The golden age of pornography would begin one Monday evening in the summer of 1972, when a small local picture shot over a few days with a cast of unknown actors was released with little fanfare, yet its explicit unsimulated sex scenes and outrageous title soon garnered attention, and by the end of its theatrical run it had become a box office sensation. For as long as there has been cinema, there has been an audience that has lusted after the sight of naked flesh, of becoming aroused by the female form, but strict censorship regulations and protests from the moral majority had kept it hidden from the masses like a dirty little secret. But the unexpected success of Deep Throat, released during the same season as The Godfather and Deliverance, ushered in a new era of sexually explicit motion pictures that would culminate in legal trials, accusations of abuse and a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Few will admit it, but the desire to watch complete strangers engaging in all manner of graphic sexual acts is a guilty pleasure that most people enjoy, and the profits that pornography earns each year proves once and for all that sex sells.

‘Pornography is big business: an industry that earns an estimated $57b worldwide annually; $20b just for adult movies in the U.S., where some eight-hundred million videos are rented each year,’ wrote Time in their 2005 article When Porno Was Chic. ‘There’s a lot of porn out there. But nobody’s calling it art. Or even, technically, film. Porn is a commodity, with no more pretension to art than the most mindless kiddie show. For the weary businessman it’s just a combination of Viagra and Ambien. How drab this seems compared to the heady days of the early seventies, when, ‘There was something exciting about pornography,’ as Norman Mailer says in the new documentary Inside Deep Throat. ‘It lived in some mid-world between crime and art. And it was adventurous.’ Porn films preoccupied critics, cops, and the courts. Often financed by Mafia families, they attracted the crusading instincts of local, state and federal prosecutors, who shut down the films and secured the conviction of one actor. They were directed by men who could fancy themselves as artists, and starred off-Broadway actors as well as the occasional gifted ingénue; like Linda Lovelace, star of the movie that created the craze – and the phrase – ‘porno chic,’ Deep Throat.’

But as with any lucrative business, the moment the adult industry became a profitable enterprise, criminal organisations wasted no time in exploiting its potential. The Mafia began to exert their influence over the independent producers, and when these low-budget entrepreneurs refused to fall in line, enforcers exacted their own brand of street justice. ‘In less than four years, organised crime families have made pornography their fastest-growing new racket,’ revealed the New York Times in 1972. ‘While it does not approach such staples as gambling, loan-sharking or narcotics in earnings, according to law enforcement officials, it has surpassed all the rackets the families have developed in the last decade. In New York, organised crime dominates the production and distribution of pornographic movies, books and magazines, controls many of the stores that sell these materials and is now moving in on the growing number of ‘massage parlours,’ the officials said.’

By the time that pornography went mainstream in the early seventies, cinema was barely seventy-five years old, and through the decades the portrayal of sexuality had evolved from black-and-white peep shows of the early twentieth century to the softcore sex comedies of the sixties. Changes in both public tastes and censorship had forced the industry to grow and adapt, moving with the times until, on 12 June 1972, patrons at the New Mature World Theatre in New York’s Times Square watched with dumbfounded fascination as a twenty-three-year-old actress took an erect penis deep into her mouth in the surprise cinematic event of the summer. And when Deep Throat dominated the box office against all expectations, it proved the the industry that was on the cusp of a new era, and that the age of pornography had begun. And as each generation became desensitised to the lurid images on display, forcing filmmakers to repeatedly push the boundaries of taste even further, porno became an even bigger industry than ever before. But before the lesbian sex, the anal penetration and the crowd-pleasing ‘money shot,’ the pornography explosion first began with a whimper.

Sex as visual entertainment has been a prominent aspect of human nature since time began. Whether carved into the walls of the pyramids of ancient Egypt or crafted into the statues of early Greek culture, the naked body and the intimate lives of others has long held a fascination for us. But arguably the precursor to erotic cinema was the striptease, which enjoyed its most celebrated form in the vintage shows of burlesque. Enticing, exotic and designed to tease, the burlesque was a cabaret-style show in which a curvaceous young woman performed a playful strip down to her underwear, often keeping her nipples hidden under a pair of tassels. Its purpose was to excite and provoke, but always with a modicum of restraint and taste. It was not pornography, but its purpose was to arouse. Exotic without being offensive, it attracted men and women alike, and was viewed by many as a respectable art and an enjoyable form of entertainment. Burlesque offered flesh without sex, something that appealed to a more reserved society. Mankind has always been fascinated by nudity, but there have been times throughout history when admitting such desires in polite society was frowned upon.

The roots of the burlesque show can be traced back to the first half of the nineteenth century, decades before the first piece of celluloid was screened before an audience. ‘A burlesque of the 1800s was a play that made fun of popular legitimate plays of the time. There were no chorus lines, comedians or exotic dancers,’ explained Leslie Zemeckis in Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America. ‘From 1840 on, the term burlesque was applied to wide range of comic plays that entertained the lower and middle class in Great Britain. In America, burlesque evolved from the European tradition into grand productions performed by scantily-clad women; burlesque was still poking fun at the upper class, at sex, and at what people were willing to do in the pursuit of obtaining it. It appealed to the masses of working class people who packed theatres every week to see troupes like the British Blondes, a bevy of beauties dressed in tights that shocked New Yorkers with the sight of their exposed limbs.’

In the years between the two world wars, the burlesque show became a source of morale and escapism at a time when the country was attempting to overcome the Great Depression and prohibition. The likes of Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr came to dominate the stages, disgusting government officials but delighting the paying public. ‘It’s no coincidence that the heyday of the pin-up coincided with the end of the Second World War,’ noted burlesque model Dita Von Teese in a 2006 article. ‘People everywhere were celebrating Americana of all kinds, and burlesque was as American as baseball. The new acts’ major influences were movies and their curvy queens Marilyn Monroe and, a little later, Brigitte Bardot. With their big blonde hair, ample breasts and fertile hips, these bombshells inspired women everywhere to exaggerate their own voluptuousness, and the corset was reborn. For an insight into this era, just look at Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It. Except Jayne is so not a girl in this movie! Oh no, she’s every inch a woman; and her hourglass curves blew everyone’s mind. The fifties marked the glorious pinnacle of Hollywood movie glamour. Marilyn Monroe was the most beautiful woman ever to grace the screen. But like Gypsy Rose Lee, Marilyn was a ‘created’ beauty, and the fifties burlesquers were similarly bent on exaggeration. Their personalities, like their chests and hips, were big!’

The girls were attractive, and it was in colour

While censorship in the fifties was strict with regards to violence and the portrayal of sexuality, by the end of the decade American audiences were introduced to a new kind of movie: the nudie-cutie. Making its debut in 1959 with Russ Meyer’s seminal classic The Immoral Mr. Teas, this risqué genre of low-budget pictures offered viewers bare breasts and buttocks, wrapped up in a paper-thin plot to titillate its young audience. ‘Teas was the one that started the whole nudie thing,’ Meyer told author Anne Billson. ‘It fostered another hundred imitators. It was a big, big moneymaker. The girls were attractive, and it was in colour, and it had a little bit of a story about a Peeping Tom. I did several nudies. One was The Immoral Mr. Teas, and then Eve and the Handyman, and then Wild Gals of the Naked West, Erotica and Heavenly Bodies, those were the nudies. And then I did a black-and-white film called Lorna, which was a big breakthrough. There were five films that were significant breakthrough films; Mr. Teas, Lorna, Vixen!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and Supervixens!

Throughout the sixties, Meyer would come to dominate both the nudie-cutie and softcore sexploitation genres, offering audiences an assortment of tough women with curved figures and large breasts. Having forged a creative partnership with his wife, actress and model Eve Meyer, he became a leading figure in the field of masculine women with deep cleavage, giving the world such low-budget classics as Mudhoney, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and his swan song Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. While both Herschell Gordon Lewis and Doris Wishman would also become pioneers of the scene, Meyer remained the leading voice in cinematic sex of the sixties. ‘The Hollywood motion picture business was coping with all sorts of new changes,’ noted Jimmy McDonough in Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer. ‘The studio system was coming to an end, television was a dreaded competitor, and exhibitors had been trying every gimmick to keep audiences coming to theatres, including 3D and various widescreen attempts. The big studios were also turning to adult fare that couldn’t be shown on the family TV; films like The Moon Is Blue, Baby Doll, The Apartment, Psycho, Elmer Gantry and Walk on the Wild Side meant sticking a toe into areas once reserved for the reviled strip of celluloid known as the exploitation film.’

Even as cinema attempted to spread its erotic wings, one man decided to celebrate the female form in print with a magazine that he had christened Playboy. ‘If you’re a man between the ages of eighteen and eighty, Playboy is meant for you,’ declared the introductory piece to the first issue. Making its debut in 1953 with a naked photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe, it was during the free love of the sixties that it came to dominate the world. ‘By the turbulent and affluent sixties, Playboy had become an American institution, as typical for its time and place as the Saturday Evening Post,’ claimed Thomas Weyr in his book Reaching for Paradise: The Playboy Vision of America. ‘Bunnies with their bulging bosoms and pleasantly empty faces reflected a new ritual as accurately as Norman Rockwell’s covers and the reality of small-town America. The hard contours and burnt orange earth tones of Playboy Clubs and ‘pads’ were guidelines in a new elegance and style for millions vaguely dispirited by the neon and plastic garnish of highway and airport.’

Much like Hustler’s Larry Flynt and Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, Hugh Hefner intended to revolutionise the adult industry and society’s conceptions of sexuality when he first unleashed Playboy upon the world. ‘I saw things in growing up in my own home and in society around me that I felt were hurtful and hypocritical. I believe and hope that Playboy played some small part in changing the values, social and sexual, of our time,’ he told NPR in 2007. ‘Men’s magazines in the period immediately after World War Two were almost all outdoor-oriented. They were connected to some extent in the male bonding that came out of a war. And what I tried to create was a magazine for the indoor guy, but focused specifically on the single life; in other words, the period of bachelorhood before you settle down. And that magazine, or that concept for a magazine, was the revelation. That point-of-view is understandable in the context of male-female relations, historically. It is women who have traditionally, historically, been given non-human roles, perceived as simply the daughters of Eve, perceived as either Madonna or whore. And I think that it is the sexual revolution that plays one part in female emancipation.’ But even as Playboy gave America what they really wanted, a new change was coming that would rewrite Hollywood forever.

On 2 April 1930, in an attempt to curb the morally corruptive themes that had begun to infiltrate the American film industry, the Motion Picture Distributors of America unveiled a new rule of ethics created by the body’s president, Will H. Hays, that he called the Production Code. ‘Acts of murder and brutality shall be presented only in such a way as will not inspire imitation,’ declared the Telegraph-Herald and Times-Journal on the day of the announcement. ‘Scenes of passion shall not be introduced when not essential to the plot. The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld.’ For the next thirty-eight years, this code would remain the guiding force for the Hollywood movie industry, curbing the depiction of both sexuality and violence on the screen, but in October 1968 this was finally abolished at the hands of Jack Valenti, the president of the Motion Picture Association of America. ‘We definitely adapt,’ he told Fangoria two decades later. ‘I’m a great believer that, like our constitution, we are amendable. When the winds of change begin to blow, instead of standing there rigid and cracking under the strain, the MPAA bends and fits the times in which it lives, which is why it has lasted so long.’

The abandonment of the Production Code in the late sixties would provide the film industry with the liberation that it had so desperately craved. The old Hollywood was dying; the stars of the forties and fifties were now retiring from the silver screen, legendary directors like Alfred Hitchcock and John Ford had lost touch with their audience, and from the film schools around the country a new generation of filmmakers were emerging. And while they would eventually become the very corporations that they had once tried to rebel against, for a short time during the early seventies, it seemed that anything was possible. ‘By the late sixties and early seventies, if you were young, ambitious and talented, there was no better place to be on Earth than Hollywood,’ said author Peter Biskind in his 1998 tome Easy Riders, Raging Bulls. ‘The new power of directors was legitimised by its own ideology, ‘auteurism.’ The auteur theory was an invention of French critics who maintained that directors are to movies what poets are to poems. The leading American proponent of the auteur theory was Andrew Sarris, who wrote for the Village Voice, and used this pulpit to promote the-then novel idea that the director is the sole author of his work, regardless of whatever contribution the writers, producers or actors may make.’

As Hollywood began to remake itself, now free from the shackles of a draconian censorship, the sexploitation industry also started to evolve, with the coyness of nudie-cutie making way for graphic pornography. This first step would be taken by none other than Andy Warhol. A painter, music producer and avant-garde filmmaker, whose Manhattan studio Factory became the epicentre for the East Coast art scene of the sixties, Warhol had become notorious for challenging the status quo and pushing acceptable tastes to their limits. In 1968 he wrote and directed a low-budget motion picture that signalled the arrival of mainstream pornography, something that he called Blue Movie. Originally conceived under the less commercial title of Fuck, the project was filmed over a single day on a budget of approximately $3,000 and starred Warhol regular Viva. ‘Not surprisingly, the New York City police last week paid a visit to the Andy Warhol Garrick Theatre, where they seized the print of the film and arrested the theatre manager, the projectionist and the ticket seller for possession of obscene materials,’ stated New York critic Vincent Canby in August 1969. ‘The official complaint cites the depiction of separate acts of sexual intercourse in a bedroom and a bathroom.’

The fellatio itself remains off-screen

Shot as the hippie counterculture had spread its influence across the United States and released just two months before the Woodstock festival took place in upstate New York, Blue Movie was intended to be Warhol’s final word on sexuality. ‘The film consists of Viva and Louis Waldon performing approximately two hours of intimacy, including oral sex, vaginal intercourse, and conversation,’ detailed biographer Wayne Koestenbaum. ‘Sex actually takes place; and though this is not the first Warhol film to include ‘live’ sex, his camera’s attitude has shifted away from the impassively fixed distance of Couch, and toward a greater emotional investment in the couple’s intimacy. Sex took place, too, in Tub Girls, in Blow Job and its sound remake, Eating Too Fast, starring the art critic Gregory Battcock. But in Blow Job the fellatio itself remains off-screen, and in Eating Too Fast, although the camera pans down to the crotch, the most surprising conversation is not between the two men having sex, but between Battcock and an unseen friend, who telephones to inform him of a death. In Blue Movie, which ends not with death but with Viva rushing to the camera saying she’s going to vomit, the players are well aware of the camera’s presence.’

