The Actress, the Producer and Their Porn Revolution
You can say this much at least, the setting was magnificent--a seafood restaurant at Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway. San Fernando Valley businessman Steven A. Hirsch thought it was the ideal spot for his pitch to the blond, hazel-eyed Midwest tomboy. She loved crab legs? He promised her all she could eat.
Ginger Lynn Allen arrived at Gladstone’s restaurant in a lace dress and heels and joined Hirsch and his girlfriend at their table. It was late 1984. They were young, in their early 20s, and full of vigor and hope. Allen was trying to escape a nasty childhood by becoming a movie star. Hirsch was looking for the money and respect his father never enjoyed. He wanted to produce movies.
At that moment, neither career was one to write home about. Allen was an actress, yes, but one who specialized in talents Hollywood doesn’t put on screen. Hirsch peddled the kind of movies she made, but they had hardly brought him riches or respect. The industry they worked in was still very much on the fringe.
As an overnight porn sensation, Allen knew she could earn lots of cash for a few years before being replaced by the next wave of fresh faces. She dreamed of jumping to Hollywood before then and had no idea what this obscure but attractive pornography figure could offer her, other than all the crab she wanted.
She didn’t know he was planning a revolution.
Hirsch laid out his proposal. No other porn actress has ever had such a deal--control over scripts and casting, marketing campaigns devoted exclusively to her and a guaranteed income that included royalties and could reach six figures.
Allen was skeptical. Hirsch had little track record as a producer. But as anyone who knows him will vouch, Hirsch is nothing if not persuasive. He desperately needed her help. Gradually, Allen began to believe.
Today, Gladstone’s could put a plaque over that table where Hirsch and Allen dined. It marks the birthplace of a new kind of porn--designer porn--and its unrelenting march into American lives. These days, hard-core sex stars date rock musicians, appear on album covers and dance in music videos. They gab with shock-jock Howard Stern. Academics plumb porn for its cultural and business significance. The Internet is flooded with come-hither Web sites. Students at Yale hold coed “chicken and porn” parties. Annual rentals and sales of adult videos and DVDs top $4 billion, and the industry churns out 11,000 titles each year--more than 20 times as many as Hollywood, according to Adult Video News, an adult industry trade magazine.
Hirsch has become so successful, and perceptions of the industry have changed so much, that he was invited last May to address a USC business class. His muscular frame clad in casual slacks and a crisp blue blazer, the 40-year-old executive lectured his audience on “production value” and “market share"--terms drawn from the same corporate lexicon as former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and other industry titans who have shared their wisdom at USC.
“Ten years ago I don’t think I would have been asked to speak in front of that class,” Hirsch says in an interview later, adding that none of the 23 undergraduates questioned the content he sells. “We’re already past the acceptance stage, and at this point we’re just talking about a business as a business. We are nothing more than widget makers.”
Those widgets have blessed Hirsch, president of Van Nuys-based Vivid Video Inc., with an 8,150-square-foot, $1.6-million home with an amusement park pool in a gated community on the edge of the Santa Susana Mountains. He shares a suite at Staples Center that costs as much as $307,000 a year. It’s known as the “porn box,” because its regulars are porn heavy hitters who do a lot of business together. They sit right up there alongside Budweiser, Fox Television and Toyota.
Hirsch won’t discuss his income, and there is no independent way to verify the finances of his privately held companies. But he claims Vivid’s revenues reached $80 million last year, and he and two partners recently netted some $70 million in a deal with Playboy Enterprises, according to Securities and Exchange Commission documents and interviews. He jets to Bruce Springsteen concerts, has several luxury cars and collects fossils in prehistoric amber. A history buff, he also owns a lock of George Washington’s hair and a death mask of Abraham Lincoln.
Allen’s life isn’t as golden. She did join Hirsch’s new company, then left porn for Hollywood before returning to the land of quick money. Her relationship with Hirsch morphed over the years from professional to personal to physical to nobody knows what anymore. She has a life-threatening illness and auctions her panties at strip clubs to raise tuition for a son whose paternity Hirsch refuses to discuss.
