CHATSWORTH, Calif.—Fair play, consumer friendliness and just plain couth—these are words that come to mind when we think about Adam & Eve founder Phil Harvey, who epitomizes these virtues. For these reasons and many others, Harvey has been chosen to receive the second annual Visionary Award at the 30th annual AVN Awards, which takes place Jan. 19, 2013 at The Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas.
Harvey is known not only for his success in taking a novelty start-up company into nearly every realm of adult commerce, but also for his sense of civic responsibility in helping to prevent the scourge of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies from destroying lives in Third World countries.
Harvey continues to command the highest respect from his peers in adult.
"I'm pleased and honored to present the visionary award to Phil Harvey," said Vivid Entertainment co-chairman Steven Hirsch, the award's first recipient. "No one exemplifies what is good about the adult industry more than Phil."
"Of course, I'm honored to receive AVN's second Visionary Award," Harvey said. "It's been a very long journey from Adam & Eve’s early days in a single room over the Central Carolina Bank in Chapel Hill to the enterprise that our company has become. It’s our people who have done that and they are terrific. I accept this award in their names as well."
Harvey's had a nearly lifelong interest in family planning, and it was partly the poverty and disease he saw while working overseas that inspired him and Adam & Eve co-founder Tim Black to return to college and enter a one-year master’s program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in family planning administration—but that was only the beginning of the long social and legal struggles that would follow.
"In 1969," Harvey recalled, "I got permission from my department head to run a mail-order experiment selling condoms by mail, which was illegal at the time under the 1872 Comstock Act which classified all contraceptives, all information about contraception or abortion, as obscene and unmailable, and that gave us some pause, because what we were doing would fall under what was then a legal obscenity definition."
But even Harvey was unprepared for the outpouring of interest by the public in buying condoms through the mail.
"Because there was no competition and there was this pent-up demand, the orders came rolling in," Harvey reported, "and neither Tim nor I knew anything much about running a business, but there seemed to be more money coming in than going out, and we allowed as how that was probably called a 'profit,' so I read all the books on mail-order marketing and we had, in effect, a small condom mail-order business."
When the pair tried to add other items to fledgling Adam & Eve's early catalogs such as loungewear, fancy belts and ship-making kits, they found interest to be minimal. But every time they offered “anything with 'below the belt' appeal, that hinted of erotica or was in fact erotic”—books, lube, sex toys, X-rated movies—orders skyrocketed.
But even with its burgeoning videocassette business, Harvey maintained his standards, refusing to sell any video that his reviewers—all members of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists, or AASECT—found to contain "non-consensual sex: non-consenting sexual activity, any form of coercion, any form of obvious power disparateness, either by circumstance or physical force." Also, in the mid-’90s, he became the only company to refuse to carry movies which featured Alexandria Quinn, who had worked in adult video while underage, forcing a massive recall of her movies, but who, as an adult, attempted to return to the business in 1996.
Philosophically, Harvey, a self-described libertarian, sees himself of a like mind to Evil Angel owner John Stagliano, both of whom support the Reason Foundation, which he says does "very, very good work."
But what Harvey may best be remembered for is his courageous refusal to knuckle under to the U.S. Department of Justice's war on mail-order retailers, as chronicled in his book The Government vs. Erotica: The Siege of Adam & Eve.
"Our activity resulted in the termination of this policy, which was to put mail-order sellers of X-rated material out of business by bringing prosecutions at the same time in Alabama, Connecticut, New Jersey and elsewhere, forcing them to defend themselves in all of those jurisdictions, which they predicted would result in pleas, which in virtually every other case, they did," Harvey explained. "I believe at least eight other mail-order companies took pleas, some of them with very bad terms in which the principals—and in at least one case, the wife and adult son of the owner—certified that they would never engage in the selling or marketing of anything that had even the remotest connection with human sexuality for the rest of their born days—really bad pleas in my opinion. Just in the process of defending ourselves successfully over that eight-year period and suing the government on this issue, over the constitutionality of multiple simultaneous prosecutions of presumptively protected First Amendment material, we succeeded in eliminating that strategy for good."
Adam & Eve has continued to move forward, now under the leadership of VP David Groves, with Harvey these days acting mainly in a consultant capacity—“company guru” is how he describes himself—allowing him to spend more time on his other key project, DKT International, which since 1990 has provided family planning services in India, Ethiopia, Brazil, the Philippines and other Third World countries, receiving funding from not only those countries' governments, but the United Kingdom and the Netherlands as well.
Harvey has also used his free time to author more than 20 short stories for various publications, as well as his latest novel, Show Time—and even at 74 years of age, he shows no signs of slowing down.