Adult Video News reported that a newcomer named Leena was so ecstatic about her heart-throb Peter North coming on her face that she left it on to show her boyfriend.
The boyfriend’s reaction was not reported, but he must have been more tolerant of his lady-love’s new career than the men described below. These worthies are examples of that pornmaker’s headache called “boyfriendinitis.”
I’d hired stunning, voluptuous Robin Cannes for Dirty Pictures, only to have her husband decide at the last moment that he didn’t want his wife in pornos. (I replaced her with equally voluptuous Amy Rogers, whose boyfriend, porn actor Kevin James, was glad to see her getting work.)
At one of Joe Elliot’s casting sessions, I hired a stunning new woman with the porn name of Connie Lindstrom. She was every man’s fantasy of a flaxen-haired Swedish goddess. Then, before the shoot, her fiance gave her genital herpes. Unlike most porn stars, Connie was ethical enough to refuse to pass it along to screen partners. She limited herself to fellatio–frustrating the studs who wanted a go at her cunny.
Samantha Strong claimed she got into porn to spite her boyfriend; then she left the business to please her new one, a wealthy Israeli. He reportedly walked into South’s office with $250,000 in cash, wanting to buy up all her movies and take them off the market–he was told the task was impossible. Then Strong decided her new love had a drug problem, dropped him, and returned to porn.
Adult Video News quoted giddily sardonic Nikki Wilde’s assessment of her marriage: “I hate him! We’re still married…I hope he dies soon. You hear this, (name withheld)? I’m gonna get you, ’cause I’m a Scorpio and you fucked me over.”
AVN reported a divorce proceedings stemming from a “background” actress telling her spouse she was going to a church festival, when actually she was heading for the set of Oriental Treatment II.
One of my favorite screen ladies, whom I won’t name in the interest of preserving her domestic tranquility, married a wealthy man who demanded she leave the business–which she did. Yet, she snuck off to perform in one of Superior’s features. Maybe she was bored.
Kristara Barrington lamented, “When I come home to my boyfriend and we make love, I think of it as work almost.”
Musing over why industry love affairs were so short-term, Juliet Anderson said, “When you drive a bus ten hours a day, you don’t want to spend your vacation on a Greyhound.”
Pursuing porn’s promise of wealth, many actresses would echo Samantha Strong’s declaration upon signing a 15-picture contract with Western Visuals: “I do not have, nor do I want a personal life right now.” Alice Springs put it simply: “I don’t have a boyfriend, thank God.”
OK, so a private-life lover can sour a porn career. What about when both partners work in porn? Good? Bad? Disastrous? All of the above?
Next: Screwings: On-screen and Off. When Porn Careers Clash
They arrived at midnight, wearing black. He had the craggy
grace of a Shakespearean actor, which he’d been. She had high,
delicate cheekbones and a strawberry sheen in her blond mane,
which made skin that rarely suffered sunlight seem even whiter.
They might have been a vampire (which he’d played in Dracula
Exotica ) and his mistress. Instead they were porno legends.
That passage from SKINFLICKS introduces Jamie Gillis and Serena who would demonstrate their own genuine rough-sex skit in a scene that would be featured in Bound and shown in its entirety in Submission of Serena.
Examining the rectangular, leather-covered frame hanging from the ceiling above the stage, Jamie Gillis tested its strength to make sure it would support Serena, nude and spread-eagled, with her hands and feet tied to its corners. On the past Halloween, he’d tied her naked in a bay window of their Polk Street apartment, displayed to the crowd below. Even revelers as bizarre as San Francisco’s could only stare upward, open-mouthed.
Before their scene, which would become an S and M classic,
Serena sat at Gillis’ feet and answered Joe’s questions: Her giddy
struggles against her father’s bearhugs had led to her love of
bondage. She thought her kinkiest act had been having a
photographer follow her around New York City while she
guzzled beer and urinated in public places.
“What’s really kinky,” she said, “is when I haven’t had sex for a couple of days. Then I become a bitch…The whole concept of being feminine is being dominated and being a wild animal that goes into rut, and someone just pounces on you and fucks you.”
Following that philosophy, Gillis treated Serena like a dog.
In a skit the couple had concocted themselves, he made her beg,
lick his hands and feet, and crawl on hands and knees wearing a
collar and chain. If she was slow to obey his commands, he’d
strike her with his hand, a riding crop or a cat-o’-9-tails. It looked
brutal, with Serena’s yelps and the cat landing in her face, but she
said later, “Jamie’s never given me a bruise, ever.”
Her only real discomfort came when Gillis laid a cold chain
across her heated body, making her shriek.
Hitting her buttocks with the crop, Gillis taunted, “Say ’Please stop.’ Say ’Please stop.’”
