An Interview With Harry Reems

TORONTOCanada-based author and artist Denise LaFrance submitted the following interview to AVN that she conducted with Harry Reems in 2006, along with the pictured watercolor portrait she painted of him for inclusion in her still-in-the-works book The Golden Heart & Soul of XXX: A Celebration of People.


©Denise LaFrance, 2006

D: What attracted you to move to Utah?

H: I had come out on ski vacations in the early '70s and just fell in love with the place. A friend of mine was building a home here and we came out one summer to look at the progress of the home and I knew that it's a place that I'd eventually want to live in.

D: Well, I'm a big skier myself and I can completely understand that attraction. The climate and the mood in the place—is it mostly "festive," would you say?

H: Oh, it's not "festive." It's a resort-driven community. So we have 7,300 year-rounders and 50,000 properties. So, you see the population doubles in the winter for the work force and you see tons of tourism starting in around December taking us out to April and we see a lot of retirees come up from the south to spend the summer here and play golf. It's pristine mountain-setting with majestic views. It's a historic community with a wonderful mining background. It is the state of Utah but it's sort of an oasis in the desert. There's no real Mormon influence up here in the city and it's a very eclectic community. One of my neighbors is Stein Erickson. He lives right next door to me. On the other side, I have South Africans. Down the street, there's Germans. You know, it's people from all over the world that live here. They choose to live here because of the lifestyle. It's a small town with 7,300 year-rounders and half of those are children.  

D: Wow! I'm going to have to make a trip up that way!

H: Well, if you like skiing, you can't find any better of a place to ski than Utah!

D: Sure thing! Well, do you spend any time in ski competitions or anything like that?  

H: No. I took up skiing late in life. I was in my 40s when I took it up so I'm an advanced intermediate. My wife is a hot-dogger though! She's been skiing a hundred days a year for over 30 years.

D: Is that how you met? Skiing?

H: I came out here for a ski vacation and went out with a few local friends that I knew and one of the fellows was dating my wife. That was back in 1982 and I just fell in love with her. Even though she was going out with him, I gave her a little card that said, "If you ever break up with him, and you're in LA, give me a call." Well, we met up again in 1989 and as soon as she told me who she was, I just asked her to marry me. I just knew she was the right woman. It was just something that God put in my life and I just knew, instantly, that this is the woman I want to spend my life with. Back in 1982, when we first met, all of us were going out for dinner one night and we were walking up the stairs to go to a restaurant and I grabbed her and I kissed her! And I said, "I'm really infatuated with you. Here's my number. Give me a call anytime you're in LA." It was 7 years later in '89 that I'd met her again. I'd found my way to Park City in 1987 but I didn't get sober until 1989. And, that's when I'd bumped into her again and asked her immediately to marry me.

D: Wow! That's totally romantic! Now, this whole "getting sober" is a massive, massive accomplishment! I'm amazed and I'm really feeling proud of you for doing that. I know a few people who have been prisoner of alcoholism and have tried and not been able to conquer the addiction. What was your most inspirational motivational factor to overcome alcoholism?  

H: Well, without a doubt, a 12-step program for recovery was the motivating force. I had been in the hospital in New York City for 36 days and 16 days in the intensive care. I was bleeding everywhere. Coughing up blood and it was in my urine, stools ... I was close to death. A doctor in New York put me in a hospital bed for 36 days. Friends came to visit and I would ask for quarters to make a telephone call but I would never use the telephone. When I was released after the 36 days, I walked out of that hospital and across the street to the liquor store, bought a bottle of vodka and woke up a WEEK later in Los Angeles County Jail, lying in my own puke and I just knew that was the end. I knew I either had to kill myself or get better. So, when I got back to Park City, Hugh Hefner had bailed me out and a friend sent me a ticket because I had absolutely no money.(Remember, I'd been scrounging quarters.) When I came over, I decided to go to one of the 12-step recovery meetings, which was in the same building as the police department. I got arrested going to my first meeting with outstanding warrants. That sergeant, when he was driving me up to the County Jail, said to me, "Harry, you don't know how much use and value you can be to people; how many lives you can save if you just got sober." That was the FIRST TIME anybody said to me that I had any value. So, that was really the eye-opener for me: If I got better, I could help other people. And so, I just stayed in those rooms and stayed in those rooms and—here I am, 16 and a half years later, still in those rooms and helping people get better.

