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2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Jerry Butler’s autobiography, ‘Raw Talent’.
It was opinionated, frenetic, controversial, and entertaining. Just like Jerry Butler himself. Love it or hate it – and many loved it, and many hated it – ‘Raw Talent’ was a revelation. For the first time, a book by an insider blew the lid off the inner workings of the adult film industry and dished the dirt on its stars.
It was named after Jerry’s best-known film, which told the story of a talented but struggling actor who gets sucked into making porn films, winning the fame he craved, but losing himself along the way. It was almost like porn was imitating real life. Except, here’s the irony: Jerry Butler’s real life was more extraordinary and crazy than anything he played on the big screen.
So what happened to the boy from New York with the raw talent? What’s his place in the golden age of adult film? And how does he look back on that period?
On this episode of The Rialto Report, April Hall speaks to three people who know the Jerry Butler story intimately:
Jerry Butler and April Hall, May 2014
As an added bonus, writer Heather Drain from Mondo Heather has written an exclusive essay about Jerry Butler’s film ‘Raw Talent’ which we are proud to present here.
Haven’t I Seen You Somewhere?: Larry Revene’s Raw Talent
By Heather Drain
Fate’s an interesting creature. Mythological to some, a tangible reality to others and yet, a force that is going to come into play sooner or later. A tiny stroke of fate happened to me on my 18th birthday. Old enough to vote and getting lost in my favorite used bookstore. Like a moth to the flame, I ended up in the film section and standing out in black letters on a red colored spine was Raw Talent. I was not familiar with the book’s main author and subject matter, Jerry Butler, other than maybe the old soul singer though looking at the cover, I immediately knew they were not the same guy. Closer examination revealed that this Butler was a handsome, blonde New York actor with a lot of demons who worked in the adult film industry. There was something about skimming through this man’s words that pulled at me and needless to say, I bought the book.
Immediately, I delved in and discovered a revealing, come hell or high water biography that was rivaled only by Klaus Kinski’s incendiary and tortured auto-biography, All I Need is Love. (Ironically, the latter is way more pornographic than Butler’s book.) A lot of controversy resulted with Butler’s lack of a filter regarding what he said about his fellow actors and actresses, though the finest detail is often the one that is most overlooked. There is no person that Jerry Butler is more raw and brutal about than himself. But all of that is for a different article.
Raw Talent the book took its title from the 1984 film directed by the great Larry Revene and written by talented screenwriter Joyce Snyder. It is one of Butler’s best and given the emotional depth of his performance here, it is a crime of anyone to associate sensationalism before talent with this guy. Jerry plays Eddie Czeropski, a struggling actor trying to get his foot into the door. The film opens up with Eddie tearing it up an audition. Tears, angst, the whole nine yards, all before a completely jaded set of auditionees. Realizing their lack of attention, Eddie continues his line reading while pulling his dick out of his pants, tugging at it less like a sexual satyr and more like a child demanding to be seen. He promptly gets thrown out back into the pavement jungle that is New York City.
Paying the bills with a diner job, Eddie ends up with one especially persnickety customer, who shows up a few minutes before closing. Demanding to see the “whole carcass” of turkey to determine which cut she wants for her white bread club sandwich, this sets him off. Pissed and in the kitchen, Eddie looks up at a nudie photo on the wall and inspiration takes hold. By inspiration, I mean he gets an erection and begins to defile the cooked turkey. It is definitely one of the more surreal sights in adult film history and the ability to carry through with the act while remaining in character should have nabbed Butler an Oscar. You think Ethan Hawke could do any of that? Please. The cooked, seeping turkey has more humanity and character than a lot of Hollywood chumps.
While the cranky customer is chowing down suspiciously on her white bread club sandwich, Eddie’s friend and coworker, Donny (Joey Silvera) starts telling him that he needs to go out and meet some girls. When Eddie complains that he doesn’t make enough money, Donny reveals that he is getting to be with some of the hottest women and on top of that, he’s the one getting paid. Turns out, Donny is doing some small time acting in porn for some extra dough and other sundry perks. Eddie immediately starts asking questions. His buddy is hesitant at first but lets Eddie come along with him on a shoot.