She laughed. “I don’t want you to stop.”
“You’re not supposed to say that!” To punish her, he had her
spread her buttocks and take a sharp whap on the anus.
“It definitely wakes up my body,” Serena said. “All my nerves are at
attention. That pain just puts you somewhere.”
The couple’s genuine enthusiasm made the tape a hit. Gillis
stayed fully erect for all three hours of shooting…with Serena
begging for her “bone.” And sometimes getting it.
When the scene appeared over, I started to call for a wrap
when Joe whispered, “This is important! This is important!”
So I kept shooting. Gillis was lying on top of Serena. The weak
camera microphones barely picked up his words: “Gimme a
kiss…gimme a kiss…”
Serena pushed him off, laughing. “Say please…” (Audio “sweetening”–enhancement–later made the words audible in the finished tape.)
“For just a moment at the end there was role reversal,” said
Joe. In subsequent films, Serena played the dominant, putting
Gillis through a similar “ordeal.”
Despite hit or miss lighting and scramble-for-the-action
camerawork, Adam’s reviewer called Bound “the hottest
specialty tape I’ve ever seen,” and in 1985, Adult Video News
listed it among the top 30 specialty tapes of all time.
The late Jamie Gillis went on to star in my videos Chocolate Cream and Running Wild. His sexual versatility and acting skill made him a director’s dream.
In 1981, Serena Blaquelord came out of retirement for a feature role in my “erotic extravaganza” All the King’s Ladies. She had left the business after an over-zealous director exploited her compliant masochism in a scene that almost killed her (grisly details in SKINFLICKS).
Next post: Shooting The Perfect Gift: Hard Lessons Learned. Eight guys with erectile dysfunction. Killer storm. Near-electrocution. Engineer dysfunction. Juliet Anderson’s famous fellatio. S and M master’s slave girl repulses squeamish Juliet. All happening in a house built for kink.
People who read early drafts of SKINFLICKS told me I was going to make a lot of money with the book. And at first it looked like they were right.
SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry had a great start: a publishing contract and a $7,000 advance from Zebra Books. Maybe this was the start of something big. And why not? After all, SKINFLICKS chronicled a revolution in the porn movie business in which yuppies replaced gangsters, porn queens became corporations, porn became suburbanized, and the U.S Government declared a massive “War on Porn” that threatened even R-rated movies with prosecution.
I was qualified to describe this revolution because I helped lead it. After learning the business as a filmmaker for “the biggest Mafia porn outfit on the West Coast (FBI quote),” I launched Superior Video, Inc. and pioneered the first full-length X-rated movies shot entirely on videotape. My story entwined with that of the porn video industry. As the documentary filmmaker Alberto Cavalcante wrote, “To make a film about the post office, make a film about a letter.” In SKINFLICKS, I became the letter.
When I first entered the porn business, I began an audio cassette journal with the goal of someday writing about my experiences. By the time I sold the rights to Superior Video’s movies, after 12 years in the industry, my audio journal had reached 347 cassettes. I put my money into high-interest investments that would support me while I wrote.
After I sent out book proposals to those who had responded to my query letters, things happened fast. Within a couple of months, I had an agent who almost immediately landed the book contract. I bought a Mac Quadra (1993 version) and happily plunged into stories of fast-track superstars, porno stage mothers, porn-addicted vice cops, burnt-out studs, obsessed fans, pompous porn barons and other denizens of this twilight world. I wanted to answer the most frequent question asked about porn: What are these performers really like? My answers came from casting them, bargaining with them and directing them.
In describing the sex action, I tried to avoid wallowing in graphic details, some of which—of course—were unavoidable. Above all, I reminded myself that SKINFLICKS was not a pornographic book; it was a book about pornography. I thought I did a good job of making the distinction. So did the editor at Zebra Books, who examined every word.
When the galleys (review copies) came out, one went to Paul Fishbein, publisher of Adult Video News, the “bible of the porn video business.” Fishbein called SKINFLICKS“…the best and most realistic depiction of the modern world of pornography written in book form to date…” (Later, the Internet created a whole new “modern world.”) Adult superstar Nina Hartley also read the manuscript and made suggestions.
Just as I was anticipating book tours, readings, book signings and maybe even an appearance on Oprah, the publisher dropped the book. Why? The reason—I learned—was a storm of bad publicity in the wake of Madonna’s book, Sex. Publishers were afraid of anything remotely suggestive of pornography. My agent, who had so quickly landed the Zebra Books contract, spent many months trying again to sell SKINFLICKS with no success.
At least I got to keep the advance.
