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!