San Francisco was ground zero for the adult film business. It’s where ‘split beaver’ loops took off in the 1960s and paved the way for the hardcore features that followed as production moved into the next decade.
And when San Francisco ushered in the 1970s, Jon Martin was ready. A native of the city, he honed his acting chops on the east coast before answering an ad for film performers back in his home town. That ad was placed by Artie and Jim Mitchell, up-and-coming filmmakers looking to create content for their recently purchased O’Farrell Theatre. One loop later, the Mitchells asked Jon to appear in his first feature film, Behind the Green Door.
It was the start of a long and productive cinematic career for Jon, working for the Mitchells and other notable directors like Anthony Spinelli, Henri Pachard, Bob Chinn and Alex de Renzy. His career also saw him perform with the top names of the early golden age like John Leslie, Georgina Spelvin, Jamie Gillis and Marilyn Chambers, and with the new wave of actors ushered in by video in the 1980s including Ginger Lynn, Tom Byron and Peter North.
In the beginning, there was San Francisco. And Jon Martin was there. This is his story.
Jon Martin: Beginnings
You were born in San Francisco, is that right?
That’s right. But I didn’t grow up in San Francisco. I spent the first three months of my life there in a small apartment my parents had in the Castro District. I slept in the bathtub – that’s what served as my crib.
After that we moved to San Bruno, a suburb of San Francisco, with help from my grandparents. It was a very Italian and Irish area at the time.
Where were your parents from?
My father was from Milaca, Minnesota, a little town not far from Minneapolis and St. Paul, and she was of Scotch, English and Irish heritage. My mother was from Denver, Colorado and was Danish.
How did they meet?
My father worked in a little butcher shop on Castro Street, and my mother used to go there to buy meat. That’s how they met. My dad – who’d hang out on the fire escape – would watch for my mother walking down the street. He took notice, they started dating, and eventually they got married.
My father was quite the ladies’ man. He didn’t cheat or anything, but if they went to a party, he was the first person up on the dance floor. And as my mother didn’t like to dance, he partnered with all the other wives. Those women loved him because he was a great dancer.
Did you have any siblings?
I had a brother named Brian. He was three years younger, and a troubled soul, a mild schizophrenic.
He wound up resenting me. Everything I did – and was successful at, he tried… but didn’t quite cut it. It was a tough situation.
He died about three years ago from bladder cancer.
What were you like as a kid?
I was pretty gregarious. And I was artistic. I played the piano and, at one point, my parents enrolled me and my brother in dance class. Unlike my father, I wasn’t a very good dancer, not good at all in fact, but I enjoyed it. I also liked sports but again, I wasn’t very good.
For the most part, my upbringing was pretty normal.
Were things comfortable financially?
Not really. I mean, my father was a hard worker. He eventually left the butcher shop and went to work for the railroad. His brother worked for the railroad and helped get him a job as a locomotive fireman.
But for a while my mother didn’t work – at least not until I was about eight or nine when she took a job – so we lived off one income. When my mother went to work, my father’s mother, Goldie, took care of me and my brother. We loved Goldie. She eventually ended up moving next door to us just so we could all be closer together.
Where you a good student?
I wouldn’t say I was a great student. But once I got into high school, things changed. I started going to a parochial Catholic school in San Francisco so I got the heck out of the suburbs. At that school I got very involved in the drama department. I did shows like A Bell for Adano, Bye Bye Birdie, and My Fair Lady. It was fun, and it was a big deal at the school.
What made you interested in dramatic arts?
I already sang and played the piano, so when I saw a note for try-outs, I just went and auditioned. I was into musical comedy, so the music and the singing attracted me for sure.
I wasn’t much of a TV kid and it wasn’t like we could afford to go to the theater, at least not until later. So I think I just figured, why not?
Once I started acting, I loved it. Especially when we got out of rehearsals and started to perform in front of an audience. I really fed off the energy of the crowd. That sealed my love of performing.
Do you remember when you started getting interested in girls and in sex?
I was a late bloomer. It wasn’t until high school, probably my junior year, that I went out with a couple of girls from other parochial schools. That consisted of kissing and heavy petting – if I was lucky.
In the summer before my senior year, I was in a local production of Guys and Dolls, and met Suzanne Somers, who was also in high school and in the show. We became good friends. She was having an affair with the drama teacher. Everybody knew it.
But like most boys my age, I masturbated regularly. I remember that when I was about 15, I found my father’s stash of Playboy magazines. Even though it was pretty soft stuff I made good use of it – and always carefully replaced them so nobody would be the wiser.
Sex didn’t come later – when I was 19 years old.
Getting back to acting, when did you start taking it really seriously?
There was a company called The National Repertory Theater formed by a famous actress named Eva Le Gallienne. That company came to San Francisco and I wound up interviewing the press agent for a school project. I told him about my acting ambitions and he told me about a summer theater in upstate New York called the Colony. He helped me get a job with them.
So, the summer after I graduated from high school, I left for upstate New York. I got to experience a bit of everything with that theater company. I started out working in the producer’s office, then I worked the box office. I’d paint scenery, work on lighting and sound, and of course, I acted.