“My time is past,” she says. As an aging porn queen, she knows she falls into a pathetic stereotype, but she’s having no part of it. The title of the autobiography she’s working on: “I Did It. I Liked It. So What?”
“they’d have their fight, my father would hit my mother, and then she’d take it out on me,” Allen once said in a report prepared for federal court. “My mother used to scream at me how ugly I was, and she’d tell me I was evil.” Her mother, Marilyn, was the illegitimate child of a prostitute and later adopted by the son of a Baptist minister, the report says. It describes her father, Wayne, as a former alcoholic and son of a police officer. She grew up in Rockford, Ill., a blue-collar town 80 miles northwest of Chicago. Allen’s parents separated when she was 6, then divorced when she was 11. The next year she tried to commit suicide by taking a dozen sleeping pills, says the report. At 13, after a particularly brutal beating from her mother, Allen was taken in by her paternal grandparents. Despite their care, she had an abortion, began using drugs and her grades slipped. She also was left with an “almost addictive need for male relationships . . . and validation,” according to the report, prepared by criminologist Sheila Balkan for a federal judge presiding over a 1990 tax fraud case against Allen.
After graduating from Rockford West High in 1980, Allen followed her grandparents to San Bernardino to help care for her dying grandfather. She worked as a Musicland store manager, but money was tight. So in 1983, with a boyfriend’s encouragement, she answered an ad promising $150 for figure models. It was run by porn talent agent Jim South in Van Nuys. Things began happening very fast.
In September of that year, Allen posed for nude photographs, and soon she was featured in various porn publications, including Penthouse. Next came videos--which meant sex, with strangers, on camera. As she would later explain in a magazine article: “The money keeps coming and you get pulled into it a little more. Things you thought were bad at the beginning seem a little less bad.” In November, Allen agreed to appear for $800 in four 8-millimeter loops--short subjects for peep-show booths in adult bookstores.
Back in Rockford, Wayne Allen, who had reconciled with his daughter years before, overheard men in a bar talking about her new career. He found the loop playing locally and demanded that the store owner give him all copies. After Allen’s third visit, the owner called police, who sent him home with a friend. Allen called his daughter. Porn was lucrative, she replied. No one got hurt. Besides, it was fun.
Her first adult feature, “Surrender in Paradise,” was filmed in Maui. She turned 21 on location, got paid $5,150, fell in love with her leading man and began learning truths about being a porn star. “I was making more money in two weeks than I did in two years, and I was having great sex with someone I loved.” But when she saw her fiance for the first time on the mainland, he was wearing a dirty shirt and spoke with a New York accent. He wasn’t the man she knew. “He stayed in character for the entire two weeks we were there.” She broke the engagement.
On screen, Allen became a sensation. In 1984, at the porn industry’s first X-Rated Critics Organization awards, she wore a yellow dress with black polka dots from Sears, and won the veritable Triple Crown: “Best Female Performer,” “Video Vixen” and “Starlet of the Year.” One businessman who helped underwrite the awards show, giving $10,000, was adult video distributor Fred Hirsch, whose son Steven had a plan. Bill Asher, now a third partner in Vivid, says Steven Hirsch “grew up when porn was a dirty, underground business. If he was going to be in the business, it was going to be mainstream.”
the early 1980s were pivotal for the porn industry. Upscale adults were buying into the VCR craze, which for porn meant adult movies no longer would be limited to “the raincoat crowd” found in adult bookstores and theaters. Steven Hirsch was working as a national sales rep for porn distributor CalVista Video. There he befriended the head of the catalog division, David “Dewi” James, a tall, self-deprecating British expatriate 20 years his senior. Hirsch and James became convinced that this emerging home market included women and couples. “That’s something we really felt strongly about, and that we went after,” Hirsch recalls.
They quit CalVista, formed Vivid Video and went in search of a star. In their view, she had to appear wholesome enough for couples to enjoy--not like the hardened, cold actresses traditionally found in adult movies.
“I looked like what might be your best friend’s sister,” Allen says. “I didn’t look like I belonged on the street corner.” As William Margold, a porn actor and industry activist, remembers: “She was comfortably pretty. She didn’t have the kind of beauty that chilled you. It warmed you. She came along at exactly the right time.”