Next Post: From Porn Pioneer to POD Pioneer: When Authorhouse Was a Baby
The depression into which the porn industry had plunged produced at least one good laugh. Finances had become so bad at Visual Entertainment Productions (VEP) that the company’s in-house bill collector had turned against them My mob-connected, former boss Tony Romano had staggered into VEP only to find his partner Norm on the floor. ( Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)
According to a VEP saleslady, “Tony came in, drunk as usual, and goes, ‘What’s Nahmy doin’ layin’ dere on da flahr?’ Somebody tells him Ron punched Norm out. Tony just shrugs and says, ‘Hey dese t’ings happen.’ Then he goes into his office and locks the door. A couple hours later, his secretary looks in. There’s Tony with his head on his desk, fast asleep.”
With VEP in tatters, my chances of collecting on the $10,000 bounced check they had stuck me with looked slim indeed. Superior Video’s own money woes were so dire that I actually considered barging into VEP with “Maggie” (my .357 Magnum). In the porn video business of the late 1980s, “bad paper” had become an epidemic.
So had bankruptcies. VEP joined such industry giants as Select-Essex and (my former employer) VCX in Chapter Eleven. Even the “General Motors of Porn,” Caballero Control Corporation, was so deeply in arrears that Adult Video News stopped running its ads. But emerging from the rubble of fallen leviathans–like small mammals scurrying over the remains of dinosaurs—were niche companies that tapped the limited but steady “specialty” market.
Among their titles were Kinky Midgets, Black Anal, She-Males, The Enema, Foot Worship, Latex Slaves, National Transsexual, Pregnant Mamas, and Anal Nation. But even good old-fashioned all-American straight sex could be a specialty in the right context.
A popular new genre had lone women taking on groups of men, such as Biff Malibu’s Gang-Bang Girls line. Agent Jim South complained about girls being offered “a seemingly large amount of money for a day’s work, but on the amount of sex, she’s getting short changed.” Another genre that allowed dirt-cheap porn-making was the “pro-am” (professional/amateur) hustle, which allowed horny men (the “pros”) to make money screwing new ladies (the “ams”).
Scrawny San Francisco Bay Area porn agent Joe Elliot starred himself in the Joe Elliot’s Girlfriends and Joe Elliot’s College Girls lines. When a girl answered Elliot’s ads in publications such as The Berkeley Barb, he would give her a quick on-tape interview then proceed to have sex with her. If a cameraman such as myself wasn’t available, Elliot would lock his camera on a tripod and shoot the sex in one continuous wide-angle shot.
Bespectacled, big-nosed, nerdish-looking Ed Powers ostensibly picked up women in streets and bus stations, then taped himself having sex with them. Actor/author Jerry Butler wanted to know why every time Powers “picked up” a girl, agent Jim South got $50. “I DO pick up girls on the street,” Powers protested. “I really do!”
The biggest success in this niche market was cheerfully sleazy John Stagliano, who resembled an anorexic John Travolta. Starting his Evil Angel Productions in 1988, Stagliano exploited his fascination with the female posterior. As “Buttman,” he approached women in public, begging them to bare their bottoms before his camera. With little more than that documentaire shtick and lots of rump-romping sex shot from low, ant’s-eye angles, the Buttman series found a ready audience of males disgruntled with the bland, couples-oriented drift of the overall market.
The “couples market” was a niche in itself. Anthony Spinelli’s Plum Productions, a family affair (wife Roz, son Mitch), adapted well to the age of the micro-budget. Like haiku, the short stories of H. H. (“Saki”) Munro, and Twilight Zone reruns, their spare, interior dramas appealed to the cerebral end of the market. Plum’s “one-act morality plays”—as AVN’s Joe Daniels called them—gave couples a springboard for more elevated post-coital conversation than “Was it good for you too?”
A new generation of porn fans discovered—to their delight—the high quality of the 35-millimeter (35mm) films from the 1970s “Golden Age of Porn.” Reinvigorated, the stumbling 35mm king, Caballero, rose up and purchased Reuben Sturman’s Vidco, creating a 700-title monster. Caballero head Noel Bloom said, “Catalogue is the strength today. And now we have…the largest adult video catalogue in the world.” Another 35mm giant, the over-extended Video Company of America (VCA) roared back to life. Originally despised as “dupers (video pirates),” VCA’s Russ Hampshire and his menacing, mob-connected partner Walter Gernert had invested their earnings in premium 35’s. Their new-found success allowed them to pay small creditors like Superior Video.
Superior Video was hemorrhaging money. My choice: try to ride out the slump in hopes of returning to profitability or sell off rights to my titles and shut down the company. What finalized my decision was a mistake that could have put me in prison for a long time.
Next post: Trying to Sell Illegal Pornography in Canada, eh?
