Today’s “gonzo porn” includes many categories of women subjected to brutal sex. But these are cheap and dirty “wall-to-wall (sex only, no story)” videos. They can’t compare with the big-budget 35-millimeter epics of the 1970s and early 80s that featured elaborate production values and intricate stories that involved debasing women in the grossest possible ways.
The audiences for these theatrical films were angry, sexually-frustrated men who comprised a large portion of that era’s “raincoat crowd.”
My duties as film and tape manager at VCX, Inc., included supervising the transfer of these films to videotape. Among these pictures were the following “classics”:
In Alex DeRenzy’s Pretty Peaches (1978), real-life mental patient Desiree Cousteau plays a car accident amnesia victim who’s raped by the men who hit her. A quack doctor treats her amnesia with enemas. She’s gang-banged at a job audition.
At Compact Video, I supervised the transfer of Defiance, with underaged (16 year old) Jean Jennings gang-raped by the staff and inmates of an insane asylum; Expensive Tastes, in which a prostitute plays decoy to help bust a gang of rapists; and The Seduction of Lyn Carter, in which future rock singer Andrea True plays a housewife with a compulsion for further and further debasements from kinky sex researcher Jamie Gillis.
A Dirty Western (1975) featured a gang of outlaws raiding a ranch and raping the owner (Barbara Bourbon) and her daughters.
In Waterpower, Jamie Gillis (You want kink? He’s your man.) played an enema rapist.
After I left VCX, my new business partner Joe Loveland (a nom de porn) gave me a tape that his S and M protege Stephanie Bonds wanted to emulate: The Mitchell Brothers’ Never a Tender Moment starred Marilyn Chambers suspended by wrists and ankles while butch lesbians beat her with whips; hung upside down while they insert all of a dildo the size of a baby elephant’s leg in her rectum.
Before she appeared in my video feature All The King’s Ladies, Serena had retired from porn after a shoot that nearly led to her death. In Mai Lin Versus Serena (1982), a filmed contest to see which actress could take on the most men, the compliant masochist was penetrated not only by forty or more studs but by the microbes they carried. “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 (PID)–epidemic in the wake of the libertine ’70s. The filmmaker didn’t even send a get-well card.
“It’s a unique irony,” wrote the historian (Jim) Holliday in the 1990s, “that under Nixon’s presidency adult films were rougher than they are currently.”
Yet, even after home video brought an influx of female viewers in the mid 1980s, there remained an audience of disgruntled men who made best-sellers out of videos like Biff Malibu’s Gang Bang Girls series.
Today’s misogynist porn can’t match the budgets of yesteryear, but it’s just as brutal. Anti-porn academic, Gail Dines, rails against this gonzo genre, blaming it for corrupting the sexuality of all American men. Dines has produced one of the most inadvertently hilarious jeremiads against porn that I have ever read.
Next post: Pornland by Gail Dines: A Primer for Perverts
The 1981 production of All the King’s Ladies, “the first big-budget erotic extravaganza shot entirely on videotape,” was both maddening and marvelous.
First, the screw-ups:
I made a package deal to use impresario Perry Mann’s lavish Marin County estate as a location and himself as an actor. At least the property part worked out–the location was gorgeous.
Mann, co-producer of that voyeur’s delight, the annual Exotic-Erotic Ball, couldn’t get erect, even with the exotic-erotic Mai Lin.
And his allegedly coke-addled memory retained dialogue like a sieve holds rain. Porn star Juliet Anderson, making her debut as a director, had to feed him his lines.
Juliet: Your soft, downy pussy gives me spasms of ecstasy.
Mann: Your soft, downy pussy…what?
Juliet: Your soft, downy pussy…
Mann: Your soft, downy pussy…
Juliet: …gives me spasms of ecstasy.
Mann: ..gives me…ecstasy.
Juliet: OK. that’s good enough, Perry.
Our snide little snot of an engineer was one of the few local technicians familiar with the new Ikkis (Ikegami HL-79 cameras). To him, working on a porno was like slumming.
He neglected to clean the Sony BVU 110 VCRs, causing a head clog that wiped out the first twenty minutes recorded on one of the decks. A bad audio line rendered all the tapes from the other VCR soundless.
As the second day went into overtime, the little engineer left to catch a flight to an out of town shoot. He assured me the gear was working fine; we should have no trouble. Right after he left, one of the Ikkis (Ikegami HL-79 cameras) went out of phase.
