Whatever Happened to Levi Richards?
The Journey to Hart Island

Whatever Happened to Levi Richards? <br />The Journey to Hart Island

Seriously. What happened to Levi Richards?

The basic facts about his adult film career are public knowledge. Levi Richards was an early actor in New York – a good looking, B-player not interested in rivaling Harry Reems or Jamie Gillis for top dog status on the embryonic sex film scene. But a dependable, fresh and friendly-faced regular.

He worked with them all – Gerry Damiano, Joe Sarno, Radley Metzger, Lloyd Kaufman, Doris Wishman, and many more – in a half-decade career.

He was funny in the comedies, poignant in the dramas, and entertaining in the one-day wonders. And he was one third of the famous sandwich scene in The Devil in Miss Jones (1973).

Eventually he moved away from the porn scene and on to other acting work, before finding success in the world of real estate. The Rialto Report was privileged to know him and call him a friend.

And then he committed suicide.

So the unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, question remains: Whatever happened to Levi Richards?

And also, what happened to him after his passing?

All interview extracts were conducted by The Rialto Report, except where noted.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Hart Island is located off New York City, lying in a stretch of water called the Long Island Sound, north of Manhattan. It is the easternmost part of the Bronx. The island’s name supposedly comes from its heart-like shape. It is 1 mile long by 1⁄4 mile wide, and covers 130 acres.

It has no living inhabitants.

Hart Island

*

Harry Reems:

If you want to know what the porno business was really like in the beginning, you should speak to someone who wasn’t defined by it. Guys like me, we became the porno business. We can’t be objective. I became an alcoholic because of the way I was treated as a porn actor – so I’ve got a lot of baggage.

If you want to know the truth, find someone normal and see what happened to them.

Someone like Levi Richards. He was a nice, normal guy.

 

Jason Russell:

Levi Richards…? That’s a blast from the past. I haven’t thought about him in a long, long time. He was close to Tina (Russell) and I back in the beginning. He was one of the earliest performers in the industry.

 

Jamie Gillis:

Levi Richards! We lived together off Times Square for a brief moment when we were making fuck films. We had a wild time chasing skirt. I took over his apartment when he left New York. I wish I’d kept up with him. Good guy. What happened to him?

Levi Richards

 

The males of the early adult film business were a rare species. You could almost count the regular performers from the first generation on the fingers of one grubby hand. Each came with their own avatar. There was goofy Harry Reems, louche Jamie Gillis, boy-next-door Eric Edwards, straggly hippie Jason Russell, and zany Fred Lincoln.

And then there was Levi Richards. Goofy, shy, and friendly Levi Richards. Good-natured, lovable, and sweet Levi Richards. His all-American athlete name matched his appearance, which complemented his perpetual, boyish smile. He showed up in loops, one-day wonders and some of the loftier-budgeted films too. He always looked happy to be there, but aware that perhaps he shouldn’t be.

 

Tina Russell, from ‘Porno Star’ (1973):

(Levi) is honest, down-to-earth, and just a hell of a sweet guy. He is overly concerned about his ability to please women, and at times pretends to be shy to cover up his insecurity.

*

Hart IslandHart Island lies silent and near-forgotten, but its history is colorful. Its first public use was to train United States Colored Troops in 1864, and it has subsequently been a Union Civil War prison camp, a psychiatric institution, a tuberculosis sanatorium, and a boys’ reformatory. During the Cold War, Nike defense missiles were stationed there.

Hart Island now serves as New York City’s potter’s field, and is the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world.

*

Over the years, most of the early New York actors have proven findable with a minimal amount of research, but Levi Richards left the industry AWOL in the mid-1970s and left little trace. For such a popular guy, he hadn’t kept in touch with any of his friends, and his whereabouts were unknown for the ensuing decades. Fifteen years ago, I found Levi Richard’s real name – and discovered that he was living only a few minutes away from where I was working in Manhattan. I called and left him a message, but received no reply.

A few months later, April Hall called him and left him a message. She mentioned some of the people he worked with – such as Jamie Gillis and Radley Metzger – hoping it would pique his interest. It worked. The combination of wanting to re-connect with old friends, and his curiosity that a female might be interested in his long-forgotten adult film career did the trick. He called back.

He hadn’t spoken about his porn past with anyone for over 25 years – and was reticent about disclosing it with strangers. But he eventually agreed to meet up at a midtown New York steakhouse and talk a little about his life.

*

Hart IslandPotter’s field (noun)

Definition: a public burial place for paupers, unknown persons, and criminals.

Derivation: A field where potters dug for clay would already be full of trenches and holes, and therefore convenient for burying bodies on top of each other – cheaply, quickly and with minimum fuss.

 

 

*

Tina Russell, from ‘Porno Star’ (1973):

He’s about 6’2” and a hundred sixty pounds. He has rather wide shoulders (…) and his body is lean and in great shape, due to many years of yoga, good food, and very few vices. His eyes and smile are so warm and sensitive that they can warm your very soul.

