Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Harry Reems

Harry Reems passed away this year after living an interesting life, which included developing a huge gay fan base for his work in straight adult movies during the seventies and eighties.  Born in 1947, Herbert Streicher grew up in a Jewish family and was just a regular nice (kind of shy) boy, sincere with simple traits that Herbert maintained throughout his life.  He attended college at the University of Pittsburgh before dropping out to join the Marines, and after that he decided to become an actor.  

Herb was handsome enough, but it was probably that head of beautiful thick hair and those dense eyebrows that drew attention towards his way at first glance.  When he grew what would become his trademark moustache, it seemed that Harry would always stand out in a crowd.    Smart, easy to talk with and having a fun personality, young Herb got noticed by ladies.  “I loved sex,” he said later. “I was very promiscuous. And I loved acting.”
When swarthy Herb began showing off his man-goods in porn, it wasn't just the ladies who liked what they saw.  Young actors typically work numerous jobs to support themselves and this was also the case with Herb. The adult entertainment business has a long history of offering aspiring theatrical talent a way to pay the rent.  In need of some quick cash, Herb began working on sex films, both behind the scenes and as a performer.  It was good pay but it was also risky because everything was on the shady side of the law and there was the constant risk of a police raid.  He would later recall that these were still the 'underground' days of smut when they paid sex actors in cash from a steel box for that day's work on the spot, the fewer questions asked the better.  Herb was also a member of SAG [Screen Actors Guild] and this anonymous arrangement worked well for him and the others working on these sex loops.  He followed the time-honored tradition of developing stag film names for his performances, including Peter Long, Dick Hurt, and Dick Hard.  Ironically, it's reported that the stage name he would become identified with for the rest of his life was one that he didn't create himself.

Reems became world-famous for his role in the adult-film classic "Deep Throat," which drew middle class audiences to the theaters nationwide and became a forerunner of today's hardcore adult-entertainment industry. The production of Deep Throat began in Miami, Florida, in January 1972.  Mr. Streicher was originally hired to be part of the lighting crew, but the director was unable to cast one of the stud roles and asked him to play the part. He was paid $100 for one day of work.  Apparently, Streicher was unaware that the director had given him the stage name "Harry Reems" for the flick until he saw the movie credits.   

The 1972 sex comedy was directed by beautician-turned-pornographer Gerard Damiano.  Deep Throat was intended as a spoof of "white-coat" porn films and magazines, a genre that VGMH has already covered (porn presented as a non-erotic scientific study, socially redeeming by the inclusion of medical dialog.  Ironically, Harry had actually performed in some of these "white coat" porn loops in his first days of porn, of which he was now having fun with in Deep Throat!

It should be noted that Harry 's hairy physique was 'at the right place at the right time' in several important ways in history.  A lot of culutral elements collided to make Harry a star with gay men.  It was the breakout 1970s for gay liberation in major cities with adult theatres.  It was the 1970s breakout for sexuality in mainstream media,  a brief period of upper-middle class interest in explicit pornography, which Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times called "porno chic."  And Deep Throat displayed the young charismatic Harry at a time when he was able to capitalize on similarities in appearance to athletle Mark Spitz (the Jewish diver owned the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, winning 7 gold medals and getting mega sex-appeal publicity of him in a speedo).  Both handsome, young and hairy men also sported those thick trademark mustaches

Interestingly, Harry Reems became a draw in straight porn movies to the point where he was advertised alongside his female costars-very unusual in straight porn for that era.  This point is noteworthy in that Harry stands with John Holmes in this distinction, although Harry didn't have that extra-large penis to market as a novelty like Holmes had.  Reems may have received star treatment billing to sell movies in advertisements targeted to primarily heterosexual men, but perhaps discounted was the unrecognized reality that there was also a large crossover audience of gay men who were also fans of Reems. 

It's reported that in an October 1975 VIVA magazine interview he was asked if "homosexuals offer themselves" to him, to which Reems replied "Yeah. When I was looking for material for my autobiography, I put an ad for "fan mail" in one of the trade papers. Ninety five percent of the mail I got was from gays." While there have been suggestions that Harry performed in gay smut, VGMH has been unable to confirm that with any specific titles. If you know of any please share that information.

The film later served as the nickname for a source that helped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigate the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation.  In 1976, Reems was convicted of obscenity for his role in the notorius film and faced a potential five-year prison term. Hollywood came to Reems’ rescue, helping to create a legal defense fund and hiring famed defense attorney Alan Dershowitz to represent him.  Celebrities including Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty came to Reems' defense, and the conviction was overturned. 
After years of drug abuse, Reems began his recovery in 1989. He married and converted from Judaism to Christianity. "If I didn't put God in my life, I'd be dead now," he said. "I am not religious. I'm spiritual, 100 percent." He continued to identify himself as "Harry Reems," while he worked as a real estate agent. Reems died on March 19, 2013, at the veterans hospital in Salt Lake City from pancreatic cancer. He was 65. Reems was survived by his wife, Jeanne, and his brother. He had no children.

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