Hirsch and James scraped together $38,000, including a $20,000 loan from Fred Hirsch’s printer, and started to work. Vivid’s first video featured Allen in a tongue-in-cheek tale about a millionaire trying to find a desirable wife for his socially backward heir.
Breaking with industry practices, Hirsch sank most of the money into the packaging, hiring a photographer and a Hollywood artist. Instead of a box cover showing a collage of sex acts, Vivid’s showed Allen on a beach, exposing nothing, under the title “Ginger.”
“The combination of a great box cover and young, beautiful women became Vivid’s trademark,” Allen recalls. But make no mistake, the sex wasn’t anything less than hard core. The video flew off the shelves, selling an initial 6,000 copies--a huge volume at the time for adult videos. “Ginger” rocketed to the top of the adult charts. A tamer version of the video was translated into 12 languages and sold in Europe, Japan and Hong Kong. Hirsch and James set out to make their star an icon. In return for appearing in videos exclusively for Vivid, Allen was featured in movies more appealing to women because they had stronger plot lines than traditional adult movies, which were often little more than a series of sex scenes.
Instead of spending the money from the first movie, Hirsch and James nursed the business along, paying themselves just $200 a week. “Ginger” soon grossed about $700,000, which they put into a series of sequels, including “I Dream of Ginger,” “Ginger on the Rocks,” “Ginger’s Sex Asylum.” All were intended to sear Ginger and the Vivid brand into the minds of consumers.
For her success, Vivid paid Allen handsomely. During 1985, she received $99,014 from a combination of her monthly retainer fee, $1,000-a-day shooting premium, paid promotional appearances and an unprecedented cut of wholesale revenues, court records and interviews show. With other porn work that year, Allen made $134,000 and, in 1986, pulled in $126,185, according to records of Ginger Pix Inc., her corporation.
Those numbers were staggering for an industry where actresses are free agents and earn, in 2002 dollars, $300 to $1,200 for each scene they perform, with no royalties, medical coverage or pension. Career curves are short and brutal, thanks to the constant supply of eager replacements. All that most of them can hope for is to parlay their film work into lucrative nude dancing careers or Internet fan sites.
But for Allen, life had never been better. The blue-collar kid bought a Porsche, dropped $10,000 at a time on shopping sprees, took overseas vacations. “I did what a lot of women do in the adult industry,” she recalls. “You live right here, right now, today.” the walls of hirsch’s van nuys office today are sleek black, matching the color of the Oxford shirts he often wears. Chunks of ancient amber are arranged on shelves facing his neatly kept desk. One wall features a signed photo of all five living former U.S. presidents and documents bearing Thomas Jefferson’s stamp. A backlit awards showcase gives the room a warm glow. It holds dozens of industry statuettes awarded for “Best Couples Sex Scene” and the like. To the right of Hirsch’s desk is a Dell computer laptop showing live shots from a nanny cam trained on his daughter’s crib at home. The mother is Hirsch’s current girlfriend, Laurie Andersen, a former sales rep for Video Team, a Chatsworth porn producer.
Would he want his infant daughter, Alexis, to become a Vivid star? He smiles and leans back in his overstuffed leather chair. “I would tell her to really think that through,” he says. “I would respect whatever decision she would make. And then I would send her to medical school.”
It would be the ultimate triumph for a porn dynasty that began in the early 1970s, when Wall Street tanked and Fred Hirsch gave up as a stockbroker. He called a family conference in the living room of the Hirsches’ comfortable home in Lyndhurst, Ohio, outside Cleveland. Steven was 11 and his sister, Marci Sue, was 14 when their parents announced that Dad would sell adult materials for Sovereign News Corp., owned by the late Reuben Sturman. A tobacco and candy distributor, Sturman became the nation’s largest purveyor of pornography, with reputed ties to the New York Gambino Mafia family, according to the 1986 Meese Commission on Pornography. “My biggest concern was what I would tell my friends,” says Marci, now 42. “I had a hard time.”
