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“New Wave Hookers”: The Traci Lords Film That Changed X-Rated Movies Forever
1985’s New Wave Hookers was one of the more remarkable adult films of its day, featuring then-current “Princess of Porn” Traci Lords in a memorable opening sequence as the Devil; later, it turned out that she had made the movie when she was under the age of 18, and the discovery helped to make the adult film business become more accountable. You might even say the Traci Lords helped make porn more legit.
Traci Lords began life as Nora Louise Kuzma on May 7, 1968, in Steubenville, Ohio, which she later referred to as a “dirty little steel town,” calling it, as so many hailing from the town do, “Stupidville.”
By all accounts hers wasn’t a particularly happy early childhood. Her mother, Patricia was stuck in an abusive relationship with Traci’s violent, alcoholic father, Louis. She later writes in her autobiography, Underneath It All: “Women had not been liberated, and husbands ruled the house. Women cleaned it, and a strong opinion was rewarded with a fat lip.”
Her parents ended up divorcing when Nora was just seven years old. She moved with her mother and her older sister Lorraine and young sisters Rachel and Grace to her great-grandmother’s house, and her mother went back to college part-time, while also working, just trying to keep her family together.
When she was just ten years old, Nora might have had what most would consider a life-changing experience while walking home from school one day, cutting across a piece of property that had a big grassy green field. That’s when she raped by a 16-year old boy, someone she’d had a crush on, who threatened to kill her if she told anyone. She later said that the experience “shattered my self-esteem.”
Two years later, Patricia and her daughters moved to Lawndale, California, so that mom could be with her boyfriend, Roger Hayes, who was a coke dealer. It was Hayes who Nora says eventually lured her into the porn world, and he no doubt supplied the Peruvian marching powder too, which she said later gave her “courage.”
In September of 1983, Nora began attending Redondo Union High School in nearby Redondo Beach. She was, we don’t think it will come as a shock to anyone, sexually active by now, and became pregnant by her high school boyfriend when she was just fifteen. She was afraid to go to her mom for help and advice, and so she turned to Hayes, who arranged for her to have an abortion. She had to pay him back and needed a job, so Hayes then introduced her to his friend, Lynn, who needed a babysitter, and it was through Lynn that she was able her get a fake driver’s license and, later, she also obtained through them what later turned out to be a stolen birth certificate.
Nora was now, officially, Kristie Elizabeth Nussman, and the license and birth certificate proclaimed she was born November 17, 1962; as far as anyone knew, she looked like she was twenty-two years old, and not just a fully-developed 15 year old.
By now, her life was beginning to spin out of control, and we have no doubt that much of it was probably due to excessive cocaine use. Lords later told TV host Larry King — on his talk show in 2003 — “Drugs do give you a certain amount of numbness, and I think that that was absolutely what I was looking for. It was a way to escape the reality that I was in, and my reality wasn’t all that pretty.”
There were problems at home, and she ran away from home, living under overpasses. She eventually made it to Hollywood, on a Greyhound bus, because she “wanted to walk down the boulevard and see the sparking sidewalks.”
Close your eyes and you can almost imagine her walking down the so-called boulevard of broken dreams, the palpable night air glittering with gold dust that seems to settle on the sidewalk encrusted with those bronze stars and the names of all those forgotten Hollywood ghosts. You can almost imagine this shabby, shadowy strangeworld, the out-of-towners co-mingling with the out-of-bounders on a street that is probably less dreamlike and more like the stuff of rank paranoid sleepwalking shit-stained methadrine nightmares.
It’s so cliché to imagine now, but she knew that she needed money, and everyone was already telling her how pretty she was and how she could be a model. Certainly we can all see how this would have some appeal to someone who probably was often the focus of attention, perhaps even from older men, or from someone who wanted to be treated like a princess. And so, in February of 1984, Nora/Kristie answered a newspaper ad for Jim Southe’s World Modeling Talent Agency, who specialized, of course, in nude modeling jobs.
Hayes, now posing as her stepfather, drove her to the job interview, telling her, “Hey, Marilyn Monroe started out doing nudes. This is the way it works.” At the time, agencies like this didn’t really screen the models like they do now, and probably merely glanced at the fake ID before they offered her print work, and as soon as she signed a contract, she began appearing in men’s magazines, as they were called then, with titles like Velvet, Juggs, and Club.
In August of ’84, she landed a high-profile job to pose for Penthouse magazine, for the magazine’s center spread. She was asked to choose a “stage name,” though, and Nora/Kristie chose the name Traci — one of the popular names she had longed for while growing up — and the surname Lords, after the actor Jack Lord (apparently she had been a fan of the TV series Hawaii Five-O and had always liked the actor’s name). Penthouse paid Traci Lords $5,000 for the photo set.
