Conversations with Johnny Keyes

Gene Ross from writes: [This interview was first published January 25, 2005] - I had a Tuesday night chat with porn legend Johnny Keyes. Keyes, who lives in the state of Washington, was getting ready to head out to Las Vegas. He's being inducted into the Legends of Erotica, a show which is being held 8:30 Friday night at Ray Pistol's Showgirl Video, 631 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

Keyes apologizes for the phone tag. "I was running around trying to get my wardrobe ready for this Vegas-thing." Keyes talks about doing some adult projects, doing some directing. But he's looking for an investor. I'm thinking maybe I should swing him over to Buck Adams. Buck knows all about investors.

"I want to do some stuff with little more class, with a little more storyline and better acting" Keyes is saying. "For the late Sixties, Seventies and Eighties crowd." I imagine Keyes was talking about fans of those porn eras, not the age of his audience. Another thing Keyes points out is that today's porn actresses don't look like real people. "They've all got phony tits and shaved pussies. They look like they just got off the cookie cutter for Granny Smith's Cookies."

If Keyes had his druthers he'd want to see attractive, average looking people in porn. And Keyes is also of the opinion that the adult viewing audience wants to see stories and be more entertained. In the meantime, Keyes stays employed by jazz singing. "That's something I've been doing all my life. Off course I was on Broadway in Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Wiz. When I got into X-rated movies I had all that stuff under my belt. I had been doing theater like for 20 years."

Keyes tells me he got into the adult business quite by accident, that he went to a Mitchell Bros. audition not realizing that it was for porn.

I asked Keyes if he knew what he was getting into. "Not at first," he says. "This was a casting call. There was a bunch of actors from Hair when we shut down in San Francisco. They were looking for jobs and going to auditions. That was one of the auditions." I asked Keyes what was his first clue that this was beyond your normal audition. "When they called me back." he says. "I was supposed to be the guy on the swing in Behind the Green Door. But I couldn't make it that day. So they made me the man behind the door."

If nothing else, it's that image that certainly branded Keyes in the mind of porn fans, especially when he comes on the screen in a cutaway white leotard and a massive erection.

Keyes has always been proud of that scene. "I fucked Marilyn for 47 minutes," he recalls. "And she fuckin' fainted on me. They caught it on camera. That's the greatest fuck scene ever shot. Still to this date it's a classic. She really fainted. It wasn't acting. She really fainted from the fucking I put on her. This was without stopping, no cuts. That was me, the African Giant. There was no Viagra."

Other memorable films for Keyes are Inside Marilyn Chambers and The Resurrection of Eve.

"Was Marilyn your favorite actress to work with?" I ask Keyes. "Marilyn was new and young," says Keyes. "And I had theater, so I would talk to her about acting and how to make everything around you disappear except for what me and her were doing. We'd talk about projection and stuff- stuff I learned in acting school, how to project yourself; how to get into character and how to get into the person you're working with. Whether you're kissing or arguing there's a certain direction you can take to manifest more of the feeling. This was theater talk and she didn't know what the hell I was talking about. Then I explained to her in layman's terms what I was trying to get across."

"Did you have any idea that you were banging the Ivory Snow girl" I asked Keyes.

"We didn't know about the Ivory Snow thing until later," says Keyes. "I'm the one who discovered it. She had done that commercial about a year before. And she was never notified whether they were going to use her or not. She had done the photo shoot. So we were out having a party with The Mitchell Bros. and we went to the store to buy some turkey wings. I saw this box of Ivory Snow with Marilyn's picture on it. I got a couple of the boxes off the shelf and went over to Marilyn, Jim Mitchell and Artie Mitchell. Hey, man. This is Marilyn on the box, here. Artie said that IS Marilyn. Marilyn said I remember I posed for that some time ago. I didn't know they were going to use me. Of course this was after we shot Behind the Green Door."