Any horny, pie-eyed visions of a sexy porn shoot are coolly shot down as Donny and his gorgeous but bored looking partner, Alice (Rhonda Jo Petty), are barked at by their director, Carolyn (Lisa de Leeuw.) The mood for amour is further dampened when Donny gets his gum stuck in the Alice’s nether hair. However, it is when Donny ends up finishing too early and internally, that he suggests his buddy to a highly pissed off and agitated Carolyn. Despite her initial reservations, she agrees and gives the nervously excited budding actor a chance. Eddie dives right in and despite the very unerotically charged atmosphere, he manages to get the job done with great success.
After doing several movies for Carolyn, Eddie retires from adult as his ‘legitimate” career starts to take off. Invited to a private shindig at Carolyn’s, he breaks the good news of his latest gig, a part on a soap opera, to her, her lover Raymond (Jose Duval) and a pretty, blonde escort, Nancy (Cassandra Leigh.) Raymond, a non-adult film producer, is intrigued and mentions to Carolyn a part in one of his films that Eddie would be perfect in. The brassy Carolyn immediately dismisses the idea and talks about Eddie as her plaything, even telling him, “You’re just a pet.” A sexual scene soon breaks out, leaving Eddie feeling used and weird. Despite that, he’s interested in Nancy, who quickly rebuffs him, stating that she doesn’t want to be with anyone who also “does it for dollars.”
His day soon grows worse as he randomly gets attacked by a bunch of thugs in an alley! However, in a twist of fate straight off of the Chuck Norris eating a ham sandwich-of-dada train, Eddie is also a skilled martial artist and ends up wailing on each and every dude. There’s even some strange subliminal images inserted, including a broken cassette tape. These are combinations you are not going to see everyday.
Eddie makes his soap opera debut. He’s looking good though Carolyn and her lesbian lover, Marie (Chelsea Blake) watch it giggling and snarking on how cheesy it is. Unfortunately for him, Eddie’s time in soaps ends up being short lived, thanks to the network heads discovering his former occupation. Like many of his real life counterparts, Eddie does the talk show circuit and ends up meeting a sympathetic and currently employed soap opera actress, Monica (Tish Ambrose). The two spend the night together, resulting in of one of the most exquisitely edited, bordering on psychedelic sex scenes ever. It’s beautiful and it just may give you seizures.
The morning after, they talk and Monica points out that they have the same agent, stating that he must have known about all of this since their agent booked him the show that they met on. This is all news to him and when he realizes that the same agent also works for Carolyn, he decides to pay her a little visit. Thoroughly pissed, he initially seduces her, which in fairly short order escalates into a full on rape with her head over a spraying bidet. She ends up pressing charges, which strangely seem to not go much of anywhere.
Hungry for work, Eddie ends up shadowing Donny on yet another side gig, this time as a stripping telegram or a “peel-o-gram.” While he was hired to entertain Shirley (Taija Rae), he gravitates towards her giggling, blonde coworker and friend (Danielle.) All this despite his bizarro-world dance moves that are a hybrid of sexy-man-dancing and kickboxing. Instead of being frightened, Shirley’s friend digs it and her and Donny end up making it on the couch. Shirley’s couch. Eddie follows her to her room, for an innocent chat and to also give his buddy some privacy. She initially has her guard up, but starts talking with him. He finds out that she is a receptionist in Long Island and she starts quizzing him on his acting work. Not impressed with his resume including soap operas and PSA’s, she keeps prying him for something she’s heard of, so he mentions that he had a bit part in the Vietnam War.
The two of them do end up hitting it off and are soon dating. He ends up asking a big favor of her, namely involving getting intimate with him and an old war comrade of his named Richie (Ron Jeremy). Hesitant at first, Shirley ends up agreeing to the three-way. However, he ends up catching the two of them keeping it going while he’s out. Viewing this as an act of betrayal, both Richie and himself get into a crazy karate fight scene, complete with shirtlessness, loud noises and Shirley’s loft suffering quite the beating.
The fight ends up signaling the end of their relationship and Eddie’s back in the cramped squalor of an apartment. He gets a surprise visit from Nancy that’s on the sweet, personal side. One that is actually beyond sex. His life gets even more intriguing when out of the blue, Carolyn, on Raymond’s request, has Eddie audition for a non-X rated action film. Because she is still understandably bitter about the whole-bidet-rape situation, has the main feature of his audition involve him having to fight the other actor up for the role. Does Eddie win and get another crack at non-sex films and find love with Nancy? Or does she disappear and he fail his audition?