It is interesting to note that many of the filmmakers that first exploited the concept of mainstream pornography following the minor notoriety of Blue Movie would later find varied degrees of success in the slasher genre of the early eighties. Yet while both Tom DeSimone and James Bryan remained cult curiosities, arguably the most intriguing of directors to later make their mark on the horror genre was Sean S. Cunningham. Long before Friday the 13th had typecast him as a splatter connoisseur, or even before The Last House on the Left had tarnished his reputation, he was producing pseudo-documentaries and sex education films. Based out of a small office in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, Cunningham’s first foray into the world of cinema had been a small project called The Art of Marriage. ‘The original white-coater, as they were called at the time,’ he told author Maitland McDonagh. ‘A guy comes out in a white coat and says, ‘In the interest of better marital harmony, we’d like to show you these sleazy people with dirty feet rolling around in bed,’ then you cut to the sex. All in the name of education. After that, we did a slightly more accomplished picture called Together, done in a 60 Minutes kind of format.’

Noted for the appearance of a struggling young actress called Marilyn Chambers who, just two years later, would become a pornographic star, Together was ostensibly an erotic hippie picture. ‘Together was shot in a patchwork manner. The film apparently began production under the title Karma Sutra in May of 1970,’ recalled David A. Szulkin in the 1997 retrospective Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left: The Making of a Cult Classic. ‘Cunningham commented, ‘I knew I wanted to make a positive statement about sexual roles, and the essentiality of breaking down people’s hang-ups and shame toward their bodies, but I had no idea that the Together now being show would be the film I would make. I sold shares to many people; we made most of it around Westport, Connecticut, and with very few professional actors. We made the first cut last December (1970), and the film just didn’t work, so we re-shot footage, and re-cut, and finally it came out after a total of five cuts, exactly as we wanted it to.’’

But all these films that depicted sex in a variety of ways were merely a precursor to the main event, a motion picture that would challenge its audience, horrify critics and pack theatres for months to come. Pornography was about to go mainstream and it was all because of one movie, one that emerged from obscurity to become the surprise success of the year. ‘The movie became ‘pornographic chic’ in New York before it was busted,’ reported Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘It is all very well and good for Linda Lovelace, the star of the movie, to advocate sexual freedom; but the energy she brings to her role is less awesome than discouraging. If you have to work this hard at sexual freedom, maybe it isn’t worth the effort.’ For the first time in the history of cinema, critics were being forced to review not only an actor’s performance, but also their sexual abilities and conviction during such intimate acts, and it would be the uncomfortable position that Deep Throat and its successors placed both its audience and critics that caused them to be one of the most debated issues of the decade, and thus one of the most relevant.

Much has been written over the years regarding Deep Throat, speculations and accusations proposed by journalists, feminists, political officials and even those associated with the feature film. Was the leading lady openly abused on-set in front of her fellow cast members and mostly male crew, as she had claimed under oath a decade later, and were her on-screen unsimulated sex scenes nothing more than paid rape? Following her separation from husband and manager Chuck Traynor, Linda Lovelace levelled accusations at both the production of Deep Throat and the adult film industry, believing that they were all complicit in her abuse. Many have rallied to offer support, while others, such as co-star Harry Reems, have dismissed her claims, but the truth behind Deep Throat and the torment that Lovelace allegedly suffered is subjective, depending on which narrative the storyteller wishes to portray. But the sleazy nature of Deep Throat and the lasting effects it would have on its star are undeniable.

‘My name is Linda Marchiano. Linda Lovelace was the name I bore during a two-and-a-half year period of imprisonment,’ she told the Minneapolis City Council during a 1983 hearing on pornography. ‘For those of you who don’t know the name, Linda Lovelace was the victim of this so-called victimless crime. Used and abused by Mr. Traynor, her captor, she was forced through physical, mental, and sexual abuse, and often at gunpoint, and threats of her life to be involved in pornography. Linda Lovelace was not a willing participant, but became the sex freak of the seventies. It all began in 1971. I was recuperating from a near-fatal car accident at my parents’ home in Florida. A girlfriend of mine came to visit me with a person by the name of Mr. Charles Traynor. He came off as a considerate gentleman, asking us what we would like to do and how we would like to spend the afternoon, and opening doors and lighting cigarettes, and all so-called manners of society. Needless to say, I was impressed and started to date him. I was not getting along with my own parents. I was twenty-one and resented being home at 11 o’clock, and to call and say where I was and to call and give the phone number and address where I would be. Here comes the biggest mistake of my life.’

As Lovelace would detail in her 1980 memoir Ordeal, Traynor allegedly began to dominate the young woman and eventually forced her into prostitution. ‘Chuck introduced me to a visitor, an old friend who managed a truck rental business, and my name became Tracy at this point,’ she revealed. ‘’This is Harry,’ Chuck said. ‘I told Harry that you’d make him happy, that you’d do anything he wants to do. So I’m going to split for a while and leave you two kids alone.’ Chuck walked out of the living room and an instant later, I heard the front door slam. I was alone with my first paying customer, my first trick. Harry thumbed through his wallet and fished out two twenty-dollar bills. ‘Chuck said it was forty,’ Harry said. ‘Is forty alright with you?’ ‘I guess so.’ ‘Your name is Tracy, right?’ I nodded. ‘Yeah, well, I was sure glad to hear that Chuck was back in the business. Just like old times.’’

Yet Traynor had long disputed these claims, insisting that Lovelace had always been a willing participant in any sexual acts he had orchestrated, both on and off-screen. ‘I don’t think Linda was a prostitute before I met her, and she really wasn’t one after I met her, either,’ he stated. ‘But she was not an inexperienced little farm girl from northern New York; like she’d have you believe. When I met her, she was dating another married guy, a biker who used to come in my bar all the time. Linda didn’t have any problems with anything back then. She now says that orgies and things that went on were actually set up hooker deals, and that she hated that, and I’d beat her up if she didn’t do it, but that was bullshit. I mean, everyone would just get stoned and party, you know?’ Whether or not Traynor was the monster that Lovelace had claimed remains a source of debate, but whatever the truth, an air of exploitation hung over the production.

The ability to expand her ass big enough to put a fist in

Deep Throat told the unbelievable story of a young woman growing increasingly unsatisfied with her sex life, only to discover that her clitoris is hidden at the back of her throat, meaning that the only way she can achieve an orgasm is by performing fellatio on an assortment of strangers. ‘I wrote the film for Linda,’ director Gerard Damiano revealed two years later. ‘If it hadn’t been for her, this particular skill she had developed, there wouldn’t have been any Deep Throat. At the time, my partners said the title was no good, but I was adamant; I said it would become a household word.’ While Damiano would write the screenplay, it was Traynor that had apparently taught Lovelace the titular skill. ‘I learned the deep throat technique in Japan when I was over there in the marines,’ he said. ‘A buddy of mine and I lived with two hookers who could do deep throat, as well as a lot of other tricks. One had the ability to expand her ass big enough to put a fist in, and she could do the same with her cunt; expand it and tighten it back up to be able to hold your finger.’

For the last fifty years there have been stories of abuse and exploitation within the adult film industry, with either the filmmakers or their minders depicted as the perpetrators. Just how complicit were the directors, producers and actors in this abuse, and how secretive were these incidents from those around them? Did this sexual violence occur behind closed doors or was the industry somewhat a participant in these crimes? ‘The whole story was taken lightly and before long I stopped boring people with it,’ explained Lovelace in her second autobiography Out of Bondage. ‘In those days, the truth could only be found in fragments. Playboy, for example, allowed that Chuck Traynor ‘played a sort of porn Svengali to the early Linda’s Trilby.’ One person who knew the truth was Gerry Damiano, director of Deep Throat. Although Damiano avoids interviews, he was talking about Truck Traynor to a college audience and his remarks found their way into the Boston Phoenix; ‘That man was nothing. He had no personality, no charm, no brains. He was just a user of people and he used Linda. He gave her nothing and abused her. He was very brutal with her. Many times she’d come on the set and be completely black-and-blue.’’

Just how far Traynor abused Lovelace during the early seventies is a truth that both have taken to their graves, but despite the gruelling experience of making Deep Throat, when it was finally released in the summer of 1972, the impact on both the film industry and pop culture was undeniable and unprecedented. Never before had a pornographic motion picture became a Hollywood blockbuster. ‘The film Deep Throat, with its star Linda Lovelace, has grossed over $3.2m in over seventy theatres across the country,’ noted the New York Times in their 21 January 1973 edition. ‘It has gone on trial here and elsewhere in significant obscenity test cases that hinged not on whether explicit sex is depicted – for surely it is – but whether the film is socially redeeming and in conforming with current standards on display. It has also become a symbolic target in Mayor Lindsay’s attempts to rid the Times Square area of commercialised sex. At the time of writing, criminal court Judge Joel J. Tyler is mulling over more than one thousand pages of expert testimony given in a colourful, ten-day non-jury trial before deciding if Deep Throat is obscene. It has drawn an average of five-thousand people weekly to the New Mature World Theatre on 49th Street here, including celebrities, diplomats, critics, businessmen, women alone and dating couples, few of whom, it might be presumed, would previously have gone to see a film of sexual intercourse, fellatio and cunnilingus.’

The cultural impact that surrounded Deep Throat following its overnight success would usher in what historians have come to refer to as the ‘golden age of pornography.’ The explicit imagery that the picture had unleashed upon the unsuspecting public had both shocked and excited in equal measures, and it was this notoriety that had helped to make Deep Throat one of the most debated movies of the decade. ‘America is deep into the Age of Porn. The narrow Puritanism is passing, and few mourn it,’ claimed an article published by Time. ‘But the feeling of relief is mixed with growing unease and doubt: how will the current avalanche of porn change America? Many who oppose censorship now wonder if the mounting task for porn is a symptom of decay, or corrosive boredom, or withdrawal from social concern for obsessive personal pleasures. Even those who argue that it is not harmful, the fear is that the porn plague is in fact invading the privacy of those who want no part of it.’

Even before the hype surrounding Deep Throat had begun to fade, X-rated audiences would receive another dose of explicit erotica in the form of Behind the Green Door. The masterminds behind this opus were siblings Jim and Artie Mitchell, who had carved out a modest career in what was commonly referred to as ‘beaver films.’ Using their San Francisco theatre, the O’Farrell, as their base of operations, the Mitchell brothers had already gained notoriety on the local entertainment scene due to a highly-publicised legal trial, in which they had championed the First Amendment. ‘We had more or less always known what was coming,’ claimed Jim Mitchell. ‘We also had, you know, a laymen’s interest in pornography as students, as everyone else had at the time. So we decided if we were getting arrested for simulated beaver, why not go ahead and run hardcore? That’s what people wanted to see. So soon we realised we needed to make a big, huge feature film to really sort of take it to another level.’

With Linda Lovelace proving to be a major selling point in the success of Deep Throat, the Mitchell brothers realised that if they were to achieve the same kind of box office returns then they would need a leading lady that could cast a spell on their audience. Placing an advert in the San Francisco Chronicle for their ‘major motion picture,’ the casting call attracted all manner of young hopefuls, one of which would catch the eye of Jim Mitchell as she attempted to leave. ‘I had never guessed it was going to be a porno film, so I got a little uptight when I realised it,’ admitted Marilyn Chambers who, aside from her work on Together, had appeared in a minor role in the Barbra Streisand comedy The Owl and the Pussycat. ‘So I met the Mitchell brothers, even though I said I wouldn’t do any fucking in the film, because there were clothed parts to be filled too. They looked me over and tried to talk me into changing my mind. Jim Mitchell said something at the time, which has been repeated by reviewers and audiences all over the country, and I’m flattered every time I hear it. He said, ‘Marilyn, you’re the girl next door. You’re not the simple-assed chicks who suck cock on camera for a living and spend their bread on speed; you are the typical American sweetheart. You’re the face every guys dreams of shoving his cock into but never does because he can’t find you!’’

One aspect of Behind the Green Door that would stand out from its contemporaries was that its creators had made an attempt to develop a cohesive story, instead of merely a collection of sexually explicit vignettes. ‘I was pretty fascinated by the fantasies that they were telling me,’ confessed Chambers in a 2000 interview to promote the Mitchell brothers biopic X-Rated. ‘The way they got hold of this story was, I don’t know if it was the Korean War, but in the trenches the guys would pass around this paper, and each guy would add on to the fantasy. It’s a fantasy of a woman that’s taken against her will to this exotic, erotic elite sex club and loved like she’s never been loved before. So I thought that was really pretty amazing, and these guys would just continue on with the story, writing down their fantasies. So that was how it came about.’ In order to seduce Chambers into the role of the innocent Gloria, both filmmakers attempted to convince the young actress that her character had not been kidnapped and raped, but instead willingly introduced to the ultimate sexual experience. ‘‘That sort of thing isn’t our style,’ Artie added,’ wrote biographer Jim Hubner. ‘‘We’ve always been against violence. The turn-on in our film is that the women enjoy it as much as the men. Maybe even more.’’

A common criticism levelled at pornography is that it is often portrayed through the male gale, focusing on the exploitation and degradation of women. Yet women enjoy sex and indulge in all manner of explicit fantasies, particularly when masturbating, but this is rarely represented in adult films. ‘It hurts to know that no matter who you are as a woman, you can be reduced to a thing to be penetrated. And that men will buy movies about that, and that in many of those movies your humiliation will be the central theme,’ claimed author Robert Jensen in his 2007 analysis Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. ‘It hurts to know that so much of the pornography that men are buying fuses sexual desire with cruelty. It hurts women, and men like it. And it hurts just to know that. Even these women, that have found ways to cope with the injuries from male violence in other places, struggle with that pornography reality. People routinely assume that pornography is such a difficult and diversive issue because it’s about sex. In fact, this culture struggles unsuccessfully with pornography because it is about men’s cruelty to women, and the pleasure men sometimes take in that cruelty.’

However, each person views pornography in a different way, and while not every man enjoys watching it, not every woman is repulsed or feels violated by the graphic images on screen. ‘Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically,’ insisted Wendy McElroy in her own exploration XXX: A Woman’s Right to Pornography. ‘After reading this, anti-pornography – or radical – feminists will consider me a heretic, fit only for burning. Or, to put it in more politically correct terms, I am a woman who is so psychologically damaged by patriarchy that I have fallen in love with my own oppression. In other words, if I enjoy pornography, it is not because I am a unique human being with different preferences. It is because I’m psychologically ill. Anti-pornography feminists try to silence any real discussion on pornography.’ For Chambers, Behind the Green Door encapsulated the unspoken fantasies that most women have but few would admit to. ‘People say to me, ‘Do you have any fantasies left?’ I say, ‘Of course!’ I use the same old ones over and over again, but they’re just as good,’ admitted Chambers in an episode of Midnight Blue. ‘I love to fantasise when I have sex. Not because I’m bored, but because I really dig putting myself in other situations. I love to be submissive and I love to be tied up, all sorts of things.’