It was really fantastic. I was working in a professional theater and I really got to see the ins and outs. That experience really cemented my desire to become a professional actor.
What were your plans after summer theater?
I decided college was the next step. I thought it was a good idea to get a degree and I wanted to keep studying theater. The man who ran my high school drama department, he was a fantastic mentor. He knew the head of the theater department at San Francisco State, so I started my studies there.
I remember getting the lead in Under Milk Wood, the Dylan Thomas play. It was a huge undertaking, because it’s basically a one-man show. I was on stage pretty much by myself for an hour and 35 minutes or so, and it was all on me. It was a lot of pressure but I loved it.
And it was during this first year in college that you lost your virginity?
That’s right. She was a go-go dancer on Geary Street in San Francisco. I used to hang out in that neighborhood with the theater crowd. There was a piano bar called The Curtain Call and, if I dressed properly, I could convince them to let me in. I never ordered any drinks but I would sing with the piano player, which was fun.
I met this young woman at the theater where she danced. The first time we had sex wasn’t great for me because it was over so quickly. But it got a lot better with time. We saw each other for a few months – long enough for the sex to get good.
It sounds like you enjoyed your college years.
I did. But we were in the middle of the Vietnam War, and there was no way that I was going to let myself get drafted into the Army or Marines. I wasn’t political but I was worried about my personal safety.
So, the day I got my draft notice I enlisted in the Navy. I figured I’d have much less of a chance of ever seeing combat if I was in the Navy.
I did my basic training in San Diego and then it was time to be posted. I was told the possibilities were the Pentagon, Guam or Londonderry, Northern Ireland. I took the officer in charge of personnel and his wife to dinner and made my preference for Ireland known. I guess it worked because Londonderry was where I wound up.
I worked at a major naval communication center there. I was a radioman, basically a clerical, yeoman’s type position. But I lived off-base with a few guys, and wore civilian clothing off-duty as uniforms off-grounds weren’t permitted.
I really enjoyed Ireland. I made some friends and we’d go out on the town to local pubs. That said, there was a lot of conflict between the Protestants and the Catholics. In fact, we got in trouble one night for picking up a man laying in the gutter with a bloody face and gauged eyeball. We tried to get a taxi to the hospital but the driver said he wouldn’t take us because the guy was a Catholic. We pushed the driver out of the cab and took the injured man to the hospital ourselves. It was all over the local press and we got called in to see the commanding officer. He acknowledged we did the right thing but told us to be more careful. Luckily, we weren’t punished.
While I was in the Navy, I joined the Blue Jackets choir. We were 15 or 20 guys who’d perform at local hospitals and functions on the base. That allowed me to keep up with my singing which I enjoyed. There was also a local theater group and I got a small part in a production of the World War II drama Stalag 17.
I was supposed to be in the Navy for four years, but after three years a young Irish lady claimed I got her pregnant. It was totally untrue. I never slept with her. I found out later that she made the same claim against 12 or 13 other guys. She was looking for a free ride to the United States. But the Navy’s legal department still needed to make the problem go away and they did that by discharging me early.
To be honest, I was happy to be done with my service and to be heading back to the States.
What were your plans when you returned?
I wanted to go back to school. I started classes again during the day – and began working on the railroads overnight. I wanted to earn enough money to be self-sufficient. I began by operating switches and signals, and I moved into engine service over time. I’d start work around 11:30pm, get everything I needed to get done within the first few hours, then lay some cardboard down by the engine and go to sleep.
And did you have a plan to get back into acting?
Yes. One good thing about the railroad job is that I could put in for time off or a leave of absence, even up to a couple of months at a time, then come back and my job would be waiting for me. So I took a couple of months off and headed back to New York where I got an apartment on the Upper West Side with a few other actors. This was 1970 and New York was the place to be for theater acting.
While I was there, I went out on some cattle calls and took some acting classes. I was fortunate enough to get in a class with Uta Hagen. I got jobs working in national tours of a couple of musical comedies. I think Cabaret was one; Fiddler on the Roof the other.
I wound up leaving New York and traveling across the country. It was a gypsy sort of lifestyle. You’d room with other actors and be in a town anywhere from one to six weeks to perform. It was really enjoyable.
But I loved New York. The city felt very depraved at that point – and that was just fine with me.
Tell me more about the depravity of New York in 1970.
I spent a lot of time down in the Village when I wasn’t working, and people came in all shapes and sizes down there. Straight, gay, trans, you name it. I used to go to the Stonewall Inn to hang out. I wasn’t gay but the lifestyle was nothing new to me as there were a lot of gay guys and girls in the theater business.
How would you describe yourself sexually at that time?
I was definitely exploring a lot. I ended up dating the sister of someone I met doing summer stock. I wasn’t having a ton of sex, but I was having my fair share.
I used to spend a good amount of time at a bar and restaurant called Joe Allen on 46th and Eighth Ave. A lot of the theater crowd hung out there and I dated a few of the ladies I met there. But my sexuality only really blossomed once I got into the adult industry.
What brought you back to the West Coast?
I had a few acting friends in New York who really wanted to be stars by a certain age and it wasn’t happening for them. Three of them became deeply depressed because of that… and committed suicide in short order.
