"No one has ever asked me that," Holmes replied sheepishly. "I kind of hope I'm on the late, late show. Seriously. Like Bogart… Bogart never hit prime time until he was way past dead."
When Holmes was asked that question, his life and career were already on a downward spiral. He only had seven years left to roam the Earth, and he was soon to be implicated in a horrific quadruple homicide.
Holmes' desire to see his films on the late show remains unfulfilled 17 years after his death, but it wasn't vanity-laced wishful thinking that prompted his remark. In the early 1980s, adult cinema ran on a track parallel to mainstream. The slim handful of performers who appeared in X-rated films were indeed considered "stars." But there were forces working behind the scenes, motivated by greed and a fever to keep things illicit, that sought to dismantle the star-making machinery of the adult film industry.
'Talk Dirty to Me'
The now-classic 1980 film "Talk Dirty to Me" starred Richard Pacheco in a carnal variation of Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men." The film is noted as much for its plot and acting as it is for the graphic sex.
Now 57 years old, Pacheco is a freelance journalist and house husband in Northern California. He has been retired from adult films for 21 years.
Pacheco directed one film — and an award-winning, landmark one at that — in his sixyear career. "Careful He May Be Watching" (1987) offered the dynamic pairing of busty British import Kay Parker with platinum blonde goddess Seka, who shot to stardom through her appearances in a series of Swedish Erotica films.
Seka, says Pacheco, was "wildly confident of her skills as a cinematic lover" but, like many of her contemporaries, "had only limited theatrical training, if any at all."
"I worked with Kay Parker many times in all kinds of intimate situations," Pacheco tells XBiz. "She was ass and class of the highest magnitude with more heart, soul and common sense than the X-rated industry had any right to expect."
It was Pacheco's "Talk Dirty to Me" co-star, John Leslie, who introduced the classy Parker to the world of adult entertainment in 1975. The controversial 1980 film "Taboo" made her a solid star and remains to this day one of the top-selling adult tapes ever. The buxom beauty appeared in less than 80 films before retiring in 1987. In 1990 she was inducted into the XRCO Hall of Fame and presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Adult Video Association.
Now 61 years old, Parker is a holistic counselor in Santa Monica, Calif., and presents an ongoing lecture series called "The Marriage of Sensuality and Spirituality."
Virginia-born Seka — who Parker cites as one of her favorite female co-stars — made her debut opposite Holmes in the 1978 film "Blonde Fire." After a vibrant career that secured her status as one of the legends of adult film, Seka left the business and dropped out of sight in the 1990s.
In 2002, Swedish fans and documentary filmmakers Christian Hallman and Mangus Paulsson set out to discover what became of the blonde superstar. "Desperately Seeking Seka" was a tepid documentary of their efforts to locate the elusive performer, focusing primarily on interviews with people who knew and worked with Seka, including Nina Hartley and Veronica Hart. When they finally discovered the 51-year old former starlet, she was living in a Chicago suburb.
Hart and Hartley represent a small segment of classic performers who continue to work in the adult business.
Hart, 49, has been an award winning feature director since 1995 (under her real name, Jane Hamilton) and helmed the recent remake of the classic "Misty Beethoven." In 1999, Hart produced and directed the comeback vehicles for Ginger Lynn ("Torn") and Marilyn Chambers ("Still Insatiable") for VCA Pictures.
By eschewing a career in front of the camera for one behind the lens, Hart is following a legacy started by fellow Hall of Fame actors-turneddirectors like Joey Silvera and Tom Byron.
Hartley, 46, perseveres as a performer, director and lecturer and has appeared in more than 500 films and videos.
"Nina is still going strong because she's a sex-positive woman," says former blue screen queen Vanessa Del Rio.
Harlem, N.Y.-born Del Rio, 53, retired in 1987 after appearing in 200 films. Fear of AIDS influenced her decision, a common factor for retirement for many stars of the 1970s and 1980s. The voluptuous Latina lives in Brooklyn and has been the sole webmaster of VanessaDelRio.com since 1998.
Today there are no stars that equal the marquee value of the stars of yesteryear, Del Rio believes, because "the business is so flooded."
Of mixed Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, with a 42DD chest, natural curves and a mature look that has been etched on her face since youth, it is highly doubtful that Del Rio would be groomed for adult film stardom today despite a still-strong fan base.
