Secrets and Thighs

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

But the true blossoming of celebrity skin flicks begins in the late 1970s, when the advent of home video recording engendered a new culture of underground tape-trading and pirated video, according to Hadrian Belove, one of the owners of the Los Angeles video store Cinefile, which specializes in rare titles, including real and imaginary star smut. "I don't think there was ever a time when people weren't tape trading," says Belove. "I remember Jack Valenti back in 1979 saying that taping off television was going to destroy the film industry. If there were people taping things, there's people trading things."

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Sylvester Stallone in The Party at Kitty & Stud’s (1970)
(photo: Anne Barry-Jester)
Like the image quality itself, the line between business and bootlegs was blurry. "It was such a free-for-all in the early '80s that most of those tapes we think of as legit were bootlegs," says Belove. "There was a hunger for stuff on video and there was no industry to police it at all, and so any serious bootlegger could just put it out. That includes horror, porn, all kinds of weird stuff like that." Some of the early celebrity porn titles were older films made before current stars were famous, like a 1970 Sylvester Stallone softcore film called The Party at Kitty and Stud's, quickly re-released on video as Italian Stallionfollowing his success with Rocky. Though hyped up to true porn status by tape collector legends, Stallone's nude scenes could easily play on HBO today. Rarer traded titles include a violent rape-incest-themed 1973 "roughie" featuring Spalding Gray, The Farmer's Daughter.

With home video came the home video camera, and thereby a new twist emerged: the samizdat-distributed celebrity home movie—the Paris Hilton tape's direct ancestor. The earliest instance is a lurid tape made in the late '70s by Jayne Kennedy and Leon Isaac Kennedy, known for their roles in blaxploitation titles and television. According to Don (who preferred not to give his last name) from Video Search of Miami, a longtime purveyor in celebrity sex videos, the Kennedys title was somehow released to the public by Leon after Jayne broke off their marriage, and remains a "big seller." Like many old traded tapes, the Kennedys' video is now distorted almost to abstraction, but the fisting scene no doubt helps it stay popular.

From the Celebrity Sex DVD; Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy Lee Hardcore Uncensored
photo: Anne Barry-Jester
From the Celebrity Sex DVD; Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy Lee Hardcore Uncensored

Video Search of Miami also distributes a half-hour tape called Chuck Berry's Home Movies, in which a man who sounds like the rock pioneer urinates on a woman in a tub while farting loudly, and the rock-legendary Go-Go's tape, which doesn't quite qualify as true celeb porn. "It's from the early '80s," says Don, "and the Go-Go's themselves aren't actually naked. It's sort of backstage stuff and you've got them getting fucked up and the guys around them getting naked." Another fame-culture twist is provided by a tape available at Cinefile as Steve Vai's Biggest Fan! Said to be a video love letter to the Whitesnake guitar god, it shows a young woman masturbating on camera for Vai, at one point performing tricks with a candle. The fan's obsession serves as stand-in for the absent star himself; in this way, it functions as the Heavy Metal Parking Lot of erotica.

But tape trading went even further mainstream in the next decade. "The Internet was the biggest explosion of all this, and it was simply from people being able to contact each other," remembers Belove, "because before this, you simply had mail order catalogs." Whereas trading had occurred within relatively small circles of collectors, and tapes took years to travel via word of mouth, "now if something gets out," says Belove, "the time it takes to spread is no time at all." This was illustrated dramatically by the last decade's string of celebrity sex-video scandals, stoked by the rise of competitive entertainment news and the burgeoning online porn industry. The Rob Lowe 1988 hotel tapes re-emerged via Internet tape traders in the early '90s, according to trader Mike Plante, editor of Cinemad magazine. Tonya Harding and Jeff Gillooly's so-called "Wedding Night Tape" and the much lauded Pamela Anderson-Tommy Lee tape both became so widely available that each party decided to release them officially. The latter also inspired a made-for-release hardcore video starring fellow Mötley Crüe member Vince Neil and a professional porn actress, Janine.

As broadband has spread, nearly all the videos mentioned above—plus others like Simon Rex's gay jerk-off video, Pamela's unreleased sex tapes with Poison's Bret Michaels, or Hogan's Heroes star Bob Crane's films (made infamous by Paul Schrader's Auto Focus)—have gained new life online, sold as files on countless porn sites or downloaded off Kazaa as easily as the latest 50 Cent MP3. But just as in the day of the Tijuana Bibles, demand exceeds supply, and numerous purported videos of R. Kelly or various cast members of Star Trek: The Next Generation turn out to be mere porn-industry look-alikes or Celebrity Sleuth-style split-second clips from obscure nonsex roles. "In almost all of these," says Plante, "you hear about it, and it's described a certain way, and it sounds amazing, and it always fails to live up to expectations."

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