Porn Valley- Tommy Sinopoli had about a half hour to chat Tuesday afternoon so we began the interview we had been talking about doing since the end of last year. Tommy, 65, has been in the porn business since 1965 when he took a job as a clerk in a Boston adult book store after he just got out of the army. He began selling nudist magazines and eventually started his own publishing company. The Nixon Administration came down hard on him in the early 1970’s. Tommy, who’s company was in Los Angeles, had to answer a 69-count indictment in Washington D.C. and was facing 375 years. After three years, the case finally got tried.
His jury consisted of 11 black people and one white woman who was 21. “They [the jury] had more sense than the rest of the country,” says Sinopoli. “We fought it on the premise that we didn’t want the government in your bedroom. They looked at all the literature- 69 different pieces of literature, films and magazines- and there was some explicit titles.”
According to Tommy, the judge who was an obvious Nixon goon, was really pissed upon reading of the verdict which found him not guilty on all counts. “The judge ran off the bench,” he remembers. “He looked at it and shook his head, then asked the foreman if the rest of the verdicts were the same. He said yes. The judge just said case dismissed and left the courthouse- he was that perturbed. The government had the means to fight it then and made these things big criminal cases. They spent a lot of money and had squads of FBI agents and Internal Revenue agents. They had whole departments fighting the growth of pornography. I was distributing to 48 states and they said, Tom, we could have arrested you in the whole 48 states and had a case in each state. They just consolidated and put it in Washington D.C. It could have cost me untold money.”
Tommy figures, all told, the legal fees ran him over a million dollars in that case alone. He would be hit with three other cases during that turbulent decade but never did time. In the pre 2257 era, one of the cases involved the government trying to nail him for putting what they thought was an underage girl in a magazine. That was another case Sinopoli won. He had an office on the seventh floor of the Playboy building at the time. “They [the Feds] were across the street on a hillside with binoculars looking at me. In their mind this girl looked young so she had to be young. You portray a girl in a girl scout outfit, so they arrested me. “Or you have a girl licking a lollipop on the cover of a magazine, so if she’s licking a lollipop, she had to be underage, according to them. I’ve been fighting these cases for years. But they never stopped me. I pushed it so much that you can go to your local bookstore and get whatever you want. I was one of those people that pushed the envelope and created new venues.”
Sinopoli now operates a company called Stardust Industries.http://www.adultfyi.com/read.aspx?ID=7433.
“Stardust, www.stardustindustries.com, got started as I looked over the other venues in the adult business- I felt there was a lot more than just buying X-rated movies,” says Sinopoli. “There isn’t a person under 35 who isn’t familiar with the adult business. You see it even in mainstream shows like Sex in the City, Desperate Housewives and Paris Hilton. It takes more to keep a marriage going than just videos. I asked myself what niche was available that could be expanded upon. It was sexual enhancements. This is an information society and people want to know where they can get the things that will enhance your sexuality. So I decided to go into the herbal and enhancement business. Thre’s an open market for these products- and they’re coming of age. You can see it with Viagra and Cialis. There’s a $7 billion industry they made for adults that need help with their sexual performances.”
Sinopoli mentions that he’s also getting into VOD. “The business is just going to keep expanding and taking on different looks to it,” he says. Though he’s been in the adult business for 40 years, Sinopoli feels he may as well have been in the psychology business as well. Sinopoli got his start working in an adult bookstore unloading trailer trucks.
“I think the place was called The 200 Book Club in Boston,” he says. “It was a time in my life where I could go one way or go another. I decided to go to work for awhile.” Sinopoli had just gotten out of the service. “And I come from a neighborhood that was Italian,” he explains. “There was that whole inference of being ‘associated’. So it was either be associated one way or go to work another way. I decided to try this, so I became a clerk. At this period of time it was considered a sin to be in a bookstore working with adult product.”
And Sinopoli can remember the term “banned in Boston” really applying to the types of literature he was selling. “It was a risque business,” he notes. “And there’s a real psychology to it. All of that intrigued me.”
Sinopoli can remember raids where the authorities would clear out the bookstore entirely. “Every book, every magazine- everything that was in that bookstore. And you would have to replenish it. We’d get arrested for indecency for simply selling a book with the word fuck in it. It was a time that the mores of America were different but it was also a time when we made new law by saying I have a right to read this; and if I have a right to read this I have a right to be able to go get it some place.”
Items like 8mm movies were sold under the counter. “That was just coming of age,” he says. “They were stag movies. There were art movies. It progressed to where they became full color movies. There was an ascendancy in this business where all the changes helped. Hefner came along and Playboy became accepted. Then it went to Guccione who showed a little more. Then Flynt showed a little more pink.”
I was curious if Sinopoli’s friends turned on him for being in a business like that or whether he was considered the cool guy on the block for doing so. You get the impression that he didn’t give a shit one way or the other.
“It was against the law the way things were understood then,” Sinopoli says. “But it was also a chance to change the law. There was an opportunity to say this was my freedom- you can’t dictate to me. It was like Hitler burning the books. You were banning knowledge. If I disseminated this stuff and gave it to children, that’s a different story. You’re negating my freedom to have something right or wrong. There were people giving you an argument that all of this was indecent from a moral’s point of view because they’re religious. “But you couldn’t give me an argument that it was wrong, scientifically.”
At one time or another, Sinopoli was facing charges in federal court; he was being tried in Los Angeles court facing yet another 20 years. He was tried in Beverly Hills court and Orange County. “This was all in the early Seventies,” he says, noting that he stood to get 375 years for interstate transportation of obscene matter.” That was the 69 indictments at five years an indictment when Sinopoli was operating a company called PoJo in Los Angeles.
“I was distributing magazines that I produced,” Sinopoli shrugs. “It cost me a million dollars to fight that case in Washington D.C. The judge’s name was Judge Gash during the time Nixon said go out and get some pornographers. I was on the list as being one of the biggest pornographers at that time. I was one of the largest magazine producers. I created the $10 magazine. I did a couple of magazines called Ingenue and Je T’Aime. When I did it and got involved with it, I changed the look and the style. They were classy-looking magazines. It was a learning genre, like being in school. I was the publisher. I went from being a clerk in a book store to publishing magazines.”
Sinopoli said it was easy at the time to make a career broadjump such as that. “It’s like anything else, if you want to accomplish something, you do it. If that’s what you believe in, you find your way to do it. And the business wasn’t as prolific as it is now.”
Sinopoli never did time in any of his cases. “But I would have to fight those cases for years and it was very costly. Sometimes it was like starting all over again. They would come in, and if I had 500,000 magazines, they’d take out the whole 500,000 and hold them until that court case was over with. And then sometimes they’d destroy those magazines on me. They took it on their own volition that they were indecent.”
Sinopoli feels that to make it in the current market, you create the uproar. He mentions the Pamela Anderson tape. He mentions the Paris Hilton tape.
“And vibrators used to be medical instruments,” he laughs. “Now you can get them in 200 different looks and colors.
story to be continued