I love pets. Especially Pets of the Month.
Things aren’t the way they used to be. Take Playboy. The magazine no longer shows nudity (but the circulation is up — go figure) and its iconic Holmby Hills Mansion isn’t even owned by Playboy anymore. Hugh Hefner is a tenant like a resident ghost, wandering the halls of a brand. I would make a straight-to-video horror movie called “The Haunting of Holmby Hills House” if only Peter Coyote and Ann Jillian would return my calls. Meanwhile Playboy’s racier counterpart Penthouse has gone through multiple owners (including proto-hookup site Adult Friend Finder) and is now wholly owned by the dynamic and masterful porn veteran Kelly Holland. Penthouse still shows nudity (and not the Vaseline-clouded Bob Guccione variety), so the world isn’t totally going to hell.
At the same time, Penthouse is itself no longer as sordid as it once was, reflecting the fact that the world now turns to the internet for its hardcore pornography and the former tentpoles (ahem) of men’s magazines need to be a little more SFW.
[A note on the ridiculous concept of Safe for Work: I live and work in liberal Southern California and, aside from when I had jobs in buildings in which pornography was actually made, nothing branded “Safe for Work” was remotely safe for work. What kind of degraded fleshpit allows one to look at the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue at work? Can I read someone’s sex advice column from the breakroom at my job in the U.S. Senate? I would like to use Academic America’s favorite term, “Problematic,” to label everything that was once called NSFW or SFW, because while “Not Safe for Work” is useful, it suggests that everything without visible nipples and anal penetration must, by deduction, be OK. Which is a lie. My boss at CVS isn’t going to not fire me just because the underwear ads I’m looking at don’t show vulvular cleft.]
I was in a Porn frame of mind when I wandered into a rented Beverly Hills home recently to attend a Secret Porn Shoot. It was secret because the neighbors weren’t to know that the owners permit adult material to be shot there, even though pornography — let’s face it — is a lot more respectable than the devilry that built most of the homes in that neighborhood. That is where I met February Penthouse Pet of the Month Darcie Dolce, who graciously assented to my handling her jewelry.
“I think the Penthouse key is classier than the Playboy bunny as a logo,” says Dolce, who is a Girls-Only performer. “It makes people think. It’s an invitation.”
I need to make clear that Dolce was not on the porn set as a representative of Penthouse, but as a Girls-Only performer managed by VIP Connect, an adult talent agency owned by former performer Shy Love. Even though this was not a Penthouse shoot, Penthouse has always been the pornier of the two publications, and Dolce was here to sex up another lady.
Except that didn’t happen. When I got there I was informed that the makeup artist had cancelled, so the breakfast table was ringed by several women waiting for their drivers to re-navigate the canyons and take them home. For the level of Secret Porn Shoot that this was, the production would rather send talent home than risk self-applied makeup.
This is important to consider. Many porn shoots are slam-bang, fly-by-night affairs shot on HD cameras that capture every sag, pore, and sloppy makeup-cake. This particular one was not like that, and someone like Dolce also knows that there was no goddamn way she was going to perform without being properly attended to cosmetically.
So we talked while she waited for her fiancee (also an employee at her talent agency) to pick her up.
Gram: You’re a Girls-Only performer. Has that always been the case?
Darcie Dolce: Almost, but even off-camera I’ve only had two male sexual partners — and one is my fiancee.
Gram: I’m all about consent. May I touch your Penthouse key?
Dolce: Sure! It’s white gold.
(I touch the key dangling from her neck and it is pleasantly heavy. I do not tell her that I once bought someone a wedding ring made of white gold, because for just a second I forgot that person’s name. Oh my fucking God. Then I take a video of our conversation that, unbeknownst to me, cuts out after exactly one second. I could not appear more professional if I was the Governor of New Jersey.)
Gram: What does this key mean to you?
Dolce: I think it’s elegant. The weird thing is, it’s not as well-known. But you see someone with a Playboy bunny and you’re not sure if the person has anything to do with Playboy. It could be a guy! But the Penthouse key is just given to the models. And some people know (the logo) and some people don’t, so it’s always a conversation.
I remember stealing a Penthouse from my older brother’s collection and that one issue got me through a year of college. It was the October 1985 issue with Jennifer James on the cover. I thought the cover was clever because the model was just as impressed with herself as the readers were.
(Much later there would be another Jennifer James in porn. She was a director who happened to be a pre-op transsexual. For a moment, prior to interviewing her for the magazine XBiz ten years ago, I thought the two might be the same person. This was not the case.)
Gram: …and that issue got me through a year of college. How are today’s Penthouse Pets different from the ones 30 years ago?
Dolce: Well, there’s an actual porn connection now, I’m not afraid to say I smoke a little weed (later, her fiancee shows up wearing a t-shirt with the logo of his dispensary), and I’m a DJ.
Dolce had to go. Her Penthouse spread looks great. I thought about how Penthouse models of three decades ago probably got a little more mileage from their pictorials but at the same time didn’t have as many irons in the fire as their modern contemporaries. The keys are the same, though.
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: Peter O’Toole’s Porn Valley contributions; Scenes from the class struggle in Playboy’s Penthouse; Nadine Sage is not just some pubic hair, damn it
See also: Darcie Dolce, Penthouse