Being for the benefit of Nina Hartley or: Why it pays to throw good money after bad girls

At a small gathering attended by friends and fans from her three decades in the adult industry, Nina Hartley collected donations to smooth recovery of her upcoming surgery.

“Of all the people in all the world,” she said from the stage of North Hollywood’s new Federal Bar, “we make their dreams real, and that makes us very powerful.”

And of all the porn performers who have passed through the crucible of the public’s perception of the adult industry to emerge as an educator and cultural icon, Hartley again demonstrated a graciousness that recommends the business she chose.

Hosted by James Bartholet and attended by performers like Aiden Starr, Sonya Sage, director Will Ryder, and numerous fans, the event caps a few weeks of grassroots organizing on Hartley’s behalf; she was diagnosed with a non-cancerous tumor in her uterus that needs removal and, while insurance is taking care of that, it doesn’t cover the time she’ll be out of work.

Hartley’s is not the first porn star benefit.

When Asia Carrera’s husband died, she alerted friends and fans on her website that she needed help. When Nicki Hunter was diagnosed with cancer, the porn community held several benefits. Recently, Burning Angel performer Jessie Lee was critically injured in a car crash and friends and fellow performers organized events to defray medical expenses.

I go to a lot of benefits each year. My band plays at them or I attend as an individual. These affairs tend to be Hollywood events and all concern medical expenses. But it’s only in the porn community that I hear any noise about this or that person being indecorous in asking for money, or that he or she is somehow running a scam, or that the individual should have prepared better.

While an adult film career can be lucrative, it is hardly ever stable. Unlike their Hollywood counterparts, porn performers do not get residuals from their movies, nor are they paid again when their scenes are recompiled, re-released, sold to magazines, or streamed. While contract stars may make between $60k and $75k a year, and a particularly popular performer upwards of $100,000 per annum for a few years’ run, that is not true of the majority of porn performers, whose shelf life diminishes rapidly and who may choose to supplement their income by feature dancing or escorting.

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Last year, Nina Hartley was among the few porn performers who benefited from material she was already paid for: she was paid for her work in P.T. Anderson’s 1997 “Boogie Nights.” Lexington Steele doubtless cashed a small residual check for his appearance on “Weeds,” a handful of performers probably got a small check for limited-dialogue stints on “Californication,” Stormy Daniels got some “40-year-Old Virgin” money, and Tommy Gunn and Sasha Grey collected checks for recent work on “Entourage.”

It bears repeating in all occupations that it is prudent to save one’s money, but it is also true that most adult performers, as Hartley might paraphrase, do a job that is recognized all over the world and for which they are not compensated commensurate with the exposure, or the profits their work has generated. The majority of porn stars are not rich, and I know less than a handful who ever were.

“Jenna [Jameson] managed to walk away with some money which would be considered modest at best by Hollywood standards,” says Ernest Greene, a Hustler editor, director, and Nina’s husband. “And Seka, by virtue of being early to the game and good with finances, has set herself up nicely. Candida Royalle made the transition from performer to producer when that was still profitable and has done well but is hardly rich. After that the list fades away.”

Greene compared this to men in the adult industry.

“On the guy side it’s a different story,” Greene says. “Because some of the guys were able to get behind the camera while still young, a few have truly prospered. {Evil Angel’s John} Stagliano comes to mind. P.T. {Paul Thomas} of course. John Leslie was at least able to retire for a short time before the end.”

Of course, $100,000 or even $50,000 a year is a pretty good gig if you’re young, single, and healthy. And several savvy performers have managed to make their money and leave the business before their earning potential dwindled. Porn, also, is not necessarily a career that one gets better at, or at least one that substantially rewards skill over the simple act of being naked.

Perhaps the view gets muddied in an environment where performers demand tribute via their Amazon wishlists or flaunt temporary invincibility simply by being young and fresh in consumerist Los Angeles, but it makes sense that someone does not ask for help unless other resources have been exhausted.

Hartley and Greene both support unionization of porn performers and some kind of pension plan, but they approach the notion with different levels of enthusiasm about its success.

“Health insurance and pension plans that come with unionization [have] been attempted here with no success many times,” Greene says. “Neither the players and crews it would benefit, nor the companies that would ultimately be better off for having a more stable working population, would reliably support such a radical notion.”

“These people are my family,” Hartley, who recently lost her father, says. “And I really feel supported. I like seeing them without having to have a benefit, of course.”

To donate to Hartley’s recovery, click here.

Previously on Porn Valley Observed: 25 years of “Nina Hartley”
See also: Nina Hartley, Nina donation link

One thought on “Being for the benefit of Nina Hartley or: Why it pays to throw good money after bad girls

  1. I wish Nina well. I also have to agree that porn performers should have residuals and health insurance in general — although I question how you would pay residuals on internet porn. Would you pay by the view or by the number of members of the site that the scene is on? Unfortunately, residuals on internet sites would cause the cost of the membership to increase substantially and possibly cause an increase in pirating of content (which is already rampant). As I said, I agree that performers should be paid better, but you do have to think of the consequences of instituting residual payments on internet porn. I wish I had an idea on how to do that without increasing prices and pirating of content. Please feel free to comment below.

    As for Nina, I hope your surgery is successful and that your recovery is short, relatively pain-free and that you are able to come back to work soon.

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