Anne Marie Ballowe: Porn actress
Anne Marie Ballowe: HIV positive
Behind the scenes
At Moonlite Bunny Ranch
January 12, 2003
L.A. TIMES MAGAZINE
See No Evil
In California's unregulated porn film industry, an alarming number of performers are infected with HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. And nobody seems to care.
By P.J. Huffstutter, Times Staff Writer
During production of the 1997 movie "Mimic," American Humane Assn. representatives wandered through the Los Angeles set, ensuring that a herd of cockroaches was well taken care of. Licensed animal handlers were to follow state and federal anti-cruelty laws designed to protect the insects, which had been trained to swirl around actress Mira Sorvino's feet. The roaches had to be fed at a certain time. They could only work a few hours each day. They could not be harmed.
At the same time, in studios in the San Fernando Valley, scores of other actors and actresses were working on movies. They put in long hours, commonly without meal breaks. They often worked without clean toilets, toilet paper, soap or water. More importantly, they were exposed to a host of infectious, and sometimes fatal, diseases.
These performers were making heterosexual adult films for an industry that in California is entirely legal, and utterly unregulated. Its producers take in several billion dollars annually from cable television programming, videos and Internet sites watched by a public whose appetite seems insatiable. They pay taxes, lobby in Sacramento and contribute to political campaigns.
Yet actors and actresses are discouraged from wearing prophylactics during filming because porn producers believe the public wants to see unprotected sex. So adult porn stars commonly engage in sexual acts with scores of partners, and then return each evening to their private lives--dating or having relationships with people across Southern California.
In the words of former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, when told about the lack of oversight of the adult film industry: "These folks are a reservoir. They don't just have sex with one another. They have sex with regular people outside their business--doctors, lawyers, teachers, your next-door neighbor."
But California regulators and political officials don't believe the public is worried about protecting the porn stars themselves--despite the enormous popularity of the films they produce. As David Gurley, staff attorney for the California Labor Commissioner's office, says: "Porn stars--people think they're not worth the time. The public sees these people as disposable."
Told of those remarks, and similar ones by other California officials, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said: "That's ridiculous. That's the same thing we heard about the gay community back in the early days of AIDS." Koop was an early crusader in the fight against the disease.
Koop and others note that in Nevada, legal brothels are subject to stringent state oversight--and the spread of sexually transmitted disease in that industry has been reduced to trace amounts. In California, the adult film business, which has expanded to include the most risque forms of sex widely referred to as Triple X, is remarkably similar in scope to Nevada's legalized prostitution in terms of the number of people employed and the nature of the job. Yet the only monitoring in Triple X is a form of modest self-regulation by some companies that request health tests before performers go on camera. But even that practice is neither widespread nor tightly monitored. "The fact that no one's watching this industry is shocking," Koop says. "How many people have to be infected with an STD before someone does something?"
Actress Anne Marie Ballowe is a former porn star who flourished in the burgeoning business. She was born in Taegu City, S. Korea, the daughter of a U.S. serviceman and a South Korean woman. The family moved to the United States, where her parents soon divorced. Her mother gave her to her father, who was living in a small Missouri town, when Ballowe was 7. She says she was raped by schoolmates at age 16. The following year she ran away to Los Angeles with dreams of a better life.
She found it. Sort of.
Ballowe became famous, paid thousands of dollars to grin for the camera, prance beneath the hot lights--and have sex with strangers. For years she enjoyed the perks of her job, shuttling around town in limousines, attending hot Hollywood parties, dating famous athletes and rock 'n' roll gods. During her seven years in the business, she starred in scores of Triple-X films.
Legal and medical records show she walked away from the business in 1998 with chlamydia, which could make her sterile; cytomegalovirus, which could eventually make her blind; hepatitis C, which has damaged her liver; and HIV, which could cause AIDS and probably kill her. According to medical records, her liver is too damaged--in part because of the hepatitis--to allow her to take the anti-viral drugs that could delay the onset of AIDS.
Along the way, she also became a drug addict, and she has exhibited symptoms of schizophrenia. Today the 29-year-old former actress lives in Honolulu. There, sitting inside an AIDS clinic for homeless patients, waiting for medication, she hides her past behind an engaging smile. "I know people hate what we do," she says. "But porn stars make a lot of money for other people. If farmworkers have rights, so should we. The laws need to change."
Anne Marie Ballowe: HIV positive
Hours later, staring at the TV screen inside a friend's apartment, Ballowe watches a clip from a 1998 video she made for Hard Core Television and K-Beech Video Inc. It is the film in which Ballowe has alleged she was infected with HIV by an actor named Marc S. Goldberg. She was paid $10,000 for her work, but records show the check bounced just days after she learned that she was HIV positive.
As the video plays, Ballowe quietly excuses herself and walks into the bathroom, locking the door behind her. Water runs into the sink, nearly muffling the sound of retching.
Ballowe's rise and fall in the business is not unusual, but her reaction is. She filed a lawsuit with the California Workers' Compensation Appeal Board against Hard Core Television, the producer of the video, and K-Beech, the distributor. Ballowe alleges that Goldberg faked a test showing he was HIV negative. Included in the lawsuit is a copy of an HIV test supposedly taken by Goldberg on March 21, 1997, nearly a year before the two actors worked together. The result is negative.
The document says the test was conducted by the Medical Science Institute in Burbank--a laboratory that filed for bankruptcy in 1995, and whose assets were purchased by Physicians Clinical Laboratory Inc. in February 1997. The document also shows that Goldberg's blood sample was taken at Northeast Valley Health Corp.'s Pacoima offices, by a physician identified only as "Martinez."
Officials from Northeast Valley told The Times that no doctor by that name worked at their facilities during this time. "We had a doctor named Martinez, but he left and moved out of the area back in 1985," says Kimberly Wyard, chief executive officer.
Goldberg could not be reached for comment despite nearly two dozen attempts to contact him by phone and in person at his home and at the video company where he works. No response from Goldberg to Ballowe's lawsuit is on file with the state. Hard Core Television and K-Beech have filed papers denying responsibility.
Ballowe's suit says that during several days of filming in Chatsworth in February 1998, the actress had sex with about 25 men--a mix of actors established in the business, would-be stars trying to get a break in the industry and adult-film fans who had been recruited at adult video stores. Most of the men showed up at the set with paperwork that declared they were HIV-negative. Some wore condoms. Others, like Goldberg, did not.
"I had known Marc for years, so I didn't make him wear one," Ballowe says in an interview. "I was going on good faith" that he was not infected. In her lawsuit, Ballowe says that K-Beech and Hard Core failed to provide a safe work environment, as required by state law. Specifically, she claims the businesses failed to "verify the health certificates provided . . . to ensure their accuracy and reliability." She also claims the companies failed "to furnish and use safety devices and safeguards for the benefit of the employee . . . with knowledge that serious injury to applicant would be a probable result."
"If I was a prostitute in Nevada, I'd still be alive," she says in an interview. "If I'd been a migrant farmworker, I'd still be alive. As it is, I'm dead. I'll be buried before I get wrinkles."
Ballowe's lawsuit has become the leading example cited by all those who argue for regulation of the industry. It was filed in 1998, at a time when, one by one, porn actresses were testing positive for HIV. Among industry veterans, those years are now known as "the dark times." In January of that year, actress Tricia Devereaux tested positive. She was followed by Ballowe in March; a Hungarian performer, who used only the stage name Caroline, in April; and Kimberly Jade in May.
"I could have given this to my boyfriend," Jade says. "Any of us could have and not known because we were getting tested only once a month, for HIV. The only thing we all have in common is Marc. But we had no idea how to prove that he did it."
Some companies, such as Vivid Video Inc. in Van Nuys and VCA Pictures in Chatsworth, insist performers bring a recent HIV test to the set and use condoms when they perform. But dozens of Triple-X filmmakers have no such requirements. Even at those that do, the rules can be easily overlooked, according to interviews with more than three dozen actresses working for various Triple-X companies.
"It's up to the talent to say [to other performers], 'Let me see your HIV test,' or 'Hey, I need a condom,' " says Robert Herrera, production chief of Simon Wolf Productions in Chatsworth. "It'd be great to have everyone wear a condom and a good thing to force everyone to test for everything. But it's impossible to do that in this business."
Gay pornographers abide by a different set of rules: No condom, no HIV test, no audience. Nearly all gay Triple-X production studios throughout the industry demand condom use and other protections. The decision is rooted in financial concerns. While there is a niche audience for films that depict unprotected sex, few retail and Internet outlets will carry such movies for fear of drawing public criticism.
"They all wear condoms," says Roger Tansey, former executive director of Aid For AIDS, a West Hollywood-based nonprofit that provides financial assistance for people with HIV. "Gay actors and gay viewers don't see unprotected sex as a fantasy. They see it as watching death on the screen."
Though the porn industry is huge when measured in dollars, it has relatively few employees. Talent agents say there are typically 500 Triple-X actors and actresses working at any given time in Southern California. But because the average career lasts just 18 months, the number of people who have worked on Triple-X sets over time is actually far higher, exceeding thousands per decade.
