The Roots Of The Porn Industry
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The Roots Of The Porn Industry         

Group: alt.california · Group Profile
Author: JT
Date: Jul 16, 2008 21:54

The Roots Of The Porn Industry

Illustrated version:

Nathan Abrams on Jews in the American porn industry

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’.

Smut Peddlers And Artists

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

The 'Walt Disney' Of Porn

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.

He Soon Had Hundreds Of Book Stores

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 Introduced The 'Glory Booth' At His Porn Shops

I 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.

Steven Hirsh Is Today's Porn Kingpin

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.

His Poppa Is Part Of The Business

The link between the two is Steve’s father, Fred, who was a
stockbroker-cum-lieutenant to Sturman.

This Is A Big Business

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.

Men Felt Liberated

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.

Young Israelis Adored Him

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’.

Today's Porn Star

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.

His Buddies From The Gym

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.

They Brought Porn From Eastern Europe

Jews became involved in the porn industry for much the same reasons
that their co-religionists became involved in Hollywood. They were
attracted to an industry primarily because it admitted them. Its
newness meant that restrictive barriers had not yet been erected, as
they had in so many other areas of American life. In porn, there was
no discrimination against Jews.

In search of a buck

During the early part of the twentieth century, an entrepreneur did
not require large sums of money to make a start in the film business;
cinema was considered a passing fad. In the porn business, it was
similarly straightforward to get going. To show ‘stag’ movies or
loops, as they were known, all one needed was a projector, screen and
a few chairs. Not tied up with the status quo and with nothing to lose
by innovation, Jews were open to new ways of doing business. Gertzman
explains that

Jews Have Run This Since The Beginning Of Time

"Jews, when they found themselves excluded from a field of endeavour,
turned to a profession in which they sensed they could eventually
thrive by cooperating with colleagues in a community of effort . . .
Jews have for a very long time cultivated the temperament and talents
of middlemen, and they are proud of these abilities".
The adult entertainment business required something that Jews
possessed in abundance: chutzpah. Early Jewish pornographers were
marketing geniuses and ambitious entrepreneurs whose toughness,
intelligence and boundless self-confidence were responsible for their

The 'Off-Color' Hollywood

Of course, the large number of Jews in porn were mainly motivated by
the desire to make profits. Just as their counterparts in Hollywood
provided a dream factory for Americans, a blank screen upon which the
Jewish moguls’ visions of America could be created and projected, so
the porn-moguls displayed a talent for understanding public tastes.
What better way to provide the stuff of dreams and fantasies than
through the adult-entertainment industry? Performers did porn for the
money. As ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman commented, ‘Those
Jews who enter the pornography industry have done so as individuals
pursuing the American dream.’

Porn Now Pushes The Jewish American Princess

Like their mainstream counterparts, Jews who enter porn do not usually
do so as representatives of their religious group. Most of the
performers and pornographers are Jewish culturally but not
religiously. Many are entirely secular, Jews in name only. Sturman,
however, identified as a Jew - he was a generous donator to Jewish
charities - and performer Richard Pacheco once interviewed to be a
rabbinical student.

Nina Still Works The Adult Shows

Very few, if any, porn films have overtly Jewish themes, although
Jeremy once tried to get several Jewish porn stars together to make a
kosher porn film. The exception is Debbie Duz Dishes, in which Nina
Hartley plays a sexually insatiable Jewish housewife who enjoys sex
with anyone who rings the doorbell. It has sold very well, spawned a
couple of sequels and is currently very hard to buy - perhaps
indicating a new niche to exploit. Indeed, according to an editorial
on the World Union of Jewish Students website,

Young Girls Adulate This Trash

The young Yenta crowd from Brandeis considers it 'Womens lib'.

The Fun Of Schtupping A Shiksa

Is there a deeper reason, beyond the mere financial, as to why Jews in
particular have become involved in porn? There is surely an element of
rebellion in Jewish X-rated involvement. Its very taboo and forbidden
nature serves to make it attractive. As I written in these pages
before, treyf signifies ‘the whole world of forbidden sexuality, the
sexuality of the goyim, and there all the delights are imagined to
lie . . .’ (‘Reel Kashrut: Jewish food in film’, JQ 189 [Spring
According to one anonymous industry insider quoted by E. Michael Jones
in the magazine Culture Wars (May 2003), ‘the leading male performers
through the 1980s came from secular Jewish upbringings and the females
from Roman Catholic day schools’. The standard porn scenario became as
a result a Jewish fantasy of the Catholic shiksa.

Web Cams Anyone?

Furthermore, as Orthodox Jew and porn gossipmonger Luke Ford explains
on his website ( ‘Porn is just one expression of [the]
rebellion against standards, against the disciplined life of obedience
to Torah that marks a Jew living Judaism.’ It is also a revolt against
(often middle-class) parents who wish their children to be lawyers,
doctors and accountants. As performer Bobby Astyr put it on the same
website, ‘It’s an “up yours” to the uncles with the pinky rings who
got down on me as a kid for wanting to be musician.’

