Monday, June 06, 2005


"Our secrets keep us sick"

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?
How ya gonna keep 'em away from Broadway
Jazzin around and paintin' the town?
How ya gonna keep 'em away from harm, that's a mystery.
They'll never want to see a rake or plow
And who the deuce can parley-vous a cow?
How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
After they've seen Paree?

—refrain from "How 'Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down on the Farm?" a hit from World War I by Joe Young and Sam M. Lewis

I can't do better than Meredith Owen's opening summary from "The Fulton County Daily Report"—

When Richard W. Merritt signed on as a staff attorney with Powell Goldstein1 more than a year ago, the law firm had to be impressed with his background: eight years as a Marine officer and a degree from the University of Southern California Law School.

Merritt didn't mention on his resume, however, that he had just won a publishing contract for a book, "Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star," which appears in bookstores this week.

With the book's release date nearing, Merritt told his supervising attorney about it in early March, Merritt said. The firm fired him a few days later. The human resources director told him that, because of the book, they didn't believe he'd be able to serve clients as well as Powell Goldstein standards would require.

As it turns out, Merritt probably has few secrets to reveal as a gay porn star, since he only worked in the industry for four months.

Despite the sensational title, the book isn't a salacious account of what happens in the movie underworld. Rather, it's a from-the-heart memoir that recounts growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home, attending straight-laced [sic] Bob Jones University, discovering a larger world in the Marines, coming out with his sexuality and recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. As for his acting career, it occupied all of four months -- and eight movies -- in 1995.

Jeez! I've been on binges that lasted longer than that. What's the big deal?

Merritt started writing "Secrets of A Gay Marine Porn Star" three years ago, after overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol. Telling his story, he said, was a way to come to grips with his own experience -- and a way to help others heal. "Part of my message in the book is that our secrets keep us sick," he said.

How ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm
(After they've seen Parris Island)?

Merritt was raised as a fundamentalist Christian in Greenville, S.C., where he attended Bob Jones University, an evangelical Bible college, and, before that, Bob Jones Academy and Bob Jones Elementary School. Early in his college career, he enlisted in the Marine Reserves. Three months of boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., exposed him to people from a wider world and he returned to Bob Jones a changed young man.

He was expelled after school officials learned that he'd broken the school's rules by dancing with young women at a local nightclub and listening to rock and roll music. He transferred to Clemson University and, after graduating, went on active duty, serving in Japan, the Philippines and Korea. Around this time, in the early 1990's, he started to realize that he was gay.

Pissing on a policy

Mitchell says his decision to go professional with his act was in reaction to the military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy for gays.

"I was furious at this policy. I had just come out of the closet and was in an angry, militant, 'act up' phase," Merritt said. He answered an ad for gay actors and models in San Diego's Gay and Lesbian Times on a whim while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton and ended up auditioning for a gay porn video.

"I thought it would be a way to get back at the powers that be that passed this stupid law," he said.

It's also a good way to get a date.

Up from the ooze

It was also, perhaps, a way to rebel against an upbringing that censured homosexuality. His porn persona, Danny Orlis, was the name of a character in a Christian children's book series that Merritt read while growing up. In stories like "Danny Orlis and Trouble on the Circle R Ranch" the capable, Hardy Boys-like hero helped to extricate others from their scrapes. When a movie producer asked the adult Merritt for an actor pseudonym, "it just came out, right out of the unconscious," he said.

A better life awaits

Merritt said he's received job offers from other law firms but is taking a hiatus from law for a book tour. He will be signing "Secrets of a Gay Marine Porn Star" in Atlanta at Outwrite Books on Wednesday.

Merritt would like to continue practicing law but with a focus on public interest or civil rights work. "I'd go back into porn before I'd go back to work for a large law firm," he said cheerfully.

Who wouldn't?

Isn't it refreshing to read about a real marine who didn't become a fake journalist? Look for "Secrets of A Gay Marine Porn Star" at your local bookstore this week.


1Known in the trade as "PoGo." [back]

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