A Hollywood Film Based on the Life of Reuben Sturman??

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.—An article in the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday noted the upcoming writing projects for Hollywood screenwriter Adam Mazer, who just won an Emmy for the Al Pacino vehicle You Don't Know Jack, about Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Following a project on car-maker John DeLorean, Mazer, a Philadelphia native, is set to pen a biopic about Reuben Sturman, the legendary porn king who built an empire from the 1960s to the late 1980s, when he was finally jailed by the feds on tax charges.

The picture is currently titled Rube, and according to HR, will be "based on the late Reuben Sturman, who in the 1950s began selling 'girlie magazines' in Ohio, imported porn from Europe and brought peep shows to America. Despite legal challenges, he became a billionaire in the 1970s but got into business with the Gotti mob in New York, ended up in jail and died penniless."

Sturman died in a federal prison in Kentucky on Oct. 27, 1997, while serving a 10-year sentence for tax evasion. Part of the reason for his serving his full sentence was because the mogul had briefly escaped from the minimum security federal prison camp in southern California where he had been held. He was quickly recaptured, but it doomed his chances for parole. His status as a First Amendment hero in the adult industry is so great that AVN named its free speech award after him.

According to many accounts of the government's persecution of Sturman starting in 1964, when the FBI made its first raid on one of his warehouses in Cleveland, anti-porn activist Bruce Taylor, who began his career as a law clerk in the Cleveland District Attorney's office and eventually one of the U.S. Department of Justice's chief obscenity prosecutors, is the man most responsible for targeting and finally getting Sturman.

According to a July 25, 1978 account by the Associated Press, Sturman and six of his employees at what was then the Sovereign News Company had just been acquitted of interstate transportation of obscene materials charges by a Cleveland, Oh. jury. The case involved 12 films and 24 magazines, but the jury had had difficulty in applying Judge William K. Thomas' 80-page jury instructions, part of which had charged the jury to consider whether the materials appealed to the average person's "prurient interest," which the judge defined as a "morbid, shameful or lewd" interest in sex.

"The major problem is that we are convinced that the average person has a normal, healthy response to sex," the panel wrote in a note to the judge at one point during the 34 hours of deliberations. "We don't believe the average person is capable of having a shameful or morbid interest in sex or excretions. Therefore, the first half of the definition of prurient interest is not relevant to the average person."

After the verdict, Sturman said that his acquittal was "a victory for average persons, who are interested only in reading what they want to read and seeing what they want to see."

But in a 2004 article in AVN on Taylor, legendary defense attorney H. Louis Sirkin said the truth about Taylor's role lies elsewhere.

"I don't believe he was directly involved in the convictions on Reuben Sturman," Sirkin said. "The one who was responsible for convicting Reuben was Craig Morford, who was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of Ohio. Bruce was not one of the prosecutors on the case."

Morford, the article states, was the prosecutor on Sturman's tax evasion case; the first time the government had managed to convict Sturman of anything. Sturman and attorney J. Michael Murray faced Taylor in a federal obscenity case in 1991, which Murray remembers well.

"What happened was, the case went to trial for almost three months, and the jury came back with a not-guilty verdict on one count, and it was a hung jury on all the other counts," Murray stated. "As I recall, the split on the jury was, there were more for acquittal than conviction, so Bruce Taylor tried that case on the other side of me and he got nothing out of it. What happened was, later on, rather than go through a retrial—and I think I negotiated this with Mary Speering, but Taylor might have been involved—at that juncture, Reuben had lost his tax case, and so we entered a plea in the obscenity case and got a concurrent sentence, which meant that he basically didn't do any punishment for that case."

Sirkin, of course, was a part of the legal team—along with Paul Cambria and Allan Gelbard—that just won an important victory against the government in Washington, D.C., in the John Stagliano/Evil Angel obscenity trial, which ended in an acquittal. And Murray is also still very much in the saddle, currently working on an appeal in the Free Speech Coalition challenge to the government's 2257 regulations.

As Mazer, who recently referred to Sturman as "a nice Jewish businessman" from Cleveland, dives into the project, apparently using Eric Schlosser's book, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, as one piece of source material, it will be interesting to see whether this biopic reflects the reality of Sturman's life, and not just the most sensational headlines. For example, it is legendary in the adult retailing community that if a store which Sturman's company supplied was busted for obscenity anywhere in the country, Sturman would not only restock the store at his own expense, but also often directed the owner to excellent legal representation, and sometimes contributed his own funds to the retailer's defense.

Considering Mazer's love of biography—he refers to himself as a "biography kind of guy"—his work may have a better than even shot at getting it right.