The distributor was screaming obscenities so fast in his New York accent that my office manager, Allyssa couldn’t understand him. She had phoned to ask when Superior Video could expect overdue payment. Between F-bombs, Allyssa managed to learn that the man’s partner had just been murdered. Sixteen .22 slugs in the head—the result of a much more serious unpaid debt. Another of Superior’s distributors had just lost his warehouse to “arson.” (“For the insurance,” Allyssa guessed.) And Ferris Alexander of AB Distributors in Minnesota, also in arrears, was preoccupied with the aftermath of an anti-porn demonstrator immolating herself in one of his bookstores.
In 1986, the porn video business became afflicted with three crises: the Traci Lords scandal (Chapter 12 in SKINFLICKS), the newly-declared War on Porn (the fried demonstrator being an extreme manifestation of the hysteria) and—the worst of the three—the “Smut Glut,” for which the industry had only itself to blame.
We were entering a time of rip-offs, lawsuits, arsons, and even murders; a time of bitter price wars, when even large, long-established companies would go bankrupt; a time when production of big-budget X-rated motion pictures would end.
The cause? The same thing that had made Superior Video, Inc., successful. We were the first to shoot full-length adult features entirely on videotape, with budgets of $20,000 instead of the $60-70,000 it would cost to shoot the same movies in 35 millimeter film. For the first half of the 1980s, we produced hits like All the King’s Ladies, Physical, Night Moves, Running Wild, Chocolate Cream and our most lavish production, Deviations ($35,000 budget). Our philosophy was to create adult movies as good as the 1970s “Golden Age of Porn” films. (Such as The Opening of Misty Beethoven, Sex World, and Behind the Green Door.) When our competitors discovered the ease and economy of shooting in videotape, they didn’t share Superior’s philosophy.
Instead, they followed the pornographer’s dictum: If it works once, do it a thousand times. They began cranking out cheap videos. Adult Video News noted that the number of porn video releases soared from 400 in 1983 to 1100 in ’84 and 1610 in ’85. The market couldn’t absorb them all. “There used to be 25 new titles a month and the store owner would buy 15 or 20 of them,” lamented VCA’s Russ Hampshire. “He’s still buying the same number of tapes, but now he has hundreds to choose from.” Retailers began buying those 15 or 20 videos based on price alone. As prices plunged, so did pornographers’ profits. Companies had to crank out more titles to maintain their cash flows: a vicious cycle. Something had to give, and that something was quality.
“What’s the difference between the old silent 8 millimeter loops and the video features of today?” asked reviewer Steve Austin in the February ’91 AVN issue. His answer: “The guys take their sox off now.”
In the mid-‘80s, director Bruce Seven groaned, “What kind of quality can you turn out in two days?” By 1993, the “one-day wonder” had become standard, and AVN editor Gene Ross recalled Seven’s earlier complaint: “Seven, as any other director in the business, would probably kill for that kind of latitude nowadays.” Then, even one-day wonders became too expensive.
Henri Pachard was forced to crank out three features in one day! (Not as impossible as it sounds: the trick is to shoot three separate dialog scenes with the same cast on each setup, to fit three separate stories.)
The demand for tons of titles at micro-budgets led to the Stallion Productions debacle of 100 titles in thirty days, after which the producers and their tapes disappeared without paying cast and crew. AVN’s Gene Ross made the sarcastic prediction that “thanks to new Japanese technology that actually condenses time, some adult video company will hit on the brilliant concept of producing 100 videos in thirty minutes.”
As the downward vortex continued, porn companies resorted to cutting out production entirely. The “Smut Glut.” Part 2: Scams will discuss “wraparounds,” re-titles, Hollywood rip-offs, Disney lawsuits, “borderline” child porn, bankruptcy epidemics, and desperate promotions such as pubic hair in cassette boxes.
Like Moses hoisting the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments, Attorney General Ed Meese hefted two thick blue books that were meant to save his people from the evils of pornography. These volumes, the 1986 Attorney General’s Commission Report on Pornography, contained details of porn that most fans would never encounter: bestiality, child sex, extreme S and M, and such aberrations as asphyxiation, excretions, necrophilia, sweat sniffing, self-castration and toenail clipping collecting. Did the A.G. want to cleanse the nation of sick stuff and leave good, healthy all-American erotica alone?
The first targets of his newly-appointed Commission were magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse. The Commission’s infamous “7-Eleven letter”–on Justice Department stationery—scared 17,000 convenience stores into dropping (temporarily) all magazines containing nudity. For the forces behind the Meese Commission anything related to sex was evil.
In the early 1980s, the Religious Right had a hissy fit over porn videos appearing in shopping malls. Having helped Reagan get elected, these crusaders demanded quid pro quo. To please them, the Meese Commission was formed, and its eleven members made a highly-publicized excursion through the porno underbelly of America.