That was an awakening for me. I said to myself, “You know what, you better get the hell out of here.” I was afraid if I stayed and didn’t find success I’d fall into depression as well. I could see that happening to me.
So, I came back to San Francisco, resumed college and started working on the railroad again. I even got promoted to a locomotive fireman, which was a step up. But after three weeks I was laid off. It was just a matter of seniority – I was the least senior so I was let go due to business circumstances.
I applied for unemployment and began thinking about what I was going to do next. I was taking classes at the Actors Studio in North Beach and working with them, so that was something.
One day I picked up a copy of the San Francisco Chronicle and saw a film company ad looking for actors. There weren’t any other details but I called the number – and after sharing some of my acting credentials with them over the phone – I was asked to come in and meet with the company heads.
Those heads were Jim and Artie Mitchell.
The Adult Film Years
Did the ad make clear that these were sex films?
Absolutely not. I thought I was responding to a straight acting call. But when I got down to the sound studio in the Potrero Hill area of San Francisco, it became obvious what kind of films Jim and Art made. They told me exactly what they were looking for.
The studio itself was bare bones but professional looking enough. There were lights around, and various pieces of equipment like cameras over on one side, and they had a row of costumes. It wasn’t fancy but it definitely felt legitimate.
What were your initial impressions of Jim and Artie?
Artie was this skinny little dude, and pretty gregarious. I could tell right away that Jim was more of the business guy – he was the one that was going to cut any deals. I thought they were both great guys and had a very favorable opinion of them.
There were some other people in the studio as well when I went down to interview. One was a cinematographer named Jon Fontana. Later I got to work with Jon and know him well – he was a dynamite guy, and he really knew his business. Artie and Jim treated him like he was a member of their family.
The Mitchell Brothers
How did Jim and Artie position their work and the opportunity to you?
They said they were making a short film with dialogue – they called it a “vignette.” There would be a script of sorts, and they said a relationship would develop between the two characters and it would become sexual. They made it clear that there would be a sex scene. They asked me if I was okay with that, and I said, “Yeah, I suppose so.” I was comfortable whether the sex was going to be real or simulated.
Did you pause and think at all about the impact of being filmed having sex would have on your acting career – or on your relationships with family and friends?
No, not really. I wasn’t worried about it. I figured whatever came of it, I could handle it.
Did Jim and Artie tell you anything else about the production?
I think they told me that the film was going to be called Reckless Claudia and it would just be me and an actress. I don’t remember who the actress was – to my knowledge this was the only sex film she ever made. But if I remember it correctly, she was the daughter of a state senator. She didn’t tell me that but I figured it out later. Anyway, she was nice, and she was attractive. In those days, you didn’t have the prima donnas that came into the business later on.
And they told me what the job paid – which I think was around $125. They basically hired me on the spot.
What did they say they were going to do with the film?
At that point, they’d already purchased the O’Farrell Theater. This was around 1971, a couple of years after it first opened, so it wasn’t set up for dancers and stage shows yet: when they started, it was strictly a movie theater. They were creating these vignette films to show in the theater for paying customers.
What was that first adult shoot like for you?
It was shot on the same sound stage where I first met the Mitchells. When I got there, they gave us the script and got us into make-up. Then the woman playing Claudia and I ran through our lines – it wasn’t much of a script at all, but it was something anyway.
Because of the way the script was written, it became obvious to me at that point that there was going to be actual sex involved. And again, that was fine.
Outside of Jim and Artie, there were a few other people on set that day. Jon Fontana was there running camera, there was a sound guy, there was a hair and makeup person, and a rigger in charge of the lighting. It was a small crew.
Artie basically did all the directing. Jim watched over time and budget.
What were you thinking as you wrapped production that day?
I thought I’d definitely be up for doing this again. It was fun and it was easy money. I let Jim and Art know if they ever need a guy again, I’d be game.
A month or so later I got a call from Artie. This time, he said he was casting for a feature, a big production that he wanted to discuss with me. He said it was going to be called Behind the Green Door (1972), and it was based on the old erotic story that had been around for decades.
The next day I headed down to their offices at the O’Farrell Theatre. It was the first time that I actually saw the place. The downstairs was basically a big lobby area, a ticket booth, and the cinema itself. Someone told me to take a seat in the lobby as they were seeing several people that day. I think George McDonald was there that day. He was nice and pretty laid back, not terribly gregarious.
George McDonald and Marilyn Chambers, ‘Behind the Green Door’
And Marilyn Chambers was there.
Marilyn was absolutely gorgeous and it was clear the Mitchell Brothers were making a big deal about her. They had a few women taking care of her down in the lobby, kind of keeping her away from the rest of us. I think one of those women was Meredith, Artie’s first wife. It was like the star treatment had already begun for Marilyn.
When it was your turn to head up to the office, what did Jim and Artie say to you?
They described the energy that they wanted for the shoot. They wanted to set it up like a big party which became what most Mitchell Brother shoots were really. They offered me about five or six days of work at $100 a day. They didn’t mention a specific role – they said it would be more of a group scene. They also said there was going to be a trapeze scene and they wanted me to be in that.