 

The older, twenty-first century version of Levi Richards bounded into the restaurant like a friendly Labrador. He was immaculately dressed in a business suit, silk tie, and pocket square, but apart from greying hair and a heavier frame, still looked like the young man from the dawn of porn.

“Call me Rick”, he said, as he shook my hand like a football player.

Rick was quick to smile and laugh, but despite his friendliness and aw-shucks humility, he was clearly nervous. He spoke hesitatingly and guardedly about his past, deliberately and self-consciously leaving out the real names of old acquaintances, as well as parts of his private life. It wasn’t until we stood up at the end of the meal that I noticed how much he’d been drinking over the course of the evening. He struggled to balance as he staggered towards the door and careered into a neighboring table.

Despite a certain anxiety on his part, we agreed to get together again, and over the course of the next months and years, we’d meet and talk on many occasions. I shared copies of his films which triggered new memories, and Rick slowly opened up about his life. What emerged was a gentle man of quiet insecurities. Several conflicts came to the surface. He remained unsure about what to make of his adult past. He wasn’t sure if he had fulfilled his potential in life. He said he was sometimes lonely, and found it difficult to be intimate with women. He had a successful career as a real estate broker, but had started to have concerns that he was getting too old to compete against younger rivals.

His story slowly took form.

Levi Richards

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

I was born July 31, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York as Richard Livert.

I was a happy-go-lucky kid. I did pretty well in most things… schools, sports, socially. I wasn’t a star, but I was a pretty good kid. I wanted to be liked. I still do, I guess. Some things never change.

I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career when I was younger. I was in the debating group because I liked performing and speaking in front of people, but the truth was I never thought about the future. I was just fat, dumb and happy – metaphorically speaking.

I liked the restaurant business. It seemed glamorous to me, so I worked part-time jobs as a busboy when I was a teenager.

I left home at 18 and went to Southern Illinois University. When I returned to New York, I got a job managing Rita Dimitri’s La Chansonnette supper club in Manhattan. It’d just opened, and was a popular place in the city. Rita was a well-known local chanteuse who’d became famous singing French songs by Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. She opened La Chansonnette on Second Avenue with her husband, Stanley, and my job there was a good gig: I ate well, I got paid well, and I was free during the day. I also got to know some stars who came into the restaurant.

One person I met was Lee Strasberg, the acting coach who worked with Marilyn Monroe. We talked occasionally, and he encouraged me to try acting. The idea had never occurred to me, and it stuck in the back of my mind.

 

In our conversations, Rick seldom spoke about his family, but when he did, there was an air of sadness to his comments. His parents had passed, and he had a brother, but he often changed the subject when asked about them.

*

Hart IslandIt is said that more than 1,000,000 dead are buried on Hart Island.

Since the 2000s however, the burial rate is fewer than 1,500 per year. One third of annual burials are infants and stillborn babies. The mothers of these children are generally unaware of what it means to sign papers authorizing a ‘City Burial.’

Those interred on Hart Island are not necessarily homeless or indigent; some are people who could not afford the expenses of a private funeral or who were unclaimed by relatives within a month of their death.

 

*

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

In 1968, I left New York and went to Los Angeles – to seek fame and fortune, I guess! When I got there, I lived in Venice which was a cool hippie area with lots of small bars and shops. I was carefree and directionless, so I felt right at home.

One day, a friend told me he was in an acting workshop. That was a revelation to me. I had no idea that people actually studied to become actors. It was a strange concept as I always thought that acting was just a natural process. I went along to the acting workshop, and liked it. I joined some theater groups – like the Venice Free Theater – and appeared regularly in plays.

Levi Richards

 

The problem of course was that there was no money in performing. I had to pick up cash to support myself doing work here and there, and one day I saw an ad in the L.A. Free Press for nude modeling. I figured it’d be easy work, and perhaps I’d meet some girls too. I called up the number and went to meet this guy at the Crossroad of the Worlds shopping area on Sunset Blvd. He fixed me up on a photo shoot – and I was paid $30 for a few hours of work. Hell, you couldn’t turn down that kind of money – it made the rest of life easy!

After that, I got semi-regular work posing for pictures. Some involved other models, some just me. Nothing was ever particularly sexual. I never knew what happened to the photos. They were mostly taken outdoors – sometimes in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills – so I figured that they were sold to naturist or nudie magazines that were popular in the 1960s. I think some appeared in a magazine called Jaybird.

After six months of still-photo work, I was offered a job making an 8mm loop. This time it definitely was sexual – though it was softcore. It was just me and a model writhing on a bed in a North Hollywood apartment. The pay was $40 – a raise! – which sounded good to me.

And then came hardcore… and before I knew it, I was actually having sex in front of a cameraman.