(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics. ) Calling the trek “a surrealist mystery tour of sexual perversity,” Time magazine ran a photo of Chairman Hudson emerging from a dark den of peep-show booths in a Houston porn shop, shoulders slumped, tie askew, lips a thin hard line and his sweaty pate gleaming with reflected neon. During their visit to three Houston arcades, the Commission’s vice cop tour guide had yanked open the door of one of the booths to expose two startled patrons in the midst of fellatio. “And here,” droned the guide, “we have two men engaged in the act of oral copulation.” Before leaving, the group bought one magazine: Young Girls in Bondage. “It is as if by finding the single most despicable scene of sexual conduct ever photographed,” said ACLU legislative counsel Barry Lynn, “the commission would be justified in urging the suppression of all sexually oriented material.”
Reagan’s War on Porn erupted just as I was selling the rights to Superior Video’s titles. I was retiring from porn and beginning to transcribe my notes for SKINFLICKS. I bought a copy of the Commission’s Report for $35. This encyclopedia of sexual grotesquery became a Government Printing Office best seller, going into a third 1500-copy run. (“4500 of a number,” cracked one porn publisher. “We should all be so lucky.”)
Few took the Report seriously. “Little Official Alarm Over Porno Report” went a headline in Video Extra magazine, which quoted Art Ross, a VSDA director: “It’ll remain a hot topic and a nine-day wonder until something else comes along.” “Absurd but not threatening” was The Washington Post’s assessment. The pundits were wrong—extremely wrong!
Meese’s vow that “the cancer of pornography” would be “pursued with a vengeance and prosecuted to the hilt” sounded like some grand mullah’s call for a holy war.
And war it was.
Like a major military campaign this war had many fronts: battles were fought in streets, businesses, churches, courtrooms, convention halls, police stations, prisons and private dwellings. Spies infiltrated enemy camps and compiled hit lists. Troops with assault rifles smashed into homes. Fortunes were plundered; children taken from their parents. Buildings were burned and government forces threw volumes of books into bonfires. Laws were passed against freedoms previously taken for granted.
As the War on Porn raged throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, my attention was split between writing about the porn industry and keeping track of efforts to snuff it out. I relied on Adult Video News for the most current updates. That magazine became the most important source of information for video retailers trying to stay out of jail. They needed answers to the Big Question: What’s illegal?
At the unveiling of the Commission’s big blue books, that question caused confusion. A journalist asked the Attorney General if the Report would condemn the Spirit of Justice statue behind him as obscene. Meese turned to look at the aluminum female figure with one bared breast. He stammered that he didn’t know; he hadn’t yet read the report (which had been available to him for over a month). Somebody put a coat on that lady!
The War on Porn is behind us now. Could it happen again? That was a campaign promise of presidential wanna-be Rick Santorum. And the winds of politics blow in many directions.
Periodically, this blog will address aspects of the Porn War, raising that maddening question: WHAT CONSTITUTES OBSCENITY?
Lisa DeLeeuw described one of her worst experiences. Working for Svetlana (“Sweatlana”) Marsh, spending 20-hour days shivering in an unheated sound stage, living on “stale donuts, coffee and hot dogs,” the voluptuous redhead came down with a bad cold and conjunctivitis—“pink eye.” (Passages from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry are in italics.) By the fifth day, “I just couldn’t go on like that. All of a sudden, I passed out. For half an hour. When I came to, Svetlana says, ‘You just sit there in the corner…you’re background. Fine. “Well, I’m doing that and all of a sudden Jamie (Gillis) comes over and decides to pull me into the scene, grabbing my arms and yanking me in. So I’m playing the scene and Jamie has this stupid cattle whip that he’s holding in the middle so the handle is on one end and the cat-o’-nine-tails on the other. And he’s slinging it like a double pendulum and he catches me—WHACK—right across the bridge of my nose, which he breaks. I just freaked! I blew up and grabbed the whip and started yelling, ‘I’m gonna kill you!’ And the cameraman is up above us on a beam, and he goes, ‘Oh, this is great! Keep goin’!’”
When a woman enters porn she faces two kinds of challenges: those on the set and those away from it. On the set, a porn starlet quickly learns that what the male wants is gospel. If she interrupts a scene because her leg is cramping, she risks causing a lost erection. If it can’t be retrieved, the blame is hers. Once the stud has delivered, the director wants to hurry on to the next scene, regardless of how turned on an actress might be. (Rather than be left high and wet, stars like Annette Haven and Lilly Marlene recruited crew members to help them “finish up.”) Then there are the directors whose grandiose visions of sizzling sex push women beyond their limits.
