||Bear Manor Media
||August 8, 2008
Co-Author: Jennifer Sugar
"John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches" is the first and definitive biography of the late adult film legend and pop culture icon.
"The tree of life represents the roots of man. The branches are the different directions a man can take, live or exist. When you're dead, those that you leave behind will put you in a part of that tree. It represents what was, what is and what will be. It's eternal." -- John Holmes
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John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches
Most people might, understandably, predict that the world’s first porn star was a woman, but they would be wrong.
John Curtis Holmes was just a simple country boy from Ohio when he moved to California in 1964. It was the infancy of hardcore, so in Holmes' wildest dreams, he could not have predicted the turbulent ride on which he had embarked by publicizing his private parts.
With the fame he achieved by playing his most famous character - a gun toting detective named Johnny Wadd - came money. Holmes was pleased to spend it on his wife and mistresses, but soon was in over his head after he became addicted to cocaine. Unfortunately for Holmes, in the years that followed, his addiction led him into several desperate choices - including setting up a robbery at the home of Ed Nash, a powerful L.A. nightclub owner. The robbery resulted in one of the most gruesome, unsolved, multiple-murders in Hollywood history. Amazingly, before his untimely death in 1988, Holmes regained his momentum, remarried and rebuilt his life and career. However, the grave consequences of his addiction, his association with the Wonderland murders, and his AIDS-related death made him an infamous figure in pop culture.
Digging past the stigmas, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches - the first biography about John C. Holmes - unearths the human being behind the penis and proves that there was more to him than could be measured in inches. This biography includes material from the authors' new interviews with: Laurie Holmes, Bill Amerson, Bob Chinn, Julia St. Vincent, Detective Tom Lange, Detective Frank Tomlinson, Paul Thomas, Ron Jeremy, Seka, Marilyn Chambers, Candida Royalle, Rhonda Jo Petty, Dr. Sharon Mitchell, Bill Margold, and many others! John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches also includes: 114 reviews of John's most notable feature films, 86 loops synopses, 3 photos sections with rare nudes, and a comprehensive filmography.
"John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches is to porn what the bible is to religion." SKUNK Magazine
"This is undoubtedly the best porn bio ever written, and will set standards, were there any standards to be set in porn." Dick Freeman, Adult film critic and Co-Chairman of the XRCO.
The first biography of John Curtis Holmes, The King of Porn!
Excerpt from Chapter One:
Before Johnny Wadd - Ohio, Nuremburg and Los Angeles:
John's mother, Mary Holmes, gave birth to John Curtis Estes on the kitchen table of her parents' country home in Pickaway County, Ohio, on Tuesday, August 8th, 1944. Mary and her husband, Edward Holmes, were separated on numerous occasions throughout their marriage and John never knew his biological father, Carl Estes, a railroad worker. Edward, a carpenter, was the father of John's older siblings, Dale, Eddie and Anne. In order to help smooth over her indiscretion while the couple tried to reconcile following John's birth, Mary changed John's surname to Holmes.
Besides John's first wife, Sharon, John also revealed secrets about his childhood to his widow, Laurie Holmes, with whom he shared the last five years of his life.
Laurie Holmes: John was to porn what Elvis was to rock and roll. He was also a novelty. I've heard Ron Jeremy claim that he's the Porn King and I used with work with Ron Jeremy a whole lot, before I even met John. Ron couldn't hold a candle to John.
John was a star without ever being an actor. He was a star right from the time that he was a little, tiny baby. He grew up after the time of the Depression and he had a manic-depressive stepfather. He was abused, but even through the toughest times, he could make that family laugh at the dinner table with just a smile or a look.
John was a very mysterious person. He was a very private person and drugs were his downfall, and yet, he did recover, but he spun his life around sex and relationships. It was like he was in the middle of this big sex web, that could span a million different directions and he could be a different person. Because he did have the stardom -- people were fascinated with him -- they thought they knew him. There were different factors to John, but at heart, he was really a very private person.
John wasn't really a Holmes, but it was a secret that he didn't know until a couple of years before he would die. The father, Edward Holmes, from whom Mary was estranged, used that over her and theatened to tell John. It's kind of complicated, but he actually didn't know that he wasn't a Holmes until a couple of years before he died, when he went to Italy and had to get a new birth certificate. They sent him the original and he was like, "Whoa, what's this?"
