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
When the family arrives at the Glendale courtyard apartment, the girlfriend calls the complex’s manager to ask permission. The manager’s husband comes over to screen the guests, and Dawn Schiller comes under the scrutiny of John Holmes.
At this time, John is 32, at the height of his XXX prowess. He has all the work he can handle, he picks his co-stars, he is paid top dollar. He has woven a legend around himself, wrapped so tightly in exaggerations and half-truths that he himself cannot see through the web of overlapping reality and fantasy. He claims to have lost his virginity at age 8 to the Swiss maid of a rich aunt who raised him in Paris and Florida. He awards himself various advanced degrees from UCLA and boasts authorship of several books. The hundreds of extremely rich women who pay for his services, to hear him tell it, form a vast, worldwide network of privilege and power. Twelve such women, he says, all married and with the approval of their husbands, are mothers of children he has sired, each for a large fee.
John gives Dawn and her younger sister odd jobs around the apartments, “showing me different ways to be creative in the garage and redoing furniture,” says Dawn, “that kind of stuff.”
Dawn doesn’t know about Holmes’ movie career. “We related on a really childlike level,” she says. “I didn’t know what business he was in. He’d do silly, cute, charming things around me. He liked my innocence, the fact that I had nothing to do with the porn industry” — an industry which, he would later tell her, he despised. Dawn likes John for John, but even here the penis intrudes. “He was very shy about it,” says Dawn in the Beverly Hills sun. “He gradually showed me who he was, that aspect of him. He was scared that I was going to be scared of it.”
John often took Dawn and her sister on outings around town. Occasionally they would pass a Pussycat Theater. “I would see his name on the marquee and get paralyzed,” says Dawn. “I wouldn’t want to look at him. One day, he pulled up to a Pussycat and said, ‘C’mon.’”
The girls followed him out of the car, he signed an autograph at the box office, and they were in. Dawn, still 15, and her sister, still 14, sat on either side of their chaperon. “We’re slumped down in our seats, and I’m covering my face, and my sister’s covering her face. People are walking by, trying to get John’s autograph, whispering, ‘Oh, my God. He’s here!’ My sister and I are hugely embarrassed.”
The movie starts. Dawn looks. John walks into the frame dressed in a monk’s habit. “He opened his mouth and said something, and I immediately cracked up. He got a little upset and jabbed me in the ribs, but I couldn’t stop laughing. Then he started laughing, and we had to leave.”
Soon after the Pussycat excursion, John takes Dawn on an outing, leaving the sister behind. Although they have not yet had sex, John has become increasingly possessive and controlling. “If I didn’t come from school on time because I was hanging out with some friends, John would be really angry,” she says. “He wouldn’t say anything, but he’d snub you. You knew he was pissed.”
They drive to Zuma Beach, where John sits on the rocks, watching Dawn swim. They both sit silently as the sun melts into the liquid horizon. The 32-year-old man takes the 15-year-old girl’s hand and leads her to the back of his van.
Many, many years later, the girl, all grown up, still seems in awe of the experience. “At the time, he was very sincere,” Dawn says. “I was very much in love with this guy, swept off my feet at 15 years old. Look at Elizabeth Smart. She was 15. That’s a 15-year-old’s brain space.”
When Dawn’s father abruptly left Los Angeles to return to Florida, the vulnerable girl became more dependent on Holmes. For a while, Dawn moved in with John’s half-brother, David, and his wife in an apartment they shared in the court. But tensions ran high under that arrangement. Eventually, Sharon Holmes brought the girl into the home she shared with her husband. Sharon knew, by this time, of the relationship between John and Dawn.
“It baffles everybody,” says Sharon of her bond with Dawn. “I hate to see injured people or dogs, and I just adopted her. I couldn’t see her staying outside with just a shift on. She became a daughter to me. I needed to tell her she had a brain. She didn’t need to accept what was going on.”
A big part of what was going on was John’s increasing infatuation with drugs. A teetotaler before embarking on his porn adventure, Holmes had turned to Scotch whisky at first, packing a quart of J&B in his trademark briefcase. Next came pot. Then cocaine — as the 1970s peaked, great piles of the white powder seemed to be everywhere you went, especially if where you went was a porn set.