Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 10: Ho’-ray for Hollywood

How do you make the transition from porn stardom to a so-called “legitimate” acting career?

You do it by posing as a poor, abused child, victimized by evil pornographers.

As Ron Jeremy wrote in Adult Video News: “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!”

Below is the conclusion of SKINFLICKS, Chapter 12: The Goddess.

To Jeremy and others with ambitions in the non-porn film world, the most grating result of the Lords affair was how it opened Hollywood to her. No longer was Traci a scarlet woman too steeped in shame for the wholesome sponsors of American television and silver screen. Now she was an innocent, a child-victim.

As usual, Traci played her role well. “At that age, you don’t really understand what you’re doing,” she said. “You don’t really understand the consequences.” She claimed that producers kept her stoned on drugs and her agent got most of the money she made.

Hollywood bought her act. Aaron Spelling was reported to have paid $100,000 for the rights to her life story. Traci appeared in the TV series’ Wiseguy, MacGyver, and Married with Children. She starred in the sci-fi / horror film Not of This World. She got roles in the feature films Fast Food, Shock ’em Dead, A Time to Die, Raw Nerve, The Object of Desire, Laser Moon and the John Waters comedies Nutty Nut and Cry Baby–which AVN editor Gene Ross called “a poetically apt title.”

To the industry that made her show biz success possible, Traci showed no gratitude. Instead she made the most damaging claim of all: that those she had worked for knew she was a minor.

“She tells us that she was told to just get some kind of I. D.,” D.A. Reiner said. “And that was done with more a wink and a nod than any serious effort to determine what her real age was.” Was this allegation true?

With the strict penalties–forfeiture of assets, long prison terms and six figure fines–for using underaged models, pornographers run like hell from those whose age is questionable.

In the wake of the Lords mess, young-looking starlets Nikki Charm, Ali Moore and Kristara Barrington were ostracized upon the first hints of rumors that they too were underaged.

The positive long-term effect of the Lords crisis was the increased awareness within the industry that porn video’s lure of quick riches attracted sexually precocious kids. As minors, immune to prosecution, they had nothing to lose if discovered.

Pornographers could lose everything. Contending that knowledge of Traci’s age was irrelevant, Federal attorneys initiated felony prosecutions. The adult movie industry braced for battle.

x x x x x x

By the early 1980s, a bond of good faith had formed between L.A. legal authorities and sex moviemakers who’d agreed to refrain from depicting rape, scatology, hardcore S and M, bestiality, use of minors and the depiction of minors by adult performers.

Consequently, when the Lords bombshell exploded, L.A. authorities gave the adult industry a chance to escape prosecution by immediately removing all Lords products from commercial circulation. To the amazement of police and prosecutors, the gargantuan task was completed almost overnight.

Government prosecutors went ahead with their test cases, under the Federal child pornography statutes. Agent South and producers Ronald Kantor and Rupert McNee won acquittals, but the Government got a conviction against Ruby Gottesman of Xcitement Video.

Then Gottesman’s conviction was overturned, and the statute that allowed conviction without proof that the defendant knew the performer was underaged was ruled unconstitutional. The Government appealed.

In the 1990 United States v. Thomas case, the Ninth Circuit Court had ruled that even if a defendant thought that the performer in question was of legal age, the Government could obtain a conviction.

Finally, on November 29, 1994, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Federal child porn law, while ruling that prosecutors must prove defendants had prior knowledge that a performer in question was underaged. The industry breathed a collective sigh of relief–but Rubin Gottesman didn’t; his conviction was upheld. The prosecution had presented evidence that Gottesman had sold hardcore Lords tapes to an undercover L.A. vice cop in 1987, by which time Lords’ former underaged status had become common industry knowledge.

There have been at least two more underaged actresses since the Traci Lords affair. I videotaped one of them.

Flushed with the afterglow of her sizzling debut in a Blacks and Blondes loop, a cute newcomer named Gigi (porn name Penny Nichols) gushed that she could now afford a $1500 pearlescent paint job with burgundy pinstripes for the ’69 Chevelle she’d just bought. Then she let it slip that her big concern now was passing her driver’s test.

Gigi’s mother complained to police that the girl was only 16 years old. On March 9, 1987, charges were filed against Jerome Tanner and agent Reb Sawitz. The veteran agent produced copies of a birth certificate and temporary driver’s license, which showed Gigi’s age as 19, exonerating Sawitz and Tanner under California law.

An underaged model scandal almost on the scale of the Traci Lords affair erupted in 1991, when Diane Stewart, a Canadian girl with the porn name Alexandria Quinn, appeared in over 70 videos before her 18th birthday.

