Golden Age of Porn
The Golden Age of Porn or porno chic refers to a period in heterosexual commercial American pornography that began in 1972. Following mentions by Johnny Carson on his popular TV show, the movie Deep Throat achieved major box office success despite being rudimentary by mainstream standards. In 1973 the far more accomplished, but still low budget, The Devil in Miss Jones was the seventh most successful film of the year, and was well received by major media. It became obvious that box office returns of very low budget pornographic films could fund further advances in the technical and production values of porn, making it extremely competitive with Hollywood movies. There was concern that left unchecked the vast profitability of pornographic films would lead to Hollywood being influenced by pornography.
Prior to the 'Golden Age of Porn' thousands of U.S. state and municipal anti-obscenity laws and ordinances held that the participating in the creation, distribution or consumption of pornography constituted criminal action. Multi-jurisdictional interpretations of obscenity made pornographic films highly susceptible to prosecution and criminal liability for obscenity, thereby greatly restricting their distribution and profit potential. However, the US Supreme Court's 1973 decision in Miller v. California narrowing the definition of obscenity resulted in dramatically fewer obscenity prosecutions nationwide. Freedom in creative license, higher movie budgets and payouts, and a 'Hollywood Mindset' all intertwined to set the stage for the 'Golden Age' of American pornography.
Video supplanted film in the 1980s as the preferred medium for pornography, which quickly reverted to being extremely low budget and openly gratuitous. As a consequence, the era of theatrically released pornographic films with relatively high production values has since been called the adult industry's golden age.
Pornographic films were produced in the early 20th century as "stag" movies intended to be viewed at male gatherings or in brothels. In the US social disapproval was so great that men in them sometimes attempted to conceal their face by subterfuge such as a false mustache (used in A Free Ride) or even being masked. Very few people were ever identified as appearing and the performers are often presumed to have been prostitutes or criminals, Vincent Drucci is said to have performed in a pornographic film made in 1924. Candy Barr, who appeared in the 1950s Smart Alec, was virtually unique among those appearing in stags in having attained a degree of celebrity through her participation.
In the US during the late 1960s there was regular semi underground production of pornographic films on a modest scale. After answering New York newspaper advertisements for nude models, Eric Edwards and Jamie Gillis, among others, appeared in these films, which were silent black and white 'loops' of low quality often intended for peep booth viewing in the proliferation of adult video arcades around Times Square. The product of the New York porn industry was distributed nationwide by underworld figure Robert DiBernardo who commissioned the production of much of the so-called Golden Age era hardcore films made in New York. Although not the first adult film to obtain a wide theatrical release in the US, none had achieved a mass audience and changed public attitude toward pornography as Deep Throat did.
The Golden Age began in 1972 with Deep Throat. It officially premiered at the World Theater in New York on June 12, 1972 and was advertised in The New York Times under the bowdlerized title Throat. It was very profitable though according to one of the figures behind the film, it became a box-office success only after Johnny Carson talked about it on his nationally top rated TV show. In its second year of release Deep Throat just missed Variety's top 10, however by then it was often being shown in a double bill with the most successful of the top three hardcore pornographic films released in the 1972–1973 era, The Devil in Miss Jones, which easily outperformed Deep Throat, while leaving Behind the Green Door trailing a poor third.
The Devil in Miss Jones
The 1973 film The Devil in Miss Jones was ranked number seven in the Variety list of the top ten highest-grossing pictures of 1973, despite lacking the wide release and professional marketing of Hollywood and having been virtually banned across the country for half the year (see Miller v. California, below). Roger Ebert suggested porn film's box office receipts were inflated as way of laundering the profits from illegal activities; that would in effect be declaring it, and involve paying tax. The sound-recording, cinematography, and story-line of The Devil in Miss Jones were of considerably higher quality than any previous porn film. The lead, Georgina Spelvin, who had been in the original Broadway run of The Pajama Game, combined vigorous sex with an acting performance some thought as convincing as anything to be seen in a good mainstream production. She had been hired as caterer, but Damiano was impressed by her reading of Miss Jones's dialogue, while enabling an actor to audition for the non sex role of 'Abca'. According to Variety's review, "With The Devil in Miss Jones, the hard-core porno feature approaches an art form, one that critics may have a tough time ignoring in the future", also described the plot as comparable to Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit. The review went on to describe the opening scene as, "a sequence so effective it would stand out in any legit theatrical feature." It finished by stating, "Booking a film of this technical quality into a standard sex house is tantamount to throwing it on the trash heap of most current hard-core fare." 
An influential five-page article in The New York Times Magazine in 1973 described the phenomenon of porn being publicly discussed by celebrities, and taken seriously by critics, a development referred to by Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times as "porno chic". Some expressed the opinion that pornographic film would continue to extend its access to US theaters, and the mainstream film industry would gravitate toward the influence of porn.
Supreme Court's 1973 Miller v. California
Supreme Court's 1973 Miller v. California decision redefined obscenity from "utterly without socially redeeming value" to lacks "serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value". Crucially, it made 'contemporary community standards', the criterion, holding that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment, the ruling gave leeway to local judges to seize and destroy prints of films adjudged to violate local community standards. The Miller decision stymied porn distribution.
