The Rialto Report is a series of in-depth archival research projects and podcasts dedicated to expanding the historical record on the adult entertainment industry between the early 1960’s and the mid-1980’s. The project is named after the Rialto Theatre, New York’s oldest continually operating exploitation theater. Here, they speak with Honeysuckle about the notion of ‘Home,’ as it relates to the adult film industry.
Has The Rialto Report become a home for those in the Adult industry, its memories, its past and to some of those still active in it?
The early pioneers of the adult film industry have been neglected or, worse, misunderstood by history. They have had no natural home. Their personal stories have been co-opted by self-important academics (whose principal talent has been to suck all life out of them), or the mainstream media (who seek narratives of tragedy and abuse), or the sex media (whose sole mission is to sell more product by titillation), or well-meaning fans (who believe that every film is an undiscovered classic).
We started The Rialto Report to give a voice back to the original pioneers, the cowboys of the industry back when it was the Wild West. We were interested in the people behind the pouting porno profiles. We just wanted to ask the obvious questions: Why did you do it? What was it like? And what effect has it had on the rest of your life?
The reaction we got was surprising. Not only were we welcomed by the porn performers who have remained in the limelight over the years, but many of those who had hidden away for decades start to come forward. They all wanted the same outcome: for their stories to be told in their own words.
The fact that most of the people we speak to are now in the autumn of their lives adds a huge amount of poignancy, pathos and value to their perspectives. Many of them are parents, grandparents even, present day pillars of the community (and one nameless person who is the local chairman of Republican Party). This hindsight has not been captured in this manner before.
The Rialto Report has become a virtual home for many people who were formerly in the adult film industry to visit, get in touch with old friends, and relive their memories from when they were responsible for kickstarting an entire industry.
Is there an actual home base to those in the adult industry where most of them do feel at home, or a sense of home…
The adult film industry has rarely had a very centralized home area. It would run counter to its self-interest. It would attract too much attention from law enforcement, local residents, or curious onlookers, so it’s always thrived on being a secret and dispersed business.
In the U.S. the main hub for pornographic films originated in San Francisco in the late 1960’s, before moving to New York in the early 1970’s. In the 1980’s, the industry started to consolidate in Los Angeles – even though it was illegal to shoot there until the late 80s. As soon as the laws changed, the nation’s porn home became San Fernando Valley, just 20 miles from downtown Los Angeles.
The attraction to the area was simple: a combination of good weather, low rents, and access to a pipeline of talent from Hollywood (which included directors, crew, and actors when they needed a little side income). With its countless warehouses and private homes, the area raked in $4 billion in annual sales in its 1990’s heyday. Performers moved to the Valley and, for a while, many called it home. A good number lived with each other in a hermetically-sealed environment, sharing experiences (good, bad, and shocking), and protecting themselves from the judgmental eyes of the out- side world. For a time it was more of a home than the industry had ever had.
But nothing lasts forever, and in 2012, Los Angeles County approved a ballot measure that required adult actors to wear condoms on-cam- era – causing a mass exodus from San Fernando Valley. The number of adult video permits filed in the county sunk 90% that year, and many employees fled to Las Vegas, Nevada, where a restriction was yet to be passed.
But in truth, the concept of home for the adult industry had already become almost non-existent in recent years. Many performers fly in to film a scene, before departing back to the mid-West on a return plane the following day. In an increasingly globalized world, ‘home’ for adult film workers is increasingly online.
**all photos by James Hamilton
What kind of community within the adult industry provides a home to its participants. Are there mentors, friends who become like family…I imagine they feel like outsiders to any within the mainstream of society, so do they actually feel at home with other industry insiders?
Today the adult film community is largely a virtual, social media-driven space, and this has democratized the nature of interaction. This is true for all eras of sex film workers, from the older, retired performers to the young, fresh talent breaking into the industry. No longer does a fan know nothing about their favorite fuck film star (as was the case in the 1970’s).
Now they follow their day-to-day activities on Twitter, admire their cat photos on Instagram, see their political preferences on Facebook, and, if they’re lucky, pay for a private cam session with their phone. With this degree of instant accessibility (not to mention historically unprecedented amounts of free porn content), it’s no wonder that many conventions featuring ‘special personal appearances’ from stars are suffering from greatly reduced attendance numbers. Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free?
So if the modern day community lacks old-school, real human contact, how and where are the performers supposed to feel at home? In recent years, many industry veterans who had acted as mentors to the younger generations have passed on—from Bill Margold (founder of the PAW Foundation, a charity for the welfare of pornography industry performers) to Candida Royalle (one of the first female director/distributors), and the industry is distinctly poorer as a result. Margold worked tirelessly to create a home for new performers by connecting them to established veterans so that lessons could be learned: as he often said, “There is no future, if in the present, we fail to pay homage to the past.”
How has New York acted as home to the Adult industry during the Golden years of Porn and does it still act as home?
In the early days, the industry was split between the West Coast and the East Coast—and they produced very different pornographic films. Only a handful of actors appeared on both sides of the country—guys like Eric Edwards, John Leslie and Jamie Gillis, who all started their careers in New York before moving to California. The Rialto Report once asked Jamie Gillis whether he preferred to work in New York or Los Angeles. He said that in New York you normally have a sex scene shot in a basement, on a dirty mattress, with a skuzzy, tough-looking girl. Whereas in LA, you’re probably in a Jacuzzi, outdoors, with the sun shining, and a girl who looks like a supermodel. So, he said, it was a no-brainer: New York was much more fun.
In the 1970’s, gritty mainstream films like Taxi Driver and The French Connection were set in New York—and they were seedy and nasty and sleazy. The New York porn of that era was similar. It was much more interesting than anything being produced elsewhere.
The watershed moment was the release of ‘Deep Throat’ in June 1972. It was a huge success and created the ‘porno chic’ phenomenon—which meant that for the first time ever, it was socially acceptable to actually go see a porn film. And take your girlfriend or wife too. It wasn’t a great film—but it had an imaginative gimmick in that its star, Linda Lovelace, discovers her clitoris is in the back of her throat.
At this time no one really knew what was legal. There were all kinds of obscenity rulings, but no one could actually decide what obscenity actually meant. There was a real chance you could be arrested and face jail time for just acting in a film. In the end it came down to ‘local community standards’ — which meant that you could show a movie in big coastal cities, but you couldn’t show the same film in Alabama.
It was the filmmakers in New York that just kept pushing the envelope — one pubic hair at a time.
The adult industry moved West long ago, and now there is hardly a trace of the golden age of porn in the Big Apple.
The Rialto Report were recent consultants on the James Franco series, The Deuce. Visit The Rialto Report here, therialtoreport.com. This article first appeared in our HOME issue, read the full issue, here.