Sleaze City

Q. What’s the difference between Traci Lords and a bowling ball?
A. You can only get three fingers in a bowling ball.

In the summer of 1986, Nora Louise Kuzma was a big adult movie star. She’d been in movies such as ‘The Graffenberg Spot’, ‘Talk Dirty to Me, Part III’ and ‘Hollywood Heartbreakers’, raking in over $30,000 a month including the fees from personal appearances. But the roof on this pleasant little enterprise was about to come crashing in, for despite having been in porno flicks for the past three years, Miss Kuzma, or as she is better known, Traci Lords, had only just turned 18 years old.

Describing Traci Lords’ life and career as ‘chequered’ is being polite. Born on May 7th 1968, she grew up in Steubenville, Ohio and hated the place. Her father left home at the age of 12. She got pregnant the first time she had sex. She dismisses her schoolmates at Redondo High as ‘clueless’. She left home at the age of 15, changed her name (the Lords bit is in homage to a character from ‘Hawaii 5-0’) and got a job at a modelling agency in California, where she rapidly gained a reputation for refusing to fake anything…

1983 photo of Lords as a freshman in Redondo Union High School. CA

From here on, she was, shall we say, laughing all the way to the bonk. At this point, logic states there should be a review of a couple of Traci’s films but the problem with them is that because she was under age when she made them, they’re technically child pornography, mere POSSESSION of which is a criminal offence liable to some quite severe penalties. Strikes me as a bit unfair to group a movie as innocuous as ‘Hollywood Heartbreakers’ with the REAL video-nasties; no coercion needed with Traci! She doesn’t look underage – if she did, the appeal of her movies would be severely diminished and, hell, if you’re going to start banning films like that, there goes most of Brooke Shields’ career.

However, I think it’s safe to say that Traci’s movies contain pretty much the sort of things that you’d expect, just not the sort of things you’d expect a teenager to do. At least not on film. Not of course that I’d know anything about that anyway [Sound FX: author desperately trying to extract foot from mouth] but you get the picture. Or rather, you don’t and nor do I, because her films are banned so… [Shall we just draw a veil over all this and move on? Ed.] As an approximation, three days after her eighteenth birthday, she was back in the saddle, as a legal performer this time, for ‘The Trials of Traci’ (cf. TC7 – aka ‘Talk Dirty to Me, Pt. 3′, aka’ Sensual Mermaid’), guaranteed a huge success on advance orders alone, tho’ most of the film doesn’t involve her directly.

But then it all hit the fan. No-one is sure who threw down the penalty flag; theories include Traci’s parents, a disgruntled ex-employee of the production company and even Traci herself. Whoever it was, the end results were severe. The man at the modelling agency got a five-figure fine. The distributor got a year in prison. The authorities swept her movies off the shelves and held her up as a prime example of the depths of depravity to which the pornography industry would sink, etc, etc. Traci escaped scot-free, save the occasional rumour about the Mafia putting out a contract on her, took acting lessons and got herself an agent. Jim Wynorski cast her in ‘Not of This Earth’ as a publicity stunt, only to discover the girl’s acting abilities went further than expected! John Waters, another fellow traveller on the road from sleazedom to stardom, also pounced after his original choice for the role of Wanda in ‘Cry Baby’ proved unavailable (Jessica Rabbit, in case you’re wondering).

So what differentiates Traci from all the other starlets? First up is probably her individuality. While undeniably pretty, she isn’t from the production line mould of blonde bimbos in heat favoured by the industry to such an extent that it’s very easy to start getting confused who’s who in a film because they all look alike, especially when they all ‘act’ in…the…same…manner. No risk of this with Traci, whose absurdly bee-stung, I’ve-been-sucking-lemons pout is uniquely hers and who can actually act – no fake Australian accents or tortured Vietnam vets here perhaps, but there are a lot less competent people out there!

Secondly, all the world loves an anti-establishment figure ( except the establishment, naturally) and Traci is again unique in being a rebel in that most anti-establishment of genres, the porno movie. After her faux pas was revealed, she naturally had the market cornered in Traci Lords movies, and wasted no time in making the most of the opportunity, setting up her own company to distribute future product. Traci had turned the tables and exploited the exploiters.

You also have to admire anyone who regards working in John Waters and Roger Corman productions as a major step UP the ladder of respectability. Some actresses whine about typecasting but it doesn’t take much to imagine a director’s reaction when Traci turns up at an audition: “sorry, dahlink, I don’t think you quite the type we’re looking for”. Not that Traci can be accused of being too serious about herself after ‘Cry Baby’ where Wanda was simply Traci taken to ludicrous extremes (especially the pout!), her nymphomaniac virgin proving a highlight of the movie.

What happens from here on is uncertain. Will it be up and away to mega-stardom? Will Traci become the Meryl Streep of the 90’s? Who can say, but I’ll certainly be keeping a close watch on her for some time to come…