The extent of infection among those performers is unknown because no government or regulatory medical agency has ever tracked the industry consistently. The limited data that does exist is alarming. The Adult Industry Medical HealthCare Foundation (AIM), an industry-backed clinic in Sherman Oaks, administered voluntary tests to a group consisting primarily of adult film workers. Of 483 people tested between October 2001 and March 2002, about 40% had at least one disease. Nearly 17% tested positive for chlamydia, 13% for gonorrhea and 10% for hepatitis B and C, according to Sharon Mitchell, a former adult actress who founded AIM. None of the tests came up positive for HIV, Mitchell said. The testing was funded in part by the Los Angeles County Health Department.
By comparison, 23,277 cases of gonorrhea were reported statewide in 2001, less than one-tenth of 1% of the state's population, according to the Department of Health Service's division of communicable disease control. For chlamydia, 101,871 cases were reported for the year, or about three-tenths of 1%--a rate health officials consider epidemic. The chlamydia rates in the porn world are about 57 times higher than those epidemic proportions. But that and other statistics can also be explained by the small size of the population and its abnormally high rate of sexual activity.
The industry agreed to start AIM under pressure from Mitchell and others, after Ballowe and several other actresses contracted HIV. "We don't test everyone in the business," Mitchell said. "People come into this business, and they leave this business. We can follow many of them, but not all." For every positive test, the clinic contacted the performers' partners and tested them as well. On average, said Mitchell, one positive STD test for a porn star led to the discovery of four other infections.
The figures obtained by AIM are "clearly an indication of what's happening," says Dr. Peter Kerndt, the county health department's STD control director. "We support AIM's effort, but we can't help them very much financially. Our budgets are tight, and there's no public outcry over this.
"But even we wonder why we don't have the same legal requirements in California that they have with legalized prostitutes in Nevada."
It's a point that comes up repeatedly about health conditions in the porn industry: Why not regulate as Nevada does?
The answer is that on the evolutionary chain of vice--from gambling to sex--California now seems behind its neighbor state. It is Nevada that imposes strict controls on and derives healthy revenues from legalized gambling. It is Nevada that has devised a way to keep the legal sex business healthy.
The worlds of legalized prostitution in Nevada and adult films in California are strikingly similar. Nevada's legal brothels employ from 250 to 400 licensed prostitutes at any time and they typically stay in the business only a short time, says George Flint, executive director of the Nevada Brothel Owners Group. The women who work in the state's 26 legal brothels are required by state law to practice safe sex. Doctors and epidemiologists alike say the rules have all but eradicated the transmission of STDs within the workplace.
In 1999, for example, there were 28 cases of prostitutes who tested positive for either gonorrhea or chlamydia, according to officials with the Nevada Department of Human Resources Health Division. Government officials say that most of those who were infected contracted their diseases outside the brothels.
"What we've found is that the positives are nearly all from women who are being tested [for STDs] as they enter the system for the first time," says Dr. Randy Todd, Nevada's state epidemiologist. "On the rare case that they've contracted after being in the system, we've found that they've had unprotected sex with a boyfriend or husband, and that's where the [infection] occurred." There have been no cases of HIV since Nevada's brothels were ruled legal in the mid-1980s.
"If we had the numbers you're seeing in California, our phones wouldn't stop ringing," says Rick Sowadsky, health program specialist for the Nevada State Health Division. He says the infection rates in California's adult film business "are unreal. What a public health crisis."
In Nevada, the state health department's Bureau of Disease Control and Intervention Services began requiring customers in brothels to use condoms. A violation is a misdemeanor. To have HIV and not wear a condom is a felony.
The brothels also have a huge financial incentive to follow the law. "If the police catch one of the workers not using a condom, the house gets hit with a fine," says Dennis Hof, owner of several brothels, including the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, Nev. "The second time it happens, the house gets shut down permanently. That will not happen to us. That's why we hire people to go in and test the girls [on using condoms] ourselves."
Brothels keep health and test records for each prostitute. Once a week, the women are required to visit a doctor, or the doctors arrive at the brothels themselves. Blood and urine are drawn and sent off to one of a handful of state-regulated labs. Local authorities can--and do--stop by for periodic checks on the paperwork.
Jan 13th, 2003, 08:27 PM
A main objective of the monitoring is to keep the operation thriving. "If we had the disease rate you see in the porn world, we'd be out of business tomorrow," says Flint. "All it would take is one customer saying he picked up an STD in one of our houses, and our industry would be gone."
To offset the state's regulatory costs, prostitutes pay a host of fees--ranging from the required medical tests, as well as state registration and licensing fees. Last year, those brought in about $175,000 in Nye County, where a dozen brothels operate. That's a relatively small amount in a county with a general budget of $50 million. But the impact is clearly felt: The county's emergency services received $60,000 from the licensing fees, which was used to pay for new ambulances.
Prostitutes regularly face pressure to avoid using condoms, says Dr. Alexa Albert, author of "Brothel: Mustang Ranch and Its Women." Her research, detailed in the book and in reports for the American Journal of Public Health, showed that more than 65% of the women said at least one of their customers had balked at wearing a condom each month, offering as much as $1,000 to do without. None of the women Albert interviewed said she had agreed to unprotected sex.
"Each brothel has to have the disease status on file from their workers," says Albert, a gaduate of Harvard Medical School. "There's too much at risk legally."
In California's Triple-X world, there is no legal risk because no one is watching over the business. "If California is the only state where it's legal to be paid for having sex in front of a camera, it's going to be up to the state of California and the local agencies to do something about regulating it," says Frederick S. Lane III, an attorney and author of "Obscene Profits: The Entrepreneurs of Pornography in the Cyber Age."
"But it would be political suicide for anyone in government to come forward and try to start regulating the porn industry," Lane says. "That's why nothing's been done." Though there are labor laws in place that could be enforced, new legislation would be needed to bring California in line with Nevada's regulations.
Actresses Britni Taylor and Savannah Rain lean against the back wall of a crowded North Hollywood soundstage. They listen, occasionally yawning, as cameraman Glenn Baren and his all-male crew from the production shop Extreme Associates try to figure out how to reconfigure the small set to accommodate various camera angles. Baren paces across the concrete floor, listening to suggestions from the crew. The actresses stare at the ceiling. No one asks their opinion. Finally, it's decided: The first scene will be shot from the foot of the bed.
There are no condoms on the set. There's no toilet paper in the bathroom. The performers brought boxes of baby wipes. Soiled sheets litter the ground, creating a trail to the bed. For more than two hours, Taylor and Rain engage in unprotected sexual acts with a male performer.
During a break, Rain asks director Thomas Zupko for her co-workers' HIV tests. Handed a stack of papers, she flips through the documents. One is missing--Taylor's. Rain asks repeatedly for her paperwork, but she balks. "I don't have [expletive] AIDS," Taylor finally says. "I am not [having sex with] you."
Stunned, Rain says nothing. Minutes pass, then Baren picks up the camera and filming continues.
Off to the side, an actress mutters: "That is why we take so many prescriptions."
What happens on these sets is invisible to elected officials in Sacramento, where each spring pornographers travel to meet with state legislators in a daylong lobbying blitz. Under the banner of the Free Speech Coalition, a 900-member San Fernando Valley-based trade group for the adult entertainment industry, moviemakers and former actresses knock on doors and stump over taxation issues. They have lobbied against regulation and pass out industry-funded research that touts their economic impact on California: an estimated $31 million in state sales tax from the rentals of 130 million adult videos and nearly $1.8 billion in Internet sales and Web site traffic nationwide.
Among the lobbyists at last year's meetings was porn actress Julie Meadows. She wandered the hallways with a list of politicians she would visit. Her task: talk about pending legislation, including debate over tax breaks and real estate laws that could either hurt or help adult filmmakers. Meadows begins knocking on doors, including those of Democratic Sen. Kevin Murray of Culver City, chairman of the Select Committee on the Entertainment Industry, and Democratic Sen. Richard Alarcon of Van Nuys, chairman of the Senate Labor Committee.
"They didn't ask a lot of questions," Meadows, who works for VCA Pictures, said afterward. "When they did, it was all about the business. There were no questions about the day-to-day activities of our job, or what happens on the set."
Months later, when asked about Meadows' visit to Murray's office, his spokeswoman, Yolanda Sandoval, told The Times that the senator "doesn't remember seeing them this year." Alarcon declined to comment.
Other lawmakers who chair health or labor committees in Sacramento also declined to comment on the lack of regulation of the Triple-X industry. Among those called by The Times were Democratic Assemblyman Paul Koretz of West Hollywood, who chairs the Labor and Employment Committee; Democratic Assemblyman Dario Frommer of Los Feliz, chair of the Health Committee, and Democratic Sen. Deborah Ortiz of Sacramento, who heads the Health and Human Services Committee.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the lobbying is how fast it has become unremarkable. Little more than a decade ago, appearances by Meadows, or anyone in the industry, would have been unthinkable because pornographers were battling a Justice Department crusade against transporting "obscene" materials across state lines.
Then, in California, the industry caught a break. Harold Freeman, who was president of Hollywood Video Production Co., contested pandering charges against him, basing his argument on a 1973 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Miller vs. Calfornia, the high court had defined obscenity as material that depicted sex in a "patently offensive way," lacking in literary, artistic, scientific and political merit, and appealing to an average person's "prurient interest," as determined by the local standards of each community.
