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.”
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Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 3:

The “Smut Glut” Part 3: The Victors and the Vanquished

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?