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XXX Wasteland Exclusive Interview: Jill Nelson

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Co-authors Jill Nelson and Jennifer Sugar leave no stone unturned with their biography John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches, a well-researched and comprehensive novel documenting the life and times of the well-endowed porn legend.

Featuring comments from over 60 people who knew and/or worked with Holmes, Inches chronicles the captivating, albeit tumultuous life of the King of Porn, from his troubled upbringing, ascension to the top of the adult industry with the Johnny Wadd film series and unusual relationship with underage girlfriend Dawn Schiller to Holmes’ alleged involvement in the 1981 Wonderland Murders and subsequent return to the business that made him famous.

Perhaps the most compelling facet of Inches is the illustration of Holmes’ essentially lonely death in 1988 after becoming infected with a then-relatively new virus known as AIDS, conveyed by both John’s widow Laurie and the man himself from interview excerpts during the latter months of his life.

In addition to Laurie Holmes, those contributing their memories, opinions and stories of John to the book (in both original interviews and statements derived from previous projects) include Schiller, Holmes’ first wife Sharon, Wadd creator Bob Chinn, industry historian Bill Margold, L.A.P.D. homicide detectives Tom Lange and Frank Tomlinson, renowned adult performer and producer Bill Amerson, director Julia St. Vincent and a plethora of porn actors and actresses from the “Golden Era” of XXX such as Gloria Leonard, Ron Jeremy, Juliet Anderson, Ginger Lynn, Sharon Mitchell, Paul Thomas and Buck Adams.

Also included in Inches are author reviews of 200 loops and movies featuring John Holmes, as well as an extensive filmography of titles the actor appeared in during his legendary run as a member of the adult entertainment world.

Overall, John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches is unquestionably the most in-depth look at the life and career of arguably the most iconic figure in the annals of adult cinema. A highly recommended read for both fans of John Holmes or those interested in the history of porn.

You can purchase Inches on Amazon (also available as a Kindle E-reader), Barnes and Noble, BearManor Media and at the book’s official website, JohnHolmesInches.com.

Jill Nelson kindly spoke with XXX Wasteland to discuss her experience co-writing Inches, the perception she now has of the adult industry after becoming immersed in the porn world and her upcoming book Golden Goddesses, which will showcase the ladies of XXX’s “Golden Era.”

Jill can be reached on Twitter under the handle @HolmesInches.

Can you tell us how you initially became interested in the story of John Holmes?

Sure. In 2005, my husband and I rented the movie Wonderland. Val Kilmer plays John Holmes and the movie really focuses not so much on John’s porn career – there is really very little except for a mention of it – but focuses on the murders that you read about in the book, how he had become affiliated with Ed Nash, the people at the Wonderland house and what had sort of transpired. So, the movie is really about the murders.

I really became intrigued. I didn’t know anything about the adult film industry whatsoever. I had seen maybe a couple of porn films in the 80s with Ron Jeremy, but didn’t really remember them that well or had a fond memory (Laughs), but I was just very intrigued by John’s story.

The film, when we rented it, was paired with Wadd directed by Cass Paley. It’s a documentary on John – Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. Actually, we got permission from Hustler – who owns Wadd now – to use interview material that appeared in the film Wadd. We also were able to use some material that didn’t appear in the film. So, it was really great – we had full access to all those interviews. I watched that, and again, I was very, very interested. I wanted to know how this kid from Ohio who had a very simple childhood – rural setting, very abusive family, very kind of uncomplicated kid – became involved in this world and catapulted to the pinnacle of the adult film industry. I was just fascinated. I’ve always been fascinated in unique stories and unique biographies, so this was kind of an extension of that.

Can you explain how you met Inches’ co-author Jennifer Sugar and how the book itself came together?

Jennifer had actually seen the film – unbeknownst to me, I didn’t know her – two years before I did. She had gone to the theater to see another movie that was sold out, so she ended up seeing Wonderland. The same way that I had, she was completely mesmerized by this story. She thought, “How the Hell did this guy – this porn star – get involved in these murders?” She started doing some research and discovered there was not a definitive book on John Holmes. Porn King came out – which was released by John’s widow – in 1998. That is compiled from some of his audio tapes, but it’s not comprehensive. She felt that John deserved a full biography, so she started to write it. It was a couple of years later after I had seen the movie Wonderland and started reading comments on the Wonderland message board at IMDB that I met Jennifer there. We started writing to each other and she informed me that she had commenced to write the first and definitive biography on John Holmes. About a year after that she asked me if I would be her collaborator and that’s how it happened. It’s kind of unusual – she is 25 years younger than me, by the way. (Laughs)

Was it difficult to locate the interviewees who had worked with John Holmes seeing as his glory years in porn were during the 70s and 80s?