In effect, the court said that if a locality deemed sexual content sufficiently artistic, it was not obscene.
To the California Supreme Court, ruling in Freeman's case, that definition meant that an adult filmmaker could hire actors and actresses to perform sexual acts as long as they were being recorded on film. In its 1988 decision, the California court said there is no evidence that Freeman paid the acting fees "for the purpose of sexual arousal or gratification, his own or the actors'." Instead, he hired them simply to make a non-obscene movie--an act protected by the First Amendment.
Just like that, making porn was legal in California. The industry exploded, thanks also to the VCR revolution, which made it possible for people to watch in private rather than at seedy adult theaters. What's more, anyone could buy a video camera and go into the filmmaking business. A cottage industry of "amateur" pornographers cropped up in the San Fernando Valley. They competed against several major adult studios: VCA Pictures Inc., Wicked Pictures, and Sin City Films, all in Chatsworth, and Vivid Video Inc. and Evil Angel Productions in Van Nuys.
Over the years, the companies grew larger--and politically smarter. They help fund the Free Speech Coalition, a Chatsworth-based national nonprofit organization that has dues-paying members ranging from Web site operators to porn actresses to adult cabaret chains. With an annual budget of $750,000, the coalition's lobbying effort has focused on protecting free speech and guarding the business interests of the Triple-X world.
"Our focus is not just about the rights of the adult industry, but the rights of you as an individual to have choices," says William Lyon, executive director of the coalition. The organization has opened offices in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia and Washington, D.C. By next year, the group expects to expand into the South with five more offices.
Today's pornographers maintain that the adult film industry is no different from other lucrative businesses based on vice, such as tobacco and alcohol. Sex is merely a commodity to be sold and branded, like Microsoft software and Chrysler minivans. "We are a mainstream business, pure and simple," says Steven Hirsch, chief executive of Vivid Video Inc., a leading supplier of erotica to major entertainment companies such as AOL Time Warner Inc., AT&T Corp. and DirecTV, the satellite TV service controlled by General Motors Corp. "We are nothing more than widget makers."
They are widget makers with one exception: Other industries are monitored for health and safety violations in the workplace.
In the heterosexual adult film business, producers may not demand the use of condoms, but they do require actors and actresses to sign documents meant to excuse the filmmakers of liability. A typical contract from Vivid says the company is not responsible, and will pay no medical costs, for "sexually transmitted diseases . . . . such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), herpes, hepatitis and other related diseases."
Ballowe and Goldberg signed similar waivers on the movie they shot together. "I represent that I am in good health, with no known sexually transmittable diseases. I understand that the benefits of the workmen's compensation laws do not apply," the waiver said.
Ballowe's lawsuit alleges that Goldberg lied when signing the document, and that the attempt to force her to waive worker's compensation rights was not lawful.
Legal experts called by The Times agree. Employees cannot be forced to sign away their legal rights to work in a safe environment--or to earn a minimum wage, overtime pay and enjoy the protection of workers' compensation insurance.
"You cannot have a provision that goes against public policy," says John Laviolette, an entertainment lawyer who represents numerous mainstream Hollywood producers. "If you're an employer and one of your employees experiences an injury while on the job, those injuries will be covered."
Producers, however, do not concede that performers are employees. Instead, producers claim performers are independent contractors who are not subject to workers' compensation laws.
Elliott Berkowitz, a Los Angeles workers' compensation attorney who is representing Ballowe, counters: "They're employees. The companies tell them when to show up, what to wear, where to go, what acts to do. If Hollywood studios consider their actors and actresses an employee during the length of their film shoots, there's no reason why adult studios should be held to a different standard. They're both making movies. And I guarantee you, studios like Disney have paid their taxes and workers' compensation policies."
The issue has yet to be decided by the compensation appeals board. But if it is, another obstacle awaits Ballowe. Hard Core Television, the producer of the video, did not have workers' compensation insurance for any employees. The distributor, K-Beech, had taken out a workers' compensation policy describing its employees as clerical workers. TIG Insurance Co., the Texas-based underwriter, insists the policy does not cover porn stars--and therefore won't cover Ballowe's medical bills.
Officials with Hard Core Television and K-Beech could not be reached and attorneys for TIG declined to comment.
Whose job is it to track the san Fernando Valley pornography industry?
There are two leading candidates. One is the L.A. County Health Department. It relies heavily on state and federal money, but the federal funds are to end in 2004-2005. "Of course there's concern," says Kerndt, the county's STD control director. "We know that if a disease enters this population, it could rapidly spread." Health department officials say they don't have enough staff or money to monitor the industry and point to a budget deficit that, by 2005, is on track to hit between $350 million and $400 million annually.
The other candidate for oversight is the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health, whose monitoring effort includes oversight of Hollywood stunt work but not the porn industry. It is "too fragmented, too hard to track," says Dean Fryer, a Cal-OSHA spokesman. "We rely heavily on employees to give us tips about unsafe working conditions."
Deborah Sanchez, supervising attorney for the Los Angeles City Attorney's special enforcement unit, is sympathetic to the plight of porn performers but sees little support from the public. "This reminds me of all the other types of businesses that have traditionally been oppressors--the garment industry, for example," Sanchez says. "The difference is, there are unions for garment workers" these days.
Mainstream Hollywood actors have a union that oversees wages, health insurance, retirement benefits and residual payments. Screen Actors Guild officials say they would never allow their members to work on an adult set.
Some adult-film actors know that they are entitled to employee protections such as workers' compensation and overtime, but they see no way performers could organize. "You would have to get every actor and actress in adult to sign up at the same minute," says an actress who goes by the stage name Wendy Divine and has worked on Vivid and K-Beech productions for several years. "Even if that happened, the studios could easily find replacements. They control everything."
Before Ballowe filed her lawsuit, she and Jade reached out to law enforcement and other government agencies, asking that they investigate working conditions in the industry. The first stop, in 1998, was Cal-OSHA. "They told us they didn't track our business," Ballowe says, and sent her to the state health department."
The California Department of Health Services, however, doesn't track their industry. "It's a local issue controlled by the local county health department," Ballowe says she was told.
The Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, when contacted by The Times, said the case was a criminal matter, not a public health issue.
So they went to the Van Nuys office of the Los Angeles Police Department, where they met with Det. David Escoto, then with the department's Crimes Against Persons unit. "I told them there was no way we could prove who did what," recalls Escoto, now in the department's Foothill office. "I don't know how the industry works. And I don't think there's a way to prove they all got HIV from the same person.
No one would believe them anyway."
"That's utter rubbish," counters Dr. Michael Gottlieb, the former UCLA medical researcher who identified the earliest AIDS cases. "There is a way to track that information. It just takes money."
Gottlieb pointed to the case of Dr. David Acer, a Florida dentist who was found to have infected six of his patients with HIV. Federal epidemiologists used molecular sequencing studies of the viral strains of the patients to see if there were any similarities in the virus carried by the seven people.
The results showed that the patients' strain was similar to that of the dentist--and vastly different from other HIV strains collected elsewhere in the community.
But there was an important difference with the case of the dentist. "People cared what happened to those patients," Gottlieb says. "They were seen as innocent. No one sees porn stars as victims."
Correction. Almost no one. Somewhere in Los Angeles is one office worker who does care. In the words of an adult-film actress: "I picked up chlamydia on an Extreme set. I gave it to my boyfriend by accident. I had no idea that I had it. I didn't have any symptoms."
She learned that she was infected nearly a year later, long after she and the boyfriend had broken up. By then, he was in another relationship and had unknowingly infected his new girlfriend. "She had it, too," says the actress, who agreed to speak only if not identified. "The girlfriend worked at some insurance company. She's a secretary."
_ _ _
Times staff writer P.J. Huffstutter last wrote for the magazine about the rise of Vivid Video Inc., the nation's leading porn producer.
It's time for the double-standards and hypocrisy to end once and for all, before "the chickens come home to roost." CA. State and federal legislators need to recognize this as fact....and do it soon.
Submitted by: Don Normann
5:23 AM PST, Jan 13, 2003
The people who need to change this industry are porn workers themselves. If professionals and amateurs don't stand up to producers, directors and most importantly, the consumer, there will be no "positives" left, only negatives.
Submitted by: Damon Campagna, NYC
8:16 PM PST, Jan 12, 2003
Share your thoughts about this story.
1. The only way the industry will change is if the women performers banded together & unionized, but that's not gonna happen due to the law of supply & demand--new girls are always pushing out the old.
Submitted by: Lizard-Man
10:26 AM PST, Jan 13, 2003
2. Another answer is for women to insist upon working exclusively with one guy who's also exclusive to them. There is precedent with past performers Celeste, Blondie Bee, Champagne & Trinity Loren who had no problems exclusively working with their significant others.
Submitted by: John Franklin, Chicago
10:24 AM PST, Jan 13, 2003
3. It's time for the double-standards and hypocrisy to end once and for all, before "the chickens come home to roost." CA. State and federal legislators need to recognize this as fact....and do it soon.
