Herschel Savage's 'Porn Star' Shows His Mainstream Acting Chops

VENICE, Calif.—Last Saturday afternoon, about 70 lucky attendees got to see the premiere of Herschel Savage's Porn Star, a look into the life and career of one of adult video's most talented actors. Though billed as a "work in progress," Savage gave his all, and the crowd, many of whom were his friends and former co-workers, loved it.

The show, which ran about 45 minutes, was introduced by Savage's acting mentor, Teri Silverman, who noted, "It is a workshop performance and this will give him a lot of information for him to take his show to the next level."

Unexpectedly, Savage led off, not with his introduction to pornography, but his introduction to Buddhism.

"It's 1976, Manhattan," he began. "I'm stuffing mailboxes for an exercise company, and the kid I'm working with—it's freezing cold—he says to me, 'Have you ever heard of [popular Buddhist chant] nam myoho renge kyo?' I said 'No, but it sounds familiar.' He says, 'Well, say it; say "nam myoho renge kyo".' I said, 'Nam myoho renge kyo.' He said, 'Say it again.' I said, 'Nam myoho renge kyo.' He says, 'Say it again.' I said, 'Nam myoho renge kyo.' And he said, 'if you say these words you'll get a benefit,' so I said, 'Great,' and out of nowhere, I had this amazing emotional lift. I was depressed, as you'll find out, and just by chanting, I felt really good, so I started chanting, and... one of the first things I chanted for—I was always very shy. I was the last of my friends to lose their virginity. ... Unattractive women loved me. They always wanted to make love to me, and being the young man that I was, I didn't turn it down, but I didn't want to be in that situation. I wanted to be free. I was 23. At the same time, I was always broke. I had a very difficult time holding a 9-to-5 job, so the first thing I chanted for was sex and money. And I figured, what the hell; I'll give it a shot. Within two weeks, a woman I was dating turned me on to somebody who was in the porn industry in New York."

From there, Savage (whose real first name is Harvey, of which "Herschel" is the Jewish version) described his audition for prominent adult agent Dorothy Palmer, who got him his first on-screen work, which took place in a tony midtown apartment loaded with cast and crew—and an actress whose partner couldn't get it up, so Savage's very first role was as a stunt cock. Trouble was, though he tried to psych himself (and his cock) up for the role in the bathroom, nothing was happening, and he was scared.

"I go out, and the scene is set," he explained. "The hot blonde poured the Cheerios. Now, though, she takes a banana, though, and seductively starts to peel it ... and I'm standing off to the side and she starts to go down on the banana, and I look around, and the director, he's got the camera and he's happy. So she summons me in, I walk in, and she puts her hand on my fly, pulls down my zipper, reaches in, pulls out my cock, and I'm rock hard! And the crew bursts into laughter: 'Harvey's hard; he's rock hard!'... And I finally realized, this was a good thing, and my career kind of took off."

He then traced his career from its beginnings in New York City, whose adult industry members he described as "Really dark, grungy, sleazy people; mob-connected. You go up to a shoot at a warehouse and there's a Doberman Pinscher at the gate"; through his "infamy" as a leather-clad model on the cover of The Advocate, to seeing his first movie, The Nun's Bad Habit, on the marquee of a Times Square porn theater—so of course, he invited his sister and two of her friends, both psychologists, to see it.

As one might expect, the aftermath was less than satisfying:

"The lights go on, we walk out of the theater, and when we reach the lobby—you know how when you're in an inappropriate situation, you try to make it appropriate? I said, 'Thank you so much for coming; I really appreciated it.' I sounded like I was talking about The Sound of Music. My sister said, 'Okay, Harv, okay; I'll see you later, Harv,' and they walked away, and I'm walking down the street thinking, 'Schmuck! Schmuck! What were you thinking?'"

This porn history was interspersed, however, with snatches of Savage's experiences as the son of an OCD mother, whose need for everything to be orderly so affected his sex life that he learned to masturbate (to movies featuring actresses like Sophia Loren) without making a sound, and he learned to stop just before cumming so as to maintain the quiet.

"I didn't know I was training myself to become a porn star."

Savage's New York adventures including performing live sex shows— "I took my clothes off in front of 150 perverts on a stage."—and getting freaked out when a coke-dealing director got shot in the knee by his girlfriend as Savage looked on in fear.

But since he was such a reliable stud, the "real" acting jobs went to actors like Jamie Gillis, Wade Nichols and Eric Edwards, so Savage decided it was time for a change of pace.

"I was a second-tier porn actor," he said, "and I decided I was really sick and tired of the New York porn scene, and my sister invited me to come to San Francisco to see the city. She said, 'You come here, you'll never want to leave.' So I flew to San Francisco—this is 1979—and I fell in love with the city."

By 1988, Savage had gotten married to a woman he met on a set, and the couple had a son, so Savage gave up performing and opened a videotape distributorship, but that failed—as did his marriage—so when actor/director David Christopher suggested that he get back into performing— "It's like riding a bicycle; you can do it."—Savage took him up on it, and became known, at least on the West Coast, as a reliable performer who can also act!

From there, Savage threw himself into his work, for instance filming 232 sex scenes in the year 2000 alone, mostly thanks to his discovery of that little blue pill Viagra—which might have led to the stroke he had shortly after completing a run as the main character in a production of Neil Simon's Prisoner of Second Avenue.

"If you're not familiar with the part," Savage explained, "it's about a high-end executive who loses his job and slowly loses his mind, and his wife has to keep him together. It was a real emotional struggle doing this part, and as soon as the play ended I had the stroke on the plane, so in retrospect, this character was me. I was losing it, I couldn't work, and I was kind of falling apart."

So Savage was forced to quit adult performing, and has since tried to return to his first love, mainstream theater.

"I was fortunate enough to be cast in The Deep Throat Sex Scandal a few years ago," he said, "and it renewed my love of performing on stage. I really made some good friends, and I realized there was a true joy in my life in performing, so it kept me on track."

After Savage's performance was over, Silverman took the stage again to solicit comments from the audience about how the "work in progress" could be improved, and it appears that in the final version, Savage will be making it multimedia, with a slide show and possibly even video clips.

Among the more familiar attendees at the show (and its after-party, hosted by Deep Throat Sex Scandal's David Bertolino) were Penny Antine (playwright Raven Touchstone), directors Wesley Emerson, Paul Thomas, Roy Karch and Luc Wylder; present and past performers Christy Canyon, Marianne Walter (Kelly Nichols), Alexandra Silk, John Seeman, Howie Gordon (Richard Pacheco), and Bill Margold; and former AVN staffer Jared Rutter.

The play will be re-presented next Saturday, July 16, at 12:30 p.m. at the Beyond Baroque Playhouse, 681 Venice Blvd. in Venice, Calif.

Pictured: top, l-r: Herschel Savage, Bill Margold, Luc Wylder, Raven Touchstone, Christy Canyon, Roy Karch; bottom, l-r: John Seeman, Richard Pacheco, Kelly Nichols.