Remembrances of Conventions Past

LAS VEGAS—This year marks the 30th anniversary of AVN, and the 29th anniversary of its owners' and this author's attendance at an adult convention. That was the "adult software" section of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and AVN published a short retrospective of that experience in our 10th anniversary supplement. Highlights included the fact that Paul Fishbein, his partner Barry Rosenblatt and I stayed in one room in the "motel" section of the Stardust Casino-Hotel; that I kept them awake all night with my snoring; that we were sharing a booth on the second floor of the Sahara Hotel & Casino with the famous Russ Meyer; that we brought boxes and boxes of AVNs, then a 16-page, two-color, side-stapled magazine; that fewer than half the booths had TVs and VCRs, but that it was fairly crowded with fans anyway; that we attended an industry party at the Aladdin thrown by Caballero Home Video, then owned by Al Bloom and Howie Klein; and that our little group was invited to attend the wedding, that Sunday night, of Fred Lincoln and Tiffany Clark, where I was given charge of the (taped) music to be played as they walked down the aisle.

But enough about us; we asked various attendees at the 2013 Adult Entertainment Expo about their first adult convention and what they thought of it. Here are their responses:

Dennis Paradise, Paradise Marketing: "I remember us being back in the Sahara back in the early '80s. I remember that escalator, I remember how crowded it was, and you know, it was kind of a different vibe then. We were much less mainstream, and not as focused a business as we are now, I don't think. I think this is much more sedate and much more enjoyable, and we get a lot more done here now. Back then, we were all just happy to all be together."

John Stagliano, Evil Angel Productions: "It was January, 1984; the first show I ever went to. All I can remember is that Sherry had a room at the Circus Circus with Bruce Seven, hanging out with some porn girls, and Bruce playing blackjack, and I met a girl at the Crazy Horse over on Paradise, this old titty bar that closed years ago, at like 4 in the morning. I took her over to the hotel and fucked her in the shower. I don't remember any of the details, but I sure had a good time. I remember walking around the convention and being a nobody and seeing General Video selling videos—I think we couldn't sell before that, and after that, but for a couple of years, we could sell VHS tapes. By that time, I had directed my first movie, and it was being sold by VCA. It was Bouncing Buns, and it got released after the show, starring Stacey Donovan."

Howard Levine, Exile Distribution: "It was 1985, and we were in the big convention center with CES. I was working for David Sturman and General Video of America. It was funny, because we had this big booth, and youngsters don't know the name—but they should know the name—Reuben Sturman was at the show, and 60 Minutes from CBS was coming through, and we had a two-story booth, and I was standing at the booth and the guy from 60 Minutes walked up to me and started interviewing me, and I started answering all these questions, and I did like a little commercial for General Video of America, and the guy said, 'Okay, thank you very much,' and our attorney, Lou Sirkin, was standing there, and I didn't say anything stupid, but the guy leaves and I turn around and I looked up the stairs, and this finger is pointing at me, and at the end of that finger was Reuben. And he said, 'You! Kid! Get up here! Get up here now!' And I walked up, and I think I almost peed my pants, and he said, 'Who made you the spokesperson for the industry? Who told you to talk to the news? We don't talk to the news? What are you, stupid?' And I looked at him and I got so nervous, and I said, 'I'm sorry, Mr. Sturman, I'm sorry.' And he said, 'Don't ever talk to the press. Never, never! Don't ever do that again—never!' I said, 'Okay,' and I walked downstairs and I bumped into David and he looks at me, and he said, 'What's the matter?' I go, 'Your dad just yelled at me! I gotta go smoke a joint. I gotta get outta here, man!' And I had to take like an hour break to compose myself. It was a whole different ballgame. It was like the convention was in front, we were in back, and celebrities were always around. We had Tony Curtis walked into the booth; Tony Curtis, Richard Anderson, Max Baer, Buck Henry were all in the booth; Evil Knievel—they were all signing at CES, and it was just wonderful."

Mara Epstein, Maya Toys:  "One of my very first conventions was, I believe, at the Sahara; it could have been 1986 or '87. I remember that we sat on folding wooden chairs and I remember that it wasn't very well attended, but yet the talent were actually real performers. Everybody got all dressed up and it evolved after that into this huge show. The talent all got treated like real actors and actresses; everybody was dazzled with bling and I just remember seeing such a wonderful time; I was always looking forward to it. I was working for VCA then."