Levi Richards

 

In our early conversations, I thought Rick seemed uncomfortable talking about his feelings. As time went by, my interpretation changed. It was more that he didn’t have the vocabulary to express his feelings about himself, and it frustrated him. Sometimes though, after a few drinks, he would open up more, and the conversation became more revealing.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to think how I sort of fell into sex films. I had the intention of being an actor – a serious actor – and yet… I was a sex worker. I didn’t mind at the time. I was going to be young forever. But looking back, I think I blocked out what I was doing. I had fun. I went along with it because it was easy money. But I didn’t think of the bigger picture. I didn’t care. I always think I should have asked more questions of myself. More questions…

I did quite a bit of film work in California, but usually I didn’t even know if I was making a loop or whether I was filming something that was going to be part of a feature length film. I just did my scene and that was it.

I met a guy named Jack Genero who was breaking into the XXX business, and we became friends. He was shooting 16mm films with some better production values. But let’s get this straight: Everything is relative. Even Jack’s films weren’t ‘Casablanca’… but at least he was making an effort with his scripts, and that gave me the chance to do some acting as well as have sex.

Looking at the films you showed me, like Ensenada Hole, Lady Luck, Climax, and the others – I’d say that they’re all Jack Genero productions. I don’t remember making that kind of film for anyone else.

Looking at these Los Angeles films now it’s… shocking to me. I don’t know what to say. Not from a sexual point of view, but from a memory perspective. It’s amazing how much I’ve… locked away… deep inside myself. Seeing them again brought some of it back, and it’s like a time machine. Seeing my younger self… full of hope, optimism… it’s a strange experience. I struggle sometimes to understand how quickly life has passed, and what happened to the kid in the picture.

*

Hart IslandOn Hart Island, the dead are buried in trenches to make disinterment easier. Disinterments are frequent, because families often wish to locate their relatives through DNA, photographs or fingerprints.

Babies are placed in coffins which are stacked five high and twenty across. Adults are placed in larger pine boxes according to size.

Interments on Hart Island are weekly, and to minimize the expense to taxpayers, the burials are conducted by Rikers Island prison inmates. Each plot is marked with a single concrete marker.

No ceremony has been conducted on Hart Island since the 1950s.

*

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

I moved back to New York in 1971, with the intention of becoming a real actor. I liked the theater I’d done in Los Angeles – even the acting in the porno films – and I thought that the theater scene in New York would give me more opportunities. I remembered Lee Strasberg, so I enrolled for classes at his Actors Studio. I did off-off-Broadway plays and got work as an extra in films – including a Woody Allen feature.

New York was more expensive to live in than California, so I needed more ways to make money. I did everything: I sold cosmetics in the garment center by going into the office buildings where I met receptionists and secretaries. I also sold jewelry, jeans and T-shirts. I went back to working in restaurants, I moved furniture, and took care of animals. It was never a problem. It wasn’t much money but I never had a problem making enough money to survive.

I can’t remember who hooked me up with the New York adult film scene, but somehow I found work with people like Joe Sarno, Gerry Damiano, and Ed Seeman/Eduardo Cemano. In fact, one of my first roles was for Ed in his film, The Healers. It was a strange introduction to the New York sex film world, because Ed wasn’t a typical porn filmmaker. He thought he was making real art films, and he was deadly serious about them! Once I was talking with him, and I dismissed the whole porno film scene, saying that everyone was just doing porno until something better came along. Ed was angry with me, and said, “No, this is real! This is art! This has meaning!” To be fair to him, he was more creative than most other directors.

It was through Ed that I met people like Tina Russell, Marc Stevens, and Georgina Spelvin. They were the building blocks of New York porn films. Tina was the easiest to work with. We were friends, and lovers. I’d go round to the apartment in Brooklyn that she shared with her husband Jason, and had sex with her. Jason never minded. He seemed happy for her. On set, she was always sweet and professional.

Levi Richards, Tina RussellLevi Richards, Tina Russell

 

Tina Russell, from ‘Porno Star’ (1973):

When I say Levi is dedicated to acting, I mean he is *dedicated*. Nearly all of the money he makes by selling cosmetics door-to-door to office girls, he uses for voice and acting lessons. He would rather live in a cheap tenement apartment with roaches in a mid-town slum than give up on any of his outrageously expensive lessons. He doesn’t want to see his name in lights, although I’m sure he thinks that it would be nice – he just loves to act.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

I remember reading that (quote by Tina) when her book came out. I disagreed with her assessment of my life at that point. I was studying acting and taking voice lessons just like any aspiring actor would do. I was no different from any actor who wanted to make it. And I was always proud of the places I lived. They weren’t dumps to me.

 

Tina Russell, from ‘Porno Star’ (1973):

Levi’s main love is the stage. He is constantly working in off-off-Broadway shows for which he receives no pay. When he is about to open, he becomes so excited that he cannot stop talking of his play. He is not a braggart. He simply becomes genuinely excited.

