The Prince Of Porn

the films of Gerard Damiano Sr – Restored

Tag: Deep Throat

Acclaimed cinematographer João Fernandes talks for the first time about being “Harry Flecks”

João Fernandes is the biggest name in adult film cinematography, that you’ve never heard of. He is responsible for shooting many of the finest examples of “Golden Age” porn, including “Take Off”, and “Through the Looking Glass”. He has worked with directors such as Doris Wishman, Armand Weston, Anthony Spinelli, Jonas Middleton, and even blaxploitation star Fred Williamson. Born in Brasil, he studied film at NYU under Haig P. Manoogian, who also taught Scorsese, and cites Fellini as his greatest influence. His collaboration with Gerard Damiano Sr. began in 1972, on the film “Deep Throat.”

 João Fernandes & Jerry Damiano of the Set of

João Fernandes & Jerry Damiano of the Set of “The Story of Joanna” 1975

João shot all of my father’s most acclaimed films, including “The Devil in Miss Jones”, “Memories Within Miss Aggie”, and his masterpiece, “The Story of Joanna.” The two shared a dream of someday working on big-budget Hollywood films. For this reason João used the “nom de porn” Harry Flecks, (taken from the Arriflex camera that he preferred), at a time when his resumé might have prevented him from getting “legitimate” work.

Following “Joanna,” at the peak of the “porno chic” era, João and Gerry went to California together, to shoot the ill-fated “Once Upon a Time…Tomorrow,” a straight film that was never released. While on the West Coast, João made the necessary connections, then returned to New York to pack his bags. He made the move to California and before long had realized his dream. During his career as a Hollywood cinematographer, he shot “Children of the Corn,” “Red Scorpion” and “Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter.” In 1984 he shot “Missing in Action” which starred Chuck Norris, and began a working relationship with the kung-fu superstar that lasted for many years. He went on to shoot eight more films with Norris, as well as his TV series, “Walker, Texas Ranger,” even directing a number of the episodes himself. If you combine his film and television work, with his work in adult film, João has been credited as Director of Photography in no less than 93 productions.

Georgina Spelvin and Gerard Damiano Sr. in a scene from

Georgina Spelvin and Gerard Damiano Sr., in a scene from “The Devil in Miss Jones”, shot by João Fernandes

As a kid growing up, I knew João as a close family friend. I remember that he was usually the most handsome guy on the set. All the women were hot for him. Even my little sister had a crush on him. Still today, when Larry Revene and I met with the actresses of the “Golden Age”, they all asked about him, with a glimmer in their eyes. The last time that I saw João was more than 40 years ago, during the production of “Once Upon a Time”, in California. I was all of nine years old. For all these years he has retained his anonymity. Now retired, he was finally willing to speak candidly about his career in porn.

João Fernandes with The Crew of 2

João Fernandes with The Crew of 2, Ashland Oregon, July 2015
Photo by Gerard Damiano Jr.

Today, João lives in beautiful Ashland Oregon, with his wife of more than 30 years, an actress whom he met on set, she in front of the camera, and he behind it. We spoke at length, and he told me, “I learned an enormous amount of my own craft working with your father.” We watched “The Devil in Miss Jones” and “Memories Within Miss Aggie” together, and it was evident how far he had come since filming “Deep Throat” just two years before. He felt that “The Story of Joanna” was his best work with my father, perhaps the best work of his adult film career. Larry had worked together with João on “Take Off” and had great respect for him. I enjoyed listening to the two old DPs compare notes about films, cameras, and the people they both knew. João showed us his reel, which contained shots from a number of his films that showcased his most elaborate camera moves, most dramatic lighting, and highest production values. My father would have been proud to know that a shot of Terry Hall descending a staircase from “Joanna” made the cut.

Why The Book?

Back in 1999, when I first approached my father about writing his autobiography, his answer was “NO”. “I don’t want to end up in the trunk of a car” he said. It was more than 25 years after the release of “Deep Throat”, and still he feared for his life. He felt that if he “named names”, there would be repercussions.

By 1971, he had had some minor success, with a few independent “Sexploitation” films, when he met Linda Traynor, who he would later christen “Linda Lovelace”. She was his muse, in a very real sense. When he first witnessed her unique talent for oral sex, he was inspired to write the script for “Deep Throat”. Shooting a full-length feature film in 35mm Color, was an expensive proposition, even then. He was looking for financing, when a friend introduced him to Lou “Butchie” Pirano, who unbeknownst to him at the time, was connected to the Colombo crime family. “When I found somebody willing to give me 25 grand to make a dirty movie, I didn’t ask any questions”.

When “Throat” achieved a level of unprecedented success (it is still arguably the most profitable film of all time), he quickly learned who he was dealing with. They “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse”. They kept the film, and he was lucky to get out alive. Back then, other kids would often ask me, “Is it true that your dad held a gun to Linda’s head to get her to make “Deep Throat”? I always believed that it was my father, who had a gun held to his head.

Although he appreciated the success that “Deep Throat” afforded him, he would be the first to tell you that it is not a very good film. “We were learning, and we did the best that we could”. He went on to make much better films, some of which are still considered to be the finest adult films of all time. He was more proud of coining the phrase “Deep Throat”. “I made it into the Dictionary!” he liked to say. When Woodward and Bernstein’s informant used it as an alias, the word became a noun, as well as a verb.

