It got quiet on the set in Southern California this summer. The gasps, moans, and bow-chik-a-bows of the multi-billion dollar adult-film industry suddenly stopped silent. Somewhere a pizza man ceased making special deliveries, and a dominatrix’s whip cracked no more. As production halted in the San Pornando Valley, the Republican National Convention, prompted by a motion from delegate Tony Perkins, urged that “laws on all forms of pornography and obscenity need to be vigorously enforced.” But rather than the Family Research Council president, an Adult Video News Hall of Famer put the porn business out of business—at least temporarily. Syphilis has that effect on bacchanalia.
Performer Mr. Marcus contracted syphilis—a mere occupational hazard—but neglected to inform others in his occupation. He forged passing test results and returned to his labor of lust. Where have the morals of sex workers gone?
It’s so unlike Mr. Marcus to play the killjoy. He appears to make women really happy in his 1,300 movies, which include Afro-Centric Pool Party, My Baby Got Back 35, Pornological, and, of course, the Mr. Marcus’ Neighborhood series. Even people who don’t know porn know the muscle-bound Marcus J. Spencer—that’s “Mr. Marcus” to you. Syphilis, surely a sign of bad sex, naturally didn’t make it into St. Martin’s Press’s Porn Star Guide to Great Sex. “When I think about it, I don’t really talk about diseases in my book,” the actor told the Daily Beast. “My book is really about the pleasures of sex.” So is porn.
An industry built on shattering taboos maintains a few. Pornographers generally avoid AIDS, abortion, and abuse. Those kill the fantasy, which is what porn sells. When people make reality of dreams, they sometimes experience a nightmare. That may have been what I was thinking when I declined a film role in 1996.
After a week of draining training, I departed Camp Pendleton for the beaches and bars of sleepy San Clemente. I was excited about my first dip into the Pacific, but not nearly as excited as my cohorts were about boogie boarding—a pastime that seemed better suited for Boy Scouts than Marines. As the tide withdrew and the sun sank, I suggested we leave the boards and head for the bars. “What are you talking about?” a dumbstruck Marine responded. “We’re boogie boarding till night.” Did they know the Corps had been founded in a tavern?
“C’mon,” I incredulously pleaded. “Let’s go drinking.” No, blank faces uniformly replied. The “Twilight Zone” nature of my day continued at the taproom, where the bartender brought me the telephone. Alone 3,000 miles from home, I hadn’t informed anyone of my whereabouts. “I don’t have a call.” The barkeep insisted, “You do.” An excited voice on the line’s other end inquired whether I liked money and beautiful girls. “Yes,” I responded. “I am fond of both.”
“Well, have I got an opportunity for you! It’s actually a ‘modeling opportunity.’ I’ll pay you $500 to meet the loveliest ladies. Isn’t that fabulous? I’ll pick you up at ten and take you to Van Nuys. But first, let me ask: Are you a bulky guy?” Say wha?
I stood 6 feet and weighed 185 pounds. “Well, that’s pretty bulky,” the breathy, high-pitched voice observed. “Not as bulky as Sgt. Smith—do you know Sgt. Smith? He’s really bulky—but you sound pretty bulky.” An Eric Idle wink-wink, nudge-nudge, say-no-more quality colored the conversation. Having been forewarned about filmmakers’ fondness for young Marines—fit, testosterone- fueled, risk-takers—I let my Mr. Marcus moment slip. The Marines had granted me liberty, not license.
Mr. Marcus’ porn star first shined just when I had turned down the girls, the money, the herpes. Now neither of us, apparently, has a film career. This isn’t because of a law or a convention’s proclamation. The natural penalties for indiscriminately bedding celluloid hookers far outweigh what any man can construct to dissuade, or end, a career in dirty pictures. Porn’s pariah walks away with cash and conquests. I walk without a rash.