“No One is Famous in Porn?”

Nina Hartley talks feminism and respect

by Rich Moreland, January 2012

I just returned from four days in Las Vegas. It’s January and that means the Adult Entertainment Expo, the industry’s annual festival and awards show, made its way onto my calendar again.

While there I had dinner with some interesting people at an upscale Italian restaurant near the Strip. Among them was Bill Margold, founder of Protecting Adult Welfare and a veteran of the business; David Bertolino, off Broadway producer of The Deep Throat Sex Scandal; and adult film performer, Tara Lynn Foxx, about whom I have written in the past.

Tara is not a newcomer to the business.  She entered three years ago at eighteen, an age too tender to fully understand her decision.

Conversation turned to being famous in porn and Margold asked Tara if that was one of her goals. Knowing Bill, he was probing Tara to measure her commitment to the industry. She replied with an enthusiastic “yes,” though she appeared to be slightly uncomfortable with the question.

My thoughts drifted momentarily away from the table talk to what “famous” means in an industry that defines acting as a set up for fornication. A bit of searching for a definitive idea as it applies to pornography danced through my mind’s neural networks.

Two names popped up, Nina Hartley and Bobbi Starr, superstar women of separate generations and feminists in a business that is not considered receptive to empowered women.

I had the pleasure on this trip of interviewing Nina in person, though we knew each other from emails. She is the definition of “famous” when it comes to adult film, I believe, if such a thing exists. To say that she bowled me over is putting a soft spin on our chat. Total force, total domination of an hour’s time.

On Friday, I interrupted Bobbi Starr while she was signing on the floor of the Hard Rock Hotel ballroom. I wanted to say hello and my impatience took over, so I politely drew her attention away from a fan. As is her habit, Bobbi gave me that charming smile. She has a talent for this. We exchanged a few words and I mentioned that I wasn’t seeking an interview, this was just a quick “how are you.” She has been generous with her time in the past, but my intrusion at the moment was blocking her fans and I know how important they are to her. We made arrangements to visit later.

Nina and Bobbi, what can they teach us about fame?

Making everyone else seemingly disappear when she turns her eyes to you is an ingredient in being famous.

Leaving you with the feeling that you are the focus of her entire moment is an ingredient in being famous.

Speaking intelligently and voicing an empowerment is an ingredient in being famous.

Nina does these things really well, as does Bobbi. But few do.

In fact, the real issue is respect. Genuine fame follows respect.

At the Saturday night awards show, Bobbi finally garnered “Female Performer of the Year,” a deserved honor that has eluded her. Bobbi is a director now, as well as a performer, and you can read an earlier entry on her on this blog. To suggest that she is a living legend is an understatement. She, like Nina, is a wily veteran who has forged her own path in a business that can be filled with misrepresentations, sleaze, and shady behaviors.

Most important, both women operate under Nina Hartley’s in-your-face feminist tenet, “my body, my rules.”

Nina and Bobbi have paid their dues and have earned the right to speak their minds. Trust me, both will when openings are offered. Earning respect, Nina suggests, in a business that is primarily an “ole boy network” is a mighty task. Women are valued for their “hotness,” but not necessarily for their input into the day-to-day operation of making and distributing film. This is not to say that women are non-existent at the production level, Nina points out, but being a performer is a different scenario. The money flows to the top. Profit is made off the performers, not for the performers.

Incidentally, Nina commented that many men in the business “have women issues.” They don’t necessarily “want women as companions,” as in building a long-term relationships. They are perpetually dating, rarely settling down. Nina believes this male state of mind inhibits respect. She did concede, however, that attitudes are slowly changing. Bobbi’s new career opportunity behind the camera supports her assertion.

Though Nina is not involved in the business end of adult film, I can guarantee you she is respected, as is Bobbi. Why? From my limited knowledge, I can cobble together an answer.

First and foremost, respect is earned as veteran performer and director, Veronica Hart, told me. Porn is a business; making money is its reason to be. Nina and Bobbi are moneymakers because they demonstrate a control of their personal sexual agency that exceeds that of most women who ever walked onto a set. When on camera, they orchestrate the scene in fashion that dictates the flow of the other performers.

Both of them do the things that everyone in a business setting is expected to demonstrate. Show up on time ready to work; take responsibility for on-the-job performance; transform the word “dependable” into a personal mantra; and make every performance the best it can be at the moment. Of course, the pornography industry is not an ordinary corporate environment nor is it a bureaucracy where a person is a cog in a machine. Not everything is believed; not everyone is honest. Promises are made and can vaporize instantly. And, as Nina said, she’s always unemployed until the next shoot. That’s the norm.

By now, the table conversation had moved on and I made my way back into it, but not before one final thought.

Where does this leave the definition of famous in porn?

Mention Nina Hartley and Bobbi Starr to others in adult film and compliments are immediate. Both women are dynamic and their presence in a room lights up your senses. Their energy is infectious. Their personal opinions are valued. The proof hangs around during an industry event; someone will always be nearby with mic in hand, seeking an interview. That’s respect.

Will Tara Lynn Foxx earn such accolades and consequently become famous? Too early to tell, but I think she is on her way, if ever so slowly. She is dynamic in an interview and she is exploring empowerment. That’s a start.

But it takes awhile. Nina entered the business in 1984, the year after Bobbi was born. Bobbi is nearing thirty, moving into her seventh year in the industry. She has indicated to me she will leave adult film one day, but that may far off.

Longevity in porn is rare. Can a woman gain fame without it? Sure, but who admires the likes of Traci Lords?

At her tender age, TLF is just beginning. She has the ability and the brains to make it happen, it remains to be seen if time is at her back.

——————————————

Three years ago I asked Bobbi the same question Margold posed to Tara. Bobbi’s response is one I have yet to hear repeated.

I remember it to this day.

“No one is famous in porn,” she said.

I disagree. There are an iconic few and I have the good fortune to know two of them.

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