“She had turned her back on the adult industry, but Hepatitis C had destroyed her liver, and she needed a new one. Her new feminist friends turned their backs on her, but it was her porn fans who bought her the liver.”
Sprinkle, along with several other actresses from Porn’s Golden Age of the 70’s and 80’s, is greeting a crush of fans at Hollywood’s Larry Edmund’s bookstore. She is there promoting Jill Nelson’s exhaustively detailed oral history Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985.
Nelson herself is there. An unassuming Canadian with salt and pepper hair, she made significant inroads into the porn industry in 2008 with her first book (co-written with Jennifer Sugar), John Holmes: A Life Measured In Inches (Second Edition).
“I talked with many of these women then about John Holmes,” Nelson says, “and knew there was so much more to tell.”
And what stories they have. Joining Sprinkle on the makeshift dais are a dozen women who helped change popular culture, and whose stories haven’t been collected in one place until now. Serena, Nina Hartley, Laurie Holmes (who met and married John Holmes when she was the performer known as Misti Dawn}, Russ Meyers siren Kitten Natividad, “Taboo”‘s Kay Parker, Rhonda Jo Petty (who traded on her resemblance to Farrah Fawcett, and who was sued because of it), “Exhausted” director Julia St. Vincent, screenwriter Raven Touchstone, and Veronica Hart share stories for two hours to a room that is, but for them, 95 percent male.
Among them are pioneering pornographers Richard Pacheco, Tony Montana, Bob Chinn, and Roy Karch, who directed Serena in one of porn’s first directly-on-videotape productions, 1979’s “The Reincarnation of Serena.”
“Annette Haven told me, ‘This industry is a hundred times harder for women than me,'” says Pacheco, addressing the dais. “It’s true. Maybe you got paid more…for our part, we had the good opportunity for intimacy with beautiful women.”
For many on stage and in the audience, there is a feeling of nostalgia and loss, as if it could never be that way again. Some of the women rarely talk. Serena and Kay Parker say barely a word. Nelson says that some women she wanted to talk with are unreachable or wanted to put that part of their lives behind them.
Knowing that porn stardom is much different now than it was in the 1970s and 1980s, I ask what it is like interacting with fans.
“Fans are so polite,” says Nina Hartley, who got in the business in 1984 and, unlike most of the women interviewed for “Golden Goddesses,” never left. “I have to tell them to squeeze my ass.”
But Veronica Hart tells a different story.
“[Years ago] I was walking with my baby and a man started telling me about blowjobs,” says Veronica Hart. “That was the worst one.”
Elaborating on her Linda Lovelace story, Sprinkle says that her fans sent her money to help rebuild from a fire 15 years ago.
Fans’ motives might be different, but it is a natural tendency to want a beautiful and seemingly accessible woman to show gratitude. We can see this reflected in current porn stars’ publishing their Amazon wishlists.
Many on the panel talked with longing about the camaraderie on set and the budgets that allowed for shoots to feel like vacations.
“Do you remember that little man-made island near Sausalito?” Hartley asks.
From the audience, Pacheco thinks he remembers the place.
“We shot ‘The Seven Seductions of Madame Lau’ there,” he says. “It was me and Kay Parker and about 7,000 mosquitoes.”
Veronica Hart has been working as a production manager for several years, most recently at Mile High Media. “We shoot things like ‘My Mother’s Best Friend’ and ‘My Daughter’s Boyfriend,'” she says. “Crazy stuff.”
I think about how taboo the series “Taboo” was, in which Kay Parker starred as a stepmother incapable of keeping her passions out of the family, and that was the early 1980s. One thing that is striking about the audience (aside from Nelson’s college-age daughter and Petty’s daughters, I’m sure I’m the youngest person there, which is a feeling I never have on porn sets) and panel is the distance between them and today’s porn world.
Unless we consider Nina Hartley herself, porn has no elder statesman program.
I have not yet read “Golden Goddesses,” an even weightier tome than Nelson’s John Holmes book at 800-plus pages, but I can’t wait. In fact, I could read a whole book about Rhonda Jo Petty who, for me, was the evening’s breakout star.
“I met Charlie Manson when I was 13,” she says (and no one asks her why she met Charles Manson at age 13, but I bet it’s in the book), “and then I’m on set for Playboy and it’s Deborah Tate (Manson gang victim Sharon Tate’s sister) who’s doing my makeup. My life is full of crazy stories. I was a loose cannon.”
The evening breaks up when Julia St. Vincent, itchy for the past half hour, slips out for a cigarette. The panelists pose for photographs—some reluctantly—and head out, alone or in pairs, onto Hollywood Blvd. Nina Hartley squeezes my ass, Kay Parker chats briefly with her soft London accent, fans crowd around Sprinkle, who is promoting an “Ecosexual” art opening the next day.
These women deserve a week of packed houses at the nearby Egyptian theatre, but this crowd is respectful and thoughtful, and that’s good to see, even if there’s no residuals.
A man from the bookstore audience asks, “Was it ever mentioned in your contract that —”
Hartley cuts him off.
“Contract?” she says. “That was hi-larious.”
Previously on Porn Valley Observed: John Holmes book also “Measured in Inches”; Kay Parker—The first “Taboo” is the deepest; Annie Sprinkle invites the Moon to her marriage; “Nina Loves Ron“: Raven Touchstone’s “Shared Wives”; “Insatiable” at 30; John Holmes still isn’t “Exhausted”; John Holmes tells his own story in “Porn King”