Friday, March 5, 2010

No Limits: Deceased Artiste Jamie Gillis

In a week when people are getting ready to honor folks who make scarily formulaic films as a matter of course, it makes sense to salute those who will not be honored at the godawful Oscars. And I’d be positively stunned if they included the likes of Jamie Gillis in their dead-folk montage (which was presented in a tacky, awful fashion last year). Gillis died on February 19th at the age of 66 after having made (by someone’s count) 470 porn films, which includes features, loops, starring roles, and guest-starring appearances (I remember thinking he was the sleaziest MFer I’d ever seen in a one-off scene playing a handyman named “Mr. Luigi” who has a good time with schoolgirl Traci Lords).

Born Jamey Ira Gurman in 1943, Gillis graduated from Columbia University in 1970 and famously worked as both a mime and a cabbie while awaiting his big break in show business, which oddly came by way of The Village Voice. He answered an ad in the paper in ’71 and began appearing in loops. He was one of the few noted male porn stars of the very busy post-Deep Throat Seventies, and was game to try anything on screen — again, my own memories of Gillis movies seen included him engaging in golden showers in one of the so-called “couples” porn movies (I think it was Roommates).

He also was a bisexual (fun fact: he was in the first all-male 3D porn film, Manhole) who in interviews would fondly recall the Continental Baths and freaked out straight male moviegoers by getting blown by Zebedy Colt (now there’s a guy you can tell stories about) in the otherwise “couples”-friendly Story of Joanna by Gerard Damiano. According to one well-researched tribute, he also masterminded a series of videos called “Walking Toilet Seat” (oh yeah, it’s what you think). And since we’re on the weirder side of things, we can’t forget Shaun Costello’s damaged homage to Taxi Driver, called Water Power, about a man who rapes and gives forced enemas to his victims. It looks like it has awesome footage of Times Square, and has been praised by Quentin Tarantino (which is more than you needed to know about “QT,” ain’t it?). This blog has a clean sequence from it posted of Gillis walking down 42nd St. Here is a fan’s “DJ mix” montage from the film (all scenes clean, this is on Puritannical YouTube!) which shows Gillis in full Travis Bickle mode:



Gillis’ obits were certainly lively, with the most interesting story being that he would act in live sex shows in Times Square — one gets the impression that there wasn’t a lot he turned down — and would recite Shakespeare soliloquies he remembered to give the shows “socially redeeming value.” He is also commemorated on various porn-history sites for a video he did called On the Prowl which supposedly started the “gonzo porn” subgenre. Gillis found a game woman, and drove her around San Francisco’s North Beach, looking for guys from the public who were willing to fuck her. This was in 1989, so it was in the post-AIDS era, but as the Nineties “gangbang” events proved, people are always willing to be sexual adventurers, even if it’s ill-advised.

The strangest thing about Gillis is that he did the extreme fetish weirdness — and even continued appearing in porn when he was in his 50s — and yet he was in several of the most “prestigious” porn titles, including films made by Radley Metzger (under his “Henry Paris” hardcore pseudonym) and Joe Sarno. He exhibited acting ability at various times in his porn career, but then he also could be quite the ham and downright unpleasant to watch (which works in the scarier flicks like Costello’s niche enema biz, but mainstream porn doesn’t usually include a “dark” figure like Gillis — or at least hasn't since the Seventies). In any case, he was certainly an icon in the business of filmed pornography, which is now entirely dead, except to the aficionados who keep it alive via old VHS tapes and DVD reissues.

In closing, a few Gillis clips. Here he is being interviewed with Shauna Grant (Colleen Applegate), the tragic porn star who seems to be in a sleaze sandwich here, as she is interviewed by her then-manager, Bobby Hollander:



A scene from the aforementioned Story of Joanna (1975). Yes, it’s pretty corny stuff, but this stuff was a refreshing change in porn theaters — actors attempting to act! A plot! Dialogue even!



