HBO's 'The Deuce:' The golden age of porn and how the Italian mafia made the most of it

HBO's 'The Deuce' does paints a realistic picture of Manhattan's dark past and how slowly and steadily crime families saw the opportunity to mint money.


                            HBO's 'The Deuce:' The golden age of porn and how the Italian mafia made the most of it

"Once upon a time in America, pleasure became a business."

If you look at it clutching a moral compass, porn is a disease. But to the Italian mafia in New York in the 1970s, it was money - and a gift that just kept on giving. Times Square wasn't always what it is today - glittering billboards, designer boutiques to be and people who are always in a hurry. It was unrecognizable back then- garish streets prowling with pimps where drugs ran galore and sex sold by the dozen.

 



 

Adult films were shown in selective theatres, and the mafia took control of these places. To them, it was like gambling - the law was grey around it, and those involved could never get enough of the thrill. HBO's 'The Deuce' does paint a pretty realistic picture of Manhattan's dark past and how slowly and steadily crime families saw the opportunity to mint money and eventually ended up taking over the industry.

Who were the characters of 'The Deuce' in real life?

 

James Franco as Vincent Martino in 'The Deuce' (HBO)
James Franco as Vincent Martino in 'The Deuce' (HBO)

 

It's no surprise really that the characters in the show are based on very real people. After all, that's where the juice is, especially in an industry like this. Reality is always stranger than fiction. James Franco, who plays the ambitious bartender Vincent Martino is based on an actual bartender with a twin brother who was into gambling. He also owned a bar quite like the one we see, the 'Hi-Hat'. It is actually based on the Tin Pan Alley bar, a hangout for the artists of the time. Even photographer Nan Goldin is said to have had a few there. The bar was unique because of the crowd it pulled - both gay, straight and trans folks as well as the suits and the Warhols.

 

Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy in 'The Deuce' (HBO)
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Candy in 'The Deuce' (HBO)

 

Candy, the ever-ambitious independent hooker who was the first to see beyond the fucking in porn, is based on a couple of real women. The character was a mix of porn star and director late Candida Royalle and a prostitute who was a regular at the Square. She also bartended at the Tin Pan Alley bar that was owned by the real-life inspiration for Vincent's character. Royalle is a legend in the history of female-centric porn - she made films that counteracted the typical misogynistic nature of sex films back then. Candy's determination and her vision is similar to Royalle's. Royalle passed away in 2015 at the age of 64. She had been suffering from ovarian cancer.

 

Natalie Paul as Sandra Washington in 'The Deuce' (HBO)
Natalie Paul as Sandra Washington in 'The Deuce' (HBO)

 

Remember the colored journalist whose cover gets blown because of her fancy shoes at the police station? Sandra Washington, the inquisitive character played by Natalie Paul is based on journalist and author Gail Sheehy. She was the woman who wrote about the sex trade in Times Square back in 1972, a time when business was booming. She wrote a piece called 'Hustling: Prostitution in Our Wide Open Society' in 1973 that truly lay bare the bones of the trade. In the show, you can see her "buying" the hookers' time and trying to talk to them as much as she can in between their jobs. With their "men" watching, Sandra navigates the maze of sex and dangerous men in a fantastic way.

What was porn like back then?

 



 

Porn films in the early days were called Smokers, Loops or Stag Films. They weren't elaborate - they were short and shot with on 8mm or 16mm cameras and didn't have sounds. Later on, the sounds started being recorded separately, but that's another story. At the time, they were called 'Money Shot' or 'Pop Shot,' and things happened for real. There were old studios that got revamped like the one in Corona Queens which was named Adventure Studios.  A lot of the films were made there in the 1970s, and Jerry Damiano, who is one of the legends in the adult film industry did a lot of work there. Even Henri Pachard, who was a big name at the time directed some films there. Jailbirds owned townhouses in East 20's, and they were used as locations.

'Deepthroat' and the mafia takeover

There were little theatres that showed porn like the show portrays cutting out the "indecent" bits and the mafia found the perfect footing in these shady places. The hookers also had "appointments" at these joints. The mafia dug deep and hit where it hurt - they took control over the distribution of porn movies and bam! They had a winner. But they were not happy with making a couple of bucks and just like that, 'Deepthroat' was born.

