Cracking down on the city’s $550-million-a-year adult film industry, the Los Angeles Police Department has taken the controversial step of arresting producers of hard-core sex films under the state’s tough pandering law, which carries a mandatory three-year prison term.
The move has frightened and angered adult film producers and caused some to stop filming completely or shift their filming outside the city.
“I’m not shooting anything,” said Richard Aldrich, a producer of adult films since 1965 and president of West Coast Producers Assn., an organization that represents about 40 adult film makers.
“I don’t know that I’ll be shooting any more adult films,” Aldrich added. “No way, shape or form do I consider myself a panderer. I’ll have to leave it up to the legal system to say whether I am or not.”
“If I had been shooting in Los Angeles, you best believe I wouldn’t be now,” said Les Baker, president of Gemini Film Corp. in Las Vegas, who films in the San Francisco area. “Unequivocally, it has put a chill (on the Los Angeles industry). No sensible person would stick his head into that meat grinder.”
The vice investigations have touched off controversy because officers have conducted extensive surveillance at locations where hard-core films are made, taken down automobile license numbers of women appearing in the films, followed them to their homes and told them they are subjects of a criminal prostitution investigation.
Some of the women claim they have been threatened with arrest or with having their careers exposed to their families if they do not cooperate.
Vice officers and prosecutors argue that women performing in hard-core films are prostitutes--not actresses--because they are paid to perform sex acts. The producers, they claim, procure the actresses to engage in sex and, thus, are pandering.
The state Penal Code defines pandering as “any person who procures another person for the purpose of prostitution.” Prostitution is defined in the code as anyone “who solicits or who engages in any act of prostitution (including) lewd acts between persons for money or other consideration.”
“The section doesn’t have exemptions that exclude producers or actors in the adult film industry,” said police Administrative Vice Lt. Dennis Conte, who is in charge of the department’s pornography section.
Conte said even major studio producers could be prosecuted for pandering under the Penal Code if money is given an actor or actress to perform sex.
“We don’t have any alternatives but to take action,” Conte said. “If there was a movie that was R-rated where there was a sex act and we had the means to investigate that type of incident and there was a provable violation, then we would present that to the district attorney.”
Conte said, however, that it would be unlikely that producers of R-rated films would go beyond simulated sexual acts in their films and, thus, be in violation of the law.
The issue has raised First Amendment concerns in Hollywood.
“I don’t want somebody to tell me that I can’t take somebody’s clothes off,” said Bob Rafelson, director of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” a film that contains an erotic, but simulated, love scene between Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange.
“I don’t think I’ve ever shown a bare breast on the screen in all my movies,” Rafelson said. “I deplore the amount of gratuitous sex I see in movies today, but I deplore it from a personal aesthetic point of view. . . . Politically, I condemn anybody and fight anybody that is going to deprive the individual of his right to articulate sensuality and sexuality in any way he chooses, even though I may disapprove of it.”
Some producers, however, believe films have gone too far with sex.
“I think if a crime is being committed, the police have a duty to prevent that crime or prosecute the commission of that crime,” said Charles FitzSimons, executive director of the Producers Guild of America. “Why should motion picture producers, directors or motion picture management be exempted from the criminal code? That’s rubbish.”
FitzSimons, who said he spoke for himself and not the Producers Guild, added:
“Nobody wants censorship. . . . There is a difference between liberty and license.”
The Los Angeles Police Department has sought pandering charges against six people connected with the adult film industry since 1983. To date, one prosecution has reached the trial stage.
The case involves Harold Freeman, an Encino film maker who is on trial in Van Nuys Superior Court in connection with the film “Caught From Behind II.”
The film, which Freeman shot at a Rancho Palos Verdes house in September, 1983, depicts various sex acts.
The women who performed in the film testified that they considered themselves actresses, not prostitutes.
“I was required to memorize dialogue, take direction, wear theatrical makeup and generally do all the things necessary in performing any theatrical role,” Rhonda Gary of Lake Forest stated in a court affidavit filed in the case. “The sex acts performed . . . were totally devoid of sexual arousal, gratification or pleasure. Rather, they were generally awkward, painful and unenjoyable.”
Freeman argued: “The surroundings of a movie set are certainly not romantic or otherwise conducive to sexual arousal. There are lights which generate tremendous heat. There are several cameras, sound and lighting personnel; there are lines of dialogue to remember, there are physical requirements which including maintaining very uncomfortable positions for long periods of time.
“In light of these circumstances, it is readily apparent that my ‘purpose’ in employing the actors in my films is not to facilitate sexual arousal or gratification, but rather to create entertaining and often informational/educational motion pictures.”
Freeman has asked: If the vice squad can arrest him for pandering, what is to prevent officers from cracking down on major studios, where a growing number of films depict graphic sexual scenes?
“I have seen literally hundreds of movies at theaters and on television containing scenes wherein the actors touched bare breasts, hips and genitals,” Freeman said in a court affidavit. “Producers of such movies as ‘Bolero,’ ‘Last Tango in Paris,’ ‘10,’ ‘Sharkey’s Machine,’ ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ ‘Tightrope,’ ‘Against All Odds,’ ‘48 Hours’ ad infinitum are all panderers, according to the way (Penal Code Section) 266i is being applied in my case.”
Freeman’s attorney, Stuart Goldfarb of Beverly Hills, said: “In ‘Bolero,’ Bo Derek’s breast is fondled and kissed. Of course, no one in his right mind would go out and bust John Derek (her husband and director) for pandering.”
