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ebony.com – Jesse Spencer, a loving husband and father to two beautiful daughters, appears to be your average California state resident. But one glance at his tribal tattoos and signature fitted caps will give him away to any purveyor of pornography as “Mr. Marcus,” the most recognizable African-American male performer in the adult industry.
During my annual participation at Exxxotica Chicago, the nation’s largest sex convention, I had the pleasure of meeting the man who’s been the topic of discussion for the past few years—but not without a few disapproving stares from some of my friends in the industry. He was friendly, charming and more attractive in person that I’d expected. And after sharing a plate of wings at an afterparty (and allowing him to playfully spank me on the convention floor), I decided to cut through the red tape to get to know the man for myself and uncover the truth behind some recent rumors.
How He Got Started
Being an adult film start isn’t something the average person aspires to be, but for a sexual person with a curiosity about the industry, working as on screen talent is inevitable. “To be honest, I never thought it was something I could do. It was something I wanted to do,” Mr. Marcus says, discussing a career in adult films that’s extended over 20 years.
His interest in the adult industry spiked when he stumbled across his stepfather’s collection of adult magazines during his teenage years. “What I saw wasn’t movies, it was magazines. It was 1993 and there was no Internet. The movies were VHS tapes that my mom never bought, and we had a block on cable. So magazines were the easiest thing for me to get my hands on… They had a lot of influence on my decision.”
The allure of modeling erotica for the camera fascinated Marcus, and served as his way into the industry. But the legendary Heather Hunter assisted his debut into adult films after he captured her attention at a convention in the early ’90s.
“I met Heather at my first [Adult Video News Awards] in January of 1994. And after becoming sexually involved and having good sex for some time, she asked me to be in a scene with her and I jumped at the chance.”
The first scene he ever shot didn’t go as expected, and it left him questioning if acting in porn was for him at all. “The picture part of the shoot was easy, but I really struggled during the video portion because I had already popped [ed. note: “popping” in the industry means ejaculating], and it was difficult for me to produce another erection,” Mr. Marcus admits. “I left the set questioning myself, questioning if porn was for me. I thought something was wrong with me. I was 23 and had never had an issue with maintaining an erection.”
It’s common for male performers to fall short during performance shots, especially when they aren’t used to producing erections on command in a room filled with a full production crew. But the newbie was able to redeem himself a week later when asked to perform in a video directed by Ron Hightower (this man would go on to direct 2Pac’s “How Do U Want It”). “The girl was cute, the scene went great, and from there I was hooked,” he says with a smile in his voice. “At that point, my name began to spread across the industry and work began to flow in.”
His Claim to Fame
Male performers don’t often see the same level of stardom as female performers in the adult industry. But during the period of his reign, Mr. Marcus was one of a very few Black men on the scene whose charismatic charm set him apart from his colleagues in helping to build a great reputation with the ladies.
“When I did Mr. Marcus’ Neighborhood, my name really began to grow to fame,” he explains. “I act the same way on film as I do in real life. Everything is very serious and sensual, and it draws people in and makes them want to watch.”
Marcus details what helped him build the great reputation that he had with the ladies of the industry. “I laughed with the girls and made them feel comfortable. People would hire me to give that element,” he explains. “Sometimes I gave it and sometimes it was natural. Sometimes it would feel like a job.”
At the beginning stage of his career, his salary was $75 per scene. But as time progressed and his demand grew, his rates increased to $900-$1,000 a film, peaking at $10,000. “The 2000s were good to me,” he reminisces. “I was making money from performing, from production, from making appearances and from my website that was just developing. Your brand has to evolve over time.”
In the midst of the rising popularity of social media, during a time when the adult industry was under heavy scrutiny from mainstream activists working to regulate the industry, Mr. Marcus’s career took a nosedive as a result of bad decision-making and vicious rumors that added fuel to the fire.
The Move That Sank His Career
Having sex unprotected places anyone at risk for contracting STDs, and this is no different for the performers within the adult industry. Mr. Marcus found himself in a predicament in 2012 when he received a positive test for syphilis from his personal physician.
“I caught an STD in this business, which happens all the time in this business, and I found out I had it through my own doctor and got it treated through my own doctor.” Performers within the adult industry are required to test every 30 days with Talent Testing Service to maintain optimum sexual health and uphold public safety.
With gigs on the horizon, Marcus went into Talent Testing knowing his infection was being treated. (One shot of penicillin kills the bacteria responsible for syphilis if within the early stages of contraction.) But the tests came back as a false positive, placing red flags on his test results.
“I had jobs lined up, and when I found out the test came back reactive, I panicked,” he explains. “I went online, I looked things up, I did everything I was supposed to do. Why is everything coming back reactive? The clinician agreed that I was fine, but there wasn’t anything he could do besides give me another test without the syphilis results on there. So I made the mistake of taking the test and making a copy of it where the syphilis part of the test wasn’t revealed.”
This seemingly harmless mistake cost him his reputation (which had been spotless up until that point), as word got out about the falsified test results in mainstream media. Social media dragged his name through the mud as headlines became riddled with vicious rumors, and in 2013, he was slapped with a lawsuit that ultimately landed him in jail for 30 days with criminal charges.
“The lawsuit stated that I infected these two girls with syphilis, but that wasn’t the truth,” Marcus explains. Compacted with a pending DUI case, the lawsuit violated his parole, forcing Marcus to take a plea deal to lessen court costs. “Taking the deal made me look even more guilty. My lawyers and I were prepared to fight the case. I keep all of my records and was prepared to prove I knew what I had and I did something about it.”
The 20-year vet says he even canceled jobs after receiving the treatment for syphilis, knowing he was medically cleared to perform. “I didn’t perform until a week after my treatment, even though I was told that penicillin kills the bacteria within 24 hours of the dosage.” The actor served his brief sentence to fulfill his civic commitment, but the damage to his career had already been done.
“Because I didn’t have a PR to put out an official statement, it fanned the flames,” he says. “Some people cared and listened, and others didn’t give a f*ck. No one else could have gone through what I went through and survived. Because of what I went through, testing centers now test for syphilis and treat it. It’s no longer like you’re on your own. It changed a lot of things, and I’m still here, and I’m healthy.”
The Future Looks Bright
Now that the worst is behind him, Mr. Marcus is ready to move forward in his career, evolving (once again) in an industry that is consistently changing. “My plan is to be at Exxxotica, see my fans, and address any rumors to clear my name,” he states boldly. “It’s all about mending relationships at this point.”
After picking up the pieces, Marcus has had to reposition himself within the adult industry with the objective of being about business first. “The goal has always been to be a businessman. I was always fascinated with the porn industry, but I was more so interested in sex, and I think there are a lot of people who feel the same way. When I go to the conventions and see all of the couples and single girls looking at the toys, it makes me realize we are all sexual.”
Marcus has used his trials over the last three years of his life to serve as inspiration to teach others about sexual health and personal responsibility. “Going through this made me realize how I’ve always wanted to educate people, because there was so much ignorance on my part and also within the media,” he reasons. “People just need to be educated. I’m the same guy I was before this happened, but now I’m a bit wiser.”
Production, product branding and even talent management are just a few of the options Mr. Marcus is considering, as he restructures his career one day at a time.