Though he appeared in more than 100 porn movies from the Loop through Film through Video eras, Harry Reems, who died Tuesday after years of failing health, will always be remembered as the brilliant but unorthodox Dr. Young in 1972’s “Deep Throat.”
If Ron Jeremy, with his moustache and Catskills humor, seems like a throwback to the New Yorkers of porn’s 70’s toddlerhood, it was Harry Reems who set the standard. Hair-carpeted and randy, Reems could have been the face of the carefree 70’s—the segment of the population that mixed post-war suburban America with urbane schticksters like Jamie Gillis—themselves a throwback.
While Reems wouldn’t be confused with bedraggled Vietnam protestors, his conviction in 1974 of transporting obscene material over state lines made him a First Amendment lightning rod. According to the excellent 2005 documentary “Inside Deep Throat,” Reems said he made $250 from a movie that reportedly (Mafia numbers are notoriously unreliable) upwards of $600 million—the most profitable movie in history.
Defended by Alan Dershowitz, Reems reluctantly set a precedent as the first pornographic actor to take the rap for an allegedly obscene film. His arrest represented prosecutorial thinking at the time, that people would stop working in the adult business if they thought even their appearance in a movie was legally actionable.
The conviction was set aside in 1977 but Reems, a former Marine, was already aging out. He almost landed the part of the gym coach in “Grease,” he said, but his porn infamy lost him the role to Sid Caesar.
Still, though the low points led to alcoholism and homelessness, Reems was unapologetic about his porn past, even after cleaning up, finding Jesus, and launching a successful real estate career in Utah as Harry Reems, not Herbert Streicher, the name his parents gave him in 1947.
Big-hearted and gracious whatever his careers, Reems always gave the impression that he considered himself lucky.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Sort of “Inside Deep Throat,” but not all the way in