The opening of an edited (read: sexless) version of Anthony Spinelli’s The Seduction of Lyn Carter (1974)



For those who would like to see Jamie doing what he did best,
click here for a totally graphic hardcore clip (you've been warned!) of him getting blown by his onetime real-life lover Serena. The two were supposedly known as the “S&M couple” in porn circles, but this clip is straightforward sex.

And my own upload of a trailer showing Gillis in a classier porn flick, this one softcore. He is the male lead in Joe Sarno’s Abigail Leslie is Back in Town, and gets to utter the memorably campy line of dialogue that you hear here first:



An excellent tribute to Gillis can be found at the Penetrating Insights
blogspot. The tribute is okay for browsing at work or school, but the links are not!

6 comments:

Jack said...

Thanks for your excellent blog about Jamie. I was really shocked about his death because he simply didn't talk about it. I knew he was sick and that he was going to the doctor a lot and I informed him of the death of Dave Clark only a few months ago and still he said nothing. I think I possess the most amazing footage from his last years because I have scenes of him playing Polonius (and also Hamlet himself) in auditions for Hamlet with numerous actresses and also reading a character in my own screenplay with several actresses. I hope to be able to put this stuff on the net so that people can see what a great actor he was.

Pius said...

Fantastic blog you have here!

Just writing to say I would love to hear whatever you can find on Zebedy Colt - a fascinating guy & someone about whom details and anecdotes are terribly scarce.

Lisa Be said...

BURYING JAMIE (Part 1 of 3)
Sunday, November 7th, 2010

I waited more than six months before putting online this denunciation of many of the people who were, at one time, my peer group. Both morally and intellectually, I have retreated not an inch from the anger, sadness, profound alienation and gloomy self-awareness which motivated me to employ the written word as catharsis and metamorphosis in this instance. For, I was miserable when I learned Jamie Gillis had been honored, and beyond: my eyes opened. That world of porn really, really was worse than I had ever thought after all, and I was in denial of it for thirty years.

Speaking as a former minor pornographic film star who made about 20 movies in 1980-1981, I was shocked and disgusted to learn that Annie Sprinkle, whom I considered a friendly acquaintance, had held a “wake” for the late Jamie Gillis (who died of cancer recently). I was more shocked and disgusted that 50 people attended.

I worked at the old Melody Burlesk from 1980 to 1985, and like all the other stripper/lap dancers working there, hung out at the bar named Bernard's directly across the street which had the same owners. The strippers found safe haven there, the porn directors whose offices were nearby on Broadway went there to talk business, and the porn stars—male and female—went there to drink and socialize in an atmosphere considered friendly to the X-rated world. In part, the male porn stars went to Bernard’s to try to capitalize on their adult entertainment celebrity and pick up the strippers. Harry Reems was a gentleman, Ron Jeremy was a mensch, Ron Hudd was kind of cool and detached from the point of view of personality but certainly wasn’t dangerous, and though I didn’t care for Paul Thomas’ egotism, he was kind to me on our one night stand. David Morris and I were onstage lovers.

But, all of us knew never to go with Jamie Gillis, whose reputation preceded him; everyone had heard that he was cruel and violent, and liked to lure, then hit, hurt, and humiliate. Only the youngest and most naïve newcomers went off to have private encounters with Jamie, which turned hellish.

To tell the ugly stories I heard about Jamie would be hearsay, and besides, he can’t defend himself (so I won’t tell them). But, the fact that he was sadistic was not exactly a state secret; he practiced not only consensual sadomasochism —as with his partner Serena—but nonconsensual sadism. In a (quote) normal (end quote) S&M relationship, the person playing the bottom has ways of signaling the person playing the top that he (or she) is going too far, and then, it’s the top’s turn to subtly obey, by slowing down. I saw Jamie stop forcing a dildo onto the sides of Serena’s mouth in a movie when her eyes, and also a gentle touch of her hand, informed him that she’d reached the limit of pain she wanted to feel. But, in the movie “900 Fantasy Lane,” in the dungeon scene at the end, a young actress’ face fills the entire screen as she exits, for she has a bruise on her cheek, and she yells at Jamie: “You goddamn bastard!” (No signals honored then.) The insult is real, and wasn’t in the script, and the film editor left it in, just as the director had let the scene proceed. (At least, her physical abuse is documented.) Jamie apparently beat her way beyond the limit of what she thought she was getting paid for.