Clyde DeWitt, attorney: "The first adult convention I attended was January of 1986—and of course, it would be the "Adult Software" section of the Consumer Electronics Show for another decade before AEE was born. I have fond memories of kibitzing about the industry, politics and other topics with many luminaries who now are long gone and I miss. Some who come to mind are Jack Michaelson, Rand Kapp, Scotty Fox (always at the bar), Bruce Seven, Perry Ross, Ron Sullivan, Fred Lincoln (always at the race book), Jim Holliday (always at the bar), Russ Hampshire, Charlie Brickman, Dick Miller and many others. It was a much different era: before the Internet, cell phones or DVDs; and, unpleasantly, when Ed Meese’s troops were busting every manufacturer in the Valley. Boogie Nights!"

Larry Garland, Eldorado Trading Company: "I remember my first AVN at the Sahara. There were a lot of fairly obvious Secret Service/FBI guys, and the fire marshals were standing at the top of the escalators, counting people going in and going out. There was a great chill. The next year, we exhibited there, and I probably lost more product through consumers thinking it was all free because that's what they thought. But business was good, it was a great show. AVN's been a great show for us companies, especially in the last six, eight years, because back then, we didn't know about any other shows like the lingerie show, so we opened a lot of new accounts here at the show. It was fabulous."

Wit Maverick, Adam & Eve: "It had to be the mid-'90s [sic]. I wasn't involved in the industry; I was a CES attendee when it was part of CES, and as part of CES, I got to go, and I think it was at the Dunes or the Sahara; I don't remember. It was very small, and I just passed through; it was a bunch of ten-by-tens and that was it. Flash-forward to probably 1999, now at the Sands Expo, and that was the year AVN was giving an award for the Best DVD, which we received retroactively for Shock, which was the first DVD we ever put out at VCA, and the show was enormous, and I had never been to an AVN show before, and I thought, 'Oh, it's 8:30; I guess I'll walk over to the ballroom,' and I rounded the corner and never in my life imagined that there would be a red carpet and rows of fans taking up the entire hallway of the Venetian ballroom. I was totally unprepared for that whatsoever, and that was night and day, from my first visit to now."

Stuart Wall, Smash Pictures: "My first memory is of the Tropicana, where you had to walk down stairs, and it was in that one small little section. I started with VCX, my very first company. I sat in the old Penguin office; my office was John Holmes' office, with the old Penguin Video. And look where it is now! The only thing that I see different, I remember when a contract star was a real contract star. I even back then, before porn, I shot a horror B movie with Hyapatia Lee, and I remember how a contract girl was more glamorized and people would look up to them. I remember, when we would take our break, there would be a rope between us and the mainstream part of the convention, and all the celebrities would come over and talk to the adult stars. It was VSDA going on at the same time, and there was that cross-over."

Brad Armstrong, Wicked Pictures: "My first convention was either '89 or '90, and the late, great Erica Boyer brought me down from Canada, where I had been dancing, and she was introducing me to all the heavy hitters, and I was like, 'Oh, my God'—I was about to shit my pants. And then we got in a big fight and I don't know what happened to her."

Francesca Lé, LeWood Productions: "I believe 1990 was my first year, and I believe we were at the Tropicana Hotel. We were with the Consumer Electronics Show at that time, and we were behind a black curtain, kind of like the old video stores where you had to go behind a door to see the X-rated stuff, so you had to pull the black curtain and then there they were, we girls at our little tables, signing autographs and posters and stuff. It was really fun, though, and it's so fascinating for me to see it grow from a small little banquet hall to The Palms, even the Sands Expo Center, to the Mandalay Bay when we had it there in that giant stadium. I believe I was signing for Anabolic at that point. That was my first year. It was so great to be around all your friends and colleagues. I remember my first Awards Show, too. It was more small and quaint, you know. We had the dinners and we all sat at tables and had a full meal, and it was really nice."

Jonathan Morgan, Wicked Pictures: "The first adult convention I ever came to was in 1990. I'd just started in the business, brand new, still wet behind the ears, and I met up with a guy who would become Max Hardcore, and so I did a scene for him, and he was like, 'Hey, I'm going to the convention; do you want to come with?' And I was like, 'Wow! That is awesome, I mean to be invited to something like that.' I was just in awe. It really was an amazing thing. Between the convention and the awards show, I think that just sealed the deal for me starting a porn career. Well, that and being able to fuck beautiful women."