She came about seven, eight, nine times, and then she fainted on me

Behind the Green Door would indulge in several popular fantasies that many women may regularly enjoy, commencing with a lesbian orgy during which Gloria stands submissive with her legs spread wide apart, as she enjoys cunnilingus while a crowd watch on with increased arousal. Another sequence saw the naïve young woman dominated by an African-American man, representing the desire to indulge in the pleasures of other ethnicities. ‘I was fucking the hell out of this chick; I was acting like I was ten-thousand Africans making up for that slavery shit,’ recalled co-star Johnny Keyes. ‘Here’s this white woman that the African is fucking to get revenge on all those white motherfuckers that used to rape our mothers and aunts all those years ago, right? That’s what I used as an incentive to fuck Marilyn Chambers. I made love to Marilyn for about an hour-and-forty-three minutes without stopping. She came about seven, eight, nine times, and then she fainted on me.’

While very few pornographic films would aim for a realistic tone, every aspect of Behind the Green Door was intended to evoke the female fantasy, an aspect of the movie that allowed Chambers to become fully immersed in the role. ‘First she’s fondled by several women; they caress her and kiss her and take turns eating her pussy,’ described Chambers in 1975. ‘Then a big black stud wearing white tights with the crotch cut out enters and fucks her forever. In the background is the green door, and when it is opened and Gloria is taken behind it, she encounters two studs on a trapeze, their cocks hard, ready for her to beat off, while sucking off a third, as yet another guy fucks her. It’s the Ringling brothers, Barnum and Bailey act of the big time porno, a circus of sex. And while Gloria is being showered with semen, the club members have an orgy of their own. And that’s about it; all fantasy.’

In an unexpected turn of events for a pornographic movie, Behind the Green Door was screened out-of-competition at the Cannes Film Festival in the French Riviera, and while the audience reaction may have left the filmmakers dumbfounded, its appearance at such a prestigious event lent the picture a certain amount of credibility. ‘At Cannes, we were up at the top of the theatre. After the movie was over, they turned up the house lights,’ said Artie Mitchell. ‘But the people wouldn’t leave. We couldn’t tell if they liked us or hated us. It seemed as we were looking down there, there were all these faces from all over the world just looking up at us. A cold, weird kinda thing. Like they didn’t know where we were coming from at all. I was getting a bit nervous. Then six police officers came in and started working their way up to us. Finally, one drunken Frenchman stood up and started shouting, ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Shit! Shit! Shit!’’

With Deep Throat having become one of the cinematic events of the decade, perhaps it was inevitable that its director would return to the pornographic genre once again for his next project. Behind the Green Door had proved that Deep Throat had not merely been a fluke and that the public were insatiable for hardcore sex, and so little time was wasted in developing another adult film. If there had been one major criticism against the earlier blockbuster, it had been the lack of both plot and character development, and so with this new project, Gerard Damiano felt that his next picture should offer more depth and purpose. But could a pornographic movie ever be considered a work of art, or even a hit with the critics? Last Tango in Paris, Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial erotic drama, had been an attempt to create a respected pornographic film, but that was still a mainstream project with simulated sex scenes, and so could anyone really deliver a pornographic masterpiece?

Taking its name from the forties comedy The Devil and Miss Jones, Damiana’s The Devil in Miss Jones depicted a lonely woman who, unable to cope with the sadness and isolation of her life, commits suicide. Finding herself in a state of purgatory, she is allowed the chance to redeem her soul and a place in the afterlife by returning to Earth and embracing her repressed passion, indulging in all manner of sexual acts in the name of lust. In the role of the eponymous heroine was softcore veteran Georgina Spelvin. ‘I love reciprocity between the screen and audience. I object to a theatre that has no Kleenex wadded up on the floor,’ she told Drummer Magazine’s Jack Fritscher in 1990. ‘Why not go to a moviehouse and fantasise? Women go to the movies and cry. Why shouldn’t a guy cum? Nobody bothers me when I sit and bawl my way through Gone with the Wind. I’m throwing my Kleenex on the floor. Crying is a lot of women’s way of cuming anyhow. So why shouldn’t a man identify with what’s on screen and feel so good he cums in a Kleenex or a sock?’

If pornography is commonly viewed as a product that is sexually explicitly while offering no redeeming value, then how would one categories a sexually explicit film with substance? Would it still be pornography or does its deep themes and complex protagonist elevate its worth into something more significant, like an erotic character piece? ‘Porn auteur Gerard Damiano conceived The Devil in Miss Jones in the aftermath of the unexpected success of his legendary film Deep Throat. With Miss Jones, he hoped to bridge the gap between porn and art films,’ said SF Weekly four decades after its release. ‘Condemned for committing a mortal sin, she bargains for a temporary return to Earth so she can experience all of her sexual fantasies. The film’s downbeat ending found Miss Jones back in Hell, on the verge of achieving a climax that would never come. This was to be her eternity.’ Not everyone was convinced of the movie’s merit, however, with one reviewer criticising that ‘…because it’s not badly photographed and paints such a dismal moral, has been described as bridging the gap between porn and art. It’s also being taken as ‘serious,’ I suspect, because its star Georgina Spelvin is a rather plain-looking woman of a not easily determined age. Her body is not bad, but her expression is that of a mean hooker.’

I came here to jerk off, I didn’t come here to think!

Yet while many critics may dismiss pornography as something without redeeming social values, merely an exercise in penetration, how did the performers approach their roles as hardcore began to dominate the box office? ‘I took the role very seriously and studied the character. I had all kinds of backstory on who she was, where she came from, anything that had happened to her,’ Spelvin would later claim. ‘The fact that there was hardcore sex involved was incidental as far as I was concerned. I was totally deluded. I had made myself believe that I was an actress. I was showing true life as it was, including actual sex as it happened, instead of the phony stuff that you get from Hollywood. That was my raison d’être throughout the whole thing. It was okay; I was okay; I wasn’t a slut. Do I think that Miss Jones has a lot to do with the Catholic guilt thing? Absolutely. You know, pain and pleasure, there’s a thin line. George Carlin said it best; ‘Catholics, they’re always pushing for pain, and I’m always pulling for pleasure.’ The Devil in Miss Jones is pretty existential, especially for a porn film. I think that’s the reason it got the kind of critical notice that it did. But it was not really a successful porn film. I mean, guys came out of that film shaking their heads, saying, ‘I came here to jerk off, I didn’t come here to think!’’

Arguably the most respected supporter of The Devil in Miss Jones was Roger Ebert, a critic that over the years has often been labelled as a prude and detractor of sex and violence in cinema, but in truth he would only dismiss these if he felt they were merely tools for exploitation. ‘It’s the best hardcore porno film I’ve seen, and although I’m not a member of the raincoat brigade, I have seen the highly touted productions like Deep Throat and It Happened in Hollywood,’ he declared in his contemporary review. ‘My notion is that the makers of The Devil in Miss Jones, having laboured in the porno field for some time, made enough money with Deep Throat to finally take a few risks on a more ambitious project. The hardcore stuff aside, they maintain a very nice, moody, even poignant atmosphere that’s a relief after all the frantic fun-seeking of Miss Lovelace and colleagues. The story involves a withdrawn and lonely woman who commits suicide, only to find that she’s gotten herself committed to Hell on a technicality. She convinces the gatekeeper to allow her to go back to earth and really earn her admission to the lower depths, and he agrees. She then pursues the deadly sin of lust for the next hour-and-ten minutes. This sounds banal, of course, but the opening is so well directed and acted that we can almost suspend our disbelief.’

While The Devil in Miss Jones may have become the most critically acclaimed pornographic motion picture of the seventies, it was not without its share of criticism and controversy, proving to be one of the first mainstream adult films to be exposed as having ties to organised crime. ‘An investigation by the New York Times has found that Mafia money and Mafia members are involved in many aspects of the business, including the financing and distribution of films and the ownership of some theatres,’ the newspaper reported in 1973. ‘The popularity of such films has provided a tremendous source of revenue for organised crime. Hardcore films are playing in hundreds of theatres across the country; not only in major cities but also in suburban communities and shopping centres. Moreover, the great success of these pornographic films – Deep Throat to date has made roughly $25m – has given several porno moviemakers with Mafia connections the money to go into the production and distribution of legitimate films. ‘If the trend continues, these people are going to become a major force in the movie industry within a few years,’ said Captain Lawrence Hepburn of the New York Police Department’s organised crime division. ‘The movie business is going to be like the garment business, riddled with Mafia influence.’ Although some filmmakers say Captain Hepburn’s predictions are exaggerated, there are many indications that his basic pessimism is well-founded.’

It could be argued that there are two types of pornography: harcore and softcore, sleazy and erotic, deviant and suggestive. So if both Deep Throat and The Devil in Miss Jones could be considered the former, then the latter may be best personified with Emmanuelle. Directed by French filmmaker Just Jaeckin and adapted from a novel by author Emmanuelle Arsan, the motion picture explored the sexual liberation of a naïve young woman whose erotic adventures in Asia open her up to a whole new world of experiences. The film would transform twenty-one-year-old Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel into a superstar and brought the softcore sex picture a certain degree of respectability. ‘Filmed in superb colour mostly in and around Bangkok, the script centres on the pretty wife of a member of the French Embassy,’ wrote critic A.H. Weiler. ‘Daniel Sarky, as her husband, is a handsome, loving wordly type who has encouraged her to broaden her horizons. So, amid a good deal of nudity, there’s a succession of lesbian bouts with Jeanne Colletin as a fading blonde who is her squash partner and whom doesn’t love, and Marika Green as a statuesque, dominant blonde archaeologist she adores, but who doesn’t really love her. Her husband, on the other hand, it seems, is a mite jealous. So, after a trip to a bordello and a rough, sexy encounter with Miss Colletin, he introduces her to Alain Cuny, the elderly but leading sexual educator in French circles. His courses include a trip to an opium den where she is raped, then to a prizefighter where she is the prize for the winner and, eventually, to his place where he reveals that sex is best with a third party involved.’

Emmanuelle would mark the feature debut of Jaeckin, who returned to the erotic genre on numerous occasions with the likes of The Story of O and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and was adapted for the screen by frequent François Truffaut collaborator Jean-Louis Richard. ‘One day I see a tall Dutch girl; short blonde hair,’ recalled Jaeckin decades later. ‘And I look at her and say, ‘Please, what is your name?’ And she says, ‘I’m Sylvia Kristel.’ And I said, ‘I want to test with you.’ It was exactly the opposite of the girl I tried to find. I don’t know why, but I knew it was her. When we saw the first casting test, we knew altogether she was the right girl. Like her name, she’s a crystal; like crystal means in French: pure. So the purity and naivety of Sylvia was exactly right for the film.’ Kristel, too, would later describe her introduction to the project; ‘I was nervous, but then my boyfriend said, ‘Who is going to watch this film? It will never pass censorship.’ I definitely wanted to escape Holland and I was thinking and dreaming of an international career, so I decided from the first moment on to make it my own.’

Yet while Emmanuelle was released during the commercial heyday of mainstream hardcore pornography, Jaeckin would opt to avoid the explicit nature of the source material. ‘His member had grown so much that it seemed endless, but she finally reached its tip and covered it with the folds of loose skin in the follow of her damp palms before beginning another downward journey, squeezing him tightly again, stretching his foreskin, alternately strangling his tumescent flesh and relaxing her grip on it, massaging it in broad strokes or irritating it with quick, merciless little movements,’ described Arsan in the novel. ‘When his satisfied penis finally disgorged its semen in long, white, odorous spurts, she received it with strange exaltation along her arms, on her bare belly, on her throat, face, and mouth, and in her hair. It seemed that it would never stop. She felt as if it were flowing down her throat, as if she were drinking it. She was seized with an unknown intoxication, a shameless delight. When she let her arm fall, he took hold of her clitoris with his finger tips and brought her to orgasm.’

Emmanuelle, however, took every opportunity to push the boundaries as far as softcore would allow. ‘Today, I will be raped,’ revealed Kristel in her memoir Undressing Emmanuelle: A Life Stripped Bare. ‘I hate this scene. The violence, the physical constraint makes me want to run away. My partner isn’t a professional actor, he’s a handsome young nature chosen for his chiselled body. He doesn’t seem to understand what’s going on. He is bare-chested, wearing a loin cloth. The scene takes place in a smoking den. It’s one of the final stages of the initiatory journey into which Alain Cuny urges me. Opium suffuses the air. The boy is standing about, having a great time already. Jaeckin is communicating with his hands, showing him how he must move, miming the feel of the scene. Emmanuelle refuses this violent act but her greedy body accepts it. My partner nods his head in a sign of bewildered approval. His empty eyes worry me. ‘He hasn’t understood the scene!’ I say. ‘This isn’t okay.’ ‘Don’t get upset, it’s a simple scene, he’s understood fine. This is the movie, love. Let’s do it!’ I love to wriggle around like a fresh fish, turning my head every which way without really struggling. I am ready. ‘Action!’ The young rapist rips off the clothes fettering him and pounces on me as if going to battle.’

Although it lacked the sleazy nature of Deep Throat or the close-up shots of female masturbation of The Devil in Miss Jones, Emmanuelle soon found itself falling foul of the British Board of British Classification. ‘Emmanuelle suffered the lash of censorship,’ explained cult filmmaker Alex Cox in a 2000 article for the Guardian. ‘A scene in a bar – shot by another director, disowned by Jaeckin – was cut by the BBFC, as was a sequence in which Mario encourages the rape of Emmanuelle as part of her sexual ‘education.’ Kristel disliked the scene and refused to play it in an erotic way. ‘I pulled faces,’ she recalls. Today, (BBFC director James) Ferman defends cutting the rape scene. He feels the BBFC can afford greater licence in scenes of consensual sex, but that rape fantasies should be forbidden. He makes his case well, though his view is not shared by feminists such as Linda Ruth Williams or Nadine Strossen, of the American Civil Liberties Union. Emmanuelle was screened uncut in American cinemas: I saw it there a few years later, along with Jaeckin’s banned-in-Britain The Story of O. Neither film left me feeling particularly corrupted.’

The first Emmanuelle film included a vicious rape scene

For Ferman, who succeeded Stephen Murphy’s four-year tenure as the president of the BBFC in June 1975, a position he would retain for the next twenty-four years, one of his primary objectives during the seventies was to combat the rise in commercial pornography. ‘The Board led the movement in 1977 on behalf of the film industry and the local authorities to bring films within the scope of the Obscene Publications Act. This meant that films must be taken as a whole, that artistic merit could be argued in defence, and that the test of criminality was not offensiveness but actual harm to the morality of a significant proportion of the likely audience,’ he explained in a 1979 article for Films Illustrated. ‘The first Emmanuelle film included a vicious rape scene in the last reel in which the heroine, as part of her sexual education, was violently ravished in an opium den, held down screaming by three men while her elderly mentor looked on approvingly from a table nearby. We no longer take rape scenes endorsed by the context of the film, and this scene has now been cut to conform with the Obscene Publications Act, since we believe that the deprave-and-corrupt test applies to any scene which may encourage the imitation or toleration of the antisocial behaviour portrayed.’