Nora Kuzma as a freshman at Redondo Union High School, 1983
Meanwhile, Traci, was still in high school, and started to have problems when a classmate recognized her from her photos in an issue of Velvet. “In 10th grade is when this all sort of blew up,” she told King.
Lords: “I was in the cafeteria, and I was getting Jell-O and mystery meat… I was wearing the outfits — you know, my little trashy skirt and kind of high heels. And I walked into the cafeteria, and it was exactly that thing of, you know, where I’m going to do whatever I want and that brattiness and that kind of rage mixed with… Somebody stop me. So I’m flaunting by showing it at school, thinking a counselor or a teacher or somebody, you know, my mother, somebody, Look at me. Nobody did. So somebody came up to me in the lunch line, as I was sitting down at a table, this jock, and he started calling me the name of the centerfold girl because they always made up a different name, so you actually ended up with 50 aliases…You know, everybody had an alias. And they splattered the magazine on the table. And I didn’t get it, at first. What is this about? And it — the headline was — you know, it was a game board, and it was me in a pleated skirt, looking like I was 12, you know, topless. And I freaked out and left the cafeteria, and that’s how I ended up in Hollywood.”
She dropped out of high school, and went to work full-time, and she also moved in with Roger Hayes, who had split up with Traci’s mom by then.
As far as anyone knew, she was now Traci Elizabeth Lords, and within a matter of weeks, she was very much in demand as a nude model. Her rise in the X-rated adult world of nude modeling was meteoric, to say the least.
When the September 1984 issue of Penthouse hit the stands, the magazine’s 15th Anniversary issue became the best-selling issue in its publishing history, partly due to the fact that the issue featured nude photos of the then-current Miss America, Vanessa Williams, the revelation of which had caused her to be stripped of her crown.
The very next month, October, Traci Lords made her first appearance (as Tracy Lords) in an X-rated adult film, What Gets Me Hot, appearing alongside porn actor Tom Byron, who became her off-screen boyfriend. It was a non-sex role, but later versions, after Traci’s career took off, were replaced with a hardcore scene she’d shot later.
Lords told Larry King that her transition from nude modeling to having sex on camera was so “shockingly easily that it is chilling to even think about.”
“I never set out to be a porn star,” she recalled, “I wasn’t trying to do anything. I was stoned. I was on a set. I was supposed to be a girl in a bikini walking around the pool. And you know, I got high enough, a guy hit on me, and it was a filmed thing. And that was the beginning of my career in that world.”
By now, Traci Lords admits she was probably doing coke non-stop, from the age of 15, and for the next three years she says she thought she was having a good time. Except for the times she was suicidal, and, oh yeah, the time she OD’d and ended up in the hospital.
Lords: “There were times that I thought that it was fun, and who cares, and I’m going to be dead by the time I’m 21. I was fooling myself, and I was a little brat, really. And on the inside, I was a really scared, really hurt little girl.”
The X-rated adult film roles started to come in quick succession: her first hardcore scenes were filmed for Those Young Girls (she was billed as Traci) was followed by Talk Dirty To Me, Part III, where she played the part of “Mermaid,” as it was a porn parody of the successful Hollywood movie Splash. It won the AVN Award for best film. She also began appearing in music videos, including “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ by the heavy metal band Helix.
Suddenly Lords was being treated like the princess she’d wanted to be, and being hailed as the “Princess of Porn.” It’s been reported that she became one of the highest-paid pornstars of that time, earning over $1,000 a day, but she later told Larry King that she made probably made closer to “$40,000 during a three-year period,” during the ages 15-18, and explained that the scenes in her movies were edited to create new movies, and so she didn’t appear in as many films as has been reported.
Lords: “You know, you make one film in one day, and they edit it into 50 different ones with different titles and pictures. And all of a sudden, they think that you made 50. There were maybe 20 films over three years — as if that’s not enough! But I’ve heard, ‘She’s made hundreds of hard-core movies, and she did this..’ — and it sounds like — you know, I’ve read quotes and seen things. And maybe at that time, I perhaps even bragged that I did more than I did because that’s who I was then. I was a mouthy little kid…”
Which brings us to 1985’s New Wave Hookers. Everything about this particular X-rated adult film felt like it was going to be different, right from the very beginning. For one thing, it was a Dark Brothers production, and they were, at the time, quite notorious for not making traditional porn fare. They weren’t just a production team, they even had their own brand: “Purveyors of Fine Filth.”
