Candida Royalle, who died in her Long Island home September 7 after a 5-year struggle with ovarian cancer, wore many hats in her remarkable career. She is remembered for her arresting performances as a Golden Age porn actress, as a pioneering director who eschewed “money shots” in favor of female pleasure on film, as a savvy and thoughtful businessperson and marketer of both her films and the Natural Contours line of sex toys, as a supporter of her friends and their work in the porn star support group Club 90, and as a mentor. She was 64.
“I miss her already,” writes Petra Joy in a beautiful tribute in London’s Telegraph. Joy was one of many of Royalle’s mentees, women whose careers she supported and who treasured the friendship of a private woman with a beloved public persona.
Born Candice Vadala in Brooklyn on October 15, 1950, Royalle studied voice and dance from childhood. “She was a fabulous singer and dancer,” says director, author, and sex educator Jamye Waxman, who first met Royalle as a guest on a radio show Waxman produced in 1998. “Before she got really sick, she was in a choir called the Long Island Sound. That part of her was never far away.”
Royalle began performing in 1975 in films like “Outlaw Ladies” and “Hot And Saucy Pizza Girls” where she, like contemporary and friend Veronica Hart, distinguished herself as both sexy and smart, a combo that made Royalle’s name a trusted one when she began directing nine years later.
But the porn world in 1984 was still a boys’ club, and the actress who performed under the names Candace DeCarlo, Kathy Silverman, Bettina Mia, Sharon Lucas, Cyntnia Pleschette, Candice Royalle, Candita Royalle, Candida Royale, Jeanne Toller, Candice Chambers, Candice Ball, and Mary Pearson (among others!) had a tough time at first being taken seriously.
“[Producers] didn’t even notice when [performers] left [porn],” Royalle told me in 2014. “It was so thankless. Imagine starting as a director in that world. One guy went behind my back to tell financiers that they’d lose money because I wouldn’t show facial cumshots. Note that I’m here and he’s not.”
Royalle acknowledged that there was something missing in her life when she got into porn. Her mother left her family when Candice was 18 months old. Royalle told me that this made her aware of “a deep wound if even your mother leaves you.” Royalle’s search for her mother (who, it turns out, also died of ovarian cancer) is the subject of the documentary “While You Were Gone: The Untold Story of Candida Royalle,” which is still in production.
It was the understanding that there was something missing, the need for support, and the reality that a life in the porn world can be an excluding one that sparked what would become known as Club 90, a regular gathering of female performers that started with Veronica Hart‘s baby shower in 1983 and which also included Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Vera, who was present at Royalle’s passing.
“We got together as girlfriends,” Hart said in 2014, “and quickly realized we had a deeper need for this.”
“Candida marketed her first several movies herself before she got distribution with Adam & Eve,” says Waxman of Royalle’s Femme Productions, which was a trailblazing effort in porn for women, releasing female-friendly erotica like “Stud Hunters.”
And it was Royalle’s ability to wipe the semen off the face of erotica that made her a favorite among sex educators, who saw porn as a parody of sexuality.
“Candida bridged the gap long before other sex educators,” says Waxman, who noted that for many years it was only Royalle’s productions that were sold at gatherings of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT).
Perhaps in comparison with more flamboyant peers like Sprinkle, Royalle seemed private. Indeed, Waxman says, Royalle kept her diagnosis secret at first and, when it became clear that she was not going to get better, that, too.
“But you need help when you get cancer,” Waxman says, “and she eventually accepted that people wanted to help her. She was really strong and independent and had a hard time asking for help. But she helped so many people. People were fighting for shifts (at her bedside).”
Royalle moved to a farmhouse she loved in the northern Long Island town of Mattituck in the mid-2000s. This is where she died on September 7, Sprinkle writes in a facebook message, “with the birds she loved singing outside her window, with her three cats on her bed, and while breathing the sweet and salty ocean air.”
See also: Candida Royalle