Submitted by: Don Normann
5:23 AM PST, Jan 13, 2003
4. The people who need to change this industry are porn workers themselves. If professionals and amateurs don't stand up to producers, directors and most importantly, the consumer, there will be no "positives" left, only negatives.
Submitted by: Damon Campagna, NYC
8:16 PM PST, Jan 12, 2003
5. Buyers could make a Difference! People want this kind of video and it is a protected form of expression. But buyers (video stores, cable programmers, etc.) should insist that health standards be met during production. That small and responsilbe step would change everything.
Submitted by: Bob
4:17 PM PST, Jan 12, 2003
6. CA Gov. is in a catch 22 situation. If they take action, they are admitting the industry exists and open themselves to religious conservatives. Always easier to just ignore it, collect the money, and let people die. Excellent title, "See No Evil".
Submitted by: RR
3:54 PM PST, Jan 12, 2003
7. We need to realize that we have a problem and the problem needs a solution - health care. Priests preach abstinence and we all know how many of them practice what they preach. So let's quit preaching and start praying!
Submitted by: Imran Ahmed
3:07 PM PST, Jan 12, 2003
8. This is a good argument for unionizing the sex industry.
Submitted by: Eric
10:40 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
9. They are in a piranha industry, interested only in short term gain, willing to dispose of actors & actresses because they know there are others that will follow. Anne Marie was beautiful. Her tragedy is she had no one watching over her, her entire life.
Submitted by: Peacenik, La Selva, CA
10:37 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
10. Porn actors/actresses (I'm one, if only in the 'amateur porn' realm) are real people with real stories. Not every person in the porn business is a sick, slimy soul without morals. It's easy to find the negatives - how about the positives?
Submitted by: Alanna
10:17 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
11. Who cares! what is the matter with all you people! The people that demand this kind of entertainment do not care so why should I. No one held a gun against these actors and actresses head to perform unprotecetd sexual acts. Why can't people take personal responsibility for their actions.
Submitted by: Gregory
10:08 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
12. Great story. The people who go in to this industry should absolutely not be surprised at the risks. And, rather than admitting individual responsibility, they push it on the tax payers, and the politicians. The freedom they have shouldn't cost taxpayers
Submitted by: Jim- Reno, NV
8:00 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
13. Don't these "actors" and "actresses" have to take some responsibility for their own life? We can't have the government make all of our decisions for us. Grow up and wake up, please!!
Submitted by: Ben-Sylmar, CA
7:57 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
14. P.J.: Great job on a great article. It's like, hey, we all fight to the death to keep this stuff legal (and it should be), but the fact that these people are dropping like flies is met with a blind eye. This is terribly sad. The story is really about human beings -- plain and simple.
Submitted by: Mark McBride, Culver City
7:38 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
15. I will never cease to be amazed ,people actually volunteer for this. What other fate do they expect to experience?
Submitted by: Allen Killfoile
4:46 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
16. Porn stars are like other actors/actresses. They need our proctection and there should be TOUGHER laws proctecting them. Everyone get pleasure from porn, at least, we should give something back to the perfomers like good health.
Submitted by: Luis
4:00 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
17. Just back from vacation in Hawai'i, marveling over all the beautiful beaches... It just goes to show you: beneath the surface is a world of hurt. They really need to regulate the porn industry for the sake of the workers. Thank you for being brave in sharing your story, Anne Marie Ballowe.
Submitted by: Paul Chen
2:22 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
18. Thank you for uncovering these details about the nature of the porn industry. I hope that people will see that this is a serious public health issue, and that STDs will continue to show no mercy if unchecked.
Submitted by: Cedric Benson
12:34 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
19. I am not all surprised by the lack of action taken by those in CA government. As long as the money rolls into CA coffers that's all that matters. For a state such as CA which is so big on ".gov" regulation, I sure don't here it demonstrated here. Shame on you Sacramento!
Submitted by: rw
12:33 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
20. Great reporting, bold. Now it is time to expose the real culprits of the porn industry...the consumers who are too often enticed and facilitated by mainstream industries such as major hotel chains and cable tv franchies that act as the brokers between the producers and consumers.
Submitted by: Matt Callahan, Downey CA
12:28 AM PST, Jan 12, 2003
21. These actors are the victims of America's stigma placed on the sex industry. Similar to the gay rights movement - liberal policy should reshape society's 'values.'
Submitted by: Lee Pierce
9:50 PM PST, Jan 11, 2003
22. There is one part of one of your narrated slide shows that bothered me. Why do you need to say that someone’s ending destitute/ dying is unsympathetic in story? I found it pretty darn sympathetic. I thought that was an odd choice in an otherwise insightful article.
Submitted by: P
9:24 PM PST, Jan 11, 2003
23. These are human beings who must be looked after. They need the same medical attention that the sex workers in Nevada get. The Government of the State of California has to do something to protect these individuals who are HIV positive.
Submitted by: Michael Reynolds
8:51 PM PST, Jan 11, 2003
24. This hand-wringing is a bit hypocritical when this billion $ industry exists due to public's insatiable demand for it. It chews up and spits out its own like used tissues, and no amount of regulation will change that.
Submitted by: Sexy Rexy
6:02 PM PST, Jan 11, 2003
25. I was struck by the double standards exhibited for various working conditions. There are many watchdogs for illegal immigrants, garment workers, day laborers; yet this industry gets away with substantial human abuses. Thank you for the enlightening artcle.
Submitted by: Sandra
4:54 PM PST, Jan 11, 2003
26. It's horrible, such a good life which could be so better. It's insane, this right to make profit on actors life. It's unreal, this industry of pornography who makes money and works for sexual violence. But it's real and we see it by reading this article. Good job.
Submitted by: Stephane - Paris, France
7:45 AM PST, Jan 11, 2003
27. Thank you for writing this story and bringing out the inhumane conditions in the porn industry in California. I am appalled that our society treats porn actors as if they--and their lives--don't matter when clearly their work is in demand. What hypocrisy!
Submitted by: Lib Abrams
5:22 PM PST, Jan 10, 2003
28. The California government needs to step up to the plate and regulate this industry and protect its workers--and stop pretending it--and it's actors--don't exist.
Submitted by: Lib Abrams
5:21 PM PST, Jan 10, 2003
Jan 13th, 2003, 10:53 PM
Jan 14th, 2003, 12:01 AM
When I tried to break into porn 20 years or so ago, AIDS was still a "gay" disease so no one used any protection because I worked in "straight" porn. Plus, of the few movies I did, most scenes were girl on girl. So I guess I was lucky, plus the few men I "worked with" were way too ugly to do gay porn. From my view, most of those in porn were total drug addicts. I did not like it. As I have said before, my body was an "A," my face a "B." So I never made it (and the money sucked then), but I didn't like the drug use. And I don't mean pot, I mean hard shit, most of the woman I worked with were strung out on shit you can't even imagine. So, I wonder if these women were drug addicts and that's what gave them AIDS and the other diseases. You have to be responsible for your own body after all.
Jan 14th, 2003, 12:23 AM
it gives new meaning to the term "unhealthy work environment". i'm quite shocked and not by the pornographic behaviour. i couldn't care less about that. it's sad how reckless people can be with their lives.
Jan 14th, 2003, 03:54 AM
Ginger Lynn Allen, the first contract girl for Vivid, in 1984.
Steven Hirsch, President of Vivid Film in his office.
David "Dewi" James, Vivid Video Inc. co-founder, in the company's screening room, with Dyanna in the background. Once Vivid shoots a scene, it has full control over its use. "We recycle a movie 10 or 25 different ways," he says
Jan 14th, 2003, 04:27 AM
Los Angeles Times Magazine
The Actress, the Producer and Their Porn Revolution
Steven Hirsch recognized that VCRs could bring adult movies to a new market--couples. But first he needed a different kind of star.
By RALPH FRAMMOLINO and P.J. HUFFSTUTTER, Times Staff Writers
You can say this much at least, the setting was magnificent--a seafood restaurant at Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. San Fernando Valley businessman Steven A. Hirsch thought it was the ideal spot for his pitch to the blond, hazel-eyed Midwest tomboy. She loved crab legs? He promised her all she could eat.
Ginger Lynn Allen arrived at Gladstone's restaurant in a lace dress and heels and joined Hirsch and his girlfriend at their table. It was late 1984. They were young, in their early 20s, and full of vigor and hope. Allen was trying to escape a nasty childhood by becoming a movie star. Hirsch was looking for the money and respect his father never enjoyed. He wanted to produce movies.
At that moment, neither career was one to write home about. Allen was an actress, yes, but one who specialized in talents Hollywood doesn't put on screen. Hirsch peddled the kind of movies she made, but they had hardly brought him riches or respect. The industry they worked in was still very much on the fringe.
As an overnight porn sensation, Allen knew she could earn lots of cash for a few years before being replaced by the next wave of fresh faces. She dreamed of jumping to Hollywood before then and had no idea what this obscure but attractive pornography figure could offer her, other than all the crab she wanted.
She didn't know he was planning a revolution.
Hirsch laid out his proposal. No other porn actress has ever had such a deal--control over scripts and casting, marketing campaigns devoted exclusively to her and a guaranteed income that included royalties and could reach six figures.
