Ronnie & Me

1434

Random reflections on hanging out, directing and even attempting to eat meals with the most talented Hedgehog to ever call LA home: Ron Jeremy

By Mark Cromer

I still remember the very first time I met Ron Jeremy, though it was just a fairly brief encounter amid a crush of people inside a Los Angeles rock club almost three decades ago.

It was in the fall of 1988, shortly after I had met William Margold and started dropping by his old place on Delongpre Avenue, just south of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. I was researching the porn industry for a series of articles I planned to publish in my new college publication, Low Magazine, and a pilot I knew suggested I meet with Margold, since he was a legend of sorts in the business.

Margold was—and remains—a self-styled industry sage who jumped into porn in the late 1960s just as the genre was emerging in fits and starts as a valid artistic expression of the Sexual Revolution, but still many years before it became legal in LA. Well before Deep Throat detonated in the sexual psyche of America, the grind of ‘smoker’ flicks were making their way into clandestine screening rooms across the country.

It was an era, Margold can recount with a twinkle in his eye, when filmmakers were making X-rated movies with all the aplomb of pirates on a celluloid sea, back when sex on film was as much a political statement as it was an appeal to our collective prurient interest. Porn was a celebration. Andrea Dworkin be damned, it was an era that defined porn as liberation.

It may sound absurd now, given the über-harsh texture much of commercial porn has long since taken on, but there was a brief, shining moment when X-rated films were a vibrant symbol of freedom, empowerment and discovery. Porn was a logical extension of the Weather Underground’s ‘Smash Monogamy!’ campaign.

Formerly relegated to the underbelly of square America, porn became the deliriously subversive high-art of the counter-culture and as such it was very dangerous to the established order that had been chiseled into society primarily by hypocritical old men perpetuating religious dogma and sectarian power lines.

It was against this backdrop that Margold jumped in, if for nothing other than the fun of joining a revolution, and he never left. To this day, he is perhaps the last real buccaneer of porn’s Golden Era.

So one night in the fall of 1988 Margold invited me over to Gazzarri’s on the Strip, the epic rock club where bands ranging from The Doors and The Byrds to Alice Cooper and Van Halen once held court. It was a party of sorts that had porn players cavorting with the heavy metal, hair-spray crowd and various Hollywood scene-makers who dropped in for a look.

I remember going upstairs with Margold and being introduced to the old man Bill Gazzarri, whose sagging, stoic face was a caricature of a droopy-eyed mobster. He was surrounded by buxom bikini models and seemed to move only with great effort.

And there was Ron Jeremy, making the scene a la Rodney Bingenheimer.

It was strange seeing him there in front of me, the jovial everyman I had come of age watching bed a smorgasbord of women. In 1982 I was teenager slumped down in my seat in a movie house, watching films like Bad Girls and Wanda Whips Wall Street, movies that featured a more svelte Jeremy getting it on with real women; gorgeous libertines with natural breasts, wide hips, soft curves and pubic hair. The generations that have followed will never fully grasp the epic nature of watching porn in a movie theater, where genitalia appeared like the Oribi Gorge, the Grand Teton and NASA rockets all clashing in spectacular Technicolor.

wanda-whips-wall-street-poster
Jeremy is in the classic movie but wasn’t credited on the film’s theatrical release poster.

So it was a trip to see, six years and God knows how many films later, Jeremy standing in front of me.

I seem to recall he was doing some of his stand-up shtick and generally being a jovial gagster who was looking to score with any of the women around. Considering he was somewhat a porn icon then and was probably 75-pounds slimmer, this was not out of the question. I remember thinking that since John Holmes had just died earlier that spring, Jeremy was likely to inherit the mantle as the most famous male porn star.

Move over Johnny Wadd, here comes the Hedgehog.

Tthroughout the close of the 1980s and into the 1990s, I ran into Jeremy on a variety of occasions as I covered the porn scene for various publications and started talking with him about an increasingly broad range of subjects, discovering that Ronnie doesn’t just love to talk about everything and anything—from Gorbachev and glasnost to facial money shots and the problem with Republicans—but he actually can. If you asked Jeremy what he thought about the Mongolian horse races across the vast steppe, he’d would hold forth on the subject and possibly even seamlessly tie it back into the stripper he fucked just two nights earlier (who looked a little Mongolian…).

I remember one night I had stepped outside of the Roxy or the Rainbow and Jeremy spotted me and walked over to say that he was going to a party at Buck Adams pad and suggested I swing by. Adams was the brother of porn sensation Amber Lynn, who rivaled Charlie Sheen’s honey Ginger Lynn for a spell in the 1980s, and he was throwing some sort of after-hours bash.