—Lisa Be,
Harlem, New York City

Lisa Be said...

BURYING JAMIE (Part 2 of 3)
Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Sometimes (but certainly, certainly not all the time) Catherine MacKinnon is right: porn is violence against women, and not after the fact when we debate what effect certain scenes might have on a mentally unstable person in the audience. On very rare occasions, what’s being filmed is an assault in progress.

I thought Annie Sprinkle was a free speech advocate, a voice in the fight against breast cancer, and an environmentalist. Why had she no respect for that actresses’ experience? Was she, when she honored Jamie with a wake, in denial of whom and just what Jamie was? How could she be in denial when she’s been in the X-rated business since she was eighteen? More confounding and disturbing: how could 50 people be in denial of what a shameless, violent woman-hater Jamie was? I have to admit that past a certain point, I myself was a bit corrupted by that cultural milieu, and said some ugly lines in movies I didn’t want to say, and began accepting too much disrespectfulness from directors, managers and customers alike. But, I soon realized that my personality was degenerating and exited that world. So, is it possible that familiarity, over a very long period of time, with an individual who is obviously corrupt, deprives people of the perspective which would be needed to see a bad person as they are? (We may get used to substandard ethical behavior in ourselves; we may get used to bad people outside of ourselves at the same time.)

I learned something from the expert on torture named Darius Rejali recently interviewed on NPR. When a professional in a different walk of life, that is, a journalist, physician, lawyer or politician, witnesses official military personnel practicing torture, why does he or she so rarely take action? One: the sense that he, the witness, is already implicated. Two: peer pressure (a complicity of silence involving everyone there). Three: confusion in the mind of the witness as to whether the person being tortured is really a terrorist (so then, is the torture justified?) or not.

In terms of the porn world, the first two conditions outlined above are sufficient to explain why so many fellow porn stars, directors and film crews in the X-rated world took Jamie’s sadism lightly, and as for the third, some of us suffered honest confusion also—as to whether Jamie was practicing consensual S&M or non-consensual violence (read—whether he was a terrorist or not, but he was). “Why do they not notice the elephant in the room?” Rejali provocatively asks, saying: “it’s the situation, not the disposition, that [may make] us evil.” So, people in the porn world who thought of themselves as quite conscientious could have ignored Jamie’s cruelty. Most people cave in, Rejali notes, but not all.

For veterans of porn, the X-rated world is a Rashomon tale, with some of us looking back with shame and bitterness, others with joy and smiles—like me. Only what is devastating to me about a well-attended wake for Jamie Gillis is that the event tends to validate Catherine Mackinnon’s proposition that the purpose of the porn industry is to subordinate, beat, force and harm female human beings. After all, R. Crumb made pictures of women having their breasts bitten like cheeseburgers and having their thighs carved with knives, only he didn’t do it, he drew it. Jamie really did threaten, subordinate, force, beat, and harm. Did nobody at that ghastly wake remember or care?

Thankfully, some of us porn veterans have a very different ethos than Jamie Gillis. Some of us think the purpose of porn is to provide sexual companionship for lonely people, to provide a direct route to biological gratification through explicit images (not necessarily degrading ones) for those who need some help, to assist couples bored by the commonplaces of their lives together by providing needed sexual stimulation through fantasy material, and, not least, to provide us porn stars with good memories.

—Lisa Be,
Harlem, New York City

Lisa Be said...

BURYING JAMIE (Part 3 of 3)
Sunday, November 7th, 2010



I should like Catherine Mackinnon et al to know: only once was I hurt and degraded in the making of a porn movie; I enjoy remembering almost all the other scenes.

