Starlets or Harlots? Part 1: How Video created Teenage Tycoons

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, from SKINFLICKS, 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.