Written by: George Pacheco on October 1st, 2014
Richard Pacheco is a legend from the Golden Age of Adult Cinema, having worked on both ends of the camera as a writer, director or performer on nearly one hundred films.
Howie Gordon is a legendarily nice guy; a talented storyteller and one hell of a great interview.
They’re two sides of the same man.
Hindsight is the title of Gordon’s memoirs, a fascinating and massively entertaining tome which details one man’s life journey as an artist, performer, husband and sex star. Subtitled True Love and Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn, Gordon’s book is a love story, history lesson and open diary all at once; a read which breezes on through its nearly seven hundred pages, thanks to Gordon’s incessant wit, unique tone and engaging sense of humor. This man can write, and Hindsight is the ever lovin’ proof.
10kBullets was lucky enough to sit down with Howie Gordon, a.k.a Richard Pacheco, to talk about Hindsight, his career in the adult film industry and the perils of being a porn star family man.-George Pacheco (no relation!)
Hindsight has been thirty years in the making for you. What emotions ran through you when you finished the final chapter of Hindsight, and you were finally done?
I felt pretty good, but I’ve been through experiences in life where you get handed a trophy…but then things happen, and they go away, and then you’re not sure what they mean. On the one hand, all of the emotions you’re imagining? I had that moment. It did come to pass. I did taste that wine, and it was very heady, delicious and it brought tears. On the other hands, for a long time-maybe twenty years-I’ve been trying to break into magazines like Playboy and Esquire as a writer. I would get frequent calls from “professional” writers with a contract that I tried to get and couldn’t get to interview me-for nothing, of course-and who would then write the article that I wanted to write, and could write, but I couldn’t get the job.
Once you’re known as a porn actor, you lose the ability to tie your shoelaces and be any way of a moral, upstanding human being in God’s universe, so you don’t get hired for those jobs. I had a nice relationship with a guy there named Steve Randall at Playboy-after years of submitting articles to them-and I finally did a piece called “Richard Pacheco is Dead,” and he loved it! I thought, “great! Done deal!” and man, I celebrated. Then, he called me back and told me that the idea had been vetoed. I had the same thing happen at Esquire.
So the answer is yes and no, yes and no…yes and no. There’s balance between the light and the dark.
Did you always know you wanted to tell this tale? You’ve kept notes, journals and diaries all your life.
I remember I was taking journalism as a junior in High School, and the teacher writing on the blackboard, “A Writer Writes,” and at that point in 1965 I started keeping diaries, and I’m still keeping them. I remember someone saying, “live an interesting enough life, and someone will want to hear your story,” and the porn world is certainly a fascinating one. I’ve unfortunately fallen into the cultural madness of it, where as an actor and writer, whenever you make notion of this you become either the hit or scourge of the party. They all love the stories, but you don’t get the job. You don’t get hired as an actor, and you don’t get to write the story. This whole recent spate of publishing the porn books that Bear Manor has with Seka, Serena and myself…if that hadn’t have happened, I’m not entirely sure that Hindsight would have even been published yet, short of going the self-publishing route, which I didn’t want to do because I’m a fogey: I come from the school where being published meant something.
How did Bear Manor get in touch with you, or did you get in touch with them?
B. I was at a self-publishing seminar in San Francisco at the Center for Sex and Culture. I had given up on publishing. The latest publisher in New York had sent me something along the lines of, “you write really well, but you’re writing about shit, and no matter how you polish shit…it’s still shit. Write about something else.” So I figured it wasn’t going to happen, and I need to get this out on my own. That’s how I ended up at that seminar. Someone at the seminar had mentioned to me how Bear Manor had published Jill Nelson’s book Golden Goddesses, so I contacted Jill and she was very friendly. She put me in touch with them, and we hashed out a deal.
Given what they’ve published, it makes sense that Hindsight would find a home there at Bear Manor.
