Al Goldstein: The Pornographer in Winter

In April shooting will begin on Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story, starring Malin Ackerman. And last month, rumor had it

In April shooting will begin on Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story, starring Malin Ackerman. And last month, rumor had it that a second Lovelace biopic was in the works, this one with Kate Hudson in the lead. It’s unlikely, however, that either actress would be getting ready for her money shot, Mr. DeMille, if not for a review by Al Goldstein, founder and publisher of Screw and host of long-running cable-access show Midnight Blue, in the June 5, 1972 issue of his magazine. Lovelace, wrote Mr. Goldstein, “is almost a Ripley’s Believe-It-Or-Not as she takes the whole joint down her gullet. No, it’s not a small-potato penis but a roustabout rod of ten inches that plummets into the deepest recesses of our lady’s oral cavity. It seems a miracle. … I was never so moved by any theatrical performance since stuttering through my own bar mitzvah.”

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Deep Throat, which had the look of a garden-variety low-budget porn film, had opened and closed in L.A. in four days, causing no stir whatsoever. But after Mr. Goldstein’s glowing (swelling? throbbing? spurting?) assessment appeared in Screw, Deep Throat became a sensation. It grossed more than $40 million and ushered in the era of porno chic, as the upper middle class flocked to the World Theater in Times Square. Executives took their clients. Husbands took their wives. Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Spiro Agnew were early audience members. Barbara Walters mentioned having seen the movie in her autobiography. When Bob Woodward of The Washington Post invoked the reference in identifying W. Mark Felt as his informant in the Watergate scandal, it was clear that the film had entered the nation’s collective consciousness.

When I first met Mr. Goldstein at Big Wong’s in Chinatown in the summer of 2009, he called himself “an old condom somebody popped a load into, then threw away.” I was immediately charmed. We started to spend time together, meeting for eggrolls and moo shu pork every month or so. In 2005, though, Mr. Goldstein, after ballooning to 350 pounds, underwent gastric bypass surgery. This made dining out problematic: he requires unfettered access to a toilet, ideally a private one, whenever he eats. More and more he has preferred to conduct his communicationg over the telephone. Here, for example, is a voicemail I received last fall:

“Hi, Lili. Al calling. If you and I were talking 10 years ago, I would tell you how many mouths I ejaculated into, how many clits I licked. But now, since I have no money and no one’s interested in me, I want to tell you what TV shows I’m watching. Invasion of the Jellyfish, a 5 o’clock documentary on the mountains of Drakensberg, a PBS two-hour documentary on the ballet dancer, Rudy I-can’t-pronounce-his-last-name. I finally sprang for Verizon FiOS. I love TV. I fuckin’ love it. It’s better than an orgy. Not better than a buffet, though. I’m doped up on sleeping pills, so don’t call me back tonight.”

Fumbling sounds and muffled curses follow, then a dead-air click. Other messages have contained offers: analingus; a bootleg copy of Let My Puppets Come, a musical comedy featuring Muppet-style marionettes violating each other; use of Mr. Goldstein’s Costco card. Still others have contained demands: various sex acts, the name of the ’80s thriller in which Al Pacino does it to Ellen Barkin against a wall (Sea of Love), assistance registering his Starbucks card online. These messages, whether in give mode or take, always inspire in me the same reaction–a laugh-wince, equal parts amused and grossed out.

The public’s reaction to Mr. Goldstein, though, has been more wince than laugh. He was a pornographer and he looked like one–a hairy, sweaty, cigar-chomping, eczema-ridden fatso. He never posed like Hugh Hefner, pipe and smoking jacket over urbane lounge wear. The pictures he peddled were of ordinary-looking women letting it all hang out, not ponytailed girl-next-door types acting nasty but being cute about it. Screw was utterly without pretensions to middle-class respectability. In it, fucking wasn’t a beautiful experience, fucking wasn’t art and fucking certainly wasn’t tasteful; fucking was fucking. And Mr. Goldstein was, by all appearances, a genuinely scummy guy in a genuinely scummy business.

Al Goldstein: The Pornographer in Winter