"Golden Goddesses vibrantly casts light upon twenty-five significant women involved in the erotic film industry during its Golden Era, between the years 1968-1985 when participation in adult productions was illegal. Profiling performers, directors, scriptwriters and costumers, Golden Goddesses is a palate of insights, intimacy, vulnerability and strength, as it immerses readers into the lives of these celebrated and audacious femailes. Delicately crafted with film highlights and more than 300 photos, Golden Goddesses captures the quintessence of a rebellious spirit from days gone by."
Featuring the author's own interviews with Marilyn Chambers, Seka, Rhonda Jo Petty, Georgina Spelvin, Annie Sprinkle, Barbara Mills, Candida Royalle, Ann Perry, Gloria Leonard, Ginger Lynn, Kay Parker, Kitten Natividad, Nina Hartley, Serena, Kelly Nichols, Jody Maxwell, Veronica Hart, Juliet Anderson, Sharon Mitchell, Christy Canyon, Amber Lynn, Laurie Holmes, Julia St. Vincent, Raven Touchstone, and Roberta Findlay. The book also includes over 300 photos and film highlights.
Golden Goddesses: An Introduction
In 2008, while nearing completion of John Holmes: A Life Measured in Inches, it occurred to me it would be interesting to talk in depth to some of the females who have become synonymous with the classic era of films depicting sexual situations.
While participating in interviews for Inches, Jennifer Sugar and I had established connections with a handful of women known from the golden age, so it seemed a natural step to approach prospective females to gauge interest. In the beginning, I discussed with Jennifer the possibility of collaborating on the book as we had done before. Jennifer was very excited about the prospect and supportive, but she was about to start a brand new full time career so this would be a solo venture.
My idea for each woman to share her own story openly was surprisingly met with a positive reception when I pitched it to a few of the females I’d gotten to know. I remember speaking at first with Rhonda Jo Petty in the spring of 2009. Petty was enthusiastic about the concept and encouraged me to get started. In September 2009, I packed up my little black Yaris on a sunny Sunday morning, and traveled east to Montreal to interview Seka.
As luck would have it, Seka had accompanied her husband on a business trip to Montreal which was only a six-hour drive away from my home. We planned to meet outside of her deluxe hotel situated in quaint Old Montreal. Over the telephone, she had instructed me to look for her platinum head adjacent to another woman standing outside of the hotel, and was insistent that I address her by her real name Dottie, and not by her stage name, Seka. Understandably, Seka was taking precautions to protect her husband’s job security and didn’t want to run the risk her friend might learn of her real identity. When I wondered whom I was supposed to be, Seka laughed and suggested I pretend I was “an old friend from Canada.” About an hour later, I strode up to the hotel, and after exchanging a warm greeting (as “old friends” would) we walked a few blocks for crêpes and champagne breakfast before returning to Seka’s room to begin the interview which I taped on a digital pocket recorder.
Afterwards, Seka promised to put me in touch with some of her legendary girlfriends: Kay Parker, Veronica Hart, Gloria Leonard and Annie Sprinkle. True to her word, by the end of September, I had established interview dates with all four ladies. One thing led to another, and soon I had enough material and additional contacts to begin piecing together a chronological history of the lives and times of these fascinating women.
On a sad note, a few months after their interviews were completed, Barbara Caron Mills and Juliet Anderson passed away unexpectedly. Barbara had been reluctant to talk about her past at first, but her daughter Carly reassured her mother she should not feel ashamed. I had fortunately interviewed Marilyn Chambers for Inches in June 2007, just two years before her death from a cerebral hemorrhage and brain aneurism, and was very surprised and moved when I learned about her untimely passing. We had hoped to meet up for dinner that summer in Santa Monica during my visit there, only Marilyn cancelled at the last minute. I was disappointed, but a few days later, she sent me a sweet e-mail apologizing for changing plans. Among a few other things, she wrote, “Jill, you are a breath of fresh air.” Marilyn’s sentiment and good wishes meant a lot, and I’ve carried her faith in me throughout this undertaking.
Occasionally, family and friends have been puzzled and queried as to why I have chosen to dedicate much time and energy developing two books centering on this unusual group often misunderstood and even persecuted by society. I smile and answer, “I’m not interested in writing a book about Julia Roberts.” These eccentric, imperfect women, who dared to walk on the wild side, are also some of the most gorgeous, vivacious, resilient, intelligent, and ethical people anyone would ever want to meet. I don’t profess to have familiarity with today’s trends in pornographic movie productions, but I have been made well aware there is a vast difference between the caliber of performer and content available today and yesteryear. Without question, my expedition has been incredible, and I believe it has reaffirmed for me that I am bolder than I might have been had I chosen a safer sojourn. It is my hope that I have presented each woman’s story respectfully, with dignity, and without agenda.