Raw Talent is a film that I went into with high expectations, all from years of build up and it truly did not disappoint. If you watch this film expecting a typical, beans & franks porn-fest, then you are going to be left long-jawed and unfulfilled. This is a real film complete with all the main contributors acing it. Revene’s direction is firm enough to keep everything on track, but loose enough to enable the film to have a warm and unique flow to it. Everything he does here feels a hundred percent adept. Joyce Snyder’s writing is equally great, with bits of humor, drama, weirdness and yet at its very core, intensely human. One of the best scenes is towards the end, where Nancy starts playfully touching herself in front of Eddie, while they are talking. But instead of this being a five minute long, saucy scene, it ends up leading him to reveal about having to do the same thing for a sleazy “legit” industry bigwig. All in the hopes of getting a job, which didn’t even materialize. It’s a brilliant example of utilizing sex as a character revealing tool, as opposed to a mere visual indulgent for wanking.
Then there is the acting. Butler owns this role and this film, signed, sealed and delivered. From the opening scene of him crying in his audition to the final frame, he is perfect. It had to have been somewhat surreal to play a character with so many parallels to his own life, minus a few key elements, like rape and karate. But part of that is tied to the genius of Snyder’s script, because Eddie is not necessarily just inspired by Butler, but mirrors elements of what a lot of classic male actors went through. Whether this is Eric Edwards having his Close-Up toothpaste commercial yanked or Harry Reems losing the role of Coach Calhoun in Grease, this is the hypocrisy these actors have had to face. No one had a problem in Hollywood giving roles to infamous man-whores like Warren Beatty or parent-of-the-year-in-no-ones-universe Ryan O’Neill, but having consensual sex on film? That’s taboo. Morals can be a muddy thing, especially with those whom decide to pick and choose them.
It’s also a testament to how likable and great Butler is here, because you will still find yourself liking Eddie even after the whole rape scene with Carolyn. Speaking of which, Lisa De Leeuw is terrific as the beautiful but hard as nails on the outside and inside film director. She’s a terrific villain of sorts and is a great contrast to the masculine but sensitive Eddie. The rest of the supporting cast are good, with both Rae and Leigh standing out in particular. Jose Duval also brings a sense of European sophistication to his role as the elegant and oddly open minded Raymond.
Unfortunately, Raw Talent is another example of a classic adult film whose current release is the mutilated ghost from the recent past era of Meese Commission/Cambria Law cuts. I haven’t seen this cut, yet, but from all accounts it is missing the turkey scene, ALL of the fight scenes and the rape of Carolyn. This is obviously a good chunk of the film, with at least ¾ of it being pertinent to the plot. In a day and age of where you can watch legal porn full of spitting, choking and all sorts of bodily fluid interplay a go-go, it is depressingly ridiculous that you have to resort to bootlegging to get a copy of a legitimate film, not a porn, that has staged fight scenes and explicit sex that does not violate any solid law at this point in the game. Something needs to give to where we as an audience are treated like what we truly are: freethinking adults who can make up our own minds over what we do and do not want to see.
That said, Raw Talent is a truly great and wonderfully made film that is worth seeking out, though definitely look out for the uncut version.
Phew – I was worried there might not be a Rialto Report this Sunday… and then what would I do?!
I’m listening to it now, and it is DEFINITIVE. Somehow the Rialto Report manages to be the last word on each subject it showcases. Big praise to you guys.
And welcome to Heather D. too who provides a great primer on the first Raw Talent film!
My computer is a blur because of the tears in my eyes.
I was privileged to watch Butler pour his heart into a number of stunning performances.
And now, thanks to The Rialto Report, I was honored to listen to him bare his soul.
Martin, thank you so much! It’s a huge pleasure to get to contribute to one of the best film sites out there! Phenomenal work by April Hall and her stellar league of interview subjects, especially Jerry.
Jerry Butler was extraordinary then . . . and he’s extraordinary now!
Great Rialto Report!
Behind the serious persona, Butler was meant to be a comic. Critics mistook his non stop sense of humor for emotional chaos. But he used this persona to break the ice in X to fit in. As a result, he was always on stage performing in or out of porn. On set, he was a porn combo Tony Curtis/Jerry Lewis who should have been given more roles that he played as a joker in real life.
Another excellent podcast.
