'. He was indicted along with others in Memphis in June of 1975 and convicted the following year. This marks the first time an American actor has been convicted for appearing in an American film in American history. Sad times.

    But what was wrong would eventually right itself and backed by numerous celebrities such as Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty, Harry Reems won an appeal. However the decision was made simply because the film had been made before Miller v. California had been decided, leading many more unfortunate obscenity trials to come. Whatever you think of pornography or a guy like Harry Reems, shouldn't dictate our judiciary system. I may think dueling should be legalized as well as marijuana, but I understand the opposition, particularly for the former. We must legislate by the Constitution of the United States, we must always be looking forward to the future of our easily taken for granted freedoms, and like Lot's wife, we must never look back. This is the prelude to the end of the world.