In 1997, Paul Thomas Anderson made his mark on Hollywood with a daring look at the “other” Hollywood. For those who still have not checked out this now-cult classic, BOOGIE NIGHTS is the story of Dirk Diggler, a young man with a unique endowment that makes him perfect for the adult film industry. Based on Anderson’s short film THE DIRK DIGGLER STORY from 1988, it is a fictionalized look at what became known as the golden era of pornography, the 1970s.
During the 1970s, the pornographic film industry was gaining mainstream attention with big budget hardcore films such as DEEP THROAT, THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, DEBBIE DOES DALLAS, and BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR. As adult movie houses conquered nearly all of New York’s Times Square, the old sex-only stag reels or loops of prior decades were now being replaced by films with storylines and, albeit loose, plots. By the mid-’70s pornography was branching out into science fiction with films like FLESH GORDON and musicals like 1976’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
BOOGIE NIGHTS encapsulated this time and pulled from real life storylines. One obvious pull came in the form of the film’s lead character, Dirk Diggler, on obvious fictionalization of legendary porn star, John Holmes.
John Holmes was born John Curtis Estes on August 8, 1944 in the small country town called Ashville, Ohio; the son of an abusive alcoholic father and a religious zealot mother. When he turned 16, he joined the Army and served as a member of the signal corps in Germany. In 1963, at the end of his three-year enlistment, John moved to Los Angeles where he worked a number of odd jobs and eventually fell in love and married a nurse by the name Sharon Gebenini. It was during this time that John found a new passion working in the adult film industry. When he told Sharon this, she was reluctantly supportive and unaware that he was already working as a stripper, had made a few loops, and modeled naked.
In Anderson’s adaptation, Dirk meets porn filmmaker Jack Horner and producer Colonel James who look over Dirk’s “potential” before hiring him. Dirk then goes on to make a series of tough guy detective films called BROCK LANDERS, a franchise that catapults him to fame and fortune. In 1971, John Holmes met pornographic filmmaker Bob Chinn. Bob looked over John’s portfolio as well as his… credentials, and he knew he had a star on his hands. Not long after their meeting Bob and John went to work on what would be John’s most recognizable title; JOHNNY WADD was an X-rated Sam Spade knockoff that turned John in to an overnight sensation. As the years rolled on for John, the demands of the industry and its link to the criminal underworld begin to surface. By 1978, John Holmes was making $3,000 a day, and freebasing more than he could afford. His addiction became so bad that it was affecting his performance, and he was finding fewer people willing to work with him. Consequently, John Holmes resorted to theft in order to supplement his income and feed his addiction.
In 1980, John Holmes met club owner and drug dealer Eddie Nash at the Odyssey nightclub. Eddie was a notorious fixture in Hollywood, with clubs all over the city, as well as a legendary drug habit. At the time, John Holmes was also a known associate of the Wonderland Gang, a group of junkie drug dealers who lived in a town house on Wonderland Avenue in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Laurel Canyon. Holmes had just finished production on his latest film, a venture he funded himself and was now trying to scrape together enough money to pay his editor to finish it. By 1981, John was also into the Wonderland Gang for a large sum of money, after a deal he made for them had gone bad.
After gang leader Ron Launius beat-up and threatened John, John offered a plan to the gang to rob his dear friend Eddie Nash. The plan was to have John go over to Eddie’s home under the guise of buying drugs, and before leaving John would leave the backdoor open so that the gang could come in and rob Eddie who was known to have a great deal of drugs and money stashed away at his home. Nash also had a 300-pound, karate expert, African American body guard by the name of Gregory Diles. Diles was known to carry a few guns and was not afraid to use them. He once opened fire outside a club on Santa Monica Boulevard in the middle of the afternoon.
On June 29, 1981, John was hanging out at Nash’s San Fernando Valley home. The not-so-in-shape Nash was wearing his signature silk robe over his bikini briefs. A layer of sweat covered his body as he had been up for most of the week high on cocaine. As Holmes joined him in his binge, they freebased the $400 the gang had given him to buy drugs. He nervously wondered whether he could go through with the plan. But as the sun rose, and John’s need for more drugs and money outweighed his conscious as he left the backdoor open and went on his way. Not long afterwards, the gang entered as the plan went into action. The robbery was a major score for the gang, netting them nearly half a million in jewelry, cash, and drugs.
Back at the Wonderland house, the gang split a small fraction of the proceeds before John went on his way. Not long afterwards, John was tracked down by Gregory Diles who found him flaunting one of Nash’s rings on his finger. John was dragged back Nash’s home and forced to confess what he knew about the robbery. Threatened with death and the death of everyone he knew, John offered up the Wonderland Gang.
Sometime on the morning of July 1, 1981, John Holmes arrived at the Wonderland house with a few associates of Eddie Nash. Around four in the afternoon, the police arrived at the home and found four dead bodies, all of them beaten to death with pipes and hammers. It was one of the worst crime scenes anyone could remember, conjuring thoughts of the LA Bianca-Tate murders committed by the Manson family in 1969. The police and the press were already calling the case the “Four on the Floor Murders.”
In the living room was the body of Barbara Richardson who was not a member of the gang. Barbara was the 22-year-old girlfriend of gang member David Lind. David had opted to stay at a hotel after the robbery doing drugs and having sex with another girl whose name he could not remember. Gang leader Ron Launius was found still in bed beaten to death. Upstairs was the body of William DeVerell, seated on the floor, his back to the wall, blood covering his shirtless body; next to him the television was still on and tuned in to the morning news. In the bed next to him was the body of Joy Miller, buried under dresser drawers and clothing after the killers ransacked the room looking for Nash’s belongings. Outside they found one survivor, Ron Launius’ wife Susan. Susan had been severely beaten, but still somehow managed to crawl her way outside. She suffered severe brain damage and amnesia as well as a lost finger in the attack.
John Holmes was immediately arrested, but refused to name Eddie Nash or Gregory Diles. Instead, he and his girlfriend ran to Florida where they attempted to start their lives over again. However, it wasn’t long before the law caught up to John, and he was taken back to Los Angeles where he was put on trial for the Wonderland murders. The police only had the testimony of the Wonderland gang survivors, who were not there during the killing and one palm print belonging to Holmes above Ron’s bed. In the end, John was acquitted, but still served 8 months for a unrelated robbery charge. Then on March 13, 1988, John Holmes died of AIDS, leaving the Wonderland murders still unsolved to this day.
For a more detailed account of the Wonderland Murders as well as all those involved and what became of them, check out the Our Strange World Podcast episode LOST IN WONDERLAND.