Inside A Feminist Porn Star Reunion

Club 90, now and then. Photo credits: B&W: Dona Ann McAdams. Color: Candida: Arthur Cohen, Jane: New Sensations, Veronica: Eric Kroll, Annie: Lars Kruger

 

More than 30 years after first starting a support group, the porn star visionaries of Club 90 convened in New York City. Women everywhere owe a great debt to them.

"We were the original Sex and the City girls, just a lot wilder and with less expensive shoes." 

This is how Annie Sprinkle, post-porn modernist and ecosexual, has referred to Club 90—a porn star support group that's been in existence for 32 years and counting. On a frigid February evening, she joined members Jane Hamilton, Candida Royalle, and Veronica Vera in New York City for the CineKink Festival's tribute to the legendary collective. It was a sold-out house with a beautifully mixed audience: male, female, 20-somethings to 60-somethings, gay, straight, bi, transgender, and everything else in between, all gathered to pay homage to women who quietly changed the world—one orgasm at a time.

The group traces its roots back to a baby shower for Jane (aka Veronica Hart). "It was the first time we'd gotten together as women," Jane recalled at the tribute. "Doing things as regular girls, not porn stars. Playing silly games like 'Pin the Baby on the Boobie,' and dancing to 'West Side Story.'"

"We realized that we'd all taken dance as little girls," added Vera. "There were so many other similarities. It was an incredible bonding experience."

Gloria Leonard, who'd always been a staunch feminist and had a varied, impressive resume before she ventured into porn as a single mom in her mid-30s, suggested that they start a support group. They decided to dub it "Club 90," since they met at Annie's place at 90 Lexington Avenue.

And the rest is history.

Channeling wood nymphs, Club 90 circa 1984, L-R: Gloria Leonard, Jane Hamilton, Candida Royalle, Annie Sprinkle (with Jane’s infant son Chris on her knee) and Veronica Vera. Courtesy of Robin Leonardi.

Originally, Club 90 included actresses Sue Nero and Kelly Nichols, who later eased out of the group. But not before Candida was contacted by Franklin Furnace, an avant-garde theater organization hoping to stage a feminist porn production. Club 90 put together Deep Inside Porn Stars, a reenactment of one of their meetings, which debuted on the stage in February 1984.

Over the years, three of Club 90's remaining members moved to the West Coast, but they continued to "meet" via the Internet. Their bond is still powerful: They visit in person whenever possible, are stalwart presences during health challenges, and rejoice as bridesmaids in each other's weddings—like Veronica's in 2012, where Gloria, then 71, caught the bouquet.

Club 90 gathers at Veronica Vera’s wedding in 2012, and make the most lovely bridal party. L-R: Annie Sprinkle, Candida Royalle, Jane Hamilton and Gloria Leonard surround the blushing bride (center). Photo credit: Barbara Alper.

The group tragically lost Gloria to a stroke on February 3, 2014, but her presence was very much felt at the CineKink event. A framed photograph of Glo had a prominent spot on the dais, and she was recalled often and lovingly.

After brief remarks, the Anthology Film Archives showed film clips each Club 90 alum had prepared of their work, with Candida selecting Gloria's. Especially striking was the raw footage of a Deep Inside Porn Stars dress rehearsal where Gloria addressed the camera directly, stating, "I thought feminism was freedom of expression, whatever you choose that to be, even if it's performing in adult films."

Club 90 at the CineKink tribute, L-R: Jane Hamilton, Veronica Vera (holding Gloria Leonard’s portrait), Candida Royalle and Annie Sprinkle. Photo credit: Stacie Joy.

The other clips demonstrated the multiplicity of the group. Jane's acting prowess came through in X-rated efforts like Amanda by Night and the mainstream movie Boogie Nights, where she played a judge, as well as porn projects she was especially proud of producing and directing, like Edge Play. Primarily a writer, Veronica appeared in a handful of adult ventures like Consenting Adults (she also modeled for Robert Mapplethorpe), but the promotional video for her cross-dressing academy, "Miss Vera's Finishing School For Boys Who Want To Be Girls," is perhaps the most impressive of her achievements. Candida's clips as a performer in adorable ditties like Hot and Saucy Pizza Girls, and then in her Femme Productions projects, revealed her evolution from cute cupcake into important erotic filmmaker.

Annie, by far the most explorative of the group, stretched boundaries with kinky play like golden showers (hence her nom de porn) and a host of other fringe acts that not only pushed the envelope but tore it to shreds. In the setup, Annie chirped breezily, "Just cover your eyes if it's too much!" (Many in the audience did.) Also included was the trailer from her project with partner Beth Stephens, Goodbye Gawley Mountain: An Ecosexual Love Story, and footage from several of their ecosexual weddings where they marry earth entities like soil. (The ecosexual premise: If you think of the earth your lover, you might treat her better.)

The Q&A session afterwards was intelligent and thought-provoking. When a young woman asked if the panel had any tips for emerging feminist pornographers, Candida pointed out, "Just because a woman is doing it, doesn't mean it's feminist." She challenged, "Do something different."

Club 90’s 30th anniversary was marked by a symposium at the Museum of Sex in 2013. L-R: Annie, Gloria, Veronica, Jane, and Candida.Annie stressed the potent political punch porn could pack. "Porn makes more money than the music and sports industries combined," she cited. "It has the power to make a statement. Be political. Be daring."

Veronica's wish list included that the transgender community be more readily accepted and depicted in adult films. "I would love to see all sorts of body types together," she stated. "And all sorts of sexualities."

Still active as a producer and director of adult endeavors, Jane added, "I'd like to see sex seamlessly incorporated into mainstream Hollywood movies. Not fuckfilms per se, but films with fucking in them."

Jane continued, "You know, we all chose different paths but we all have stayed sex-positive. Gloria worked for women's rights and in anti-censorship causes like the Free Speech Coalition for years. She fought for many of the things we take for granted."

Today, at age 60, Annie said that she would love to have Club 90's materials archived: "We paved new ground in feminist porn and human sexuality. It would be a killer archive for an institution like NYU."

Before the event ended, Annie encouraged people in the sex industry to start a support group like Club 90. "It's empowering and healing," she said.

When the lights came up, both the size and scope of the audience was overwhelming. Many in attendance weren't even born when the ladies of the evening graced the carnal cinema. It was striking—and affirming—to see Annie posing for selfies with a girl young enough to be her granddaughter.

Women everywhere owe a great debt to the erotic visionaries of Club 90, ladies who were and still are unapologetic about their sexuality and express it honestly, bravely, and without shame. There's a lesson to be learned from their sex-positive, female-positive message, which still resonates after more than three decades.

Long may they wave!

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