He gave me directions and I decided to drive over just to see what was happening.

mark-ron-1
With Jeremy at a late 1980s LA shindig, the era when porn had melded with the local rock scene.

I had just parked and got out of my car when Jeremy pulled up in a battered Ford Fiesta that he apparently was renting. In the car with him were two chicks and Guns n’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan. As we rode the elevator up I remember that Jeremy kept playing with nipples of the Asian girl who was with him, a porn star who went by the name Leilani.

“Look at these nipples, Cromer!” Jeremy exclaimed. “They’re like extra-large pencil erasers or something. They’re amazing.”

I remember thinking what actually was amazing was just how bored she seemed with it all. She didn’t seem to even be paying attention to what Jeremy was doing, but rather was counting the floors the elevator passed.

Several years later, while working a daily newspaper beat, I was at my desk in the newsroom when I read a wire report that Leilani had been found dead in a crawl space behind a wall in her apartment. According to later reports, she suffered from a psychological disorder that prompted her to ‘hide’ when she suffered an episode. She apparently had a relapse and wormed her way into the wall, where she became stuck, suffered a seizure and either suffocated or had a heart attack.

A few years later, around the mid-1990s, I found myself in a Los Angeles mansion, taking notes for the LA Weekly on John Wayne Bobbitt’s entry into the world of dominance and submission videos. Bobbitt had already jumped into hardcore porn with video fare like Frankenpenis and was trying to extend the life of his short by agreeing to be paddled and whipped in a Kim Wylde and Duck Dumont production.

mark-ron-2
Interviewing a narcoleptic Jeremy sometime in the mid-1990s.

This was the advent of ‘scandal porn,’ when sex flicks became a momentary career option for tabloid figures who wanted to cash in on their infamy or misfortune. Tonya Harding, Bobbitt and Devine Brown were in the vanguard. Actress Margot Kidder, who had suffered drug and mental health issues following her rise to stardom in the Superman franchise and The Amityville Horror, took a pass at the quick buck (to her credit) producers would eventually dangle in front of her.

I spent much of my time on the Bobbitt set cooling my heels and waiting for Dumont to convince John Wayne that the striking Hungarian dominatrix—who looked like something out of Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS!—wasn’t really going to pick up where his ex-wife Lorena had left off.

I milled around downstairs, sizing up the crew and hangers-on. The skater-slacker Puck from MTV was there, for what particular purpose I am not certain, as was a diminutive blonde housewife who would go on to become a porn star by the name Tabitha Stevens. And so was Jeremy.

I’m not sure what Ron was doing there. I don’t recall that he had a particular scene that day, but in classic Jeremy fashion he drifted aimlessly around the set, picking at whatever food was laying out and then sitting down at a piano and offering up some surprisingly accomplished classical runs along the ivory.

A short while later, he sat down in a rocking chair and, in the middle of a conversation, nodded off. As he snored, Puck delighted in trying to place baby carrots into Jeremy’s mouth.

As the years rolled by after the Bobbitt shoot, I would run into Ronnie at various parties and productions, watching him demolish a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken here, wiping out a plate of calamari there, always with a smile on his face and a good word about whoever was around at the time. One of the most fundamental aspects to Jeremy that I think most people who know him would agree with is that he is simply a really nice guy in a very honest way.

He’s not a Hollywood phony who strains to make empty pleasantries. There is a very genuine and sincere aspect to Ron that is pretty amazing, considering the corrosive effect that porn has on many people in the industry. Sharon Mitchell and Bill Margold are probably the only two other people I know in the business who seem, to me, to be genuinely good souls who actually care about the people around them—something that’s reflected in their respective work to support the industry’s performers.

By 1998 I was an executive editor at Larry Flynt Publications, Inc., in Beverly Hills, having sold Flynt an editorial concept called Jail Babes, a multiplatform vehicle that blended print, digital and video and was the genesis of Hustler Video. And thus a decade after I had first met Jeremy, I found myself hunkered down in a decrepit Pomona trailer park in the ramshackle rolling abode of an aging street whore named ‘Shadow.’ Jeremy was scheduled to have sex with her for the series inaugural video.

We had just come from a classic Pomona eatery called, appropriately enough, ‘Dick’s Place,’ where I again watched Jeremy feed like a famished Great White plowing into a pack of Elephant Seals. He was fueling up for the show.

The cameraman that night and he did an admirable job under the circumstances: close quarter shooting as a rotund Ronnie got down to business with a working girl fresh off the corner—Jeremy used a condom and she had been tested for HIV in case you were wondering if we had sent the Hedgehog on a potential suicide mission.

Despite the grim trench work, Jeremy never lost his sense of humor. When I asked him mid-scene what he was thinking about as he was performing cunninglingus on her, without missing a beat Jeremy turned to the camera and replied: “the tuna sandwich I had back at the restaurant.”

mark-ron-3
Beer, Doritos and Ronnie. From an afternoon in the Abbot Kinney neighborhood of Venice, circa 2002.