“Whatever your natural inclinations are, they play on them,” said an anonymous actress in a 1980 Adam Film World interview. The graphic details she added are recounted in SKINFLICKS. Serena’s forced retirement came after a shoot that almost killed her. After a filmed contest to see if she could handle more men than Mai Lin, Serena not only took on more than forty studs but also their microbes. “My doctor said the germs ganged up,” Serena told me. “My belly swelled up like I was pregnant.” Delirious from septic shock, she spent months hospitalized with severe pelvic inflammatory disease…The filmmaker didn’t even send a get-well card.
After enough unpleasant surprises, actresses come to regard all directors as exploiters. Some play the game of balking at every request and negotiating every detail. And directors come to expect actresses to be lazy whores, out to get maximum dollar for minimal effort…”The nicer you treat the performers,” observed porn historian Holliday, “the more likely they are to shit on you.”
New ladies were afraid to balk at pornographer’s directions for fear of being called “difficult.” Compounding the physical rigors were the non-stop months of serial 14-hour days needed to build a six-figure nest egg. In Adult Video News, director Bruce Seven complained, “By the time they get to me, a lot of the performers are half-dead from overwork.” He followed that statement with a graphic description of what he meant.
One way for ladies to cope with the demands was through cocaine, which became epidemic in the frenzy of video shoots during the 1980s. Stressed-out actresses often find that on a porn set, things do go better with coke, at first. It dulls pain, creates euphoria, gives a feeling of boundless energy, and—many ladies claim—makes them horny. They can work longer hours, earn more money, and chase off all the bad feelings waiting in ambush after the action ends.
The poster girl for cocaine addiction was the late Shauna Grant. Her whispered nickname “Applecoke” was a play on her real surname, Applegate. Whether her death was a suicide, as porn critics claim, or murder by drug dealers, hers was a worst-case scenario of life away from the porn set, where a whole new world of challenges awaited.
Kristara Barrington said former high school friends in Illinois now called her a slut. On finding out Ginger Lynn was a porn star, her bank manager stopped treating her as a respected customer and even refused to validate her parking. Locals pasted sex magazine photos of Shauna Grant on her former high school locker. Relatives and spouses of porn stars become resigned to receiving anonymous packages with hate messages scrawled on pictures of the star. I delivered a script to Lilly Marlene and was reviewing its highlights with her when something crashed against the back door. “It’s those kids again,” she sighed. They’d bang on the door and leave obscene messages.
If porn haters weren’t bad enough, there were the porn lovers. Lisa DeLeeuw described her first unplanned public encounter with porn fans. “I was in the frozen food section. I’m trying to decide whether it will be fish sticks tonight or pizza, and suddenly some little Jewish guy comes running up and goes, ‘Oh, I saw you last night on the video. You were fucking Jamie Gillis!’ And all these little old Jewish ladies—the store is right in the heart of a Jewish neighborhood, Ralph’s Market on Sunset—they all drop their matzo balls and go ‘What?’ And they follow me all around the store and I hear, ‘Oh, I really like you!’ ‘I watch you very week!’” Those were the nice fans. There was also the kind that the late porn historian Jim Holliday called “the Toad Patrol.”
Porn fame meant gross encounters of the worst kind: Grandpa (Al Lewis) Munster posing for photos at a trade show and–to quote AVN—“goosing the smut starlets.” An inmate sent Debi Diamond a plastic baggie of semen. Someone posing as a cop called porn companies, trying to get the address of Kelly O’Dell…these fans stalk starlets from one club date to the next, steal their purses at trade shows, whisper lewd comments as they sign autographs, grab flesh and later brag to their friends that they actually bedded the star they hunger after. Who’s to disprove them?
In the SKINFLICKS account of Juliet Anderson’s premier party for Educating Nina, a drunken neighbor, braying for sex, kept returning after being turned away,. I finally told him that one of the guests was a former Green Beret interrogator who would subject him to “…involuntary unleashing of bladder and bowel functions.” That statement made him stay home; he turned out to be innocuous. More diabolical was a rock band whose album Love Letters to Joanna Storm included the romantic .38 Caliber Kiss. The band kept pestering porn people to give them Ms. Storm’s address.
Having ruminated over the nature of porn fans, I came to the following conclusion: There are contradictions in the American male’s attitude toward the porno queen: his frustrated lust for her versus his impulse to condemn her; his desire to meet her and impress her versus his fear of her scorn for his inadequacies. He hides his conflicts behind rough, macho swagger.