As for the plot, they said Marilyn would be abducted and Johnnie Keyes would come to her rescue. They highlighted the interracial element. They also made clear that the abduction was like a fantasy – something the lead actress wants to have happen; not something done to her against her will.
It all sounded great to me. I thought it was a fantastic idea. I thought that if it was going to be done well, it could be a groundbreaking film. And it turned out it was.
I signed an actual contract with them that day. It stipulated the day rate – and I was one of the few people that got a royalty from the movie. I think the other people that got a royalty were Marilyn, Johnnie, George and Ben Davidson, who played the doorman. That royalty wasn’t a lot of money for me, but I figured it was something.
What happened once you were cast?
About a week after I met Artie and Jim at the O’Farrell, we started production back at the sound stage where I’d shot my first vignette for them. The first day, the studio was set up for the trapeze scene. It was much more elaborately set up than when I shot the vignette. The trapeze they built was quite intricate.
Aside from me, Marilyn was there of course, as were five other guys and the crew. But the Mitchells had made a mistake: the other guys they hired were all gay or bisexual and they were having trouble maintaining erections. There were some fluffers around but they were all women and that wasn’t doing it for the guys. I was the only one that was able to consistently perform that day. In fact, at the end of the day when I signed my model’s release and they paid me, Jim gave me a generous tip. All the pay was in cash.
Before I left for the day, Artie and Jim asked me to come back over to the O’Farrell with them for a little conference. Jim led off the conversation saying, “You know we had problems today. How would you feel about coming in and doing a re-shoot to cover some of those issues?”
When I told him that was fine, he next asked how much money I wanted for the additional work. I said, “Well, you’re talking about five wet shots. So, let’s say you give me $200 a piece.” I felt emboldened, like I had much more on my side in the bargain. They agreed to my ask, so we did it. I think we got the five shots over two days. It was just me and Marilyn in there for that, which was great.
What was your interaction with Marilyn like?
It was nice. She was a very, very sweet person. This was way before she hooked up with Chuck Traynor. All the stories you hear about him being a controlling asshole are true, no two ways about that.
But at that time Marilyn really was like the girl next door. You could talk to her. I remember chatting with her about the trapeze scene and her saying it was pretty exhausting for her. We also talked about what a nice guy George McDonald was.
Do you remember when you first met Johnnie Keyes?
Yes. It was a few days later on the set. My first impression of him was that he was…well, I wouldn’t say forbidding but he was a huge character and a force to be dealt with. It was sort of like he was staying in character, not laughing with the rest of the cast between takes.
But he wasn’t standoffish and he wasn’t crude. I got to know him over the years and he was a nice guy. He was also quite a gifted musician.
Do you remember filming the big party scene?
Yes, and it really was a big party. The Mitchells brought in food and drink, people were smoking and taking various drugs. I wasn’t into those substances but I did have a cocktail or two. Jim and Artie were pretty cool during that shoot – it was long before Artie’s craziness took over and their relationship got weird.
Actually, Jim was always… I wouldn’t call it stressed, but he was anxious about time and budget. It was never verbalized but you got that feeling from him.
What happened once you wrapped shooting?
I think there was a feeling among all of us that we’d done something special and it was going to be big. But it was going to take a while to get through post-production so I started looking for other work. That’s when I began making some loops with Jerry Abrams. I met him at the party scene in Green Door and he told me he shot sometimes and took my number. A lot of us made loops for Jerry during that period.
How did Jerry describe the loop work to you?
He said they were really short films – maybe 15 or 20 minutes each – with no dialogue or anything. He said I’d be in and out pretty quick and it generally paid between 50 and 75 dollars.
He shot the films at his house. He asked me to bring my own clothes but told me what he wanted me to wear. And it was all really easy. There was no set up or anything, it was basically get on the bed, have sex, then you’re done.
I shot with Jerry a lot – but there was never any crew. Most of the time it was just him and the performers!
Did anyone help you find adult film roles?
There was one woman who would more informally put people together. Her name was Kathryn Reed, and she was close with Alex de Renzy. I don’t know if she got paid for putting people together or not. We performers certainly didn’t pay her.
So, by now you’ve shot several movies, and one of them has been a huge success. Did it start to feel like work you’d be doing regularly?
At the same time, I was back at the railroad, working for them. I was on the midnight shift so I could do that work and film during the day. I had regular income again from the railroad – and the movies were like a side job.
I had an apartment in the Mission. It was a good life.
Did you tell any family or friends that you were making sex films?
I definitely didn’t tell my family. As for the women I dated, I didn’t tell them either. If I had a shoot, I’d say it was for a commercial or something. I figured it was a no-brainer: a woman was not going to put up with a guy if he went off and shot porn. So, it was all kept in the closet.
Was performing sexually in front of a camera easy for you from the beginning?
Yeah, it definitely was. I never had any trouble. Because even if I happened to work with somebody I wasn’t terribly attracted to, which very seldom occurred, I could fantasize about someone else and work through it. I was in the business for 18 years, and I’d say it was easy to perform for the first 15 or 16 of them.
When Behind the Green Door finally came out, how did that impact you?
