It had been a long time since I first set foot in the adult industry. A dozen years ago, I opened a copy of a Bay Area newspaper to discover porn star Jenna Jameson was coming to my hometown. She would be dancing at the Mitchell Brothers OFarrell Theatre in San Francisco. Fifty years ago, brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell had founded the X-rated theater. In 1972, they had produced Behind the Green Door, ushering in the porno chic era. In 1991, Jim had kicked down Arties door and shot his brother to death, an action for which he had just spent the last of three years across the Bays frigid waters at San Quentin Prison. Hunter S. Thompson was once the night manager of what he had proclaimed the Carnegie Hall of Sex in America. By the time I got there, thanks to the home video revolution, the fading palace had become a strip club.
Online, I tracked down Jamesons publicist. Not long after that, I was interviewing the closest thing the porn industry had to a crossover star in the making. In a Japantown hotel room, the baby-faced, blue-eyed blonde answered my questions as she rolled around on the bed with a boyfriend who served as her strip club tour roadie. What struck me wasnt what she said—her claims of female empowerment, her insatiable sexual appetite, her devotion to her fans—but her tiny ankles. Despite all of her big-girl talk, her explicit resume, and her Jessica Rabbit-like, surgically-enhanced dimensions, she was, in the real world, just a girl—a young woman who happened to be on her way to becoming the most famous porn star in the world.
That night, a photographer and I loitered backstage as Jameson and Jill Kelly, another porn star and Jamesons on-stage costar, got ready for the show. Kelly, a long-faced, blond, former stripper with a set of red lips tattooed on her well-tanned right butt cheek, had the distinction of having made the pages of The New Yorker a couple of years before, after her professionally struggling surfer-turned-porn-star husband, Cal Jammer, blew his brains out in front of their home on a rainy afternoon. In the crowded dressing room, a nude Jameson bent over and began coloring in her pubic hair with eye shadow—it looked too sparse, she explained. I had grown up only a few miles away, across the Bay, in Berkeley, the second daughter of two English professors, but this was another world altogether.
Downstairs, the duo stomped out on the stage like oversexed storm troopers in coordinated barely-there costumes and thigh-high platform boots, parading before the appreciative male audience as Marilyn Manson caterwauled in the background: The beautiful people, the beautiful people/Its all relative to the size of your steeple. The men hooted and hollered while the women stripped off their clothes, exposing gravity-defying breasts with faint half-moon surgical scars underneath them, and spreading their legs for the eager onlookers. For a finale, Kelly did a headstand while Jameson performed oral sex on her. From the sidelines, the slack-faced men looked on at the sexual spectacle as if bearing witness to the Rapture—gobsmacked.
Afterwards, the starlets posed with their acolytes for $20-a-pop Polaroids. In the booths, nude women lounged on the tabletops, penetrating themselves with dildos, surrounded by men who watched as if they were attending a particularly fascinating fondue party. Other men disappeared into the red velvet-lined rooms hidden behind shimmering gold curtains. They were led by scantily clad, beglittered women who smelled of peaches and apricots.
At the evenings close, Jameson and Kelly were greeted by two smiling Japanese businessmen. The foursome slipped into the dark bowels of a black stretch limousine waiting outside and headed for parts unknown.
Were I in Los Angeles, Jamesons publicist told me, I would have been welcome to visit a set.
On a sweltering hot, late August afternoon one month later, I was on the set of a porn movie entitled Flashpoint. The plotline concerned itself with a coterie of firemen and firewomen, who, in the wake of the tragic death of one of their fallen brethren, were consoling each another by engaging in copious amounts of sex.
In the middle of a parking lot, seven people were having an orgy on a fire truck. Nearby, several middle-aged men, who wrote for magazines with names like Cherie and Oui, took feverish notes. I looked at the notepad in my hands; it was blank.
On the ladder, a blonde busily fellated her co-star. At mid-truck, two men were double-teaming a different blonde. In the cab, another couple was going at it.