Walter Dark (real name Walter Gernert) was the executive producer, and Gregory Dark (real name Gregg Hippolyte Brown) produced, directed, and co-wrote with someone who went by the name Platinum Fire. They focused on having stylized art direction, and costumes — their talented set designer was billed as Pez D. Spenser (gettit?) — and their scripts were usually more clever than most adult films were at the time, although you’d have to have seen a lot of the movies up to that point to get that they were trying to do something different at the time.
The plot of New Wave Hookers is, we’re sure everyone admits, pretty ridiculous, and relatively simple — the concept that hearing “new wave” music turns a few innocent young girls into sex-crazed vixens — but adult film audiences didn’t seem to care.
The cast the Dark Brothers had assembled for the film was, by adult movie industry standards, circa 1985, the cream of the crop, some of the top actors and actress who were working at the time: Ginger Lynn, Desiree Lane, Kristara Barrington, Kimberly Carson, Brooke Fields, Gina Carrera, Jamie Gillis, Jack Baker, Tom Byron, Steve Powers and Peter North.
Another casting coup was landing seasoned actor John Anthony Bailey, who had been acting by then in mostly non-adult film and TV roles up ’til then. He was probably best known as C.C. McNamara on the Sid and Marty Krofft children’s TV show Wonderbug (1976), but he’d also had a recurring role on TV’s Happy Days — as “Sticks”, the drummer in Richie Cunningham’s band — and he’d made one-off appearances on M*A*S*H (1972), and Good Times (1974). As for movies, he’d had a memorable role in a comedic skit included in The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), and five years earlier, had appeared in the Sun Ra film Space Is The Place (made in 1972, but not released until 1974).
By the 1980s, when Bailey was about 37 or 38 years of age, he had begun working in the adult film business, using the pseudonym Jack Baker. In 1984, he appeared in Let Me Tell Ya ‘Bout White Chicks, which had also been produced and directed by Gregory Dark. Initially he did appear in explicit sex scenes, but the Dark Brothers liked to use him in comedic non-sex roles, often to poke fun at racial stereotypes.
In New Wave Hookers, Baker (Bailey) gets to say some of the most outrageous lines of dialogue in the film while sporting an alarming bright yellow jumpsuit and Devo-inspired shades. He and actor Jamie Gillis (as “Jimmy”) are shown cracking jokes as they both watch porn and talk about the women on the TV screen, fantasizing how their lives would be better if they were actually able to work as pimps, and this leads to their idea to open an escort service featuring “new wave bitches” who would become aroused after they hear new wave music.
Then, they end up both falling asleep to the sound of TV static, and most of the rest of the film shows them dreaming about having different sexual encounters with women who, in fact, do become sexually receptive after listening to new wave.
(Incidentally, by the time he made The Devil in Miss Jones 3: A New Beginning and The Devil in Miss Jones 4: The Final Outrage, both in 1986, the year after appearing in New Wave Hookers, Bailey had ceased doing the hardcore sex stuff on-screen).
The real casting coup, however, was having the Princess of Porn herself, Traci Lords, who Gregory Dark once said was “the dirtiest girl in porn’s existence” after she had appeared in his 1985 flick called Black Throat. In New Wave Hookers Lords shows up in the very first scene as the Devil, wearing a red outfit and sporting horns on her head, and dancing around to the sounds of “Electrify Me” by L.A. band the Plugz, who were still considered an up and coming band at this point.
The Plugz were the first LA punk act ever to start their own label, and one of first punk acts ever to cover Ritchie Valens’ La Bamba. They had appeared numerous times on New Wave Theatre, and were widely known in the L.A. area, but had not had a major profile at the time. This movie elevated them to a new level of recognition.
As you can see from the scene in the documentary Fallen Angels, the Dark Brothers knew they’d made something special, and they were riding high on the same wave that had brought Traci Lords to the very top of the adult film world, arriving at the movie’s world premiere at the Pussycat Theater in Los Angeles in their own white stretch limos, and posing with Traci Lords and Kristara Barrington, both looking spectacularly beautiful in their flowing gowns.
A year later, in 1986, The Dark Brothers’ New Wave Hookers won AFAA Erotica Awards for Best Erotic Scene, Best Musical Score and Best Trailer. “Electrify Me” by the Plugz won for Best Song. The film was also nominated for Art and Set Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Desin and Best Advertising Campaign.