He tried to make his mom feel good. He brought it up to her. He was like, "Mom, I've known for years." He really didn't, but he wanted to make her feel good. It was very sweet.
Sharon Holmesh: John was the fourth child. He grew up in rural farm country in Ohio. [Edward Holmes] was an alcoholic and John could only tell me he remembered arguments and yelling, his father falling across beds and vomiting all over the kids. I think John looked upon him as being the cause of all of the things that happened to the family. John wouldn't touch alcohol until he was well into the porn business, because of thoughts of his father.
Excerpt from Chapter 3:
John Holmes, Johnny Wadd - The Johnny Wadd Series: 1970-1978:
The Original, Johnny Wadd
At 25 or 26 years old, John looked very young in Johnny Wadd, which starred his real-life mistress, Sandy Dempsey. Suddenly, the porno genre had an identifiable anti-hero in Johnny Wadd – a lanky, lounge lizard, with curly hair (sometimes slicked back), a thin moustache and a three-piece suit – who fought crime as a sideline to seducing the countless women who crossed his path. Having no formal acting training, Holmes as Wadd exuded a friendly natural presence, with a gentle brand of finesse.
Joel Sussman: What set him apart from other people was he could actually act a little bit, and he was someone you could kind of like. He does some funny stuff in his films.
Bob Chinn: First of all, in those days there was nobody who could act and nobody who could carry it off. We did it as a sort of a spoof-type thing. I figured if I could pull it off, I’d pull it off with him.
You could put a script in front of him – you could write something on the set and put it in front of him. He’d look at it; he’d read it and take it in. Have it memorized.
He’d try to [adlib]. If he tried it and it wasn’t grammatically correct, sometimes I left it. I thought, well, it sort of works; it works better than what I wrote. If it works better than what I wrote, I kept it. Certainly, if an actor thinks that they have an idea, I always let them do it. I say, “Do it my way and I’ll do it your way, and we’ll see what works.”
In spite of his average, unassuming looks, Holmes as Wadd believably lured one lady after another into falling under his persuasive powers. In a blink of his bright blue eyes, he was transformed from a man on the street into The King of Enticement. Part of the appeal of his Johnny Wadd character was the fact that he was not a cardboard cut-out.
Bob Chinn: You look at people like Clint Eastwood, you look at people like John Wayne and you look at people that can just sort of come across. I think John [Holmes] was a couple of things. Men didn’t see him as a threat. Even though he had a huge cock, they didn’t see him as a threat because he seemed like a goofy, ordinary guy. He wasn’t that good-looking, for one thing. He was skinny. For some reason, men didn’t see him as a threat, so he was popular. He became a star. I don’t know how women see him – how do women see him?
It was good that once I could get his attention and tell him what we had to do, he could do it right away. I think he would do it so that he could do something else later. He’d usually get it done on the first take, but if I required other takes because somebody else was not good, he would do it and he wouldn’t get pissed off like some of those prima donnas do now.
If I told him to jump from building to building, he’d do it, just to prove he could.
John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches - by Robert Cettl a widerscreenings.com
John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches is the first book by authors Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson and is a work of considerable scope, ambition and importance in its chosen field. Indeed Sugar and Nelson have taken a subject inherently problematic – the history and scholarship of the adult film – and rendered it lucidly accessible to all, whether fans of adult material or not and whether male or female.
Sugar and Nelson have researched their subject considerably and it is evident on every page – John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches is the distinctive Holmes biography, sorting through Holmes’ tendency to fabricate the truth in his own accounts of his life with actual biographical fact and first-hand accounts of the man and his life presented uncut in the actual words of those who knew and interacted with him – from Sharon Holmes (the wife he kept secret to his adult industry business partners) to Bob Chinn (the Chinese-American UCLA graduate turned pornographer who in tandem with Holmes would birth West Coast US porn in the Johnny Wadd series of films, meticulously described in the comprehensive filmography which closes this remarkable book).