Wonderful podcast! Big thanks to Mr. Butler for his honesty and huge dose of reality. It was also great to hear from adult historian and friend Bill Margold, and biographer Cathy Tavel. Heather, my dear sister, your review of Raw Talent is absolutely superb. Thanks again April (and Ashley) for illuminating the lives and loves of these special folks.
Thanks for another insightful interview and for giving Jerry a chance to finally set the record straight. You managed to capture the beautiful spark of the man who trusted me (and Robert Rimmer) to help him bring his story to light in “Raw Talent.” I laughed, I cried…I’m happy Mr. B sat down with you. (But from experience, I know he was probably pacing the floor most of the time as he spoke!) Thank you also for giving me a chance to tell what it was like working on the book with him and Bob. Kudos to April, who did a wonderful job keeping him on point. I also enjoyed Heather Drain’s take on both “Raw Talents.”
Congratulations to all concerned.
The true documentarians of the NY golden age… If only everyone had curators as diligent, caring, and knowledgable as you guys.
Give these guys an award for chrissakes!
(And welcome Heather – a great piece by a great writer!)
Interview Joyce Snyder.
The interview I’ve been waiting for since I read Raw Talent all those years ago.
Jerry is painfully honest, painfully truthful…. and I wish him well in whatever he does.
Love you Paul.
P.S. The song at the end was beautifully chosen. Who is singing?
Thanks for your comments!
The song is ‘Precious Love’ by…. Jerry Butler.
(Not the subject of this show, but the great soul singer of the same name).
You are doing a very interesting job about the golden age of porn, I think Jerry Butler is one of the most interesting male actor in the golden age industry, sensitive,very human in the interaction with female actresses, he was not about the ” macho men” he was about of comunication between male and female,
I am very proud that one of my favorite painting are in the wall of his house
Glad you enjoyed the interview Raimundo!
Jerry is one the best.. Great stuff.. I knew the owners of his first experience at the spa.. Renee and Betty.. I spent many a night hanging especially with Renee!!
Great to hear Jerry Butler tell the tale of Jerry Butler.
I always liked him; still do.
Thanks April and R.R.
Once again top shelf.
Thank you Roy!
As usual, your choice of music is impeccable. Perfect choice in a Jerry Butler song to close.
Congratulations on another excellent podcast! From the excellent choice of opening music (“The Boy From New York City” to Singer Jerry Butler closing it out. Once in a great while you just connect with a particular public figure, an athlete, actor, or singer, and end up following that person throughout their career. That person becomes almost a surrogate to the particular entertainment. Jerry Butler was the adult film actor I locked into, when I first saw him in “Raw Talent” back in the eighties. Then all the Henri Pachard NY based films he made. I always considered him a fine actor who could also do sex scenes, not just a one dimensional porn stud. His candor and humor during this interview is much appreciated. Off topic, Jerry’s commentary on the DVD of “Little Darlin’s ” was a hoot!
April, appreciate your work on the podcast (and keeping Jerry on point during the interview). I’d like to add that you have a wonderful, smoky voice. Noticed it during the Jeff Stryker interview. You would do well narrating audiobooks of Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett stories.
Thank you so much Frank! I guess all those years of being mistaken for my father on the phone when I was kid paid off!!
Another great one. I also thought Jerry was top shelf. I read his book back in the 90s and the interview was an excellent follow-up. Even though it’s been 20+ years since I read it, I would love to know who was responsible for all the metaphors in RAW TALENT. It must of set a record for autobiographies!
Glad you enjoyed the book. The metaphors were all Jerry’s. They just seemed to flow out of him like lava from a volcano.
I read you book when it first came out I loved it ands would have never guessed he played for the New Haven Nighthawks. Though I have to say he is manic as most hockey players I know.
Bloody brilliant interview. Words are superfluous.
Fantastic interview! This is such a good site and I’m going through all of the other podcasts as I drive to and from work, during my lunch hour, and at home at night. Such a joy and a treasure! I wish you all would interview yourselves because you seem like such interesting and knowledgeable people in regards to this time period . And I love April’s voice! Thanks again!
Jerry Butler sounds like an actor. He’s obviously a natural talent. He should probably be interviewed as well by Marc Maron for his “WTF” podcast. Jerrry/Paul has a voice and speaking style that sounds well-suited for the stage. His descriptions of his sexuality sound to me like what’s probably very typical of heterosexual men, even perhaps enhanced by cocaine, let alone porn. He also sounds like a terrifically kind person at heart- and he has a lot of heart.