Also in 1986, New Wave Hookers won the Adam Film World Guide Award for Best Movie and the AVN Award for Best Packaging – Film. New Wave Hookers went on the be included in the XRCO Hall of Fame. In 2001, Adult Video News placed in 17th on it’s list of 101 great adult videos of all time.
Traci Lords, meanwhile, decided sometime in the fall of 1985 that her life was just too out of control, and she didn’t want to appear in any more adult films and shortly thereafter she met Stuart Dell who became her boyfriend, manager and business partner. She did have a few last commitments, even though she’d told people in the industry that she planned to quit, in January 1986, she announced her return to porn with the formation of her own company, TLC (The Traci Lords Company). Dell and Lords made a distribution deal with Sy Adler, an industry veteran who ran Vantage International, that they would produce three films for the company. She figured those would be her final movies.
In March, the first TLC feature, Traci Takes Tokyo was released, followed shortly by Beverly Hills Copulator, but the third film in her TLC deal, Screamer, was never released.
Then, in May of 1986, she traveled to Paris, France and, two days after her real 18th birthday, she appeared — now age 18 — in what would be her only legal adult film thus far, titled Traci, I Love You.
She was on top of the porn business, with her name in the title of a new film that she controlled the distribution rights to, and … then everything came crashing down.
After returning from Paris, she was sitting in her apartment when the FBI broke down her front door.
Lords to King: “It was early in the morning. I was stoned on cocaine. I thought that, you know, there was an earthquake or something…They took me downtown to the federal building, and they questioned me. I was, you know, wearing a long T-shirt and nothing else and bare feet, and I was taken up this fright elevator in the federal building. And they kept popping X-rated films in this VCR, saying, Is this you? Is this you? Is this you?”
She doesn’t know how it happened, but the FBI, acting on an anonymous tip, had discovered the truth about her age. She believes it had started from the initial reports that her mother had made to the police when she was reported as having run away from home.
Lords was taken into a protective custody and she hired a high-profile lawyer, Leslie Abramson. Then, on July 10, district attorney’s investigators searched Lords’ Redondo Beach home, the Sun Valley offices of Vantage International Productions, a major producer of adult films, and the Sherman Oaks offices of modeling agent Jim Southe (real name might have been Souter), who was arrested by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies on pandering charges in connection with performers he allegedly supplied for another adult film.
News of Traci Lords being only 18 for just a matter of weeks — instead of having been at least that age for the four previous years — rippled through the adult film industry like a shockwave. She was arguably one of the porn industry’s biggest stars, and everything she’s done up to that point had been against the law.
Everyone started blaming someone else. Souter and other industry officials said that Lords, seeking employment, had provided them with a fake California driver’s license, a U.S. passport and a birth certificate, all of which stated that her name was Kristie Nussman and her birth date was November 17, 1962.
Leslie Jay, spokeswoman for Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, also said Lords showed identification indicating that she was over 18 before the photos for the September 1984 issue were even taken, let alone published.
Initially, government prosecutors believed that Lords was a victim of a manipulative industry, claiming that she was drugged and made to do non-consensual acts. But industry insiders — actors and actresses both, like Ron Jeremy, Tom Byron, Peter North and Ginger Lynn — stepped forward to say they never saw her use drugs, and insisted that she was always fully aware of her actions.
Then investigators, using her birth certificate and state identification cards, located the real Kristie Nussman, who told them her birth certificate had been stolen a couple years earlier and that an imposter had apparently forged her name on state forms.
There’s also a story that “two adults who knew Lords but who requested anonymity” said they recognized Nora Kuzma from her picture in the adult magazine Velvet in July 1984, and they called the district attorney’s office to inform authorities that she was underage and using an alias, but that an investigator told them, “There isn’t anything we can do about it.”
But now there was something that authorities could do about it, and by “it,” they meant child pornography, which suddenly the X-rated adult film business was forced to take very, very seriously.
The owners of TLC, Traci’s own movie company, and X-Citement Video, Inc. were arrested. James Marvin Souter Jr., who had hired Lords through his World Modeling Agency in 1984 for Traci’s first hardcore film Those Young Girls, was charged — along with producers Ronald Rene Kantor and Rupert Sebastian Macnee — with violating the federal law prohibiting the use of minors in sexually explicit films. They were indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles in the first prosecution against commercial film producers under federal child pornography laws.
The indictment was just the first of several against producers of the more than 70 hardcore films in which Nora Kuzma appeared as Traci Lords.
The investigation against Souter, Macnee and Kantor was first ever launched by the Los Angeles County DA’s office. But while state child pornography laws require some proof that film producers and distributors knew they were using a minor, there is no such requirement under federal law, presumably easing such prosecutions.