Once again, tapes and magazines were frantically yanked from the market. Once again, real-appearing fake IDs precluded California prosecutions. And, once again, the industry had proven vulnerable to the deceit of a beautiful teenager.

x x x x x x

The Traci Lords scandal and the Government’s “War on Porn” did for sex movies what controversy always does. Adult tape sales soared from a wholesale value of $350 million in 1985 to almost $450 million in ’86. (With the uproar dying down in ’87, sales fell to $390 million.) It must have rankled the members of the Meese Commission to read Jerome Tanner’s taunting, “We need another report like that one.”

The industry needed another Traci Lords too–a legal one. With the entrenched copycat ethic, it was only natural to find a clone.

“She’s a deadringer for Traci Lords,” said Jack Michaelson of Cinderella Distributing. “Barbii has the fabled Traci pout down to perfection. Everybody’s crazy about her look.”

Barbii even spoke like Traci: “I’m a perfectionist and I don’t feel comfortable looking at myself.” In less than two months, out came Introducing Barbii, Lusty Desires, Backdoor to Hollywood, Barbii’s Way, and Spend the Holidays with Barbii. Penthouse lined her up for four different spreads.

Barbii’s wasn’t the only nouveau pout. In 1987 it seemed like half the new adult video boxcovers fixed the customer with a petulant stare and the best bottom lip the cover model could manage. One actress–whose career was brief–even called herself “Staci Lords.”

The industry’s love-hate affair with Traci continued.

Surfacing a half-year after the scandal erupted was the only hardcore Traci Lords movie made after she’d turned eighteen. It was that phantom Paris production Lords and Dell had denied shooting.

Released by Caballero Distributing, the sardonically titled Traci I Love You provoked calls for a boycott, but instead became the best selling and renting adult tape of 1987. “When a statuesque French blonde named Monique uses her mouth to shove a black dildo into Traci,” wrote reviewer Thomas McMahon, “it seems like old times.”

That old warhorse Honi Webber galloped back into battle with her High Times Video release Traci’s Big Trick, which “tells the whole truth for the first time…from high school to Penthouse to her agent’s office.” Lords, played by Jaqueline Lorians, is shown having sex with “Guy Sadler” (Sy Adler) and with Honi Webber–played by slim Sharon Mitchell in a bit of casting against type.

In Traci Who?, “it’s 1991 and President Meese wants to outlaw pornography,” went Peter Keating’s December ’86 AVN review. “Traci Who? may be the only title on the adult market to exist simply so that someone could get a dig in on that wretched turncoat Traci Lords.”

The rancor lasted for years. When Lords promoted her exercise tape at the 1988 VSDA Show, AVN quoted an “industry director” as saying, “I’m surprised she wasn’t met with a chorus of Uzis.”

When I last saw Tom Byron, he was at a 1989 trade show, looking for work behind the cameras, not in front of them.

“What’s Traci up to these days?” I asked him.
Byron shrugged. “Who the hell cares?”

# # #

 

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.

 

 

Does Anybody Want to Buy a Used Porno Company?

(Excerpt from SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry)

It was a tough time to sell a used porno company. For one
thing, there were a lot of them on the market. Like the cartoon of
a little fish being eaten by a bigger fish being eaten by a huge
fish, Sturman’s Las Vegas “porn emporium” Talk of the Town
gobbled up 4-Play, Masterpiece, Lipstik and Now Showing; then
Sturman’s 300-title Vidco got swallowed by Caballero. (By then,
in l988, Sturman was too busy battling major tax evasion charges
to continue fighting on the video front.)

Superior’s only real assets were a room full of well-used
video hardware and twenty-six adult feature movies. But if the
titles couldn’t keep a small outfit of a half a dozen people in
business, the package wouldn’t add much to bigger companies
that were also struggling.

The offers I got were laughably low. Nobody had any cash
to spend (which is all I would take for the titles), except Jerry
Tanner. The little Israeli called to cuss out the last series of sex scenes I’d sold him: “I throw better stuff away all the time, Daveet.” He asked if I had any more to sell.
“Jerry,” I said. “How’d you like to get the whole works: lock,
stock, and barrel?”

Perspiration rolled down Jerry Tanner’s face. “My wife says
I’m crazy to carry around this much cash.” I discreetly looked
away as he turned the dial of the combination lock on his
briefcase. He opened it to reveal neat stacks of hundred dollar
bills (I promised Jerry I’d never divulge the amount).
We sat on packing crates in my storage vault, away from the
eyes of the crew that was loading Jerry’s rented furniture van
with my nine years of edited masters, camera originals, color
separations, artwork, and cartons of finished VHS and Beta
tapes. I concentrated on the crisp bills Jerry counted out in rows
of ten each on top of a trade show poster for Diary of a Bad Girl
that we were using as a table. Jerry finished counting, sighed,
and mopped his forehead with a sleeve. “You are making the
right move, Daveet. It’s hard to make a buck anymore.” He was
pensive as I filled my own briefcase with the money. “I’ve got to
tough it out,” he said. ” Everything I have is tied up in this business.”