I doubt he was kidding. But considering his partner, can you blame him?

Jeremy is a utility-player and on that night he again demonstrated why he remains a go-to guy in the business despite his celebrity and perpetually increasing girth and perennial body hair. In a business now dependent on Viagra for much of its wood, Jeremy can conjure forth an erection with all the ease of an Indian snake charmer.

And on that night, as preserved for eternity on video, Jeremy demonstrated a Zen-like mastery of the one-thing most men have little if any control over after the first five minutes. He came on cue. Not just a “we’re ready whenever you are Ronnie” money shot, but rather Jeremy had Shadow actually count down to his climax, like a lift-off at Cape Canaveral. Five, four, three, two, one…blast off.

After it was all over the crew and Jeremy headed back to my house, where I offered a boozy post-shoot homage to Ron for the camera, one that placed Jeremy in the cultural pantheon of Robert Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. The only thing more ravenous than Jeremy’s appetite is his hunger for acceptance and adoration. The well-meaning but mild-absurdity of my toast aside, Ronnie soaked it up and offered something akin to an acceptance speech after I was done.

But the funniest moment was to come in the wee hours of the following morning, when Jeremy began frantically calling my house and barking over my answering machine until I finally picked up.

“Cromer! It’s Jeremy. Oh shit man, I’ve lost my book! I can’t find my book! I think I left it in that whore’s trailer,” he said. “If it’s gone, I’m dead. I am dead in the water without it.”

Central to Jeremy’s existence is ‘The Book,’ which essentially is his oversize day-planner that he has transcribed into virtually every work-related number he’s ever needed: directors, producers, performers, lawyers and plenty of rock stars (think Gene Simmons) and Hollywood power-players. The pages are falling out and much of it appears to be a scrawl of incomprehensible hieroglyphics and Jeremy Code, but he carries it around as methodically as Linus totes his blanket.

Somehow, he had left it in Shadow’s trailer at the Valley Estates Mobil Home Park in South Pomona. All things considered, it was not a great place to leave something you hoped to see again.

“Where are you?” I asked.

“In LA, but I am heading back out to Pomona right now. I have to find my book,” he said. “I am so dead if I lost it.”

“Ron, you may as well wait and drive out later today, say around 10. She’s probably still on the clock working Holt Avenue, in which case you’re wasting your time,” I said. “If she actually deciphers some of the names in that book and realizes those are their home numbers, you can forget it. She’s already sold it.”

“Awwwwww God, thanks for making me feel better,” Jeremy said. “I have never lost my book before. How could this have happened?”

“I think it was the tuna sandwich.”

“Thanks Cromer, you’re a pal.” Click.

Jeremy did indeed rally back to Pomona and over to Shadow’s crumbling Methadone palace, where lo and behold he was able to retrieve his book. As far as I know, he has never misplaced it again.

My memories of Ron Jeremy are punctuated with strange little moments like that, great off-kilter episodes that border on the mundane, except it’s Ron Jeremy. A Ralph Kramden packing 10-inches and a penchant for calling the money shot: “One of these days, Alice! Pow! Straight to the moon!”

Still, decades after I first met the guy, I must admit that I consider Ron Jeremy to be one of the most fascinating, witty, fun and generally good-natured people I have ever hung out with. I would rank the interviews I have done with Jeremy alongside those I did with Senator George McGovern, Cesar Chavez, Pat Buchanan, Senator Diane Feinstein and Timothy Leary, to name a few. With the exception of McGovern, Jeremy was far more unflinchingly candid than any of them, regardless of how it may have made him look.

mark-ron-4
Late 2001, taken on the patio at Cat & Fiddle on Sunset Boulevard, along with my old pal and crew member Matt Marler.

Then again, they didn’t star in Bad Mama Jama Busts Out! and Jeremy did, so perhaps he can afford to be more open.

All in all, my life is more complete having been able to watch Ron Jeremy over lunch at a table on the patio at Cat & Fiddle, and eat something off everyone’s respective plate before they were able to touch their own meal. Of all the video we shot of Ron, that’s one moment I wish had on tape. His own heap of crab legs safely in front of him, Jeremy launched successive raids on four other plates in a matter of seconds, moving clockwise around the table with a wink and a grin and an ‘Oh, that looks good, mind if I have a bite?’

Yes, Ron, you can.

Hey, he’s Ron Jeremy. The guy’s earned it.

[Author’s note: I originally wrote this over a decade ago, but with Jeremy back in the news over a traffic mishap in Beverly Hills last week, it seemed like a good time to post it here.]