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Johnnie Keyes was the first black porn star, and from the moment he emerges in Behind the Green Door (1972), dressed in nothing but crotchless tights and an African necklace, nothing was quite the same again.
There may have been more prolific or famous male adult film stars over the last 50 years, but has anyone made a more iconic entrance and statement?
He was paired with Marilyn Chambers – the whiter than white Ivory Snow girl – and their interracial scene broke new ground, striking a blow to a major sexual taboo in U.S. society.
Johnnie featured on and off in adult films for the next decade, but was never defined by the adult film industry – he always seemed to have something else on the go.
So who was the man behind the character – who became the most famous black actor in 1970s adult film?
Now 76, Johnnie speaks to us in a rare interview, remembering his porn films, but also his starring roles in musicals and the theater, his time as a boxer, a singer, and a sex surrogate, and his life in the Army and in Vietnam.
With stories of Behind the Green Door, Candida Royalle, the musical Hair, Desiree Cousteau, Jamie Gillis, Jimi Hendrix, John Holmes, Lesllie Bovee, Marilyn Chambers, the Mitchell brothers, Seka, Serena, Swedish Erotica, Heavenly Desire, Pro-Ball Cheerleaders, and much more…
And a bonus story from the actor Idris Elba.
With special thanks to Margaret Thompson and Bill Margold.
This episode’s running time is 74 minutes.
Johnnie Keyes films
Behind The Green Door (1972):
Johnnie Keyes emerges from ‘Behind The Green Door’
Resurrection Of Eve (1973):
The Decline and Fall of Lacey Bodine (1975):
Heavenly Desire (1979):
Pro-Ball Cheerleaders (1979):
Johnnie Keyes, with The Rialto Report’s April Hall
First to post!
I’m loving this – Johnnie is funny, moving, obscene, outrageous, and thoughtful… what a character! He should have his own talk show.
Highly recommended podcast.
This is a great podcast! Johnnie had a good time!!! Highly recommended.
Another essential episode of the show that is single-handedly writing the true oral (giggle…) history of the adult film industry.Truly impactful and influential and entertaining.
Johnny Keyes…… at last! The BROTHER of XXX!
Brilliant! More NSFW than normal but bloody hilarious at times (and sobering at others. Keye’s thoughts on war are more heartfelt than any politician).
Wow….I can’t believe Johnnie is 76. Loved him in Behind the Green Door (the original and the sequel) and The Resurrection of Eve. Thanks for another great podcast!
As a music fan, I’d love to know the name of the Cleveland group he talks about. He mentions doing “some local records”.
The Magnificents (“Up On The Mountain”) had a singer named Johnny Keyes, but as this was a Chicago group, so it must be a different person.
Johnnie Keyes nobody else like him.. they can’t compete. He walked with a strut and still has that strut in his spirit. Simply a great cat! Glad we were pals once. Fabulous piece of work, Ashley. Thanx!
With the exception of Desiree Cousteau, this is the one of the white whales that I was hoping the Rialto Report would do! Oh wow, this is going to be epic!
Johnnie: You’re the first, the best, and I Ioved hearing your story.
Rialto folk: Thanks for keeping it real. You are quality in a sea of mediocrity.
Another one out of the park, RR!
another awesome podcast!
Quero o colar dele.
Now the mention of “The Decline and Fall of Lacey Bodine” prompts me to BEG you to do a feature on the lovely Joan Devlon!
Maybe one day…
WOW! JOHNNY KEYES!!
Truly a triumph.
After years of wading through third rate ‘sex-positive academics’ attempt analyze the industry for the last two decades, this site is a breath of fresh air. REAL information, REAL history.
How come Johnnie never had a sex scene with Seka in Heavenly Desire? I remember reading at the time that Seka’s boyfriend Ken wouldn’t allow it?
Dear Seka Fan: Do you even listen to the podcast before leaving a comment….? You should try it sometime – you’ll find your question is answered in the show.
I laughed a lot listening to this podcast. He seems very real and young at heart. I think he’d get along well with young people, particularly young men.
It’s interesting and eye opening for me – probably because it’s the first time – to listen to an old man talk about sex so candidly and explicitly and use all those naughty and bad words as if it were nothing. That had me laughing. And also him calling Ashley dawg.
I’m glad you guys featured him in your podcasts.