My heart was pounding as I drove to my bank, eyeing every
car around me for thugs waiting to cut me off and demand the
briefcase. I mentally rehearsed pulling Maggie up from the
Corvette’s door pocket. I almost collapsed with relief upon
reaching the bank, where the manager and her assistant ushered
me into a rear suite and took turns solemnly counting out the
bills.

Next Post: “You’re Going to Make a Lot of Money with This Book.” Yeah, right….

HOW TO THINK LIKE A PORNOGRAPHER AND WHY YOU SHOULDN’T

Ron Jeremy had a great idea for a sex scene.  As he described it in Hustler:  “I’d like to do a hang-gliding scene in an X-rated film.  I see this great shot of me standing on a hill with my dick sticking straight out, hard as a rock.  Then I take off and start gliding downward.  There’s this gorgeous girl at the bottom of the hill pointing her little butt right at me.  The master shot would look as if I’m going to dive right into her ass at top speed.  But the final shot would cut to a camera zoom of my dick making a safe rear-entry landing right smack in the middle of her pussy.  I’d like to see James Bond do something like that.” (excerpt from  SKINFLICKS: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry)

As absurd as Jeremy’s scenario sounds, it is indicative of how pornographers think.  In SKINFLICKS, I detail such pornographer’s brainstorms as sex in a vat of spaghetti and in a tub of chocolate; three-somes balancing precariously on toilets; prosthetic penises mounted in unusual places (Paul Norman’s Cyrano and Edward Penishands); scenes featuring octopus tentacles and snorkel cameras; and gang-bangs with one woman taking on up to one hundred men. When I produced E.X., I used my special effects generator to show aliens with three-foot-long members performing double-penetration on Lilly Marlene.

Why do pornographers go to such extremes?  Because they have to.  Psychologist Neil Malamuth of UCLA said, “Our research shows that every time there is a satiation of themes, people to some degree lose their ability to be aroused by it.  Therefore, newer themes are introduced, breaking new taboos.”  The late porn director Alex DeRenzy put it more simply. His biggest problem, he said, was “beating audience boredom.”

Regardless of how resourceful they are, pornographers are stuck with the fact that all sex scenes come down to the same half-dozen positions.  If the chemistry isn’t there, no director, regardless of competence, can make a scene sizzle.  On the other hand, when performers are hot for one another, even the dimmest of directors can end up with a great scene. Being at best skilled documentarians, pornographers hasten to proclaim their uniqueness.  (This was especially true when an avalanche of new titles descended upon the industry during the “smut glut” era of the late 1980s and early ‘90s.)  Thus, Scotty Fox, director of Ass Backwards and My Bare Lady, became porn’s “King of Comedy.”  The late Henri Pachard, famous for staging sex on bathroom fixtures, was dubbed “The King of the Commode.” With Shape Up for Sensational Sex, Gail Palmer declared herself “the Jane Fonda of porno.” The late Anthony Spinelli had no interest in directing sex, which he turned over to cameramen such as myself while he took a nap. Spinelli became famous for the miraculous acting performances he managed to wring out of even the most unmotivated of cast members. At Superior Video, my co-director Joe Farmer and I took pride in making low-budget videos look like more expensive ones (that special effects generator sure helped).

The downside of thinking like a pornographer is when it comes to dominate your outlook—especially when you’re cranking out one sexvid after another.  As veteran pornographer Bill Margold observed in a 1982 Adam magazine interview, “You can only live in a fantasy land just so long before it starts driving you crazy.”  When real life runs counter to that fantasy land, disaster beckons. “Pornographer’s disease” is another name for impotence.  My friend Ace Walker said that after he quit shooting and acting in porn, it took him two months before he could enjoy a normal sex life.  Actor Cal Jammer was not so fortunate. Said to obsess about his erections, he couldn’t recover from bouts of penis limpus. He wasn’t the only failed stud to commit suicide.    

Thinking like a pornographer extends beyond those directly involved in production.  Superior Video’s receptionist Alana told me, “I can’t read Vogue (magazine) without thinking of the commercial possibilities.” She provided the idea behind our video Diary of a Bad Girl.

Bristling with erotic visions, pornographers frequently clash with performers pushed beyond their limits. As actor/director F. M. Bradley said about bombastic little porn impresario Jerome Tanner, “If you can take four cocks at once, Jerry will want five.”

A constant battle in the world of pornography is the often rancorous, push-pull negotiation between porn directors and cast members. After weathering one struggle after another, both sides come to the set prepared to go to war.  But that is the subject of a future blog entry.