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Bill Margold passes away- A free speech advocate and prior adult actor from the Seventies

A tribute to Bill Margold

Fairfax, Virginia criminal defense lawyer

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This being a criminal law blog, my tributes to those who pass away are limited in number. The now-late Bill Margold merits a blog tribute, not because he acted in the golden age of adult films when they were on celluloid and when the risks of obscenity prosecutions were greater, but because he unconditionally welcomed and encouraged my interest in expanding my law practice into adult entertainment, and because he was a friendly regular guy — though with a big ego — to me.

When I was only one year into being my own boss, in 1999, I was talking shop at the end of the day with my then-law partner Jay Marks about how to expand my law practice into adult entertainment, including assistance to strip clubs/adult cabarets, adult video stores (many more existed at the time than now), adult Internet (including websites and livecams), escorts, prostitutes, swingers/lifestyle groups and clubs, and kink/BDSM clubs. While criminal defense has remained the core of my law practice, adult entertainment is meaningful to my passion for civil liberties and criminal defense. On the criminal defense side, we have prosecutions for obscenity, prostitution, nudity laws, and alleged violations of zoning and licensing laws that limit the location and activities of adult businesses. On the First Amendment side, we have the Supreme Court’s recognition that the First Amendment applies to non-obscene sexual material and strip clubs. With adult entertainment, we also have the important civil liberties issue of freedom of choice. Although BDSM and swinging is not my cup of tea, for instance, protecting the right of consenting adults to choose their sexual lifestyles and sexual viewing better protects my right to live my life the way I choose.

With that backdrop, as Jay and I were talking about doing adult entertainment work, Jay had a great idea for me to call Phil Guye, then self-named Dr. Phil Good (feel good) who had been recently featured in a cover article in the Washington City Paper as quite the active purveyor of strippers for local parties. I found Phil’s ad in the yellow pages, when people used those pages, and he answered on his cellphone. I told Phil that I was a lawyer looking to get involved professionally with the adult entertainment industry, and he recommended that I call Bill Margold.

That same day, I reached Bill. He was a hoot and a half, regaling me about his count of appearing in hundreds of adult film sex scenes and his involvement with the industry for decades. His business card either jokingly or arrogantly proclaimed that “God created Man; Bill Margold created himself.” Bill was an early member of the Free Speech Coalition, which by now is a major trade association for the adult entertainment industry.

As luck would have it, in only a few weeks, Bill was hosting a Free Speech Coalition fundraiser at an Atlantic City hotel. He did not mention that overlapping that event would also be the then-named East Coast Video Show, which devoted over one quarter of its floorspace to the adult section. Wow. Within weeks of that call, I was meeting major players in the business, including Tara Patrick, Ron Jeremy, production company people, and adult wholesalers. I tracked down Mark Kernes — the legal editor for Adult Video News — who told me of the Free Speech Coalition-included panel discussion coming up in a few days at D.C.’s National Press Club, which I attended and where I met the FSC president and part of adult film history Gloria Leonard and FSC chair Jeffrey Douglas. Before leaving Atlantic City, I tagged along with an adult model and her husband to an adult magazine’s party in a Bally’s hotel suite, where actresses and models, production people and numerous others hobnobbed, and where photographers flashed material suitable for their adult publications.

I got involved with adult entertainment law at the right time, when there was not much competition for the work in my geographic area, and when plenty of need was present for such services. This having been only a supplement to my main work in criminal defense, I was not affected much when adult video stores started closing, just as general video stores did.

I do not deny the sexist, misogynistic, objectifying and racist elements among adult entertainment. Not all of it is like that, and the offensive material is protected by the First Amendment. Adult actresses like Nina Hartley and Tara Patrick clearly are self-empowered doing what they are doing, which is not necessarily the same situation for those who are not already stars. I do say that I have enjoyed dealing with and helping members of the adult industry. I learned early on that the adult entertainment industry, at least during my time dealing with its members, is more a business with plenty of likable people, rather than some sort of market in society’s dark recesses. Sex sells in a widespread way across society and adult videos have pulled in billions of dollars, at least before so much of the material ended up free on the Internet. If sex did not sell, then mainstream advertisers would not be turning so often to sex appeal over the decades.

In the first few years of my doing adult entertainment work, I flew to Los Angeles for the Free Speech Coalition’s annual awards gathering and related fundraiser, and simultaneous West Coast adult video show, and to Las Vegas for its annual AVN-sponsored show and adult answer to the Academy Awards. Each time, Bill Margold was there, chatting me up and continuing to encourage me on my path. We have not been in contact for many years, not because of anything negative, but because I ordinarily talked to Bill when I saw him.

Yes, Bill was opinionated, and when I told him once that I was uncomfortable about what he was saying about someone, he responded that he was just telling the truth.

Bill called me kid, as he did so many others. He had an organization called Protecting Adult Welfare, to support the talent, whereas the Free Speech Coalition was more about supporting the industry itself. He was good friends with Gloria Leonard (see my tribute to Gloria here), who also cheered me on for my professional and personal path.

Bill Margold sought nothing in supporting and encouraging me. He earned my deep thanks early on.

Deeply thanking and bowing to William Margold, 1943-2017.