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A story little told is that of Jews in Hollywood’s seedier cousin, the adult film industry. Perhaps we’d prefer to pretend that the ‘triple-exthnics’ didn’t exist, but there’s no getting away from the fact that secular Jews have played (and still continue to play) a disproportionate role throughout the adult film industry in America. Jewish involvement in pornography has a long history in the United States, as Jews have helped to transform a fringe subculture into what has become a primary constituent of Americana. These are the ‘true blue Jews’.
Jewish activity in the porn industry divides into two (sometimes overlapping) groups: pornographers and performers. Though Jews make up only two per cent of the American population, they have been prominent in pornography. Many erotica dealers in the book trade between 1890 and 1940 were immigrant Jews of German origin. According to Jay A. Gertzman, author of Bookleggers and Smuthounds:The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999), ‘Jews were prominent in the distribution of gallantiana [fiction on erotic themes and books of dirty jokes and ballads], avant-garde sexually explicit novels, sex pulps, sexology, and flagitious materials’.
In the postwar era, America’s most notorious pornographer was Reuben Sturman, the ‘Walt Disney of Porn’. According to the US Department of Justice, throughout the 1970s Sturman controlled most of the pornography circulating in the country. Born in 1924, Sturman grew up in Cleveland’s East Side. Initially, he sold comics and magazines, but when he realized sex magazines produced twenty times the revenue of comic books, he moved exclusively into porn, eventually producing his own titles and setting up retail stores. By the end of the 1960s, Sturman ranked at the top of adult magazine distributors and by the mid-70s he owned over 200 adult bookstores. Sturman also introduced updated versions of the traditional peepshow booth (typically a dark room with a small colour TV on which the viewer can view X-rated videos). It was said that Sturman did not simply control the adult-entertainment industry; he was the industry. Eventually he was convicted of tax evasion and other crimes and died, disgraced, in prison in 1997. His son, David, continued running the family business.
The contemporary incarnation of Sturman is 43-year-old Jewish Clevelander Steven Hirsch, who has been described as ‘the Donald Trump of porno’. The link between the two is Steve’s father, Fred, who was a stockbroker-cum-lieutenant to Sturman. Today Hirsch runs the Vivid Entertainment Group, which has been called the Microsoft of the porn world, the top producer of ‘adult’ films in the US. His specialty was to import mainstream marketing techniques into the porn business. Indeed, Vivid parallels the Hollywood studio system of the 1930s and 1940s, particularly in its exclusive contracts to porn stars who are hired and moulded by Hirsch. Vivid was the subject of a behind-the-scenes reality TV show recently broadcast on Channel 4.
Nice Jewish girls and boys
Jews accounted for most of the leading male performers as well as a sizeable number of female stars in porn movies of the 1970s and ‘80s. The doyen of the Hebrew studs is Ron Jeremy. Known in the trade as ‘the Hedgehog’, Jeremy is one of America’s biggest porn stars. The 51-year-old Jeremy was raised in an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Flushing, Queens, and has since appeared in more than 1,600 adult movies, as well as directing over 100. Jeremy has achieved iconic status in America, a hero to males of all ages, Jewish and gentile alike - he’s the nebbischy, fat, hairy, ugly guy who gets to bed dozens of beautiful women. He presents an image of a modern-day King David, a Jewish superstud who supersedes the traditional heroes of Jewish lore. No sallow Talmud scholar he. His stature was recently cemented with the release of a pornomentary about his life, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy. As probably the most famous Jewish male porn star, Jeremy has done wonders for the psyche of Jewish men in America. Jeremy has also just released a compilation CD, Bang-A-Long-With Ron Jeremy. For £7.99 (including delivery), the lucky listener gets to enjoy Jeremy’s hand-picked favourite porno grooves along with narration by ‘the legend’ himself. As the publicity blurb gushes, ‘Out of the brown paper wrappings and into the mainstream’.
Seymore Butts, aka Adam Glasser, is everything that Jeremy is not: young, handsome and toned. Glasser, a 39-year-old New York Jew, opened a gym in 1991 in Los Angeles. When no one joined, he borrowed a video camera for 24 hours, went to a nearby strip club, recruited a woman, then headed back to his gym and started shooting. Although the movie stank, with a bit of chutzpah and a few business cards he wangled a deal with a manufacturer and started cranking out films. Within a few years, ‘Seymore Butts’ – his nom de porn which is simultaneously his sales pitch – became one of the largest franchises in the adult-film business. As the king of the gonzo genre (marked by handheld cameras, the illusion of spontaneity and a low-tech aesthetic meant to suggest reality), he is today probably the most famous Jewish porn mogul. Seymore Inc., his production company, releases about 36 films annually, most of them shot for less than $15,000, each of them grossing more than 10 times that sum. Glasser employs 12 people, including his mother and cousin Stevie as respectively genial company accountant (and matchmaker for her single son) and lovable but roguish general gopher. Glasser currently even has his own reality TV show (also broadcast on Channel 4), a ten-episode docu-soap called Family Business, whose opening credits show Glasser’s barmitzvah photo.
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