So, what went right?
The really important thing: Sex!
(Note: Scenes described below are more intimately detailed in SKINFLICKS.)
First, I had packed the cast with female stars: Sharon Mitchell, Holly McCall, Mai Lin, and the winner of a Farrah Fawcett-Majors look-alike contest, Rhonda Jo Petty. These ladies took pride in their craft.
At director Juliet Anderson’s behest, Serena had come out of retirement for the movie. She had quit porn after a scene that almost killed her. A callous director had immersed the masochistic star in a brutal gang-bang that flooded her with enough germs to rival an ER in Afghanistan. Serena was hospitalized with septic shock.
I, too, used her in an S and M scene (what, me exploitive?). Crude cowboy Michael Morrison whipped her like a mule. (I cut out most of the skit to avoid going to jail.)
The big lesson I learned was that video was tailor-made for porn. In spite of the equipment hassles, we shot ten sex scenes in two days.
“I used to struggle to complete three sex scenes a day,” I told Joe Farmer. “And those were little more than loops, nothing like the feature story we just shot.”
Joe smiled. “Television production techniques will revolutionize the shooting of sex. Remember, you heard it here first.”
Everything was different from shooting “film style,” which I’d done on earlier video productions.
The director would sit at a console, watching monitors, and give instructions to the cameramen through a microphone feeding the headsets they wore: “Camera One, you’re ’hot,’ hold on her face. Camera Two, get a medium penetration shot–tell him to move his knee to his right. OK…get ready Camera Two…you’re hot. Camera One, pull back for a long shot…”
Switching between cameras, a director could “edit” the scene as it was taking place–live–capturing the spontaneity, saving hours of expensive post-production time.
Without the constant interruptions to change film magazines and batteries and to wait for the camera operator to line up each shot, performers could build momentum–and stay hard.
There was no need for a “fluffer,” an off-camera lady whose job was to suck the men up for each shot.
The final orgy scene, which would have suffered an epidemic of penis limpus if shot in film, went as slick as a pornographer’s wet dream.
Jon Martin, Michael Morrisson, Mike Horner, Don Fernando, newcomer Paul West and Ed Lincoln–son of veteran porn director, the late Fred Lincoln–all spouted spectacularly.
The sizzle reached its climax–so to speak–in a rooftop scene with Sharon Mitchell and Mike Horner.
Miss Sharon Mitchell–as porn’s grande dame wants to be called after more than fifteen years as a performer–wouldn’t let a spent Mike Horner leave the rooftop set in All the King’s Ladies, even as the crew was packing the gear after shooting Miss M.’s forty-second status orgasmus (sustained female orgasm).
With leftover videotape, we interviewed the porn Hall-of-Famer:
She related the story of going into a theater to watch one of her films for the first time and unzipping the pants of an elderly gentleman next to her. When the startled patron saw that the lady going down on him was the same one as on the screen, he suffered a seizure. As he was being wheeled to the ambulance he croaked, “Thank you, Miss Mitchell.”
Despite “creative editing” to cover up All the King’s Ladies‘ technical difficulties, Adam Film World’s 1987 X-Rated Movie Handbook listed the feature among “The 500 Best Adult Movies of All Time.”
“I sure hope we can maintain the level of quality we established in All the King’s Ladies,” I said to Joe.
“If things go right,” he replied. “All the King’s Ladies should be the worst movie Superior Video ever makes.”
Next post: ShootingPHYSICAL: Letting It All Hang Out in a Best-Seller
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.
The cocaine being snorted by the starlets gathered in the restroom at the 1986 Winter CES Show didn’t bother Alana, Superior’s receptionist/Jill-of-all-trades…What offended her was that the ladies were discussing the most efficient way to divide up the spaces in their hotel suites, so they could turn the maximum number of tricks that evening with customers they met during the show.
“Most of the girls here were in on it,” Alana exclaimed when she returned to the Superior Video booth. “I thought they were supposed to be actresses, not tawdry little whores!”
The preceding, fromSKINFLICKS, introduces chapters about the new breed of porn queens who seized the opportunity to make big money during porn’s video revolution. Theirs was a hothouse world of fierce competition, of sex coaches and “porno stage mothers”; of compulsive plastic surgery and multiple breast enlargements; a world where 19-year-olds became cottage industry corporations. Before video, none of this was possible. (Note: passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)
In 1981, before the video revolution took off, Veronica Hart, “the Audrey Hepburn of porn,” lamented in a Playboy interview, “I think I’ll have worked a year before any of my movies are out—there’s such a backlog of films that you sometimes have to wait eight months for a theater date. Then I’ll work another year before anyone really knows me.”
