The first famous (or semi-famous, I’ll let you decide where the cut-off point is for true celebrity) person I ever met was Carol Connors. Connors’ claim to fame was she played the nurse in Deep Throat, the number-one-selling porn movie of all-time at that point (I’ve heard it’s recently been eclipsed by The World’s Biggest Gang Bang starring Annabel Chong).
I was working for a sleazy porno tabloid from Los Angeles at the time, Impulse was the paper’s name, and it really was sleazy, even by porn standards. This was 1979, and there was an anything-goes feeling at the time, especially in decadent Los Angeles.
Anyways, I wrote a column for Impulse called; “SIN FRANCISCO: Your Bay Area Porno Report” (how’s that for cheesy) and I’d go to the local strip clubs and interview the latest porn stars or whatever. This was my first and only “success” at that point, age 22, writing a column and doing a comic strip for a sleazy porn tabloid from Los Angeles. I had some hazy dream in my head of being a professional underground artist, but the world mostly refused to cooperate with my dreams. Quite simply, I couldn’t deal with the world. I was a hypersensitive art-fag kind of guy. I had all these strange and tender feelings whizzing around in my head, and that’s what seemed real to me. The so-called Real World outside me seemed un-real. I had gotten a few comics published in the Berkeley Barb, the latest remnant of the 60s underground. But aside from that, the world seemed completely indifferent, if not outright hostile, to my strange and tender feelings. I sent out my work here and there, but the only encouragement I got was from this sleazy porn tabloid from Los Angeles. They actually printed a couple of my comics: stuff like Dagwood and Blondie having sex and then appearing on the Dick Cavett show and getting in a bitch-fight. “Phil Olsen” -- the one-man editor/publisher of Impulse-- sent me a postcard along with a $25 check: “Send more stuff. Let your imagination run wild.” And somehow, that postcard inflamed me. I still remember it clearly, 23 years later. For it was the first real encouragement I had gotten.
So I came up with the pen name “Ace Backwords” to save my family name from the disgrace of being associated with a sleazy tabloid from Los Angeles (they would do a good enough job disgracing themselves on their own later). Little did I realize that 23 years later I would literally have BECOME Ace Backwords, that almost everyone I knew would know me and call me by that name, that I would cash my checks made out to that name, and that my “real” name would basically cease to exist as an entity in this world.
So anyway, I came up with this column, “Sin Francisco,” and I would hack it out in sort of the style of a second-rate Hunter S. Thompson imitator. He was one of my heroes. And, like Thompson, I was beginning to see how working in the media, even on the minor league level of this sleazy porn tabloid, could be a ticket to ride. For one thing, I got into all the porn clubs for free. And on the months when “Phil Olsen” couldn’t afford to pay me in cash, he’d pay me with a big box of sex toys; huge dildos with accordion-like pieces in the middle that were battery operated and went up-and-down when turned on the vibrator mode (made a great coffee-table conversation piece).
I had done a comic strip take-off on the Mitchell Brothers, called “The Bitchell Brothers” (pretty clever, huh?) which they had liked, so they gave me a free press pass to their club, The O’Farrell Theatre, to snoop around and write about whatever I wanted.
The Mitchell Brothers were among the first pornographers to really cultivate the press. They’d set up the reporters with free passes, hook ‘em up with naked chicks, and take out expensive ads in the local papers. I think their underlying assumption regarding the press was along the lines of Lyndon Johnson’s classic line: “Better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.” And they were rewarded for their efforts with over a decade of generally favorable, if not fawning, press from the Bay Area’s finest.
Every two weeks, when the new issue of Impulse hit the newspaper racks I’d grab 20 copies and carefully stack them in my closet. Then I’d cut out my column and comics and paste them into a big scrapbook. Then I’d intricately color them in and decorate the margins with magic markers. I’d moon over that scrapbook, like I was a real writer and my work was being compiled in this glorious collection. The whole porn business was kind of like that. It was sort of a minor league version of the mainstream media, a bizarre parallel media universe. And we had our own stars and celebrities and fan clubs and movie premieres and even our own version of the Academy Awards. And we were just like real stars except that the whole thing had an aura of loserdom and shame.
And this, too. It was 1979, post-60s Sexual Revolution, pre-80s AIDS epidemic. So everybody was having sex with everybody in every possible combination. Hell, even I was getting laid back then. And, in some circles, the Mitchell Brothers were seen as the vanguard, the cutting-edge of the new Sexual Revolution. They were heroes almost. Not just pornographers but promoters of sexual freedom and liberation. And there was something considered wrong with you if you weren’t jumping into the sack all the time.. How repressed and un-liberated.
