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June 17, 2012 04:40am
When NY was Grand
Source: Adult Industry News
by: Rich Moreland

When New York was Grand by Rich Moreland, June 2012

After two hours of laughter and memories, a reunion of five iconic porn legends concluded with a message.

"Love and nurture your friends, the people who bring meaning to your life."

Candida Royalle’s words drew emotion from an overflow crowd of admirers, old friends, relatives, and young faces learning some history at New York City’s Museum of Sex. The event was billed as the "Golden Girls of Porn: A Reunion of the World’s First Porn Star Support Group."

In 1983 actresses Gloria Leonard, Candida Royalle, Annie Sprinkle, and Veronica Vera, attended a baby shower for their adult industry friend Veronica Hart. All were at a crossroads in their professional lives and decided to meet again to share their commonalities. Originally gravitating to Sprinkle’s 90 Lexington Avenue apartment, they took the name "Club 90" and a lifetime of camaraderie was set in motion.

The "Golden Girls" bonded into a sisterhood of empowered feminists as their careers transitioned away from acting. Sprinkle went into performance art, Hart and Royalle moved behind the camera with Royalle operating her own company, FEMME Productions, Leonard cultivated her political activism, and Vera began her own business.

We are "innovative in our own ways," Sprinkle told the audience. "We stayed in porn on our own terms." Leonard nodded, adding with the conviction that characterizes her political voice, "We defied the stereotypical idea" that porn women are "bimbos." "We have broken the stereotype," she said.

The five regularly keep in touch though their last full get-together was at publisher and activist Kat Sunlove’s 1995 birthday party. On this rainy summer evening in Manhattan, the seventeen-year hiatus ended. The catalyst this time was Veronica Vera’s wedding and the joy it created spilled over to an appreciative audience.

The machinery of memory collects dust over time and when assertive women talk about the past, there are inevitably different versions of some stories. Leonard and Royalle remember the Club’s beginning differently and I know from my visit with Veronica Hart in Las Vegas some months ago, her recollection of events has its own spin.

But minor differences are of no matter in the presence of living history. As the old cliché goes, one can "feel the love" when the Club 90 women are in the room.

The panel discussion began with each woman telling her personal story of how she got into porn. Leonard entered the business in her late thirties; the money was good and she had a daughter to support. Her commitment to free speech was a bonus. "I’ve always been in the eye of the media hurricane," she said proudly and pornography became the vehicle for her views.

After working on Wall Street, Vera turned to adult entertainment because she wanted "To take an honest job." She modeled for Robert Mapplethorpe at first, later becoming friends with Sprinkle. In 1984 Vera struck a blow for free speech and sex-positive feminism with her testimony before the Senate Committee investigating pornography.

Following college, Royalle journeyed to San Francisco and discovered film as a way to finance her passion. "I needed something to support my art habit," she said. As a producer and director she would join Leonard in vigorously supporting safer sex in filming.

Though neither woman went into detail, Sprinkle got into porn through Gerard Damiano, the late director of Deep Throat, and Hart via her talents as an actress in the New York live sex show circuit.

Questions came from the audience and discussion, under the able direction of Sprinkle’s partner, Professor Beth Stephens, ensued.

Asked about their impressions of the business today, Leonard recalled the old days of 35 mm film, praising famed director Radley Metzger. "Now every putz with a video camera can become a producer," she said with the disgruntlement of someone who knows class when she sees it.

Royalle observed that today’s porn girls are "little Barbie dolls" who lack "personality" though Hart, still actively directing in the L.a. market, sparred with her a little over that assessment. Royalle later commented on the industry’s current problem: free online porn. DVD sales are down and video on demand "pays a pittance." Consumers don’t want to pay for what is free, she explained, noting that in the future "quality is going to be tough to produce."

A family-like inclusiveness hugged the room. Scattered throughout the audience were compadres from the adult scene when New York was grand, giving this 2012 night the aura of a time capsule. As Club 90 took root, the market shifted to Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. Tubes were removed from an expiring east coast porn network.

There were deeply personal moments during the evening. Hart pointed out one of her sons operating a camera in the room, Vera introduced her new husband, and an emotional Leonard acknowledged a niece she had recently met for the first time.

The joyous affair stood as a reminder that pornography has an institutional memory that drives today’s events. Leonard urged the audience to vote in the upcoming Presidential election, serving notice that freedom from censure must be protected. "Porn is a platform for the political," she affirmed. Royalle mentioned that women feel comfortable viewing erotica because of her pioneering work with FEMME and emphasized the importance of Feminists for Free Expression, a political group that includes Club 90 among its members.

The evening was at once forward looking and backward gazing, best exemplified by Annie Sprinkle. She described her time in porn as an "amazing journey" and stated her goal for the future. "I want to get to fifty years in sex!" she said.

That’s what it means to be a legend.

Visit the Museum of Sex on the corner of 27th and 5th Avenue and stop for a snack across the street at Naturally Tasty. Ask for Magdalena. She’s service with a smile.

Pornography feminists unshackle their desires and celebrate their sexuality in the patriarchal world

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