In contrast, videos arrived in stores the same month they were shot, and new women could rocket to stardom in weeks. Or sooner: CDI’s Traci Lords clone Barbi and Vidway’s Heather Hunter, promoted at trade shows, became mini-celebrities before they appeared in a single feature!
The enormous volume of video productions meant an attractive newcomer could work non-stop for months on end. In 1981, Veronica Hart worked in only eleven features during a nine-month period; a decade later, lovely English blonde Taylor Wane starred in over 80 videos in the same length of time.
A performer’s videos built her a nationwide base of fans who’d pay to see her on the dance circuit. As a featured act, she could make five to ten thousand for a week’s engagement. Established top-draw Amber Lynn could command up to $24,000 for a week of naked prancing.
Two other factors merged with the fast-track video scene to bring women flocking to agent Jim South’s Van Nuys studio: a Reaganomics-era poverty rate 27 percent higher in 1988 than in 1970 and the so-called “sexual revolution” of the 1970s that freed a generation of girls from the constraints of the past. A 1988 federal survey concluded that 51.9% of young women aged 15-19 had premarital sex—up from 28.6% in 1970. In AVN interviews, Ginger Lynn said she had sex “ten times a day” at age 13…a sweet-faced blonde from rural North Carolina told me in South’s offices that she was 13 when her mother recommended anal intercourse as “hillbilly birth control.”
Striving to increase their marketability, women became what director Greg Dark called “plastic surgery junkies.” Nips and tucks and nose jobs were only the beginning. Multiple breast enhancements gave Beverlee Hills (formerly Gina Gianetti) a 60-inch chest and Wendy Whoppers claimed her basketball-sized bumpers measured 81 inches. Lynn LeMay…grabbed my hands and shoved them into her breasts. “Don’t they feel natural?” she enthused. She bubbled on about the slits in her armpits where the silicone gels were slipped in being almost invisible. “Not bad for only $5000, huh?” Conducting my own assessment, I agreed that the added material was delectably soft.
Stardom opened the door to other hustles. Like mainstream stars, they hired publicists, went on autograph junkets, booked talk shows, and invented “exposes” for Hard Copy and A Current Affair. They formed fan clubs, set up 900-numbers and appeared on baseball-type playing cards. Via mail order, they sold autographed photos, tapes, newsletters and the ever-popular “unwashed” panties. (A lady who requested anonymity told me she kept up with the demand for her used undies by recruiting girlfriends to “break in” new pairs.)
Seeing the money their daughters were making, mothers wanted in on the action. Moms played roles in the careers of Jamie Summers, Sabrina Dawn, Tami Lee Curtis, and—tragically—in the death of Megan Leigh, which was either a suicide or a murder, depending upon who you ask. (Fathers were less enthused with the idea of their daughters being porn stars. One pissed-off papa with mob ties threatened to have agent Jim South killed, until a porn mogul, with even stronger underworld ties, dissuaded the mad dad.)
Taking advantage of these competitive starlets, pornographers pushed them to their limits—and beyond. A self-described “total emotional, mental and physical wreck,” Nina Alexander suffered a breakdown. Taylor Wane spent two weeks “in a sick-bed…covered with bruises.” Self-acknowledged “nymphomaniac” Mai Lin, whose porn career lasted from the mid-‘70s to the mid-‘80s, said it took her three years to fully recuperate from a rectal injury. In a 1989 issue of Erotic Film Guide, veteran pornographer Bill Margold said that under current working conditions “the women will be literally screwed to death. It’s the worst kind of burnout…”
My next entry (Starlets or Harlots? Part 2) will detail the casualties, including suicides, among video-era women. Topics will include drugs, obsessed fans, disease, social ostracism and the phenomenon known to pornographers as “boyfriendinitis.”
Part 3 will deal with those who enjoyed successful porn queen careers, showing what it took to survive the pitfalls. I will discuss my all-time favorites, such as Nina Hartley, Shanna McCullough and Lilly Marlene. I’ll also include my worst directing experience ever, with a woman who became one of the biggest stars of the late 1980s.