Nelson and Sugar arrange their book chronologically in the manner of a traditional biography but with unedited interview extracts punctuating the factual account to give a portrayal of both Holmes the man himself, his developing legend and the way in which he was seen, considered and judged by those who knew him best. This demythologizing journey through the life of porndom’s most famous male star (with apologies to Ron “the Hedgehog” Jeremy it is Holmes who will be forever known as “the King”) begins with Holmes’ troubled childhood (he was neglected and brutalized). Here, authors Nelson and Sugar devote just enough time and targeted interview extracts to suggest the psychological pressures – including the need for attention – which would shape the adult Holmes’ dealings with and attitude to women. However, the authors do not attempt a full psycho-analytical portrait of Holmes – their intent is fact-based oral history and they present both the necessary information and a variety of first-hand accounts to enable the reader to assess the behavioural factors that shaped the humanity of porn’s biggest (literally in terms of penis size – how big was it?) icon.
Holmes’ early relationships, friendships and business contracts soon segue into an account of his life with wife Sharon Holmes (a frequent contributor to the extracted interview material) and his developing working relationship with Bob Chinn. Indeed, Nelson & Sugar have here done the astonishing (and even taboo) thing – interviewing a pornographer and rendering his perspective with both the authority and intelligence it deserves. What emerges is a fully detailed account of the birth of the porn industry, the methods, distribution and business structure of the industry and Holmes’ relationship to it. Importantly, this exploration of the industry that he helped popularize and establish is balanced with the continuing and evolving biographical account of Holmes as a person. Thus, the book frankly describes his relationships with his co-workers, with his wife (whom he tried to keep as separate from his work as possible) and his relationships with younger women – from Dawn Schiller through to Laurie Holmes in the latter stages of his life. Contributions from such adult industry veterans as Candida Royalle, Bill Margold, reporter Jim Holliday and Paul Thomas coalesce for a distinctive picture of the man, fully representative of the adult industry that grew up around him. As such, John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches is both a biography and a valid social document exploring an epoch which has never gotten its full attention due to the hypocritical moral quagmire that still surrounds any objective account of the adult film industry and the people who live it.
Continuing through his porno movie career Nelson and Sugar next chronicle Holmes’ increasing drug use and the toll – physical and emotional – that it took on him. The authors make no attempt to glamorize this drug use but nor do they condemn it on either legal or moral grounds. Indeed, as a work shorn of moralistic judgment, John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches is exemplary, transgressive even. But the reality of drug use in the 1970s is covered and the disastrous effect on Holmes’ personality (turning a gentle lover into a violent pimp) is commented upon by – most importantly – the women in his life directly affected by his behaviour. Yet, in this too Holmes emerges as something of an enigma: as a Godfather to his friend Bill Amerson’s children Holmes was incredibly protective and as devoted as if he were their father yet was quite prepared to pimp out his girlfriend when the need for drugs arose. This humanist moral relativism distinguishes Holmes’ life making it impossible to judge him in terms of moral absolutism – his life and the industry he helped establish remain unaccountable to absolutist good or bad judgement. There is no good and evil here, just humanity – which is not to say that Holmes was not spiritual: as one astonishing revelation contained in the book explores, Holmes indeed developed a special relationship with a Christian police officer with whom Holmes jointly prayed and refused to let be cross-examined by his defense attorney when he was on trial for murder / conspiracy.
Rounding out the book’s chronological development are Holmes’ fugitive from justice period and his re-entry (so to speak) into the adult industry, through to the facts surrounding his death from AIDS after knowingly having sex on film when HIV positive and risking infecting his partners (who included Italian porn star later turned politician Cicciolina). Speculation abounds as to where and when Holmes contracted the fatal disease (linked to his one appearance in a gay film) but Nelson and Sugar balance this with a clever look at how the adult industry in general responded to the AIDS crisis (thanks in no small part to Sharon Mitchell) as much as an account of the disease’s toll on Holmes. Significantly, the book does not shy away from the debate surrounding Holmes’ decision to continue working (revealed in the book) even at the risk of infecting his on-screen sexual partners. To many, this point alone is enough to demonize and dismiss Holmes forever as a mere immoral “lowlife”: however, Sugar and Nelson clearly explain Holmes’ reasoning and, again without judgment, explain and account for the situation (again through expertly juxtaposed interview testimony) so as to if not excuse Holmes’ actions then at least explain them within the biographical account of his life.
