By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
And no cock. Relying on aviator shades as his signature prop, Val Kilmer’s John Holmes could be anybody — any old hustler, any old pimp, any old wannabe rock star who can’t remember where he pawned his guitar last night.
The real John Holmes claimed to have had sex with 14,000 women during his career as a professional wad. Sharon Holmes and Dawn Schiller are among the tiny minority who were drawn into Holmes’ orbit despite the cock. Dawn met Holmes when she was 15. He was her first love. Sharon, married to John at the time, took Dawn in after she’d become his mistress and allowed her to live in the couple’s home. The two women formed a kind of mother-daughter relationship that has endured to this day. On a recent Sunday afternoon, they sit at an outdoor table at a Beverly Hills hotel doing publicity for Wonderland. Dawn is credited as an associate producer on the film. Sharon is listed as an adviser.
Sharon is slight and sinewy, a tough bird with a soft center and a smoker’s drawl. She wears a black cap to cover a skull that is fuzzy like a freshly hatched chick’s: She has just finished chemotherapy after a modified radical mastectomy for cancer.
“I am just a cast-iron maiden,” she says with a throaty laugh. “I’m going to get through it, no matter what it is. I do not roll over and play dead for anybody.”
Dawn, at 15, was a strikingly attractive woman-child, her huge green eyes brimming over with fragile anticipation. You look at her picture, and you want to protect her. You hope no one will latch on to her and crush her spirit. Today, in her early 40s, Dawn wears a wide, sly smile under those huge green eyes, still brimming with anticipation and intelligent wonder. She has the calm assurance of someone who has been through hell, fought her way out, and has no plans to go back. She is finishing a book on her experiences, The Road Through Wonderland.
“I have a daughter,” Dawn says when asked about the perils of putting her ordeal into print. “Do I want my daughter to hear the story in my own words? Or do I want her to hear somebody else’s version, whether I like it or not?”
Sharon Gebenini met her husband-to-be in December of 1964, while she was a graduate nurse working at County USC Hospital. Holmes was barely 20. Less than a year later, they were married. He found work driving a forklift at a meatpacking plant. The couple had lived a conventional married life in Glendale for about three years when Sharon came home early from work one afternoon and walked in on John in the bathroom. He had an erection, and he was measuring it. He’d already done a few 8mm film loops and photo shoots for magazines.
“He told me that this was going to be his life’s work, that this was going to make him famous,” remembers Sharon. “I looked at him like, What planet do you come from?”
John would never drive a forklift again. Sharon allowed her husband to remain in the home, to eat meals with her, to mingle their dirty laundry — together, they were on-site managers of a courtyard apartment complex in Glendale. But Sharon would never touch John intimately again.
Soon after being caught out at home, Holmes met Hawaiian porn director Bob Chinn. Chinn initially dismissed Holmes as some “scruffy-looking guy who had this big Afro-looking hair.” Then John dropped his pants. That evening, Chinn wrote a script outline on the back of an envelope, and a few days later, he had shot, edited and shipped Johnny Wadd. Despite (or perhaps because of ) Holmes’ Alfalfa physique and goofy hangdog face, the big-dicked undercover crime fighter captured the imagination of the porn-going public.
The detective persona also appealed to John’s own imagination. In the early 1970s, when the production of pornographic materials was still a felony in Los Angeles, Holmes was busted on a porn set and held on charges of pimping and pandering.
“He called me from Ventura, wanting to be bailed out,” says Sharon. “I didn’t have that kind of money.”
A few hours later, Holmes was driven up to the house in the car of an LAPD vice squad officer named Tom Blake. While pursuing his crown as the King of Porn, Holmes would carry on a highly productive parallel career of informing on the porn industry for the LAPD vice squad.
“John enjoyed playing Dick Tracy,” recounts Blake in the excellent 1999 documentary Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes. “He loved that role of investigating and passing information along. John was absolute dynamite.”
Sharon became very familiar with Blake’s voice on the phone. “John was giving him regular information, particularly on anybody that had done him dirty.”
Enter Dawn. i
It’s 1976, and 15-year-old Dawn Schiller’s parents are divorcing. Rather than stick it out with Mom in Florida, Dawn elects to head west with her 14-year-old sister and her father, a Vietnam-vet hippie with hair down past his shoulders. The family stops for a hitchhiker at the Grand Canyon, thinking he might have a joint to share. He tells them that he sometimes stays with a girl who lives in an apartment in Glendale. He guesses it would be cool with her if the whole bunch of them crash on her floor.