But the United Kingdom was not the only country which attempted to impose strict censorship rules on the film, with France, a country renowned for its liberal approach to sexuality, initially refusing to release the picture uncut. ‘The news is bad. Emmanuelle will be restricted to the pornographic cinemas and not granted general release in France,’ recalled Kristel in 2006. ‘The producer refuses to release the film in France under those condemning conditions. We wait. Censorship is a very formal process. The Culture Minister and the Censorship Panel have this to say: ‘Inspired by the novel of the same name, the film endeavours to spread a message of cruel, voluptuous erotic questing which, as well as damaging contemporary values and morals, leads, apparently on purpose, to a questioning of normal human responses. For this reason, the panel considers that it would in any case be subject to an X certificate. But two scenes bringing into question the respect due to the human body – the cigarette scene and an explicit sodomy sequence – seem to the panel to justify in this case a total ban.’ A few months after the death of Georges Pompidou, President Giscard d’Estaing’s censors liked to think themselves more modern and tolerant. Emmanuelle was released on a normal French distribution circuit, with an X certificate, on 26 June 1974.’

If Emmanuelle had a lasting impact, other than the scene in which a woman smokes a cigarette through her vagina, then it is how an erotic picture could launch a softcore franchise, which would boast not only legitimate sequels but also unofficial spinoffs. Among the actresses that stepped into the eponymous role over the subsequent years were Mia Nygren, Krista Allen and Laura Gemser. ‘Capitalising on the success of France’s Emmanuelle in 1974, Italian producers saw a potential box office goldmine and tried to come up with a similar product that could be made cheaply,’ said author Danny Shipka. ‘Working around the copyright issue, since the name Emmanuelle was copyrighted by the French, by dropping one m from the name, Italians were now free to create a series that could provide audiences with the kind of travelogue softcore porn they seemed to enjoy. Working with lower budgets proved somewhat difficult because the French Emmanuelle series adopted an air of sophistication, as opposed to the unusual bump-and-grind of other erotic films, and though they were exploitative in their own right, they dressed up their Eurocult learnings for a more glamour feel.’

By the mid-seventies, anyone with a camera and a minuscule budget were attempting to make their own Deep Throat, and these would range from the graphic hardcore to the tongue-in-cheek. While 1974’s Confessions of a Window Cleaner saw Hammer veteran Val Guest launching a new British sex comedy franchise intended to rival the lucrative Carry On series, elsewhere the adult film was about to receive a science fiction twist. In the early seventies, exploitation producer Bill Osco had ambitions of creating a big-budget, mainstream pornographic motion picture. Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door had yet to be released and so as independent filmmakers earned a modest profit from creating beaver films, Osco had the foresight to create something more spectacular. And to help bring this vision to fruition, he turned to directing duo Michael Benveniste and Howard Ziehm, both of whom he had recently collaborated with on the X-rated comedy Mona: The Virgin Nymph. And after a brainstorming session, Flesh Gordon was born.

Mona was considered to be the first porno with a psychological plot. It ran continuously for two years in San Francisco and played successfully across the country. When Benveniste suggested Flesh Gordon, the idea was to produce the biggest porno up to that time; a $25,000 extravaganza,’ recalled Ziehm, who has since rejected the label of ‘pornographic picture’ with regards to his sci-fi satire. ‘The porno label is used much too easily. I really have a problem with people referring to Flesh Gordon as porno. I have made many porno films and Flesh Gordon ain’t one of them. The intent of a porno film is to sexually arouse. There are titillating scenes in Flesh, but as a whole no one is going to leave the theatre with a bulging hard-on. They probably will leave with a big smile though. I don’t even think that the sex act should be labelled porno, although the word is beginning to lose its sting. I’ve seen things on the internet that were, in my opinion, porno; those being scenes that no normal person, or at least only one in a million, would perform, or acts that are physically unhealthy or the participants forced.’

Conceived as a parody of Flash Gordon, a comic strip and serial from the thirties, the story told of Emperor Wang, an intergalactic criminal mastermind from the planet Porno that begins to terrorise Earth with his cosmic Sex Ray, transforming mankind into sex-obsessed zombies. Professor Gordon decides to take action by sending a young man called Flesh Gordon deep into space in an effort to save the human race from their own carnal destruction. The project would mark an early venture for future Hollywood special effects artist Rick Baker, the man who, a decade later, would push the boundaries of latex and creature effects with his work on both An American Werewolf in London and Michael Jackson’s seminal music video Thriller. Developed on a budget of $470,000, principal photography took place on Flesh Gordon at Producers Studio in Hollywood, on the same soundstage that had once seen the likes of Charlie Chaplin, but unlike many of the productions that had graced this studio, Flesh Gordon was intended to be an outrageous concoction of camp production designs and softcore sex.

‘If things had gone the way Howard and Bill had planned, Flesh Gordon should have been the first movie out of the gate in this golden age of porn,’ explained Jason Williams, the man who would come to take on the role of the heroic Flesh. ‘Instead, it rode the crest of a wave, coming out in 1974, three years after we started filming. As it turned out, it has far more staying power than any of those other movies, and all the delays and troubles somehow made it into a more important movie in film history; even if you don’t know about it. We raised the bar; it wasn’t just an erotic spoof of the Flash Gordon serials, though it did have more sex than action. It was also an affectionate and strangely respectful look back at the original. In the title role, I had a wild and sexy adventure of my own, fighting not just the Sex Ray, but Rapist Robots and Hermaphrodites. I confronted the now-infamous Penisaurus Monsters, the Amazon Dykes and the Beetle Man. Viewed by more than thirty million people worldwide, the film would go on to become a cult classic that continues today. It launched the careers of some of Hollywood’s top special effects artists and changed the film industry’s thinking about science fiction.’

Much like The Devil in Miss Jones, Flesh Gordon stood out from the other adult films of its era because it dared to be different. It had been produced before pornography had achieved box office success and was released at a time when science fiction held little interest for a public that had been disillusioned by the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, and as a result it proved to be a strange beast; a movie with the stop-motion charm of a Ray Harryhausen picture from the sixties, but with the post-hippie sexual liberation of the seventies. And while the nudity would prove to be the selling point for audiences, creating elaborate special effects resulted in a production even more troublesome than the usual porn shoot. ‘After shooting the live footage, Beveniste was to do the editing and supervise the special effects. I went back to making porno features,’ explained Ziehm. ‘Finally, after six months, Benveniste announced that the film was ready to be screened. He stated, ‘A few special effects shots were missing but everything should be available in another three weeks.’ A lot of people had heard of the film and were anxious to see it. I rented a large screening room and over a hundred people showed up. I was nervous because the film had really put us into a financial bind. By this time, I was paying a lot of people with IOUs and they were getting antsy. As the film rolled through the sprockets of the projector, I began to develop a hot sweat. It was a disaster! There were gaping holes where effects were to go and the editing was totally sophomoric, to put it euphemistically. I will never forget that night for the rest of my life.’

Its success had major studios rethinking science fiction projects

With Benveniste dismissed from the project, Ziehm and Osco spent the next eighteen months reassembling the footage and inserting the remaining special effects sequences, and in the summer of 1974, the same month than Emmanuelle had made its debut in France, Flesh Gordon was finally released in the United States. Yet what none of the participants could have expected was that, after three years of hardship, the movie provided the adult industry with yet another blockbuster. ‘Flesh Gordon continued to be a box office hit in city after city across the nation. The beautiful poster art that Howard had put together looked good in ads in everybody’s hometown paper,’ said Williams in his book I Was Flesh Gordon. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the reasons the later Flash Gordon didn’t do so well is that people thought that it was a hardcore porn film. We ended up making that much of an impression. For those who want to keep score, it was also making that much of a profit. Both Howard and Bill agreed that it cost just under $500,000 to make, and ended up pulling in over ten times that much. Its success had major studios rethinking science fiction projects. Instead of serious-minded films like Silent Running and Logan’s Run, it was time to get silly. I can’t prove it, but I’ve heard rumours that it’s because of Flesh Gordon that 20th Century Fox gave the greenlight to Star Wars, after turning it down a year or so before.’

Flesh Gordon was already three-years-old by the time that it was released, but the success of Emmanuelle that same summer proved that audiences not only craved explicit pornography, but also seduction, passion and intimacy. And if there was one filmmaker that had already proved that they could rival Jaeckin in this field, it was Radley Metzger. Born in New York City and raised in the Great Depression, Metzger turned to filmmaking first as an editor and later as a director on a succession of obscure erotic pictures throughout the sixties that dared to challenge the censors and embrace the notion of free love. Having already reworked Prosper Mérimée’s classic tale Carmen to modest acclaim, his breakthrough came in 1969 with Camille 2000. Other films would come, such as The Lickerish Quartet, but arguably his most famous works are among his most explicit; Score and The Opening of Misty Beethoven. The former was one of his more intriguing projects; a tale of two couples who embark on a homosexual voyage at a European retreat, the screenplay had been developed from an off-Broadway play that had featured a pre-fame Sylvester Stallone in a supporting role.

‘Erotic movies are like musicals. They’re judged on what happens between the numbers, not just during. So every scene has to be approached the same. We never worked harder on the sex than anything else,’ he told Mondo Digital. In a later interview with Filmmaker he commented on the homosexual aspect of Score, in which, while the sexual acts between the two women remained tame, the scene between co-stars Calvin Culver and Gerald Grant included hardcore sex. ‘Certainly male homosexuality had not been touched upon and filmed, and that kind of swapping was a little bit ahead of what people were used to seeing,’ he noted. ‘But a large audience was really pushing to see a new Jazz Singer, which was The Devil in Miss Jones, and films like that which came out at the time, and which were really impressive because people without film backgrounds were making pornography and doing a good job with it. I was really taken aback with it, because these guys’ first movies looked better than my first movie, and their second looked better than my second movie. So we said, ‘Well, maybe we just have to do it, just to put the company financially back on keel.’’

Released in the United Kingdom with the explicit homosexual sex omitted, in recent years Score has become something of a curiosity to those outside of its target market due to its inclusion of a young actress called Lynn Lowry. Despite having previously appeared in the erotic drama Sugar Cookies, Lowry’s first significant role came in 1973 with George A. Romero’s plague horror The Crazies, returning to the genre two years later for a supporting role in David Cronenberg’s commercial debut Shivers. ‘Radley cast me because Lee Hessel, who produced The Crazies, knew about the film that Radley was doing, and he told Radley that he thought that I would be very good for the film,’ she told Negativ in 2011. ‘I was told that everything would be simulated and, of course, the women‘s scene is totally simulated. But the men really go to town there, so it suddenly became this X-rated film, which could have been a real problem for me because I was in New York at the time, and I’d just been cast in an NBC soap opera. I had one of the lead roles, and then this X-rated film came out of one of the porno houses on 42nd Street, and I was just horrified that NBC was going to see that I was in this pornographic film and that I would be fired.’

Score had been intended as a way to test how the market would react to Metzger incorporating elements of hardcore sex into his pictures, and following its modest success he reluctantly embraced the world of pornography two years later with The Opening of Misty Beethoven, the first of several pictures in which he adopted the pseudonym Henry Paris in order to keep his participation as secret. Inspired by George Bernard Shaw’s infamous play Pygmalion, which had already laid the foundation for the musical My Fair Lady, The Opening of Misty Beethoven follows a young woman’s transformation at the hands of a sex doctor from an every day prostitute into the ultimate lover. ‘It had very explicit footage, but basically it was pretty much what I do. The humour was the same,’ he explained to Slant. ‘When I went into explicit footage, I got a lot of attention, and I’m not sure that a lot of it was deserved, in the sense that I didn’t have a lot of competition. By the time I did, say, Misty, I had twelve or thirteen features under my belt; I don’t think anybody else had that experience. You don’t have to be a great filmmaker. If you do thirteen features, you’ve got a lot of experience and you’re gonna apply that. People came to explicit filmmaking from all kinds of other professions; still photography, for instance. One guy was a hairdresser. I think, by the time explicit filmakers got a little more age and experience, these people were fine. I’m not saying this from a snobbish point-of-view at all, but at that time, there really wasn’t anybody else, and our stuff kind of shined sometimes, by comparison.’

By 1978, Deep Throat had proved that a pornographic movie could have such an impact that its name would become a staple of popular culture, and this was proved once again with the release of Debbie Does Dallas. With such a memorable moniker and a poster boasting an attractive blonde cheerleader, the success of the picture was almost guaranteed. Many of the adult films that had been released in recent years were inherently sleazy in nature, and yet here was a tongue-in-cheek flick that boasted a likeable heroine and playful tone, a movie that offered the same kind of harmless shenanigans that sec comedies like Porky’s would deliver, with the added bonus of hardcore sex. The movie had not been designed as any kind of deep allegory or social satire, nor was it a statement on sexuality; the minds behind this film only wanted to entertain with a product that they considered as harmless fun. And yet surrounding this adult piece was a labyrinth of rumours, confusion and controversy.

The first mystery surrounding Debbie Does Dallas was the true identity of its elusive director, a filmmaker identified in the movie’s credits as Jim Clark. Various sources cite his birth name as one of two siblings; either adult magazine pioneer James Buckley or his producer brother David. ‘As publisher of the weekly tabloid Screw magazine, from 1968, and host-producer of the cable access show Midnight Blue from 1974 to 2003, the Brooklyn-born Al Goldstein challenged – indeed, taunted, possibly tainted – the notion of community standards in regards to sexual material,’ reported Time in 2013. ‘For a mere $160, he founded Screw with Jim Buckley, who would later sit for a plastic cast of his erect penis for Dušan Makavejev’s sex documentary W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. Buckley also produced Peter Locke’s genuinely funny porn comedy, It Happened in Hollywood, featuring a duo of acrobats called the Flying Fucks, and the breakout hit Debbie Does Dallas, toward the waning of the porno chic craze. By then, Goldstein, had bought him out of Screw for $500,000.’

