Traci Lords 1983 and Traci Lords’ “Ordeal”

I am not alone in being erotically fixated on Traci Lords’ mouth. I have been for many years. Her petulant pout has inspired many fantasies the world over, but what makes her mouth so very sexy is knowing where it’s been and what she’s done with it. Who she’s licked, sucked, fucked and kissed, in films all the way from porn to John Waters’ Cry Baby and all the bad B-movies in between.

The determination and unrefined sex appeal of the trashy blonde isn’t lost on me at all, but in Traci Lords it’s personified and launched into the realm of icon. The very dirty past she struggles to keep in a tightly closed closet gives her that much more of an aura of bad-girl sexiness. Her pixie pucker, now self-proclaimed squeaky clean, screams “dirty” more than ever before.

But Traci Lords moves through her own mystique like a woman half-asleep and half-awake, like a medicated bombshell, a lurid Ophelia. Nowhere is this more evident than in Traci Lords: Underneath it All, her book about her life as a troubled teen and a “together” grown-up. In it, as in most authorized biographies written about people who are still alive, we get a roughly filtered version of Traci’s life experiences.

This is not a well-written book, nor does it seek any sort of self-reflection above the typical higher moral ground sought by porn stars who want mainstream acting careers. It’s a piece of candy fluff, as bad as you’d expect a book plucked from the supermarket shelf to be, a sensational morality play about a girl who triumphed over evil. And like all morality tales derived from far more interesting real-life experiences, it is full of bizarre contradictions. But, unfortunately, it falls short of the contradictions that make Traci such an appealing symbol.

The narrative is an artifice of Traci’s “voice,” no doubt cobbled together by the mysterious woman — presumably the book’s ghostwriter — who is mentioned nowhere in Traci’s life as a meaningful character, but appears in pictures near the book’s end as Traci’s “soul sister.” The roughshod voice gives an impossibly detailed account of Traci’s childhood which, while as exciting as watching paint dry, is punctuated with Traci’s first sexual experiences, early glimpses of the book’s stance on sexual morality.

In a shockingly graphic description, Traci is raped as a young teen, the scene described with more detail than in any other sex scene in the rest of the book. This was a disturbing feature to stumble across early in the book, though no more disturbing than any “movie of the week’s” handling of similar subject matter. And I’m sure turning this book into a movie was an idea not far from the writers’ minds.

Traci runs away from home and becomes the biggest porn star, the most outrageous, sex-hungry, wild woman to rule porn stardom — and she reigned for three years. This fact is not included in her book. Neither is the fact that the starlet contract system — the “contract girl” — was invented to promote Ginger Lynn as the next, the better Traci Lords. Studios had to compete with Lords’ sexual ferocity, and devised the contract girl system as sort of a big-studio “it-girl” marketing campaign. The idea was well received — but none of this is in Traci’s book.

Instead, we’re told that Traci was drugged and coerced through her porn career, and that she hardly made any movies at all. Everything Traci does in the book is anchored by reminders that she was on drugs, that she really didn’t want to do it, and that at each turn she was desperately trying get out of porn. In fact, we’re beaten over the head with these points so repeatedly, it’s tough not to want to gloss over the protestations and get to the good stuff.

Certainly, some of Traci’s assertions may be true. Young kids do all kinds of things. Adults and their peers manipulate them, boyfriends mess with their heads and they do drugs to escape. But while Traci disavows her porn past vehemently throughout the book, she does slip and state “I was the Princess of Porn. They gave me awards at the Porn Oscars.” We also get brief peeks into the reality of Traci’s competitiveness with Ginger Lynn when Traci describes doing a scene with Ginger:

“Ginger’s moans grew louder. Didn’t she ever shut up? I was pissed off and disgusted by the thought of the upcoming lesbian scene I was supposed to have with this bitch on wheels… She’d given me attitude from the moment I’d met her a few months earlier, clearly seeing me as competition. And she was right. Within months my tormented, aggressive sex acts and youthful good looks stole her flavor-of-the-month title, and she made sure I knew she didn’t appreciate it one bit.”

For someone who makes a point of being “unwilling and drugged,” and “desperately seeking a way out” of porn in every porn-related moment the book describes, being the “Princess of Porn” seems an odd point to drive home. At 18, Traci gets busted for being underage, and attempts a comeback with her only legal adult film that she wrote, directed and co-produced, Traci I Love You.

The porn industry, angry as hell at being duped by her fake ID — and having their businesses and careers put at risk by a troubled teenager — stood back and allowed the picture to flop. Charges were never pressed against Traci because she’d used her ID to get a U.S. Passport, fooling even the government. Later in the book, Traci calls the people she worked with in porn “child pornographers,” an after-the-fact accusation made reality only by Traci herself.

Later, after a spate of B-movies, Traci is plucked from obscurity by the master of irony, John Waters, casting her in Cry Baby as Johnny Depp’s girlfriend and, hilariously, as Patty Hearst’s daughter. After all the ups and downs, dragged out descriptions of Traci’s struggle for acting success, and her experiences behind the scenes on every set she’s ever been on, we find out at the end that Traci considers herself “…another runaway, another molested child, another victim of sexual predators.”

Her career ups and downs are plagued by her past; at each turn we find her golden keys to Hollywood’s superficial acceptance being whisked away by the specter of her past. But underneath her dreamlike trance, surely she knows that her past is the reason she’s even a blip on the present’s radar. She even states, “I’m constantly reminded all these years later that I was a teenage porn star by people from all walks of life…”

But now, though our fantasies may make Traci into more than the sex symbol she wants to be, and her porn past makes her a contemporary cultural icon, Traci Lords hates porn. “…I just can’t stomach it. Today porn is everywhere I look… Porn stars play themselves on television shows, appear on billboards and give interviews on how ‘liberating’ porn is for women. Well, I believe it’s anything but… I believe hard-core porn is desensitizing to the viewer and that it objectifies its performers… I have never met one [performer] who wasn’t damaged by a business that makes it impossible to think of its ‘stars’ as human at all.”

To wit, in an MSNBC News interview, elder porn star and empowered performer Nina Hartley replied to Traci’s statements saying, “Well, I would invite her to come have lunch with me.”

Traci Lords: Underneath It All is a disappointment, but not an unexpected one. But just imagine for a minute, if sexy pouty, potty-mouthed Traci owned her porn past. If she reveled in the sexual pleasure and power it gave her. If she understood the appeal of her ironic countenance, her real-life white-trash Poison Ivy femme fatale persona. Good girls gone bad are way more interesting than bad girls gone good, don’t you think? Someone wake Traci up from her ordeal and tell her.