Allen was skeptical. Hirsch had little track record as a producer. But as anyone who knows him will vouch, Hirsch is nothing if not persuasive. He desperately needed her help. Gradually, Allen began to believe.
Today, Gladstone's could put a plaque over that table where Hirsch and Allen dined. It marks the birthplace of a new kind of porn--designer porn--and its unrelenting march into American lives. These days, hard-core sex stars date rock musicians, appear on album covers and dance in music videos. They gab with shock-jock Howard Stern. Academics plumb porn for its cultural and business significance. The Internet is flooded with come-hither Web sites. Students at Yale hold coed "chicken and porn" parties. Annual rentals and sales of adult videos and DVDs top $4 billion, and the industry churns out 11,000 titles each year--more than 20 times as many as Hollywood, according to Adult Video News, an adult industry trade magazine.
Hirsch has become so successful, and perceptions of the industry have changed so much, that he was invited last May to address a USC business class. His muscular frame clad in casual slacks and a crisp blue blazer, the 40-year-old executive lectured his audience on "production value" and "market share"--terms drawn from the same corporate lexicon as former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and other industry titans who have shared their wisdom at USC.
"Ten years ago I don't think I would have been asked to speak in front of that class," Hirsch says in an interview later, adding that none of the 23 undergraduates questioned the content he sells. "We're already past the acceptance stage, and at this point we're just talking about a business as a business. We are nothing more than widget makers."
Those widgets have blessed Hirsch, president of Van Nuys-based Vivid Video Inc., with an 8,150-square-foot, $1.6-million home with an amusement park pool in a gated community on the edge of the Santa Susana Mountains. He shares a suite at Staples Center that costs as much as $307,000 a year. It's known as the "porn box," because its regulars are porn heavy hitters who do a lot of business together. They sit right up there alongside Budweiser, Fox Television and Toyota.
Hirsch won't discuss his income, and there is no independent way to verify the finances of his privately held companies. But he claims Vivid's revenues reached $80 million last year, and he and two partners recently netted some $70 million in a deal with Playboy Enterprises, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents and interviews. He jets to Bruce Springsteen concerts, has several luxury cars and collects fossils in prehistoric amber. A history buff, he also owns a lock of George Washington's hair and a death mask of Abraham Lincoln.
Allen's life isn't as golden. She did join Hirsch's new company, then left porn for Hollywood before returning to the land of quick money. Her relationship with Hirsch morphed over the years from professional to personal to physical to nobody knows what anymore. She has a life-threatening illness and auctions her panties at strip clubs to raise tuition for a son whose paternity Hirsch refuses to discuss.
"My time is past," she says. As an aging porn queen, she knows she falls into a pathetic stereotype, but she's having no part of it. The title of the autobiography she's working on: "I Did It. I Liked It. So What?"
"They'd have their fight, my father would hit my mother, and then she'd take it out on me," Allen once said in a report prepared for federal court. "My mother used to scream at me how ugly I was, and she'd tell me I was evil." Her mother, Marilyn, was the illegitimate child of a prostitute and later adopted by the son of a Baptist minister, the report says. It describes her father, Wayne, as a former alcoholic and son of a police officer. She grew up in Rockford, Ill., a blue-collar town 80 miles northwest of Chicago. Allen's parents separated when she was 6, then divorced when she was 11. The next year she tried to commit suicide by taking a dozen sleeping pills, says the report. At 13, after a particularly brutal beating from her mother, Allen was taken in by her paternal grandparents. Despite their care, she had an abortion, began using drugs and her grades slipped. She also was left with an "almost addictive need for male relationships . . . and validation," according to the report, prepared by criminologist Sheila Balkan for a federal judge presiding over a 1990 tax fraud case against Allen.
After graduating from Rockford West High in 1980, Allen followed her grandparents to San Bernardino to help care for her dying grandfather. She worked as a Musicland store manager, but money was tight. So in 1983, with a boyfriend's encouragement, she answered an ad promising $150 for figure models. It was run by porn talent agent Jim South in Van Nuys. Things began happening very fast.
In September of that year, Allen posed for nude photographs, and soon she was featured in various porn publications, including Penthouse. Next came videos--which meant sex, with strangers, on camera. As she would later explain in a magazine article: "The money keeps coming and you get pulled into it a little more. Things you thought were bad at the beginning seem a little less bad." In November, Allen agreed to appear for $800 in four 8-millimeter loops--short subjects for peep-show booths in adult bookstores.
Back in Rockford, Wayne Allen, who had reconciled with his daughter years before, overheard men in a bar talking about her new career. He found the loop playing locally and demanded that the store owner give him all copies. After Allen's third visit, the owner called police, who sent him home with a friend. Allen called his daughter. Porn was lucrative, she replied. No one got hurt. Besides, it was fun.
Her first adult feature, "Surrender in Paradise," was filmed in Maui. She turned 21 on location, got paid $5,150, fell in love with her leading man and began learning truths about being a porn star. "I was making more money in two weeks than I did in two years, and I was having great sex with someone I loved." But when she saw her fiance for the first time on the mainland, he was wearing a dirty shirt and spoke with a New York accent. He wasn't the man she knew. "He stayed in character for the entire two weeks we were there." She broke the engagement.
On screen, Allen became a sensation. In 1984, at the porn industry's first X-Rated Critics Organization awards, she wore a yellow dress with black polka dots from Sears, and won the veritable Triple Crown: "Best Female Performer," "Video Vixen" and "Starlet of the Year." One businessman who helped underwrite the awards show, giving $10,000, was adult video distributor Fred Hirsch, whose son Steven had a plan. Bill Asher, now a third partner in Vivid, says Steven Hirsch "grew up when porn was a dirty, underground business. If he was going to be in the business, it was going to be mainstream."
The early 1980s were pivotal for the porn industry. Upscale adults were buying into the VCR craze, which for porn meant adult movies no longer would be limited to "the raincoat crowd" found in adult bookstores and theaters. Steven Hirsch was working as a national sales rep for porn distributor CalVista Video. There he befriended the head of the catalog division, David "Dewi" James, a tall, self-deprecating British expatriate 20 years his senior. Hirsch and James became convinced that this emerging home market included women and couples. "That's something we really felt strongly about, and that we went after," Hirsch recalls.
They quit CalVista, formed Vivid Video and went in search of a star. In their view, she had to appear wholesome enough for couples to enjoy--not like the hardened, cold actresses traditionally found in adult movies.
"I looked like what might be your best friend's sister," Allen says. "I didn't look like I belonged on the street corner." As William Margold, a porn actor and industry activist, remembers: "She was comfortably pretty. She didn't have the kind of beauty that chilled you. It warmed you. She came along at exactly the right time."
Hirsch and James scraped together $38,000, including a $20,000 loan from Fred Hirsch's printer, and started to work. Vivid's first video featured Allen in a tongue-in-cheek tale about a millionaire trying to find a desirable wife for his socially backward heir.
Breaking with industry practices, Hirsch sank most of the money into the packaging, hiring a photographer and a Hollywood artist. Instead of a box cover showing a collage of sex acts, Vivid's showed Allen on a beach, exposing nothing, under the title "Ginger."
"The combination of a great box cover and young, beautiful women became Vivid's trademark," Allen recalls. But make no mistake, the sex wasn't anything less than hard core. The video flew off the shelves, selling an initial 6,000 copies--a huge volume at the time for adult videos. "Ginger" rocketed to the top of the adult charts. A tamer version of the video was translated into 12 languages and sold in Europe, Japan and Hong Kong. Hirsch and James set out to make their star an icon. In return for appearing in videos exclusively for Vivid, Allen was featured in movies more appealing to women because they had stronger plot lines than traditional adult movies, which were often little more than a series of sex scenes.
Instead of spending the money from the first movie, Hirsch and James nursed the business along, paying themselves just $200 a week. "Ginger" soon grossed about $700,000, which they put into a series of sequels, including "I Dream of Ginger," "Ginger on the Rocks," "Ginger's Sex Asylum." All were intended to sear Ginger and the Vivid brand into the minds of consumers.
For her success, Vivid paid Allen handsomely. During 1985, she received $99,014 from a combination of her monthly retainer fee, $1,000-a-day shooting premium, paid promotional appearances and an unprecedented cut of wholesale revenues, court records and interviews show. With other porn work that year, Allen made $134,000 and, in 1986, pulled in $126,185, according to records of Ginger Pix Inc., her corporation.
Those numbers were staggering for an industry where actresses are free agents and earn, in 2002 dollars, $300 to $1,200 for each scene they perform, with no royalties, medical coverage or pension. Career curves are short and brutal, thanks to the constant supply of eager replacements. All that most of them can hope for is to parlay their film work into lucrative nude dancing careers or Internet fan sites.
But for Allen, life had never been better. The blue-collar kid bought a Porsche, dropped $10,000 at a time on shopping sprees, took overseas vacations. "I did what a lot of women do in the adult industry," she recalls. "You live right here, right now, today."