Porn fans can be avoided (or at least relegated to limited exposure), but there are some people whom porn princesses can’t escape: their significant others. Porn agent Jim South described a malady he called “boyfriendinitis.” Its sobbing victims would call him to cancel shoots due to black eyes and chipped teeth. A rock musician, quoted in the Bay Area magazine, Spectator, said, “Strippers and porn stars are a lot like rock n’ roll groupies…They don’t have a lot of self-esteem. Treat ‘em good and they’ll walk all over you; treat ‘em like shit and they’ll worship the ground you walk on.” His statement notwithstanding, there’s a simpler reason for “boyfriendinitis” violence.
Kristara Barrington lamented, “When I come home to my boyfriend and we make love, I think of it as work almost.” Musing over why industry love affairs were so short, Juliet Anderson said, “When you drive a bus ten hours a day, you don’t want to spend your vacation on a Greyhound.” Picture the poor boyfriend, squirming with desire while waiting for his porn queen girlfriend to return from work. He can’t understand why his exhausted lover won’t give him the attention he thinks he deserves. Not noted for their compassionate sensitivity, porn stars’ boyfriends often react with fists.
Pursuing porn’s promise of wealth, many actresses would echo Samantha Strong’s declaration upon signing a 15-picture contract with Western Visuals: “I do not have, nor do I want, a personal life right now.” Alice Springs put it simply: “I don’t have a boyfriend, thank God.”
Most ladies find X-rated stardom a lonely road, strewn with broken relationships, leering fans, hostile media, angry relatives, menacing cops, back-stabbing competitors and exploitive agents, managers and producers. They suffer the smirks, snickers, and sermons of a society quick to condemn, slow to forget. Behind their tough-girl act of demands, tantrums, vendettas and lawsuits, many of these “prima donnas,” barely into adulthood are terrified.
Not surprisingly, many porn actresses decided to give up on a lucrative career. On page 20 of the September ’84 issue of Adult Video News, Desiree Lane was hailed as a new starlet with “the potential to become the new Seka”; on page 22 of the same issue, Ron Jeremy’s column announced her retirement. Adult Video News sarcastically noted the comings and goings: “Samantha Strong…saw agents and producers, got booked solid, then decided to quit every other month.” “Erica Boyer, from all reports, has met another guy and is out of the biz once again. Gentlemen place your bets.”
Leaving the business behind becomes especially frustrating when women find that a past porn career becomes like a stink that won’t wash off. After dating Michael (“Batman”) Keaton for two years, Serena Robinson told him of her past porn career as “Rachel Ryan.” Keaton subsequently dumped her. There are ongoing debates about whether Megan Leigh and Alex Jordan actually committed suicide. Was Leigh shot to death? Was Jordan’s hanging an autoerotic experiment gone wrong? One thing both had in common was that they were soured on porn. There is no question that superstar Savannah (Shannon Wilsey) killed herself. The temperamental porn queen (Her infamous shoot-stopping declaration: “I’m on break—NOW!”) known for romps with rock stars, Slash and Axl Rose, was being hounded by the IRS. She had wanted to break into “legit” show business like Traci Lords (who used her “child victim” plea) had done, but feared her porn career prevented that. On July 11, 1995, her drunken ride in her Corvette ended in a crash. Then, in the garage of the Universal City home she had paid cash for, Savannah put a 9-millimeter slug through her head.
Despite the potholes in porn’s road to riches there are women who prospered in porn, proud of their careers. Part 3 of Starlets or Harlots? will examine what it takes for success without apologies. I will discuss my all-time favorites, such as Nina Hartley, Shanna McCullough and Lilly Marlene. I’ll include my worst directing experience ever, with a woman who became one of the biggest stars of the late 1980s.
SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry had a great start: a publishing contract and a $7,000 advance from Zebra Books. Maybe all those people in that writing class were right when they told me I would make a lot of money with this book. And why not? After all, SKINFLICKS chronicled a revolution in the porn movie business in which yuppies replaced gangsters, porn queens became corporations, porn became suburbanized, and the U.S Government declared a massive “War on Porn” that threatened even R-rated movies with prosecution. I was qualified to describe this revolution because I helped lead it. After learning the business as a filmmaker for “the biggest Mafia porn outfit on the West Coast (FBI quote),” I launched Superior Video, Inc. and pioneered the first full-length X-rated movies shot entirely on videotape. My story entwined with that of the porn video industry. As the documentary filmmaker Alberto Cavalcante wrote, “To make a film about the post office, make a film about a letter.” In SKINFLICKS, I became the letter.
When I entered the porn business, I began an audio cassette journal with the goal of someday writing about my experiences. By the time I sold the rights to Superior Video’s movies, after 12 years in the industry, my audio journal had reached 347 cassettes. I put my money into high-interest investments that would support me while I wrote.