D: Amazing demonstration of hope, strength, tenacity, sharing and faith! And now, you're selling real estate! Is helping people to find their dream homes and build families ... is this all instrumental in The Plan?

H: Well, initially, it wasn't. In the early '70s, I used to go visit the island of Jamaica in a little town called Negril. I spent a whole winter down there and sold some time shares. So, I woke up in Park City in a black-out. I was in a black-out from 1985 to 1989. Those four years are lost to me. I have no idea where I was or what I did. But, I woke up in Park City in 1987 and I guess  I got arrested several times for indecency, loitering and public urination. You know, minor things but all the signs of an alcoholic behavior. So, when I got sober, there's really only a couple things you can mainly do to make a good living in Park City: You can become a professional skier (chuckles), and the other thing was to be a real estate broker. Everybody else waited on tables, worked for the city removing snow. So, I got a real estate license and, after ten years managing the ERA Franchise, I opened my own brokerage: Reems Real Estate Inc. And now, I'm one of the top producers in the community. But, yeah, I do help people realize their dreams. In Utah, you have two seasons: You have the home-buying season in the spring and the condo-buying seasons in the fall and winter. So, you know, I just took all of the lessons that I'd learned in the 12-step recovery program and applied them to my work. I studied and got my broker's license and this is what I've been doing for the last 16 years. I make a ton of money. I make a ton more than I used to make in the porno industry. I started my life over at 42 in 1989. Now, I'm 58. So, for the past 16 years, I've been shoveling money away for my retirement. I've had my 15 minutes of fame and now, I want my 15 minutes of retirement! I'm stowing away "acorns" for the future.  

D: Well, it's great you love your work and the nest egg is important because you need money ... not just for retirement but, say, if you and your wife got an inkling to travel, or if you have kids.

H: Well, we have no children. My wife and I made a conscious decision. I was 42. My wife was 36 and we talked it over a great deal and decided we didn't want to have high-schoolers when we are in our 60s. So, we just have pets. You know, we're very comfortable in life now. I consider myself "semi-retired." Fairly soon, we're leaving to travel to the Caribbean in the West Indies for a while and when we get back, I have another home that is very close to a lot of golf courses. These days, I golf more than I ski.

D: Are you a fairly good golfer?

H: Yeah. I'm pretty good.

D: Well, it sure sounds like you have a zest for the game. Now, I'd like to ask you about how religion came to you and what role it has in your life?

H: Well, first of all, I'm more "spiritual" than I am "religious." I don't believe in any one, specific God. One of the early things you learn in the 12-step recovery program is, you have to find a power greater than yourself to lean on. To pray to. To ask for forgiveness. To ask for help and direction. I was such a lowdown drunk. I used to drink half a gallon of vodka a day—from 1985 to '89. So I knew that I had to find a higher power and I started to become a "church-gypsy." I'd go from church to church trying to find someone to touch my heart. Here at the local Methodist congregation, I found a minister who moved my soul. I joined that church and was baptized and converted to Christianity and eventually, became a trustee at that church. I don't go to church much anymore. That minister is long gone and my church has grown from a small little church to a huge congregation and so the intimacy that I so loved is gone. My wife's main goal in life is spiritual direction. She reads incessantly. She practices yoga. She meditates. Her whole focus is being kind to others and getting spiritually enlightened. And so, that's why I call myself more "spiritual" than "religious." I pray to God every day more than one time a day. At one point in my life, I stuck my hand out and it was to get something. Now, it's reached the point where I can stick my hand out and give something. In my order, we have three Tibetan refugee girls who we've been sponsoring for the Christian Childrens' Fund for as long as we've been married. Those girls have grown up and we've kept in touch. One is in college now that we're supporting, one we're putting through nursing school, and the other one is in a technical training program. We pay all their tuitions and they're our adopted children and, even though we've never met, we email all the time and send photos. Anyways, that's just an example of being "at service." 

