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.
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.
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.