Yeah, and he has a limited expectation of what each book is gonna do, so if he keeps his costs down, he can make a little bit of money on each one. If you do ten or fifteen books, then you have a nice little chunk! It’s funny, I had a working cover which was a close up of Nina Hartley’s ass, with the word “Hindsight” superimposed. That was my cover for three years, and finally when it came down to becoming a reality, my wife-who’s an active reader-said to me, “ok, men don’t buy books. We know that. Women buy books, and if you wanna sell any books, think of when you’re on an airplane and you see women reading books. How many of them have naked asses on the cover?” (laughs) Point taken, right?
So we evolved from an in-your-face, funny and simultaneously erotic cover shot to a more cultured shot of the Pygmalion and Galatea.
I loved that, actually. Was there any deeper meaning to that choice?
It’s a beautiful picture and a beautiful story. Here’s the artist fashioning the work in his imagination, and then the work comes to life. I had done several tours of thinking I was a sculptor and painter earlier in life, and I remember working on this sculpture all day, for like eight hours straight. At the end of those eight hours, I just sat back and looked at it, and all that energy I put into that lump of clay felt like it was coming right back into me. So I definitely understood that concept.
Whereas so many biographies seem so calculated, this one is almost embarrassingly honest, warts ‘n all. How much was fear a part of laying down this really honest appraisal.
You know, when somebody steps forth to become a spokesperson for the adult industry or the sex industry, the first thing everybody writes is, “they’re really bad…but I’m not! I’m really good! I’m a reluctant porn star! I’m an accidental stripper!” There’s always a qualifier that goes, “I accept the mainstream bias that this is shit…but I’m not shitty!” That’s the book you write, and I wrote mine in 1984. I’m really lucky that it didn’t get published, because that was just the first layer. As time goes by, my perspective on my participation changed, and as years went by and I got away from a business, I had nothing to lose by telling the truth about the business, and by deciding what I wanted to reveal.
I also had a deeper understanding about who I was earlier in my life, and how it was affecting me. The book got richer. The texture got richer. I think of Andrea Dworkin, who was a poor, human soul who was so battered and fucked over early in her life, that she deserved our sympathy, certainly our healing, and in some cases our apologies. She got famous for being this ugly voice of revenge, and she got stuck in it, because her fame and income came from that, so she became a professional one of those. She was never able to heal, because the whole world was applauding that one voice for which she became known.
I’m glad I didn’t get recognized at that point in time, because it allowed me to keep on living, as opposed to staying there, and being that person forever. I was allowed to evolve, and did so. The book is, at least in half measure, the story of an evolving relationship between two people who struggled to be truthful with each other who have one hell of a foundation. So every time I got stuck in a situation where I found myself wanting to lie, I’d come back around to, “no, you don’t have to do that here. Talk it out. Struggle it out. Work it out,” And we did.
The book reflects that, and that’s the story: that we’re still married, and have three healthy children who are amazing. That’s the triumph of the book to me, while also being entertaining. Everybody spouts their truth. Sometimes it’s full of shit, and sometimes it’s full of things which are useful for the rest of the human race. If it’s not entertaining though, then what’s the point? In the end, that’s all do, is entertain each other.
I really loved the organization of the book, all the asides with your publisher and with God. How did you organize the book in this way?
Randomly. Intuitive sense. No matter what you do in life, I found out that some people will love it, some will hate it, but most won’t give a shit. When I do anything to try and please someone else, it turns out to be some abortion I don’t recognize. I know how to work with a collaborative medium, because that’s what filmmaking is: you really have to please ten people before it gets to the screen. I get it, but I’m not going to do it in a book about me. I told the best story I could tell, to please myself.