Their livelihood aside, the Hirsches seemed a model of family stability. Dad’s job wasn’t Rotary Club material, but life was otherwise middle-class normal, says Tony Ciulla, Steve’s best friend from next door who is now manager of the Marilyn Manson rock band. There was Little League baseball, go-cart racing and mowing lawns or shoveling snow for money.
The Hirsch family joined the porn industry’s migration to California in 1975, and Fred Hirsch began laying plans to start his own company. But he also had to face ghosts he left behind--obscenity charges from his work in Cleveland. In 1978, he and six others from Sovereign News were tried and acquitted.
Young Hirsch escaped ghosts of his own. He says he was picked on in Lyndhurst because he was one of only a few Jews in his junior high school. The experience, he says, “helped toughen me up a bit. And it helped give me the drive to succeed because I had to prove that I was OK.”
An introvert by nature, he channeled his frustration into wrestling, a sport known for its solitude and discipline. The family moved to a two-story home on a winding, leafy street in Woodland Hills. Young Hirsch became co-captain of the El Camino Real High School wrestling team, earning all-city honors in his weight class. His father rarely missed a match.
By the time Steve graduated, in 1979, nearly a dozen production houses were vying to reach the new VCR market. Fred Hirsch set up Adult Video Corp. in a small storefront on Napa Street in Northridge. A bank of VCRs hummed in the back office, churning out duplicates of master tapes. The whole family helped, creating a peculiar bond and some awkward moments. Marci, who worked in accounting, remembers wandering into the duplication lab and seeing her first adult video. In walked Dad. “You have to leave,” he said. “I can’t watch this with you.”
She felt uncomfortable for about a month, she recalls. “And after that, we would both be in there watching it. After a while you almost forget what you’re watching because you see it so often.”
Fred Hirsch’s company prospered. Between 1983 and 1985, its sales nearly tripled, to $4.2 million, and it cleared $484,000 in profit, court records show. The firm was a medium-sized force in the porn scene--although it since has gone out of business.
Steven Hirsch attended business and journalism classes for two years at Cal State Northridge and UCLA while doing a range of jobs at his father’s company--from packing tapes in the warehouse to working in sales, promotion and accounting. Then he quit to work at CalVista and soon, he and James launched Vivid.
There was little money in the beginning. Allen remembers Hirsch rolling pennies with Wren to make ends meet. But once Allen’s tapes became a sensation, life changed quickly. The three of them began partying together. Allen says she found Hirsch attractive that first time she saw him at Gladstone’s, but nothing romantic occurred between them then. Hirsch and Wren were tight, and Allen never was at a loss for boyfriends. By her own count, she has been engaged 10 times, and never married.
mainstream respect is an idea that entices and eludes those in porn. Hollywood is just over the mountains from porn’s prime locale, the San Fernando Valley, and the two worlds mix socially. But porn performers are rarely taken seriously by the studios. They are more playmates than peers.
By 1986, Allen and Hirsch were successful financially, but Allen wanted to jump to Hollywood. She had grown weary of making sex videos. “As I became more and more involved with films, I used more drugs and alcohol,” she would later explain to a federal judge. “As time went on, I couldn’t stand what I was doing. I started using cocaine as a way to escape and a way to cope.”
In February of 1986, Allen, age 23, quit the industry. She had been in porn for 27 months and had appeared in 69 productions, 16 of them for Vivid. It was now or never to cross over.
She landed her first B-film part in 1988 as a rocker chick in “Dr. Alien (I Was a Teenage Sex Mutant).” That led to a referral to B-film producer Rick Sloane, who was looking for a lead in “Vice Academy,” a police farce.
“I thought the timing was right to give her the break,” Sloane says, adding that Allen came to his attention just months after her personal and professional rival, porn actress Traci Lords, began taking mainstream roles. Sloane gave Allen the leading role. Impressed by her comedic timing, he wrote a sequel around her character.
She was doing OK in Hollywood, although the money wasn’t as good. She eventually appeared in 28 mainstream productions, in roles that included a bordello prostitute in the 1990 Western “Young Guns II”; a dying prostitute in Ken Russell’s 1991 “Whore”; a topless dancer in a 1993 Emmy-award winning episode of “NYPD Blue”; and a recurring role in “Super Force,” a short-lived kids’ show.
