The Porn Star Who Tried to Outlaw Porn

Vacation over. Back to blogging.

The last series of posts were about Traci Lords, the mega-star whose underage revelation threatened to destroy the porn biz.

At least Lords didn’t do her damage on purpose.  But this next woman did.

From SKINFLICKS:

“Sex Star Seeks Ban on Porn” read the August l9, l993 headline in the San Francisco Chronicle (the story first appeared in the Los Angeles Daily News). Lisa Marie Abato, a.k.a. Holly Ryder, sought one million signatures for an amendment to the California state  constitution banning the adult entertainment industry.

Why? What had the industry done to the petite, 26-year-old blonde
who’d just ended her three year porn career? Had she been tied up and paddled?

Yes, but that was because she deliberately specialized in bondage videos such as The Latex Dungeon and Diabolic Demands, which suited her professed “S and M lifestyle.”

She told AVN’s Mark Kernes, “I like the pain that hurts and then turns into a real sensual pain, one that involves your whole body.” She reportedly enjoyed having safety pins stuck in her right breast (the left was saved for a “special lover”).

Hadn’t she entered the business telling producers, “I’ll do anything!”?

She may have been irked at not being chosen for more boxcover shots, despite her reconstructed nose and breast implants.  Abato’s most distinctive physical attribute, a bulbous, marble-sized clitoris, wouldn’t be seen in “pretty-girl” boxcover shots that could be displayed in video stores.

Many believed her crusade stemmed from the politics behind the funding of the Holly Ryder Foundation she had set up to help homeless runaway kids. She had been one. Failing to secure financial backing through adult industry souces, she allegedly turned to religious right-wing zealots, whose money came with the stipulation that she trumpet the anti-porn cause.

Some–who knew Abato personally–felt the whole debacle could have been prevented with a motorcycle. Bikes were important to the former waitress. She’d become engaged to future porn director E. Z. Ryder at the outlaw enclave of the l989 motorcycle convention in Sturgis, South Dakota.

Her original motivation for getting into porn was to earn enough for a custom Harley (hence her choice of the stage name “Holly Ryder”).

Reportedly, the company producing her bondage videos promised her the expensive bike. But, as Abato complained in the L.A. Daily News article, “I never got that motorcycle. I never got anything from that industry except the shame.”

Perhaps the whole Holly Ryder anti-porn affair can be summed up with writer Jack Eagle’s quip: “Hell hath no fury like a biker chick scorned.”

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Next: Porn’s Boyfriends from Hell

 

Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 9: The Split Hits the Fan

Apologies to my myriad fans, friends and followers for my week-long absence.  It’s good to be back.

Now, where were we?

Oh yes. This is the climax: the real reason for the whole Traci Lords trouble.  If she hadn’t made that one major misstep of choosing the wrong business partners in her carefully navigated porn career, she might still be revered as porn’s all-time greatest diva.

From SKINFLICKS, Chapter 12:

“Daveet, I don’t know about Traci Lords,” said Jerome Tanner. “I think she is very young.”

“Why do you think that?” I was negotiating to sell Jerry my business, and I suspected this was a ploy to beat down my price.

“Ever seen her without make-up, Daveet? She looks about thirteen.”

“Lots of ladies look young.”

Tanner leaned back under the spotlight that gave his small form dramatic presence against the dark wood paneling behind him. “Almost fifteen years I have been in this business. I have seen lots of women’s bodies. I know baby fat when I see it. And those tits. They have grown in the past year. You know why they defy gravity like that? Because gravity has not had long to work on them. I tell you, Daveet, even if Traci Lords was still available (she’d already signed her exclusive), I would not use her ever again.”

Two months later, neither would anyone else. On July 17, 1986, Los Angeles District Attorney Ira Reiner announced that Lords had been under eighteen during her entire two-year hardcore movie career. Adult Film and Video Association attorney John Weston didn’t wait for proof. He called for the immediate removal from circulation of all Lords material. To keep the newly contraband tapes out of the hands of prosecutors, all manufacturers took them back for refunds or exchanges, though some of the movies had been on the rental market for over a year.

The biggest Lords loser I knew was a loops director trying to prove he could handle features. He’d put his life savings into a handsome 35 millimeter production. Lords was in every scene; he lost everything.