The walls of Hirsch's Van Nuys office today are sleek black, matching the color of the Oxford shirts he often wears. Chunks of ancient amber are arranged on shelves facing his neatly kept desk. One wall features a signed photo of all five living former U.S. presidents and documents bearing Thomas Jefferson's stamp. A backlit awards showcase gives the room a warm glow. It holds dozens of industry statuettes awarded for "Best Couples Sex Scene" and the like. To the right of Hirsch's desk is a Dell computer laptop showing live shots from a nanny cam trained on his daughter's crib at home. The mother is Hirsch's current girlfriend, Laurie Andersen, a former sales rep for Video Team, a Chatsworth porn producer.
Would he want his infant daughter, Alexis, to become a Vivid star? He smiles and leans back in his overstuffed leather chair. "I would tell her to really think that through," he says. "I would respect whatever decision she would make. And then I would send her to medical school."
It would be the ultimate triumph for a porn dynasty that began in the early 1970s, when Wall Street tanked and Fred Hirsch gave up as a stockbroker. He called a family conference in the living room of the Hirsches' comfortable home in Lyndhurst, Ohio, outside Cleveland. Steven was 11 and his sister, Marci Sue, was 14 when their parents announced that Dad would sell adult materials for Sovereign News Corp., owned by the late Reuben Sturman. A tobacco and candy distributor, Sturman became the nation's largest purveyor of pornography, with reputed ties to the New York Gambino Mafia family, according to the 1986 Meese Commission on Pornography. "My biggest concern was what I would tell my friends," says Marci, now 42. "I had a hard time."
Their livelihood aside, the Hirsches seemed a model of family stability. Dad's job wasn't Rotary Club material, but life was otherwise middle-class normal, says Tony Ciulla, Steve's best friend from next door who is now manager of the Marilyn Manson rock band. There was Little League baseball, go-cart racing and mowing lawns or shoveling snow for money.
The Hirsch family joined the porn industry's migration to California in 1975, and Fred Hirsch began laying plans to start his own company. But he also had to face ghosts he left behind--obscenity charges from his work in Cleveland. In 1978, he and six others from Sovereign News were tried and acquitted.
Young Hirsch escaped ghosts of his own. He says he was picked on in Lyndhurst because he was one of only a few Jews in his junior high school. The experience, he says, "helped toughen me up a bit. And it helped give me the drive to succeed because I had to prove that I was OK."
An introvert by nature, he channeled his frustration into wrestling, a sport known for its solitude and discipline. The family moved to a two-story home on a winding, leafy street in Woodland Hills. Young Hirsch became co-captain of the El Camino Real High School wrestling team, earning all-city honors in his weight class. His father rarely missed a match.
By the time Steve graduated, in 1979, nearly a dozen production houses were vying to reach the new VCR market. Fred Hirsch set up Adult Video Corp. in a small storefront on Napa Street in Northridge. A bank of VCRs hummed in the back office, churning out duplicates of master tapes. The whole family helped, creating a peculiar bond and some awkward moments. Marci, who worked in accounting, remembers wandering into the duplication lab and seeing her first adult video. In walked Dad. "You have to leave," he said. "I can't watch this with you."
She felt uncomfortable for about a month, she recalls. "And after that, we would both be in there watching it. After a while you almost forget what you're watching because you see it so often."
Fred Hirsch's company prospered. Between 1983 and 1985, its sales nearly tripled, to $4.2 million, and it cleared $484,000 in profit, court records show. The firm was a medium-sized force in the porn scene--although it since has gone out of business.
Steven Hirsch attended business and journalism classes for two years at Cal State Northridge and UCLA while doing a range of jobs at his father's company--from packing tapes in the warehouse to working in sales, promotion and accounting. Then he quit to work at CalVista and soon, he and James launched Vivid.
There was little money in the beginning. Allen remembers Hirsch rolling pennies with Wren to make ends meet. But once Allen's tapes became a sensation, life changed quickly. The three of them began partying together. Allen says she found Hirsch attractive that first time she saw him at Gladstone's, but nothing romantic occurred between them then. Hirsch and Wren were tight, and Allen never was at a loss for boyfriends. By her own count, she has been engaged 10 times, and never married.
Mainstream respect is an idea that entices and eludes those in porn. Hollywood is just over the mountains from porn's prime locale, the San Fernando Valley, and the two worlds mix socially. But porn performers are rarely taken seriously by the studios. They are more playmates than peers.
By 1986, Allen and Hirsch were successful financially, but Allen wanted to jump to Hollywood. She had grown weary of making sex videos. "As I became more and more involved with films, I used more drugs and alcohol," she would later explain to a federal judge. "As time went on, I couldn't stand what I was doing. I started using cocaine as a way to escape and a way to cope."
In February of 1986, Allen, age 23, quit the industry. She had been in porn for 27 months and had appeared in 69 productions, 16 of them for Vivid. It was now or never to cross over.
She landed her first B-film part in 1988 as a rocker chick in "Dr. Alien (I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant)." That led to a referral to B-film producer Rick Sloane, who was looking for a lead in "Vice Academy," a police farce.
"I thought the timing was right to give her the break," Sloane says, adding that Allen came to his attention just months after her personal and professional rival, porn actress Traci Lords, began taking mainstream roles. Sloane gave Allen the leading role. Impressed by her comedic timing, he wrote a sequel around her character.
She was doing OK in Hollywood, although the money wasn't as good. She eventually appeared in 28 mainstream productions, in roles that included a bordello prostitute in the 1990 Western "Young Guns II"; a dying prostitute in Ken Russell's 1991 "Whore"; a topless dancer in a 1993 Emmy-award winning episode of "NYPD Blue"; and a recurring role in "Super Force," a short-lived kids' show.
Through the years she continued to receive royalties from Vivid and make promotional appearances for the company. But her income dipped. She refused to return to making adult videos, although she did start stripping to cash in on her X-rated fame. "The high times were over and we were both strapped, so she needed to go [nude dancing] financially," says Edward R. Holzman, Allen's live-in boyfriend during the late 1980s and now a video producer for Playboy Enterprises. In 1991, Allen reported making $30,000 from stripping and $25,000 from acting.
Off screen, Allen's troubles mounted. In 1990, a federal grand jury indicted her on two counts of tax fraud. She offered a curious defense, arguing that her judgment had been impaired by drug use in the early 1980s. Indeed, she and Hirsch had done a lot of cocaine as Vivid rocketed to success. "We did coke in the hotel rooms," Allen remembers. "We did coke in the limos." Hirsch also says he had a substance abuse problem at the time. "My life was out of control," he says. "Some of it was alcohol. Some of it was drugs. That was that."
As part of Allen's defense before sentencing, her attorneys hired Balkan to review Allen's past. The criminologist said she found a woman struggling with demons from her childhood that spilled over into her relationships--like the one Allen struck up with actor Charlie Sheen. She met him on the Tucson set of "Young Guns II," when Sheen visited his brother Emilio Estevez, the film's star. Allen says they fell in love. But in Balkan's view, their relationship went beyond those feelings. "It represented the legitimacy of being accepted by an actor and his family in the legitimate acting world," Balkan says.
Sheen and his father, actor Martin Sheen, wrote to U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew asking for leniency in the tax case. After an eight-day trial, a federal jury convicted Allen in June 1991 on one count--failing to disclose $8,580 she earned during her first few months in porn in 1983. Lew sentenced her to probation and attached a condition: She had to give up drugs. Legal fees from the case and her subsequent probation violations were devastating. Allen claims those costs topped $400,000.
As Allen and Sheen dated, she nursed him through a 32-day rehab and stood by him when he was named a regular customer of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.
Then, she says, he dumped her. Sheen declines comment today, but Allen still claims he is "the only man I ever really loved." She blames her rejection on porn. "People thought who I was was detrimental to his career." Allen learned the lesson she always feared but hoped wasn't true. "You can't outlive what you've done," says Wayne Allen, her father. "It'll be around forever."
Ginger Allen also failed to kick drugs. She had tried in 1989, entering a 30-day rehab program at San Diego's Sunrise Center. But by "Vice Academy III" in 1991, Sloane says, Allen had reverted to her porn diva ways. She demanded $10,000 and a motor-home dressing room. Yet he says she habitually showed up late, flubbed her lines and was so puffy-faced that she needed ice packs and heavy makeup.
Jan 14th, 2003, 04:32 AM
At times, Allen would lock herself away for days on cocaine binges, according to a federal court pre-sentencing report. In 1992, she failed a court-ordered drug test and Lew sentenced her to 45 days in rehab.
Hirsch, too, had struggled with abuse problems. With encouragement from a friend, porn producer Christian Mann, Hirsch checked himself into a drug rehab center Nov. 9, 1988. He says he is clean and sober today. His partying years aside, Hirsch's world has never been about the hedonism of Hugh Hefner's grotto parties at the Playboy Mansion and Larry Flynt's hot-tub orgies. Vivid executives keep an antiseptic distance from the production of what they call "the content."
Like his father, Hirsch has hired family to work at Vivid, which now employs 135 people. His sister and father work for him, and so did his brother Brad, who quit recently after starting a relationship with a Vivid actress.
Hirsch's brilliance, Mann says, is in finding other sources of revenue, other outlets for his videos: Playboy Enterprises, the Internet, foreign rights and teaming up with Doc Johnson, a leading maker of sex toys.
