Lords Above! When Traci Met Gary: Aroused (1985), Young & Restless II (1985), and Suzie Superstar II (1985)

Dave chronicles a regrettable chapter in the porn industry through the prism of Gary Graver.

Nora Louise Kuzma, an Ohio-born girl of Ukrainian and Irish descent, had long endured a fractious relationship with her family, so when the chance to bag a fake driver’s licence and passport in order to increase employment prospects presented itself, she seized it with little hesitation. Employing the alias ‘Kristie Elizabeth Nussman’, the five extra years that were fraudulently added to her birth date quickly started to bring opportunities her way and, with her mother’s ex-boyfriend in the driver’s seat, Kuzma soon found herself in the waiting room of Jim South’s notorious porn star-launching talent agency. A contract was signed and a pseudonym formed, a combination of a long-admired forename and a surname swiped from the star of Kuzma’s favourite TV show, Hawaii Five-O.

Traci Lords had arrived.

She was fifteen years old.

South, real name James Souter, was given no reason to query the age of his new found starlet, and, by summer 1984, a month or so after her sixteenth birthday, Lords was gracing the pages of Velvet, Juggs, and Club. The call from Penthouse came just in time for their fifteenth anniversary edition that autumn, with Lords receiving a $5k paycheque for her work. She was a sophomore at Redondo Union High School when her pictorial was printed. Lords dropped out and bought a corvette.

31st August saw The Philadelphia Inquirer carry the first press advertisement for a theatrical XXX feature starring Lords. “Introducing the sensational Traci Lords” was her billing for Kinky Business (1984), which co-starred Ginger Lynn, Tanya Lawson, and Lords’ then-boyfriend Tom Byron. From the same production house, Sister Dearest (1985) debuted in Tennessee in March ’85 and the award-winning Talk Dirty To Me Part III (1984) opened in South Dakota the week after.

By Easter of that year, it had been six months since Lords had made her porn debut and she’d toplined as many as twenty films. Her two-day job on her first movie, What Gets Me Hot (1984), earned her $900. As the rest of 1985 trundled along she was able to command $1,000 a day which easily placed her among the highest paid adult actresses of the time. The X-Rated Critics Association and AVN both nominated Lords as Best New Starlet, and several publications christened her the new ‘Princess of Porn’. With her reputation growing at such immense speed, it was only a matter of time before she found herself staring down the lens of a camera operated by Gary Graver.

Graver and Lords crossed paths three times during her seventy movie career (although Lords insists she made closer to thirty). Rightly, all of them have been withdrawn from circulation – but of this threesome, it seems that AROUSED (1985) was shot first, bypassing any kind of cinema run in favour of a path straight to VHS. By all accounts the movie finds Graver at his most jejune, with Lords assuming the role of a bespectacled and bookish novelist, who – according to a few written sources who saw it upon release – gets distracted by voyeurism and fantasy in pursuit of her latest masterpiece. Co-starring now former beau Byron – a man who Physical II (1985) director David Jennings stated was obsessed with Lords, despite being relegated from boyfriend to mere sex scene partner – Aroused also features Ali Moore and Kristara Barrington. More about them later…

YOUNG & RESTLESS II (1985) also surfaced around this time. Again, it skirted the big screen and went directly to video. A sequel of sorts to Ed De Priest’s Young and Restless (1983), there’s a degree of synergy to be found in Graver following in the footsteps of the underground filmmaker. After all, De Priest’s office was one of the first places Graver contacted when he tried to kickstart his career.

“In the late ’60s, Graver came into our office down on La Brea,” De Priest told The Rialto Report. “He just came in the door! I don’t know how he’d heard about us, but he said he was a cameraman and that he wanted work. He’d recently got out the navy, so we started using him.” [1]

De Priest’s movie, made under his regular ‘Hayes DuPree’ alias, is a plotless affair lensed without the flair of Graver, and notable only for a good lead performance by Kimberly Carson, who, by way of a further nugget of chance, had just wrapped Graver’s Summer Camp Girls (1983). Supposedly, the follow-up saw Lords billed as ‘Tracie’ and revolved around a conveyor belt of sexually frustrated women descending upon a house of ill repute loaded with leery lotharios. There’s little in the way of first-hand testimony from those who saw it back in the day, but when a morsel of detail picks out Lords engaging in a sex scene with the disgraced Ron Jeremy, Young & Restless II is a picture best left buried.

In May 1986, three FBI agents burst through Lords’ Redondo Beach front door at 4.30am, bringing an end to her short-lived porn career and reassuring her that they were there to help. In the twelve months since Graver and Lords first worked together, the skin trade had found itself on the receiving end of President Reagan’s moralistic anti-pornography crusade. Led by the Attorney General, Ed Meese, the commissions anti-porn report numbered just shy of a biblical two-thousand pages. Archaic recommendations asked for adult bookstores to be systematically inspected, while a vote urging lawmakers to declare sex toys obscene failed to carry by barely a whisker. The news about Lords was a right-wing wet dream, and the ideal scenario to enforce Reagan’s ‘war on porn’.