I came out unscathed. By the time three of Superior’s titles became illegal, I’d already sold them to Jerome Tanner. All I lost was $1276.50–Honi Webber never made good on her last check after her own company, HBO (Honi’s Big One-stop), and Sy Adler’s VIP (Video International Productions) were raided and forced into bankruptcy.

The anger came next. One producer was supposed to have hired goons to “hang her by the tits.” Traci disappeared into the minors protection programs of the LAPD, leaving the story behind the age disclosure to the conflicting accounts reported in AVN:

“An industry source said the entire situation stemmed from a money dispute between V.I.P., T.L.C., Lords and Stuart Dell, Lords’ reported boyfriend/manager. Lords and Dell were given $25,000, a new Mercedes and $1000 a week salaries, the source said, and were sent to Paris to make a picture. But when Lords and Dell returned, the source said, they had no movie nor any of the $25,000. It was soon after an ensuing dispute that questions about Lords’ age were raised, the source said…

“Other reported causes for the raid centered on Lords’ mother, who some said turned her daughter in after hearing about the Meese Commission’s report earlier in the month.

Other sources said her mother had been handling her affairs and went to the police following a dispute with Lords over money.

(Unlikely: a stupid move for someone pimping a minor in porn.)

“However, a close associate of Lords, who wished to remain anonymous, said her mother, whose name was not available, was not involved in any way. They said Lords had been a runaway from Ohio, and that her parents had been notified of her whereabouts and were on their way to California.”

They wouldn’t have far to drive according to the Los Angeles Times: Lords was a high school student in Redondo Beach when shebegan posing nude in 1984; she moved there with her family from Steubenville, Ohio in 1982.

An unauthorized biography in the form of a comic book from Personality Comics, Inc., of Massapequa, New York, had Traci coming west with her mother who’d just divorced Traci’s alchoholic father. Traci subsequently ran away from her mother’s home in Redondo Beach, California.

All reports concurred that Traci was not Kristie Nussman, born on November 17, 1962, but Nora Kuzma, born May 7, 1968. She allegedly purchased a birth certificate and used it to get the driver’s license and passport that talent agent South showed copies of to the L.A. District Attorney’s office.

(Traci said she chose her stage name because of her childhood crush on Hawaii Five-0 star Jack Lord. [Traci Lord was the name of Katharine Hepburn’s character in the 1940 film The Philadelphia Story.])

Skeptics–South included–didn’t believe Lords was really underaged. They saw the whole affair as a scam to eliminate that glut of existing Lords tapes from competing with her new releases. If that were true, the scheme backfired; Traci, too, got blown out of the business.

Was the whole thing an act of desperation? There were rumors that Traci and her lover/co-producer Stuart Dell had fabricated the story that they’d blown all the production money on cocaine while in Paris and hadn’t shot a movie there. Wanting to break away from Lord’s partners, the couple was hiding the video, hoping to market it themselves. And the partners, smelling a scam, didn’t buy the coke story; they told the couple to turn over the videotapes–or else. According to that scenario, Traci and her mother went public with her age to put the partners under too much scrutiny to carry out their threats. If that scenario were true, the strategy worked.

There was another heavyweight in the ring. The IRS wanted its share of the money Lords had made. Was the age announcement meant to save Traci from being prosecuted as an adult for tax evasion?

Whatever the reasons for it, Traci–or her adult “coaches”–used the scandal skillfully. Porn star/AVN columnist Ron Jeremy wrote, “Isn’t it nice that such a sweet kid can make so many career moves, make so much money, beat her IRS rap, her fake passport felony rap, and at the same time bury an entire industry! Only in Hollywood!”

__________________________________

Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 10: Ho’-ray for Hollywood  This will be the conclusion of this sordid story.  Then we can get back to more upbeat things like sex on a flying trapeze.

 

 

Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 5: Pot vs Perfection

From SKINFLICKS Chapter 12, The Goddess

Tom Byron pursued Traci’s naked rear over a snake orgy of black power cables. “Traci, for the last time, will you marry me?”

She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Not again…”

Byron’s unabashed pining for his ex-girlfriend was an industry chuckle. But he was also one of her favorites to work with. So I hired him. With my impossible schedule, I couldn’t risk unpredictable cast chemistry.

