Hollywood is the neighborhood in which my obsessions dwell.
I think about it; I write about it. Sunset Boulevard is my mean street. This is why I’m fascinated by the Valley, technically the San Fernando Valley, the hardcore capital of the world, and the world where my podcast Once upon a Time … in the Valley, with Ashley West, about a real-life noir and unsolved mystery involving under-age porn star Traci Lords, is set.
The Valley isn’t just Hollywood’s tormentor and parodist (Schindler’s Fist, anyone?), it’s Hollywood’s secret, illegitimate brother. Only, by the time Traci was leaving the Valley, in 1986, trying—and trying as hard as she could—to break into Hollywood, the secret was out. What’s more, the illegitimate brother was showing up the legitimate, making him look like a phony and a pretender.
By the mid-80s, the porn industry, thanks to the VHS revolution, was out of the shadows and the small-time. Porn exposed Hollywood, called Hollywood’s bluff. Part of the thrill of the movies has always been the thrill of the illicit, of seeing something you aren’t supposed to see. For decades, Hollywood had dangled in front of our shining eyes the promise that we, the audience, were actually about to receive our voyeuristic heart’s desire: unfettered access to the keyhole. Finally we’d be allowed to watch beautiful people doing it. And, suckers that we were, we fell for it every time. We knew that we were never going to get what we wanted, that we were just going to get cockteased to death, but we couldn’t walk away because we were hooked on the hope. Our longing made us vulnerable.
Only now that porn was around, we didn’t have to put up with that nonsense. Porn kept its word. Porn came across. It didn’t feign a headache at the end of the night. And movies, which used to be young, dangerous, wild, free, suddenly weren’t. In comparison with porn, they were middle-aged, fusty, restrained, passé. And movies—their stars, at any rate—knew it, bowing down to porn stars in private. Here’s something former porn star Kelly Nichols said to Ashley and me last fall, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since: “The interesting thing about Hollywood was that when the stars met porn stars, that was their star. That’s what they were like: ‘Oh, you’re a porn star, oh my God. Let me have your autograph.’ So that was their get-off, and that’s why you would have porn stars at a party and you would brag about it.”
Porn exposed Hollywood, called Hollywood’s bluff.
It’s both shocking and shockingly obvious: porn stars are movie stars’ movie stars. Of course they are. Because porn stars are the real thing—true sexual outlaws, icons of libido and danger and rebellion. And because movie stars secretly want to be porn stars. Scratch that. Because movie stars secretly are porn stars. Think about it. Practically every time a movie star’s phone is hacked, out come the erotic selfies. Why would Jennifer Lawrence send a nude photo of herself? Or Scarlett Johansson? Or Kirsten Dunst? Why did Amanda Seyfried take a picture of herself, or allow a picture of her to be taken, performing a sex act on her boyfriend? These women aren’t stupid or naïve; they don’t fail to understand the risks. So the impulse must be irresistible. And yet, it’s an impulse that can’t be acknowledged in public.
Hollywood looks at the Valley and says, “The Valley, c’est moi,” under its breath. Then it looks away, disowning the kinship. Which is why Traci Lords can be Traci Lords Porn Star, even Traci Lords Ex–Porn Star. But never Traci Lords Movie Star.
And the irony of all this? I’d bet money that a movie star ends up playing Traci Lords. Because Traci Lords’s story—this podcast, too—is about seduction, exploitation, crime, glamour, fantasy, ecstasy, flamboyance, and scandal. And what’s more Hollywood than that?
Lili Anolik’s C13Originals podcast, Once Upon a Time … in the Valley, is available now on Apple Podcasts