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A Nice Jewish Porn Star

"I’m just a nice Jewish boy with one vice," says Queens native Ron Jeremy. "Twenty-three years of porn films."

Scott J. Gill’s documentary "Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy," which opens today in Los Angeles, chronicles the life and times of the unlikeliest Jew in the world — and the unlikeliest porn star. The 48-year-old Jeremy dotes on his family. They dote on him. His dad’s a physicist. His brother’s a Harvard-educated executive. Most everyone else in the family has at least a master’s degree. Jeremy earned his master’s in special education from Queens College in part to help his disabled mother.

He looks more like your Uncle Moe than a sex god. But while he’s not so easy on the eyes (he’s nicknamed "The Hedgehog" because he’s short, fat and hairy), he’s been paid huge sums to bed more gorgeous women than James Bond. Along the way, he’s become a pop culture icon: "If a zhlub like me can get lucky, there’s hope for everyone else," he says.

Gill’s hilarious film — in which Jeremy fans jubilantly declare, "He’s Jewish!" — stands apart from other movies on the porn biz that have emerged in the past decade. While the documentary "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story" and Paul Thomas Anderson’s "Boogie Nights" revolve around severely disturbed people, Jeremy emerges as a nice guy whose angst mostly stems from his struggle to "go legit" in mainstream films. The documentary features playful original music by Carvin Knowles (The Journal’s cover designer) that reflects the feel of 1970s porn scores. At its core, the flick poses the question, "How did a hammy kid from Flushing become the most recognized male figure in adult film?"

Answers begin to emerge when the documentary shows home movies of the young Jeremy (born Ron Jeremy Hyatt) mugging for the camera while opening Chanukah presents. "He’s always been a performer," says his sister. "From the time he was in elementary school … he always wanted to be the center of attention."

Jeremy told The Journal he was "the middle child craving universal acceptance and approval."

One day when he was in elementary school, he marched home and informed his mother that his classmates said he couldn’t be Jewish without becoming a bar mitzvah. She promptly enrolled him in Hebrew school, though after his bar mitzvah, he says in the film, "I went to synagogue just for the oneg Shabbat…. It was, ‘The rabbi, the cantor, nice guys. Where’s the Danish?’"

At home he helped bathe and feed his mother, a book editor who had battled Parkinson’s disease since Jeremy was 8. "At one point," he recalls, "she couldn’t even lift up her head."

Mom was confined to a nursing home by the time Jeremy had stumbled into porn: He had chucked a career working with disabled kids to become an actor. His girlfriend had submitted a photograph of the then-svelte, well-endowed Jeremy to Playgirl magazine in 1978; soon after, a porn director offered him a movie deal. Though initially reluctant, the starving artist relented when he realized pornographers also made mainstream films and could cast him in a "real" movie.

A snag occurred when his grandma Rose — listed at that time as R. Jeremy in the phone book — was pestered at all hours by prospective suitors who’d seen Jeremy in Playgirl. "She had to move out of her apartment for a month," he confides. "My father told me, ‘If you want to get into this naked, crazy business, so be it, but if you use the family name again, I’ll kill you.’"

Jeremy says he dutifully adopted his middle name and "prayed" he’d just make a couple of porn films and move on. But when Hollywood didn’t come calling, he went on to star in and direct more than 1,600 adult flicks. Over the years, he also managed to perform in his own MTV rap video, to serve as a consultant on movies such as "Boogie Nights" and land small roles in 55 legit films and TV shows. His family wasn’t thrilled with his career choice, but staunchly supported his First Amendment rights when a film-related bust forced him to fight in court (it was illegal then to film porn in Los Angeles).

"Jewish families tend to be more liberal than Christian ones," says the performer, citing the preponderance of Jewish men in porn. "They aren’t obsessed by the fear of the devil or going to hell."

It was Jeremy who was fearful when Gill approached him about making "Porn Star" in 1999. "I think Ron worried we’d sort of make fun of him," says the director, who courted the actor for three months before gaining his trust. "Actually, the structure of the film is comedy. It’s about a guy who makes a pact with the devil to get famous, but once granted he realizes it’s not the kind of fame he wants."

The garrulous Jeremy — who hopes to wed his girlfriend in a synagogue and raise their kids Jewish — is momentarily silent when asked how he’d feel if he had a daughter who wanted to do porn. "That’s the toughest question," he admits. "There is still such a double standard for men and women about sex. But my daughter would have the best argument in her favor: the three magical words: ‘You did it.’"

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