 

'Deep Throat' poster (Wiki Commons)
'Deep Throat' poster (Wiki Commons)

 

'Deep Throat' was at the forefront of the Golden Age of Porn (1969–1984). The film was written and directed by Gerard "Jerry" Damiano and was produced by Louis Peraino, credited as "Lou Perry." It starred one of the most iconic faces in porn, Linda Susan Boreman aka Linda Lovelace. The entire production cost for the film was $22,500 with an additional $25,000 for music, and this investment was provided by Peraino's father, Anthony Peraino.  The men behind this film Joseph, Anthony, and Louis Peraino made millions from the film. The three of them were from one of the most notorious crime families - the Colombo Family.

 



 

After the film made it big, the Perainos kicked Jerry out of the partnership and paid him just  $25,000 as a lump sum. The film was then distributed by a network of Mafia-connected associates of the Peraino family. 'Deep Throat' grossed $1 million in its first seven weeks of release in 1972, including a then-porn film single-screen record of $30,033 in its opening week at New York City's New World Theatre. The film made a then-record $3 million in its first six months of release and was still ranked among the top 10 highest-grossing films, as ranked by Variety, 48 weeks after its release.

Although estimates of the film's total revenues have varied widely and numbers have gone as high as $600 million (which would make 'Deep Throat' one of the highest-grossing films of all time). The brothers were pretty savvy - they invested the profits in more porn theatres in LA. Slowly and steadily they called the shots because they were already powerful - and now thanks to the success of 'Deep Throat' they had a lot of money too. Their criminal networks made it even more easy for them to deal out pornography. Piracy was also controlled, and only the mafia was allowed to pirate these films.

A still from 'The Deuce' (HBO)
A still from 'The Deuce' (HBO)

 

The mafia took control of the film labs that printed the films and showed them wherever they could put it on. They even had people watching the profits in the theatres itself making sure that the money came to them and went nowhere else. These guys, called checkers, would make sure that the film would be on only as many times as it was paid for. There were no paper trails too, so they didn't even pay taxes on the profits.  With the tatters that the New York was in at the time, reeling from the Depression, labor and talent were incredibly easy to find. Just like Lori on the show, women swarmed into the city to become stars, and they ended up struggling to make money. Porn, prostitution, stripping became their way out, and they were easy prey in the hands of the "man."

Martin 'Marty Hodas', The King of Peep

Another notable name in the takeover of the time was Marty Hodas, who eventually went on to be named 'The King of Peep'. He made his money by introducing peep show machines in the 1960s. Although peep shows had been around since forever, the only thing standing between Marty and installing a peep show machine was the fact a rule in the city's playbook that said that you could only operate a peep show if you had a movie theatre license. Hodas made a legal argument - and won. The first one of his machines was placed in  Carpel Books, an adult bookstore located at 259 W. 42nd St. which is a Chevy's Fresh Mex, today. 

 



 

He came from almost nothing - he was a poor Jewish boy from Brooklyn who was a nobody. He was, however, a risk taker. The porn industry was riddled with mob bosses, and he fought them all. Time's Square was transformed into the hub of obscene money. Newspapers in New York reported that he earned $13m a year at the height of his prosperity. He never directed movies, and he never acted in them, but he was behind the start of many careers. Porn stars like Harry Reems, Jamie Gillis, and Darby Lloyd Rains took off under his wings. His show ended in 1975 when the Feds closed in, and then Marty retired. He passed away quietly in 2014. 

The end of an era

So what made Times Square, the center point for all things porn, change? The answer is quite unexpected after you read all of this - it was the advent of technology. And a lot of deaths, of course. After the video cassette made its debut in 1979, things became different. While the studio biggies had still not realized what a massive market home videos were, the mafia was already all over it. Cost of duplication and distribution became way cheaper. It was done in industrial equipment that required $3 for a copy and $90 for packaging and shipment. These copies sold in bulk in Times Square and all over New York.

Although it was an initial high, it ultimately died down - the price of equipment went down. Hollywood stepped into the video cassette market and Times Square got its new avatar. The industrial machinery replaced the labs. And then came the last nail on the coffin - the internet. 

Watch 'The Deuce' season 2 trailer here:

 

Disclaimer : The views expressed in this article belong to the writer and are not necessarily shared by MEAWW.