 

One of the first New York movies that Rick remembered making was Gerard Damiano’s ‘The Devil in Miss Jones’ – in a scene with Georgina Spelvin and Marc Stevens. His role in it was small, but memorable.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

Marc (Stevens) was a prima donna, but somehow he was endearing. He was obsessed with himself, his image, his career, and his sexuality, but he was a funny guy. We were both hired for The Devil in Miss Jones, and I did a three-way scene with him and Georgina. I think it was Harry Reems who called me up and offered me the part. He didn’t tell me it was for a double penetration scene though…

We shot it out in Pennsylvania in a big converted barn. Gerry had already made Deep Throat, so he was a ‘name’ in the business, and he had a confident swagger. Everyone respected him – so when he told you to do something, you just did it. I remember taking my clothes off, and waiting for instructions. Gerry just said, “Okay, you’re on! Just jump in there!” I was shocked. I’d never done this sex act before… but I did what I was told. I jumped in, and it was over in about half an hour. It was a strange thing to do. God bless my younger self. I never had performance problems. People would sometimes ask me, “How do you keep it up all the time!?” And I would say, “My problem is, how do I keep it down…?”

Levi Richards, Georgina SpelvinLevi Richards, Georgina Spelvin

 

The majority of Rick’s early movies were cheap, forgettable sex films. Every so often, I took a selection of them on DVD over to his apartment, and we watched them while fast-forwarding through the actual sex. Once Rick commented: “Aren’t we doing this the wrong way round? I thought that people are meant to watch these movies for the sex…and skip the dialogue scenes?!”

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

It wasn’t long before people industrialized the process of making sex films, to the extent that they were able to shoot an entire film in a day – hence their name, ‘one day wonders.’ I must have made 30 or 40 one-day wonders in a three-year period, and it was good money. I was paying $120 a month in rent. I earned $100 a day for a one-day wonder, so it was a no-brainer. Plus I had fun making them with people I knew and liked. It was like a social group that got together once a month to make a film – guys like Steve Tucker, Jamie Gillis, Jason, Marc and others. We’d meet early, food and drink was provided, improvise a few scenes, have sex, and then wrap late. It was fun. But I still can’t believe what I’m seeing when I watch a film like Teenage Nurses. That is one of the strangest movies of any kind ever made! It’s mind-bending. Who was watching these films… and why?!

The guys from the one day wonders were my buddies off set as well. Jamie (Gillis) and I went betting at the races every few weeks and he moved into my apartment for a while, Harry (Reems) got me work in off-off-Broadway theater groups, and Tucker and I went into business as aluminum siding salesmen… that venture didn’t last long thankfully.

 

One of the only people that Rick wanted to contact again from the adult film days was Jamie Gillis. Every few months, I had a gathering at my house to watch boxing on television – and Jamie was a regular. I invited Rick several times, and he swapped stories with Jamie during those evenings together. Rick still liked his drink, and usually finished up the evening worse for wear. As much as he seemed to enjoy himself, he found it difficult to truly relax.

*

Hart IslandIn 1985, sixteen bodies infected with AIDS were buried on Hart Island. They were interred at the southern tip of the island because it was believed that the dead AIDS victims would contaminate the other corpses with the disease. They were the only people to be buried in a separate grave. When it was later discovered that corpses could not transmit diseases to other corpses, the city started burying AIDS victims in the mass graves on the rest of the island. Since then, thousands of AIDS victims have been buried on Hart Island.

The only single grave on the island belongs to the first pediatric AIDS victim to die in New York City. The baby’s grave has a concrete marker that reads SC (special child) B1 (baby 1).

*

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

One of the only films that stood out in my memory before you showed me any was Deep Throat 2. The producer of the film was the same mob-related guy who’d made the first ‘Deep Throat’, a guy named Butchie Peraino. Joe Sarno was the director and I already knew him from one or two other movies I’d made. He was a sweet guy, but the movie wasn’t one of his best. I saw it again recently, and it’s a bad attempt at comedy and it makes little sense. Joe was at his best when he made more serious emotional melodramas. But I remember that there was a good atmosphere on set, and the film gave me the chance to ham it up and be the class clown.

Of course, Linda Lovelace was the star, and so I expected her to be a little difficult. But she was sweet and had no pretensions. She had her boyfriend Chuck with her, and he was keeping everyone in check – but she was gentle and accommodating. She was the last person in the world that you would think would be a porno actress. There was no hint of the coercion that she alleged later. She just seemed a happy, if simple, woman.

Levi Richards, Linda LovelaceLevi Richards, Linda Lovelace

 

Most of the adult film work was obtained by word-of-mouth, but I remember going to a few casting calls at Dorothy Palmer’s agency. She had a strange business, finding people for mainstream films, alongside casting for porn films. And she seemed to make no differentiation between the two… in fact, sometimes she’d send you to a job that she insisted was a straight film, and when you turned up, you knew right away it was a porno… She had a drawling voice, and she was very persuasive. She could sell snow to eskimos. She’s still around, which is incredible because she seemed old even back then.

I met Radley Metzger through Dorothy. He was hiring for The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (1974). Radley was talented, and on a different level from the rest of the filmmakers in the business. In fact the difference between him and the rest was striking. He made the others look like amateurs. He knew exactly what he wanted – and he knew how to get it: We were there to deliver his vision. Everyone talked about crossover films, or films that would have mainstream success. I thought that was ridiculous – until I saw Radley’s films. He was the only one who could have broken a porn film into the straight world.