He owned several pornographic movie theatres in Times Square

What was perhaps most unlikely about Debbie Does Dallas was that the man who conceived such a light-hearted title was a high-ranking member of an organised crime family that was under investigation by the FBI for his illegal activities in the world of pornography. In the late sixties, the criminal underworld of New York had begun to infiltrate the adult film industry, embarking on an array of production and distribution ventures that had soon attracted the attention of the authorities. Michael Zaffarano, known among his associates as Mickey, had climbed through the city’s criminal ranks due to his close ties to the Bonanno family. During the latter half of the seventies, he had overseen the running of the Pussycat Theatre in Times Square and had begun to forge a reputation as a producer of adult entertainment. ‘Zaffarano handled porn theatres and national film distribution for the Bonanno family,’ explained former FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone in his 1998 memoir Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia. ‘He owned several pornographic movie theatres in Times Square and around the country. His office was at 48th and Broadway, Times Square, upstairs from one of his theatres, the Pussycat.’

While Zaffarano would finance Debbie Does Dallas, the creative driving force behind the project was Clark. ‘A young woman came into the studio I was working in at the time and told me the story of her coming back from Dallas after trying out for the cheerleaders down there,’ recalled Clark in 2005. ‘So I called up my partner at the time and said, ‘I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we scrap that and we’ll do this?’ And he says, ‘Sounds like a good idea to me!’ And that’s how it was born.’ Taking its cue from the story that had first inspired Clark, Debbie Does Dallas told the tale of a high school cheerleader who dreams of performing with the Dallas Cowgirls and, unable to obtain the fare to travel to the try-outs, convinces her squad to offer sexual services in order to raise the money. With such a dubious concept, in which young women were effectively prostituting themselves, it was important that the actress cast in the eponymous role of Debbie was both sympathetic and yet believable as someone who would be willing to take such drastic action, and this would come to fruition with the casting of an actress that Clark had christened Bambi Woods.

Neither an actress nor a veteran of pornography, Woods had emerged from obscurity and, desperate to return to her privacy, revealed as little as possible about herself during the promotion of the movie. ‘I owed somebody money, a girlfriend of mine who had done porno movies before. She said, ‘Listen, you owe me the money, so why don’t you just go over and see about doing this film?’ So I went, and I didn’t pay her back after I did the film.’ Bambi Woods represented the attractive girl next door, the pretty blonde in a cheerleader uniform that would become the object of every man’s desire, and from the outset, Clark was more than aware of her alluring charm. ‘It was really born out of her personality,’ he insisted. ‘She was as bubbly as you could get and she seemed so healthy in her attitude towards sex. The only thing that she had a problem with was – which I was not aware of at the time – she had a drug problem.’

Although the movie itself was relatively inoffensive compared to many of its pornographic contemporaries, several incidents surrounding the picture would make Debbie Does Dallas one of the most notorious adult films of all time. The first controversy that it encountered came in the form of a lawsuit filed by the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders in January 1979, whose uniform was heavily referenced on-screen, and later in a topless photo shoot for Playboy. Upon discovering that a porno had disgraced her team’s reputation, the cheerleader’s den mother Suzanne Mitchell waged war on the filmmakers. ‘What I remember is Suzanne came into the dressing room, explained to us the situation, and that we didn’t have to worry about it,’ revealed former cheerleader Shannon Baker Werthmann in 2018. ‘She was our protector-in-chief, she was going to take care of it. So, we could go on, and be the cheerleaders that we were hired to be, and do the things that were expected of us.’ With the majority of principal photography taking place in New York, Clark was forced to regularly shoot without permits or permission, leading to further issues when Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute were informed that filming had taken place on their grounds. ‘Naturally, we are terribly embarrassed about the whole thing,’ admitted the university’s vice president, Joseph Azzinaro, who had agreed for the producers to film an educational piece on campus. ‘We didn’t know what type of education they were talking about, however.’

Events would take an unexpected turn following the film’s release when Debbie Does Dallas became embroiled in Miporn, an undercover FBI operation that was launched in Miami in the summer of 1977, as a way to infiltrate the pornography industry and its ties to organised crime. ‘In New York, a federal prosecutor responded to a swirl of controversy by denying that he leaked to the press information that led to premature disclosure of Abscam, a third FBI investigation,’ revealed the United Press International in early 1980. ‘Abscam is a sting in which seven House members and a senator were said to have been videotaped either taking cash or agreeing to take cash in return for political influence. Among those charged with conspiracy and interstate transportation of obscene material yesterday were four men reported to be the country’s major traffickers in dirty books and movies. They are Rubin Sturman of Cleveland, Michael Zaffarano and Robert Di Bernardo, both known as organised crime figures from New York, and Harry Mohney of Duran, Michigan.’

Although those identified and arrested as a result of the FBI investigation would spend the early eighties in and out of courtrooms, with the Supreme Court refusing to hear appeals from the accused, Zaffarano did not live to stand trial. In an attempt to escape the authorities on Valentine’s Day 1980, the sixty-seven-year old had suffered a fatal heart attack following many years of health issues. ‘His death was still surrounded by the aura of the Mob, because he had collapsed after fleeing from the Pussycat Theatre he owned as the FBI raided it,’ stated the Daily Mail during the 2018 trial of Zaffarano’s son, John. ‘They stormed into the notorious sex den as part of what the Associated Press described the following day as ‘a nationwide smut roundup,’ codenamed Miporn. Zaffarano was found in an office which served as a film-splicing room for pornographic movies. It was across the road from the Pussycat and connected to it by a secret underground tunnel. Agents believed that he had learned of the impending raid and fled through the tunnel to the splicing room. He was considered to be one of four kingpins of the hardcore pornography industry, worth $4b at the time. In 1978, it had been alleged that Zaffarano was the hidden owner of the Pussycat Theatre; the Pussycat Show Centre, a topless bar; the Broadway Arms, a gay film house; Cat’s Eye, a disco bar; and Leave It to Beaver, a massage parlour. But he claimed simply to be a landlord and said, ‘I have nothing to do with the tenants. I’m not doing anything wrong or illegal. This is what people want to see.”

In the years since the release of Debbie Does Dallas, the reclusive nature of Bambi Woods has prompted fans to theorise on the fate of its young star, with rumours eventually circulating that she had passed away shortly after the release of Debbie Does Dallas 3: The Final Chapter in the mid-eighties. Indeed, her original director had alluded to her struggles with substance abuse, the reason, he would later claim, as to why their second collaboration together failed to become a reality. ‘Unfortunately, the reason why that picture got so messed up is that a friend of hers from Brooklyn came up and turned her back to the things that she had been off,’ he insisted. Yet Woods had always insinuated that she had little interest in pursuing an acting career, particularly in pornography. ‘I’m not sure if I want to do another one or not,’ she admitted in 1978. ‘I wasn’t very comfortable in that sex scene. And that was about as far as I could go, what I did in that movie. And it really wasn’t very much. If I had another sex scene like that I would probably do it, because I thought it was very nice. I won’t do any anal sex, nothing like that.’ In 2005, almost three decades after Debbie Does Dallas was released, it was revealed that Woods was alive and well and, true to her word, had turned her back on her brief career as a porn star, instead preferring to live in blissful anonymity.’

If there was ever a legitimate reason for a filmmaker to create an erotic picture that could boast both a purpose and some kind of artistic merit, then making a biopic on the life of a notorious pervert and tyrant would be it. And there were few in the annals of history that were as depraved and sadistic as the Roman emperor Caligula. Only in his twenties when he ascended to power, and with a reign that lasted barely four years before his assassination at the hands of those closest to him, he has become the epitome of sexual deviancy, power hungry insanity and unimaginable cruelty. ‘The knives were always out for Caligula but his downfall was entirely his fault,’ wrote the Guardian. Hollywood loves a biopic; it’s an opportunity to revisit another time in history and draw parallels to contemporary issues, while making statements on heroism, corruption and the human spirit. But with Caligula, it would take the mastermind behind Penthouse, one of the most explicit adult magazines, to bring this sordid tale to the big screen.

He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him

The story of Caligula offered an unhealthy dose of sordid sex, brutal violence and political corruption, a hedonistic life of debauchery for a young man who in such a short time had moved from poverty to the most powerful ruler in the world. ‘Caligula started out as a tyrannical ruler and degenerated into a monster,’ detailed biographer Aloys Winterling. ‘He drank pearls dissolved in vinegar and ate food covered with gold leaf. He forced men and women of high rank to have sex with him, turned part of his palace into a brothel, and even committed incest with his own sisters. The chief victims of his senseless cruelty were Roman senators. Tortures and executions were the order of the day. He removed two consuls from office because they had forgotten his birthday. He considered himself superhuman and forced contemporaries to worship him as a god. He wanted to make his horse a consul and planned to move the capital of the Empire from Rome to Alexandra. His biographer, Suetonius, to whom we owe most of this information, and the other ancient sources, have an explanation for this behaviour: he was insane.’

While Hollywood was full of the kind of imaginative and fearless filmmakers that could have brought Caligula to the big screen, with The Godfather’s Francis Ford Coppola and Taxi Driver’s Martin Scorsese being obvious contenders, it would fall to a pornographic kingpin, a man that had built an empire in the world of adult entertainment, to depict the world of another man that gained power through sex and public opinion. ‘I don’t see the film as being pornographic, and I certainly didn’t set out to make a pornographic movie,’ claimed Penthouse founder-turned-producer Bob Guccione. ‘It’s a question of definitions. To me, pornography is a work of bad art, as opposed to good art. And I don’t think Caligula qualifies under the heading of bad art. It was a huge commercial undertaking, and at the same time we wanted to make a serious statement. We’ve done with cinematic images what so many authors and historians have done with words; we have recreated a complex lifestyle that flourished before Christ and the Judeo-Christian philosophy came into being.’

The screenplay for Caligula, which had been developed by New York-born writer Gore Vidal, told the story of Julius Caesar Germanicus, born in the Italian city of Anzio and more commonly known around the community as Caligula. Brought under the wing of his great uncle, Emperor Tiberius, Caligula is exposed to the world of sexual liberation and barbaric violence, and following the death of Tiberius at the hands of his head guard, the young Caligula rises to power and slowly begins to enforce his influence over the Empire. To lend the picture some level of respectability, Guccione assembled the cream of British talent to bring Vidal’s image to fruition. In the role of Caligula was thirty-three-year-old Malcolm McDowell, whose intense performances in If… and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange had brought him numerous accolades. With a supporting cast that included Helen Mirren and screen legend Peter O’Toole, Guccione depicted a world where Caligula had become so immerse in a reality in which he had the freedom to experience any desires he wished, he had become delusional to his own sense of self, believing that he was the human personification of a god.

Although Caligula would come to be referred to as a big budget pornographic epic following its belated release, the cast that Guccione had brought on board believed they were making a serious biopic about one of history’s most dangerous and deluded leaders. ‘I’m certainly not ashamed of Caligula. In fact, I’ve always been very proud of it,’ admitted Mirren, whose prior work had included the Shakespeare adaptations A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet. ‘Within its form, there’s a really great movie about Rome in there. The fact is, Gore took his name off it, but we made Gore’s movie. We really did stick to the script, and he wrote a really full-on ‘out there’ movie. It’s funny, when we all met together for the first time and Bob Guccione gave us lunch, he stood up and said, ‘This is going to be the greatest film, because we’ve got the best actors, and the best director, and the best writer, and kept going on and on.’ And the director, Tinto Brass, was sitting next to me, and as Bob was talking he whispered, ‘The best people, to make the worst movie.’’

Over the course of the seventies, Italian filmmaker Tinto Brass had courted both controversy and acclaim through an array of erotic dramas that had culminated in the Second World War ‘Naziploitation’ picture Salon Kitty. With that film he had demonstrated that he could incorporate elements of pornography into a historical setting, and barely five months after its release, Brass was on a soundstage in Italy, bringing Caligula to life. ‘My primary form of experimentation was in the editing room,’ he explained. ‘This was the truth moment of creation. You see, I am first and foremost an editor. I am fascinated by montage. With my moviola, I am a god, changing this and remaking that. Many filmmakers edit strictly to cover-up shooting mistakes. I don’t think that way. When I shoot, I’m already thinking about editing. I have the editing in mind and arrange the shots around the edit. I am only truly happy when editing and creating this way. That’s what went wrong in the making of Caligula. Without the final cut, I felt that the film was not mine.’

The overthrowing of Tinto Brass at the hands of the tyrannical Bob Guccione would become as notorious as the movie itself, with the latter dominating the production as he brought in several of his models to film scenes of hardcore pornography that he intended on inserting into the final product. ‘Shortly after filming was completed, Brass was shocked to find the locks changed at the studio and his editing bed outside in the snow,’ wrote Penthouse forty years later. ‘Meanwhile, Guccione secretly shot footage of Penthouse Pets engaging in hardcore sex in order to finish the film according to his vision.’ Many of the participants in the production would openly speak out against Guccione’s actions, the first being Vidal. ‘I have the dubbing script in my possession, so I have a pretty fair idea of the sleazy porn Guccione has done with my screenplay,’ he told New York Magazine in 1979. ‘Every other scene has masturbation and bestiality, so that my dialogue is merely filler. Guccione has been saying that I was out to make a fag Caligula, while he was after a more masculine version. There’s not a word of truth in that.’

Behind the scenes, the making of Caligula was as full of deceit as the story the filmmakers were attempting to tell, with respected actors hired to perform in an historical drama, only for this to be remade as a pornographic picture after the fact. ‘What attracted us all was a script by Gore Vidal,’ McDowell told Venice Magazine in 2003. ‘What happened was Bob Guccione shot all this hardcore footage two years after the film had been completed and then spliced it in. I mean, it was absurd, because the footage didn’t even match much of the time. There would be a shot of me smiling, looking at what was supposed to be my horse or something, and then suddenly they’d cut to two lesbians making out. It was just awful. Vidal had his name removed from the film, but of course none of the cast could do that, because there we were, up on the screen.’ Despite the criticism levelled at his actions, for Guccione, any publicity was good for his motion picture. ‘I knew Caligula would generate a lot of controversy,’ he said in 1980, ‘and I didn’t want to lose the impetus it would ultimately cause at the box office.’

While the seventies had seen the likes of Linda Lovelace and Sylvia Kristel becoming household names, it would not be until the arrival of Ron Jeremy at the turn of the decade that a male performer was transformed into a porn star. As legend built around the size of his penis, Jeremy rose through the ranks of the adult scene through collaborations with Marilyn Chambers, Bambi Woods and frequent co-star Samantha Fox. While none of his titles rank among the most iconic of the genre, the name Ron Jeremy has become synonymous with male porn. And yet while Jeremy lacked the film star good looks or muscular physique, his every day appearance appealed to his young male fans, many of whom were inspired by how an ordinary-looking man could become a major player in the world of sex. ‘Guys relate to me,’ he told Salon in 1997. ‘I’m everyman, living out every man’s fantasies.’ Despite numerous attempts to break into Hollywood, Jeremy would remain the most famous male porn star in the world for the next four decades.

