MSU grad writes porn legend's bio
Film prompts look into John Holmes' life
NOISE by Emily Caswell
Jennifer Sugar swears she's a wholesome girl. Married and living on the west side of the state, Sugar, a Michigan State University alumni is probably not the kind of person you'd imagine writing a biography of a porn star. But she did. Along with co-author Jill C. Nelson, Sugar, 26, put together a biography of John Holmes, one of the first porn actors who was well-known for being well-endowed.
Sugar became interested in Holmes after seeing the motion picture "Wonderland," saying she had a feeling "there (was) a lot more to be told." And so she started her research. First, by watching many of Holmes' films. "Some of them were really funny," said Sugar. "The more I watched them, the more I liked them. ... Then they got repetitive."
Second, she took a trip to Hollywood in August of '04 to attend a birthday party thrown in Holmes' honor. He died in 1988.
There she met up with Bill Margold. Considered to be the world's foremost adult film historian, he worked with Holmes throughout the '70s and '80s, Margold took Sugar to the party. From there, she got some contacts and started working on the book. NOISE talked with Sugar about the bio, her time with Margold and more.
So why John Holmes?
I was curious really because he was a boy from Ohio who went out to Hollywood and became a porn star ... It just seemed like he was an important person. ... A pop culture icon ... I wanted to see him as more than just a penis.
How did you get people in the industry to trust you as an outsider?
Some people were skeptical. They asked me a lot of questions.
What was it like hanging out with Margold?
That was kind of crazy. ... He's very bombastic. ... Bill, he just looked out for me ... He'd say "so and so, he just wants to get into your pants." (laughs).
What was the most surprising thing you learned about Holmes?
He was such a paradox. ... There were a lot of stories about John doing positive things.
Did you set out to write the bio to find those positive parts of him?
I was looking to write something that would be unbiased. ... I wanted to present an even view.
How did you get hooked up with Jill?
I met Jill on a message board related to John Holmes...I just got to know her.
What did your parents think of the book?
My dad, of course, was a little bit surprised. My mom, she was really curious.
How did you find time to work on the book while in college?
I didn't let it take over...My college stuff came first. (I) mostly (worked on it) over summer.
LANSING CITY PULSE
Thursday, October 30,2008 By Bill Castanier
The story of how two women came to write a biography of the unquestionable "King” of Porn," John C. Holmes, is almost as fascinating as their subject. Almost.
Recent Michigan State University graduate Jennifer Sugar, of Michigan, and Jill Nelson, a businesswoman from Toronto, have written a fascinating account of Holmes’ rise to fame and dramatic fall in their 581-page book “John Holmes: A Life Measured In Inches.”
Most know of Holmes for his extraordinary endowment, which helped make him the star of thousands of pornographic movies during the “golden era” of porn. His most notable achievement was the “Johnny Wadd” series, in which he played a detective or, as it’s known in the trade, a private dick.
Those less familiar with his work know about Holmes from the movie “Wonderland,” which not only details his life in the industry, but also his decline and fall, which led to cocaine addiction, his entanglement in a drug robbery and murder and his ultimate death from AIDS in 1988.
Sugar became fascinated with Holmes’ life after watching “Wonderland” as an MSU student in 2003. “I hadn’t watched a John Holmes movie, and (after watching “Wonderland”) I said I’ll never watch a John Holmes movie,” Sugar said.
The promise to look away was short lived. “I was most interested in the murders at first,” Sugar said. Sugar watched documentaries on Holmes and read everything she could find. One thing she could not find was a biography of the porn star. Undaunted and naive about how hard it would be, Sugar decided to write it herself. “I just thought it would be kind of fun to try,” she said. In August 2004, Sugar who calls her self “shy,” went to Hollywood alone for the “Fit For a King” event, a celebration of Holmes’ life. She returned to California over the next three summers to conduct more than 35 interviews with Holmes’ co-stars, directors and the police officers involved in the investigation of the robbery-murders.
One major player who helped make contacts for Sugar was Holmes’ widow and former porn star, Laurie Holmes, who also gave her and her writing partner access to audiotapes from Holmes’ autobiography, “Porn King.” “I think my age and not having any experience as a journalist or author let them open up to me,” Sugar said. By the time Sugar interviewed director Paul Thomas while on a shoot, she was quite familiar with the industry. “What was shocking was that I wasn’t shocked,” she said.
Later, she and Nelson shared the responsibility of watching 114 feature films and another 86 loops starring Holmes to complete the section on Holmes’ filmography.
Sugar met Nelson online in a chatroom about “Wonderland.” They corresponded through e-mail for more than a year before Sugar asked for help with the book. “As I got to trust her, I told her it was too much for one person,” Sugar said.
Nelson said her initial interest in Holmes stemmed from her fascination with Val Kilmer, who played him in “Wonderland.” “I knew about John Holmes, but other than knowing he was well endowed, I wanted to see how Val Kilmer would portray him,” she said.
Her interest grew, and Nelson found herself wanting to know more. “I wanted to find out how a country kid from Ohio could get caught up in pornography and be catapulted into stardom,” she said. Nelson also brought a different perspective, since she was twice Sugar’s age.
“I knew the ‘70s,” she said. “I lived through them.” Nelson said sifting through all the material was a lot of work. Much had been written about Holmes, but there was no complete biography, and that was the authors’ goal. They wanted to know what went on behind the scenes and who the man was. They each conducted interviews and reviewed movies. “We both respected each other’s opinions,” Nelson said. “I think that’s the reason it works. We’re both determined and perfectionists, and we’re both meticulous.”
Each woman is proud of her accomplishment, which is the best look to date at a porn star who helped redefine a film genre, bringing it from seedy art house to a new life at video stores. The book is also the first mainstream biography of a porn star to feature full frontal nudity. Both authors agree it had to be included, and it’s the first thing readers turn to.
Now the authors are on the circuit to promote the book, making appearances everywhere from mainstream bookstores to the Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas in January.
For the record, Sugar’s “favorite” Holmes’ movie is “Eruption,” and Nelson favors “Jade Pussycat.” Neither would elaborate, but Sugar did recently see “Eruption” on a large 35 mm screen. Perfect to watch John C. Holmes.
Jennifer Sugar & Jill Nelson Authors of “John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches” 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 3 Schuler Books & Music, 2820 Towne Center Blvd., LansingFREE
(517) 316-7495 www.schulerbooks.com