Jamie Gillis: Where There’s Smoke

By Robert Mladinich on April 2, 2015
Jamie Gillis: Where There’s Smoke
"My father was a lot like me, but he could never get the girls.” (www.therialtoreport.com)

Gillis was offered a role in “Raging Bull,’ “the part of being Robert De Niro’s erection in the scene where he pours ice down his shorts…”

Long before the late Jamie Gillis was the male “face” of pornography in the 1970s and 1980s, he was diehard boxing fan.

As a 14-year-old growing up in Manhattan, he remembered dreaming about the outcome of one of the numerous bouts between Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer in Chicago in May 1957.

“This was before everyone had a TV, so I was used to using my imagination when listening to fights on the radio,” said Gillis in a 2007 interview during a boxing show promoted by Lou DiBella at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York.

“I was always thinking about boxing, and I remember this dream being very graphic. There was a big number five in the dream, and I told all my friends about it. When the fight took place, it unfolded much like it did in my dream. Fullmer was stopped in the fifth round.”

Like so many other former boxing devotees, Gillis’s interest in boxing had waned during the subsequent decades of fractured titles and multiple champions. For quite some time, he didn’t give the sport more than a fleeting thought.

“For me, boxing lost its emotional honesty,” said Gillis, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1970. “I lost my boyhood image of fighters as gladiators.”
After graduating from college, Gillis, who always had a love of the theater, was determined to be an actor. After performing in numerous off-Broadway plays, he answered a newspaper ad seeking nude models.

It was 1971 and the entire porn industry, which was in its embryonic stages, was being run out of a dirty basement on the west side of Manhattan. Gillis had to make a difficult decision.

Should he embark on a career in the adult film business, which would probably nullify his chances of making it in mainstream stage, film or television? Or should he stick with a conventional path and hope for the best?

“It was a very exciting time because the entire industry was very new, and we felt we were involved in something really revolutionary, even artistic,” said Gillis. “There were no worries about AIDS or other deadly diseases.

“If you got syphilis, you’d get a shot of penicillin and that would be that,” he continued. “It was a very fun time. For the first time in history, you could have sex with no worries. If you got a disease, it was easily cured. And the [birth control] pill was new, so there was no fear of pregnancy.

“I was in hundreds of movies, and I had a great time. It was a perfect occupation for me. Being a very sexual person, it was great being with so many women. Plus I only had to work a couple of days a week, so I had a lot of time to hang out. I had a special niche in an unusual business, and I was a big fish in a little pond.”

Gillis was actually more of an industry mainstay than the better known John Holmes, who was the prototype for the character played by Mark Wahlberg in the 1996 film “Boogie Nights.”

Asked who his favorite co-star was Gillis responded wryly, “Of course it was always the next one. The one I didn’t have yet.”

Gillis had also appeared in several mainstream films, including “Night Hawks” with Sylvester Stallone. However when approached to do a scene in “Raging Bull,” he was surprisingly humiliated.

“I knew Peter Savage, who wrote the book that the film was based on,” said Gillis. “Few people know that he had been a pornographer at one time. Through casting director Sylvia Fay, I was offered the part of being Robert De Niro’s erection in the scene where he pours ice down his shorts.

“I couldn’t imagine that De Niro would allow someone else to ‘play’ his erection,” Gillis continued. “That was the era of truth and honesty in film. As a joke, I said I’d do it under two conditions: I wanted no money, but I wanted a film credit.

“I knew they wouldn’t go for it, but it was my way of dealing with it. Another actor, Richard Bolla, took the role, and wound up getting a part in one of the greatest films of all time.”
In the early 2000s Gillis still possessed a degree of youthful exuberance and a freewheeling sixties spirit. Although he had no regrets about the path he had taken, he did express concern about his daughter’s early reaction to his vocation.

She was conceived the very first time he had sex, at the age of 17. Over the years they’d had a complex relationship, but with her then in her forties they were getting along well. 

“My being in the business was an embarrassment to my daughter, no doubt,” said Gillis. “She always thought it was gross, disgusting. But as she got older, she grew more accepting, and today we’re okay.”

According to Gillis, in many ways the porn business was similar to the boxing business, in that the public perception of the participants was not much different. Many people view fighters as mindless thugs, and adult film actors as drug-addled losers. Not so, said Gillis.