I was sticking with my original plan to shoot the main footage of two features, even though I now had only one day to shoot in. And Traci absolutely, positively had to leave for San Francisco Airport by 10 PM.

Traci had only the script for Physical II. I hadn’t told her about Dirty Pictures ; I was afraid the total amount of sex indicated on paper would scare her off or have her demanding much more than her$1200 day rate. “I put a lot of energy into a sex scene,” Traci said in her AVN interview. “So I don’t like to do two in a day. I don’t want to be called a dead fuck.”

I wanted Traci to do two elaborate sex scenes. Only Tom Byron knew how the couplings and switchings would be chopped up to look like six full scenes in the two movies, but he wasn’t telling–three of the sexual permutations put him together with Traci.

Pleased that I’d teamed her with her two favorite men–Byron and Marc Wallice (sic)–Traci agreed to the “two” scenes. She also liked working with the second woman, Cara Lott.

I prayed that the video gods would take mercy on my cramped schedule and hold back those dreaded Murphy’s laws. But of course they didn’t.

x x x x x x

Marc Wallice sabotaged his own brain. While Traci posed for boxcover stills (shot first, while make-up is fresh), the vacuous blond actor–kind of a Dan Quayle of porn studs–snuck off to an unused room in the spacious Mill Valley house to smoke pot. By the time we were ready to roll tape, Wallice was in no shape to remember his name, much less his lines.

Sitting in front of a blue backdrop–a “bluescreen” that could be electronically replaced with bodies in action, Lords and Wallice played emcees at an event called The Erotic Olympics. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen,” Wallice began, “and welcome to the second annual…ah…ah…”

I’d wanted to start the sex after lunch. Instead, we stayed mired in dialogue.

“Our next event is…is…”

“’Masturbation,’ Marc.”

And so on.

Juggling the usual barrage of details, I couldn’t give Wallice the attention he needed. Thank God for Traci’s diligence. Though she’d picked up her script from South’s gofer at the airport and read it for the first time on the plane, she knew her lines perfectly. And Wallice’s too.

She coached and coddled him through the dialogue with a patience she didn’t extend to herself. When she finally muffed a line–“’All our finalists will now be competing for.., ’” Traci snatched up her script, glowered at it and slammed it down. “’For the grand prize of fifty thousand dollars.’ See how easy that was?”

She had the ability to snap into character on “Action.” When her bitch-queen role required her to rebuff Wallice’s pass at her, Traci did it so viciously that, after the take, Wallice was still looking confused. She patted his arm. “What a bitch, huh?”

She always strove to be perfect. Told that the next scene involved cunnilingus, she dashed into the bathroom. Ten minutes passed. I glanced at my watch; we were running three hours late. “What’s she doing in there? Fixing the plumbing?”

Byron laughed. “Yeah. Hers. When she comes out, she’ll be
clean enough to eat off of.”

“And I have often done so,” Wallice announced, missing Byron’s sour glance.

Was it my deceiving Traci that displeased the video gods?
Was that why Murphy did his worst?

Wallice couldn’t follow directions for a “sim” (softcore)
cunnilingus shot. Traci tried to help. “You’ve got to hide my
pussy with your head.” She grabbed his hair and pulled his face
into her crotch. “Oww!” Wallice sprang back, grabbing his nose.
Blood seeped between his fingers.

“Shit.” My watch read 6:36.

Then came the problem of Traci’s dress, a red mini covered
with sequins that went everywhere. As director, responsible for
visual details, I assigned myself the task of picking them out of
her pubes, enduring taunts of “Tough job, but somebody’s gotta
do it.” Lying on the bed with her legs spread wide, Traci went
into her press-release bio: She was 22 years old. She was from
Las Vegas. Her stepfather had introduced her to the business.

The spiel seemed rehearsed, but that didn’t strike me as odd.
Everything about this young woman was prepared and polished.
Except for her work schedule.

“This business really burns you out,” Traci said. “You don’t
have any kind of life for yourself. All I’ve been doing is movie
after movie after movie. I find myself going, like, ’Oh God, do I
have to fuck again?’ And I really like sex.” She added that in the
past year she’d caught VD three times.