D: It's a wonderful feeling isn't it? Giving. I love giving ... more than receiving. What I'm able to receive when giving: that smile and the gratitude and seeing results.

H: That's right! It's more valuable and more potent than any check I could receive. Seeing somebody say thank you for helping them be alive. And that's why I still help in the 12-step program.

D: Are you still in touch with that sergeant who told you that you are of value and that you could do something to help mankind if you sobered up?

H: Well, yes. I see him from time to time. He lives about 30 miles away. He knows that I have much gratitude because he's been interviewed many times. I was delivering a sermon at my church back in the early '90s. Somebody in the congregation worked for a magazine and they did a whole spread on me and one of the things they did was interview that policeman and take photos of him and me together. You know, he was a true inspiration in my life. If being of service is what a police officer's role is, well, he couldn't have found a better subject than me. He's really touched my heart. Those were very difficult times for me.  

D: He gave you faith and belief in yourself. Faith brings hope and, without hope, every day is more than we can handle.

H: That's right!

D: I wonder if you feel that all you went through with the addiction and the business and everything ... is that something that you feel might have been some sort of a test from God?

H: Well, I have to say that alcoholics are half diseased and half genetic. When people have low serotonin levels in their body, they become A-types. They become aggressive. When they drink too much, they do everything in excess. Whereas people with low levels of serotonin live a more moderate and controlled existence. I don't think that being in the movies was the reason I became an alcoholic and a drug addict. I think that the trial that took place in Memphis, Tennessee was the motivating factor. I must have come home every night from that courtroom, make a beeline for the liquor store, buy a bottle of wine just to forget the things I heard in that courtroom that day. This went on for the entire trial. It was a 12-week trial! So, that really kicked off the drinking that I hadn't really been through and I was scared after the trial to go back to the porno, for fear of getting arrested again. So, from '76 to 1982, I did no porno movies. I tried to make a transition into mainstream films. I was hired to play the coach in Grease for Paramount. About 10 days before shooting, they paid off my contract and apologized that they were losing play dates in more conservative areas; that they don't want to play the film if I'm in it. So, I knew the writing was on the wall: I'd never make that transition. So, VERY RELUCTANTLY, in 1982, I went back and did another porn movie called Society Affairs. I got paid $120,000. I got 10% of the gross. And, I only worked 9 days.

So, from 1982 to '85, I went back into porno, VERY reluctantly, was not happy, drank too much ... abused women. You know, I didn't have the same sense of satisfaction from being in the movies. I used to be proud that I could get a woman to cum. That was my main goal in the early years when I was in the movies. The girls always select who they want to work with and so, everybody was looking to hire me. And, of course, Deep Throat opened another door and, suddenly, I got to choose who I wanted to work with! But, from 1982 to '85, I went back into porno, was miserable, I was an alcoholic, and, eventually I couldn't even stand up—and I certainly couldn't have sex! So, by 1985, I was living in the streets in Los Angeles, sleeping in a dumpster behind a Ralph's supermarket and panhandling on Sunset Boulevard.  

D: You know what I saw when I saw you in Deep Throat? It was this twinkle in your eyes and a person who looked like a really nice guy.  

H: Well, you know, I still have that twinkle in my eye! I lost it for a long time because of the drugs and alcohol but then I turned my life around and my health got better. You know, I still have some damage to my liver and my lungs and all of that as a result of the drugs and the alcohol. But then, I found faith and I found God. I found a woman that I love, ENDLESSLY, and my life is full and complete now. And you know what? If somebody said, "Would you do it all over again?" I'd say "YES!" Just to be where I am today. Just to feel how wonderful I feel about life today.

D: That's the bizarre thing about suffering and all these horrible instances in life. Sometimes, a person can go through all these horrible situations that just so happen to lead to a happy destination. I want to ask you, do you feel that, as a result of having endured and conquered the pain and addiction, that this makes you a more compassionate person?

H: Oh, no question about it! Today, when I put my hand out, it's not to get something. It's to give. It's to help. A reaching hand of help. And, like I said earlier, there's no paycheck in the world that can give me that kind of comfort and satisfaction and joy.

D: Have you let go of any bitterness about everything you endured?