Tori Welles, RS Adventures: "My first AVN was January of '91. I remember it being at the Tropicana, and I remember signing my first contract on a cocktail napkin with Steven Hirsch. At the time, I was signing for Paul Norman's company; my first movie was one of those bi movies he used to do a lot, and he had me wearing one of those plastic cock things; remember all that? It was really weird, but I was signing for whatever company he was with; it was one of those bi companies he was working for at the time, and I was friends with him and Jeanna Fine, and that's how I got into the business. And it was so weird; it was the first time I ever signed a picture of myself, and I had no boobs or anything. I was a party girl back then, so I don't remember a lot of it, and I think, for my own sanity, a lot of stuff from back then is lost from my memory."

Mark Schneider, Videotel: "Oh, my God! It was '92, and I remember it was a tiny floor, and Vivid's booth was directly across from me, and Racquel Darrian, my favorite porno star, was 10 feet away from me. I was 20 years old. It was pure torture! I remember, over the years, how big the shows got, and then how small they got. The arcade business was booming back then; you couldn't not make money back then in the booth industry. I got into it while we were still using VHS tapes in the booths. VHS was huge, DVD was huge, stores were popping up all over the place, and it was definitely the heyday of the booth business."

Scott S., Wicked Pictures: "My first convention was in the mid-'90s. I was relatively new to the industry in any capacity, so I was just overwhelmed with the amount of people, and the mainstream people, because back then, you could get into both conventions with one badge, so I just remember trying to walk through the aisles and it was impossible. It was amazing to me; it was a whole new world, and just the sheer magnitude of it, and the big companies; it was a different day for sure. The money seemed to flow pretty freely back then, and size of the booths and the number of girls signing and everything that went with it. I remember Wicked had a huge booth and all their girls signing, and literally lines 20, 30, 40 people deep waiting for an autograph, and again, being a newbie, it just blew my mind that people would wait that long, but it was pretty amazing. There was a zoo-like, carnival atmosphere. I think now it's more of a business. Back then there was still a little allure about what was going on, but now, it's so much about the mainstreaming of adult."

Bob Christian, Adam & Eve: "I absolutely remember my first show. It was 1996, when CES was still connected with AVN, and I had never been to any show like it. I had not been in the industry forever; it was my first show. We had a booth, and there were gorgeous women everywhere, and they would all hug me, because I was part of Adam & Eve—and I loved it!"

B. Skow, Skow Digital: "I think it was '96. It was huge. I was with Vivid at the time, doing the boxcovers and shooting for the magazines, and we had a massive booth. We had 12 contract girls at the time, and it was all girls and fans and asses. Everyone was there—Vivid, Wicked, Evil Angel—they had these massive booths, and even the smaller companies had big booths and so many girls there. We walked the hallways and I mean, there were girls everywhere, and everywhere you turned around, there was something to see. Now, it seems like more of a business sort of thing; 'I'm coming here to do business.'"

Barry David, On Top Productions: "My first convention was in 1999, and it was a lot better than it is today. A lot more business, a lot more people, and a lot more people visiting. Today is must a mere shell of what it used to be. A lot more energy, a lot more people and a lot more business."

Bobby Rinaldi, NiteRider: "It had to be at least 14 years ago; I was with a  company called Tight Ends, which you may remember. I got started with Tight Ends. I remember our first one, we had a small little booth, probably 10 by 10, with a little drape over it. We were just starting out, and I was more in awe of all the girls that I saw that I used to be fans of before I got into the business, and I just walked around in a daze for four or five days—that's how long the show was in those days—and by the time Sunday came, I couldn't be talking to you now because I didn't have any voice. But as the years went by, it became more about business; it's not so much about the fans anymore; we've got to make some money. The show got bigger and bigger every year. It was a lot of work, but I loved it. I miss those booths and those days, having the girls signing and all that. We had some great girls signing for us back in the day. Over the years, we had Mika Tan, Audrey Hollander, Tyla Wynn, Michele Gee, Donita Dunes, Kristina St. James—we had so many! And over the years, we'd run into each other but we had a great time. I still come here and see friends I haven't seen for many years, people I've known for a long time."

Katy Zvolerin, Adam & Eve: "I think my first convention was around 10 years ago. I can't remember where the venue was then [Sands Expo Center]. I was incredibly impressed by the scope of the industry. I mean, we're based out of North Carolina, so we don't see a lot of things like this, so I was impressed by how big it was, and the money that people spent and everything. As for the Awards Show, I was sort of blown away by the whole process, and everything that went into the show. The red carpet was incredible; I'd never seen anything like that."