But then there was the bottom line. “I’ve been clearing over
twenty thousand a month. This year I’ll make over 250 grand!”
Traci wanted to know if I, personally, made that much. I said I
didn’t. She seemed satisfied.

7:18 PM. Less than three hours to shoot all that sex. No
dinner break tonight. Just cold cuts between takes.

——————————–

Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 6: Buttboys, Sun Damage and Rare Real Love

(I will post no photos of Lords, since she was allegedly a minor when she signed a release–with a fake “real name.”)

Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 3: G-Spot Sensation

Part 3

From SKINFLICKS:

Chapter 12

The Goddess

Curiosity about this sensational new star brought me to the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theater early in 1985 to see their film The Grafenberg Spot. What I saw convinced me that my career in erotic movies wouldn’t be complete without shooting a Traci Lords picture.

A porno theater is the last place you’d expect to see male bonding. The men sit as far away from each other as possible, ashamed of their masturbatory intentions. They don’t dare draw attention to themselves with vocalizations–only a few heavy breaths now and then. But, for one brief moment, Traci Lords created a bond among these lonely men.

The scene was on a cabin cruiser that rocked to a three-some of Traci, Rick Savage and Harry Reems. The first ripple of response from the audience came with the sheer delight Traci took in slapping Rick’s erection around between her breasts.

Then, while Reems and Savage performed double vaginal penetration, something that was as much a Traci trademark as The Pout rang through the theater: the hyperventilating Traci Lords Love Call.

This seesaw of whistling inhalations and exhalations was best–if unflatteringly– described by my audio engineer. “It’s the sound of a Missouri mule on fast forward,” he said. As proof, he slowed the tape. Everyone in the mix studio burst into laughter. The alternating squeals and brays could have come out of the stables of a Sam Peckinpah western.

To the theater audience it was a Mozart concerto. I had just seen the movie Amadeus and had the weird notion that–like Mozart’s rival Salieri–I was listening to “the Lord’s music.”

Traci claimed her on-screen orgasms were real. In AVN, she said, “If the guys have to go through the job of getting a hard-on, I feel that in a sense the girl should get a hard-on too…I try to have a come-shot just like the guy.”

Porn queens’ claims of real screen orgasms are mostly hype, but Traci’s climax in The Grafenberg Spot made a believer out of me.

My seat was moving. I thought it was an earthquake. Then I realized that the fault-line ran from the knee to the crotch of the guy behind me. He wasn’t the only one masturbating. Though they tried to be quiet, the men were given away by the ancient seats, sqawking like censorious old prudes.

When the scene ended, the audience lapsed into a silence deeper than usual. Then someone breathed, “Wow!” Followed by “Yeah!” “Woooh!” Someone called out, “Encore!” And the men actually laughed.

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Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 4: A Tight Situation

 

Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 2: A Star is Born (on the wrong day)

As promised, Part 2 of….

Chapter 12

THE GODDESS
1986 – 1990s

Traci started at the top. Her first job: Penthouse centerfold (September, 1984). But, unlike women who use these “high class” spreads to launch legitimate modeling and acting careers, Traci went in another direction. Blame Tom Byron. His meeting with her became a legend.

It happened on the set of Richard Mailer’s, What Gets Me Hot. Traci was “testing” porn work as a “nude extra,” a woman who provides window dressing but doesn’t perform sex.

Mailer hadn’t needed her, but “Traci was so beautiful I just had to have her in the picture.”

Byron first saw her in the kitchen, away from the cameras. “I felt like I’d been hit by a ton of bricks,” he said. “I’ve worked with a lot of beauties, but when I saw Traci…it was like a wet dream come true.”

Mailer came upon the two of them writhing on a butcher block. The veteran pornographer wasted no time; Traci lost her “screen cherry” but gained a boyfriend and a new career–one she plunged into.

As one of the first stars to capitalize on the enormous volume of videos shot in the mid-’80s, Traci Lords worked in 105 movies in less than 20 months. Her presence made hits of Those Young Girls, Battle of the Stars, Sex Fifth Avenue, Aroused, Talk Dirty to Me, Part III, Educating Mandy, Bad Girls III, and my own Physical II.

The Dark Brothers’ punk rock epic New Wave Hookers, with its flash-trash cover photo of Traci, became the number one renting adult video of all time. It stayed in the top ten for 52 weeks–until the scandal hit.