That was round one. Round two was having my wife read it, because she’s an professional person and a private person. What am I talking about here that she doesn’t want her children to know or her clients to know? She’s a therapist, and it’s not going to help her career if her clients know about her personal life, especially one this flamboyant. There were numerous things in the book which came along where we had our fights as a couple. My daughter was another editor who jumped in, as well. In the end, lemmy tell ya: you haven’t lived until you’ve had your life story edited by your wife and daughter, especially when it’s about sex! (laughs) Some of those fights were bloody, and I had to go through that level of censoring. There’s a difference between what we do to please ourselves, and what we do that hurts others. Sometimes? Fuck it, I’m not letting go of this, and you fight for it. Other times, you know you don’t need it.
Do you feel that with Blu-Ray and DVD releases of adult features from the seventies and eighties, that a younger generation are giving it a new level of appreciation, with sites like The Rialto Report?
Yeah! It’s an odd bunch, and I haven’t been face to face with many of these guys and girls, but they’ve given a sense of legitimacy to this aspect of film’s history, that this has a place in film’s history. CJ Laing were on a panel together with people who were asking her about the historical context of films, and she answered, “we were just at a party! It was a party we went to that somebody filmed.” She just was just there for the sex and the wildness. That was part of the lifestyle during the early seventies in which she worked. She’s younger than me, yet she’s from an older generation of performers. She had already finished before I started, and she had no consciousness or appreciation of that side of things.
She asked me whether that was also my experience, and I told her that it wasn’t, because when I came along, they were having awards shows. She didn’t really accept that it was real, but she had a very different ride than I did as a member of the “second wave.” I always considered myself to be a part of that wave, as opposed to the first people who came out, like Jamie Gillis, Marc Stevens, Harry Reems and Wade Nichols. It was mostly New York. It began here on the west with the Mitchell Brothers, and it really caught on in the middle and late seventies when people like Joey Silvera and John Leslie became involved.
Were there any lessons that you took with you with regards to your acting when you were on the sets of non-adult work?
I actually didn’t do that much straight work, and acting was acting. I worked a lot for Anthony Spinelli, who was an actor and director where the acting to him was more important than the sex. He used to leave when the sex was going on, and leave it in the hands of the cameraman, unless there was something which specifically involved him. He just wasn’t interested. So when it came to the acting, he’d do twenty takes, and you’d see a producer losing his mind, because he didn’t give two shits about the acting to begin with, plus it was costing more money! A typical Spinelli day was between sixteen and twenty hours, whereas a regular day would be ten to twelve hours, so all that money is being spent. The acting was the same either way, but I was a really good “cold reader.” I don’t know if I ever got better with repeated takes, because there’s this sense of shame which comes with the idea that, “they don’t approve of me. I’m not getting it right.”
Part of the acting game is you’re stuck in childhood. You don’t get to decide what’s right or wrong; it’s in the hands of the director. You’re the paint, and they’re the painter. It’s hard to please somebody else when you feel that your solutions are being criticized. The good director is one who makes his actors feel that they can walk through walls, whereas the most amateur end of acting is doing the most obvious thing which comes to mind. You see that all the time in porn, with people who don’t have a lot of experience accepting their first choice, as opposed to something which might be deeper in them. They’re acting like an actor, instead of being an actor. It’s a different feeling entirely. You’re living it, instead of acting it.
How did Whoopi Goldberg go about writing the foreword for you?
I asked her! I’ve known Whoopi since before she was famous. I met her in Berkeley, and she was an actress in an avant-garde theater group. I remember being introduced to her as a writer, and she had some ideas for a screenplay for which she wanted some help. So she comes to my house, and I’m a porn star now, and one of things which happens when you’re a porn star is that people make assumptions on how you live. One of those assumptions is, “all sex, all the time, anything goes,” and that’s not how I live my life, or lived my life.
In the course of being in a relationship with my wife, we learned really early on that an open relationship does not work in a house, nor does it work when we have friends. So when I met Whoopi, one of the first things I said to her was, “welcome! You and I are never going to fuck!” (laughs) She just about turned white, and just said something like, “…ok! I don’t remember asking!” (laughs) I felt obligated to let her know right up front, because I got tired of people always expecting shit from me.