The late-20th-century pornography boom generally gets explained in fragments, in documentaries, tell-all books, and dramatic features like Boogie Nights and Wonderland. Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne's The Other Hollywood tries to fashion the whole messy tale into one sensible narrative, encompassing entrepreneurs, Mafioso, drug addicts, sex addicts, and a running conflict between the court of public opinion, where porn has generally been accepted, and the actual courts, where pornographers have been persecuted.
But the oral-history format may not be the most efficient or compelling way to tell this story. McNeil and Osborne favor anecdotes over facts, and they let their interview subjects repeat and contradict themselves until the point of what they had to say gets lost. They jump from original interviews to archival material without clearly identifying the switch, which especially muddles the passages of the book having to do with Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace, since her version of her story changes year by year. Too often, the book devolves into dull gossip about who slept with whom—a question practically devoid of meaning, given the profession involved. The Other Hollywood covers a juicy topic, but it can be dryer than the Meese Commission Report.
Some major porn figures are either missing from or woefully underrepresented by The Other Hollywood, but as a spotty resource text, it works reasonably well. It touches on the "nudie cutie" distribution system of the '60s, the pornification of New York's Times Square in the '70s, the rise of video in the '80s, and the fixation on celebrity porn in the '90s, with grisly detours into John Holmes' Wonderland Avenue massacre and the suicidal paths of fast-living superstars Shauna Grant and Savannah. Most valuable are the clear-eyed reminiscences from porn's feminist wing—Gloria Leonard, Sharon Mitchell, Annie Sprinkle, and Veronica Hart, who describe the degradations of the business while insisting it's a fine business to be in. Too bad The Other Hollywood lacks a similarly insightful authorial perspective, to add some context and explain, for example, the ways porn intersects the mainstream, making explicit sex safe for Middle America. Instead, McNeil and Osborne offer the notes for the great book that someone else will have to write.