Everything Wrong With “The Deuce” – Sex, Corruption & Money in NYC 1971-1978


The Deuce is the HBO series that is supposed to be a realistic look at 42nd street in the 1970s. While fun to watch, it has a lot of factual errors that make it more fantasy than reality. Here are just a few of the errors:

The prostitutes in The Deuce are too beautiful, too clean and too well spoken. Movie and T.V. producers have a long history of glamorizing prostitution. The most extreme example of this was Julia Roberts as a Street Walker in Pretty Woman. Her character was gorgeous, well-spoken and had no pimp,  drug addictions or venereal diseases. The Deuce on the other hand, pretends to portray the “dark side” of prostitution but has been cleaned things up so much that it makes the business look exciting instead of disgusting. Like many so called “gritty” shows about prostitutes, The Deuce could not resist showing beautiful naked women as often as possible. Consequently, The Deuce, ends up sanitizing the entire business of the virtual enslavement of young women as sex workers.

Maggie Gyllenhaal in "The Deuce".
Maggie Gyllenhaal in “The Deuce”.

The Deuce pretends that violent crime in New York was limited to 42nd Street. Season 1 of The Deuce takes place from 1971-1972. Season 2 of The Deuce happens in 1977-1978.  In those time periods, violent crime was rampant throughout New York City. In 1972 there were 2,026 murders in New York City compared to 290 in 2017. In other words, the murder rate in NYC during the time of The Deuce was almost 600% higher than it is now! Anyone watching The Deuce would think that crime on 42nd street was completely due to lazy and corrupt cops. In fact, the NYC police force in the 1970s was simply overwhelmed by crime in every neighborhood in New York.

Times Square 1970s
Times Square 1970s

The real reason the Mafia was interested in X-Rated movies is never mentioned in The Deuce. The Mafia actually did not care if X-rated films were profitable or not. For the Mafia, the most important aspect of companies making X-rated movies is that they were legal businesses that could file tax returns. The Mob needed someplace to hide all the profits from their illegal businesses. Organized crime bosses feared the IRS more than anything else. The Mafia bosses needed “legitimate business interests” that could explain how they afforded their cars, homes, boats and mistresses. The X-rated film industry provided the perfect cover. That is why in 1972 the X-Rated Deep Throat declared on tax returns gross box office sales of $600 million. In that same year The Godfather took in box office receipts of $133 million. No one knows how much the real box office sales were for Deep Throat. The $600 million figure was a way for the Mob to legally declare its income from drugs, gambling, extortion and prostitution.

Did "Deep Throat" really make more money than "The Godfather?"
Did “Deep Throat” really make more money than “The Godfather?”

The Deuce pretends that Mafia involvement in the porn industry is limited to New York City. At the end of Season 2 of the The Deuce, two of the main characters escape the grip of Organized Crime by simply going to California.  Ex-prostitute, turned porn star Lori (Emily Meade), begins a beautiful new life in the Sunshine of Los Angeles. Wearing a lovely white dress, she steps out of the airport into the arms of her rich, handsome, sports car-driving new boyfriend. By leaving New York Lori has escaped cold, dirt, her pimp, and the Mob. It is an idiotic ending. Emily Meade, of course, is also one of the actresses who is far too beautiful to be playing a street prostitute. Her character also has no drug problem or STDs. Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is able to get Mob-free financing from an investor in California.

Emily Meade in "The Deuce"
Emily Meade in “The Deuce”

Eileen also has a happy California ending. Her first X-rated production (Red) was almost completely Mafia financed and as a result she got almost no profit from it. (Mainly because her idiot producer, played by James Franco, sold more than 100% of the movie to 2 different Mafia Capos.)

James Franco in "The Deuce".
James Franco in “The Deuce”.

However, at the end of Season 2 of The Deuce it is implied that Eileen will be able to get future “clean” money from California investors. She will continue to make the films in New York, but the money will come from legitimate California sources.  This scenario is absurd. People in Mafia-controlled businesses do not simply “walk away” and tell the mob bosses that they have found different investors. The 2 New York Capos who financed Red are certainly not going to let Eileen continue to make films in New York without their involvement.  Organized Crime is a world-wide phenomenon. The Deuce implying that the mob is not involved in the California porn industry is ridiculous.  By the way, all the Linda Lovelace scenes in Deep Throat were filmed in Florida.

Despite all its flaws, The Deuce is an interesting and well-acted series. People not old enough to have seen Times Square in the 1970s probably think The Deuce is making things look worse than they really were. In fact, The Deuce is considerably understating the sleaze and dirt of the old Times Square. In the 1970s no one would have believed that in the future Time Square would have been filled with tourists and their small children posing for photos with cartoon characters.

Times Square today
Times Square today

The Deuce  Season 3 is planned for this year. Apparently the time-line of The Deuce will jump to 1980s. This is when the combination of AIDS, cocaine-fueled gang violence and soaring real-estate prices kills or forces out of Times Square all the people who used to call it home. Season 3 of The Deuce will probably be rather depressing. The chance of gay bar owner Paul (Chris Coy) living through the AIDS epidemic seems very slight.

Chris Coy in "The Deuce."
Chris Coy in “The Deuce.”

Of course, the biggest change to the entire porn industry actually  occurred in the 1990s with the arrival of the internet. Once the internet really got going, no one ever had to physically venture out of the house to view porn. The difficult part now is trying to avoid pornographic images.  Prostitution and sex trafficking, of course, still exist but the internet has helped it become more hidden from the general public.

Finally, no one ever called 42nd Street “The Deuce”. It has always simply been known as” 42nd Street” or “Times Square”.

The Deuce does its best to try to recreate a time and place that many New Yorkers would rather just forget. The Deuce fails in  some aspects but is still an intriguing show.

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