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Discussing Traci Lords past career is fraught with difficulty and danger. She shot to fame as one of the most recognisable adult entertainers of the mid 1980s, enjoying an unusually high profile for someone in that career. But, at the height of her success, it emerged that she had lied about her age when she started performing, and that most of her films were made while she was underage. Overnight, she became the stick with which conservative America beat on the adult entertainment industry. The fallout from this issue is still felt today, and, to some degree, its shadow still hangs over Traci's current career.
Traci was born Norma Kuzma on May 7th 1968 to a Louis, a Jewish immigrant father from The Ukraine, and Patricia Briceland of Scandanavian decent. Traci describes her early home life as difficult, and at age 12, her parents divored and Traci moved to Los Angles with her mother and three sisters. She ran away from this home in 1983 at age 15, and began nude modelling. One year later, in 1984, she began making adult films at age 16. It's said that she took the name "Traci" from a friend, and "Lords" from actor Jack Lord who starred in Hawaii Five-O. With the aid of a fake birth certificate and driver's license, not to mention a well-developed body, she duped the industry insiders into believing she was 18, and they hired her. But to be fair, the industry needed little encouragement in those days, and regulation was not nearly as strict as it is said to be today.
Between 1984 and 1986 she made many adult films. Some sources put the number between 80 and 100, but many of these were made by using left-over or recycled footage from other productions as her profile grew. In May 1986 her true age became public knowledge, and she was arrested by FBI agents. Any films featuring Traci were now illegal to rent or buy, and video stores around the United States rushed to remove them. Traci was also the Penthouse Pet centerfold model for the September 1984 issue. Ironically, this was the same issue that "exposed" Miss America 1984, Vanessa L. Williams, by reprinting semi-nude photos she had posed for some time earlier. This magazine, too, became illegal to own or trade unless the pictorial of Ms. Lords is removed. During the following years, Vanessa would also make the move to mainstream acting with great success.
The only legal film Traci made was Traci, I Love You, made in Paris, France just days after her 18th birthday. The federal government tried to prosecute the producers of the film featuring Traci's first appearance (Those Young Girls) for child pornography. But the case fell apart when the US government was left with egg on its face - having to admit that it, too, had been duped when Traci traveled to Europe to shoot Traci, I Love You on a passport issued in her stage name, bearing her false date of birth.
Since Traci gained distribution rights over her previous work, many people believed she orchestrated the revelation herself so she could be the only one to profit from her X-rated career. Within the adult film industry, a tacit agreement was made to never promote Traci or talk about her. The industry felt that Traci had used them to gain her fame, and then created a legal storm when it suited her. She had the following to say of her decision to sell, and thus legitimise, her final, legal appearance:
It's hard to know exactly how much to believe from both sides in this unfortunate event. When questioned by the FBI, Traci's memory seemed to fail her on two titles produced by "The Traci Lords Company" in the US when she was underage. But she was able to answer questions about her final, legal production. But it's also true that the companies that had employed her while underage probably benefited from the publicity surrounding the case, while Traci herself bore the brunt of the unwelcome press intrusion.
After her exile from adult films, Traci began the long road trod by so many - attempting to make the transformation into mainstream films. Prior to this time, only Kristine De Bell had managed to appear in an adult film, and then sustain a mainstream career of any note. Perhaps Kristine was Traci's role model in this respect, but there were major differences: Kristine had only appeared in one adult production in the middle of her, otherwise mainstream, career, and it was a big budget production with explicit, but relatively tame, scenes. Traci had made as many as 100 films, and done everything under the sun. Her transition to mainstream actress was never going to be straightforward.
To begin, she had her name legally changed to Traci Elizabeth Lords. It was clear that, far from attempting to distance herself from her past, Traci intended to embrace and use it to full effect. Now aged 19, she enroled in the Lee Strasberg acting school and began voice lessons (perhaps an inspiration for Bette Midler's role in Outrageous Fortune?) Her first mainstream role was in a 1988 remake of Roger Corman's Not of this Earth, although it still traded heavily on the presence of what was to be Traci's last nude scene.
The 1990s saw Traci slowly building her reputation with a string of guest slots on TV shows such as Married With Children, Roseanne, MacGyver, Nash Bridges and a recurring role in as Rikki in Melrose Place. She then became a regular on the second and third seasons of Profiler throughout 1997/8.
She is understandably annoyed at always being referred to as "an ex-porn star", almost 20 years after her last appearance in an adult film. It does show a degree of double standard that a celebrity like Tim Allen can go on to be a successful actor in children's films despite serving prison time for selling drugs while he was in college. To some degree, it is her early success in the adult field that created the albatross that hangs around her neck. The aforementioned Kristine De Bell was always more famous for her mainstream roles than her single adult role. But Traci became a legend in her early adult work, and perhaps underestimated how difficult it would be to emerge from under that yoke. But Traci has demonstrated a dedication and willingness to work that has won her many admirerers in the industry. It also must be said that she's looking better than ever!
Early days: Traci in the classic 1980s period...
Latter days: Traci throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, trying out different hair colours... and looking better than ever!
Traci as blonde bombshell
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