I don’t agree with him that this country “gave up morals, decency.” I think this country and its society has long had problems with morals and decency, but much more in the past was kept hidden because honestly expressing indecency and absolute selfishness had been unacceptable. This country did much that was immoral and indecent through its military and corporate might, and now that’s being expressed as well by crass celebrity and absolute capitalism that overrides anything else.
So yes, we’re seeing a lot more acceptance of immorality and indecency, but it’s just a lot less hidden. That may be a good thing because what’s hidden away can hurt people in secret, but surely everyone can agree that there was much more of a sense of community in all kinds of communities in America’s past, including porn.
I also learned two new words that he introduced in the interview: “pressure-rous” and “temp-tating.” He’s an energetic, expressive guy with a terrific voice and a lot of character, and it was a really good interview.
THE RIALTO REPORT IS THE-BEST-PODCAST-EVAHHH!!!
If you have any early episodes that are not available on the site right now (Wakefield Poole? John Amero? etc.) please release them.
Can’t WAIT for the next one!
Thanks April….THE premiere cast re: film,period.
You,Ashley and all contributors are way out ahead
of the rest. No one in your rear views.Raw Talent piece
second to none. Collection in print of podcasts must
be soon. Time not on our side for these oral histories.
Do not slow down;for historical purposes,there is NO
ephemera in history of American porn. Every scrap
of info matters.We understand the reluctance of those
whose lives have progressed beyond that time.It is that
very hesitation on their parts that points to how vital
it is that these first person narratives be obtained NOW….
The ever-shifting plates of “moral values” as pointed out
by Jerry here,indicate the generational rejection/
acceptance by The New Puritans of today. If history IS
bunk,as someone said,it is also written by the “winners”.
Your work at de-bunking is precious.Winners AND losers
must be recorded.
Jerry and April, you guys look great in the pic!
Another very enjoyable podcast, a great roller coaster ride with April’s fascinating voice pacing JB, and as unfiltered and raw as it gets, and I particularly liked what Jerry pondered at the end about our day and age. What he said about distraction and temptation reminds me of the Chinese proverb/curse “may you live in interesting times”. Kudos.
(That karate scene… kicks ass… What a fucking classic!) All the best to both of you. RR keep doing what you do.
…and what Gayzer said too… almost to a t.
Great podcast. The cool thing about Mr.Butler is he is always candid, and very honest for a porn star, he broke the mould and spoke clearly about the whole business, without glamorizing or demonising it.
He is also really funny and was great in Brooklyn Rapper Necro’s ‘sexy sluts’ video!
I can listen to his meshigarse all day!
Love you, Brother. Thanks for staying real. And hey…the coffee’s on me, any time.
The universe missed out on yet one more golden opportunity when it neglected to put you and Robin Williams in the same room at the same time.
Jerry and I made some good films together. Always polite.
Hi Annette, I watched Firebox yesterday, I want to thank you for being so awesome in it, it’s obvious that you are someone who is naturally passionate, sexual and very comfortable with it but all the same, even someone with that gift would find it hard to match you in the sack.
I would love to see a film with you and Jerry together! I’ll go and seek it now…
Born in 1975, my first exposure to the adult film world in my early teens was the early/mid ’80’s films and videos that Jerry Butler was very much a part of. I remember first seeing him in 1985’s “Xstasy” with Shanna McCullough and Nina Hartley, and from that first exposure I was a fan. He was usually most charismatic actor in the productions he was in and even myself being a dyed in the wool heterosexual, I could see he was an attractive dude; certainly better looking than some male adult stars. But his best trait was his acting and full devotion to whatever situation and character he was playing. He kept many amused and in “Raw Talent” amongst others, kept many enthralled by his serious acting chops. I read his book shortly after it was published and I still go back to it every few years. It is a timeless story of big ambition and trial and error in the age of the post sexual revolution confusion that many men found themselves in. Great interview and the podcast has become required listening for me each new episode…thank you!
I’ve recently spoken to Jerry. His word play is still gungho. We laughed about our catch up/catsup as my name is Heinz. He seems quite happy. 🙂
Trying to reach Jerry Butler to send him invite to book opening party for Dennis Hof’s autobiography. Please send me an email