‘I was born on 12 March 1953 in Bayside, Queens. As my father remembers it, my mother didn’t experience much in the way of contraction pains. She just woke up in the middle of the night, calmly announcing that it was time,’ explained Jeremy in his memoir The Hardest (Working) Man in Showbiz. ‘I like to think I wanted to cause my mom as little physical discomfort as possible, but my dad had a different theory. ‘You were in a hurry to get out,’ he told me. ‘You knew you had things to do, and you didn’t want to stick around in the womb any longer than was necessary.’ The other story took place later that morning, just a few hours after my delivery. My mother was taken to a private room to rest and recover. Though it was an altogether effortless birth, she was still feeling a little groggy; the doctors had injected her with too much anaesthetic, having anticipated a birth at least slightly longer than a sneeze. But she was conscious enough to overhear a pair of nurse talking in the next room, where they were bathing me and getting a first glance at my unusual gifts. ‘Good lord,’ one of them muttered, ‘would you look at that kid’s penis?’ ‘It’s pretty big,’ the other said. ‘And on a baby, no less.’ The nurses giggled nervously. If they had any idea my mother was listening, they certainly didn’t let on. ‘Well, he’s a lucky boy,’ one of them concluded.’

My girlfriend took the photographs and sent them to Playgirl

Jeremy would finally put his talents to use in his mid-twenties, and the journey that would take him to the world of pornography all began with some photographs. ‘We agreed, my girlfriend and I, to take some pictures in the deluxe wing of the Paramount. We knew women could do Playboy and that might lead to a career in theatre, film,’ he told Time. ‘I thought I would try it out and at least get some kind of exposure, pardon the pun. So my girlfriend took the photographs and sent them to Playgirl. I thought maybe they would agree to bring me to L.A. for a layout, and while I’m in L.A. I’ll try to get some work in Hollywood. Then Playgirl called and they said we have good news and bad news. The bad news is they weren’t going to fly me anywhere. The good news is that they were going to use the pictures we had taken. I had to use my real name: Ron Hyatt, from Queens, New York; likes to go out hand-gliding and sailing when he gets the chance, and working on his master’s degree in special education. A lot of people looked up R Hyatt in Queens, New York, but they were getting my grandmother, Rose Hyatt, who lived downstairs. My poor grandmother was being woken up night and day, mostly by guys.’

The hype that Jeremy’s magazine appearance generated soon brought him to the attention of the adult scene. ‘I wanted to be an actor my whole life. Porn was just something where I got to work,’ he said in 2010. ‘So when Playgirl came first and then along came porn, it actually worked out fine. Back in the seventies, a lot of big directors were doing porn so we always had good storylines. You felt like you were actually an actor. You worked five days; one day sex and four days you’re acting. Films like Amanda by Night, Ecstasy Girls, Co-Ed Fever, Fascination, Sizzle, Roommates, Café Flesh, Talk Dirty to Me, Nothing to Hide. I go in with some of these really well done, classy films of the old days. You could see such a difference besides pubic hair. You could always tell an old porn film. You can also see that there was a real story. I like to think that I’m a good actor. I took the character all the way to the sex scene. I don’t just play a character and then have sex like Ron Jeremy. If I play a nerd, I have sex like a nerd. If I play a nasty guy, I have sex like a nasty guy. So I like to think that I took acting all the way and people noticed that.’

Despite his initial reservations of working in the porno industry, he soon dedicated himself to his new craft. ‘I became insatiable. It wasn’t enough to do one or two films, I had to do everything,’ he claimed. ‘When there weren’t any jobs for me in New York, I’d jump on a plane to L.A. or San Francisco or anywhere that I was booked for an adult production. I didn’t care where it was happening or what the film was about, I wanted to be a part of it. It was a large part of why I became so famous in the porn world so quickly. I worked more than most because I was willing to do the legwork. At the time, porn actors tended to live either on the East Coast or West Coast, and they didn’t travel unless it was absolutely necessary. If a movie was being shot in their neighbourhood, they’d do it. If not, well, they’d just wait until one was. But I didn’t have that kind of patience. I wanted to stay busy. I wanted to work. And if that meant leaving one set at midnight and driving to LAX to catch a red-eye to New York for another movie the next morning, I’d do it. Although it wasn’t the career I’d hoped for, I was still a working actor.’

Due to his hard work and perseverance, Jeremy became an adult movie star almost overnight, making a name for himself with supporting roles in the likes of The Seduction of Cindy and the sequels Debbie Does Dallas Part 2, Taboo 2 and The Devil in Miss Jones Part 2. His work would see him share the screen with such icons as Chambers, Spelvin and Candida Royalle, and by the mid-eighties he was the most successful male actor on the scene. And yet while he continued to appear in adult films into his sixties, he saw a significant change in the industry. ‘A lot of it’s going bankrupt because the internet is killing it,’ he insisted. ‘So the problem is, it’s in serious trouble because you can download for free. YouPorn, Porn2, LiveOnes.com, FreeSex.com, FreeOnes.com. It’s just crazy. And then, all my friends tell me that they used to spend $3,000 to $4,000 a year on porn. Now they spend zero. And they’re suing these companies for running full features. They’re supposed to run a quick little vignette for free and then tease you to want to get the tape from the actual company that produced it or get a snippet of it.’

While free pornography would become the latest obstacle that the industry was forced to overcome, for Jeremy his reign as the king of porn came to an end when, in 2017, he was accused of sexual assault. By the summer of 2020, dozens of women had filed claims against the sixty-seven-year-old in the wake of the #MeToo movement, in which an assortment of sex predators across the industry were finally brought to justice. ‘Lianne Young still remembers in vivid detail the night Ron Jeremy sneaked up behind her on the Sunset Strip. The adult film actress, who went by the name Billie Britt, was wearing a bikini inside the former House of Blues at a porn industry Halloween party, when she said Jeremy shoved her onto a table and forced himself inside her,’ reported the Los Angeles Times. ‘The ordeal lasted only seconds, Young says she fought Jeremy off, but there were at least three other people from the industry in the room, she said. None of them reacted. It was the same when she told her story to colleagues years later. ‘People were just like, ‘That’s Ron,’’ said Young, now forty-five. Fear of Jeremy’s stature in the business also led adult entertainer Elle Hell to keep quiet after Jeremy attacked her in Chicago in 2014. Elle alleges that, despite the fact that she broke down crying and repeatedly said, ‘No,’ Jeremy forced oral sex on her and tried to rape her.’

As more and more allegations came to light, one of Jeremy’s close friends also claimed that she was attacked by the actor. ‘Charity Carson-Hawke never thought she’d be best friends with a porn star. She’d grown up a preacher’s daughter, and largely led what she describes as a biblical life,’ wrote Rolling Stone. ‘They grew close, staying friends for nearly twenty-five years. ‘I kind of put his porno life to the side and tried not to judge him by what he did,’ says Carson-Hawke, who lives in Florida and works in property management. ‘We’d have great conversations, and it worked out well. So many years went by, and he’d never crossed the line. Until that night.’ The night Carson-Hawke is referring to is 4 May 2020, when she says she came to Los Angeles to visit Ron Jeremy. His apartment was messy, he’d said, so she booked a room at the Highland Gardens Hotel. The second she saw him, she says something seemed off…That’s when she says he slammed the door behind her, pinned her against the wall, and tried to rape her. ‘He was trying to put my hand on his penis,’ she alleges.’ Jeremy continued to maintain his innocence against all of the allegations, however, issuing a statement on Twitter that claimed, ‘I am innocent of all charges. I can’t wait to prove my innocence in court!’’

Of all the movies that would court controversy during the golden age of pornography, none would reach the notoriety that Animal Farm received when it was unleashed upon the unsuspecting British public during the early eighties. Exploiting one of the last remaining sexual taboos, the film soon became something of an urban legend for those who had not seen it and a nightmare they could never forget for those that had. Reaching a new level of depravity that even the most open-minded of porn connoisseurs had not experienced, the obscure feature’s reputation spread through word-of-mouth, yet without an official release or anyone willing to take credit for its existence, many believed that it was merely a figment of someone’s imagination that had conjured up the most twisted joke that they could imagine. And yet it did indeed exist, a bastardised concoction of four separate documentaries that depicted the act of bestiality at the hands of a young woman as she engaged in graphic sexual acts with a host of animals. How could such a film even exist and what kind of individual would be aroused by such a sordid spectacle? The truth behind Animal Farm proved to be one of the most tragic stories in the world of pornography.

At the time the identity of the Yorkshire Ripper was finally revealed and riots broke out across the country, an unidentified individual made their way through customs with four videocassettes in their possession. Splicing the footage together, the disturbing footage was immediately distributed across Britain before the police were able to seize it during one of their raids. Despite being a haphazard compilation of footage merged together from several different sources, the VHS, merely identified as Animal Farm, made its way across the land, and while few would actually see it, its reputation spread like a virus and soon the morbidly curious were attempting to track down a copy so they could experience it for themselves. The name Animal Farm was often referenced in playgrounds and yet no one was certain what the film was really about, and whether or not there was even a porno by that name. After all, an animated feature had been released many years earlier, an adaptation of George Orwell’s political satire Anima Farm, that was regularly shown on television and in classrooms, so perhaps those that mentioned this extreme new videocassette were merely confusing it with the film that was already in wide circulation.

A girl named Bodil Joensen, who takes on a dog, a donkey and a pig

If there was one person who could take the credit – or blame – for the existence of Animal Farm, it was a young Danish woman called Bodil Joensen. While the likes of Linda Lovelace and Marilyn Chambers had seemingly pushed the boundaries of acceptability in the United States, Joensen had become something of a cult curiosity across Europe during the early seventies in a succession of films that had documented her sexual relations with her animals. Ever since the government of Denmark had abolished censorship in 1969, the country’s pornographic scene had thrived and explored every imaginable taboo. ‘Almost anything goes; men, singly or in groups, copulating with menstruating women, fat women, tattooed women or pregnant women,’ detailed Joseph W. Slade in the book Film in Society. ‘Bestiality is common, but so far extensive intercourse with animals has formed the basis for only one full-length feature film in New York, a Danish import starring a girl named Bodil Joensen, who takes on a dog, a donkey and a pig. Animal Lover played to a packed, if small, house at Mini-Cinema for twelve months in 1973-74.’

Born during Germany’s occupation of Denmark, Joensen was raised in a small rural community on the outskirts of Copenhagen by a strict religious mother, with a father who was mostly absent. Regularly abused by her matriarch, she remained a reclusive child that struggled to emotionally connect with the people around. At the age of twelve, she was brutally raped by a stranger at the local train station, and after returning home to seek some form of comfort from her mother, she was accused of inciting the incident. ‘I had never been beaten up by my mother so much than I was when I came home from that,’ she would later recall. ‘I said to my mama, ‘When I grow up, I will fuck boar!’ I couldn’t think of anything more naughty. She was so shocked.’ This incident had lasting repercussions on Joensen and when she finally ran away from home three years later, she took refuge on a local farm. It was here that she discovered that her bond with animals was stronger than with people, and so decided to dedicate her life to working on farms, eventually forming her own company, Insemination Central. But the jealousy and suspicion of the women of the community forced to local farmers to boycott her business and soon she began to suffer serious financial difficulties.

By this point, the pornographic revolution of Denmark had begun and many legitimate filmmakers had reluctantly embraced this new thriving genre. One such filmmaker was Ole Esper Ege. ‘He started snapping risqué still photos in the mid-forties and went on to produce 8mm and 16mm short films of an increasingly explicit nature in the sixties,’ explained author Jack Stevenson in his analysis Scandinavian Blue. ‘Ege had his doubts in 1970 when Japanese-American filmmaker Shinkichi Tajiri approached him with the idea of making a documentary about the most outré Danish porno celebrity of the moment: Bodil Joensen, who had become familiar to consumers of porn as well as the tabloid trade for the sexual acts she performed with animals. Although bestiality repulsed him, Ege was persuaded to participate and they secured Bodil’s cooperation for a fee of 2000 crowns. The twenty-minute, 16mm film they made was intended to be a respectful documentary, the antithesis of an exploitation film. It’s international title, Bodil, a Summer Day, in 1970, was low-key and tasteful enough, though in Denmark it got tagged with the less artful moniker of The Boar Girl, Bodil.’

Joensen’s struggles to keep her business afloat had prompted her to indulge in the country’s growing pornographic scene, and due to her inability to form bonds with people she had turned to her animals for physical affection. Even before the documentary could be screened, she had approached Denmark’s most notorious production company, the Color Climax Corporation, with the suggestion of producing an adult film that would document her sexual relations with animals. ‘In only a few weeks I’ve been in I don’t know how many magazines, and have made eleven or twelve little movies,’ she said. ‘Once, we made four films in four hours.’ Meanwhile, Tajiri had managed to submit their documentary into the first Wet Dreams Film Festival in Amsterdam, where it won the coveted Grand Prix award. ‘Today it is referred to as an underground porno classic, and porno was precisely the label I was trying to avoid in making a tender documentary about a very special person,’ he claimed. ‘From the start, I wanted to leisurely investigate and give human depth to a person who was being abused as a two-dimensional sex phenomenon, but lack of time and funds and the announcement of the upcoming Wet Dreams Film Festival pressed to complete the film.’

The success of their screening at the festival would bring Joensen international attention and soon she became a regular fixture of newspapers and films across the globe, the financial rewards finally allowed her to buy a farm of her own. This would become her base of operations and for the next few years she produced an array of pornographic features, but eventually tastes began to change and bestiality slowly lost its shock value. Having finally started a relationship and given birth to a daughter, Joensen had new responsibilities, but further financial difficulties caused her to slip into a depression that would last the rest of her life, leading to alcoholism and withdrawal from the outside world. ‘She began renting a seedy room in Copenhagen’s red light district,’ explained actor John Simm, the narrator of the 2005 documentary The Dark Side of Porn. ‘Bodil was desperate to fuel her alcohol problem and was happy to exchange sex for booze. There had been tremendous speculation about the fate of the boar girl. Even those close to her are unsure. Towards the end of Bodil Joensen’s life, her self-abuse had become much worse.’ Joensen would continue to descend into her own personal hell until years of alcoholism finally took their toll and, at the age of forty, she passed away in January 1985.