After I sent out book proposals to those who had responded to my query letters, things happened fast. Within a couple of months, I had an agent who almost immediately landed the book contract. I bought a Mac Quadra (1993 version) and happily plunged into stories of fast-track superstars, porno stage mothers, porn-addicted vice cops, burnt-out studs, obsessed fans, pompous porn barons and other denizens of this twilight world.
With experiences from over a hundred porn shoots, I wanted to answer the most frequent question asked about porn: What are these performers really like? My answers came from casting them, bargaining with them and directing them. In describing the sex action, I tried to avoid wallowing in graphic details, some of which—of course—were unavoidable. Above all, I reminded myself that SKINFLICKS was not a pornographic book; it was a book about pornography. I thought I did a good job of making the distinction. So did the editor at Zebra Books, who examined every word. She agreed that the book would be fun to read.
When the galleys (review copies) came out, one went to Paul Fishbein, publisher of Adult Video News, the “bible of the porn video business.” Fishbein called SKINFLICKS “…the best and most realistic depiction of the modern world of pornography written in book form to date…” (This was before the Internet created a whole new “modern world.”) Adult superstar Nina Hartley also read the manuscript and made suggestions.
Just as I was anticipating book tours, readings, book signings and maybe even an appearance on Oprah, the publisher dropped the book. Why? The reason—I learned—was a storm of bad publicity following the publication of Madonna’s book, Sex. Publishers were afraid of anything even suggestive of pornography. Was this true? I didn’t know for sure. But my agent, who had so quickly found Zebra Books, spent many months trying again to sell SKINFLICKS with no success.
About this time I began having a series of medical issues. Without going into detail, let me just say that at one point I couldn’t coordinate my hands enough to make a sandwich. I couldn’t finish sentences. I was talking about the President and forgot his name. (I’d like to forget Bush again.) During these travails, I put the promotion of SKINFLICKS on hold. Then came an offer from a brand new company called 1st Books Library. 1st Books was pioneering a new technology called POD—print on demand. Books would be printed in response to orders, without the mass printings that risked the possibility of remainders. 1st Books was hungry to sign authors and was offering deals. For much lower up-front charges than other vanity presses, 1st Books would manufacture, advertise and distribute SKINFLICKS, paying me a royalty that was roughly half the wholesale price of each printed book.
With SKINFLICKS in 1st Books’ able hands, I turned my attention to more basic needs, such as making a living and negotiating America’s so-called “health care” system. Royalty checks from 1st Books came in quarterly dribbles: $40 here, $75 there, just enough to remind me that—yes—I had a book in publication. I hadn’t the energy, money or desire to pursue the hassles of promoting it. Medical costs, a business failure and investments gone sour proceeded to decimate my savings. Fortunately, Social Security kicked in before my landlord could kick me out. Something else began kicking in—and kicking hard. 1st Books Library had become Authorhouse and had built an aggressive sales staff. Authorhouse reps began peppering me with calls: Dave, we can promote your book at such-and-such where thousands of potential readers will see SKINFLICKS! Sign up now for our special! You’ll save hundreds off our regular rates! Sure. Save hundreds, while spending thousands. Oh, to be rich enough to afford the indulgences of authorship!
Authorhouse made one offer I couldn’t refuse. For a couple hundred dollars the company would post SKINFLICKS on the new eBook websites being offered by Amazon, Apple and other Internet companies. But when the dates arrived for SKINFLICKS to appear on these sites, the book wasn’t there. I called Authorhouse to complain, and my “account rep” blithely told me that the company had received so many requests for this service that they had cut it off—without notice to their paying clients. After my angry calls bounced around in their phone maze, I finally found someone who could “authorize” my refund. I was relieved when Authorhouse replaced their sales calls with sales emails.
As vestiges of mental acuity returned, along with attendant energies, I decided to have one last go at doing something with SKINFLICKS. Friends had told me it was too good a book to neglect (frequent comment: “well-written”). I replaced my trusty but obsolete Mac Quadra with a new Dell and took to that PC like a duck takes to an oil slick. New technology and old brain: bad combo. A local college kid set up a website through a URL provider with the jazzy name of Go Daddy. Www.skinflicksbook.com attracted little notice outside of spammers offering “SEO optimization.” (Some day I’ll learn how to work that website. In the meantime, there is a detailed description of the book, plus sample chapters on that website, accessible through Google search. But Kindle orders still need to be made through the Amazon Kindle site. Bear with me, I’m learning)
Through a referral, I lucked into a wonderful eBook expert named Barb Elliott, who patiently walked me through putting SKINFLICKS on Kindle. (I highly recommend the services of ebooksbybarb.biz.) So, now I’m learning how to use Twitter and later (I hope), Facebook. And then…? I tend to move with all the speed of those turtles in the Comcast Xfinity commercials. Like the narrator says, “Fast isn’t for everyone.” But I’m working on it.