Thevis, Michael Biography

biography of Thevis, Michael

1932, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA
Michael Thevis was born in 1932 in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he was raised by his Greek Orthodox grandparents. They had emigrated from Greece and brought up young Michael strictly and in the ways of the church, keeping him in from play to teach him the value of work. In 1949 Michael left home and moved to Atlanta, where he enrolled at Georgia Tech and began to take engineering courses. He couldn't afford to stay in school, though, and dropped out in 1950 to run a newsstand. By 1960 little had changed. He was married with three children, but his newsstand job was barely covering the cost of living. The Thevis family was forced out of their apartment one month when he could no longer afford to pay the rent, which had recently been raised to $57. Thevis' entry into criminal enterprises began one day while going over the books for his newsstand. He discovered that, while Playboy only accounted for 10% of his sales, it was almost solely responsible for his turning a profit. He went underground, and while overtly selling only tame nudie publications, he worked with gangster and pornographer Kenneth "Kenny the Jap" Hanna to make contacts with customers whose interests were far more suspect. Soon Thevis was using the newsstand to deal in black market pornography including hardcore bondage, rape, bestiality and, eventually, child porn. Business boomed. In the last half of 1967s Hanna introduced Thevis to a fellow gangster, Roger Dean Underhill, a low-ranking associate of the Gambino organized-crime family. Together Underhill and Thevis would move the small underground porn stand to the next level. Underhill recalled machines he'd seen at fairs and in supermarkets that played cartoons to keep children occupied. Using this concept, Underhill and Thevis developed some of the first sexually oriented peep booths in America. They set up manufacturing companies and began to distribute the peep booths to locations all over America, from New York to Pasadena, California, to locations ranging from airport bars to the sex shops on 42nd Street in New York City's Times Square. By the end of the 1970s the phrases "loop" and "peep booth" would be synonymous with sleazy porn. One of Thevis' first tastes of competition came from Nat Bailen, owner and founder of Urban Industries, which manufactured peep booths. In the early 1960s Bailen had invented peep booths to show children's cartoons on. He publicly spoke out against Thevis for turning his creation into a smut machine. In April of 1970 Urban Industries was burnt to the ground; fire investigators ruled it an arson. Another major crime linking Thevis to the world of organized crime came in November of 1970, when Kenny Hanna turned up murdered. Investigating the case, the FBI turned up Thevis' name. What began as a routine check into what the FBI believed was one more murdered gangster ended with the realization that they had stumbled onto the man who'd become responsible for distributing 40% of the United States' pornography, legal and illegal. In addition to his black-market and peep-show enterprises, he also owned nearly 500 adult bookstores and X-rated movie theaters across the country. The government estimated his annual income at $100 million. Word reached Thevis that he was under investigation. Aware that gangsters 'Al Capone' (qv) and Dutch Schultz were brought down by federal investigations into their finances, Thevis began to branch out into legitimate enterprises, not only to account for his illegal income, but to launder some of it and make even more cash in the process. His peep booths were manufactured by one of his legitimate fronts, Cinematics. He owned General Recording Corp., a music distributor, and began to produce movies. He fronted the cash for _Zhui ming qiang (1971)_ (qv), and anonymously put up money for one of 'Oliver Stone (I)' (qv)'s earliest films, _Seizure (1974)_ (qv). In 1973, Roger Dean Underhill was present when James Mayes, an employee of Cinematics, came to Thevis asking for a raise. Thevis was incensed, and shot Mayes to death. Shortly thereafter, Underhill was arrested during a routine traffic stop when the alert officer found a small cache of stolen guns in Underhill's car. Underhill was booked on charges of possession of stolen weapons and transporting stolen property across state lines; conviction meant a long stretch in federal prison. Sensing a potential breakthrough in their investigation of Thevis, the FBI got involved, offering Underhill leniency in exchange for his help in bringing down Thevis. Underhill was getting no assistance from the mob; he was too low-ranking to be seen as anything more than a liability, so he agreed to turn states' evidence. Over the next three years he helped the FBI in building charges against Thevis, and revealed in a sworn affidavit that Thevis had given him the order to set the fire that burned down Urban Industries. He further revealed that he was acting as backup when Thevis murdered Kenny Hanna, and that he was present during the murder of James Mayes. The FBI also learned about crimes they had never linked Thevis to, including the bombing of one of Thevis' competitors in Fayeteville, Kentucky, and his extortion of a small-time pornographer in Houston. Meanwhile, Thevis continued to get richer, funding another movie, _Poor Pretty Eddie (1975)_ (qv), and extending the reaches of his porn empire into Florida. The beginning of the end for Thevis came in 1976, when he was convicted of conspiracy to commit arson, and distribution of obscene materials; Underhill personally testified against his former partner. Thevis was sentenced to eight years and six months in prison and ordered to pay $650,000 to Nat Bailen, the employees of Urban Industries, and Urban Industries' insurance companies. In prison Thevis received word that his wife had divorced him and that the IRS had teamed up with the FBI to investigate him for financial fraud. The icing on the cake came when Thevis was indicted in Florida on various charges under the RICO statutes, thanks largely in part to Roger Dean Underhill. Thevis escaped from prison in 1978 and was immediately placed on the FBI's top ten most wanted list. Word got to the FBI that Thevis had contacted old associates in the mob and arranged for a contract to be put on Underhill's life as revenge his betrayal. Underhill became one of the most sought-after gangsters in America, as word spread to every wiseguy and gunman that an "open contract" had been placed on him--in other words, no specific hitman was tasked with the job; whoever could prove they killed Underhill would receive a substantial reward. No one ever got to collect, though, because Thevis personally tracked down Underhill himself. Underhill was entertaining a friend, street tough Isaac Galanti, in October of 1978 when Thevis showed up at the front door and killed both men with a shotgun. Thevis was apprehended shortly after the murders and taken for holding to a maximum security facility in Connecticut. Awaiting his RICO trial in Florida, he tried to establish a "prison rep" by bragging to other prisoners about his various murders, including Underhill and Galanti. His cellmate contacted authorities. In 1980, Michael Thevis, the "Scarface of Porn," who had once made $100 million a year and owned nearly half of the hardcore porn industry, was convicted of the murders of Isaac Galanti and Roger Dean Underhill. He was sentenced to 28 years to life, and became eligible for parole in 1998.
Jojo Mac

-   '? Thevis' (1950 - 1976) (divorced); 3 children

-   He was 100% Greek, and raised in the Greek Orthodox Church.

-   Was listed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list for murder, arson, and jailbreak.

-   In the late 1960s and early 1970s Thevis owned a record label, Aware Records, that signed mainly black R&B artists, and had several hits with singer Jimmy T. Shaw, aka "Hannibal".

-   "Hustler" (USA), May 1976, Vol. 2, Iss. 11, by: Jim Michaels, "Mike Thevis: Smut Sultan, Behind Closed Doors"

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Movies Produced

  1. Seizure (1974) (producer) (uncredited)
  2. Zhui ming qiang (1971) (executive producer) (USA version)