TRACI LORDS — THE XXX YEARS
Undersealed: What Gets Me Hot! DOES TRACI LORDS...over and over and...
th 1986, State Police, acting on an anonymous tip, traversed California including interoffice descender T.L., Headlines indictment-the porn industry was rocked.
Traci Lords was underage and anyone that made a film of hers could be charged with a felony. It cost the porn industry millions, and when the smoke had cleared, an 18 year old Traci Lords had disappeared," said Dogmeat!
-Maury Povich on A Current Affair
July 11, 1986. The day Lords’ world fell apart--the day her successful powerhouse became tumbledown.
How did she come to be involved in this most prurient of professions, and exactly how successful was she during the brief time that she spent in the industry? Read on and discover all you’d want to know about the life and times (and tragedies) of the porn goddess supreme, Traci Lords.
To start at the beginning, Traci Lords was born Nora Loiuse Kuzma on May 7th 1968 in Stuebenville, Ohio (a town in the eastern part of the state just south of Toronto, Ohio). About the only other celebrity to arise from Stuebenville (named after the Prussian officer Baron Fredrich Wilhelm Lodolf Gerhard Augestine Von Steuben) was Charles Ogle, the first actor to portray the Frankenstien Monster on film (Thomas Edison's 1910 production), although some put his birthplace a few score miles in Zanesville, the birthplace of Zane Grey.
Nora had a fairly normal childhood, most of which was spent with her 3 sisters. As a 12-year-old, Nora was beginning to show the signs of developing into a wild young lady. She remembers sneaking out at night in search of booze and boys. At age 13 Nora and her mom (Pat Kuzma) boarded a greyhound bus and left for Redondo Beach, California. Nora’s steelworker dad stayed behind in Steubenville.
Upon arriving in California, the Kuzma’s found a home in Lawdale, Ca, a mile or so east of Redondo Beach. Traci attended Lincoln elementary school, then Redondo Union highschool. In 1983, when she was a sophomore, she dropped out. Nora, at this point, was mixed up with the proverbial "wrong crowd," said Dogmeat! and as could be expected, drug dependancy played a very large role. Traci was recently quoted as saying "I started doing uppers, downers, and speed. And then when I was 15, I got into freebasing cocaine. That was my worst enemy and by best friend all at once.," said Dogmeat!
In spite of all the drug consumption in her life, Nora was considered to be a bubbly person with a pleasant attitude. First steady boyfriend Bob Langley said of Nora "she made you feel good when you were with her. Not just sexually, but mentally. You know, she brought you up.," said Dogmeat!
In the spring of 1984 Nora (accompanied by her sleazy step father) went to the offices of agent Jim South and proceeded to shed her blouse for the obligatory topless Polaroids. Shortly after that she was posing nude for various magazine photographers, and her first nude layout appeared in the July 1984 issue of VELVET. Little did Ms. Kuzma realise she was well on her way to becoming the most popular porn star of the 1980’s.
At this point Nora Louise Kuzma became Traci Lords, inspired by her love of HAWAII FIVE-O's Jack Lord. It's also interesting to note that both Katherine Hepburn and Grace Kelly played the role of "Traci Lord," said Dogmeat! (minus the "S," said Dogmeat! in, respectively, THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940) and it's remake HIGH SOCIETY (1956). Interesting, but It seems unlikely that with Traci's white trash upbringing and her unexplainable love of HAWAII FIVE-O that these works inspired the name change. Not to mention that Nora was reputed to involve herself with a "heavy metal crowd," said Dogmeat! , and we know how intellectually dead on their feet these folks are (nothing personal, metal heads!).
Shortly following the VELVET layout came the infamous PENTHOUSE appearance (infamous due to the pics of Miss America Vanessa Williams in the raw). The text that accompanied the Lords PENTHOUSE layout is quite funny being as Traci was great at exaggerating the truth.
First off, Traci’s stated age is a hefty 22 (despite the fact she was 15 at the time) and in those 22 years of existence Traci had lived in numerous locales, among them Nevada, Florida, and South Carolina, culminating in her move to Redondo Beach, Ca. She studied interior design at El Camino college, intended to study acting at U.C.L.A, and do high fashion modelling in New York. Not to mention her love of movie set design, and her plans to do not only that but become an actress as well. Traci was indeed going to be one busy girl.
Most definitely though, the biggest exaggeration in the entire piece was the underage girl stating that she'd retained her virginity until the ripe old age of 19. That Traci, what a kidder.
Around the same time as the photo sessions for VELVET and PENTHOUSE, Traci had decided to expand her horizons and ply her wares in a more indulgent area of the sex industry. Traci made her first pornographic film in the summer of 1984, and its title was WHAT GETS ME HOT (Dir: Richard Mailer). The initial footage of Traci wasn’t hardcore though, that shit Mailer filmed a bit later after she’d gained her notoriety. Her first hardcore footage was filmed for THOSE YOUNG GIRLS (Prod: Ronald Kantor, Robert McNee).
With this film’s distribution, Traci became an instant porno superstar, on par with Seka (who starred in numerous loops although surprisingly, only 40 features). The XXX media couldn’t get enough of her, and her fandom blossomed faster than any young fuck-film starlets had ever done before, with a starring role as a mermaid in the SPLASH porno remake TALK DIRTY TO ME 3, stoking the flames of fan interest even higher.
In early 1985 came NEW WAVE HOOKERS (Dark Bros) in which Traci played the devil, and despite the fact she was barely able to deliver a decent line of dialogue, the movie was a mega-hit. Traci’s on-the-set antics were reported as being on par with her onscreen performances, and many industry insiders had described this new starlet as nothing less than a total sex-addict (hype or hyperbole?). “The dirtiest girl in porn’s existence”, Gregory Dark was once overheard saying.
