Monday, February 22, 2010

RIP: Jamie Gillis

It seems like there's been far too much news of this kind over the recently, but yet another porn legend passed in the last few days.

Jamie Gillis was one of the great male talents of porn from its earliest days of 8mm loops in the early 70s through the "Golden Age", and continued working up through the 1990s. Like Ron Jeremy, Paul Thomas, and Harry Reems, his was a classic story from the porn's early days of an Off-Broadway actor who drifted into porn and made a career of it. He was also a innovator behind the camera, and can claim credit (or blame) for launching the "gonzo" and "pro-am" genres with On the Prowl (parodied ruthlessly in Boogie Nights) and, along with Ed Powers, the earliest Dirty Debutantes videos.

Susie Bright did a wonderful interview with him a couple years back and reposts parts of it in the Gillis memorial she posted today. The man was a engaging raconteur and the interview is well worth a listen. Also worth checking out are the memorials by Gram Ponante, the cinema blogger The Blood Splattered Scribe, SerpentLibertine, and a retrospective from a couple years back on another blog, Penetrating Insights.

Another one gone before his time.

Addendum: Not everybody has such a rosy assessment of Jamie Gillis, as Ernest Green points out in the comments following. Gillis' all-around sexual omnivory/perversity reputedly did cross the line into limit-pushing and outright cruelty toward some of the women he worked with, especially newcomers. I can confirm that I've seen scenes in the early Dirty Debutantes videos with him that seemed very rough, and doubly inappropriate given that many of the DD performers were "fresh off the bus" and not experienced in asserting themselves on a porn set. I largely wrote this off as an outlier, but unfortunately, this did not seem to be the case. This is in great contrast to his assessment from those with overwhelmingly positive memories of Gillis, and with the well-mannered and magnanaimous impression he gives in his Susie Bright interview. As with more than a few people, he is somebody who leaves behind a conflicting legacy.


  1. It's always saddening to me to lose another member of the founding generation in porn.

    But the reality in this instance also reflects some realities of porn, and not in an entirely flattering light.

    Gillis turned in some fine performances in the early days, but he did not age well. His behavior toward other performers, particularly female newcomers, was hardly exemplary. During the time he worked at the late, unlamented RedBoard Video, his random acts of cruelty turned off many performers to all forms of BDSM work even though his particular "style" of domination was pretty far outside what most of us consider the ethical boundaries. Everything he ever said or wrote on this subject was, in my experience, totally wrong-headed and unconstructive.

    I do not believe that death improves a man's character. He was who he was, no better now than when he lived.

    He was a smart guy with talent. He was also a nasty piece of work under some circumstances and though I know he has personal friends who will miss him, I'm not interested in lionizing someone who had long ago ceased to be an asset to this community and become a liability.

  2. I do vaguely remember him getting rough with a newcomer in one of the Dirty Debutantes videos I'd seen a long time ago. Based on what I knew about him from interviews and what I'd seen in features, I thought that was outlier. Unfortunately not, I guess, based on what you say here, and what Nina has to say on her forum.

  3. Nina rarely speaks ill of anyone. When she talks about Gillis, she speaks from personal experience.

    AVN asked her for a comment on his death and while she rarely declines to give them a quote, this time she did.