“They’re saying it’s discriminatory prosecution,” said Deputy Dist. Atty. Burton Schneirow, who is prosecuting Freeman. “Of course, the answer to that is, we evaluate the cases that the police bring to us. They go after the more flagrant violators first. If they (police) see speeders going 60 and don’t stop them and then see them going 75 and stop them, that isn’t selective prosecution.”
If Freeman is convicted, his case is bound to go before the appellate courts, both sides say.
In addition to the legal controversy, questions have been raised about the tactics police have used in conducting their anti-pornography investigations.
“They told me if I didn’t cooperate they would arrest me for prostitution,” said Susan Hart, a Canoga Park adult film actress whose family does not know that she appears in hard-core films. “They said, ‘You don’t want a record, do you?’ ”
Hart, the name she goes by in the films, said in an interview that she was asked by Conte to sign a blank victim’s report against one producer, which detectives later filled in.
“I was really scared,” she said. “I didn’t want to go to jail. We went to a Burger King and they asked me questions about others in the business, when they were going to shoot and where they lived.”
Conte denied Hart’s allegation and said that she was shown the report after it was filled out and that she concurred in its statements.
Another performer, Jeanette Mercado, filed a court affidavit in the Freeman case stating, “I was told by the investigating officers that if I did not sign the report and cooperate, I would be arrested for prostitution.”
Beverly Hills attorney Richard Chier is defending Mark and Tina Marie Carriere, an Indiana couple accused of pandering for hiring actresses to appear in an adult film they produced.
Chier said one 21-year-old woman was followed by vice officers to her Huntington Beach home after performing in a film in Coldwater Canyon.
“She’s married and has a child,” Chier said, noting that the husband knew nothing of the wife’s participation in such a film. “She was not a hooker. She was a happily married woman who did this as an avocation. They (police) then went to her house when she wasn’t home, knowing she wasn’t home. Can you imagine if you were home and police said they were the vice squad and wanted to talk to your wife? She came home and they said they were going to expose her unless she cooperated and signed a statement. They put words in her mouth.”
Conte denied the allegation, saying that officers told the husband only that they wanted to question his wife in connection with a criminal investigation and then questioned her in private.
“We tell them they are part of an investigation involving pandering and prostitution,” Conte said. “We make them fully aware they are a suspect in a prostitution case and tell them we’re trying to identify the main serious offenders--the producers and still photographers.”
“It’s general harassment,” producer Aldrich said. “They’re playing on the innocence of the actor. I’ve had my whole crew knocked on at 5 in the morning by the LAPD.”
Defense attorneys argue that police are using the pandering law to fight pornography because other legal avenues have failed.
“The police in this city have not been able to get obscenity convictions for a long time because the matter of adult films no longer violates community standards,” Goldfarb said.
“It’s sort of cynical and trendy,” Chier said of the vice squad’s use of the pandering laws. “For a while, zoning laws were used; then aiding and abetting. Someone then lobbied through this hideously Draconian pandering law.”
The state Legislature passed the “anti-pimp” bill in 1982, placing a three-year minimum prison term for those convicted of pimping or pandering.
State Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), whose district office is on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, where street prostitution flourishes, said the bill was not aimed at adult film making.
“This was not the thrust of the bill, but I’m not going to categorically say the bill couldn’t be used to get at this activity,” Roberti said last week.
Roberti said he could conceive of films in which the sex acts depicted were so blatant that he would not be upset if the pandering law was used by prosecutors.
“I frankly would say it would depend on the factual situation, to whether the person is predominantly an actor or predominantly a prostitute,” he said.
“These young ladies who appear in these pictures normally come through (modeling) agencies,” said Dave Friedman, head of Entertainment Ventures, which he described as the “oldest exploitation film company in the United States.”
“Contrary to the beliefs of our enemies, such as Citizens for Decency and Morality in Media, we do not coerce or kidnap these ladies for appearances in our movies. We use tried and true performers. . . . We certainly don’t advertise for young girls to have sex and make big profits. A lot of them are exhibitionists and they enjoy it. They enjoy the fame and notoriety. The average young lady makes $1,000 a day.
“These girls aren’t owned by a pimp,” Friedman said. “Most of them are pretty good businesswomen. They know what they want. They lay down rules on the number of hours and where they will work.”
Kay Parker, a star of many adult films, said she has never known a woman who was forced to do anything against her will before the cameras.
Parker said she always considered herself an actress, not a prostitute.
“I have never been paid to have sex with anybody,” Parker said. “I’m paid to have an acting role where sex is part of the role.”
Susan Hart said she considers herself an actress, not a prostitute.
“Just because we’re doing sex, a lot of times we’re doing other things,” she said. “People don’t realize we’re getting paid to act. . . . You have to psych yourself into certain characters. It’s like dressing up when you were a little kid.
“People ask me, ‘How can you have sex in front of 25 people?’ Well, half the people don’t even watch. They’ll watch for half a minute and then walk out. The first time it was scary. After that, it was nothing. I like people to watch me. I’m getting paid to turn those people on. After I’m done, I like to hear what people think. I ask them, ‘Do you like what I do? How did I look?’ ”
Not only film makers are being charged with pandering.
In April, vice officers cracked down on the two San Fernando Valley modeling agencies that provide most of the actors and actresses who appear in adult films in Los Angeles--Pretty Girl International and World Modeling Agency in Sherman Oaks.
Police arrested Pretty Girl owner Reb Sawitz, along with four female and two male models, after an undercover investigation by an officer posing as a Latin American film maker.
Charges against the models were later dismissed, but Sawitz faces seven felony counts of pandering.