As for me personally, I knew it would get out that I’d done it. In fact, I pretty much helped let the cat out of the bag. The San Francisco Chronicle newspaper had a thing called The Question Man – they contacted the Mitchell Brothers and some of us who acted in the movie and I gave them a quote. Around the same time a friend of my dad – called Jim – went to see the film with his wife, recognized me and told my father.
My father was pretty sharp. He supposedly said, “Well, Jim, if this is so terrible, why the hell were you there?”
Someone in my family told me that story, but I never spoke about it with my father – he never said anything to me about what I was doing. And I doubt he would have shared the information with my mother.
You weren’t going by the name Jon Martin in ‘Green Door’. In fact, you used a lot of names before you landed on Jon Martin. Why is that?
Yeah, I think I went by Jerry Ross or something like that. Most of the time I didn’t provide a name – the producer or distributor would just make something up for me. I finally landed on Jon Martin thanks to my mother’s hairdresser. He was gay and his partner, who worked in the New York theater scene, was named John Martin. I liked the sound of two first names – like John Leslie, Leslie being John’s middle name. Anyway, I decided to use this guy’s name but spelled John without the ‘H’ in order to differentiate myself.
Once in a while they would put my real name on a film and I’d have an absolute fit. I took one producer to court and won so he had to take everything with my real name on it out of circulation. It wasn’t that I was worried about my real name being out there – I just didn’t want to be taken advantage of.
You didn’t make a lot of feature films your first years in the business – why is that?
I got a lot of offers – in fact a lot of people got in touch with Kathryn Reed trying to reach me. But the money wasn’t there. So, I stuck with loops and several other small films, most of which I don’t even remember the names of, but they paid decently.
My next big project wasn’t until I started working with Anthony Spinelli, real name Sam Weston, who went on to become a dear friend of mine. He gave me a lead role in his film Portrait of Seduction (1976). Working with him on that was a fantastic experience. He had wanted to get into the mainstream business like his brother Jack Weston, but that didn’t work out for him so he made his name in the adult world.
Spinelli was a real director, and there weren’t very many of them in the industry at that time. When I first met him, we went through the script, which I think he wrote, and it was a good script. He told me, “I work differently than a lot of directors in this business. We’ll have about a week of rehearsal before we even think about shooting anything.” I thought to myself this is good. It’s like being back with a theater group.
The movie starred a woman named Vicky Lyon. Her husband Turk was also an adult actor – he wasn’t in this film but he was around the set. She was a great girl. In fact, we ended up dating for a while – it was on the down-low because, obviously, her husband couldn’t know about it.
So, there was a director, an assistant director, a week of rehearsal. Did this feel like something different from what you’d experienced in the adult industry so far?
Absolutely. And it was really all about Sam. He was no on one-take wonder. He’d do multiple takes, trying out different things to get a scene just right. As I said, he was a real director.
But after Green Door, your next big film was Resurrection of Eve, correct?
Yes, that was another Mitchell Brothers production, but I only had a small role in that. And the next big film they made after that, Sodom and Gomorrah, I wasn’t involved in at all.
One of your early feature films was Mary! Mary! and there’s a lot of controversy over who directed that – do you remember who it was?
I sure don’t. A lot of times the filmmakers came from Los Angeles, they weren’t from San Francisco, so we didn’t get to know them.
One film I do remember from my early career was Hot Lunch, produced by Chris Warfield. It was a sad situation because Chris was about 90% blind at the time, but he never let on. Although he couldn’t see a damn thing, he’d walk up to the camera, look through the eye piece and say, “Yeah, it looks good, looks really good.” You had to feel sorry for the poor guy.
Did you work with Lowell Pickett and Arlene Elster of the Sutter Cinema?
I worked with Lowell and Arlene but not at the Sutter. They were doing a lot of live sex shows at the Sutter, something I never did. Don Fernando was hugely involved with them. He was an animal when it came to live sex shows. He’d go out on the street, pick up these girls, then bring them over to the theater for sex. He loved it.
I worked with Lowell a couple of times but not on anything memorable. All his films were very low budget.
What about Alex de Renzy?
I knew Alex quite well. I met him at The Screening Room, the theatre he had in San Francisco. We would have met eventually though because of Kathryn Reed.
Alex was a crazy, wild man. He looked pretty bizarre, even back then. He was thin, scruffy guy with an overgrown beard. But he was a nice guy. Probably the biggest film I did with him was Pretty Peaches. The thing I remember most about the movie was Desiree Cousteau. I’d worked with her before and she was always such a sweetheart, she really was.
Alex de Renzy
And you worked a lot with Bob Chinn.
Yes. And Bob, to this day, remains a good friend of mine. He always had great scripts and he hired strong actors for both sex and non-sex roles. A few people have asked me why I loved Bob so much when he seemed to kill me off in every film of his I appeared in… but that was fine with me – I knew he wasn’t going to kill off John Holmes!
John was easy to work with in the beginning because he didn’t consider himself to be a big deal. When he worked on a film he gave it his all – for example it wasn’t unusual to find him unloading the equipment with the crew. By the time I worked with him on some loops for Swedish Erotica, he was really into cocaine and it showed. He no longer wore the flashy jewelry with diamonds he used to sport – we assumed because he hocked it for drugs. And he was so emaciated – he kept getting skinnier and skinnier.
