This past week, an online gay publication, XX Factor, reviewed John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches.
Today marks the 21st anniversary of the death of John Holmes.
Hot ... Off the Press: Erotica in Print
March 11 2009, by marq - XX Factor
John Holmes was the world's first porn star and the only straight male performer whose name had greater box office value than any female star.
When I was 22, Jack, a friend of mine, insisted we drive to New York City (we were living near New Haven at the time) to see a porno film starring some guy named "Johnny Wadd." I had never heard of Johnny Wadd", but neither had I ever seen hardcore porn in a public theater, so I was in. This friend was "straight," but he didn't have any problems with me being gay.
On the way home from the movie — I don't remember the title — Jack insisted we stop at a rest stop and jack off. I was pretty terrified to jack off in a public area with a straight friend, and I don't think I came, but Jack did. (Years later, I'd learn that the definition of straight could have as many curves as the trail left behind by a slalom skier.)
That was my introduction to John Holmes, a man whose legend has finally, and deservedly, eclipsed the size of his 14-inch penis.
John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches is a massive (600 oversized pages) biography and memoir of Holmes, as told by the people who participated in his life — his wives, lovers, friends and business partners. It is an unusual book in that its authors, Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson, do not so much write about Holmes as they collect and edit the words of others, including Holmes himself.
At first, this makes for frustrating reading. It is too episodic, playing in the mind's eye more like an extended script for an episode of television's This Is Your Life. But soon you realize that the commentary isn't going to segue into traditional biography, and you get used to it. Who, in fact, is more qualified to speak about John Holmes than the man himself and those who knew and loved (or hated) him?
Holmes' life is truly laid bare for the reader, with no details withheld about his marriages, his lovers, his movies, his involvement with the horrific so-called Wonderland Murders, his AIDS diagnosis in 1986 and his death less than a year later. John's few gay films are duly noted, as is the fact that, as a hustler, he accommodated gay clients.
My most serious criticism of John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches is that the authors do not step in at the end to provide a summary or overview of any kind. Holmes' life may have been measured in inches, as J. Alfred Prufrock's life was measured in coffee spoons, but a tome of such heft as this one seems obligated to provide a larger view of the Holmes legacy, rather than leaving that job up to the readers.
There are numerous black and white photographs interspersed with the text (some breasts and penises but nothing hardcore). There is also a "Film and Loop ography" of Holmes" more than 1,000 on camera appearances, and nearly 125 pages of selected reviews of Holmes' feature films.
John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches has the great good fortune that its authors were able to assemble their biography while the people best able to tell the story are still alive to speak. It merits the attention of any porn fan, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
"Johnny Wadd" was a fictional detective that Holmes played in a number of different porn films, and many fans came to think of that as his name.
*** On Tuesday March 10th, we were invited guests on Internet Voices Radio with host, Lillian Cauldwell. Unfortunately, Jennifer was ill and unable to participate, but you can listen to a podcast of Lillian's 30 minute interview with me at this link: http://www.internetvoicesradio.com/Arch-Denise.htm (Scroll down to "Previous shows".)
For the first time on the air, I read an excerpt from our first chapter, Before Johnny Wadd. The excerpt is titled, Lengthy Credentials.