At the time, I considered Sex to be the Holy Grail that would lead me to Happiness if not downright Enlightenment. So the Mitchell Brothers, to my 22-year-old eyes, seemed to be the Kings of the Party; the ones with virtually unlimited access to the most beautiful young sexpots in the world. They were the Kings, and the O’Farrell Theatre was their harem. So I took it as a given that they must be having the greatest time in the world, an assumption I clung to right up to the moment when Jim Mitchell took out a gun and blew the brains out of his brother Artie.
Anyway, that night Carol Connors was the featured attraction. She got up on stage of the main theatre within the theatre, New York Live it was called. She was wearing a bright white nurses uniform and white nurses cap, and her white mini-skirt barely covering her fat wobbling ass. She looked like some kind of Viking Amazon Goddess. An inflatable love doll robot. She had sort of a cross between a brassy Mae West and a wholesome blonde Daisy Mae sex appeal, with a strong jaw and big bones, big curves, tiny waist. She put on a very athletic, energetic show, bounding across the stage, unbuttoning her nurse’s uniform and stripping naked.
After the strip show it was announced over the P.A. that Connors would be appearing in 15 minutes in the Copenhagen Lounge (how’s that for class?). There were like 4 different lounges within the O’Farrell Theatre, including a big video store. It was truly a porno arcade, one of the first of its kind. All done up first class; red wall-to-wall carpeting, “the Carnegie Hall of smut.” All that was missing was the chandeliers. The Copenhagen Lounge was an intimate little room; about 50 plush chairs lined the four walls with a little mini stage the size of a bed in the middle. The “dancer” would strip and pose while the customers shined flashlights (provided by the theatre) at her. After her routine, the stripper would go from person to person offering herself for a lap-dance for a couple of bucks. That’s what it really boiled down to once you got past the wall-to-wall carpeting. And the line stretched down the hallway waiting to get in for Carol Connors’ show.
While the show was going on I talked to her manager/agent, Jack, who looked just like you’d expect a Hollywood porno star’s manager/agent to look; in other words like an undercover narc, with the shades and gold chains and shirt un-buttoned to show off chest-hair, etc. He and Carol were a team, and he talked enthusiastically about their up-coming deals and projects, visits to the Playboy mansion (they actually met with Hef!), etc. I couldn’t help wondering what he thought about his woman being in the next room being mauled by 50 slobbering men with flashlights. What did they talk about at the end of the day when they were in their hotel room? It was a strange, brutal scene, the porno business. Everybody involved was either grabbing for money or grabbing for sex. So there were so many angles whizzing by, it was dizzying. And me, I was the most confused of all, for I had somehow added “art” and “love” into this potent mix. I had fallen in love with a 19-year old blonde Swedish stripper, so I was surely the biggest fool of all. There was another guy, a customer, who was always there at the Theatre, a nice Asian guy who was madly in love with this one stripper, Wendy. He’d bring her hundreds of dollars worth of flowers and candy and expensive stuffed animals. He’d pay for a lap dance until his money ran out, and then watch forlornly as she left him, his beloved, to work the rest of the crowd of men. I had a line in my head that sort of made sense at the time: “Even at its most sordid, life is a profoundly spiritual affair.” And that line kind of saved me, for I never lost sight of where I was at, even as I was destined to spend the next 23 years in the gutter, or one small step above. Even in the cut-and-dried world of this haunted hall of neon zombies and sex and price tags, there was love. And that was the most sickening and painful thing of all.
Later, I stood there in the hallway, interviewing Carol Connors, wearing a robe and not much else. I can still picture her baby face, so milk-fed wholesome, and her Hollywood false eyelashes (just the touch to make her seem like a glossy star). I don’t remember what she said. But I suppose I could look it up in my scrapbook; I still have it somewhere. That’s the weird thing about me: I’ve documented in one medium or other just about everything that’s happened to me over the last 25 years. Mostly I remember thinking, I’m getting paid money to talk to one of the most beautiful, voluptuous women in the world. Me, the guy who never even had the courage to talk to the girl sitting in the desk next to me in high school.
And from that moment I was hooked on the whole media business. This whole crazy game.
I went back to my apartment and wrote the interview in a style that was sort of a cheap, second-rate imitation of Hunter S. Thompson (“I was there to Cover The Story...”) who was one of my heroes, the big underground media hipster star. In a weird twist of life imitating art, Hunter Thompson Himself would come to the O’Farrell Theatre 5 years later, and spend a year hanging around the club, working on a big book about it for Playboy, but mostly ending up too coked-out, and too whored-out, to produce anything.###
(November 27, 2002)