March 3, 1997
BY VINCENT LAMBERT
In the golden days of the Hollywood studio system, movie stars were made, not born. Film actors were placed under contract and groomed for stardom with classes in diction and manners. The studios created and maintained an image for such legendary players as Joan Crawford and Clark Gable, among many others. Although the studio system fell by the wayside long ago, its spirit is still alive in the ’90s in the gay porn industry.
One case in point is Sonny Markham. This 25-year-old actor from Chicago has rapidly climbed the ladder to porn stardom under the guidance of Studio 2000. It was in early 1995 that director John Travis received photos from a calendar that Markham had posed for. Travis had struck gold in the ’80s when he brought Jeff Stryker to a gay video audience clamoring for new talent. Spotting another star-waiting-to-happen, Travis immediately signed Markham to an exclusive contract with Studio 2000 and cast him in his first film, Mavericks. And, as they say, the rest is history.
But the discovery of Markham was no less a one-in-a-million occurrence than Lana Turner being plucked from her stool at Schwab’s. He was studying to be a chiropractor when an unlikely chain of events led to his eventual stardom. “I didn’t really like what I was doing,” Markham says in his high-pitched Midwestern twang. So after studying jazz dancing for a brief time, he started performing in clubs as a go-go boy. He had wrestled in high school and competed as a bodybuilder in college, so he more than met the physical requirements of the job. “And I was making more money dancing than working at the chiropractic clinic.”
But just how did Markham break this unusual career move to his large Italian family? “I was dancing at a place called the Sugar Shack in Chicago,” he recalls. “As the featured entertainer, they put my face on their billboard on the highway. My parents drove by and saw my face up there. I told them it was just a modeling thing, but they knew something was up. All of a sudden I had a nice apartment and car. They probably thought I was selling drugs!” Markham says with a laugh.
His new career as a dancer led to modeling work, including a gig posing for a beefcake calendar. A friend submitted test shots to several studios, and Travis and Scott Masters, the owner of Studio 2000, were the first to bite.
“I was nervous about doing movies at first,” Markham says, “but it’s gotten easier.” He has gone on to star in several other films, including In Man’s Country, Trying It On for Size and Dark Side of the Moon. Markham has also toured the United States in a dance revue with Tom Katt and appeared (under a different name) in the pages of Playgirl magazine. But with stardom have come other pressures. “When Studio 2000 said that they’d put me on the box cover of every movie I did, all I could think about was whether it would sell, whether I’d let them down,” he says.
But Markham appears to be dealing with his new high-profile position. Following in the footsteps of a man he says he’d like to work with, he—like Jeff Stryker—is building his career slowly but surely, adding to his sexual repertoire with each new release. He still lives in Chicago, where he trains about three times a week. He’s single but says he’d love to have someone “to come home to. It’s just so hard to maintain a relationship in this business.” And when pressed to state his sexual orientation, he calls himself a bisexual because “I still get turned on by different people.”
But for now it seems that Markham is content with making films, dancing onstage and meeting his growing public. “I really enjoy what I’m doing,” he says. “I look forward to performing more than I get nervous about it. When you’re up there and people who are your fans and admire you are there to see you, it’s a great feeling.”
Clark Gable couldn’t have said it better.
Reprinted from HX magazine (1997)