Actually, no. It was easier than I thought it would be. When Jennifer initially got the idea to write the book she made a trip to California. She wrote to Bill Margold – he wrote the foreword – an adult film historian. Jennifer E-mailed him and told him what she was planning and he told her, “If you come to California this Summer (2004), I will hook you up with some people who knew John.” So, it really started from there. And then when I jumped on board we would get contacts from people we had initially spoken to and it just kind of blossomed from there.

The hardest person to track down was Laurie Holmes. She’s been out of the industry since 2003 and she’s had some ups and downs in her life. We really wanted to talk to her because we felt the book wouldn’t be complete without speaking to John’s widow – she was with him the last five years of his life. Finally, we found her, and that was really great. People had said, “She probably won’t talk to you,” and she had become very bitter against the industry. But she was great. I had actually phoned her myself. Bill gave me her number and I talked to her. I said, “You don’t know me, but will you please listen to me? This is what we are planning to do.” And she listened. She said, “I first have to check you guys out with Bill Margold.” (Laughs) She did, and that night she phoned me back and agreed to carte blanche – everything.

The one thing I will say about Laurie is that we had actually offered to compensate her financially because we knew that she was one of the essential ingredients in this story. She said, “I don’t want any financial compensation. All I want is for you guys to do John right.” So, that was really important: Not only that we honored her wishes, but the wishes of all the people who had known him when we were doing this project.

Based on her comments in the book, Laurie appears very protective of John’s memory.

Yes, and his legacy. As you saw in the book, she kind of felt that in the end when he had AIDS that the industry turned their backs on him. But at that time AIDS was still relatively new – people were scared. I remember that time – I’m 53, so I can remember what was going on. That child Ryan White, who received a blood transfusion, couldn’t go to school. Things like that were going on at the time, so I think it was kind of understandable that people were afraid of contacting HIV. But still, it was a very tragic end, I thought, to his life.

Did you have any preconceived notions about the adult industry before writing the book and did meeting and speaking to so many people involved in porn change those perceptions?

(Laughs) Yes, to both of those. I did have preconceived notions. Probably, like anybody else – I mean, I’m a mother, I have two grown kids now – I didn’t know a lot about it, but peripherally I think I felt it was pretty sleazy and that the people involved with it were pretty sleazy. But now that I’ve researched the book – Jennifer and I worked on it for a period of four years – got to know a lot of people, I’m presently working on my second book about the people in the industry, I have completely changed my opinion because I’ve made friends throughout this process and I consider them to be the same as anybody else. It’s been really important to me as a person to have my eyes opened that way. It goes to show that you are never too old to teach a dog new tricks.

Some of my neighbors raised eyebrows because there were articles that came out in the paper when the book came out and I did some signings here in Southern Ontario. Some of my friends and neighbors were like, “WHAT did you write a book about?” (Laughs) I say to them, “If you know me well, you wouldn’t be surprised.” But it’s good too, because I think people look at me and think, “Well, if that woman – a middle-aged mother and so on – could open her eyes to something that is really considered to be taboo still by society …” I think maybe people can be more accepting of things that they may not necessarily be accepting of.

Absolutely.

With John too … a couple of times people asked us if we liked John. There was something very likeable, I think, about John, despite all of the things he became involved with that were pretty heinous at certain points. He was a regular person like you and I at one point, but then became immersed in all of this stuff – some of it was good, some of it was bad.

But just to go back to your question, I did have preconceived notions and yes, I have changed. I have definitely changed my opinion.

That sort of leads me into another question. After having immersed yourself so much in the story of John Holmes – and although you did not know him personally – what would you say your opinion is of the man based on the comments of so many around him?

I think he was very manipulative, as so many people touched on. I also think he was very big-hearted. So, I think there was a real dichotomy going on within him all the time. I’m guessing John was like a lot of other people who entered the industry at the time that he did. I don’t think he intended for it to be his life’s work. I think he did it for money. And he did start earlier – Jennifer and I actually pinpointed that he started in the industry during the mid-60s, which is earlier than is on record on the Internet. We talked to a woman whose husband directed him in nudist films in the mid-60s and that was the year he married Sharon, his first wife.