In 2003 he was approached for a documentary that was in the works, about the cultural impact of his movie. He had no interest in even talking to them. Now in his seventies, he was bitter about the film. “People are still making money off of it, and now they want to want to make another movie, and make even more money off of it, while I get nothing”! This is where I stepped in. I met with the directors of “Inside Deep Throat” to find out what their intentions were. They convinced me that they had great respect for my father, and his films. He would be the “hero” of their story. I called my dad and told him “They’re going to make this movie with or without you, but if you participate, you will have a chance to tell your side of the story, if you don’t, it will be everyone else’s version, and THAT will become the truth”. In the end, he agreed to appear in the film on one condition, under no circumstances would he talk about the mob.

“Inside Deep Throat” opened at Sundance, played around the world, finishing up on HBO and then Netflix. The film not only “named names”, but showed pictures of the Pirainos and their associates. By this time, most of the story had already run in the New York Post, as brother killed brother over “Throat”. The word on the street was, that everyone who had been involved, was either dead or in prison. I assured my father that the coast was clear to write his autobiography. However, he didn’t want to put in all the work, and then go knocking on doors to try and peddle it. He wanted a book deal first. Get the big advance, then write. This was back in the day when big book deals were still common, before self-publishing, and the Internet, changed that forever. His story had everything. Fame, Fortune, Intrigue, Celebrities, Mobsters, Love, Death, Revolution and SEX SEX SEX! And it was all true. “Deep Throat” was just one chapter in a story which encompasses nearly 50 movies, from the birth of the “Golden Age of Porn” to the advent of video. If anyone deserved a book deal, it was him.

Since I had worked out the deal for “Inside Deep Throat”, he asked me to be his agent. When I told him that I knew nothing about being an agent, he reminded me that I had gotten him paid more money for talking about “Deep Throat”, than he got for making it. He asked me “Where were you in 1972 when I needed you”? I reminded him that I was only 7 years old at the time. So, I spent the next 3 years meeting with literary agents, publishers, and potential co-authors. Since my father didn’t trust any of these people, there were countless “collaboration agreement” drafts, and many rounds of negotiations. We finally had a contract, which I had to pay a lawyer $500 just to look at. And then, my father died. The publisher pulled out, citing that the deal was for an autobiography, not just a biography. And we had nothing.

As kids, my sister Christar and I had always thought of our father as an artist, and a filmmaker (although for years we were never old enough to actually see his films). After his death, we felt that the best tribute that we could make to him, would be to restore his best films, so that they could be seen the way that he had intended. This was not an easy proposition. Although my father owned a major percentage of all his early films, he had a habit of aligning himself with unscrupulous business partners, who would inevitably make off with his share of the profits. Not one to look back, his solution was to find new partners, form a new company and make another movie. And the cycle would repeat. Having a different Production Company for every film resulted in a mountain of paperwork and film elements scattered across the country.

Today the majority of his films (including some of the most famous), are unavailable in their original form. What exists for the most part are bootlegs from disreputable sources, that have been transferred and converted with little regard for their content. Scenes have been cut out. Reels assembled out of sequence. In some case the master was made from a video tape. Yet for years people have continued to make money from them.

Meanwhile we watched our father, and his films, continue to be exploited in a seemingly endless parade of “entertainment-based vehicles”. The idea being, that if you can work the words “Deep Throat” into anything, whether it’s a TV series, or an energy drink, it’s going to sell. I have seen my father portrayed on the stage as a gay hairdresser who accidentally blundered into success, then cowered before both the mob and the feds. I have seen him portrayed in a major motion picture, played as if he was a mafia gumbah himself. These stories hide behind the phrase “based on true events”, which is another way of saying “fiction”. There may be a grain of truth, but there is a whole beach of bullshit. Now more than ever, we felt that his own story needs to be told. When we lost our book deal, I didn’t give up on the idea, but put it on hold, until we had an ending. The final chapter couldn’t be written, because as far as we are concerned, it hasn’t yet occurred. The ending that we want to see to this story is the one where we collect up all of his best films, restore them to the way he intended them to be seen, and show them. So that’s exactly what we are doing.

When he died in 2008, our father passed all of his intellectual property on to Christar and I. We set about tracking down all the elements of his films that had been lost. Although there are still a few pieces missing, we have recovered most of his work, including his masterpiece “The Story of Joanna”. We have also assembled an excellent team of lawyers to help untangle the paperwork. We hope to reacquaint his old fans with the films they loved, while introducing them to a new audience. That is the best tribute that we could make for our father.

When I think of all the time I wasted trying to find the publisher, the agent, the writer and the book deal, I wish that I had spent the same time and effort, just writing the book myself. It would be all but finished by now. Although I am not a writer, I feel that if I simply tell the truth about my father, I can help to set the record straight. And the truth would make for a very good read. His legacy is like a shadow that has hung over me for my entire life, and it is time to shine some light on it. So as both the film restorations and the book evolve, this blog will serve to document the journey.

Gerard Damiano Jr.
Queens, New York,  Father’s Day, 2015

Gerard Damiano Sr., Christar Damiano and Gerard Damiano Jr. Ft. Myers, FL June 6, 2008 Photo by Carol Orr Hartman

Gerard Damiano Sr., Christar Damiano and Gerard Damiano Jr. Fort Myers, FL, June 6, 2008
Photo by Carol Orr Hartman