Allderdice grad's book recalls his porn star days


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Howie Gordon is the very image of a Greenfield native made good -- even though some might call him very, very bad.

He didn't end up going to Harvard Medical School like his older brother, or become a famous political journalist like his pal Howard Fineman or become a Pittsburgh mover and shaker like fellow Allderdice student Sy Holzer.

Instead, Mr. Gordon became one of the biggest porn stars of the 1970s and '80s, and now he's written a book about it.

In "Hindsight: True Love and Mischief in the Golden Age of Porn," an e-book published by BearManorMedia ($30 at Amazon.com), Mr. Gordon, now 65, of Berkeley, Calif., describes his journey from self-described fat kid to onscreen Lothario, seducing or being seduced by the likes of Marilyn Chambers ("Behind the Green Door") in more than 100 films between 1977 and 1984.

His career in adult movies -- "Talk Dirty to Me" was a career high -- allowed him to indulge in his sexual appetites while remaining emotionally faithful and happily married to his wife, Carly, a therapist. These feature-length movies may have varied in quality, but they represented a new freedom triggered by the sexual revolution before the onslaught of AIDS, he argues.

Film critic James Wolcott gave "Talk Dirty to Me," in which Mr. Gordon starred as Richard Pacheko, a good review "because it actually told a story and had emotional content, with real characters," said Mr. Gordon.

In the book, he likens the industry to baseball's Negro Leagues, shunned by the mainstream but laboring "with certainly no less passion -- and even occasionally no less skill -- making movies at a tiny fraction of what our uptown, mega-financed, Hollywood counterparts had to spend."

Didn't he ever feel uncomfortable participating in an activity widely regarded by feminists as demeaning and dehumanizing to women?

Yes, Mr. Gordon says, noting that "pornography was guys showing off for the guys. It was a meager portion of the sum total of human sexuality, but it completely dominated an industry whose dollars mostly came from men."

"I know a lot of folk feel that it's destructive to young women," writes Whoopi Goldberg -- a longtime neighbor of Mr. Gordon's in Berkeley -- in the book's foreword. "But as you read this book, remember, it was a different time. It was the time of storytelling with an X rating."

It was nonetheless not the life that Sam and Adeline Mallinger Gordon envisioned for their younger son. One of two boys, he grew up on Lilac Street (on the Greenfield side of Murray Avenue), went to Roosevelt and later Minadeo elementary schools, spent summers at Emma Kaufmann Camp, and was senior class president at Taylor Allderdice High School and halfback on the football team. He describes his hometown in his book:

"The sexual revolution of the 1960s seemed to just completely skip Pittsburgh," a place where "a dirty movie was just a dirty movie," associated with racketeering, mobsters, illegal gambling and prostitution.

In high school, he worked hard to fit in. As a 10th-grade member of what is now the Jewish Community Center in Squirrel Hill, he co-wrote a column with classmate Howard Fineman called "Here's Howe." In fact, he adds, Mr. Fineman's writing skills were first noticed in a rant against expensive "preppie" status symbols: Brooks Brothers, Bass Weejuns and madras pants -- exactly the crowd of kids Mr. Gordon hung out with.

That changed at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It was the fall of 1966, and there were coed dorms, long hair, marijuana. Even Abbie Hoffman came to Mr. Gordon's dorm room after an appearance and promptly tried to steal his girlfriend.

After graduating in 1970, Mr. Gordon spent two years in Washington, D.C., working in federal anti-poverty programs before heading to California with a girlfriend, on a whim. He found himself caught up in the hippie-Berkeley scene, living in a commune, working in theater, getting married. He considered studying to become a rabbi, but when he learned that he would have to travel to Israel and study Aramaic for two years, he opted to appear in a porn film instead.

"Pre-AIDS, upbeat" San Francisco, where purveyors of adult fare mingled with the city's artists, intelligentsia and cultural elite, happened to be one of the two major centers of pornography in the 1970s besides New York. One day, while working in construction for $5 a day, he heard about a job on an X-rated film that paid $200 day.

It wasn't easy: "I had to learn the difference between personal sex and professional sex," he says, adding that at one time he made up to $1,000 a day. He also posed in a Ferrari with Marilyn Chambers and appearing as a Playgirl centerfold. Later, he was named its Man of the Year.

Nonetheless, he didn't tell his parents until he was in his early 30s, after he was "outed" by a cousin who'd wandered into an adult theater in Washington, D.C., and saw him performing on screen. Word quickly got around his extended Pittsburgh family, so he made the call.

"My father asked me, 'How's your health?' I told him, 'Fine.' 'How's your wife's health?' 'She's fine, too.' 'You love your wife?' 'Yeah, Dad, I do.' 'Does she love you?' 'Yeah.' 'Well, then, everything's OK.' "

He worked mainly under his own name and Richard Pacheko, but also as Marcus Howard, McKinley Howard, Mack Howard and Dewey Alexander. Dewey came from Huey, Dewey, and Louie, Donald Duck's nephews and "Alexander from Alexander the Great, a man who needed no introduction."

Throughout it all, Mr. Gordon says he has remained a loyal Steelers fan, recalling the time when he delivered a speech during a sports program in Oakland, Calif. It was run by Ray Chester, a football Hall of Famer who finished his career with the Oakland Raiders.

"Most of the people in the audience were former members of the team from the 1970s," Mr. Gordon recalled, "and when I told them I was from Pittsburgh they started booing me and shouting at me to get off the stage. I just laughed and said, "Hey, I've hated you people for so long you're like family.' "

He returned to his hometown last weekend to attend the induction of his English teacher, Lenore Mussoff, into the Allderdice Hall of Fame.

Does he think she would approve of his book?

"Are you kidding? She wrote a blurb for it," he says.

It's quite a blurb.

Mr. Gordon's "wit, personality and talent still shine brightly in my memory," Ms. Mussoff writes. "A reader who seizes upon Howie's writing is in for a memorable ride. Buckle your seat belts, readers. Howie will take you to places you've never been before!"


Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1949. On Twitter @MackenziePG.

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