"The girls come in and out real fast," Del Rio tells XBiz. "And they all have the same look. They are gorgeous but they have almost computerized-like looks. Back in our day, we all looked different. There was no standard 'type' for porn stars."
Del Rio notes that contemporary producers and distributors "underscore youth."
Johnny Keyes, 57, the breakaway co-star of "Behind the Green Door" (1972) and one of the first African-American porn stars, agrees with Del Rio's assessment.
"All of the women look alike today," Keyes says. "They look like products from a cookie cutter."
Leslie has directed 85 features since 1991 and created the "Fresh Meat" and "Voyeur" lines for Evil Angel. As an indemand performer in the heyday of adult films, Leslie was considered one of the best.
"He was an alpha male," says Pacheco, "the kind of man every woman wants to know for 20 minutes."
Indeed, the 1986 edition of the Adam Film World Directory of Adult Films ranks Leslie above Holmes as "the industry's top stud, for several reasons. The first and most obvious is because of his outstanding acting ability."
However, in today's marketplace and value rankings, Holmes' notorious 13.5 inch penis would take precedence over Leslie's acting chops any day. Yet an irony is to be found in the fact that after Leslie terminated his directing contract with VCA in 1994 and began producing and directing for Evil Angel, he moved away from story-driven product — one notable exception being "Dog Walker" in 1994 — and concentrated solely on gonzo efforts.
"He figured out a formula that works," veteran producer and director Wesley Emerson tells XBiz. "John [Leslie] shoots slick, sexy and erotic gonzo that appeals to men, women and couples, something the other gonzo makers of today don't or don't care to do."
Leslie, Emerson notes, is using tools gathered from working in the heyday of erotica on film.
"When we went from loops to features, we took time and pride in the final product because at that time our films were shot in 35mm and there were 800 movie theaters to play them. Now we have DVD and we stay home and are handed hundreds of films a month, mostly gonzo — more aptly described as loops shot on video — rather than film that we did 25-plus years ago."
Quite simply, says Keyes, the industry as a whole emphasized, "making good movies back then. We gave fuck-films respect."
Before he appeared in the breakthrough box-office smash "Behind the Green Door," Keyes was an established stage performer. He studied at the School for Theatrical Arts in New York and attended the Julliard Academy.
"After I did 'Green Door' I never knew I was going to be a star," Keyes recalls.
Keyes signed on to a road show of "Jesus Christ, Superstar," only to have the tour abruptly cancelled when he received a phone call from legendary producer Artie Mitchell.
"He said, 'You have to go to Cannes and pick up an award,' and I was like, 'What? You've got to be kidding.' "
Keyes appeared in a slim handful of films, including several Swedish Erotica episodes with Holmes.
"I was an enigma," Keyes says with a throaty laugh. "I came in like a bolt of lightning and then left."
Today, Keyes is a former amateur boxing champion and sings for his supper in blues and jazz clubs in the Seattle area.
Fun, Open Sexuality
"We were the original rebels," Del Rio summarizes.
The 1970s and the early 1980s, Del Rio says, "was a time of fun and open sexuality."
Pacheco concurs. It was largely in the spirit of fantasy and adventure that he found himself in California making his first porn film in 1976.
"I wanted some of whatever was out there," Pacheco says. "I wanted a brown one and a yellow one and a red one. If there had been a green woman, I'd have wanted her, too. Sex, drugs and rock and roll, I wanted them two at a time, three at a time, in this hole and that. I wanted the fat ones and the thin ones, the smart ones and the dumb ones, the bossy ones and the slaves. I wanted them inside and outside, upside and downside. I wanted to taste it all before I settled down."
The emphasis, says Del Rio, "was on having a good time. Sex was free in that you didn't have to lump it in with death."
Echoing Del Rio's sentiments, Pacheco says the turning point in his short-lived stardom arrived on Nov. 4, 1984, when the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story announcing that HIV could be transmitted through heterosexual contact.
"They listed the top three risk factors as IV-drug users, Haitians and people who have multiple sex partners," he said. "Well, the porn industry has two out of three. And then a friend who is a mathematician crunched some numbers based on the Chronicle article and told me, 'You're in the wrong business.'"
Pacheco promptly surrendered his $30,000 a year career as an adult film star.
"The sex acts being depicted today are becoming freak shows," Del Rio says. "It's not sexual and it's not sensual."
Del Rio wonders how far the industry can go.
"How jaded do you get?" she asks. "And how do we get back to sensuality?"