In this book, I have accentuated twenty-five resplendent women of the golden age of erotic films who worked on both the east and west coasts of the United States between the years 1968-1985. My intention is to escort readers toward a clearer understanding of the beautiful and intrepid females who favored an alternative profession in adult cinema that was cultivated at the apex of the 1960s sexual revolution. By the early 1970s, porno was chic, and performers helmed by artful directors were personified in genuine scripts, supported by costuming and make-up departments in quality film projects that often culminated in red carpet premieres. Several individuals, and particularly women who began working in loops and sexually oriented films prior to the “porno chic” juncture, and/or up until the mid-1980s video boom, became legitimate silver screen stars. To suggest that their chosen path has been comfortable or without debris would be false, for as each unfolding story will reveal, experiences for a female employed in the adult entertainment industry during the generation when it was illegal to participate in the production of sex films, were anything but ordinary.
My interviews with twenty-five incisive female personalities: performers, directors, costumers and scriptwriters, are documented in the following pages. They range in age between forty-six and seventy-six years. Starting with their childhood years and closing with the present day, each woman has communicated her story through honest reflections and multifarious assessments of life and work within the adult motion picture community. Some of the featured women pursued assorted roles during the golden era of X-rated films, while others were occupied in a single capacity. A handful of females presented in this account are still actively involved in a facet of sexual entertainment. Because this book has its lens on women who worked for the erotic film industry, each chapter also contains film highlights.
Only a small (albeit significant) group of women are profiled in this book, but it must be mentioned there are thousands of others now incognito, unable to acknowledge or embrace their past contribution to adult films for fear they will be exposed or fired by employers for having partaken of the freedoms offered in more liberated and anarchistic times. It is why some of the women approached for inclusion in this publication declined the opportunity. For personal reasons, there are also those who have decidedly disavowed themselves from any responsibility or ownership of their former affiliation with the subversive industry. It is important to bear in mind that the women who are not acknowledged throughout this book are no less significant to the genre and era this book covers, as are the ones who are no longer with us.
As the reader journeys through the past and into the present, I encourage you to keep an open mind and a spirit of adventure while willing seeds of judgment to a standstill.
Golden Goddesses Review by Ian Jane @ Rock, Shock, Pop.com
Author Jill Nelson follows up the seminal John Holmes: A Life Measured In Inches (which she co-wrote with Jennifer Sugar, who provides an introduction to this latest book) with a massive 950 page tome entitled Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985. Once again published by Bear Manor Media, this latest effort from Nelson casts a wider net and rather than focus on one single subject, instead covers the life and times of twenty five of the greatest female performers to make a name for themselves during the golden age of adult cinema. The end result is a fascinating mix of biographical insight and, dare we say it, a distinctly feminist slant on an industry often reviled as sexist and misogynist. It’s this mix that makes the book so fascinating and infinitely readable as it provides us not only with the dirty details on who did what, what, when and why but it also provides a unique snapshot into the porno chic movement of the day that, like it or not, had a profound cultural impact on North American society.
Interviewed here are the following actresses, pretty much every one of whom should be familiar to regular readers of this site:
Ann Perry / Jody Maxwell / Barbara Mills / Candida Royale / Marilyn Chambers / Annie Sprinkle / Georgina Spelvin / Sharon Mitchell / Serena / Rhonda Jo Petty / Gloria Leonard / Juliet Anderson / Kitten Natividad / Kay Parker / Julia St. Vincent / Kelly Nichols / Seka / Veronica Hart / Laurie Holmes / Amber Lynn / Ginger Lynn / Nina Hartley / Christy Canyon / Roberta Findlay / Raven Touchstone
That list gives you a pretty good idea of the sort of broad cross section of the industry that the book covers, but it hardly does justice to the material itself. Never before has anyone seem to have had access to the type of personal and in-depth content that Nelson’s subjects offer up here. Whatever her secret is the woman has a serious knack for drawing out details that few others before her have been able to provide and while quite a few of the ladies showcased in the book have done plenty of interviews prior, just as many have not.
Roberta Findlay makes a great example. A fairly reclusive woman by nature, Nelson interviewed her by telephone and snail mail – no email or chat here, it was all done the old fashioned way. Her efforts paid off though, as through this correspondence, which must have been pretty time consuming, Nelson is able to paint a much more detailed portrait of Findlay than anyone before her. We get to know her not just as a filmmaker but first and foremost as a human being. We learn about her relationships with Michael Findlay and with her second husband, we learn of her work in the recording industry and about her thoughts on the various movies she made and throughout all of this we get a good feel for her attitude towards her life and towards her work.
Nelson also interviews a few actresses who are no longer with us, Juliet Anderson and Marilyn Chambers. This gives their stories some historical importance as they are not only likely some of the last interviews they give before their untimely passing but also the most detailed. Chambers’ accounts of her rise to superstardom and crossing over, however briefly, into the mainstream are a fascinating document of a bygone era while Anderson’s discussion of her infamous ‘Aunt Peg’ character are completely charming and shed some interesting light on why those movies were and remain so popular.