I think John was likeable. People who talked to us about him – and even some of the interviews that were given by people we didn’t talk to – said he was magnetic. He was very charismatic. And I think that comes across in his films. We reviewed 200 films and loops and that really does come across. So, I think that was probably what drew people in when they met him: He was very charismatic and he was very gregarious. He had a quiet side too, but I think overall he was pretty likeable. When he did the nasty things, not so likeable. But I really do believe – and anyone who has ever known anyone who has been involved in cocaine or crack addiction – I believe that did transform John. Or it probably flushed out a lot of the negative stuff that was already broiling maybe under the surface – it really came out when he became addicted and so desperate. He just became a desperado with the drugs for sure.

Continuing with that theme, what is your opinion in regard to the extent of John’s involvement in the Wonderland Murders?

I definitely believe that he led the perpetrators to the house because he admitted as much. I know that John has a reputation for being a bullshit artist, so there is another angle there. But I do believe that because he did tell (L.A.P.D. Detective Tom) Lange that. He told (Detective Frank) Tomlinson that as well. We did get to interview both of those former L.A.P.D. homicide detectives personally, so that was great. And I think that he was forced to swing a pipe. I guess because it was not proven during his trial that he actually murdered anybody … it wasn’t even proven that he swung a pipe. He was acquitted because of lack of evidence. So, I accept the lack of evidence that was presented at his trial. There were so many sets of fingerprints all over the house. He had been there for months partying and hanging out there. I don’t think there was anything conclusive, so therefore I can’t conclude that he actually participated in murder. That is kind of how I view it.

What was it like to delve into an industry as commonly taboo as the porn business during your research and interview process?

I guess it was a little bit scary at first. I remember my husband said to me after Jennifer had invited me to help her with this book, “Just remember you aren’t writing about birds.” We laugh about that to this day. The other side of it is that I really welcomed the challenge because I like things that are really different and I like things that are taboo, so that was kind of exciting for me. I think the Litmus test was when we had a book launch in Hollywood. It was actually on what would have been (John’s) 64th birthday and that was a wonderful, wonderful evening. Our closest friends from here flew down for the event, my husband came down, Jennifer and I were there and we invited many of the people that we interviewed. And they came. We had probably 75 people, which was a great turnout for a Friday night in Hollywood. The thing that really struck our friends was after the event was over they said, “I can believe it. They’re just like everybody else.” And that was what I found too, becoming involved in the project and as I said, having made friends throughout the process of doing the book. It was kind of nerve-wracking in the beginning until I got to know people and then I found, “Wow. They’re just like the rest of us.” So, that was good.

Did you find that the people you contacted for interviews were welcoming overall to what you were doing, especially seeing as many of them were part of the adult industry during an era where the business was perhaps more guarded?

Yes, they were. Again, I go back to John … he did endear people to him. He had a lot of friends and these people who showed up to the event that night were his friends. They were guarded in the sense that people were always asking us, “How are you going to portray him? Are you going to portray him as a monster?” And I think in a sense maybe they felt he represented them because they were a part of the same thing he had been a part of. They were very guarded about, “How is he going to come across? Are you going to be fair?” That was said to us many times – his Godchildren asked us that, Laurie did. Pretty well everyone down the line wanted to know if we were going to be fair. You have that said to you enough times and you kind of go, “Well, I guess people did like John overall.” (Laughs)

One of the precarious things in the book – and you probably noticed it having read it – is that we did try to be very fair. That is why we have so many voices in the book. On one particular incident that might have happened we have maybe ten people presenting their side or what their impression of that was. Jennifer, when she invited me on board, she said, “Just so you know, I want this to be unbiased.” Because everything else that was out there on the Internet and so forth is pretty negative on him. We thought, “We’ll show the good, the bad and the ugly.” That is the fairest and most honest thing that you can do.

Yes, I noticed that while you and Jennifer wrote bridges in between the commentaries, most of the book is comprised of those who knew or worked with John offering their opinions of him and telling stories about their interactions with him, which invites the reader to decide for themselves how they feel and what they believe.

That is how we wanted it to be. We have really been fortunate – the critics have been good to us who have reviewed our book. The only thing – and this isn’t really negative – some people said that they wished the authors had weighed in with their impressions of John. But I don’t think it was necessary. As you said, people read it and draw their own conclusions of him and the era at the end. I think there is enough there that people can draw their own conclusions and even have a glimpse of what we might have felt without it being spelled out.

What do you consider the most enjoyable and most difficult aspects of co-writing Inches?

That’s a good question. It was crazy. (Laughs) I work two and a half days a week and Jennifer actually had taken a year and a half off. She was in college when we started our collaboration. So, we went at this thing full-bore.