Bob paired me up with Linda Wong quite a bit. She and I went on to date for a while. She came from a very traditional Asian family – her original name was Linda Ching and her family was wealthy. She started out as a prostitute, then moved into dancing and film work taking the name Linda Wong. She told me she’d been married, but her husband found out that she was doing sex work and divorced her.
We became very close. At that time I was living on Union Street in San Francisco and it was the place to be. We’d go out to the local dinner and bars a lot. I remember we’d hang out at Boz Scagg‘s bar The Blue Light and people would treat us like movie stars, even though we just made porn films. She was an extrovert and extremely sexual – all the guys in the business loved her. I remember Joey had a real thing for her and would rib me about dating her.
Unfortunately, she went on to develop a bad cocaine problem – snorting and shooting it. I remember once time she and I were doing a film with Charles deSantos and Linda locked herself in the bathroom, holding up production. The only way Charles could get her to come out was to tell her that if she finished the day’s shoot he’d give her some more drugs. And one night we were up in Marin County on a date and she drove her car into a ditch because she was so high. We were fine and I got her home. But it became a very sad situation.
Jon with Linda Wong
What other directors stood out?
Well, certainly Gerard Damiano. I made Fantasy with him – he gave me a very nice lead in that. His directorial style was very similar to Sam Weston’s. They were both very dedicated to their craft and were real directors. Both of them were also very demanding. They knew what they wanted, and they were going keep working at it until they got it.
Another person I did a lot of work for was Henri Pachard… Ron Sullivan. He was very creative and very hands on as a director. I absolutely adored Ron, as most of us did. Sometimes when I was down on my luck financially, Ron would make room for me in his latest production. He always looked out for his people.
Robert Mccallum – real name Gary Graver – was a friend as well as someone who directed me on several occasions. I connected with Gary because I dated a still photographer who worked with Sam Weston named Jackie Giroux and she went on to date Gary and told him about me. Jackie also went on to become a prolific mainstream actor and producer.
Gary wasn’t really a director but he was a brilliant cinematographer, having honed his craft working with Orson Welles. He got away with the light direction by hiring actors who knew their craft and providing time for us to rehearse. It was clear that Gary was in the adult business to make money, nothing more.
Bob Vosse was another great cinematographer that I did a lot of work with. He was with Swedish Erotica but we never really felt like we were working for Swedish Erotica – we were working for Bob. He was a talented guy, and also a little crazy. He’d lose his temper once in a while and when that happened, you had to watch out. But so talented. His real name was Don Brown, and he focused a lot on the surfing world. He was quite acclaimed for the films he made about surfing.
Stu Segall also comes to mind. He directed a number of porn films before finding a lot of success as a producer in the mainstream. I remember Stu’s company was called Miracle Films and his business card said: “If it’s a good film, it’s a Miracle!” He was funny and gregarious – life of the party type of guy. He wasn’t the greatest director – his scripts was sort of written on the back of a napkin and he was pretty passive on the set.
Leonard Kirtman was another guy I remember well. He was never really a director at all – he was more a producer that maybe took the director credit. He really wasn’t well liked in our industry. I actually named a character I played in another film something close to Leonard’s name just to get under his skin – and it worked. I heard he was furious about that… which I found satisfying.
I also worked with Carlos Tobalina a few times, but he wasn’t really a director like Weston and Damiano. One thing he loved to do that separates him from most anybody else was shoot with like six or seven cameras. I think he got the money for all those cameras and equipment from Mexico. I could never really understand what he was saying. He had a thick accent and didn’t speak English very well.
Once you were acting in adult films regularly, how did your life change?
Well, I hung out a lot with the people making the films. Our San Francisco group was very close-knit. I spent a lot of time with John Leslie, Joey Silvera, Mike Horner… John used to have these poker parties at his house, and he was a fantastic cook. He’d put together these great meals for everybody, and he was just such a fantastic man. I really miss Johnny.
Outside of the films, I was an avid gardener and photographer. I became good friends with an adult film set still photographer named Vince Fronczek – I shared his love of photography.
Were you keeping most of your romantic relationships within the industry?
Pretty much. After Linda, I dated Constance Money. It was convenient, because at that point she was roommates with John Leslie, and I was round his place a lot. She had a lot of health issues while we dated – she was always taking sitz baths with a cushion to ease her pain. She took me to visit her family in Seattle a couple of times and that was fun. I met her father whom she was close to – he was a doctor. He also seemed like an alcoholic to me. John Leslie became a father figure to Constance. He’d give her lots of guidance that she really came to rely on.
I was also great friends and lovers with Candida Royalle. We both lived in the Mission in San Francisco, did loops for Jerry Abrams and performed in several films together – like Bob Chinn’s Pizza Girls. She appeared at the Palace Theatre with a troupe of dancers and singers, and I’d go to see her there quite often. She was a great performer with a fabulous singing voice. While we dated she was also involved in a romantic relationship with Laurien Dominique. That didn’t bother me at all – Laurien was lovely. I miss Candida to this very day. I have some of her ashes on bureau to remind me of her.
