How to Be a Porn Star

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ARCH BROWN may be better known for his work in theater; he was part of the generation of playwrights (Jane Chambers, Doric Wilson, Robert Chesley) who brought gay subject matter onstage in the 1970s. But before that he was a pioneer in another medium, pornographic films. Brown’s A Pornographer: A Memoir is a book that was discovered among his papers after he died in Palm Springs in 2012; it was not published in his lifetime. Brown began writing it, so far as editor Jameson Currier can determine, around 1974, and submitted it to mainstream publishing houses in 1977, when Brown was still making films. (The later part of his life he devoted to theater, especially after the success of his 1979 play News Boy.)

            Most of what Brown claims he learned while teaching himself how to make porn films seems eminently sensible. It wasn’t just lighting, editing in the camera, knowing how long an audience will sit still for certain sequences (about three minutes), or mastering how to pan the camera so that the figures didn’t blur. He also learned to interview people in depth about their sexual fantasies, to match them with someone who could fulfill those fantasies, and to make sure they didn’t meet each other until the day of the shoot. And never to have sex with any of the performers in his movies.

Arch Brown, frontispiece from A Pornographer: A Memoir

            Brown learned all this after being fired from one of the jobs he took after moving to New York with a degree from the theater department at Northwestern University, which got him his first job at Circle in the Square. After that, he seems to have been in advertising and marketing for a time. When one of his colleagues was fired for reading Playboyin the office, he resigned, at which point Brown bought his first camera and began to wander the streets of New York.

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Andrew Holleran’s fiction includes Dancer from the Dance, Grief, and The Beauty of Men.

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