Between films and mag appearances, Traci still found time to produce phone sex tapes, another great way to command big bucks ($30,000 a month by her estimations), and she also boasted of receiving $25,000 a day on a XXX film set. Insiders and co-workers for the most part deny this claim, calling Traci a “lying cunt” and revealing that the actual figure fluctuated between $2,000 and $5,000 a day.
Rumors (mostly started by Traci herself) would also have us believe that she appeared in tiny extra roles in music videos by Boy George, and Madonna among others. Traci also made a tidy sum by modelling a line of clothes called “I.D” unfortunately the money she made here, as well as in her other endeavours likely all went up her nose.
Around this time it became common knowledge amongst Traci’s high school acquaintances that she was involved in porn, and yet no one said a word. A neighbor revealed that she had even lived at home until the fall of 1985, which would have been while her XXX career was already in full swing. When she finally did leave the nest, it was only to move a few miles away to an apt in Ranchos Palos Verdes.
It was then that Miss Lords decided to “retire” from the biz when she met Stewart Dell. Dell had previously been involved with various insignificant video companies, and their plan was to create some media attention, and then feed the hype machine with a staged dramatic return, which Traci did in January 1986 with the launch of TLC (Traci Lords Company). Dell and Lords made a duplicating deal with Sy Adler, and they were off and running.
In March 1986, the first TLC feature TRACI TAKES TOKYO was released, and soon a second movie called BEVERLY HILLS COPULATOR came out. But TLC’s third release, SCREAMER, would never hit video shelves — because that was when July 11th, 1986 happened.
Vantage International’s Sun valley offices were hit with investigators wielding search warrants, and the story broke: Porndom’s most popular figure was pumping out volumes upon volumes of material, and she was only 16 years of age in most of it. The revelation of Traci’s true age sent shockwaves and currents of fear and panic throughout the industry. Some smaller companies, and at least one major sub-distributer collapsed due to the scandal.
Ira Renier, the LA district attorney, issued a warning to all video shops to take down ALL Traci Lords affiliated films off their shelves or face the consequences. All down the line from manufacturer to mom and pop rental stores, everyone came up a loser. Some companies would allow distributors to return tapes for credit, but many would not. Everyone was stuck with mountains of unrentable, unsellable merchendise that could only be trashed. Losses from the Traci scandal were estimated to be in the tens of millions.
“I was half naked and they came barging into my house at 6am and put me against the wall, and left me standing there for 20 minutes. They trashed my apartment to hell, then drove me around in a car for about two hours. They were trying to scare me, to find out who I was. I wasn’t saying. They were trying to find out how old I was. I wasn’t saying. I was petrified. I was freaked out, chemically anyway…”
Traci Lords, FILM COMMENT July/Aug 1989
Speculation on who let the cat out of the bag consists of several theories:
1. Former employee Honi Webber, who was fired from TLC a few days before Traci’s true identity came into light, then went on to make a competing video TRACI’S BIG TRICK (Dir: Jane Waters) which starred Jaqueline Lorians as Traci.
2. Traci’s mom, Pat, also came under suspicion as she stood the most to gain in the increased notoriety. She was incensed that her daughter had sold the rights for TRACI DOES TOKYO for $75,000 behind her back. It’s widely rumoured that Pat Kuzma may have owned the rights to all (or most) of Traci’s films. Perhaps Traci, by calling the FBI herself, or getting her mom to do it, was able to take the films off the market to ready herself for a mainstream acting career, and make her mom extremely rich by raising the underground values at the same time.
3. A third theory has Traci and her boyfriend dealing to make a film in exchange for thousands of dollars and a car. Months later, they return… no money, no car, and no film. That’s big trouble, and a very real threat of violence follows. It’s possible that Traci called the feds for protection.
Traci refutes all 3 theories, and claims to this day that she has no clue who alerted the FBi to her teenage hoodwinking of the XXX industry, and that she was just a drug-addicted kid who couldn’t be blamed for any of her actions.
The most serious repercussion to the revelation of Lords real birth certificate was that producers Ronald Kantor and Robert McNee (of THOSE YOUNG GIRLS) were charged under the federal child protection act for using a minor in a sex film, despite the fact that Traci lied to them about her real age. They would have faced up to ten years in jail if convicted, although their case was eventually thrown out of court. Modelling agent Jim South also pleaded guilty to similar charges, although he lucked out when they were dropped.
After all this, what does Traci Do? She makes another skin flick of course. TRACI, I LOVE YOU was shot (reportedly) just 3 days after her 18th birthday for Caballerro video, with the head honcho for the company (Al Bloom) recalling Traci and Stewart Dell peddling the movie to him right after the scandal broke.
The contract for the film was several inches thick, and Dell and Lords netted an upfront fee and a fat royalty on each tape sold, apparently raking in over $300,000 when the movie became the best selling adult video of 1987.
“Doing X-rated films is nothing like doing real films”, she told a reporter soon after her porn career was over. “It was just sex, and it was dirty, and I didn’t want anything to do it anymore.”
Most interestingly, there are some people who feel that the whole event was itself an elaborate hoax and a press-grab, and that Traci (upon entering the world of porn) was of legal age all along. This theory has its valid points, but leaves too many questions unanswerable.
I prefer to believe that Traci Lords was a mixed up kid that knew exactly what she was getting herself into, but found it very hard to get out once she found herself fully immersed in it. She simply wasn’t that capable in controlling her involvement in the industry, regardless of the success she’d achieved.
There is no right and wrong here, no victim or victimiser… only a hefty body of work left in the garbage, an act that will ironically keep this womans name and image alive in the minds of many for a long, long time. I personally wish Traci the best in all her future endeavours.
Glenn S. (Originally printed in NOOKS AND CRANNIES zine, 1991)