My role in Pamela Mann was small, but I met Barbara Bourbon on the set. Radley had found her on the West Coast. She wasn’t a New York regular, and had only made a film or two before he flew her to New York. In fact, she’d never done hardcore. She told me she’d dated Francis Ford Coppola for a few years, and had traveled the world with him. After the movie she went back to Los Angeles, and called me to see if I wanted to fly out there to appear in an X-rated western with her. I accepted because I was excited to go back to Los Angeles – but it turned out that the film, called A Dirty Western, was being shot on a movie ranch in Johnson Canyon near Kanab, Utah. It was the same location where they filmed ‘The Lone Ranger’, ‘Gunsmoke’, and a lot of movie westerns. But it was a change from the cold, often dirty, sets in New York.

My favorite film was one of the last I made, Naked Came the Stranger (1975). I had the starring role with Darby Lloyd Rains. From memory, it took a week to make – which was much longer than usual. I knew all about the book on which it was based – and the famous hoax, and so the film got some publicity because of that. I had a crush on Mary Stuart who played the role of my lover in the film. It was always more exciting when you felt something for your sex partners.

Naked Came The StrangerMart Stuart, Darby Lloyd Rains, Levi Richards

 

Apart from Jamie Gillis, Radley Metzger was the other person that Rick wanted to see again. Later in life, Radley was seldom interested in meeting with actors from his films (Gloria Leonard was a rare exception), but he was eventually persuaded to meet with Rick over lunch. Rick still clearly respected Radley, and they warmly embraced and remembered old times over matzo ball soup, and agreed to stay in touch.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

After ‘Naked Came the Stranger’, I may have made one or two other films, but my life had moved on. I got married in 1975, and my wife wasn’t impressed with the porno business. She told me to get out – so I did. My career in adult films came to an end.

It was strange to stop making films. On the one hand, I’d had a ball and didn’t regret it. But equally, I didn’t miss it. I’d had enough. I had done it all, and it was time to move on. I didn’t stay in touch with anyone from the business, I just walked away. And I didn’t think about it much. Occasionally I bumped into people on the street from the old days, and it was fun to reminisce. In the late 1970s, I saw Tina Russell walking down the avenue, but she was in a very bad way, under the influence of some drug or another. I didn’t even say hello to her. She was just out of it. That made me sad. I heard that she died a year or two after that.

 

Tina Russell, from ‘Porno Star’ (1973):

Sometime, when you’re not too tired after a long day on the set – or at the theater, or selling cosmetics – and you feel like making slow, sweet love, come over and see me, Levi.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

What is shocking to me today – truly shocking – is that the films still exist… and that people are interested in them. Never in a million years did I expect anyone to be interested in this. I thought they were ephemeral. I didn’t think they’d last. I thought they would just disappear after playing in the theaters. This is just… I can’t explain. It’s mind boggling. I did a commentary track interview for ‘Deep Throat 2’ but it made me feel a little uncomfortable to be talking about it all again, so I kinda shut down and didn’t say much.

Would I have done anything different had I known this…? Maybe… Maybe not… But, believe me, the thought that any of these films would survive 40 years later is just beyond belief. Like I said, there are many questions I could have thought about but I didn’t.

Now that I think about it, there are parts of those days that I miss. It was fun: I got paid and I had sex. There was a loose atmosphere, and the world was more innocent. Today… life can be… it’s complicated. It’s all complicated.

*

Hart Island is run by the New York City Department of Corrections, and has been completely inaccessible for most of its history.

Hart IslandHowever the process of visiting the island has been improved recently due to efforts by The Hart Island Project and the New York Civil Liberties Union. Starting in July 2015, there have been two ferry trips to the island each month: one for family members, and one for members of the general public.

Those who wish to visit the island must request a visit ahead of time with the Department of Correction. If you are able to get an appointment, you must arrive at a designated time, sign a legal release, and produce government issued identification.

Only 70 visitors per month are allowed to visit Hart Island.

*

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

I kept my dream of being an actor alive and I kept working in theater. I had a few good parts. In 1976, I was in the Actor’s Studio ‘From the Memoirs of Pontius Pilate’ and in 1977, I was in George Bernard Shaw’s ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’ on Broadway, which starred Rex Harrison. Some of the adult film guys, like Harry Reems, complained that they weren’t getting mainstream roles because porn held them back – but that wasn’t my experience. I never thought that any serious person would take notice of the sex films that we did. They were small and insignificant, and no one who auditioned me for a straight role ever had any clue about them.

 

Apart from talking with Rick about his life in film over the course of years, we found ourselves talking about another common interest – New York real estate. Our conversations were informed by the fact that we both worked in the business.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

I got my real estate license in 1988 when I was 44. By that point, I’d done a lot of jobs to support my acting dreams over my life, but it was time to get a real job. But I never gave up hope that I’d be an actor one day, and so I still continue to pay my Screen Actors Guild dues each year.