Nelson and Sugar are the first biographers / oral historians to compile a work shorn of the (either Patriarchal Christian or radical feminist) morality which automatically discredits any and all adult film as “pornography”. In stripping away any accountability to the imposed morality of those who demonize pornography and its participants what emerges is, as the book slowly segues from the vice squad anti-porn activities to the Wonderland investigation, a simultaneous exploration of the moral hypocrisy of those American authorities who have traditionally demonized pornography and sought to have it deemed illegal and suppressed as a form of either fantasy or generic discourse, both of which it inherently is. The ramifications of the investigation into Holmes’ possible involvement in murder (or conspiracy to commit murder) reveal a cross-section of legal implications ranging from sloppy investigation to – in the decision to hold Holmes in contempt of court when he refused to testify (for fear of his life) against Eddie Nash for involvement in the Wonderland murders – the outright violation of both the US constitution and essential human rights guaranteed by the UN (to which the US Constitution is accountable). In this, John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches carries the broader frame of moral hypocrisy towards the suppression of the adult industry so well documented in The Other Hollywood and re-locates it from the macrocosm of the porn genre in total to the microcosm by focusing specifically on Holmes.
As mentioned at the outset, John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches is the debut work for authors Sugar and Nelson. It is a responsible balance of objective historical scholarship, biography and oral history which not only demystifies the adult industry and the legend surrounding Holmes but raises ethical and moral questions regarding American culture’s legal and moral treatment of pornography as a genre. Although Nelson and Sugar keep their own voices and insight constrained to historical and journalistic accountability, they speak with an authority that should bode them well for subsequent books should they continue to explore adult industry related material. In that, the filmography that rounds out this book (feature films, loops, compilations) is astonishing for the research involved, the detail and – most interestingly – a film by film account of Holmes’ career from the perspective of two talented, intelligent women able to see through the smoke of anti-porn feminism to acknowledge the genre’s appeal for both men and women. The filmography alone, with synopsis, critical comment and credits, is enough to make John Holmes: a Life Measured in Inches the definitive Holmes biography and encyclopaedic Holmes reference book. The back cover to the book boasts a review from critic Dick Freeman who describes the book as “undoubtedly the best porn bio ever written, and will set standards”. This is one case where the book well and truly does live up to the hype: outstanding by any measure of the term.
Holmes Biography - Also Measured in Inches - by Gram Ponante @ gramponante.com
John Holmes single-schlongedly embodied the American narrative of success, downfall, and redemption in its porn context, which means something different from any other context. And his story as told in a new book by Jennifer Sugar and Jill Nelson, John Holmes, a Life Measured in Inches, unfolds that story as comprehensibly as possible.
I say "as possible" because Holmes seemed pathologically incapable of telling the same story to everyone. And it wasn't just bullshit and bravado - he would add and drop entire skill sets depending on the group he was with. Even though he worked under his own name, Holmes' best friends didn't know who he was. It wasn't until his death in 1988, for example, that most of the porn community found out that Holmes had been married for the entirety of his adult career.
Not only that, but prior to the drugs, that marriage to Sharon Holmes had been sexless but happy.
If any single figure in the adult industry past or present deserves a book, it is John Holmes. Then Larry Flynt. Maybe Nina Hartley, but is a story really interesting if someone just keeps getting better?
Holmes' success roughly parallels the so-called Golden Age of Porn, in which the money was piled as high as the cocaine and "porno chic," a term that arose from the fame of Deep Throat, made legitimate celebrities of performers long before anyone bothered creating a Jenna Jameson Crossover Star of the Year Award. Holmes was a boner-fide star.
And he was complex. While his wife of 19 years, Sharon, said Holmes could hardly boil water and wouldn't approach the kitchen, friends in the adult industry remember Holmes cooking feasts (director Roy Karch, who was the production manager for 1979's Dracula Sucks, starring Holmes, Jamie Gillis, Serena, and Paul Thomas, told me that one late night during the weeklong shoot he walked into the kitchen of the Palmdale-area castle to find Holmes, cooking stew for 50 people for the next day.)
Not only that, but Holmes was also a cop magnet. Years before his use of drugs sidelined his career and landed him at the scene of 1981's Wonderland Murders, Holmes was an informant for the L.A.P.D.'s anti-porn unit, escaping jail time by providing info on other porn sets.