Associates describe Hirsch as generous, driven, ethical--and controlling. "Fred Hirsch is an affable, nice guy," says veteran porn director Bud Lee, who has worked for both father and son. "Steve is a cunning, ruthless businessman." In 1997, for instance, Vivid scored an industry coup by landing distribution rights for a stolen video of actress Pamela Lee Anderson having sex with her former husband, rock musician Tommy Lee.
Paul Cambria, a Buffalo, N.Y., attorney who represents Vivid, says Hirsch has an "uncanny ability to make the best deals I've ever seen in my life." One of those deals occurred the year Allen left Vivid. Hirsch signed a contract to supply the Playboy Channel with two soft-core movies a month. It was a deft maneuver. Hirsch shot two versions of each feature. The soft-core version, heavily edited to show milder content only, went for airing on Playboy's network. The triple X version went to video stores under the Vivid label.
Last year, Hirsch made Vivid's biggest deal ever by selling three cable and satellite cable TV hard-core networks back to Playboy for $70 million, plus $12 million in possible bonuses. Four years earlier, Playboy had loaned Hirsch $10 million of the $10.5 million needed to buy the hard-core Hot network, provided the company could buy it back in the future. At the time, Playboy wanted a toehold in the market but felt it should keep triple X content at arm's length. Hirsch then added two more hard-core channels and his programming quickly lured viewers from Playboy's soft-core fare. Surprised by the shift in demand, Playboy bought back Hot--giving Hirsch and his two partners an astounding return.
Beyond being a deal maker, Hirsch has excelled at marketing. After Allen left Vivid, Hirsch developed a lineup of "Vivid Girls," each presented in the same way Ginger was packaged. "He wanted to create this star system, like old Hollywood," says Ciulla, his lifelong friend. But Allen's heirs don't receive the same generous compensation she did. By signing with Vivid today, an actress makes less than the industry average of about $80,000 a year--and some Vivid Girls make as little as $39,000 a year. But a Vivid actress typically does gain an easier shooting schedule and a longer career. If she's also a strip club dancer, her value on the club circuit goes up because of her association with the Vivid promotional machine. "The girls don't have to worry about anything," says James, Vivid co-founder. "We handle their careers and treat them like stars."
Hirsch's system, however, imposes controls that would have other workplaces in revolt. After Hirsch handpicks each actress, the company dictates the cut of their clothing and the size of their breasts and negotiates the frequency and types of sex acts they perform, according to a typical Vivid contract obtained by The Times.
Vivid Girls also surrender control over their screen names and the scenes they shoot--something a mainstream actor would never relinquish. Once Vivid shoots a scene, it has absolute control over its use, which can be staggering given the various ways pornography is available. "We recycle a movie 10 or 25 different ways," James says. A single scene can be spliced into various video store movies, sold over the Internet and cable and marketed as still photos.
Vivid Girls, however, are not included in that continuing revenue stream. The company no longer pays royalties because it "became too complex," James says. For instance, Vivid Girl Dyanna Lauren received several thousand dollars for her co-star appearance in the 1997 film "Bad Wives." Internal documents show Vivid sold 54,639 DVD copies that, at the suggested retail price of $49.99 each, would mean sales of $2.73 million. That doesn't count VHS tape, sales through cable pay-per-view channels and orders on Vivid's own video-on-demand service. Had Lauren been under a conventional Screen Actors Guild contract, she would have received an estimated $45,000 to $261,000 extra from the DVD sales alone. Vivid's contract wouldn't survive in the real world, say 12 labor experts contacted by The Times. "If you dropped this document on any agent or lawyer's desk in this town, they'd laugh and throw it away," says John Laviolette, an entertainment lawyer who represents numerous Hollywood producers. "It's practically slavery."
Actresses haven't challenged the contracts they are grateful to get, although some say being a Vivid Girl isn't what it used to be. "You couldn't get me to be a Vivid Girl again if you pointed a gun at my head," says a Vivid contract player from the mid-1990s. "They want too much. They get everything."
Wayne Allen goes to the bedroom and comes back with a small black jewelry case. He cracks it open. The lining says "XIV Karats Ltd., Beverly Hills." It holds a man's gold band embedded with a line of five small diamonds. It was meant for Steve Hirsch.
The ring is a bittersweet reminder that, in porn, sex isn't the problem. Love is. Once a woman steps into the X-rated industry, she often closes the door on anything resembling a normal, long-term relationship with someone outside the industry. Ginger Allen says she knew this from the beginning. "No man wants his lady with someone else, whether they're performing or not," she told a magazine reviewer two years into the business. Porn stars, she added, will have--"not may have, will have"--trouble finding love.
Allen says the greatest love of her life was Sheen. But perhaps her most important love was her old boss. Friends for years, they became romantically involved in the mid-1990s. Wayne Allen says Hirsch began visiting his daughter in the evening, saying he had to be discreet. "He kept telling Ginger he was going to have her [Wren] move out. He was going to pay her off."
Hirsch eventually did break up with Wren, and the parting was nasty, says Paul Fishbein, publisher of the adult industry magazine AVN. Fishbein says Hirsch gave his girlfriend a "settlement" for her work in starting Vivid. Wren declines to comment. Hirsch's relationship with Allen thrived. Soon they were talking of marriage and adopting children, since doctors told Allen that she could never conceive.
In mid-1995, Allen decided to pop the question herself. She bought the gold and diamond band as an engagement ring for Hirsch, and planned to present it to him over a picnic lunch at the beach. But she was so excited she asked him before they got out of the house. "He said, 'Yes,' and then I told him something that changed his mind," she recalls. Allen won't say what that was, but her father will: "She said, 'I'm pregnant.' He gave her the ring back."
Records show that on March 31, 1996, Allen gave birth to a son, Sterling Wayne Robert Allen. The father's name is withheld on the birth certificate. Hirsch declines to comment on his personal life or persistent reports on porn Web sites that he is Sterling's father and pays Allen a monthly paternity allowance. "You know you've really made it when people can print rumors about you," he says. "I'm really not going to comment on it. I'm not going to glorify this."
Allen remains bitter about the breakup. Success has spoiled Hirsch, she says. "Steven went from a really sweet, assertive nice young guy to very calculating," she says. "I think that when you go from a person who rolls pennies to start your company to being a millionaire or billionaire, you treat people differently. You forget where you came from, and who you are and who was there for you."
Hirsch is in front of that class of business students at USC. He spends more than an hour outlining the details of running a business in the skin trade. Students scribble notes as Hirsch talks about vertical integration, buy rates, production value. There is one term he refuses to utter--the P word. "Pornography has always been a bad word and we're not about bad words," Hirsch would explain later. "We're about making money."
As he finishes his lecture, the students applaud politely. His presentation was impressive, says Brian Francis Linhart, a business administration major. "I never knew porn could be so cool." But instructor Scott Wyant appears to have second thoughts about his decision to invite Hirsch. When asked about it by a reporter, he says he sees no "upside" to discussing it. "Think about it," he says. "A pornographer. At USC."
A few weeks later in Chicago, Ginger Allen is getting ready to take the stage of the Admiral Theater, a strip joint in a tired neighborhood on the west side. It is a Wednesday and the first of 11 shows Allen is booked to headline through the weekend. The announcer urges the 21 middle-aged men and one woman in the audience to sit by the chest-high stage--within easy tipping distance. Fog from dry ice shoots up from the stage, which is flanked by two huge mock hieroglyphic bookends of nude women. Backstage, Allen is praying to a god she says is forgiving and watches over her in this environment.
The sound system blares "Thus Spake Zarathustra." Then to the throbbing bass of "Sweet Emotions," Allen appears out of the fog wearing a sheer robe and high spiked heels. She gyrates, clamps her legs around the ears of some stage-side patrons, dances and rolls on the floor. She giggles and gives everyone a kiss.
After her third number, she takes a mike, chats up the house and announces: "I'm going to auction off my panties. Every penny of my panty money goes to my son's college fund." A Florida man years ago paid more than $1,000 for a pair, she says. This night, however, the bidding starts at $10, rises slowly and settles at $45. "Looks like my son's going to community college," she says.
If she had her way, Allen would not be stripping. "I've definitely made mistakes. Had I saved my money a long time ago, I'd be in a very sweet position." At 39, the single mother of a 5-year-old finds herself battling time and the law of diminishing returns. For a while, the combination of mainstream entertainment work and tours on the strip circuit underwrote her upper-middle-class lifestyle, one beyond the expectations for a high-school-educated clerk from Rockford. She managed to buy a Lexus SUV and a 6,600-square-foot home with seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms for $580,000 in Woodland Hills.
Then the mainstream work dried up three years ago. So did the big crowds on the nude dance circuit. In a market flooded with porn-star strippers, Allen finds herself competing for half her normal appearance fee to strip for uninspired audiences. "Everybody's been inundated with sex and nudity, it's not exciting anymore," she says. "So my income has drastically changed because of too much sex."
Allen says she has refinanced her house twice in five years to pull out equity, but faced with a $5,500 monthly mortgage and other bills, she recently decided to go back to porn. Charles Clay, her Hollywood agent for 14 years, says he warned her it would hurt her prospects for mainstream roles. She called Hirsch first. "His response was, 'Come back to us after you get your best offer,' " she says. "It was kind of a little slap in the face." Hirsch says Allen made the decision to look elsewhere. "We wished her well and still do."