Through the years she continued to receive royalties from Vivid and make promotional appearances for the company. But her income dipped. She refused to return to making adult videos, although she did start stripping to cash in on her X-rated fame. “The high times were over and we were both strapped, so she needed to go [nude dancing] financially,” says Edward R. Holzman, Allen’s live-in boyfriend during the late 1980s and now a video producer for Playboy Enterprises. In 1991, Allen reported making $30,000 from stripping and $25,000 from acting.
Off screen, Allen’s troubles mounted. In 1990, a federal grand jury indicted her on two counts of tax fraud. She offered a curious defense, arguing that her judgment had been impaired by drug use in the early 1980s. Indeed, she and Hirsch had done a lot of cocaine as Vivid rocketed to success. “We did coke in the hotel rooms,” Allen remembers. “We did coke in the limos.” Hirsch also says he had a substance abuse problem at the time. “My life was out of control,” he says. “Some of it was alcohol. Some of it was drugs. That was that.”
As part of Allen’s defense before sentencing, her attorneys hired Balkan to review Allen’s past. The criminologist said she found a woman struggling with demons from her childhood that spilled over into her relationships--like the one Allen struck up with actor Charlie Sheen. She met him on the Tucson set of “Young Guns II,” when Sheen visited his brother Emilio Estevez, the film’s star. Allen says they fell in love. But in Balkan’s view, their relationship went beyond those feelings. “It represented the legitimacy of being accepted by an actor and his family in the legitimate acting world,” Balkan says.
Sheen and his father, actor Martin Sheen, wrote to U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew asking for leniency in the tax case. After an eight-day trial, a federal jury convicted Allen in June 1991 on one count--failing to disclose $8,580 she earned during her first few months in porn in 1983. Lew sentenced her to probation and attached a condition: She had to give up drugs. Legal fees from the case and her subsequent probation violations were devastating. Allen claims those costs topped $400,000.
As Allen and Sheen dated, she nursed him through a 32-day rehab and stood by him when he was named a regular customer of Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss.
Then, she says, he dumped her. Sheen declines comment today, but Allen still claims he is “the only man I ever really loved.” She blames her rejection on porn. “People thought who I was was detrimental to his career.” Allen learned the lesson she always feared but hoped wasn’t true. “You can’t outlive what you’ve done,” says Wayne Allen, her father. “It’ll be around forever.”
Ginger Allen also failed to kick drugs. She had tried in 1989, entering a 30-day rehab program at San Diego’s Sunrise Center. But by “Vice Academy III” in 1991, Sloane says, Allen had reverted to her porn diva ways. She demanded $10,000 and a motor-home dressing room. Yet he says she habitually showed up late, flubbed her lines and was so puffy-faced that she needed ice packs and heavy makeup.
At times, Allen would lock herself away for days on cocaine binges, according to a federal court pre-sentencing report. In 1992, she failed a court-ordered drug test and Lew sentenced her to 45 days in rehab.
Hirsch, too, had struggled with abuse problems. With encouragement from a friend, porn producer Christian Mann, Hirsch checked himself into a drug rehab center Nov. 9, 1988. He says he is clean and sober today. His partying years aside, Hirsch’s world has never been about the hedonism of Hugh Hefner’s grotto parties at the Playboy Mansion and Larry Flynt’s hot-tub orgies. Vivid executives keep an antiseptic distance from the production of what they call “the content.”
Like his father, Hirsch has hired family to work at Vivid, which now employs 135 people. His sister and father work for him, and so did his brother Brad, who quit recently after starting a relationship with a Vivid actress.
Hirsch’s brilliance, Mann says, is in finding other sources of revenue, other outlets for his videos: Playboy Enterprises, the Internet, foreign rights and teaming up with Doc Johnson, a leading maker of sex toys.
Associates describe Hirsch as generous, driven, ethical--and controlling. “Fred Hirsch is an affable, nice guy,” says veteran porn director Bud Lee, who has worked for both father and son. “Steve is a cunning, ruthless businessman.” In 1997, for instance, Vivid scored an industry coup by landing distribution rights for a stolen video of actress Pamela Lee Anderson having sex with her former husband, rock musician Tommy Lee.