But drugs were Holmes' downfall, inasmuch as it was he who chose to take them. According to the book, this casual Scotch drinker and pot smoker devolved quickly into a basehead, stealing from fellow performers, ripping off luggage from the airport, and breaking into cars to steal for his habit.
All the while Holmes could be a loving boyfriend to various women (who knew nothing of each other) and a father-figure to the children of Bill Amerson, a longtime producer and his partner in Penguin Video.
Inches provides an extended study of Holmes' involvement in the robbery of club-owner and drug dealer Ed Nash and the murders of the Wonderland Gang two days later, as well as Holmes's imprisonment for contempt, flight across the country, and his eventual, if reluctant, exoneration.
But it is the aftermath of Holmes' release from jail in 1982, up to the point when he contracted AIDS around 1986, that I found fascinating. Because it was in this time that he seemed to make the best use of this window for redemption. Accepting a divorce from Sharon (she had had enough, finally) and dumped by longtime girlfriend Dawn Schiller (she had had enough, finally), Holmes began a strong relationship with Misty Dawn on the set of his comeback movie. He eventually married her and she became Laurie Holmes.
But it all slid backward when he contracted AIDS, perhaps from a gay actor in a big-budget gay-for-pay movie. Knowing he had the disease, Holmes hit the drugs as hard as he could. He also knowingly worked with other performers during this time, including the Italian actress (and future member of the Italian parliament) Cicciolina. It is believed that Holmes did not pass on the disease to anyone else.
Inches is an oral and text history, meaning that Sugar and Nelson pored over existing interviews and added dozens of their own, quoting dozens of subjects in full paragraphs.
I learned many things about Holmes and the history of the adult industry from this book. As Sugar says, the differing viewpoints let the reader come to his own conclusions about Holmes' life.
My only complaint about the book is that the authors sometimes let their interviewees ramble past the point of usefulness and relevance, and the oral history aspect sometimes means that key events in Holmes' life get presented more casually than one might expect. I don't always want to have to come to my own conclusions.
Like Holmes himself, Inches is a massive and compelling book. Just don't drop it on your feet.
A New Biography of the Top Gun in the Porno Industry - by Ben Castanier @ Mittenlit Book Blog
This past week the two authors of a new biography on John C. Holmes did a book signing and discussion in Lansing. It was their first mainstream appearance. Here’s a look at this controversial new book.
Pornography, drugs, and murder; who wouldn’t want to read a biography that is absolutely saturated in sex, cocaine, and a mass murder? From Mark Wahlberg’s portrayal as Dirk Diggler, a physically talented but drug addled porn-star in “Boogie Nights,” to Val Kilmer’s graphic yet stunningly vivid and accurate characterization in “Wonderland” John C. Holmes legend has grown in proportion to his legendary appendage.
In “John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches,” authors Jennifer Sugar of Michigan and Jill C. Nelson of Canada provide the first and more than likely the most detailed biography ever of porn superstar John Curtis Estes, aka John C. Holmes, aka Johnny Wadd.
In a book that utilizes years of research including hundreds of hours of interviews with friends, family, co-stars, police officers (essentially those who knew Holmes at his most intimate moments), John C. Holmes’ life before, during and after porn is described and chronicled with painfully hard memories.
These two first-time authors (one actually went to a filming of a XXX movie to interview a director who was extremely close to Holmes during his extended run in the pornography game) put together a 582 page biography that reads like a college textbook on speed with a side of steroids. In addition, to pages upon pages that recount a fascinating life that coincided with the criminalization and then legitimization of pornography, Jennifer Sugar and Jill Nelson provide the reader with hundreds of synopsis’ of Holmes’ films including little-known reels from the earliest days of pornography that conclude with brazenly poignant reviews such as “…John gets the girls prepped for a shared facial—a personal memento from Mr. Big.”
"John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches,” is a narrative similar to other star biographies with one major exception; the pages and pages of quotes and personal accounts of nearly every major figure in John’s life. Instead of unverified accounts given by outsiders with no obvious connection to Holmes, these authors included the personal accounts of many of his peers which allow readers an inside view into Johnny Wadd’s troubled life.
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