I got a Professional Certificate in Real Estate from New York University, and now I’m a member of the Real Estate Board of New York.

Nowadays I work for Douglas Elliman, and my clients are both landlords and tenants, as well as buyers and sellers of commercial and investment property.

 

From Rick Livert’s bio at Douglas Elliman:

Levi RichardsAs a broker, he started at the Michael A. Burak Company. Much of his career was spent at Winick Realty Group, where as Director of Sales he consummated transactions as diverse as the sale of Duane Reade’s warehouse in Long Island City, to the leasing of the China Club in Times Square. Along the way, he leased seven stores to the same deli operator, who as Richard says, “… would lease a store in less time than it would take me to buy a pair of shoes”.

In the spring of 2000, he joined the late Alan Simon in his new venture, Goodstein Realty Commercial, as Director. The subsequent purchase of Goodstein Realty by Douglas Elliman puts him in an even stronger position to serve the clients that he has known over the years, and those he is yet to meet.

*

Hart IslandSince 1994, The Hart Island Project has been active in obtaining copies of public burial records for those buried on the island.

The Hart Island Project database has made it easier for the relatives and loved ones of the almost one million people buried on Hart Island to get information about the people they have lost.

The Hart Island Project has now digitally mapped grave trenches using GPS.

*

‘Livert of Douglas Elliman sells 733 Ninth Ave. for $4.75 million’, from New York Real Estate Journal (November 19, 2007):

In an off-the-market transaction, 733 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood was sold for $4.75 million to a local bar/restaurant operator. The sale was the first sale of the building in 27 years according to Richard Livert of Prudential Douglas Elliman Commercial Group, who was the sole broker in the transaction. The 21′ X 75′ building, built on a 100′ deep lot was occupied by an animal hospital on the ground floor and by the owner’s business on the upper floors, and was delivered vacant. The new owner plans to occupy the ground floor himself.

The sellers were the owners of Troma Films, producers of such cult classic horror-comedies as The Toxic Avenger, and Class of Nuke ‘Em High. Director Lloyd Kaufman and his partner Michael Herz plan to move their offices to Long Island City.

 

Rick Livert (aka Levi Richards):

You want to know my favorite piece of real estate that I ever came across?

It was the house that Radley found for ‘The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann’. I loved that house. It was a huge mansion with 12 bedrooms, a big pool, and a separate guest house in the gardens. It had some connection to F. Scott Fitzgerald and ‘The Great Gatsby’.

It overlooked the water and you could see Manhattan and the islands across the bay. When we shot there, I sat out there for hours looking at the view. I loved that place.

It came up for sale about ten years ago, and I wish I could’ve afforded to buy it – but it was selling for $20 million.

I had dreams of retiring there, and one day being buried in the garden.

 

The Rialto Report visited the house in 2016, and found that it hadn’t been occupied in the intervening years – and showed considerable deterioration. Windows were broken, trees had fallen onto the structure, and birds were nesting in the rooms.

 

*

Rick Livert died on October 6, 2015 in Manhattan, New York City.

 

‘Kills self before marshal evicts’, New York Daily News (7 October 2015):

A 71-year-old real estate broker killed himself with a shotgun after a city marshal knocked on his door to evict him from his Murray Hill apartment Tuesday, police sources said.

Broker Richard Livert, 71, told city Marshal George Essock through the door of his 305 E. 40th St. apartment to give him a few minutes to get dressed after the marshal knocked at 11:30 a.m., a spokesman for the marshals said.

“(The marshal) said a few minutes later there was a loud noise. He didn’t know what it was,” said the spokesman, Michael Woloz.

When Essock drilled through the door, he found Livert dead in the bedroom with a gunshot wound to his head. Essock called police, but Livert, who worked at Douglas Elliman, could not be saved.

Neighbors said Livert, who lived alone, had hit financial straits and was behind on mortgage and maintenance payments at the luxury co-op.

“Richard was happy go lucky on the outside, but that masked what was sad on the inside,” one neighbor said.

 

Why did Rick kill himself? Was it money problems, demons from the past, a fear of the future, or something else?

Why does anyone do it? Albert Camus considered it our one really serious philosophical problem: “Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.” If freedom is self-ownership, is it the most basic right of all, or is it the opposite, an evil caused by the refusal to take an interest in existence?

Rick berated himself for not asking enough questions, but instead he left us with many.

 

From the Hart Island Project website:

Richard Livert

 

Why was Rick buried in relative anonymity on Hart Island, a place associated with the destitute, penniless, and unknown? Was it because no relative claimed his remains within the legal window of time? Or was no one willing to pay the expenses for a private funeral?

I tracked down Rick’s older brother, but the messages I left were not returned. Whatever the reason for his resting place, it seems strange that the final chapter for a successful real estate broker should end like this. And it seems sad that someone whose presence many had enjoyed on the screen should be laid to rest this way.