Paul Cambria, a Buffalo, N.Y., attorney who represents Vivid, says Hirsch has an “uncanny ability to make the best deals I’ve ever seen in my life.” One of those deals occurred the year Allen left Vivid. Hirsch signed a contract to supply the Playboy Channel with two soft-core movies a month. It was a deft maneuver. Hirsch shot two versions of each feature. The soft-core version, heavily edited to show milder content only, went for airing on Playboy’s network. The triple X version went to video stores under the Vivid label.
Last year, Hirsch made Vivid’s biggest deal ever by selling three cable and satellite cable TV hard-core networks back to Playboy for $70 million, plus $12 million in possible bonuses. Four years earlier, Playboy had loaned Hirsch $10 million of the $10.5 million needed to buy the hard-core Hot network, provided the company could buy it back in the future. At the time, Playboy wanted a toehold in the market but felt it should keep triple X content at arm’s length. Hirsch then added two more hard-core channels and his programming quickly lured viewers from Playboy’s soft-core fare. Surprised by the shift in demand, Playboy bought back Hot--giving Hirsch and his two partners an astounding return.
Beyond being a deal maker, Hirsch has excelled at marketing. After Allen left Vivid, Hirsch developed a lineup of “Vivid Girls,” each presented in the same way Ginger was packaged. “He wanted to create this star system, like old Hollywood,” says Ciulla, his lifelong friend. But Allen’s heirs don’t receive the same generous compensation she did. By signing with Vivid today, an actress makes less than the industry average of about $80,000 a year--and some Vivid Girls make as little as $39,000 a year. But a Vivid actress typically does gain an easier shooting schedule and a longer career. If she’s also a strip club dancer, her value on the club circuit goes up because of her association with the Vivid promotional machine. “The girls don’t have to worry about anything,” says James, Vivid co-founder. “We handle their careers and treat them like stars.”
Hirsch’s system, however, imposes controls that would have other workplaces in revolt. After Hirsch handpicks each actress, the company dictates the cut of their clothing and the size of their breasts and negotiates the frequency and types of sex acts they perform, according to a typical Vivid contract obtained by The Times.
Vivid Girls also surrender control over their screen names and the scenes they shoot--something a mainstream actor would never relinquish. Once Vivid shoots a scene, it has absolute control over its use, which can be staggering given the various ways pornography is available. “We recycle a movie 10 or 25 different ways,” James says. A single scene can be spliced into various video store movies, sold over the Internet and cable and marketed as still photos.
Vivid Girls, however, are not included in that continuing revenue stream. The company no longer pays royalties because it “became too complex,” James says. For instance, Vivid Girl Dyanna Lauren received several thousand dollars for her co-star appearance in the 1997 film “Bad Wives.” Internal documents show Vivid sold 54,639 DVD copies that, at the suggested retail price of $49.99 each, would mean sales of $2.73 million. That doesn’t count VHS tape, sales through cable pay-per-view channels and orders on Vivid’s own video-on-demand service. Had Lauren been under a conventional Screen Actors Guild contract, she would have received an estimated $45,000 to $261,000 extra from the DVD sales alone. Vivid’s contract wouldn’t survive in the real world, say 12 labor experts contacted by The Times. “If you dropped this document on any agent or lawyer’s desk in this town, they’d laugh and throw it away,” says John Laviolette, an entertainment lawyer who represents numerous Hollywood producers. “It’s practically slavery.”
Actresses haven’t challenged the contracts they are grateful to get, although some say being a Vivid Girl isn’t what it used to be. “You couldn’t get me to be a Vivid Girl again if you pointed a gun at my head,” says a Vivid contract player from the mid-1990s. “They want too much. They get everything.”
wayne allen goes to the bed-room and comes back with a small black jewelry case. He cracks it open. The lining says “XIV Karats Ltd., Beverly Hills.” It holds a man’s gold band embedded with a line of five small diamonds. It was meant for Steve Hirsch.