H: The only "bitterness" I had was about the court process. I have absolutely no bitterness about having been in the porn movies. I mean, that was a lifestyle. That was a decision I made in the late '60s. That was in the hippie era. I lived in the East Village. It was "make love, not war." And, so that was somewhat of a lifestyle. But, you know, you outgrow certain things. I don't have that same sexual drive anymore. I'm pushing 60 years old and I don't have the vanity I used to have. I used to go to the gym because I wanted to look good and it was all about looking good, but it was all about people's impressions of me. I don't care about people's impressions of me anymore. I care about my OWN impression of me!

D: Good way to be. Some people take other people's opinions too seriously sometimes. I find humor to provide  a good buffer effect. What role do you think humor plays in making a good marriage? Is it important?

H: Oh, humor plays a LARGE part in marriage! The most important things to me today are God, and then my relationship with my wife. There's a lot of joy and happiness in our marriage. Happiness brings a lot of joys and smiles. We've traveled this road together and we look at it very lightly. I endured huge, traumatic experiences and I don't have those in front of me anymore. So, NOTHING is really that important anymore other than God, my wife, my health and my pets. In that order.  

D: What are your pets' names?

H: Bingo is the dog, and Pinky is the cat. Our last dog was named Banjo.

D: What kind of dog is Bingo?

H: He's a mutt. Part sheepdog and cattle dog. He's very loving and affectionate and easy to train. More of a "people dog" than a "dog dog." When we go for walks, the human walks but he runs all over the place! We do that every single day. You can't let your body decay. I mean, you've got to do what you've got to do to stay healthy and you keep the bones moist and the muscles toned, otherwise, you just end up vegetating.

D: Well, a dog can also be very entertaining as well. Now, on the subject of "entertainment," what are some of the most influential books that you've read?

H: Well, you know, I look at books like I do movies: as a form of entertainment. I read a lot of novels. I read John Grisham a lot. I used to read a lot of Tom Clancy. I read incessantly since I was in the Marine Corps. So, so far as there's any one specific author? No. John Grisham is probably my favorite because his are so easy for me to get into. His stories really captivate me.  

D: I like this guy Ian Rankin. He writes about this character named Inspector Rebus. It's really entertaining and halfway through reading his books, I find I'm reading in a Scottish accent! It's amazing how one can travel and adventure through reading a book.

H: That's right! I've read all four of the original Harry Potters in one week! Yeah, I like books like Lord of the Rings, Hobbit. I like books that provide escapism. I don't really read so much to learn. I read to enjoy. I look for authors that are easy-readers.  

D: Ah! The real page-turners! I am not too keen on authors where they keep playing with the notion of time and tenses; where you keep going back and forth from past to present to future. I find that can be a bit too confusing and distracting for me.  

H: The Lord of the Rings is like that. You've got to go back to the maps. You've got to go back to the names. But, eventually, you get 10 percent into the book and you know everybody! You know, those first hundred pages, you're trying to remember who's who. So, yes. As far as entertainment goes, I like to read, watch television, sometimes go to the movies. But I don't like to go out much anymore. I know in my heart, my main thrust in life now is to be of service to other people. I do a lot of community service. It's not to further educate myself. In fact, my brain cells are disappearing millions a day (laughs). I want to enjoy my life. I take long walks. I play a lot of golf. I ski a bunch. I live a very happy existence. We're not thrill-seekers. My wife and I have done pretty much everything we've wanted to do. At this point, life is relaxation! I go to work so I can afford to relax. That's my motivating drive.  

D: Well, my saying is that "life's all about FUN." I mean, that sounds a bit trite and whimsical, but the work that is necessary to earn the power of finance to survive and adhere to commitments is the only thing not eclipsed by the desire to have fun ... for me anyhow. I am not into doing a job all my life that I detest with the primary goal being to put money aside for my retirement because, by the time I'm retired, my spirit and motivation to enjoy the leisure time of retirement would have been zapped from having not followed my passion of what I love to do as a job. Work seems less like "work" when it's bringing a sense of joy.

H: Well, I love my job and I love my life!

For more information about LaFrance's book, including an excerpt from her interview with late adult director Henri Pachard, click here. To see more of her artwork, click here. To contact LaFrance, email her at [email protected].