Somewhere between Clarence Darrow and Dirk Diggler rests the conundrum known as Mark Suben, Cortland County’s recently re-elected district attorney, and now outed by the media for his secret identity as Gus Thomas, his most frequent nom de porn used during an early-1970s spurt as an actor in the adult-movie industry. (It will be hard—oops!—to not have every word parsed in this article as an innuendo, which, as the old joke goes, is an Italian suppository.)
Chances are excellent that just about nobody beyond the raincoat crowd has seen these raunchy reels since their original release, when they surely played in this market at a run-down neighborhood bijou on South Avenue: the Franklin Art Cinema, with its sticky floors that were not entirely the result of soda-pop spillage. Suben probably thought that this lewd aberration in his life’s work would likely never resurface (indeed, who would ever own up to attending a Franklin screening of 1973’s The Whistle Blowers?), until Internet porn sites, with their voracious appetite for vintage slap-and-tickle films, have resurrected these not-quite-buried treasures. (Incidentally, the local union representing film projectionists would train newbies at the Franklin, which ran from 10 a.m. to midnight every day, perhaps because no audience member would likely quibble if the reels were accidentally shown out of order.)
Perusing the imdb.com site devoted to the Thomas cinematic canon, there are about a dozen forgotten titles on his resume (one would suspect that a host of stag-reel loops was also filmed with Thomas’ anonymous participation), with one entry seemingly standing out as the most damning evidence: Deep Throat Part II, sequel to the scandalous 1972 hardcore entry with Linda Lovelace. Yet the fellatio-flick follow-up was actually an R-rated softcore spy comedy, and it played on May 15, 1974, at the old North Drive-In on Route 11—until Cicero police busted the ozoner management on obscenity charges. (The hastily scheduled replacement double bill was the Barbra Streisand-Robert Redford weepie The Way We Were plus Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams.)
Beyond the unmemorable titles, there were also thespians with obvious stage names like Tanya Tickler and Bertha Boobs, the latter handling an acting stretch as, according to the credits, “Large-Breasted Dancer” in the 1973 frolic High Rise. Thomas also worked alongside industry veterans whose names may strike a nostalgic twang amid bump-and-grind aficionados: Jennifer Welles, Darby Lloyd Rains and The Devil in Miss Jones’ Georgina Spelvin, among them. He was occasionally guided by genre auteurs such as Chuck Vincent (who segued into a few R-rated thrillers) and Joseph Sarno (whose tasteful approach has been hailed by discerning critics such as Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas).
Some of Thomas’ on-screen associates also attempted to penetrate the mainstream-movie demographic. Jamie Gillis, for instance, turned up in a small role as a snotty employer in the Sylvester Stallone yarn Nighthawks (1981), while Deep Throat star Harry Reems, who nearly went to prison when the feds nailed him on trumped-up obscenity charges, almost played the gym teacher in Grease (1978), but producers got cold feet regarding his casting in their PG-rated big-budget musical, and instead hired Sid Caesar. And porn actress Andrea True, who made no bones about her between-the-sheets celluloid antics, had the biggest splash of her career on the Top 40 charts with the 1976 disco chestnut “More, More, More.”
Perhaps tiring of the rigors of the genre (not to mention the de rigueur Burt Reynolds mustache and the wah-wah funk soundtracks), Thomas, like any other adult-film actor, knew when to pull out of the titillation trade and move on to a career as legal eagle Mark Suben. And all was quiet until the recent “October surprise,” in which someone connected the dots between Suben and Thomas and constructed a 15-minute YouTube video featuring clips from his long-ago acting assignments—and whoever did this extensive legwork is either the world’s No. 1 Gus Thomas fan or perhaps someone orchestrating an election-year smear campaign.
The revelation of Suben’s porno past, however, appears to have been shrugged off by many Central New Yorkers, as those pixilated images from the YouTube video showcase the on-screen actor having a satisfyingly good time. After all, it was 40 years ago, when concepts such as free love and sexual expression were in vogue. And these days, Tanya Tickler might just be somebody’s doting grandmother.