Farewell to Harry Reems

The other star of Deep Throat, the 1972 movie that changed US culture’s relationship with pornography, has died. Harry Reems (born Herbert Streicher) succumbed to complications from cancer this week, not quite eleven years after his famous co-star, Linda Lovelace (nee Linda Boreman) was killed in a car accident. Both stars had left the limelight, to put it mildly — he’d been a homeless alcoholic before finding religion and going into real estate, and she’d been cleaning office buildings prior to her death. He’d remarried and settled in Park City, Utah, while she lived in Colorado.

Deep Throat, directed by Gerard Damiano, eschewed the model of most porn of its day — plot-free, nothing-but-sex loops, the precursor to today’s Wall-to-Wall skin flicks — and was a full-length picture with a plot and an unforgettable shtick. It featured Lovelace as a woman who could only come when she gave fellatio, because she had a clitoris-like organ in her throat. “How far does a girl have to go to untangle her tingle?”, Deep Throat posters asked, and Harry Reems, as Dr. Young, donned a white lab coat and helped her find out.

The movie was notorious in at least three respects: It helped porn leap into the mainstream, with art-house showings all around the country (it was still on the marquee in Portland, Oregon in 1975 and later, when I visited there in college); it catapulted Lovelace to fame, which led to a window into the extreme problematics that could be associated with the adult entertainment world when she revealed she’d been abused and forced into making porn by her sadistic then-husband; and it let to charges against Reems and others involved in the making of Deep Throat for conspiracy to transmit obscene material across state lines, which in turn sparked a conversation about censorship that ultimately made it harder for the authorities to go after porn.

I didn’t see Deep Throat until I got to the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, in about 1988. There, it wasn’t controversial smut; it was a text. And I was surprised to find, after all the feminist furor of the 1970s and 80s, that the movie was in fact a comedy — like, meant to be funny. It was a pornographic one, sure, and I still see what pissed feminists off about the premise (couldn’t the most famous porn movie in the world shine a little light on the actual clitoris, dammit?). But Reems, who’d been sidetracked into pornography when he couldn’t get enough work as a “legitimate” actor in New York, was not only one of porn’s earliest leading men (as the New York Times obit puts it, “a one-man avatar of the ’70s,” he was also one of its all-time best comic actors.

Reems later starred as The Teacher, with the unforgettable Georgina Spelvin, in The Devil In Miss Jones (1973), another film in which he’d help director Damiano break barriers; a riff on Sartre’s No Exit, it may be the most successfully cinematic porn movie of all time, breaking records set by Deep Throat and San Francisco-made porn hit Behind the Green Door; Wikipedia puts it at the 10th most successful film of 1973. But the next year, the Feds came to bust him on the transporting obscenity charge; he was convicted, then the conviction was overturned. This was the beginning of Reems’ downward spiral; by the mid-80s he was homeless on the streets of LA. He credited his sobriety and turn-around to spirituality; he continued to use the name Harry Reems.

Reems is survived by his wife Jeanne, and appears in the documentary Inside Deep Throat. He’s to be portrayed by actor Adam Brody in the to-be-released biopic Lovelace.

A memorial evening at the Center for Sex & Culture at 7pm on Sunday, April 14, with porn colleagues including Annie Sprinkle, CJ Laing, Jerry Heath and Richard Pacheco, is open to the public, including fans of Harry Reems.

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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1 Response

  1. luv2sex.info says:

    Wish Harry Reems will rest in peace.