Was anything like marriage or having children on your mind?
No, no, no, not at all. There was another woman – one who will remain nameless because I’m sure she’d want it that way – that I was in an eight-year relationship with. She also had dated Blair Harris before me.
She was a wild, wild girl and really perfect for me. I was pretty sexually wild back then – not to the level of a Jamie Gillis who was on a whole other level. But I held my own. Anyway, that was a long and happy relationship, but marriage and kids never came into it.
Jon (left) with Peter North
What about the performers you were working with – who stood out for you?
When I think about the performers, I put them in two categories. There were those that were attractive and energetic, but they weren’t really strong actors. When I think of real actors, I think of people like Georgina Spelvin, Jane Hamilton… Jesie St. James was a very good comedic actress.
Then there were those I loved to work with, like Lili Marlene, but I wouldn’t classify them as great actors. Lili loved to work with John Holmes due to his large endowment. Lili and I became pretty friendly but I wasn’t fond of her boyfriend. He used to take Lili to West Oakland and pimp her out to local black guys. She seemed OK with it but I didn’t like that he was using her as his meal ticket. Last I heard she had remarried and is living in Ohio.
I worked with Angel Kelly a few times when she got in the business. She stood out because there weren’t that many black performers in the industry, and because she was nice and beautiful. I also remember her because Nina’s brother-in-law Roger was madly in love with Angel. She didn’t feel the same way so nothing came of it but he really pined her for. As for other black performers, Billy Dee was great – a really strong actor. I also did some work with FM Bradley – there was a rumor going around that he was the son of Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. I don’t know if that was true but that was the word circulating.
I remember Mai Lin and her husband Dean because they were really big in the swing community. I tried that once or twice but it wasn’t my scene – it was mostly a bunch of older people, couples that were more like my parents’ age. Mai and Dean hosted swinging parties at their house a lot. Nina Hartley was also very into that scene.
And as for houses, I spent some time at the house on Polk street that Serena, Jamie, Annette and Lysa Thatcher shared. It was a hang out spot for industry people, which was a little strange because Serena had a young daughter at the house from a relationship with a pot grower in Mendocino county. Annette tried to get the child away from Serena but was never successful. Serena was way too extreme for my taste – she and Jamie were really into S&M and I was put off by the lack of hygiene around it. But Lysa and I became good friends – I used to go to the O’Farrell Theater a lot to see her. It wasn’t anything romantic – just a strong friendship.
I also have lots of memories of Sharon Kane. She was a great girl and a very talented musician. But she was also a party girl and she did a lot of bisexual films which I thought was dangerous. I couldn’t hang with that at all.
Was there a difference between the older generation of actors you worked with like John Leslie, Jamie Gillis and Georgina Spelvin and the new generation like Ginger Lynn, Peter North and Tom Byron?
Absolutely. The older generation were actors. We were there because we were interested in making films – real films. We really cared about the performances we were creating.
The new generation weren’t there to act – they were there for the money and the stardom. To them it was all just sex work. Sam Weston used to alway tease me about Tom Byron – he said Tommy got all my baby roles. I always played the young, innocent guys in the 70s. By the time Tom got into the business, I was older and he was fresh faced, taking over all those roles I used to get.
You mentioned that Sharon Kane was doing a lot of bisexual films that you found dangerous – why is that?
Basically because of the AIDS epidemic. There weren’t any incidences of HIV in the business in the early days but I still didn’t feel safe. That’s why I decided to leave the business. By the late 1980s, evidence of the disease was all over the streets of San Francisco where I lived. I would see these guys with Kaposi Sarcoma, guys who looked like they were wasting away, and it really frightened me.
Also, the business had changed so much by the late 80s. Now it was all video, no scripts, miniscule budgets, just wall-to-wall sex. Anybody that could afford to buy a video camera could make a film. There were a lot of bad movies being made.
Some of the guys stayed in the business, moving from in front of the camera to behind it – guys like Joey and PT. And they were successful at it. But I wasn’t interested in directing and I didn’t want to leave San Francisco for Los Angeles. L.A. wasn’t the environment for me.
So I knew it was time to leave the industry. One of the last films I shot, Cool Sheets, was with Spinelli. So, I basically started and ended my adult career with Spinelli.
Jon with Amber Lynn (left) and Sharon Mitchell
Why wasn’t Los Angeles for you?
In part because the filmmakers there were continually getting busted at that time. I remember one shoot I was on got raided by the cops. Somehow I had a sense that something bad was about to happen so I went into one of the bathrooms in this house where we were shooting, popped one of the ceiling tiles off and hid myself in a crawl space. I pulled the tile up after me and hung out there for about an hour until things got quiet. Finally, when it was silent, I climbed out and exited the house. There were a few actors outside that hadn’t been taken in by the cops. They were surprised to see me.
And you had no aspirations to produce?
Well, Charles deSantos and I put together a little company in the mid 1980s. Charles was always open to exploring different avenues within the adult industry. And I had a friend that was interested in investing some money. I think my friend believed he could make some money, but he was sadly mistaken.