Past U.S. Supreme Court rulings seemed to have, up to that point, required that the film producers must have had actual knowledge that an actress was underage, or recklessly disregarded knowledge that she was a minor, and so their attorney questioned the federal government’s decision to prosecute all three of his clients when no indictment has been returned against the publishers of Penthouse.
So, then the current multiagency investigation — which had been directed primarily at producers and distributors of the adult films in which Lords had appeared — began looking into Penthouse magazine’s use of Lords as its centerfold model in September, 1984.
Finally, assistant U.S. Atty. Charles Stevens, who was prosecuting the case, made it as clear as he could when he said: “Anybody that’s used Traci Lords is a target in this investigation…If Penthouse used her, Penthouse would be a target.”
As it was later determined that federal child pornography laws were aimed at explicit sexual material, and the films in which Lords appeared were “much more graphic than anything depicted in magazines, including Penthouse,“ they decided to shift their focus to the movies Traci Lords had made instead of going after those who had published nude photos.
On July 17, 1986, video rental shops and adult movie theaters were ordered to pull all videos and film featuring Lords from their shelves. Most of her films were removed permanently from distribution in the United States. John Weston, attorney of the Adult Film Association of America said distributors should pull any film made before May 1986 that featured Lords “in sexual conduct, no matter how briefly.”
Manufacturers and video stores all rushed to pull her suddenly illegal tapes from the market, because no one wanted to be arrested for selling or distributing child porn, a serious crime in the U.S. then as now.
Meanwhile, Lords was pretty much blacklisted by the adult film industry as a punishment for the potential legal difficulties she’d caused anyone associated with her films. Everyone who had worked with her scrambled to edit her out of their movies, and the Dark Brothers were forced to delete the wonderful opening scene from New Wave Hookers where Traci Lords had played the Devil.
The original version was the movie’s poster was edited too, and replaced with co-star Ginger Lynn’s image instead. In a few cases, new footage was shot with a different actress playing the very same part that Traci had, as in the case of her role as the Mermaid in Talk Dirty to Me Part III, which were re-shot with another actress and then used to replace Traci’s scenes.
Traci Lords went into seclusion for a year and a half while all of this was going on, and finally broke her silence when she eventually appeared on Fox’s The Late Show, on April 18, 1988, speaking with host Ross Shafer.
She also sold her rights to Traci, I Love You in early 1987 for $100,000, an action which led to claims that she herself had tipped off the authorities to gain immunity from prosecution, and sometimes it was pointed out that she had been the only one to profit from the movie’s sale — Caballero Video’s Al Bloom had paid Lords and boyfriend Dell an upfront fee and a fat royalty on each box sold, with Traci netting well over $300,000, as Traci, I Love You became the #1 selling triple XXX video of 1987 — while everyone else who had worked with her were fearful of being charged with federal child pornography laws (and some were, in fact, indicted).
The withdrawal of her films cost millions of dollars and Traci Lords’ case became the biggest scandal to affect the adult film industry, but it also changed the way the business was seen by the public at large. No one wanted to be accused of shooting, distributing or selling child porn — this was the adult film business, after all — and so you might actually say that Traci Lords, by appearing in movies when she was underage, also helped to legitimize the industry itself, who wanted to be taken seriously and elevated from the level of smut peddling.
Traci Lords decided to keep her name, and she worked hard to re-focus her career as an actress. She enrolled at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute where she studied method acting.
Her first big break came in 1988, at age 19, on a series called Wiseguy, and she credits producer Stephen J. Cannell, with letting her play the part of a high-class call-girl Monique in her first non-pornographic mainstream screen role. The episode was called “Date With An Angel.”
She made her mainstream film debut in 1988, when she was offered the leading role in the remake of Roger Corman’s Not of This Earth, which features the only nude scene of her mainstream acting career. Afterwards, she later refused to appear nude in any of her modern mainstream movies – which further highlighted her desire to erase her porn-riddled past while looking for legitimacy as an actress.
Lords’s Wanda Woodward in John Waters’ teen comedy, Cry-Baby (1990), went a long way toward establishing her as a legitimate actress, and Waters championed her as a legit actress who should be taken seriously.
Since then, her other acting credits have included TV series appearances on MacGyver, Married… with Children, Tales from the Crypt, Roseanne, Melrose Place, Profiler, First Wave, Gilmore Girls and Will & Grace. She also appeared in films such as Virtuosity (1995), Blade (1998), Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008) and more recently Excision (2012) and Devil May Call (2013).