The ring is a bittersweet reminder that, in porn, sex isn’t the problem. Love is. Once a woman steps into the X-rated industry, she often closes the door on anything resembling a normal, long-term relationship with someone outside the industry. Ginger Allen says she knew this from the beginning. “No man wants his lady with someone else, whether they’re performing or not,” she told a magazine reviewer two years into the business. Porn stars, she added, will have--"not may have, will have"--trouble finding love.
Allen says the greatest love of her life was Sheen. But perhaps her most important love was her old boss. Friends for years, they became romantically involved in the mid-1990s. Wayne Allen says Hirsch began visiting his daughter in the evening, saying he had to be discreet. “He kept telling Ginger he was going to have her [Wren] move out. He was going to pay her off.”
Hirsch eventually did break up with Wren, and the parting was nasty, says Paul Fishbein, publisher of the adult industry magazine AVN. Fishbein says Hirsch gave his girlfriend a “settlement” for her work in starting Vivid. Wren declines to comment. Hirsch’s relationship with Allen thrived. Soon they were talking of marriage and adopting children, since doctors told Allen that she could never conceive.
In mid-1995, Allen decided to pop the question herself. She bought the gold and diamond band as an engagement ring for Hirsch, and planned to present it to him over a picnic lunch at the beach. But she was so excited she asked him before they got out of the house. “He said, ‘Yes,’ and then I told him something that changed his mind,” she recalls. Allen won’t say what that was, but her father will: “She said, ‘I’m pregnant.’ He gave her the ring back.”
Records show that on March 31, 1996, Allen gave birth to a son, Sterling Wayne Robert Allen. The father’s name is withheld on the birth certificate. Hirsch declines to comment on his personal life or persistent reports on porn Web sites that he is Sterling’s father and pays Allen a monthly paternity allowance. “You know you’ve really made it when people can print rumors about you,” he says. “I’m really not going to comment on it. I’m not going to glorify this.”
Allen remains bitter about the breakup. Success has spoiled Hirsch, she says. “Steven went from a really sweet, assertive nice young guy to very calculating,” she says. “I think that when you go from a person who rolls pennies to start your company to being a millionaire or billionaire, you treat people differently. You forget where you came from, and who you are and who was there for you.”
hirsch is in front of that class of business students at USC. He spends more than an hour outlining the details of running a business in the skin trade. Students scribble notes as Hirsch talks about vertical integration, buy rates, production value. There is one term he refuses to utter--the P word. “Pornography has always been a bad word and we’re not about bad words,” Hirsch would explain later. “We’re about making money.”
As he finishes his lecture, the students applaud politely. His presentation was impressive, says Brian Francis Linhart, a business administration major. “I never knew porn could be so cool.” But instructor Scott Wyant appears to have second thoughts about his decision to invite Hirsch. When asked about it by a reporter, he says he sees no “upside” to discussing it. “Think about it,” he says. “A pornographer. At USC.”
A few weeks later in Chicago, Ginger Allen is getting ready to take the stage of the Admiral Theater, a strip joint in a tired neighborhood on the west side. It is a Wednesday and the first of 11 shows Allen is booked to headline through the weekend. The announcer urges the 21 middle-aged men and one woman in the audience to sit by the chest-high stage--within easy tipping distance. Fog from dry ice shoots up from the stage, which is flanked by two huge mock hieroglyphic bookends of nude women. Backstage, Allen is praying to a god she says is forgiving and watches over her in this environment.
The sound system blares “Thus Spake Zarathustra.” Then to the throbbing bass of “Sweet Emotions,” Allen appears out of the fog wearing a sheer robe and high spiked heels. She gyrates, clamps her legs around the ears of some stage-side patrons, dances and rolls on the floor. She giggles and gives everyone a kiss.
After her third number, she takes a mike, chats up the house and announces: “I’m going to auction off my panties. Every penny of my panty money goes to my son’s college fund.” A Florida man years ago paid more than $1,000 for a pair, she says. This night, however, the bidding starts at $10, rises slowly and settles at $45. “Looks like my son’s going to community college,” she says.
