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By Phil Hall | September 11, 2008

So, who was the biggest male star in movie history? Those with a flippantly dirty mind can produce the obvious answer: John Holmes.

Most people know John Holmes from the publicity surrounding his extraordinary endowment. And for those who enjoyed 1970s-era porn, Holmes’ on-screen persona as tough guy detective Johnny Wadd left a memorable impression.

Yet beyond the scintillating on-screen fun was a life that spiraled wildly out of control. A cocaine addiction wrecked his personal and professional life, and his involvement in setting up the robbery that resulted in the 1981 Wonderland Murders should have finished Holmes completely. Remarkably, he was able to regain career momentum and enjoy personal stability. But his recovery was too brief, and his 1988 AIDS-related death sealed his reputation as one of the most bizarre life stories in the entertainment world.

In the new book “John Holmes – A Life Measured in Inches,” authors Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson separate legend from fact and piece together Holmes’ strange and often tragic story. The result is an emotionally exhausting yet truly compelling real-life adventure. Published by BearManor Media, “John Holmes – A Life Measured in Inches” is the first biography on the late porn star and an invaluable history on the rise of the 1970s porno business.

Film Threat recently chatted with Jennifer Sugar and Jill C. Nelson on their new book.

What inspired you to write a book about John Holmes?
Jennifer: It’s interesting because neither Jill or I have any affiliation with the adult industry and neither of us were fans of adult films going into this project. We both became interested in knowing more about John as a person after seeing Wonderland and Wadd. After I saw “Wonderland” in 2003, I watched all of the available documentaries about John and read everything I could find about him. But I sensed there was still a lot more to the story and was shocked to learn that there wasn’t already an in-depth biography covering John’s life the way that our book, “John Holmes – A Life Measured in Inches,” does. So, I decided to write one and my first step toward that goal was to attend “Fit for a King,” the celebration recognizing what would have been his 60th birthday, where I did my first interviews.

Jill: I was also intrigued by the connection between John and his first wife Sharon and his mistress Dawn, that paralleled the story of the Wonderland murders and was depicted in the 2003 movie. I wondered how it was possible that a man could be an adult film icon, yet, he was married to a straight-laced Registered Nurse and also had a girlfriend. On the outside, the three seemed to share an amicable relationship and that interested me. I don’t think Jennifer or I ever imagined ourselves writing a book about a so-called porn star, but we have come to believe that this project chose us.

For the record, just what were John Holmes, uh, measurements?
Jennifer: As the title implies, there was more to John than could be measured in inches. His penis may have been what initially made him a star, but John’s abilities as an actor really improved with experience and his life was very complex. That being said, there isn’t an official measurement – John’s length varied with his level of excitement, but he will always be remembered as one of the biggest stars!

Jill: John knew how to expertly prepare his partners for his unique size and deep penetration. He engaged in foreplay with his leading ladies as much as time would allow for it, by giving them massages before a scene, or by reassuring them throughout a specific shoot. His partners greatly appreciated his gentle technique. John considered himself to be a sexual professional and he was – in every sense of the word.

For those who never saw any of his films, which were his best films and why?
Jennifer: I think it is essential for people to see the nine part Johnny Wadd series directed by Bob Chinn because it is what made John a household name during the 1970s. It was a very different time from now, since making and appearing in pornography films was illegal, but at the same time, they were also being shown – and enjoyed – at adult theaters around the country. To add to that, I’d like to mention that the original film, “Johnny Wadd,” will be released on DVD in September – and this 1970 film was previously unavailable. As the first of the series, it is quite significant and it will be fun for viewers to see the progression of the series as John became a better actor and the films were allowed a bigger budget corresponding to the immense growth in their popularity. I’m also a big fan of Holmes’ work in sex comedies, such as “Hot ‘n’ Saucy Pizza Girls” (also directed by Bob Chinn), “The Spirit of Seventy-Sex” (directed by Stu Segall), and “Hot Nurses” (directed by Roberta Findlay). These campy films illustrate the carefree nature of making adult films during the Golden Era.

Jill: Other recommended highlights from Holmes’ film repertoire would include “Prisoner of Paradise,” co-starring one of his popular leading ladies, Seka. “Eruption,” which is a parody of the mainstream classic, “Double Indemnity,” demonstrates John’s agility as he performs various stunts and proves that he had credible ability as an actor. “John Holmes Superstar” is a terrific psuedo-documentary. Although “The Return of Johnny Wadd” is not part of the original series created by Bob Chinn (it is produced by Penguin Productions. John and partner Bill Amerson’s own company) the film has merit with a quality script and decent acting, particularly on the part of Holmes and Kimberly Carson.

What effect did John’s involvement in the Wonderland murders have on his career?
Jennifer: Actually, none. Sure, at first some directors and producers were reluctant to hire John, but John bounced back with his comeback film, “Marathon,” in 1983. In fact, on that set, John met and charmed Laurie (aka former adult actress, Misty Dawn), who became his second wife. This just goes to show that John came back, ever the ladies’ man, and he went on to appear in many movies and videos throughout the next three years – business as usual. From his appearance in them, it appeared The King was thrilled to be back!

Jill: In all likelihood, John’s infamy in association with the Laurel Canyon murders helped to bolster his film career when he made his successful comeback after his acquittal. John enjoyed his return to adult films and he helped to usher in a new round of young, leading ladies like Ginger Lynn and Amber Lynn, who became sweethearts of the video-age. Like the women who preceeded them, the newcomers loved working with Holmes. In many ways, Holmes acted as a mentor to the young burgeoning stars and his reputation for being a gentleman on the set remained.

Why is John Holmes relevant to today’s movie audiences?
Jennifer: Without John Holmes, many people believe the industry would have not achieved the popularity that it enjoyed throughout the 1970s and 80s. John as Johnny Wadd kicked open the door for other adult performers.

Jill: Holmes is considered to be the forefather of erotic movies. He is the Babe Ruth of hardcore.

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