In a semi-circle, bored crewmembers watched the performers sweat and pant under the scorching midday sun, the actors pumping and thrusting, their artificially bronzed, shiny skin stretched taut over well-defined abs and manufactured curves.
A few yards away, the real firemen, who had delivered the vehicle on loan from the city for the day, studied the action as if expecting a test on it at a future date.
Overhead, the camera zoomed lazily in and out on a crane, unblinking.
An hour passed. Positions changed. A dog barked. A plane flew across the sky. Somebody yawned. A woman moaned. Inner thighs trembled. Missionary became doggie. Woman-on-top became man-on-top. The three-way deconstructed and reassembled into new configurations. The blonde on the ladder appeared to have an orgasm, her high-pitched cry warbling through the industrial area.
Without warning, one of the three-ways woodsmen stepped backwards, moving away from the woman bent over in front of him, with whom he had been having sex. He stared down at his flaccid penis in his hand as if it belonged to someone else. Tension filled the air.
Lube! the woodsman cried like a soldier calling for a medic, and a small bottle sailed across the cloudless sky, landing in his upraised palm with a smack! Within minutes, the woodsman had resumed his mechanical plowing. Disaster had been averted.
Two hours after the scene had begun shooting, it was time for the men to deliver their money shots. To one side, two crewmembers discussed a fip.
Whats a FIP? I whispered to the nearest porn writer.
A fake internal pop was the answer.
A few feet away, the camera hovered in front of the face of one of the three-ways woodsmen, now feigning orgasm for footage that would be intercut in the editing bay with his soon-to-be-delivered money shot. His face contorted. His mouth gaped open. Oh! he announced. He looked more pained than pleasured.
Once the footage was obtained, the camera shifted focus, tracking downwards, cutting the woodsmans head out of the shot, and the days indisputably one true thing landed on the heaving, freckled, fake breasts of the porn star kneeling at his feet.
Someone applauded. The scene broke. The female stars retreated to their trailers. The crew milled around the craft service table, picking at a platter of raw vegetables coupled with Ranch dip and a large bowl of Fritos.
I sat down in a folding chair in the shade. Apparently, a $250,000 budget bought you a plot as substantive as tissue paper and an orgy atop a fire vehicle. Behind the scenes, it was less like watching people have sex and more like witnessing an Olympic event in which people copulated for sport. The sex was almost incidental.
Whaddya think? One of the woodsmen who had been pretending to be a fireman was standing over me, his legs straddling mine. A dark-haired, olive-skinned former nurse, Mickey G. was married to yet another blond porn star, the sweet, soft-spoken Missy. Shirtless, he was still wearing his yellow fireman pants and red suspenders, caught between roles. He was the one who got the blowjob up the ladder. Now, he had positioned his groin a foot from my face. He was waiting for an answer. I looked up at him, shielding the sun with my hand, wondering if he was trying to make some kind of a point, and what, exactly, that point was.
I dont remember what I told him. Probably, Well, it certainly is interesting!—or, something to that effect. And it was. The experience was surreal. I had stepped into an otherworld in which the old rules no longer applied, where people screwed in public lots atop fire trucks and ejaculating on command was part of the job description. Of course.
For all of porns ridiculous aspects, and those are legion, there was something deeply revelatory about witnessing its making. Despite the smoke and mirrors—the fake orgasms, the unreal bodies, the cockamamie premises—something else altogether lay behind the curtain. What that something was would take me several years to discover. Yet, on that day, I was sure of one thing: In Porn Valley, reality and fantasy are one and the same.
By the following January I had gotten my things together and moved to Los Angeles. There, I lived on the east side of the city in a sunny, one-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz. I would spend the next several years working as a freelance journalist, covering the culture beat, or so I told strangers, although, sex, for the most part, was my focus, and, by and large, my true interests lay in the Valley.
They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They? Words & photos by Susannah Breslin. Logo & design by Chris Bishop. Copyright 2009 HOME CREDITS