If she had her way, Allen would not be stripping. “I’ve definitely made mistakes. Had I saved my money a long time ago, I’d be in a very sweet position.” At 39, the single mother of a 5-year-old finds herself battling time and the law of diminishing returns. For a while, the combination of mainstream entertainment work and tours on the strip circuit underwrote her upper-middle-class lifestyle, one beyond the expectations for a high-school-educated clerk from Rockford. She managed to buy a Lexus SUV and a 6,600-square-foot home with seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms for $580,000 in Woodland Hills.
Then the mainstream work dried up three years ago. So did the big crowds on the nude dance circuit. In a market flooded with porn-star strippers, Allen finds herself competing for half her normal appearance fee to strip for uninspired audiences. “Everybody’s been inundated with sex and nudity, it’s not exciting anymore,” she says. “So my income has drastically changed because of too much sex.”
Allen says she has refinanced her house twice in five years to pull out equity, but faced with a $5,500 monthly mortgage and other bills, she recently decided to go back to porn. Charles Clay, her Hollywood agent for 14 years, says he warned her it would hurt her prospects for mainstream roles. She called Hirsch first. “His response was, ‘Come back to us after you get your best offer,’ ” she says. “It was kind of a little slap in the face.” Hirsch says Allen made the decision to look elsewhere. “We wished her well and still do.”
Allen eventually made a deal with rival VCA, another San Fernando Valley adult production house, for less than her asking price of $100,000. Directed by a friend, former porn actress Jane Hamilton, Allen ended a 13-year absence from hard-core videos by starring in comeback movies, “Torn,” “White Lightning” and “New Wave Hookers 6.”
She turned to VCA again in mid-2000 after routine medical tests showed she had an illness, says Hamilton, who acted in porn under the name Veronica Hart. Hamilton says Allen tracked her down via telephone during a trade show to see if she could make yet another film. “She said, ‘Jane, I found out some bad news. I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to make movies,’ ” Hamilton says. “I know she has cancer. I know where it’s located. But as far as speaking the words, she doesn’t actually speak the words.”
Allen declines to confirm her illness. “I don’t want to jinx myself,” she says. She emphatically maintains it is not HIV and volunteers that she survived cervical cancer 10 years ago. Her father says he and his daughter do not discuss the illness in detail. “We just leave well enough alone. We know that she’s ill.”
Her illness was apparent during the filming of her fourth comeback video at VCA, “Taken.”
Hamilton says she was forced to stop production at one point. “She finished with a scene and was throwing up and it was obvious that we weren’t going to push on.” Allen asked for work again in July because she couldn’t pay her medical bills, Hamilton says. VCA used her in a one-day shoot for a scene in a movie starring Ashlyn Gere. “I could get a girl who would do the same scene for a lot less money, but she is having a tough time,” Hamilton says. Allen also picked up temporary part-time work as a director and emcee for a porn Web site run by Suze Randall, the former Playboy photographer who took the first nude test photos of Allen in 1983.
Allen has tried to sell her house and continues nude dancing, against her doctor’s wishes, she says. In Chicago, she earned $550 a show, about half the rate the Admiral pays top stars. She attends AA three to five times a week, making friends “not because I’m Ginger Lynn, not because of something they want from me, but because of who I am. I have people that I help to stay sober.”
At home she is an attentive mother to a son who knows nothing of his mom’s career. For the Fourth of July, she baked red, white and blue cupcakes and bread for his preschool class. For now, all he needs to know is that she signs autographs for fans. A further explanation will come later and go something like this, she says: When people want to laugh, they watch comedies. When they want to cry, they watch dramas. When they want to be frightened, they watch horror movies. And when they want to feel good, they watch grown-up movies--like Mommy made.
“I really don’t want to be pitied,” Allen says. “I’ve made my choices in my life. I put myself in this position. I am the one who is going to have to get myself out of it. I’ve been very fortunate. Most girls don’t have the career that I’ve been fortunate enough to have. They don’t have a shelf life of 18 years.”
Allen occasionally still receives royalties from her Vivid videos. But they’re intermittent. She says it is up to her to call if she’s due royalty money from the company. She telephones Hirsch directly. Usually, she says, he takes her call.
Times researchers Penny Love and Nona Yates contributed to this report.