Thought it would have been easier and perfectly interesting in its own right to have simply asked questions of these women about their career highlights, Nelson instead takes an obvious personal interest in each of her subjects. This allows for Georgina Spelvin to open up about her battles with alcohol and Rhonda Jo Petty to discuss the abuse she suffered as a girl at the hands of her father. If you want to know Gloria Leonard’s thoughts on the difficulties of getting by once a porn star hits her golden years, you’ll get that too along with insight from the continually sex positive Annie Sprinkle, who spends as much time talking about her work outside of the film industry as in it. Serena reveals intimate details about her infamous relationship with the late Jamie Gillis while Seka reminisces not just about her exploits on camera but on her adventures at New York City’s long gone swingers club, Plato’s Retreat.
If there’s one complaint to levy against the book, it’s that the three hundred or so photographs used to compliment the text didn’t replicate so well on the printed page. They often look soft, harshly compressed or both. The plus side is that if you want images of any of the ladies featured here, a Google search is only seconds away from anyone reading this. Golden Goddesses isn’t a book you’re going to buy for pretty pictures of pretty ladies, it’s a book you’re going to buy for some seriously fascinating and revealing stories from a collection of unsung heroines of the adult film industry.
The amount of detail here, the layers which Nelson manages to peel back in order to expose the people behind the personas, is outstanding. Anyone with a serious interest not just in the history of adult film but in the very definition of celebrity and the rise and fall that goes along with it should consider this a must read. Never before has a book tackled its subject with the grace and care which Nelson shows here – let’s hope she’s able to tackle a second volume, or even make a series out of this as once fans make it through the mammoth tome, they will most certainly be left wanting more.
No Agenda Book Review: Gore Gore Girl
An exciting book review for you today: Golden Goddesses: 25 Legendary Women of Classic Erotic Cinema, 1968-1985 by Jill C. Nelson, who previously co-wrote the John Holmes biography, Inches. This book is a real labor of love; a collection of lengthy interviews and background stories behind 25 women of the golden age. Each chapter is effectively a mini-biography, with intimate interview responses from the women themselves and occasionally their loved ones (as in the case of those no longer living, such as Marilyn Chambers and Ann Perry), as well as brief analyses of significant works by the women in question and a plethora of photos. At nearly 1000 pages, this is no fluff piece, and Nelson's (and her publisher's) willingness to allow the space necessary for these women to voice their experiences - diverse, unexpected, often inspirational, sometimes sad, occasionally unsettling - should be applauded.
Sex work usually polarizes people, as evidenced by the simplistic "pro" and "anti" porn binary, a binary that affects not only writers on the subject, but sex workers themselves when representing their work and themselves. The lack of agenda behind Nelson's project naturally leads to a diversity of stories, some of which are not positive. This, to me, is one of the strengths of the book. When considering the ways in which people write and talk about sex work, I often think about a comment I read from Dutch sex worker Jo Doezema in Wendy Chapkis's fantastic book, Live Sex Acts: Women Performing Erotic Labor. Reflecting on her work, Doezema writes,
"I think for almost everybody I make it more positive than it is, because everybody has such a negative idea about it already. So you tend to only talk about the good things or the funny things. With most jobs, if you have a shitty day or a bad client or something, people don't immediately say that it's because of the kind of work you do and that you must stop right away. But with prostitution, I've always felt that if I didn't convince everybody that this work was fantastic for me and that I really loved it that they would all be on my back to quit. Anytime something negative happens in your work, it just confirms peoples' worst suspicions." (120-121).
This insightful perspective can, I think, be applied to all types of sex work, and Nelson's agenda-free approach is refreshing in that it allows for the full spectrum of experiences: good, bad, and in between. For this reason, the book is not always a comfortable read. The project prompts questions, provokes critical thinking, and opens up a space for these women to truly voice themselves and their experiences rather than functioning as a "ventriloquist's dummy," to borrow Anne McClintock's phrase, for whichever agenda-driven group needs them. Through careful structuring, Nelson manages to narrate these women's stories while at the same time never overshadowing or undermining their voices.
What piqued my interest about this project, aside from the opportunity to read about the lives of such incredible women who are too often overlooked or dismissed (at best) by mainstream culture, is the fact that Nelson is not a long-time porn fan. For this reason, there is a refreshing degree of subjectivity throughout the book- a lack of agenda, as Nelson puts it - which leads to interviews that are thorough, yet also intimate and often surprising. Nelson explains it in her introduction, "Occasionally, family and friends have been puzzled and queried as to why I have chosen to dedicate much time and energy to developing two books centering on this unusual group often misunderstood and even persecuted by society. I smile and answer, 'I'm not interested in writing a book about Julia Roberts.'" (16). Indeed, Nelson seems drawn to these women for the same reason I am, and her goals for the book are made clear from the outset. "My intention is to escort readers to a clearer understanding of the beautiful and intrepid females who favored an alternative profession in adult cinema that was cultivated at the apex of the 1960's sexual revolution" (17). What sets the book apart is the diversity of women included. While superstars of the screen such as Seka, Amber Lynn, and Marilyn Chambers take up the majority of the focus, women who worked behind the camera are also featured, such as screenwriter Raven Touchstone, writer/director Roberta Findlay, and writer/producer Ann Perry, creating a project that acknowledges a fuller spectrum of female contribution to adult film than is typical.