*

Instructions issued to Hart Island visitors by the New York City Department of Correction:

–      No contraband, including cell phones, cameras, and other electronic devices are allowed

–      Small tokens, such as flowers, may be left.  No metal items are permitted to be left.

*

In August 2018, I visited Hart Island.

I applied several months in advance and received confirmation and instructions the week before. A boat takes visitors the few hundred yards over to the island.

On a summer day, it is a balmy, peaceful location, full of mature, rich green trees and seabirds circling overhead. In the winter however, the island guide told of icy winds coming off the water on all sides making it a bone-chillingly cold and inhospitable place.

The island is punctuated with long-abandoned buildings dating back from the days that Hart Island served as a mental institution and a tuberculosis sanatorium. They give the island a ghostly air, like a small village from a horror film. In fact, a film was once made there: Island of the Dead (2000), starring Malcom McDowell and Mos Def, was a chiller set on the Island, about a Trump-like real estate developer wanting to turn the vast gravesite into expensive apartments. The tagline was ‘Never disturb the dead.’

The New York Department of Correction may have set a limit of 70 visitors to Hart Island per month, but they needn’t have worried on the day I visited. Only seven other people were interested this month of August, all of them curious sightseers and none of them family members or friends of anyone buried there. As you walk around the island, you see inmates in the distance making their way to the grave sites to bury the recently deceased.

After walking around the designated area, we returned to the boat to leave.

*

In 2014, the Hart Island ‘Traveling Cloud Museum’ was started. It invites people to contribute stories, photos, or epitaphs about the buried to prevent them from remaining anonymous in eternity.

A ‘clock of anonymity’ records the length of time each person has been anonymous so far.

*

From the ‘Traveling Cloud Museum’ website:

Richard Livert

*

To the east of Hart Island, the nearest body of land is the northern tip of King’s Point. This is the precise location of the mansion used in the film ‘Naked Came the Stranger’, the house that Rick had loved.

The home is so close to the island, it is almost as if Rick’s final resting place is in its back garden.

Naked came The Stranger

*

Wait a while, eternity. This is the story of just one life, the rich life of Rick Livert, asleep on Hart Island.

Levi Richards

*

 

  • Posted On: 26th August 2018
  • By: Ashley West
  • Under: Articles

36 Comments

  1. Jose Verschaffel · August 26, 2018 Reply

    Very interesting, a little before my time in the industry

  2. James · August 26, 2018 Reply

    Sad. So little of what actually makes me happy can be bought or sold. Yet still I pursue those things.

  3. Chris · August 26, 2018 Reply

    I’m sorry that Rick and so many others from the Golden Age came to such sad ends.

  4. Another reader · August 26, 2018 Reply

    Sad story. He was a handsome fellow and a good actor.

    I’ve heard Veri Knotty, cult fave porn star from the 70s. known to tie her lady parts into a knot, hence the stage name, was buried in a Potters Field. Not sure if it was the same one as Levi Richards though. Maybe you guys could solve the mystery of Veri’s life and death too. I believe Sharon Mitchell was with her at the end, so perhaps she could help you out with the story. She wrote for Cheri and High Society and talked about her early life in her columns and interviews.

  5. David Hinson · August 28, 2018 Reply

    Wow, what a great story! Never heard of him but it amazes me how these stories are so interesting! Have you ever spoken to Dorothy Palmer? She would obviously be a great interview.

  6. CTC · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Another fine example of what makes the Rialto Report so special. Beyond the history lessons, fascinating antidotes, and much needed documentation, there is a genuine heart behind your work. You obviously care about your subjects, as human beings. The fact that you not only told Rick Livert’s/Levi Richards’ story, but also took the time to visit his final resting place, is quite touching. Anyone could tell the story of Levi Richards, but only the Rialto Report would make the effort to remember Richard Livert.

  7. Tara · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Thanks for posting this. Even though he didn’t think the film was good I really enjoyed Rick’s performance in Deep Throat II. It demonstrated his talents as an actor and comedian. RIP & God bless Rick.

  8. Mark · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Once again, ‘The Rialto report’ creates another digital time capsule from an exciting era that can never be repeated. Every interview is compelling and made with genuine affection.. future generations will thank you, Rialto report- for the fine work you do.

  9. Marco Rodriguez · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Definitely my first image of Levi Richard was the sándwich scene from devil in miss jones. I always wondering how the life of those who played small roles in films of Golden era was. Here we are a sample. Sad story of a guy who always wanted to be a real, serious actor that apparently he didnt succeed. Its painful to know that his life came to end alone.

    Once more congratulations to the people of Rialto Report for telling us stories like this !!
    Bravo !!

  10. sloinker · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Maybe I missed it but what became of his wife that made him quit the business? Sad story about an interesting individual. I came across this site a while back and have enjoyed it immensely. I was stationed on Governors island in 1980-1981 and remember Times Square and the wide open criminality and sleaziness. Perfect for a sailor. Keep ’em coming as this has quickly become one of my favorite spots on the ‘net.

