Secrets and Thighs

A history of celebrity sex tapes, real and fake, from Joan Crawford to Paris Hilton

The full effects of the Paris Hilton sex tape's Internet arrival last month have yet to be calculated. How many office hours were lost to labyrinthine Googling? How much bandwidth was wasted on spurious files involving dancing monkeys, a '90s Hilton-look-alike porn clip or, in one ingenious example, a weirdo in a fake mustache and wig cooing into his webcam: "I'm Paris Hilton! I just had sex! I hope the meeeedia doesn't find out!"? And how many copies of the latest version of Windows Media Player had to be downloaded once the real thing was located?

For those who haven't managed to see the real movie online, or failed to read numerous reports of its contents, the under-three-minute clip was purportedly excerpted from a much longer tape made in 2001 when party-girl heiress Hilton, then 19, was dating Hollywood producer and Internet gambling mogul Rick Solomon, then 30. Shot in eerie green camcorder night vision, the video shows the couple grunting gleefully through several positions, and ends with a generously documented fellatio scene. Sometimes Solomon holds the camera, giving his perspective; at other times, the camera sits bedside, and the two glance over occasionally to see how they look in the LCD screen. Director-like, Solomon tells Hilton to reposition herself repeatedly, at one point facing her directly into the camera, "so you'll get to see what I get to see." Or—whether Solomon knew it or not—so millions of others would. Although recent documents posted on muckraking website the Smoking Gun suggest Solomon had a hand in getting the complete tape to a potential distributor, he currently denies involvement in releasing it.

The Hilton tape is only the latest example in a long-flourishing underground trade in celebrity pornography, whose scope has increased dramatically with each innovation in motion picture technology. Even the Hilton fakes have many antecedents. As star-porn history shows, demand has always outstripped supply, creating a fantasy-driven environment filled with outright fakes, tantalizing come-ons that fail to deliver, mysterious artifacts of disputed provenance, and numerous curiosities that circulate due more to freak factor than any erotic frisson.

The distant seeds of celebrity porn took root in 19th-century literary erotica attributed to famous authors, such as the mock-epic Don Leon, claimed to have been penned by Lord Byron as a record of his notorious exploits, or the explicitly homosexual Victorian novel Teleny, long said to have been written by Oscar Wilde. After Hollywood invented the movie star in the early 20th century, Tijuana Bibles satisfied a new desire to see screen deities stripped bare. These crudely drawn comic-book leaflets depicted stars like Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable in various farcical trysts.

Hardcore porn films have existed at least since the teens, circulated through private clubs and wealthy collectors. Ancient Hollywood gossip has it that Joan Crawford acted in several early stag films, including some with lesbian scenes. But one of the earliest star-attributed films to circulate widely was a nameless one-reel nudie loop purporting to depict a young Marilyn Monroe, who would have shot it around 1948, prior to her posing nude for the inaugural issue of Playboy. In the film, a lone young woman does a striptease, rolls an apple across her chest, and then sips a soda. Later dubbed The Apple Knockers and the Coke, it was distributed to colleges and cinemas in the early '70s by Grove Films, packaged in a collection of vintage erotic shorts and experimental works like Carolee Schneemann's Fuses. Today, it's recognized that Apple Knockers and several other so-called Monroe porn films depict another early Playboy model named Arline Hunter.

One Monroe stag film remains in dispute, however. Also dated from 1948, this unnamed 16mm hardcore short shows a Monroe-ringer screwing a mustached man on a couch. According to a 1980 Penthouse cover story, a print was discovered that year by a Swedish photographer and subsequently publicized in adult magazines and tabloids worldwide. "Here, in grainy celluloid," Penthouse wrote next to copious frame-enlargements, "may well be the still unglamorized sex goddess the public never knew, before plastic surgeons, stylists, and designers transformed her into the mythical Marilyn Monroe. It's a thought to fire the imagination of every man who ever dreamed of her, a fantasy come to fruition." Another print of probably the same film garnered headlines in industry trades when it surfaced at a Spanish festival for film collectors in 1997. Those who argue the actress is Monroe point to declassified FBI files from 1965 detailing that Joe DiMaggio offered $25,000 for a print of a "French-type" movie depicting Monroe "in unnatural acts with an unknown male." Its authenticity seemed likely enough for Hollywood's Erotic Museum to purchase a print, now kept in its collection alongside artwork by Picasso and Tom of Finland.

During adult cinema's first boom in the '60s and '70s, similar celeb-porn urban legends took hold, many of which persist today. "Rumors of famous stars appearing in stags were impossible to squelch," blue-movie historian Jack Stevenson writes of this era, "because the public wanted so much to believe them." Playing to these desires, a number of star sex films were distributed through 8mm home catalogs and porn theaters, including silent loops allegedly depicting Jayne Mansfield and Barbra Streisand. The so-called Streisand film merely shows a young woman with a large nose having sex on camera; though available copies have become murky through generations of cheap dubbing, any resemblance seems far-fetched. Several hardcore gay films were made around this time starring Joe Dallesandro, according to film critic Dennis Dermody, who claims he has obtained video copies that clearly show Little Joe's telltale tattoo. Another gay stag is rumored to show B-actor Chuck Connors, of '50s TV series The Rifleman, although reports vary on the actual contents of the film.

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