Indeed, most of the time when I was in the X-rated world, I was neither being harmed nor in denial (that is, of my own experience), but wide awake and quite myself—for example, the night in Bernard’s when Jamie Gillis slammed the full weight of his body up against my back and ass as I stood at the bar having a drink, saying: “I heard this was a good place to pick up girls!”
Man, what an intelligent opener, Jamie. You know, I always knew you were a thinker, an original and a Renaissance man.

“Get away from me,” I said reflexively (and he did). I considered his come-on pathetic, I found his sadism disgusting, and I also thought he was hideous, for after all, beauty is as beauty does.

Jamie, I always thought you were a worm, and I’m glad worms are consuming you now. So far as I’m concerned, you probably should have died much sooner, and I know I’m far from alone in thinking so. I hope some testimonials from the numerous sexual partners Jamie Gillis falsely imprisoned and actually injured over the course of many years have the courage to come forward, but being taken advantage of can provoke shame, and the fear of being ridiculed. That has to stop—Right on, Sister.

And Annie Sprinkle, since you honored the predatory emblem of pornography’s Fascist wing, I no longer believe you stand for anything worth considering.

—Lisa Be,

Harlem, New York City

Lisa Be said...

BURYING JAMIE (Part 1 of 3)
Sunday, November 7th, 2010



I waited more than six months before putting online this denunciation of many of the people who were, at one time, my peer group. Both morally and intellectually, I have retreated not an inch from the anger, sadness, profound alienation and gloomy self-awareness which motivated me to employ the written word as catharsis and metamorphosis in this instance. For, I was miserable when I learned Jamie Gillis had been honored, and beyond: my eyes opened. That world of porn really, really was worse than I had ever thought after all, and I was in denial of it for thirty years.


Speaking as a former minor pornographic film star who made about 20 movies in 1980-1981, I was shocked and disgusted to learn that Annie Sprinkle, whom I considered a friendly acquaintance, had held a “wake” for the late Jamie Gillis (who died of cancer recently). I was more shocked and disgusted that 50 people attended.

I worked at the old Melody Burlesk from 1980 to 1985, and like all the other stripper/lap dancers working there, hung out at the bar named Bernard's directly across the street which had the same owners. The strippers found safe haven there, the porn directors whose offices were nearby on Broadway went there to talk business, and the porn stars—male and female—went there to drink and socialize in an atmosphere considered friendly to the X-rated world. In part, the male porn stars went to Bernard’s to try to capitalize on their adult entertainment celebrity and pick up the strippers. Harry Reems was a gentleman, Ron Jeremy was a mensch, Ron Hudd was kind of cool and detached from the point of view of personality but certainly wasn’t dangerous, and though I didn’t care for Paul Thomas’ egotism, he was kind to me on our one night stand. David Morris and I were onstage lovers.

But, all of us knew never to go with Jamie Gillis, whose reputation preceded him; everyone had heard that he was cruel and violent, and liked to lure, then hit, hurt, and humiliate. Only the youngest and most naïve newcomers went off to have private encounters with Jamie, which turned hellish.

To tell the ugly stories I heard about Jamie would be hearsay, and besides, he can’t defend himself (so I won’t tell them). But, the fact that he was sadistic was not exactly a state secret; he practiced not only consensual sadomasochism —as with his partner Serena—but nonconsensual sadism. In a (quote) normal (end quote) S&M relationship, the person playing the bottom has ways of signaling the person playing the top that he (or she) is going too far, and then, it’s the top’s turn to subtly obey, by slowing down. I saw Jamie stop forcing a dildo onto the sides of Serena’s mouth in a movie when her eyes, and also a gentle touch of her hand, informed him that she’d reached the limit of pain she wanted to feel. But, in the movie “900 Fantasy Lane,” in the dungeon scene at the end, a young actress’ face fills the entire screen as she exits, for she has a bruise on her cheek, and she yells at Jamie: “You goddamn bastard!” (No signals honored then.) The insult is real, and wasn’t in the script, and the film editor left it in, just as the director had let the scene proceed. (At least, her physical abuse is documented.) Jamie apparently beat her way beyond the limit of what she thought she was getting paid for.

—Lisa Be,
Harlem, New York City