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 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.”
—————

Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 3:

Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 1: Questions

On the Larry King Show (July 14, 2003) Traci Lords made the following claims about her career in porn:

“I was stoned for about three years, from fifteen to eighteen…”

“In that three-year period, you know, I made maybe $40,000 or something.” 

KING: A picture, $40,000…

LORDS: No.

KING: Total?

LORDS: For three years, yes.

———————

Was Traci Lords a child-victim, drugged, exploited, and financially ripped off?

Or was she an opportunistic child-savant, wise beyond her years, using the porn industry as a fast-track to wealth?

Could the answer to both of these questions be “True”?

The Traci Lords story, as I saw it, had so many different facets, that trying to condense it all into a couple of blog posts would be impossible. So I have decided to post–in a series–the entire 24-page chapter from SKINFLICKS.

Instead of my usual pace of roughly one post a week, I will let no more than a couple days lapse between entries from this chapter.

——————————

Chapter 12

THE GODDESS
1986 – 1990s

“She’s perfect,” sighed lovestruck stud Tom Byron. “I mean, every girl in this business has some kind of flaw. Like she might be a bitch, or does too much coke, or has a saggy ass–something. But Traci…she doesn’t have a single fault. She’s perfect in every way.”

Except two. For one thing, she didn’t have a smile. Something in her cheek lines made it almost a sneer–a “snile.” Traci Lords’ second flaw was much worse; it nearly destroyed an industry. It caused busts, bankruptcies and losses in the millions. It brought a Federal push to throw most of America’s adult movie producers in prison.

It was commercial pornography’s worst scandal and it came at the worst possible time: with Attorney General Ed Meese urging anti-porn activism and the industry mired in the “Smut Glut.”

The news that porn’s top star was underaged “went through the industry like a plague through the Middle Ages,” said Adult Film and Video Association attorney John Weston. There was a scramble to remove hundreds of thousands of videotapes, films and magazines from circulation before the police could pounce on them.

“Coming as it does on the heels of the Meese Report,” Weston said, “it’s hard to believe the two are not related.”

“Talk about timing,” wrote Mitchell Brothers star Missy Manners in her Spectator column, “I’m not so sure it’s just a coincidence.”

For the Meese Commission, it was “proof” of their contention that child porn was a major part of the commercial industry.

Under Federal law, anyone connected with a Traci Lords shoot was guilty of a felony. Hundreds of grips, gofers and gaffers, as well as producers, directors, agents, writers, make-up artists and caterers faced long prison terms, loss of assets, and fines guaranteed to keep them poor for life.

“If the Traci Lords case is lost,” Weston said, “with the strictest liability of the law enforced, the government would then have the power to wipe out the industry.”

Was the industry at fault? Could a fifteen year old girl rise to the top of the porn world without anyone suspecting her true age? Was she sophisticated enough to bamboozle Penthouse, the U.S. Government, and the entire porn industry? To spend two years dashing from set to set, yet find time to invest her earnings wisely enough to be “set for life?” To beat alleged IRS and forged passport felony violations? And, finally, to parlay the age fiasco into Hollywood success?

Questions about adult “advisors” knowingly promoting a minor in porn went unanswered. Was she really a runaway from Ohio whose mother turned her in after seeing her picture in a TV special on the Meese Report? Or did she live in Redondo Beach with her mother who secretly managed her career?

Industry skeptics, including her agent Jim South, didn’t believe she was really underaged. They saw the whole thing as a ploy to prevent all existing Traci Lords tapes from competing with the products of her new company (shot after she supposedly turned eighteen).

What is the real Traci Lords story?

I caught a glimpse of it: My experience directing Lords and my trade with her business partners reveal a saga of mutual exploitation, of a driven, ambitious beauty hell-bent on getting rich, and of those who misused her and forced a devastating showdown.

——————-

Next: Lords, Lies and Videotape Part 2: A Star is Porn

(I will post no photos of Lords because her signature on release forms are not legal, since she was allegedly a minor using a false ID.)

 

 

 

 

How Three Movies I Made Became Instant Child Pornography

“She’s perfect,” sighed lovestruck stud Tom Byron. “I mean, every girl in this business has some kind of flaw. Like she might be a bitch, or does too much coke, or has a saggy ass-something. But Traci…she doesn’t have a single fault. She’s perfect in every way.”

The above quote, from SKINFLICKS, was uttered when I was casting Physical II, the sequel to our best-seller, Physical.  Byron’s co-star was the woman of his dreams–and the dreams of millions of porn fans.

She was the hottest thing in adult video and she would turn out to be the worst thing that ever happened to the world of porn.

But I didn’t know that when I shot Traci Lords in 1985’s Physical II, Dirty Pictures and The Reincarnation of Don Juan.  If someone had told me that she was under 18 during those productions, I would have retorted, “Can I get some of what you’re smoking?”

For one thing, Christie E. Nussman (Lord’s false “real” name) seemed to be the most mature and competent 22-year-old I’d ever met.  Though she had first read the script on the flight from L.A. to San Francisco, she knew her lines perfectly–and everyone else’s, too.  She was a perfectionist in everything from hygiene to her hyperventilated love screams.  From a director’s standpoint, she was a dream to work with.  The nightmare was still to come.

(Passages from SKINFLICKS are in italics.)

Could a fifteen year old girl rise to the top of the porn world without anyone suspecting her true age? Was she sophisticated enough to bamboozle Penthouse, the U.S. Government, and the entire porn industry? To spend two years dashing from set to set, yet find time to invest her earnings wisely enough to be “set for life?” To beat alleged IRS and forged passport felony violations? And, finally, to parlay the age fiasco into Hollywood success?

During a wardrobe malfunction, I got to hear her spiel.

Then came the problem of Traci’s dress, a red mini covered with sequins that went everywhere. As director, responsible for visual details, I assigned myself the task of picking them out of her pubes, enduring taunts of “Tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.” Lying on the bed with her legs spread wide, Traci went into her press-release bio: She was 22 years old. She was from Las Vegas. Her stepfather had introduced her to the business.

All lies.  But well-told.

And why would she sabotage her lucrative career by finally telling the truth?  (If indeed it was the truth.)

Next: Shooting Traci Lords (with a camera): Truth vs Fiction in 1986