It was hard. The filmography that we did – that was the last piece – and the film reviews we wrote sort of simultaneously. We split up the work – “You watch this and I’ll watch that.” The filmography was really difficult because we used different resources for it. We used IMDB – but that’s not very accurate – IAFD, which is pretty accurate. Mostly we would put the movies in, look at the copyright date and see if it was there at the end in Roman numerals to see when it was actually filmed. And we would talk to the directors as much as we could – people who were still around that had been involved in making them or had knowledge. But that was hard because we wanted the filmography to be as accurate as possible and the most up-to-date John Holmes filmography anywhere. And I think we succeeded in accomplishing that, but it was very stressful.

There were so many eleventh hour moments with that book. Buck Adams was a friend of John’s who had worked with him in the 80s and we had wanted to talk to him, but again, couldn’t track him down. It was literally the night before our manuscript had to be to the publisher that we got him on the phone. Amber Lynn, his sister, gave us his number after months of trying to track her down.

It was just … I hate using the word “serendipitous,” but there was a lot of serendipity, I think, involved in this book. I think the gods were smiling down on us and wanted this to happen. Laurie has said many times that it was meant to be and she has been so supportive of it, which has been great.

The book took four years to complete, is that correct?

Four years from the time that Jennifer started and then I came in about a year and a half into it. So, from the beginning to the release date, it was four years. When she went to California that first time in 2004 it was to attend a 60th birthday event for John Holmes, which is when Bill Margold put her in touch with the people (who knew John). So, four years to the day that we released the book we had a party there. It really worked out well.

I think the enjoyable part (of writing the book) was doing the interviews. 35 people Jennifer and I interviewed on our own. Twice we went to California to do interviews together. So, that was really enjoyable meeting people that we might have read about when we started the project and then actually meeting them face-to-face. Meeting Bob Chinn for the first time … Bob and I are friends to this day, but he was wonderful. I can’t say enough good things about him because he was just so helpful – in person, in interviews, on the phone and by E-mail. And he has a wonderful memory, so that was very, very helpful. But I would definitely say the interviews were the most enjoyable. You can sort of sit back and relax, put your recorder on and just chat with these people. And really, it opened up a whole new world, as I said, so something that I maybe thought was a bit scary became very fine and took those barriers right down when you actually talk to people face-to-face, on the phone or whatever. So, it was great.

This may be a bit of a broad question, but how would you describe the overall experience of co-authoring Inches – becoming immersed in the life of John Holmes, delving into the adult world, speaking and meeting so many interesting people and visiting some of the significant sites in the life of John such as the Wonderland Avenue home?

Life-changing. Absolutely life-changing. First of all, I had never written a book before. I had never intended to write a book and I don’t think Jennifer had, either. It was just something that never came up. I had always enjoyed writing, but probably as much as the next person. But – and you probably know this because you write too – when you get involved in a subject it has to consume your life or I don’t think you are going to do the subject justice. I think Jennifer and I acknowledged when we partnered up that we were going to have to devote the next couple of years of our lives’ excess time to this project.

That is how I would describe it: It was daunting, it was overwhelming. Sometimes there were tears because it was just so stressful at times. Just the sheer volume of work that we had set out for ourselves – wading through all of this stuff. If we were writing about Ron Jeremy, basically, you are writing a pretty linear story that doesn’t get into murder, AIDS and John’s trip across country with his girlfriend Dawn Schiller. All of this stuff … it’s just stranger than fiction.

It was just so overwhelming. And visiting the Wonderland house and the Laurel Canyon store. I remember Jennifer and I went there, had a drink and just sat there. We had walked through all of the aisles. That’s where the Wonderland gang used to hang out. Sitting there and just kind of taking in the surroundings.

When we interviewed Frank Tomlinson, who was one of the homicide detectives, we went into a restaurant – we met him there with his wife. I can remember sitting there at that table – this huge guy, six-foot-three, he’s a hard-nosed former L.A.P.D. homicide detective. He walks in, sits down, he basically controlled the entire interview. He took the tape recorder, he told us when he was going to start talking, he pushed the “Off” button when he wanted to finish talking, and basically, he talked for 45 minutes straight without us interjecting or anything. I just remember walking away from there and being totally blown away. Jennifer was too. Nice man – he came to our book signing a year later and brought us each a bouquet of flowers. It was beautiful. But it was funny – when we walked out of that interview it was a really hot day. We went back to our hotel and Jennifer said to me, “You’re not going to believe this.” She had a mini-tape recorder that was not digital. She said, “The tape broke.”

Oh, no.

I’m like, “You have got to be kidding me. We are never going to get this guy again.” We went into the hotel room and there was a dollar store across the road. She said, “I think I can fix it.” And she did.

Oh, wow.