The Devil in Miss Jones, as well as Deep Throat and Behind the Green Door, was prosecuted successfully during the latter half of 1973; the Supreme Court's Miller decision closed much of America to the exhibition of hard-core pornography, and often led to it being banned outright. Porn films would never again feature so prominently in the mainstream movie business until the emergence of the internet in the 1990s.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision having put mass box office returns beyond the reach of pornographic film, the leaps in the films' quality that had occurred between 1972 and 1973 was not sustained. With their relatively modest financial means, a predicted move of organised crime into Hollywood failed to materialise. Pornographic films continued to be a highly profitable business, and thrived throughout the rest of the 1970s, leading to the concept of porn 'stars' gaining currency. Ostracism of porn performers meant they almost invariably used pseudonyms. Being outed as having appeared in porn usually put an end to an actor's hope of a mainstream career. An indication of the returns still possible was that a 1976 release, Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Musical Comedy, reportedly grossed over $90 million globally. Some historians assess The Opening of Misty Beethoven as attaining a mainstream level in storyline and sets, though the novice female lead player was carefully choreographed.
In general, after 1973 porn films emulated mainstream filmmaking storylines and conventions merely to frame the depictions of sexual activity to prepare an 'artistic merit' defence against possible obscenity charges. The adult film industry remained stuck at the level of 'one day wonders', finished by participants hired for only a single day. The ponderous technology of the time meant filming a simple scene would often take hours due to the need for the camera to be laboriously set up for each shot. Repeated sustained performances might be required on cue at any time over the course of a day, which was an issue for men without the recourse to modern Viagra-type drugs. Production was concentrated in New York where organized crime was widely believed to have control over all aspects of the business and to prevent entry of competitors. Although their budgets were usually very low, a subcultural level of appreciation exists for films of this era, which were produced by a core group of around thirty performers, some of whom had other jobs. Several were actors who could handle dialogue when required. However, certain participants scoffed at the idea that what they did qualified as "acting". By the early 1980s the rise of home video had led to the end of the era when people went to movie theaters to see sex, shot on 35mm film with production values, ultimately culminating with the rise of the internet in the 90s.
The Golden Age was a period of interactions between pornography and the contemporaneous second wave of feminism. Radical and cultural feminists, along with the Christians, religious, and conservatives attacked pornography, while other feminists were pro-pornography, such as Camile Paglia, who defined what came to be known as sex-positive feminism in her work, Sexual Personae. Paglia and other sex-positive or pro-pornography feminists accepted porn as part of the sexual revolution with its libertarian sexual themes, such as exploring bisexuality and Swinging, free from government interference. The endorsement of female critics was essential for the credibility of the brief era of "porno chic".
Golden Age stars
Major pornographic film actors of the first part of the Golden Age, the "porno chic" era, included:
- Rene Bond
- Linda Lovelace
- Marilyn Chambers
- Eric Edwards
- Annette Haven
- Georgina Spelvin
- John C. Holmes
- Johnny Keyes
- Annie Sprinkle
- Candida Royalle
- Juliet Anderson (a.k.a. "Aunt Peg")
- Harry Reems
- John Leslie
- Joey Silvera
- Jamie Gillis
- Ron Jeremy
- Herschel Savage
- Marc Stevens
- Paul Thomas
- Desireé Cousteau
- Jennifer Welles
- Gloria Leonard
- Vanessa del Rio
- Rhonda Jo Petty
- Kay Parker
- Robert Kerman (a.k.a. "R Bolla")
- Bambi Woods
- Mike Horner
- Samantha Fox
- Little Oral Annie
- Rick Cassidy
A number of the Golden Age stars have taken part in The Rialto Report, an online oral history initiative that preserves and archives the memories of the industry's early participants.
At the time of the maturation of the second wave, movies increasingly were being shot on video for home release.
As their popularity rose, so did their control of their careers. John Holmes became the first recurring porn character in the "Johnny Wadd" film series directed by Bob Chinn. Lisa DeLeeuw was one of the first to sign an exclusive contract with a major adult production company, Vivid Video, and Marilyn Chambers worked in mainstream movies, being one of the first of a rare number of crossover porn actors.
Major producers during the first wave of the Golden Age, the "Porno Chic" era, include:
Films of the period
Some of the best-known pornographic films of the period include:
- Mona the Virgin Nymph (USA, 1970)
- Boys in the Sand (gay, USA, 1971)
- Deep Throat (USA, 1972)
- Behind the Green Door (USA, 1972)
- The Devil in Miss Jones (USA, 1973)
- Resurrection of Eve (USA, 1973)
- The Cheerleaders (USA, 1973)
- Memories Within Miss Aggie (USA, 1973)
- The Private Afternoons of Pamela Mann (USA, 1974)
- Flesh Gordon (USA, 1974)
- Sensations (Netherlands, 1975)
- The Story of Joanna (USA, 1975)
- A Dirty Western (USA, 1975)
- Alice in Wonderland (USA, 1976)
- Through the Looking Glass (USA, 1976)
- The Opening of Misty Beethoven (USA, 1976)
- Kansas City Trucking Co. (gay, USA, 1976)
- Spirit of Seventy Sex (USA, 1976)
- Inside Jennifer Welles (USA, 1977)
- El Paso Wrecking Corp. (gay, USA, 1978)
- Debbie Does Dallas (USA, 1978)
- Pretty Peaches (USA, 1978)
- A Night at the Adonis (gay, USA, 1978)
- Jack and Jill (USA, 1979)
- Inside Désirée Cousteau (USA, 1979)
- Caligula (USA, 1979)
- L.A. Tool & Die (gay, USA, 1979)
- Taboo (USA, 1980)
- Talk Dirty to Me (USA, 1980)
- Insatiable (USA, 1980)
- Nightdreams (USA, 1981)
- Café Flesh (USA, 1982)
- The Bigger the Better (gay, USA, 1984)
- Reel People (USA, 1984)
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