    • Rick · August 31, 2018 Reply

      Sloinker: Have you seen HBO’s The Deuce, for which the Rialto Reporters are consultants ? You’ll be happy to know that they portray sailors and soldiers frequently as customers. In the long-haired 70s, the servicemen are the only guys with buzz cuts! 🙂

  11. Shanika Bradley · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Once again y’all did a good job I never heard of him but this story really brought tears to my eyes over the sad ending to his life I can’t wait to see the next story y’all do again just was an amazing story

  12. Jim Stevens · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Glad to see you back up. As always, the depth of your reporting is peerless and this one’s bittersweet. Levi/Rick was a presence in several of my favorite golden age classics (“Devil in Miss Jones, “Pamela Mann, and especially “Naked Came The Stranger”) and while he was able to move on and find success elsewhere, it doesn’t appear to have brought him much happiness.

    Very grateful you were able to find a new home so quickly…although I knew you would. You’re too valuable to lose at this point.

  13. JL Hayseed · August 29, 2018 Reply

    Wow. What a story.

  14. Dan Rizzi · August 30, 2018 Reply

    Excellent story. And very well written. Breaking up the piece with the history of Hart Island knowing that this is the fate that was in store for Mr. Richards gave the whole story an air of sadness that was very effective. Kudos Rialto Report!

  15. Reezoy · August 30, 2018 Reply

    Thank you. A compelling bittersweet story artfully told.

  16. Rick · August 31, 2018 Reply

    I note that he worked with Lloyd Kaufman in the 1970s, and then Kaufman used him to broker a real estate transaction in 2007, as seen in the news stories you excerpted. I’m assuming Kaufman knew this was someone he’d worked with in a different capacity? Nice that the guys from Troma Films gave him the commission on that!

  17. Yizmo Gizmo · August 31, 2018 Reply

    “as believed that the dead AIDS victims would contaminate the other corpses with the disease.”

    Who the hell cares if other corpses get contaminated. They’re already dead.

  18. Patrick Palmer · September 1, 2018 Reply

    What a history lesson on several fronts… Not only Rick’s life but the backstory of the island. Kudos!

  19. Tina Marie/Elle Rio fan · September 1, 2018 Reply

    This guy had some demons. He sounds embarrassed and ashamed that he got naked and had sex on camera. Guys like Jamie Gillis, Paul Thomas, John Leslie, etc. are confident and don’t give two shits what people think about them being the the biz. They own it. This guy sounds like he had regrets and seems shocked and upset that his films were readily available to watch 40 years (and forever) later.

    Another great read and props to The Rialto Report for all the hard work and research. Very cool that they cover the male talent as much as they do.

    One male talent who was of the top guys in the biz at one point was Kevin James. He died of cancer at a very young age and despite his long resume of films, not much is known about him.

  20. J. Walter Puppybreath · September 1, 2018 Reply

    Another stellar piece, RR!!
    Not to take away from Levi’s story, but I’m fascinated by places such as Hart’s Island.

  21. Brandon · September 2, 2018 Reply

    Naked Came The Stranger is what I will always remember him for. Thanks for this and thanks for helping me discover this fascinating era of adult films.

  22. Tom · September 2, 2018 Reply

    Exquisite piece. Essential reading once again from Rialto Report.

  23. Giorgio Bruno · September 2, 2018 Reply

    Fascinating.

    I love how the adult film industry is the springboard for a wider investigation each time.

    Amazing work. Thanks.

  24. Roger Wade · September 2, 2018 Reply

    very effective telling of two parallel stories that came together in the end. I find the fact Rick/Levi was still paying dues to the SAG many years after having gone into real estate is the telling detail- the harder a dream dies the more it takes with it

  25. TiggerCharie · September 2, 2018 Reply

    “10 million stories in the naked city”. This tale is fascinating to me on so many levels: “Naked Came the stranger”, was the first adult film I ever saw, It was on late night cable, maybe I was 14; I am a trained professional actor, and I have friends with survival jobs ranging from waitering through stripping through real estate- who would ever guess that the middle aged guy helping find an apartment did porn 40 years ago; I see that someone mentioned “The Deuce”, in the comments, and I had one line in the 1st season, after 3 auditions. I miss “old New York”, and I love the classic exteriors in old movies, adult or mainstream.
    P.S. welcome back Rialto’s

  26. E King · September 2, 2018 Reply

    Great story. Very human. Suicide is sad for everyone.

    By the way: I would enjoy reading a how and why adult films moved from NY to LA. Are adult films (non-canning) still filmed in NY?

  27. RICH · September 10, 2018 Reply

    Very interesting story, and a very sad story. It seemed like this gentlemen had accomplished what few do in the adult film industry… He got out, but not just out….He pulled his life together and was thriving for a time. He went from adult xxx actor, to a successful career in real estate….No easy accomplishment….To end up on Hart, just adds tremendous pathos to his tale…. Your story sparked my memory of another person laid to rest on Hart ” Bobby Driscoll ” A Disney child star…. Another very sad tale…..

    Thanks for the Excellent reporting guy..

Leave a reply