Allen eventually made a deal with rival VCA, another San Fernando Valley adult production house, for less than her asking price of $100,000. Directed by a friend, former porn actress Jane Hamilton, Allen ended a 13-year absence from hard-core videos by starring in comeback movies, "Torn," "White Lightning" and "New Wave Hookers 6."
She turned to VCA again in mid-2000 after routine medical tests showed she had an illness, says Hamilton, who acted in porn under the name Veronica Hart. Hamilton says Allen tracked her down via telephone during a trade show to see if she could make yet another film. "She said, 'Jane, I found out some bad news. I don't know how much longer I'll be able to make movies,' " Hamilton says. "I know she has cancer. I know where it's located. But as far as speaking the words, she doesn't actually speak the words."
Allen declines to confirm her illness. "I don't want to jinx myself," she says. She emphatically maintains it is not HIV and volunteers that she survived cervical cancer 10 years ago. Her father says he and his daughter do not discuss the illness in detail. "We just leave well enough alone. We know that she's ill."
Her illness was apparent during the filming of her fourth comeback video at VCA, "Taken."
Hamilton says she was forced to stop production at one point. "She finished with a scene and was throwing up and it was obvious that we weren't going to push on." Allen asked for work again in July because she couldn't pay her medical bills, Hamilton says. VCA used her in a one-day shoot for a scene in a movie starring Ashlyn Gere. "I could get a girl who would do the same scene for a lot less money, but she is having a tough time," Hamilton says. Allen also picked up temporary part-time work as a director and emcee for a porn Web site run by Suze Randall, the former Playboy photographer who took the first nude test photos of Allen in 1983.
Allen has tried to sell her house and continues nude dancing, against her doctor's wishes, she says. In Chicago, she earned $550 a show, about half the rate the Admiral pays top stars. She attends AA three to five times a week, making friends "not because I'm Ginger Lynn, not because of something they want from me, but because of who I am. I have people that I help to stay sober."
At home she is an attentive mother to a son who knows nothing of his mom's career. For the Fourth of July, she baked red, white and blue cupcakes and bread for his preschool class. For now, all he needs to know is that she signs autographs for fans. A further explanation will come later and go something like this, she says: When people want to laugh, they watch comedies. When they want to cry, they watch dramas. When they want to be frightened, they watch horror movies. And when they want to feel good, they watch grown-up movies--like Mommy made.
"I really don't want to be pitied," Allen says. "I've made my choices in my life. I put myself in this position. I am the one who is going to have to get myself out of it. I've been very fortunate. Most girls don't have the career that I've been fortunate enough to have. They don't have a shelf life of 18 years."
Allen occasionally still receives royalties from her Vivid videos. But they're intermittent. She says it is up to her to call if she's due royalty money from the company. She telephones Hirsch directly. Usually, she says, he takes her call.
Times staff writers Ralph Frammolino and P.J. Huffstutter are business reporters who cover entertainment and technology. Frammolino last wrote for the magazine about union activist David Koff. Huffstutter's most recent piece was about Microsoft's new X-Box video game console. Times researchers Penny Love and Nona Yates contributed to this report.
Jan 14th, 2003, 08:10 AM
As they arrive at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, youth minister Craig Gross hugs a bunny mascot as partner Mike Foster videotapes. They set up a booth representing their new Web site, XXXChurch. com.
A throng of men armed with cameras crowds the stage as a woman entertains onstage at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas.
January 14, 2002
Leading Them From Temptation?
Ministers deliver a prayer-not-porn message at an adult trade show in Sin City.
P.J. HUFFSTUTTER, Times Staff Writer
LAS VEGAS -- Amid the strippers slipping out of their shirts and the sex-toy makers hawking the latest products at the AVN adult trade show, two youth ministers from Southern California stand in front of their own show booth, preaching to the crowd.
For Mike Foster and Craig Gross, who recently launched a Web site devoted to getting people out of the porn industry and stopping Internet porn addiction, the mission is clear. They have ventured into Sin City, diving deep into a conference that revels in explicit sexuality, to convince a multibillion-dollar industry that Jesus is far more compelling than the miles of glistening bare skin inside the Sands Convention Center.
"If Jesus were walking the Earth today, we think that he'd be here too," says Gross, 26, who lives in Mission Viejo. "After all, [he] hung out with prostitutes and stuff."
Talk about a challenge. The two say they routinely work at various ministries to try to help young people addicted to alcohol and drugs. They came up with the idea for the site, http://XXXChurch.com, after talking to parishioners and friends and those they minister to about where they surf the Net.
Over time, stories of people looking for triple-X films and photographs online began to surface, says Foster, 30, of Corona, who is on staff at Crossroads Christian Church there.
The XXXChurch site, launched last week, includes a virtual "prayer wall," which invites people to "pray for your own integrity and safety on the Internet"; a section on suggestions for meeting others who also want to avoid watching erotica; an area proposing alternatives to the adult-film world; and a software program that tracks Internet users and what Web sites they visit.
"We're not here to judge anyone or to picket the show. What good would that do?" Gross says. "We decided the best thing to do was to actually be in the show and try to talk to the people in the industry in a professional and respectful manner and not be confrontational. The congregation [at Crossroads] told us they'd be praying for us."
The youth ministers--Foster says he was ordained at Summit Church in Fontana, Gross at East Side Christian Church in Fullerton--are among several thousand men crammed into the nation's largest annual triple-X trade show, a four-day run that wrapped up over the weekend.
It's a guy's-guy week, when the city teems with businessmen attending another major convention in town--the Consumer Electronics Show. For many, the AVN show is a quick, and traditional, side trip.
"My wife would hang me upside down and whip the pants off me if she knew I was here," says Stephen Carol, a computer salesman from Texas, who declined to say where he worked. "It wasn't my idea to come here, honest. It was my friends'."
Hordes of eager men wait in long lines at the convention center to buy the $25 one-day "fan" passes. Inside, they grab for autographed posters, check out the latest porn gadgetry and ogle busty personalities up close and personal.
Two female porn stars walk past the XXXChurch.com booth, smiling at a nearby line of gawking men. Some of the men are loudly obnoxious; others silent and barely breathing. The girls' hairdos are long and lush; they look as if they were poured into dresses more sheer than water.
Suddenly, one man's cell phone rings. He answers: "Oh, hi, baby. I'm meeting my boss for lunch. Yeah, things are going really well. Nope, nothing interesting to see here. It's really boring."
This is the kind of event most guys don't bring their wives to, but Foster is among those who have. She's helping out at the booth and wearing a G-rated rabbit suit. She steps toward the passing crowd and begins to hand out fliers.
One woman, who performs under the name Staci Stacked, takes the flier from Foster and begins to read about the venture. Several steps later, she crumples it and tosses it into the trash.
"For people here to meet their favorite porn star, our site won't help them," Gross says. "It'll take an act of God to do that."
Though the pornography project is directed by Foster and Gross independently of Crossroads church, officials there are aware of the project, and it has the church's blessings, says Jud Wilhite, a senior associate pastor.
"As a church and as a ministry, it is very near to our hearts to help people overcome sexual addiction and to help them have healthy sexual boundaries with other people," says Wilhite. "Obviously, this ministry is directed right at that and going right into the middle of that arena, trying to be a light."
The XXXChurch message at the show appears to fall on somewhat confused ears. To the right of the ministers' booth, a company advertises explicit Japanese cartoons; to its left, a firm sells gay S&M films. Gross steps toward one visitor, handing him a flier promoting the Web site. The man glances at the sheet of paper in confusion.
"What do you mean, you're the No. 1 Christian porn site?" asks David Kreller, an executive at a small adult video distribution firm. "Christians are selling porn?"
Gross calmly explains their nonprofit venture and their hopes to reach out to addicts.
"We're not here to bash pornographers or the adult entertainment industry," he says. "Look, I'm married, and I still like to look at beautiful women. That goes against my faith, and it's something I struggle with."
In Las Vegas, temptations and surprising contrasts are everywhere.
Gross and Foster step away from their booth to wander around the convention center floor.
"Oh, my goodness, I've never seen anything like this," Foster says. "These are the most beautiful women I've ever seen."
The two stop at a booth for K-Beech, an adult film production company. All eyes gaze upon veteran actress Teri Weigel, clad in white stockings, a pink thong and little else. The actress blows kisses to her adoring audience and steps up to the side of a stage.
Away from prying eyes, outside the gaze of Foster and Gross, Weigel blesses herself, making the sign of the cross. She bows her head and, for a moment, prays.
"I say the rosary three times a week," Weigel says. "I believe in prayer and in God. It's made me a better person." Weigel finishes her prayer, crosses herself again and climbs up a ladder to begin her striptease.
_ _ _
David Haldane in Orange County contributed to this report.
Car Key Boi
Jan 14th, 2003, 09:42 AM
The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that Porn, for lack of a better word, is good.
Porn is right. Porn works. Porn clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.
Porn, in all of its forms - porn for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind.
And Porn, yuo mark my words, will not only save California, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.