As much as Bill Margold laments the state of the adult film industry, he's still nostalgic about all he fought so hard to erect. By his count, Margold filmed 500 scenes during his 30-year career—most notably his award-winning, surprisingly nonsexual performance in the 2005 film DarkSide—and at 71, he's become a sort of historian and philosopher of porn.
"It's a completely different business," Margold told me when I called his house in L.A. "Basically, it's gone from Eiffel Towers to toothpicks."
He's watched the industry morph from an iconoclastic, fuck-the-government empire to a decentralized network of amateurs competing with the pros for a spot on your smartphone screen. And that's sent porn's business model into a tailspin.
"It's probably being shot right next door to you," Margold said. "The lid to Pandora's box has been ripped and thrown away."
In a sexclusive CityBeat interview, Margold regaled me with tales of the Navy's BFF relationship with adult films, San Diego's late-blooming porn hero, the secret scene he's always wanted to shoot at Balboa Park and where the industry is headed.
Sailing the seven sleaze
When I asked Margold to describe San Diego's porn scene, he told me the city was never known for producing porn, but it's long been a big consumer.
"It was, of course, a Navy town," he said. "The adult industry feeds off the [military] and vice versa."
But with the proliferation of smart phones, he said, anyone can be a porn producer. The Navy cadets don't need porn shops or the old Pussy Cat Theater Downtown to come ashore. They just need an Internet connection and a free hand.
From soldier to sex icon
At 55, Dave Cummings became "sort of a hero" to the retiree set, Margold said. After more than 25 years of service in the U.S. Army, he headed up the coast from his San Diego home to L.A. and dove headfirst into his passion. "He was a nice, baldheaded man who decided to get into the adult business," Margold said. "If you Google it, you'll be overwhelmed by the number he did."
I did. And I was.
Cummings, now 73, has starred in 500 adult films in the last two decades. Like Margold, he's in the Adult Video News hall of fame. And Cummings is still going.
Nothing but mammals
It turns out that Margold is a big fan of Balboa Park. Especially the San Diego Zoo.
"One of the animal trainers taught me to teach the animals how to do tricks," he said. "Now, tragically, they're just caged animals."
As a sort of tribute, Margold has long dreamed of filming an unforgettable shot above the majestic creatures.
"I always did have a fantasy of doing a quick blow job over the tram you have at your zoo, but I never did get around to doing that," he said. "I liked the outlaw mentality. I don't think there's much sin in San Diego."
That never should have been shot
California has long dominated the porn industry because it's one of the few states where it's legal to shoot it commercially, Margold told me. This was solidified in 1988, when the state Supreme Court ruled that porn stars couldn't be charged with prostitution and producers couldn't be charged with pandering (read: pimping) so long as the films they were shooting weren't obscene.
"There will be an audience for everything," Margold said. "All we do is provide the keyhole. I've never seen anyone forced to their knees to look through that keyhole."
But even Margold has his limits. No underage actors. No bestiality.
"Chicken Fuckers," he said. "That never should have been shot."
Yes, that's an actual adult film.
Smartphone killed the adult-film star
It's hard to make it in the porn business these days, because an unregulated network of amateurs can quickly and easily challenge the likes of Jenna Jameson with their smartphones. As you might expect, that bothers Margold.
"I used to go to a grandiose movie theater and see myself on screen, and now I see myself on an iPhone," Margold said. "I'm not happy to be small. I enjoy the fact that I was 40 feet high and larger than life."
After all, Margold literally worked his ass—and balls—off to get to where he is today.
"When I worked in the '70s and '80s, I never took a pill to function," he said. "I was good enough at what I did to get one job after another. If I was to have to take something to perform, I would sooner cut my dick off."
The porn business used to mean something more than sex, he said. That's why he championed free expression. That's why he challenged the status quo. That's why he tested the limits of California's prostitution and pandering laws before the state Supreme Court stepped in and said they were overreaching. And he doesn't regret it.
"[Rated] X acted as a warning," he said. "We could have taken A for adult or S for sexual, but we didn't. X is skull-and-crossbones. X is on a bottle of iodine. I love the letter X. I thrive under it."
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