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?”

# # #


The War on Porn: The Declaration

Like Moses hoisting the stone tablets that contained the Ten Commandments, Attorney General Ed Meese hefted two thick blue books that were meant to save his people from the evils of pornography.  These volumes, the 1986 Attorney General’s Commission Report on Pornography, contained details of porn that most fans would never encounter: bestiality, child sex, extreme S and M, and such aberrations as asphyxiation, excretions, necrophilia, sweat sniffing, self-castration and toenail clipping collecting.  Did the A.G. want to cleanse the nation of sick stuff and leave good, healthy all-American erotica alone?


The first targets of his newly-appointed Commission were magazines such as Playboy and Penthouse.  The Commission’s infamous “7-Eleven letter”–on Justice Department stationery—scared 17,000 convenience stores into dropping (temporarily) all magazines containing nudity. For the forces behind the Meese Commission anything related to sex was evil.

In the early 1980s, the Religious Right had a hissy fit over porn videos appearing in shopping malls. Having helped Reagan get elected, these crusaders demanded quid pro quo.  To please them, the Meese Commission was formed, and its eleven members made a highly-publicized excursion through the porno underbelly of America.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics. ) Calling the trek “a surrealist mystery tour of sexual perversity,” Time magazine ran a photo of Chairman Hudson emerging from a dark den of peep-show booths in a Houston porn shop, shoulders slumped, tie askew, lips a thin hard line and his sweaty pate gleaming with reflected neon.  During their visit to three Houston arcades, the Commission’s vice cop tour guide had yanked open the door of one of the booths to expose two startled patrons in the midst of fellatio.  “And here,” droned the guide, “we have two men engaged in the act of oral copulation.” Before leaving, the group bought one magazine: Young Girls in Bondage. “It is as if by finding the single most despicable scene of sexual conduct ever photographed,” said ACLU legislative counsel Barry Lynn, “the commission would be justified in urging the suppression of all sexually oriented material.”

Reagan’s War on Porn erupted just as I was selling the rights to Superior Video’s titles.  I was retiring from porn and beginning to transcribe my notes for SKINFLICKS.  I bought a copy of the Commission’s Report for $35. This encyclopedia of sexual grotesquery became a Government Printing Office best seller, going into a third 1500-copy run. (“4500 of a number,” cracked one porn publisher. “We should all be so lucky.”)

Few took the Report seriously. “Little Official Alarm Over Porno Report” went a headline in Video Extra magazine, which quoted Art Ross, a VSDA director: “It’ll remain a hot topic and a nine-day wonder until something else comes along.”  “Absurd but not threatening” was The Washington Post’s assessment.  The pundits were wrong—extremely wrong!

Meese’s vow that “the cancer of pornography” would be “pursued with a vengeance and prosecuted to the hilt” sounded like some grand mullah’s call for a holy war.

And war it was.

Like a major military campaign this war had many fronts: battles were fought in streets, businesses, churches, courtrooms, convention halls, police stations, prisons and private dwellings.  Spies infiltrated enemy camps and compiled hit lists. Troops with assault rifles smashed into homes.  Fortunes were plundered; children taken from their parents.  Buildings were burned and government forces threw volumes of books into bonfires. Laws were passed against freedoms previously taken for granted.

As the War on Porn raged throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, my attention was split between writing about the porn industry and keeping track of efforts to snuff  it out.  I relied on Adult Video News for the most current updates.  That magazine became the most important source of information for video retailers trying to stay out of jail.  They needed answers to the Big Question: What’s illegal?

At the unveiling of the Commission’s big blue books, that question caused confusion. A journalist asked the Attorney General if the Report would condemn the Spirit of Justice statue behind him as obscene. Meese turned to look at the aluminum female figure with one bared breast.  He stammered that he didn’t know; he hadn’t yet read the report (which had been available to him for over a month).  Somebody put a coat on that lady!

The War on Porn is behind us now.  Could it happen again?  That was a campaign promise of presidential wanna-be Rick Santorum. And the winds of politics blow in many directions.

Periodically, this blog will address aspects of the Porn War, raising that maddening question: WHAT CONSTITUTES OBSCENITY?

Comments are invited.