So, things like that happened. And those are normal kinds of things. You can’t do a project like that and not have incidents occur. Things like that would happen and they were memorable to me because you realize you are in this whole other world now, a “We’re not in Kansas anymore”-type of thing.

You mentioned to me that you are currently working on another adult industry-themed book. Is that the one on the ladies of the “Golden Era?”

Yes. It’s called “Golden Goddesses” and I’m working on it now. Jennifer is not involved with this, unfortunately. She is working full-time and has a lot going on. She told me when I got the idea to write it, “I’d love to be in on it, but I just don’t think I’ll have the time.” But I am into my third year now and I plan for it to come out hopefully a year this Fall. I’m profiling 25 women. I’ve done all the interviews and am now working on the first draft of each chapter. It was fortunate for me because I made a lot of contacts during the John Holmes bio, so it’s kind of like this is a natural next step. I just thought it would be interesting to actually talk to the women and get their stories.

Which actresses will be profiled in Golden Goddesses?

Georgina Spelvin, Gloria Leonard, Seka, Ginger Lynn, Marilyn Chambers, Rhonda Jo Petty … I don’t know if these names are familiar to you or not.

Oh, for sure.

Amber Lynn, Christy Canyon, Serena, Kay Parker, Candida Royalle, Nina Hartley, Jane Hamilton, Kelly Nichols. I’ve got Anne Perry, who was a director, Roberta Findlay, who was a director on the East Coast, Julia St. Vincent – she was one of John’s girlfriends who directed Exhausted. She is actually a really good friend of mine. She agreed after a lot of arm-twisting. (Laughs) But her chapter is great because it’s all about how her film Exhausted led to Boogie Nights. The director of Boogie Nights was inspired by Exhausted. And it’s interesting, because of course, Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart were both in Boogie Nights and they are also in my book. I’ve also got Laurie Holmes. She agreed to be interviewed.

I’m calling it “legendary.” Not all of the women are absolutely legendary. Laurie certainly isn’t – her claim to fame, really, is marrying John. But she has an interesting take on the industry.

Also, it was difficult to find 25 women during that era who were willing to talk. And finding them is not easy. So, when I got my 25 I was pretty happy because they all fit within the time frame that I’m writing about. They were all willing to talk and they have very interesting stories to share and opinions.

Nina Hartley actually just had major surgery, which she is thankfully recovering nicely from.

Yes. It was last year that I did the interview. And fortunately, I was able to interview Marilyn Chambers before she died. It was the interview that we did for the John Holmes bio, but she had told us some other things about her own career. The same with Juliet Anderson – I interviewed her three months before she died. And I interviewed – you may not have heard of this girl, she was more of a sexploitation actress – her name is Barbara Caron Mills. She started in ‘68. She died three months after I interviewed her. So, it was very fortunate for the project that I was able to get their stories and they were able to share sort of a piece of their lives for this book. I’m so glad. They are fascinating women.

Yes, they are. Are there any more upcoming projects in the works you would like to mention or anything you wish to say to readers?

Well, I always say to read Inches. I hope people continue to enjoy A Life Measured in Inches. And I hope that people will also be open-minded to the next book, which is sort of a follow-up because it’s in the same genre. I don’t know what I’ll tackle after this. Time will tell, because you do need about a year and a half to promote a book after its release. You have to spend time on that. Otherwise, it makes it sort of futile to spend that much time and effort on something and not have anybody read it.

We’ve been really lucky with A Life Measured in Inches because even though it’s not in stores it has continued to sell steadily online and it has been one of our publisher’s top sellers. So, we are really happy about that.

I should mention as a last thing, our book – we don’t know how it got in there – but we just learned a couple of weeks ago that it’s now in the Margaret Herrick Library, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I guess because of the filmography. We were really happy about that just because it gives the book a lot of validity and cred to be in there as a research book.

Wonderful. That’s quite an honor.

Yes, we’re pleased about that. I thought, “Well, good.” Because I looked and I didn’t see any other books on adult performers in there. I don’t know how that comes about, but probably somebody makes a recommendation or request and it happens that way.

Well, the book certainly deserves to be in there. It’s very comprehensive, not just on John Holmes, but the adult industry itself.

Yes, it sort of makes it so your work is recognized. So, it’s great when you put so much time into something. It really is a nice honor.

For sure. Thank you for your time, Jill, and I wish you all the best with your upcoming book.

Thank you very much, Adam. I really appreciate it.

Written by Adam Wilcox

June 22, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Posted in Interviews

One Response

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  1. […] Check out Jill Nelson’s June 2011 with XXX Wasteland discussing Inches at this link. […]


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