It is unlikely that during the final years of her life, Joensen had become aware of the cult curiosity her exploits had become as Animal Farm circulated across Great Britain. It was a film that few had seen but with a reputation that most were familiar with. A crudely edited compilation of Joensen’s work that had only been distributed – albeit illegally – in Britain, exactly who smuggled the videocassettes into the country is a source of debate, and yet the legacy of Animal Farm remains a staple of many childhoods from the eighties; an elusive pornographic film, the ultimate excessive Holy Grail. ‘When Animal Farm was first introduced to Britain in the early eighties, the country was about to go through a decade of radical change, altering the political and social landscape forever,’ declared Simm. ‘Advances in technology were about to have a massive impact on what people watched in their homes. In 1980, only four per cent of households in Britain had a VCR; by the end of the decade this had risen to sixty per cent. It was a revolution in consumer choice, and the chance for so many to watch their favourite movie or programme when they liked. But the VHS tape also catapulted porn films from seedy Soho cinemas into the British living room for the first time.’

The journey of the home video from conception to release had been a long and arduous struggle that had resulted in back-stabbing, a highly-publicised feud and even a lawsuit as two rival companies competed for supremacy. Since the dawn of the film industry almost a century earlier, the cinema had been the audience’s way to enjoy the latest releases, but ever since the fifties, television had threatened the box office. Hollywood was reluctant to embrace any new medium that might drive the public from their local theatres, and so when home video first emerged at the beginning of the eighties, major studios had little interest in exploiting this new way of consuming media. ‘The impact of the VCR has resulted in long days and sleepless nights for much of the show business community, from the studies and craft unions of Hollywood to New York’s networks and advertising agencies,’ wrote the Free Lance-Star in September 1985. ‘Actors and writers unions have suffered those bitter strikes since 1981 in the issue of their percentage from the sales of videocassettes. One union chief has been toppled from power amid accusations of mishandling the issue. The VCR has been blamed for shutting theatres at home and abroad, and for stealing some thunder from the summer 1985 box office receipts.’

The arrival of home video began in 1976 when the question of copyright ethics was raised by the president of Universal Pictures upon his discovery of Sony’s latest innovation: the Betamax video recorder. Up until this point, when two television programmes were broadcast at the same time via rival channels, the viewer was forced to make a decision between the two, but this new device offered the opportunity to watch one show while recording the other. But Universal felt that this was a violation of copyright and so sought support from within the industry to block the video recorder from making it to the high street. Forging an alliance with Disney, Universal waged a war against Sony and their infernal creation. But the home video had been in the works at Sony for over a decade, with the creative failures of the SV-201 and U-matic, while other companies had attempted to win the technological race with the equally ambitious Cartrivision and Holotape. In February 1976, the Betamax first went on sale with a retail price of over $1,000, but by the end of the seventies this had been reduced to a more affordable fee. But the Betamax was only the beginning, and after years of trial and error, JVC finally unleashed their rival system, the VHS, the following year.

All these seizures have been of sexual pornography

Despite the rising popularity in both Betamax and VHS, major studios were determined for this new medium to fail and so refused to embrace the home video. With such a large space in the market affording a variety of business opportunities, independent distributors purchased all manner of low-budget products and, having decorated them with graphic artwork and shocking titles, flooded the shelves of video stores with violent and sexually explicit pictures. In early 1982, the British tabloids led a witch-hunt against what they came to refer to as video nasties, and on 30 June, the Director of Public Prosecutions released a list of fifty-two films that were considered unacceptable for public consumption. ‘Police in the Metropolitan police district seized only a hundred and twenty-five videocassettes in 1979. In 1980, the number rose to two-thousand and seventy-seven; in 1981 to fifteen-thousand, one-hundred and seventy-six; and so far this year, more than five thousand have been seized in the first three months,’ claimed the Sunday Times. ‘Yet all these seizures have been of sexual pornography: SS Experiment Camp is the first of the sadistic ‘nasties’ that the police have swooped on. The boom in videotape recorders has led to a mushroom growth in rental shops.’

Of all the detractors that pornography and video nasties would face, by far their greatest adversary was Mary Whitehouse. Having first come to the public’s attention during the mid-sixties with her Clean-Up TV campaign, Whitehouse had spent the last two decades targeting such morally dubious television shows as Doctor Who and Top of the Pops. ‘It is no secret that pornography is a growing and highly lucrative industry,’ she stated in her 1993 book Quite Contrary. ‘Pornography and obscenity are seen not simply as a matter of personal taste but as accepted ideological weapons. The question now arises: do we have the right to expect government and law, while protecting the free flow of ideas, to establish control to ensure that society remains coherent and capable of resisting the pressure of that statistically minute group who are committed to its destruction? I believe, profoundly, that we do. Censorship, effectively but sparingly used, is a liberal concept since it would protect the lifestyle of the vast majority. The civil libertarians object to censorship on the grounds that no one has the right to interfere in the private affairs of others. ‘Let a man go to hell in his own way,’ they say. But, whom do they take with them, and what rights do the victims have? It is unrealistic to imagine that laws which allow the distribution of porn for adults can, at the same time, ensure that children are not corrupted.’

While there would be many behind-the-scenes scandals that would shake the adult industry during its heyday, none had such lasting repercussions and bring such negative attention to the scene as the arrest of Traci Lords. By the time she was taken into custody in the summer of 1986, the eighteen-year-old was already a two-year veteran of pornography and had already become one of the highest-paid female performers in the world of erotic cinema. She had graced countless magazine covers, had performed on-screen sex acts with the likes of Ron Jeremy, and had become a notorious hellraiser on the Los Angeles club scene, and yet it was her decision to travel overseas with fraudulent documents that caused her to run afoul of the law. ‘I hit rock bottom,’ she told People in 1993. ‘The reason I started doing what I was doing was to get attention, and then I was telling myself nobody would know. It was drug logic.’ But the revelation that an underage girl had become a legitimate porn star caused a national outrage, resulting in prosecutions, the withdrawal of many video titles, and a young woman forever tarnished by the actions she had taken as a reckless teenager.’

Born Nora Louise Kuzma in the Ohio city of Steubenville, by all accounts Traci Lords had struggled through a difficult childhood, one that would lead to adolescent rebellion and a taste for self-destruction. ‘My father was a very, very possessive alcoholic and very jealous,’ she had told author Suzanne Somers in the early nineties. ‘My mother was eighteen when they married and very beautiful. He was so insecure and guilt-ridden, he thought she must be doing the things he fantasised doing with other women. I’m the second oldest of four girls, all born only a year apart. My mother had these four small children and my father was convinced that somewhere in between she must have a lover. He was drunk twenty-four hours a day. I grew up hiding in closets, under the bed, holding hands with my sisters, hoping that our father would pass out so it would be quiet again. He was never violent to us, but he was very violent with my mother. He beat her up a lot. One time, he beat her so badly, she had stitches all over her face. It really scared us. My sisters and I would always hide under the table; we had a long tablecloth that almost dragged on the floor. We would hold our breath and cover our ears like we were swimming in a pool.’

By the age of ten, Lords had developed breasts and immediately attracted many of the local boys, but this unwanted attention would result in sexual assault. ‘I didn’t really know how to deal with it,’ she revealed to Huffington Post. ‘It was such a terrifying thing, and I think any kind of violence against women, or rape, is incredibly painful, confusing, shocking; a dramatic thing to happen. But when it happens to a child, you really don’t know how to process it, especially as a ten-year-old.’ Two years later, her parents divorced and Lords relocated with her mother and siblings to California, where the young girl began to rebel against any and all authority figures. ‘From thirteen to nineteen I was completely out of control, like a car heading toward a cliff,’ admitted Lords. ‘I’m disgusted with a lot of things I’ve done in my life.’ Eventually abandoning high school, Lords obtained a fake ID and travelled to Hollywood, where she soon found herself walking through the doors of the World Modelling Agency. Following photo shoots for a variety of magazines that would include such titles as Juggs and Velvet, Lords landed her break when she posed naked for Penthouse. The issue in question became one of the most notorious in the publication’s history due to the inclusion of Miss America herself, Vanessa Williams.

‘Given that the issue’s popularity was through the roof, the demand for her was likewise. Weeks later, she starred in her first X-rated movie,’ reported Esquire. ‘Lords was just fifteen when a Penthouse photographer shot her. But thanks to a fake ID that was all too real, the magazine believed she was twenty-one. If Williams was a teenage girl hoodwinked by a dirty old man, then Lords was a teenage girl hoodwinking the dirty old men.’ With Lords having made an appearance in such a legendary issue, her fame in the adult world came almost overnight. ‘From then on, I was known in the sex industry as Traci Lords,’ she explained in her memoir Underneath It All. ‘The combination of little girl gone bad had photographers fighting to shoot me. It was a total ego trip. I was the flavour of the moment, the It girl. I felt I’d won the spot on the cheerleading squad. Any doubts I had about posing nude were overruled by my insatiable desire for attention. For five weeks I led a double life. I was high school sophomore Nora Kuzma by day and nude centrefold model Traci Lords by night. I avoided my girlfriends, ditched classes, and barely squeaked by in school. I started wearing the slutty outfits I posed in to school.’

Lords had been introduced to the world of hardcore pornography through her agent James Souter Jr., known professionally in the industry as Jim South. It would be through South that she found herself on the set of Those Young Girls in 1984, appearing alongside pornography veterans Ginger Lynn and Harry Reems. ‘The first time I walked into a porno movie I was wired. I hadn’t slept a wink the night before, and as I drove myself to the location, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by the anxiety of imagining what it would be like,’ she said in 2003. ‘I found my director behind a camera, watching a woman having sex with two guys. Blushing, I gawked at them. I had never seen anyone have sex before, and it was so aggressive, so primal the way this woman moaned that it scared the crap out of me. ‘Oh my God, is that what they expect me to do?!’ I turned and ran down the hall to the front door. I knew exactly what kind of movie this was now, and I wasn’t having it. I tore out the parking lot and was gone before anyone knew I’d arrived.’

Over the next two years, Lords would become one of the most iconic stars in the history of pornography, finally commencing work on her first adult feature as an actress of legal age in May 1986, the day after her eighteenth birthday. Returning home from the French shoot, Lords was awoken in the early hours of the morning when the authorities conducted a raid of her house. ‘They never arrested me, but they handcuffed me, put me in a car and took me downtown for questioning. They had my birth certificate and dragged up the whole underage thing,’ described Lords in 1992. ‘Then one of the cops said the cruellest thing. He said, ‘What are you crying for? You’re going to be a star. Everyone’s going to know your name by tomorrow.’ I had no idea what he was talking about. It didn’t even occur to me that it would be a national scandal. I didn’t understand what he was saying. I remember I looked at him and he said, ‘We’re here to help you.’ And I said, ‘You’re just too fucking late.’ That’s really how I felt. It had been there years. Already a part of me was dead. Looking back on it now, there was so much that was gone by the age of eighteen. I was a cold, dead woman.’

I hate the phrase former porn star

Once the fact that Lords had been underage during her career as a pornography star had been revealed, she suddenly transcended from adult icon to pop culture superstar. But those that had instigated her career soon faced the wrath of the courts. ‘James Marvin Souter Jr., forty-seven, the man who allegedly hired Lords through his World Modelling Agency in 1984 for the film The Young Girls, is charged with producers Ronald Rene Kontor, forty, and Rupert Sebastian McNee, thirty-nine, with violating the federal law prohibiting the use of minors in sexually explicit films,’ reported one paper. Yet while the subsequent trial would transform Traci Lords into an infamous star, the stigma surrounding her early career in the adult industry continued to haunt her long after her retirement from pornography. ‘I hate the phrase former porn star,’ she informed Entertainment Weekly almost a decade later. ‘That part of my life was a long time ago. Think of something else to call me.’ As John Waters, the filmmaker that cast her alongside Johnny Depp in the 1990 musical Cry-Baby, would tell the Washington Post, ‘Her past is always gonna be there, people are always going to bring it up, but so what? It’s a good story!’

Even as the dust settled surrounding the Traci Lords scandal, the adult industry continued to adapt, although changes in audience taste and studio censorship had caused pornographic films to lose their appeal. Having resisted for over a decade to produce a sequel to one of the genre’s defining moments, by the mid-eighties Jim and Artie Mitchell were ready to go behind the green door once more. Although Marilyn Chambers had become a celebrity following the success of their 1972 classic, by the time a follow-up entered development, she had been reduced to such B-movie porn as Insatiable 2. Much in the world had changed since the release of Behind the Green Door some thirteen years earlier and now, with the very real threat of abuse, drug addiction and sexually-transmitted diseases casting a dark shadow over the industry, the Mitchell brothers decided to effectively tell the same story once again, albeit an updated adaptation for the new age. But what could a remake of a seminal porn picture bring to a scene that was already struggling to remain relevant in these ever-changing times?

‘The plot behind Behind the Green Door: The Sequel is very close to the plot for the original, except that any illusions to a kidnapping are cut and almost all the action is now fantasised by a perky airline stewardess,’ stated Steve Chapple and David Talbot in 1989’s Burning Desires: Sex in America. ‘The porn of the eighties was becoming a very strange slice of ginger indeed. After the sequel was released, Jim Mitchell bragged that it would make other porn films ‘obsolete.’ And if those other porn producers didn’t like that, ‘tough shit.’ ‘It’s a whole new sexual world out there, and they’re going to have to change with the times.’ We talked to one well-known producer who was not convinced. ‘The only people who worry about AIDS in the straight end of the business are hypochondriacs,’ he said rather optimistically. ‘This is a gay problem. Girls don’t get the disease, period.’ This man takes great pains to screen out unhealthy ingénues during the casting process. ‘I’m a regular gynaecologist after the hundreds of films I’ve made. I can tell by taking one peek if she’s healthy.’ Of course, now and then a bad apple slips through his rigorous examination. ‘Occasionally, when we go in for a close-up during filming, I’ll notice some venereal warts or something on a girl.’ But that’s show business. The Mitchells’ film and the growing reality of AIDS had a great influence on others in the adult industry, however.’

On 5 June 1981, a report was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, an Atlanta-based journal published by the Centers for Disease Control, that highlighted an alarming number of cases of a type of pneumonia called pneumocystis carinii that seemed to mostly affect homosexual men, infecting their lungs and also presenting symptoms of herpes. Soon others began to suffer from this virus, including those who had received blood transfusions or had been known to take drugs intravenously, and by July 1982 this new deadly disease had been christened the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, more commonly referred to as AIDS. ‘‘The people who were suffering from HIV and AIDS, especially in the early days, were shunned,’ says Henry Waxman, a former congressman from California who chaired a House subcommittee on Health and the Environment in the early days of the AIDS epidemic,’ explained a 2020 article that made comparisons between the AIDS crisis of the early eighties and the COVID-19 pandemic that brought the world to a standstill almost forty years later. ‘When we found out about this disease, we didn’t even know its name because no name had been given to it, but it affected gay men primarily, was geometrically multiplying with people, among people who didn’t want to talk about it, because of those who were involved, who suffered from it.’