“There are some wonderfully intelligent and creative people in porn,” said Gillis. “As far as drugs are concerned, that’s over-exaggerated. In 1968, I took Angel Dust and got so scared I never touched drugs again. I had great visions and beautiful hallucinations, but it scared me so much, I said no more. There’s a lot less drug use in the industry than you might think.”

But the similarities don’t end there. When Gillis was young, boxers fought with a sense of purpose and pride that seemed non-existent to him today. That was their living, he asserted, and they were proud of it.

In the early days of porn, he said there also seemed to be more of a sense of artistic purpose. While the technical quality of the current films had certainly improved, Gillis said it was only about money and nothing to do with artistic expression. 

“Old-time fighters fought because that’s what they did best,” said Gillis. “There was no sense of entitlement. Many of the (older porn) actors viewed themselves as revolutionaries, purveyors of a new art. Today, it’s like a factory. Kids just want to make money the fastest way possible.”

Gillis attributed much of his laid back, live-and-let live personality to his father, who owned a window cleaning business but was always dreaming of a life beyond the one in which he was mired.

“My father was a dreamer, who always had artistic aspirations” said Gillis. “In a way I fulfilled his dreams. He was a lot like me, but he could never get the girls.”

In the years leading up to his death from melanoma at the age of 66 in February 2010, Gillis had been working on his autobiography.

While recounting his past on each new page he wrote, he was surprised when his interest in boxing was rekindled after meeting promoter Lou DiBella at a birthday party for author Budd Schulberg in 2005. 

Gillis had since become a regular at DiBella’s monthly Broadway Boxing shows. More often than not he went unnoticed, although it is not unusual for fans to ask him for his autograph and tell him their favorite scene that he was in. 

“I get recognized just enough where it is enjoyable, not annoying,” said Gillis. 

“Being here tonight has been very enjoyable,” he continued. “This place reminds me of an old bull ring. It’s very nostalgic. The place really has a pulse.”

As laid back as Gillis was, his intelligence was as apparent as his love of the theater and performers of all levels and all genres. One of his favorites had always been James Earl Jones, who appeared as the legendary heavyweight champion Jack Johnson both on Broadway and in the classic film “The Great White Hope.”

Gillis had seen Jones in “Othello,” in an off-off Broadway theater, long before anyone had heard of either of them.

When he ran into Jones in San Francisco in the early 2000s, he reminded him of that performance.

“I’ve always liked your work,” said Gillis, fully expecting Jones to assume he was just another fawning fan. 

“I like your work, too,” responded Jones, in his booming, telltale voice. “It has lots of fire.”

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Boogie Nights (1997) Official Trailer #1 - Paul Thomas Anderson Movie

Raging Bull Official Trailer #1 - Robert De Niro Movie (1980) HD

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  1. nicolas 10:43am, 04/08/2015

    ERIC: thank you for your kind comments. As I man getting older however I have to say that I am becoming more conservative in my views.

  2. Eric 01:07pm, 04/03/2015

    nicolas…Interesting post. I always find your posts interesting and fair, and I would be willing to bet that we are probably polar opposites on many political issues, but you do seem to be committed to the truth, and I admire that greatly. I always admired Ali more for his willingness to stand up for his beliefs more than anything he ever accomplished in the boxing ring. A few months back on a political blog, me and someone went back and forth after this person had called Ali a coward for not fighting for his country. I tried to explain to this person, that Ali wouldn’t have seen any combat duty by allowing himself to be drafted, and that Ali would have only had to have performed the same type of duty as Joe Louis, boxing exhibitions, entertaining the troops, etc. I explained that Ali was far from a coward, but indeed a brave man, to stand up for his beliefs by risking everything instead of just going threw the motions of allowing himself to be drafted in the military. I enjoy Boxing.com’s varied articles. Hard to offend me on demshevik or neoCON aka neoCOM politicians, not a dimes bit of difference in either of them. I remember when Gore Vidal called Buckley a, “Nazi,” and tough guy Buckley threatened to slug him. teehee. Priceless.

  3. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:57pm, 04/03/2015

    Jamie may have been a woman hating POS but he was a far cry from Ted Kennedy who left Mary Jo Kopechne to die and then lived long enough to expose his pink little Irish dick to Paul Anka’s wife at a dinner party for Christ’s sake!....a dinner party! The other proglodyte guests who shook hands with that freak probably wondered later on why their dinner rolls smelled so gamey. Obama thought the world of Old Teddy Bear which should give you some idea of just what a POS he truly was.

