10 True Porn Stories and Details We Hope Show Up On ‘The Deuce’


The Wire alums David Simon and George Pelecanos’s new series The Deuce premieres Sunday night on HBO, and the short review is it’s straight-up terrific, a nuanced, engaging, character-based drama that is, oh yes, set during the birth of the New York City porn scene. You’ll hear plenty more about the show in the weeks to come; your film editor will be sunlighting (you’ll learn what that means) as a TV recapper for its eight-week run. But one thing that’s important to know going in is that it’s fictionalized – but its characters are based on real people, and its situations are drawn from the history of sex work and adult film in the Times Square district, circa 1971. And if we’ve learned one thing from Mr. Simon’s previous work, it’s that he’s all about the research. So we took a fresh look at the invaluable oral history of adult cinema, The Other Hollywood, by Please Kill Me author Legs McNeil, Jennifer Osborne, and Peter Pavia (buy it here, trust me, worth it) to find some of the true stories and details that may show up in episodes – and, hopefully, seasons – to come.

The mob bankrolled it – from several angles.

Early in The Deuce’s first season, we meet the character of Rudy Pipilo (played by The Sopranos’ Michael Rispoli), a mobbed-up businessman who puts protagonist Vincent Martino (James Franco) to work. Though their transactions are initially confined to bars and construction sites, it’s easy to see how he’ll end up an investor in erotica; New York organized crime families had several thumbs in the porn pie. In fact, as FBI Special Agent Roger Young explains in The Other Hollywood, early porn entrepreneur Reuben Sturman “would sell the actual peep show booth through Automated Vending, but he still maintained a percentage of showing the film in the booth. He had another company, called Diversified, that did the distribution of the videotapes for the people who bought the booths. And the collection of the quarters was done by another company.”

Porn was very profitable. Like, comically profitable.

The Peraino crime family put up the (tiny) budget for Gerard Damiano’s 1972 feature Deep Throat, the film that made porno “chic,” playing in real movie theaters to sophisticated audiences, and making money hand over fist. As FBI special agent Bill Kelley told McNeil et al., “After Deep Throat was released, I had an informant in the Perainos’ office in Wilton Manors, Florida—in their lawyer’s office—and he calls me and says, ‘You are not gonna believe this, Kelly. We got so much damn money in the main office up here, we can’t move around. The money is getting in the way. We got it in garbage bags stacked up in here. We don’t even count it anymore.’

“I said to my informant, ‘What do you mean, you don’t count it? What do you do with it?’

“He said, ‘We weigh it.’”

Unsurprisingly, they took their money very seriously.

An FBI wiretap once caught mob accountant Chuck Bernstene explaining the collection methods of this unorthodox group of film “distributors”: “The money was coming in like, you have no idea—we used to walk out with stacks, you know, from the theaters. Maybe some weeks it was a hundred and fifty thousand—but we’d have to take fifteen G’s off the top to pay the checkers—but I was getting like a G-note a week.”

FBI man Kelly adds more, um, colorful details. “The checker would go up to the owner of the theater and say, ‘Five grand now, or else,’” he recalls. “The owners of the theater would say, ‘What do you mean, or else?’ The checker would say, ‘You don’t pay me, you’ll find out what else.’ I remember about maybe four ‘or else’s.’ A couple of them only had to do with the Perainos sending somebody out to take the film off the projector and giving it to a competitor across town—or burning down the theater.”

Theater owners weren’t the only ones who felt the pinch. According to a 1975 New York Times article detailing mob involvement in porn, Deep Throat director Damiano was an equal partner in the production company behind that film – with mob figure Louis Peraino. “When the film was released and began to make money, Louis (Butchie) Peraino bought out the interests of Gerard Damiano for $25,000. When a reporter remarked to Mr. Damiano that he seemed to have received unfavorable terms in the deal, Mr. Damiano replied, ‘I can’t talk about it.’ When the reporter persisted, Mr. Damiano said, ‘You want me to get both my legs broken?’”



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