There were good reasons for her popularity: creamy skin, a perfect 36-23-36 figure, large hazel eyes, and waves of hair that were light chestnut or dark blonde, depending on the light or hairdresser’s tint. The nipples on her “balloon breasts”–as Jerry Butler called them in his autobiography Raw Talent–puffed up when she was aroused.

“It’s like her tits have tits,” panted my attorney, who traded $300 in legal fees for copies of my two Lords titles Physical II and Dirty Pictures.

Traci’s trademark feature was The Pout, a full, lower-lipped challenge to all red-blooded American men (and to plastic surgeons whose clients wanted the look, too).

Along with her beauty, Traci brought to the screen a genuine enthusiasm. This child of the Sexual Revolution took pride in her work, free of the martyred shame that haunted so many porn women in the past.

“They represent a new breed of performer in our industry,” said Harry Reems, in an AVN interview, after working with both Traci and her leading rival, Ginger Lynn. “They walk in without all these inhibitions that we all grew up with and to them it’s a celebration of life that sex is supposed to be. I found that when I got into films, most performers wouldn’t even tell their parents what they were doing. Today, the parents are their agents and managers.”
—————

Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 3:

The “Smut Glut.” How the Porn Movie Industry almost Destroyed Itself Part 1: Stupidity

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.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

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.

My All-time Favorite Stars: Shanna McCullough

A buzz went through the audience.  The singer had stopped singing, but her voice continued.  She called out to someone offstage, “That’s the wrong cut!”
During the previous five takes (needed for changes in camera angles) the “singer” had been lip-syncing so perfectly that the audience had thought she was actually doing the singing.  As they realized that this woman—a porn actress no less—was turning in a great performance, the crowd burst into applause.

Shanna McCullough, “singing” in Deviations

When I cast Shanna McCullough for a lead role in my 1983 extravaganza, Deviations, I was taking a chance.  Women who are new to porn might freeze up or panic when they are called upon to have sex under hot lights, with a crew watching and a director barking orders.  Standard practice had been to break in ingénues as “nude extras,” who shed their clothes in a film but don’t have sex.  But when I met Shanna at agent Joe Elliot’s casting session, I had a hunch that she was one special lady.  I was so right!

This redhead with the creamy, alabaster skin and luminous eyes was much more sexually sophisticated than most porn newcomers. Shanna and her husband (at that time) were swingers. She had a wardrobe of kinky outfits. She was a professional actress, starring every Saturday night in a Berkeley stage production of The Rocky Horror Show.  She also had an eight-foot boa constrictor that crawled all over her nude body in Deviations.

From SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry Her “screen cherry” debut with Mike Horner was so sizzling hot that during a break, I swore I saw steam rising from her bottom.

Shanna McCullough in Night Moves

Of course, I gave her the starring role in my next video, Night Moves.  Shanna McCullough would go on to make over 200 movies in the next seven years, establishing herself as one of porn’s all-time great stars.  She was an inspiration to others: In his speech at the 1991 AVN Awards, Rick Savage said, “I want to thank the first actress I ever had sex with in a video. Because if she hadn’t been so hot and such a fucking inspiration, I may not have ever made another video. So thank you, Shanna McCullough!”  (In contrast, a future post will recount how the bitch-goddess Barbara Dare had the opposite effect on another would-be screen stud.)

As described in SKINFLICKS, Shanna’s performance in a Henri Pachard flick, left one of porn’s prima donna-type actresses puzzled: “So that was Shanna McCullough.  She’s a big star.  But she didn’t act like a star.”  Pachard sighed. “The real ones never do.”

Shanna’s retirement in pursuit of a mainstream career was another class act.  Unlike most adult actresses who skulk away licking their wounds and snarling invective, Shanna wrote a letter to AVN (May ’91 issue), thanking readers for voting her into the magazine’s Hall of Fame. “I had such a good time when I made my first movie, Deviations,” she wrote, “that I wanted to do it again.”  She thanked directors, actors and porn fans, adding, “I got a chance to live out many of my fantasies…I met a lot of great people, made some close friends and got to travel around the world. What more could you ask for in a job?”

Evidently she could ask for more.  Shanna McCullough “unretired” and went on to choose certain, select roles in adult movies throughout the next decade.