I thought you might like to see this excellent review of your podcast from the estimable Paste Magazine Podcast of the Week:
In this episode, Ashley West interviews Johnnie Keyes, known for being the first African American to have an on-screen interracial sex scene in the Mitchell brothers’ Behind the Green Door. Like practically every episode of The Rialto Report, an interview of an iconic porn star becomes an endlessly riveting story of a life lasciviously lived—covering Keyes’ time touring with the musical Hair, rubbing elbows with such luminaries as Miles Davis and Bob Fosse, traveling all over the world as a title-winning lightweight boxer, and of course living in the pre-civil rights South—as well as a detailed, comprehensive snapshot of twentieth century American history, of a country seemingly always in violent flux. When West asks Keyes to talk about his time in Vietnam, the otherwise boisterous man goes absolutely silent, politely requesting his interviewer move on. In that brief moment of pause, The Rialto Report confirms why it’s such a vital podcast—not because it wrings compelling content from exploited tragedy, but because it proves, almost always effortlessly, that the perspectives most worth exploring are those “normal” society deems worthless.
A toast to the rialto report for this one. Keyes is CLASSIC!!
He’s a warrior, a boxer, a singer, and a lover.
Ashley…..what a fascinating and enjoyable interview from start to finish….I was truly enthralled for the full thing. I had the pleasure of doing my first Swedish Erotica with Johnny and Serena in that hot tub scene in Muir Woods. It was a lot of fun and I was new in the business so I had no idea who Johnny was at the time….just thought he was hot and I was completely taken with Serena as well. Jamie was there too that day watching since he and Serena were together at the time. Johnny was so open as well as articulate in the interview and I found him to be a great storyteller…..the story about him and Hendrix on acid was quite a gem……I was also with him in ProBall Cheerleaders and then he and I were invited back to Hefner’s after the film awards in LA where we ended up spending the whole weekend there as his guests. I think he really did have something special that women were just drawn to ……he certainly was colorful and entertaining and I can see that he still is more than ever. Thank you so much for this interview….as you know, I very rarely speak up but I always watch the Rialto Report and this interview really moved me since Johnny was a part of my past too….if you ever speak to him, please let him know that this interview made me get to know him even better than that weekend at Hefner’s and I send my love.
Much love to you and April as well……
Johnnie Keyes was so funny, articulate and those stories…. so fantastic you think he must have exaggerated but all the details are spot on. This guy could do a one man theater piece. Looks and talks like a homeboy with the mind of a PH.D. In philosophy. Genius. I have to say that just listening to him was making me hot!!
I thought his silence on Vietnam was very profound as well. Must have been a nightmare
Wow Susie Nero……………!!!!
Welcome! It is SUCH a pleasure to hear your memories of Johnnie and the good old days.
I hope you realize what a legend you truly are. I saw you at the Melody back in the 80z and you were a true force of nature… I have always dreamed up running into you in the Village on your bicycle so I’m very happy to hear from you here.
A podcast interview with the excellent Rialto people would make my life complete…!
Yahoo – its’s Sue!
Thanks for the memories.
Awesome to hear from you!
I once read that you dated Jesse Adams and I wondered if you knew what became of him? He was such a consistent and great performer in the San Fran days, and I’d love the Rialto to interview him.
And have you ever thought of writing a book?
Yes – to Jesse Adams! That would be great to hear where he ended up. He must have had an interesting life.
And yes, to an interview with You, Sue….
that a great interview,thank you guys for the great work!!Johnny Keyes rock!
Fantastic interview as always! This era of filmmaking is so fascinating to me. I’m a huge fan of 70’s films in general, and especially ones set and filmed in NYC. I love the fact that there are so many amazing landmarks and locations in these films. The guerilla filmmaking techniques used were quite clever, it seems. Having grown up in the 70’s I remember walking by adult theaters and being fascinated by the posters and 8×10 stills. I couldn’t wait until I was 18 and could finally get to see one of these films. Candida Royalle, Sue Nero, Tina Russell, and Andrea True have become my favorites. I never had the opportunity to catch any of their films in a theater, as I didn’t actually get to see an adult film on the big screen until I was in my early 20’s in the mid-eighties.
I hope you two are able to get an interview with Sue Nero. Such an underrated performer, she reminded me of an actress I had a crush on in the 70’s Melanie Mayron, from “Car Wash” and other films who’s now a director, I believe.
Another great and informative interview! I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Johnnie Keyes at the famous O’Farrell Theatre back on October 19, 2013. The theatre was having a special screening of Vivid’s THE NEW BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR starring Brooklyn Lee, Dana DeArmond, and Steven St. Croix. The emcee was none other then Johnnie Keyes. After the screening I had the chance to talk to him and get his autograph. It was such a honor to have met this living legend! I wrote all about that night on my film blog. I posted the link to it below.
Loved this interview. Love and respect Johnnie Keyes for being the first brotha to make inroad in porn.
Great interview with one of the people that made my work so exciting. He was fun to hang out with; wish I had done it more.
One of my favorite actors.
My first time in the States was in 77, at that time I was 16 and had the chance to see the movie Behind the green door. I did like it.
I wish mr Keyes the best for you.