We wound up producing and directing three films together. One that I came up with, which was for Sharon Mitchell and Tigr, was called Dangerous Women. It was based on the story of the fashion photographer Helmut Newton, but played by Mitch. We started the film in black-and-white freeze frame, then once action was called, Charles would dial up the color.
The idea for the film was mine but Mitch contributed a lot to it. We got together and talked about how we’d approach the production. We decided we wanted to do things a little differently, with no script. We would just ad lib the whole thing. We did, and it actually turned out pretty darn good. And in that film, I became the first guy Tigr ever worked with. She was such a sweetheart, but she was strictly into women.
Did you win any of the adult industry awards?
I won three of them, all for acting. The last one I won was for ‘Cool Sheets.’ I was proud of those awards. I still have them sitting up on my dining room hutch. I went to the ceremonies for the awards I won. I didn’t prepare a speech or anything, I just spoke off the cuff. I’ve also been inducted into the AVN Hall of Fame. I remember that ceremony quite well because that’s where Richard Pacheco told me that Sam Weston had passed away. That was a shock.
Jon with Brooke West
Which adult movies are you most proud of?
Definitely ‘Portrait of Seduction’ and Hot Legs. I’m really proud my performance in both of those. Also, ‘Behind the Green Door’, ‘Fantasy’ and N*u*r*s*e*s of the 407th, a ‘MASH’ parody directed by PT. ‘Nurses’ was hilarious and PT was a great guy. Whenever I was with him, if there was a piano around, he’d sit down to play and we’d all break into song.
All in all, I really am proud of a lot of the work I did in the business. But when it was time to leave, I was happy to move on.
Leaving the Adult Industry
When you decided to leave the industry, what did you think you would do?
Don’t forget I’d been working for the railroad all those years I was in the business.
In fact, one time I took an engine when I wanted to visit a porn shoot. I was working at Mission Bay, south of Market, and there was a shoot going on up at Bob Vosse’s studio. When the railroad guys went to lunch, I commandeered an engine to travel up north. I parked it right behind the studio. And I remember that film, The Erotic Adventures of Candy, because Carol Connors was in it… and she was a prima donna from hell.
I didn’t come up for a role in the film – I was there to visit Richard Pacheco and some friends. But Richard was having trouble performing with Carol. She was just so cold and haughty. Harry Mohney was directing the film – it’s credited to Gail Palmer but it was Harry directing and Gail wasn’t even on set. And I don’t think that was the first time – I’d heard that several films that Svetlana directed were credited to Gail as well. That didn’t bother me because Svetlana was pretty much an evil woman. I was working with John Leslie once on a film Svetlana was directing and she wasn’t paying any of us. John and I took a few cans of film she’d shot and told her she’d only get them back if she paid us.
Anyway Harry asked me if I would sub in for Richard and Richard said it was OK, so I did. I shot the scene, then got back into the engine and returned south.
I’d worked for the railroad for 15 years when I left the business. I didn’t think I’d stay with them until the bitter end but it gave me a safety net, as it always had, while I figured out what to do. But after a bit the railroad business got pretty bad and the company I was working for sent all the jobs to Texas. If I wanted to continue working for the company, I would have to move, and I didn’t want to – so I quit.
What did you do for work after that?
I went to work in the high-tech field. For a while I was employed with a company that did market research for the natural foods industry. Then I got long-term employment with an exhibit and convention business, and I was with them for 13 years.
I loved that job because I was a field supervisor so I got to travel all over the country, setting up these exhibits. It was almost like show business, because you worked your butt off in service of a successful show opening.
Did you pursue any other acting when you got out of the adult industry?
No, not really. I knew because I’d been in the adult business and had been prolific, the chances of getting any mainstream work were basically out the window. Almost anyone from the business that tried had failed. I was OK to put acting behind me.
If you could go back to before you were in the industry, would you do it all again knowing what you know now?
Absolutely. I don’t have any regrets about that.
I truly believe that in the days of film – film, not video – we were doing a service for the American public. I think audiences learned a lot about their sexuality from what they were watching on screen. I think we helped people have better sex.
So no, I wouldn’t change a thing.
If the AIDS crisis hadn’t come along, do you think you would have kept going? And would you say yes if you were offered a role today?
I probably would have kept going but the only roles I would accept now are non-sex parts. I’ve passed the time of sex on screen. I’ve done that; I’m well represented. You can go out, buy my films, get them on the internet. I don’t have anything to prove.
What’s your focus nowadays?
Getting healthy, basically. I’ve been facing some health challenges so my focus is on getting well. I also still love photography and really enjoy cooking. John Leslie really instilled the love of cooking in me. I still make a bunch of recipes John shared with me.
John Leslie, photographed by Jon Martin
If you walk into my house it’s like a photo gallery of my work. I’ve read so much about photography and still take tons of shots. And Vincent taught me a hell of a lot. I briefly did some paid photo work for Grubb & Ellis, but what I really enjoy is landscape photography and photo printing.
All in all, I’m pretty happy in my own skin.
Jon Martin (right) with old friends Joey Silvera (left) and Herschel Savage
Landscape photo by Jon Martin
Jon Martin today