  4. nicolas 11:38am, 04/03/2015

    He went to an Ivy League school. that surprised me and I did not know that he had died. I somewhat agree with the others that perhaps such articles should not be a part of the discussion here, much like I felt about Mr Ecksel
    article about Mitt Romney, more his showing his dislike for Romney. But it was an interesting article none the less. I agree that the Porn industry does not contain wonderful people, but also that is what it has in common with boxing, that the sport we are all are fascinated by also does not have wonder people as well. An interesting article I think would be on when William F Buckley interviewed Ali back in 67 I think. It is really a great meeting between these two. Also I wondered what was said between the two men after the interview was over, as Buckley often talked to his guests, or adversary after the interview for public consumption. Did they for example ever meet again?

  5. Kid Blast 08:14am, 04/03/2015

    None. Netflix slaughtered them.

  6. Eric 07:27am, 04/03/2015

    Kid Blast…I remember renting, “Wonderland,” at a Blockbuster Video store.(remember those? teehee.) That was the good thing about those old school video stores, just walking around, browsing, and selecting movies that you had never heard of, and being pleasantly suprised. You have to wonder how many, if any, Blockbuster stores still exist.

  7. Kid Blast 06:58am, 04/03/2015

    “Wonderland” was a very good movie and based on fact. The Arab was one very scary guy.

  8. Eric 05:57am, 04/03/2015

    Anyone who slapped Al Goldstein deserves a Humanitarian Award. Well done. I know that “Boogie Nights” was loosely based on John Holmes, but Mark Wahlberg might be the only mainstream actor in the bidness that has done the life story of a pro football player, pro boxer and porn star. “Wonderland,” starring Val Kilmer as John Holmes, isn’t that bad of a movie actually.

  9. Clarence George 04:12am, 04/03/2015

    Magoon:  Apology accepted, of course, but let me set the record straight.  Except for a brief encounter with Hyapatia Lee some 30 years ago, the number of people I know in the porn industry (which I loathe) is exactly zero.

    I share your contempt for Gillis.  I’d never heard of him, so I looked him up.  You’re right—he was indeed “unusually disgusting.”  And well done on slapping Goldstein, who deserved it just for breathing.  I used to see him waddling along with disconcerting frequency.  I also once saw Ugly George.  A woman I know told me that he had once approached her.  Fortunately for him, I wasn’t with her at the time.  Which reminds me of a story.  I once went up to a girl in a bar and asked how much for the hour.  I was joking, of course, thinking this was a friend of mine.  A case of misidentification (curse you, poorly lit bars!), and there was quite a kerfuffle.  Anyway, Goldstein went completely broke, and was briefly (and stupidly) hired as a greeter by the Second Avenue Deli.  Degeneracy goeth before destruction, to quoth the Bard…or somebody.

  10. Magoon 03:19am, 04/03/2015

    No disrespect to Mr. Mladinich, but I don’t like this article. Porn’s got nothing to do with boxing and neither did Jamie Gillis. And another thing, this is a whitewash - Gillis was unusually disgusting. Read up on him if you don’t believe me. And his comment that “There are some wonderfully intelligent and creative people in porn” shouldn’t have gone unchallenged. People go into porn because they’re too stupid and depraved to do anything else. I think Mr. George once said that he knew a lot of people in porn (apologies if I’m wrong), but at least he hasn’t written about them.

    When I was visiting N.Y. about 20 years ago, I slapped Al Goldstein hard across his fat ugly face right in front of his wife and son because of something ugly he said to my wife. And all we were doing was walking along the street. Glad I did it.

  11. peter 06:13pm, 04/02/2015

    This is a classic Boxing.com offering—an intriguing article with a refreshing and unique discussion on the sport, itself. The fight game and the porn industry are both flesh trades. (No judgment.) But the obvious parellel of a fight manager’s stable of fighters and a pimp’s stable of whores has, over the years, concerned me.

  12. Dick Dangler 05:38pm, 04/02/2015

    I was Dirk Diggler’s stand-in for the frontal nude scene at the end of, “Boogie Nights.”

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