Amazingly, Graver and Lords’ third picture, the hotly anticipated – but now unwatchable – SUZIE SUPERSTAR II (1985) managed to sneak into a theatre shortly after the feds picked up Lords. It opened on 9th June 1986 at the Pussycat in Albuquerque, New Mexico on a double bill with Alex de Renzy’s Ball Busters (1985). It was, though, pulled after only four nights. Graver’s original is a triumph. Featuring the immense presence of the tragic Shauna Grant, who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound before she could reprise her role as the titular Suzie, it remains a jewel in Graver’s twenty-strong Golden Age canon. For the sequel, producer Sidney Niekerk apparently wanted more of the same. John Leslie returned as rock manager Z.W. McCain, on the lookout for some hot talent to hit the heights of Suzie.

Archival reviews suggest that Suzie Superstar II eschews the tenderness and drama of its predecessor, going instead for seedy slapstick. A handful of leading porn historians have commented upon Z.W.’s talent-seeking road trip as a particularly tedious aspect of what sounds like a paper-thin narrative. Lords’ iteration of Suzie is unexpectedly dispatched to the care of rival music mogul Mr. Loducci (Ross Roberts, the same role from the first flick) halfway through the picture and given a Las Vegas residency (as ‘Suzie Wilson and The Sex Pirates’), so Z.W. changes tack and takes a punt on Tina (a top-billed Ginger Lynn) being his next big thing. Regarded as disjointed and ill-conceived, there’s an element of solace to be found in the justifiable unavailability of Suzie Superstar II aligning with the critical apathy towards its quality. FOMO has rarely been so welcome, especially when you consider that the next chapter in the saga, Suzie Superstar: The Search Continues!! (1988), was pitch perfect.

It was two whole months before the FBI’s inquiry filtered down to the public, thanks to an Associated Press story that hit the wires on 18th July, following a plea from the Adult Film and Video Association of America to pull anything with Lords name attached. “She’s the hottest thing in the industry right now,” remarked police captain Jim Docherty. “She’s a real big star, and everything that she’s done is against the law.” Video store owners were first to react, yanking every one of Lords’ pictures for fear of being prosecuted on felony charges of distributing child pornography. Meanwhile, James Souter, the guy who started it all with her first contract, reacted with more concern for the industry rather than the teenager’s welfare, telling the AP, “It’s a disaster. People are pulling tapes. They’re pulling back orders. They’re clearing the posters out of the stores.” [2]

Soon, Souter found himself in the dock. On 5th March 1987, he and porn producers Ronald Kantor and Rupert MacNee were indicted for the sexual exploitation a minor, which carried a maximum sentence of ten years and a $100,000 fine. The government tried to build a federal racketeering case against those who knowingly utilized underage talent in their porn productions, and warrants were served at production, marketing, and distribution firms on the east and west coasts. In a further twist, five months later attorney Mike Mayock, who represented VCA Pictures, told the Los Angeles Times that the investigation had broadened. Authorities issued subpoenas to five distributors seeking records relating to the age of actresses Nikki Charm, Ali Moore, and Kristara Barrington – the latter two having starred in Aroused with Lords [3]. None of it stuck. All three performers were over the age of consent, and Souter and co. were eventually acquitted – although Lords did eventually get a degree of retribution by unleashing both barrels at the talent agent in her 2003 memoir, Underneath it All. Lords accused Souter of playing an unapologetic role in her sexual exploitation, alleging that he plied her with cocaine and booze during her first nude modelling shoot – a charge he emphatically denied [4].

As detailed in Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne’s book, The Other Hollywood, the reaction from Lords’ peers in the porn community was almost universally scathing. “I never would have guessed that Traci was underage, but I did know she was a compulsive liar,” said Christy Canyon. “When I heard Traci was saying that she was forced into the world of porn, I think I peed my pants. I laughed so hard,” recalled Ginger Lynn. And Tom Byron – well, he was adamant that this was the midpoint of an elaborate plan:

“Traci saying that she was on drugs – that’s her PR people telling her to say that. She’d have to say that for her career. I don’t fault her for that, OK? She had to do what she had to do to get into the legitimate film business, which was really her ultimate dream to begin with.” [5]

It was the iconic Nina Hartley, though, who subsequently offered the most balanced and informed opinion, laying much of the blame on Patricia Kuzma, Lords’ mother.

“If there is any ‘villain’, it’s Traci’s mom,” wrote Hartley on her blog. “She completely dropped the ball when it came to her daughter’s safety. Being abused since she was ten is a horrible thing to endure, and her time in the business was certainly a response to that experience.” [6]

Indeed, amid the mudslinging and accusations it’s paramount to remember that Traci Lords is the victim in all of this. Porn legend Bill Margold might have told an interviewer that “Lords created a sea of lies” about her time in the industry, but a fifteen year-old girl being driven to a talent agency who specialised in pornography by the abuser who molested her in her sleep should never be overshadowed by the smug assessment of ‘she knew what she was doing’.


[1] Interview with Ed De Priest by Joe Bevins and Joe Rubin, The Rialto Report, 30th March 2014.
[2] Unshelving Underage Sex Star by Associated Press, The Sacramento Bee, 18th July 1986.
[3] Investigation of the Traci Lords Pornography Case is Expanded by John Kendall, The Los Angeles Times, 4th October 1987.
[4] Underneath it All by Traci Lords, Harper Collins, 2003.
[5] The Other Hollywood: The Uncensored Oral History of the Porn Film Industry by Legs McNeil and Jennifer Osborne, Regan Books, 2005.
[6] Nina Hartley’s Blog, Club Nina Hartley.

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