If there's any one person who should be overjoyed at such a career choice, however, it's Ron Jeremy. A hair-covered, roly-poly, and average-looking-at-best schlub who would look more at home stomping giant mushrooms in a Nintendo game than having sex with even one beautiful woman -- let alone the thousands he has actually nailed -- Jeremy has charted a career path that, in many ways, is the prototypical American dream. Except, as the new documentary Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy shows, all is not quite as it seems.
Taking as its central metaphor an image of a casually attired Jeremy wandering aimlessly through empty airport corridors -- an image undoubtedly meant to recall the opening sequence of The Graduate, another tale of a geeky Jewish kid getting laid more often than perhaps he deserved -- Porn Star presents a man somewhat helplessly caught up in something larger than he can control. Certainly he has no illusions about what he looks like and understands how lucky he is to have a nine-and-three-quarter-inch cock and the means to use it for a living several times a day. But on the other hand, all he really wants is to be taken seriously as an actor -- which, despite numerous cameo roles in nonpornographic B movies, doesn't look to be happening any time soon.
"I have no self-esteem," Jeremy says early on. "I always hate myself." He displays a compulsive hedonism that seems to be grasping for deeper meaning in his love of food and obsessive attendance at parties every single night. He doesn't drink or do drugs, but a comparison of some photos taken early in his career with ones from today indicates that big meals have indeed taken their toll on his torso. At worst, the young Ron Jeremy was no Burt Reynolds; nowadays, he looks not unlike Danny DeVito's Penguin in Batman Returns. Of course, he's so firmly entrenched in his career, it doesn't matter what he looks like.
Director Scott J. Gill, a former editor for horror auteur Don Coscarelli making his feature directorial debut with a sure hand, chronicles Jeremy's career from the early days. It starts with home movies of the youngster formerly known as Ronnie Hyatt, through the death of his mother at an early age and his attainment of an undergraduate degree in theater and a master's in special ed -- yes, Jeremy's fully qualified to teach your mentally handicapped child. At 25, while he was struggling as an actor on the New York stage, Jeremy's girlfriend sent a nude picture of him into Playgirl, which it published along with his name and address. The phone started ringing, and Jeremy's dad barred him from ever using the family name in that context again.
Jeremy comes across as a fundamentally unhappy man, though he is, by all accounts, warm and friendly to all. He aspires to being a comedian, though his shtick as shown here is clichéd -- even good friend Al "Grandpa Munster" Lewis calls his act "shit." He wants desperately to cross over to the mainstream and is proud that the back of his head appears in Sylvester Stallone's Cobra. But despite many director friends (among them Adam Rifkin and John Frankenheimer, the latter declining to be interviewed on camera) who are willing to give him bit parts, the studios often delete him from the final cut because of his day job.
Jeremy figures that his appeal is that of the everyman, noting that the average porn viewer feels empowered when he sees an unattractive guy getting laid by the best bods money can buy. But he's even more of an everyman than perhaps he realizes, desperate to meet celebrities and dogged in his pursuit of the dream of becoming a "real" movie star, now that pornos no longer feature stories or much acting and don't play on the big screen. All this is in spite of the fact he's one of the best at what he does, being one of the industry's 15 or so reliable "woodsmen" and someone able to count down accurately to his own climax without the aid of Viagra. Sure, his ability to have sex in character is no longer of interest to filmmakers who left the idea of "plot" back in the '70s, but he can go for four hours with multiple partners, and he consistently tests disease-free. That's gotta be worth something, and you come away with the impression that it actually does make his father proud.