By the time that cameras began rolling on Behind the Green Door: The Sequel, the AIDS virus had already reached epidemic proportions. While the majority of victims of this disease were predominantly homosexual men, anyone who engaged in sexual activity with a partner were potentially at risk. ‘The clustering of AIDS cases among male homosexuals in the initial phase of the HIV epidemic in the USA, and a few other western countries, led to a misleading notion that the disease afflicted only reckless’ male homosexuals, and it was often referred to as the ‘gay plague’ or ‘gay cancer,’’ stated Devinder M. Thappa in the 2003 essay Historical Aspects of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS. ‘Recent studies have shown that AIDS is spreading everywhere more through heterosexual relations than through any other mode of transmission. It is, however, true that the risk of HIV infection is greater for persons who practice anal intercourse, and this type of intercourse is more common between homosexual partners than between heterosexual partners.’

With the threat of AIDS becoming a serious concern, the adult industry was forced to take extra measures in order to reduce the risk of infection spreading throughout their actors, and amidst all this fear, the Mitchell brothers decided it was time to make a socially conscious pornographic film. ‘Behind the Green Door: The Sequel is more than just adult entertainment. It is also the first mainstream adult film in which all the on-screen sex acts are performed with prophylactic devices,’ declared an article published by the Chicago Tribune. ‘The release of the Green Door sequel, as well as a series of ‘safe sex’ gay features, is evidence that the adult film industry is confronting a situation potentially dangerous to its future: AIDS. Although there have been no reported cases of the disease among the small group of actors and actresses who work in adult films, fear of AIDS has led some members of the industry to take educational and precautionary measures. Some performers, including stars such as Marilyn Chambers, who is not in the Green Door sequel, and Chicago actress Seka, will not work with anyone who has not been tested for the AIDS virus.’

Although Chambers would not participate in the long-awaited follow-up to Behind the Green Door, once again the protagonist of the story, who is taken on a voyage of sexual discovery, is called Gloria. This time, however, the actress chosen for the role was not a young hopeful with experience in modelling but a woman with a past career in the world of politics. Born and raised in Utah, the daughter of a Republican with ties to the Bush Administration, Elisa Florez had been raised to believe that she was an ‘ugly duckling,’ and so instead of following in the modelling footsteps of her mother, she instead found work during her teens as a Senate page, before joining the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch. ‘I remember her as an excellent worker,’ insisted Hatch in 1986. After working hard on election campaigns, Florez relocated to California and soon found herself at the O’Farrell Theatre in San Francisco. It was during her time there that she transformed into the sultry Missy Manners, and before long Artie Mitchell had fallen under her spell. Following her participation in the Nude Miss America pageant, she was cast as the naïve heroine of Behind the Green Door: The Sequel.

Get under the table and give him oral sex

While Florez would become an object of the audience’s fantasies on-screen, during the breaks between filming, she embarked on a passionate relationship with the younger Mitchell brother. ‘Missy had a lot to learn: when Artie turned ugly, forgive him. Get outrageous, appeal to his sense of fun. Get under the table and give him oral sex,’ stated David McCumber in 1992’s X-Rated – The Mitchell Brothers: A True Story of Sex, Money and Death. ‘She had passed her first test with flying colours. She had also come to the shocking realisation that she wanted to cross all the barriers with this man, to allow him to exploit her sexual submissiveness like no one ever had. The next night they were together, she left a pair of handcuffs on Artie’s pillow. He knew, then, that she was giving herself to him, to their relationship without reservation, which was the ultimate erotic charge for him. Soon, he would introduce her publicly as ‘my sex slave.’ In her submission, though, Missy knew that this mephistophelean sexual bargain was not as one-sided as it seemed. Not only were her own needs being met, but there would come a time, in the primal depths of their new passion, that the slave would become the master.’

While the sexual shenanigans between Mitchell and his leading lady may have often bordered on extreme, from its inception Behind the Green Door: The Sequel was intended to promote safe sex while also offering hardcore penetration and ejaculation. Its director Sharon McNight, who would also release a single to promote the movie, insisted that her cast follow specific guidelines when it came to performing intimate sex scenes. ‘Raise your hand if at any time you believe you are not having safe sex,’ she told not only her star but also the supporting cast. ‘The staff will now be handing out bags of condoms, surgical gloves, dental dams, and Nonoxyol-9 lubricant. No penis will be touched without a rubber on it. No fingers will get sticky without a rubber glove. All pussies must be covered with a dental dam before they are licked. I want to be able to smell your lubricant a yard away. Is that clear?’ While the unsimulated sex on display in their picture may have been as graphic as the movie that had first turned Marilyn Chambers into a star, the Mitchell brothers were prepared to move with the times and offer their own safe sex porno.

‘I was your honest-to-goodness conservative girl next door from Salt Lake City. I wanted to make a statement and show that safe sex can be erotic and fun,’ claimed Florez. ‘This is a political stance for me,’ she told UPI following the film’s release. ‘This movie was a political statement to people in Washington that you cannot take away our individual freedom.’ Her experience working on Behind the Green Door: The Sequel would ignite a fire in Florez and over the next few years she became an activist in the promotion of safe sex, even starring in a thirty-minute educational film called Missy’s Guide to Safe Sex in 1987. Florez would eventually address the Assembly Committee on Public Safety, where she raised concerns regarding the new threats that the world was facing. ‘My name is Missy Florez, although I believe that many of you legislators may know me as Missy Manners,’ she said in her opening statement. ‘Missy Manners, the star of Behind the Green Door: The Sequel, which is a safe sex video. You live in a world where political survival is paramount, but I live in a world of life and death where survival itself is at stake. I think you could say that I have a hands-on perspective about safe sex.’

The sexual liberation that the pornography industry had enjoyed throughout the seventies had culminated in a stark warning about responsibility, one that had shown that meaningless acts of sex, even ones in the name of entertainment, could come with a price. The free love of the sixties was now merely a distant memory. ‘The sexual revolution of the past twenty years has caused increases in all major venereal diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and genital warts,’ reported Dr. Peter Duesberg in his 1996 account Inventing the AIDS Virus. ‘All of these infectious diseases have spread far beyond their original reservoirs into the grand populations and affect men and women nearly equally. AIDS, however, has remained absolutely fixed in its original risk groups. Today, a full decade after it first appeared, the syndrome is diagnosed in homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and haemophiliacs some ninety-five per cent of the time, just as ten years ago.’

With AIDS becoming a growing concern, both filmmakers and actors were forced to adapt if they were to survive his deadly new disease. As performers engaged in on-screen sex acts without discrimination, the risk of this virus spreading around the adult industry soon became a significant concern. ‘I was in New York when I first heard about AIDS,’ The Devil in Miss Jones Part 2 director Henri Pachard told writer Legs McNeil. ‘What I started to hear was the question, ‘Am I spreading something?’ I thought, ‘Am I a death merchant?; That was a serious moral question for me for a while. Then it became, ‘If they want to protect themselves they should, and if they don’t wanna protect themselves, I’m not gonna.’ My biggest fear was not so much about the ability to shoot these movies, but that they were going to be regulated by the Health Department, like when they shut down the bathhouses in all major cities. Yet, why don’t they shut down pornographers? Violating their First Amendment, right? Bullshit! This was 1984. We didn’t have enough information. We discovered that AIDS was beginning to spread among drug users and homosexuals. So if you were a Haitian homosexual needle-using drug addict, then there was a good chance you would contract this failure in your immune system. So we all thought, ‘It can’t be me. I’m straight. I only do coke; I don’t do needles, and she doesn’t. So we’re both cool.’’

The impact of AIDS would not be felt in the world of pornography until 1985 when actor Wade Nichols passed away at the age of thirty-eight, the cause later revealed as being from complications from to an undisclosed AIDS-related illness. Three years later, John C. Holmes, a veteran of over five-hundred adult films, lost his battle with the disease at just forty-three. ‘The AIDS epidemic was starting to hid hard, and although no one in the business had been reported as actually having it yet, we were all starting to get worried,’ he admitted in his autobiography Porn King. ‘In 1985, everyone at our company, including myself, was tested for HIV. Our results were all the same, negative! Funny, I tested under the name Karl Marx. In discussion and on paper, testing sounded like a great idea, but when it came down to it, I was surprised that the other performers refused to take any tests. They believed such testing was an invasion of our right to privacy. HIV testing was also quite expensive. Even though our company offered to pay for their test, they still refused.’

Denial became a recurring theme during the late eighties, when many performers refused to believe that their lifestyle would make them susceptible to the HIV virus. ‘Suze Randall and Humphry Knipe, a British married couple, are Southern California pornography pioneers,’ wrote New York critic Donald G. McNeil Jr. in 2012. ‘Heterosexual performers knew the disease was mostly among gay men and drug addicts, but actors who did both gay and straight films worried them. John C. Holmes, for example, the most famous male actor of that era, also did some gay films. He was given an AIDS diagnosis in 1985, withered away to ninety pounds and died three years later. ‘We’re a small, very gossipy industry,’ Mr. Knipe said. ‘If the word got out that a guy was bi or did drugs, no girl would work with him.’ Some producers, the couple included, stopped filming penetration scenes. Some actors changed what they would do. Nina Hartley, a registered nurse and an actress since 1984, said she has not let a male co-star ejaculate inside her since 1986. ‘Just too risky,’ she said. Pornography films typically end with ejaculation on the actress’ skin; while feminists find that demeaning, Ms. Hartley said, she credited that ‘troupe’ with saving dozens of lives between 1984, when AIDS first entered the talent pool, and 1998, when industry-regulated testing was imposed.’

Everyone who has stepped foot onto the set of a pornographic motion picture has their own stories to tell. From the golden age of blockbuster erotica, to the home video sexploitation of the eighties, the veterans of each era of adult cinema experienced their own personal triumphs and tragedies, while performing the most intimate of acts on screen, and opening themselves up – sometimes quite literally – for the whole world to see. And through all this, they were both celebrated and criticised, lauded and brought to trial. But for a small time in history, pornography dominated the big screen, which would eventually lead to its world domination in the age of the internet. ‘Back in the seventies, the U.S. was swinging through a sexual revolution. Times were different,’ recalled Flesh Gordon star Jason Williams. ‘Though people have championed ‘free love’ in the swinging sixties, those champions were perceived as mostly young people, and often dismissed as outsiders who would learn better someday. It was something happening in the big cities. But by 1970, sex hit suburbia. People partied at discos, picked up one-night stands. Both guys and girls showed the same plunging necklines, if not displaying cleavage then chest hair and chains. Every city in America had neighbourhoods commonly hosting swinging parties. Mainstream Hollywood dipped far more than a toe in the sea of sexuality that surged across the country.’

Everybody wants to visit a porn set

Following the cultural impact of Deep Throat in the early-to-mid-seventies, western civilisation became fascinated by pornography. ‘For an industry that’s so universally misunderstood, there’s an awful lot of people who are curious about what goes on behind the scenes on a porn set,’ explained Ron Jeremy. ‘It’s not just the guys and girls who sneak into the back rooms of video stores to rent the occasional smut. I can’t tell you how many talk shows and TV interviews and college lectures I’ve done where audiences grill me about what really goes on during a porno shoot. We’re all curious about sex, and a porn set is where sex is dragged out of the shadows and examined under bright lights. Everybody wants to visit a porn set because it’s like taking a guided tour of your own id. But as enticing as porn sets may be, not just anybody is welcome inside. You can’t knock on the door and ask, ‘Do you mind if I poke around for a while and see what’s going on in here?’ Unless you’re a vice cop.’

Despite the fascination that society would develop with pornography during the seventies, those involved with these features were often viewed by the general public as being on par with whores. ‘I had the same stereotype image that many people did; that everyone in the industry was a hooker, a slut, and a drug addict,’ admitted Ginger Lynn, who made her screen debut in 1984’s Up, Up and Away. ‘So I said, ‘I’m not that kind of a girl. I would never do that.’ Then I met this girl in Jim South’s office, and she was beautiful, intelligent, and articulate. She was wearing this long, white dress, and she was holding one of those long cigarette holders, and she was just so cool. I said to her, ‘You don’t do pornos, do you?’ She said, ‘Yeah.’ And I thought, ‘Well, you don’t look like that kind of girl.’ So I took her to lunch, and I basically just asked her every question I could think of. I went back to Jim South’s office and said, ‘I’ll do it, but I want script and cast approval, and I want $1,000 per scene.’ Jim South was on the floor rolling in laughter, thinking I’m a complete idiot, and he says, ‘You’ll never work!’ I said, ‘Well these are the things that I need in order for me to feel good about what I’m doing.’ I made all these demands, and David and Svetlana, the people making the movie, agreed to all of them.’

But how did the performers view their audience, the clientele hidden behind the other side of the cinema or television screen, the person becoming aroused as they watch the actors penetrate and ejaculate? ‘It is interesting to note that most people in the production end of the porn business really look down their nose at the consumer,’ revealed Hyapatia Lee, another veteran of the early eighties VHS porn boom. ‘They say things like, ‘The perverts will love this,’ and, ‘I can see the raincoat crowd jacking off to that already,’ in a derogatory way. At the same time, most people who watch that kind of entertainment think the actors and actresses are living one big sex orgy. They think they are so into sex, that’s all they do and really live a life like the one they see in the movies and hear about in the magazines. They look down their nose at the talent, thinking they are too dumb to have a life other than a sex life. I can’t count the number of times I’ve signed autographs to men named Bob, who felt the need to tell me how to spell it. They do not realise so much of what they read is just hype. The saddest part is knowing that both sides disrespect each other and sex itself.’

The golden age of pornography began almost half a century ago and lasted a mere fifteen years, before home video arrived and forced the industry to adapt. Fifteen years after that, home video perished at the hands of the internet. And yet pornography has survived, because whether people are still unwilling to admit it, sex sells. ‘Pornography has changed unrecognizably from its so-called golden age,’ concludes the New Yorker. ‘Today’s films are often short and nearly always hardcore; that is, they show penetrative sex. Among the most popular search terms in 2015 were ‘anal,’ ‘amateur,’ ‘teen,’ and – one that would surely have made Freud smile – ‘mom and son.’ Viewing figures are on a scale that golden age moguls never dreamed of: in 2014, Pornhub alone had seventy-eight billion page views, and Xvideos is the fifty-sixth most popular website in the world. Some porn sites get more traffic than news sites like CNN, and less only than platforms such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, and PayPal… Except for the few companies that have profited from distribution, it’s unclear who makes money from porn, and how that money connects either to the work of performers or to how they are treated. With the decline of the industry, pornography, like the internet itself, seems ever harder to control. Some will find that cause for horror, others, for celebration. Every era gets the porn it deserves.’

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.