Keyes was in the adult business from 1972 to about 1984 then decided to stop in order to raise his son. "He now plays with The Meadowlark Lemon All-Stars," says Keyes. "He's trying out for the NBA and I'm very proud of that." Keyes said he continued to watch porn but never really followed what was going on in the business. "But they had some guy playing me in that movie [Rated X] about the Mitchell Bros.," Keyes notes, indicating that there's been some talk about HBO doing his life story. "There's a few things in the works," he states.

Keyes has been approached to come out of retirement and work in front of the camera again. "But they didn't want to pay me the money," he shrugs. "They're all crooks. They try to get you for as cheap as possible." That being said, Keyes is waiting so that he can call his own shots. "I have some really good ideas," he says. "I have one project called In Search of Johnny Keyes. And we'd have jazz and blues in the movie, too. I'm a jazz singer and I'm at home on the stage. That's what I love."

I brought up the race issue to Keyes who knows it only too well. I talk to Keyes about the instances where Howard Stern puts those questions to current female porn stars. Keyes said he'd love to go on Stern and tell his story. "But they don't want to spend the money to fly me out there," he says. "I'd tell them the real deal about when I did Behind The Green Door- and the threats I got and letters. The racist motherfuckers. They said goddamn this motherfucker. I had the cops setting me up. I have some stories to tell. My life story's going to be a motherfucker.

"The cops came and set me up because I was fucking Marilyn Chambers. They even had a guy from San Quentin get to know me and shit. I've got a helluva story. They're doing all the white peoples' stories in porn but they never did nothing on Johnny Keyes. There's a history behind this stuff, and I'm the history. Now there's racism right there- they overlook me I was the first African-American in this business."

Keye's is still miffed over the fact that he didn't get a chance to come up on stage during the AVN Awards Show last year. "I got an award but they didn't announce it or nothing. That's bullshit. AVN's been nice to me, but they just squeezed me out. It was fuck Johnny Keyes. If it wasn't for me, a lot of African-Americans now working in the business wouldn't be there.

"Plus I got busted and put in jail for this business," Keyes goes on to relate. "We got busted a lot for being in movies and shit. The cops also set me up with cocaine." Keyes said the Mitchell Bros. would put up the money to spring him. Because Keye's background was in theater, one of his community service requirements was to teach theater acting for a semester.

Keyes also boxed while in the service. "I made a big name doing that and when I got out of the service, that's when I got into the play, Hair." Keyes also appeared in Miami Vice. "Phillip Michael Thomas who was playing Tubbs on Miami Vice was in the same San Francisco cast of Hair- me, him and Ben Vereen were all in the same cast."

Again, on the racial issue, Keyes said Seka's husband put up a squawk about her working with him in Heavenly Desire. "She did her first movie with me," says Keyes. "She and her husband came from the south- her husband didn't want me to fuck her. So they wrote our scene out. But I didn't give a fuck about fucking Seka. She's just another pussy to me. Then six months later she was sucking black dick, anyway. Shit. They were making the big stink- her and her husband. The fucking bitch. And that movie made her a star. If she had never made that movie with me, she would have been shit; she would just have been another big tit bitch. And I tell her that."

Keye's favorite performer was Annette Haven. "She was so natural, such a little beauty. And she was hot There was another girl, Leslie Bovee. She was also one of my favorites. She had a beautiful body, small waist, nice ass. Nothing phony. Everything was real. And Aunt Peg was nice to work with. Of course Serena was also one of my favorites as well as Rhonda Jo Petty, the Farrah Fawcett lookalike. She worked with me once and we became friends."

"She tells me she hated that comparison," I mention to Keyes. "I know she did," says Keyes. "But she looked just like her."

Asked if he was close with the Mitchell Bros, Keyes says, "I knew them tight, real tight." And Keyes is of the opinion that Artie's slaying was an accident. "Totally."

With the mention of Bovee's name I asked Keyes about the late Alex de Renzy. Keyes was in Femmes De Sade.

"He [de Renzy] hired me and a bunch of chicks I wanted to fuck. I played a sheik, but I've never seen the damn movie."

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