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Porn Yesterday

True Confessions of a Celebrity Skin Editor

During my last week at college, while struggling to complete my senior thesis on gangster movies, some wannabe artist asked me what I was going to do after graduation, and I said, tongue in cheek, "Maybe I'll move to New York and become a pornographer." Like many at my small liberal arts school in the Hudson Valley, I saw porn through the distorting lens of academic chic. At any rate, it sounded cooler than my immediate alternatives: graduate school in film, peon slavedom in publishing.

A few months later I was given the phone number of the editor in chief of Celebrity Skin, a magazine that boasts it has been "Stripping Tinseltown Bare Since 1979." I had never heard of it before, but was intrigued. The pictures were mainly blurry video prints from R-rated movies or "stalkerazzi" photos of topless starlets sunning themselves. The style of the writing— alliterative and hyperbolic— reminded me of '50s scandal rags such as Whisperand Tease, which I liked. I bugged the editor for a few months until he finally hired me as his assistant. Within six months he had quit and I had become editor in chief in his place.

Celebrity Skinis published by a company that specializes in hardcore smut,churning out High Society, Cheri, Playgirl, and the more controversial "barely legal" titles, Live Young Girls, Candy Girls, Hawk, and Purely 18. Skinis an anomaly of sorts since it caters to an audience that wants dirt and dish on the stars and that knows a thing or two about celebrities. We didn't have sperm faces, enemas, or dwarfs, just really fuzzy images of boobs and butts we got from an outdated six-year-old video printer and photos we got from European tabloids. (The stalkerazzi shots were more popular, more scintillatingly sinister than any movie image.)

Hardcore porn exists in a vacuum where time means nothing, where women with frosted hair wear '80s prom dresses and white pumps. By contrast, Skindwells in the very timely world of celebrities and gossip. My subject was constantly changing, which the career pornographers I worked for seemed ill equipped to understand: "You have to put Adrienne Barbeau in this issue. Who did you say Asia Argento was?" Management's "hot" stars had big breasts and had been run to death in old issues (not only Barbeau, but Jamie Lee Curtis, Pia Zadora, et al.). We clashed frequently.

Two questions plagued me every issue: Is this person famous enough to be in the magazine ("What do you mean you never heard of Radha Mitchell?") and, conversely, how many times has this celebrity run in the past year? I had to remember every photo that had ever been in Skinso I could reprint one at any given moment— like the paparazzi photos of Gwyneth Paltrow that have been in at least four different issues in the past year, the topless beach shots of Elle MacPherson, the Elizabeth Hurley crotch shot, Pam Anderson's balloon boobs in Barb Wire, or Gillian Anderson's smushed left tit in The Turning. You get the idea.

Celebrity Skinis not, of course, the only place to find nude stars. To view the most recent Anna Kournikova upskirt or Denise Richards downblouse, go online. There you will find plenty of Web pages that charge a membership fee and a few halfway decent nonpaying sites. The Celebrity Skinpage (www.celebrityskinmag.com) is free but is designed to snare the surfer into an inescapable maze of the company's credit card­snatching "interactive" sex sites.

I wanted the magazine to be contemporary, so I obsessively researched new movies and new stars. Occasionally there was a gem like discovering that Ally McBeal's Portia de Rossi appeared topless alongside Elle MacPherson and Tara Fitzgerald in Sirens(1994), or finding Cameron Diaz and Matt Dillon's oceanside pics in an obscure Italian magazine, or seeing Dr. Laura Schlessinger's full-frontal candids (alas, too risky and too expensive to run). I had to be up-to-date on the gossip that would circulate in Starand the Enquirernext week and the movies that would play in the multiplex next year. I geekishly researched the Internet and read film and men's magazines for info.

I soon realized that, for some women, baring goods onscreen could lead to instant stardom. Take Heather Graham, whose most memorable moment in Boogie Nightswas when she dropped everything but her roller skates. For others, onscreen nudity is the sign of a career hitting the skids, the sad final act of a Dana Plato or the miscalculation of an Elizabeth Berkeley. Some celebrities, like the aforementioned Ms. Hurley, seem to invite the paparazzi along on their vacations, while others, like Winona Ryder and Julia Roberts, have never been and will never be naked on celluloid.

I watched movies most people have never heard of, finger hovering between fast-forward and pause. Many were low-budget thrillers and virtually unwatchable; among the few standouts, I recommend Naked Fishing With the Alluring Babes, Sex and Zen with Amy Yip, and Devil in the Fleshwith Rose McGowan (although she manages to keep her clothes on in that one). We also drew material from big-budget Hollywood productions like Surviving Picasso, Shakespeare in Love, and Titanic.

All of this left me with an unusual expertise in the sex scene. Hollywood-ized sex, I soon discovered, is mechanical, predictable, and schmaltzy. Tinseltown sugarcoats t&a with romance and serves it up under dimmed lights. Sex almost always marks a hiatus in the narrative. Rarely does it serve what my film professors used to call a diagetic function— the story has to begin again after all the mushy and wet stuff ends. Rarer still is it arousing.

So why do we like to see the stars take their clothes off? Scandal makes celebrities both more luminous and more approachable. Nudity does the same thing. Titillation both reinforces and demolishes the one unalterable condition of fame: inaccessibility. At its best, Celebrity Skinshatters the icons and brings them down to our low level of erotic obsession. At its worst, when none of these musings were indulged, it had me asking myself: peon slavedom in "straight" publishing or graduate school in film?

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