The Girls Come Out Of The Closet

As religious influences waned and were replaced by secular ones, free-
thinking Jews, especially those from California’s Bay Area, viewed sex
as a means of personal and political liberation. America provided the
freest society Jews have ever known, as manifested by the growth of
the adult industry.

The Stigma Of Bisexual Intercourse Is Gone

Those Jewish women who have sex onscreen certainly stand in sharp
contradiction to the stereotype of the ‘Jewish American Princess’.

The Feminist Movement

They (and I’m speculating here) may have seen themselves as fulfilling
the promise of liberation, emancipating themselves from what feminist
Betty Friedan in 1963 called the ‘comfortable concentration camp’ of
the household as they set out into the Promised Land of the porno sets
of Southern California. It signified their economic and social
freedom: they were free to choose to enter, rather than coerced into
it by economic and other circumstances. Once they had lain down, they
could stand on their own two feet, particularly as female performers
typically earn twice as much as their male counterparts.

Sexual Revolutionaries Or Porn Peddlers?

Extending the subversive thesis, Jewish involvement in the X-rated
industry can be seen as a proverbial two fingers to the entire WASP
establishment in America. Some porn stars viewed themselves as
frontline fighters in the spiritual battle between Christian America
and secular humanism. According to Ford, Jewish X-rated actors often
brag about their ‘joy in being anarchic, sexual gadflies to the
puritanical beast’.

Seeing Women As Sexual Toys

Jewish involvement in porn, by this argument, is the result of an
atavistic hatred of Christian authority: they are trying to weaken the
dominant culture in America by moral subversion. Astyr remembers
having ‘to run or fight for it in grammar school because I was a Jew.
It could very well be that part of my porn career is an “up yours” to
these people’. Al Goldstein, the publisher of Screw, said (on, ‘The only reason that Jews are in pornography is that
we think that Christ sucks. Catholicism sucks. We don’t believe in

The Thrill Of Shiksas

Pornography thus becomes a way of defiling Christian culture and, as
it penetrates to the very heart of the American mainstream (and is no
doubt consumed by those very same WASPs), its subversive character
becomes more charged. Porn is no longer of the ‘what the Butler saw’
voyeuristic type; instead, it is driven to new extremes of portrayal
that stretch the boundaries of the porn aesthetic. As new sexual
positions are portrayed, the desire to shock (as well as entertain)
seems clear.

Look To Freud

It is a case of the traditional revolutionary/radical drive of
immigrant Jews in America being channelled into sexual rather than
leftist politics. Just as Jews have been disproportionately
represented in radical movements over the years, so they are also
disproportionately represented in the porn industry. Jews in America
have been sexual revolutionaries. A large amount of the material on
sexual liberation was written by Jews. Those at the forefront of the
movement which forced America to adopt a more liberal view of sex were
Jewish. Jews were also at the vanguard of the sexual revolution of the
1960s. Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse and Paul Goodman replaced Marx,
Trotsky and Lenin as required revolutionary reading. Reich’s central
preoccupations were work, love and sex, while Marcuse prophesied that
a socialist utopia would free individuals to achieve sexual
satisfaction. Goodman wrote of the ‘beautiful cultural consequences’
that would follow from legalizing pornography: it would ‘ennoble all
our art’ and ‘humanize sexuality’. Pacheco was one Jewish porn star
who read Reich’s intellectual marriage of Freud and Marx

We Must Not Be Ruled By The Torah

As Rabbi Samuel H. Dresner put it (E. Michael Jones, ‘Rabbi Dresner’s
Dilemma: Torah v. Ethnos’ Culture Wars, May 2003), ‘Jewish rebellion
has broken out on several levels’, one being ‘the prominent role of
Jews as advocates to sexual experimentation’. Overall, then, porn
performers are a group of people who praise rebellion, self-fulfilment
and promiscuity.

The Thrill Of A White Woman

This brief overview and analysis of the role and motivations behind
pornographers and performers is intended to shed light on a neglected
topic in American Jewish popular culture. Little has been written
about it. Books such as Howard M. Sachar’s A History of the Jews in
America (New York: Knopf, 1992) simply ignore the topic. And you can
bet that the 350th anniversary of the arrival of the Jews in the
United States did not include any celebrations of Jewish innovation in
this field. Even the usually tolerant Time Out New York has been too
prim to deal with it, although the more iconoclastic Heeb plans an
issue on it. In light of the relatively tolerant Jewish view of sex,
why are we ashamed of the Jewish role in the porn industry? We might
not like it, but the Jewish role in this field has been significant
and it is about time it was written about seriously.

Nathan Abrams is a Lecturer in Modern American History at the
University of Aberdeen. He has just completed a book on neo-
conservatism in the United States.

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