By Jason Troung
Maryam Paige was 19 and working at a San Diego Blockbuster when she found herself in desperate need of rent money.
She spotted a classified ad looking for nude models. She answered. Six years later, “Haley Paige” had more than enough to pay for rent.
But Paige had a plan.
She wouldn’t be a porn star forever. She wanted to go legit by becoming a sex therapist. Instead she died before her 27th birthday.
Paige’s husband, adult film director Chico “Wanker” Wang, found her lifeless body in a King City, Calif. motel room. Toxicology reports found traces of methadone in her system. It may have been suicide.
Her death remains unsolved.
More than a thousand women like Paige look for work in the industry every year, said Jim South, who owns the World Modeling Agency, a Sherman Oaks-based company that represents adult film actors.
Despite ballooning into a multi-billion dollar industry that makes more money than the NFL, MLB and NBA combined, porn’s shadowy roots run deep. On the surface of glitz, glamour and mainstream acceptance, the unseemly, sleazy underbelly persists.
At its height, about 30 women like Paige competed weekly for work, said Jim South, owner of World Modeling Agency.
The stars – Peter North, Tori Welles and Ginger Lynn, stay for about 10 to 15 years, South said. “Mostly the women decide to stay or go after one scene,” South said.
Only a handful of those who work in porn turn into stars, many leave the industry addicted, used-up, and scrambling for low-paying wages. Others exit in a body bag.
Glamorous scenes set on mansions in Boca Raton, Fla., and yachts off the California coast are mere fantasy. The industry’s reality is riddled with drugs, sexual abuse and alcoholism.
[quote]Finding actresses shooting up in bathrooms and arriving to sets drunk is commonplace, retired adult film actor Dave Pounder said.[/quote]
Since 2000, porn experienced five outbreaks of note. Five actors tested positive after working on sets as recently as 2013. In 2009, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health revealed that 16 cases of HIV or AIDs went unreported.
Porn’s journey to the mainstream was gradual. After the film Deep Throat legitimized adult films in 1972, it moved patrons out of the semen-stained seats inside dark theaters tucked into seedy sections of town, into local shopping malls.
The rise of porno chic from the70s to the mid-80s made stars out of Linda Lovelace, John Holmes and Christy Canyon. Directors and producers pushed the boundaries of public decency, and somehow turned an exploitative business into a weapon of free speech.
Porn experienced a public relations crisis when authorities discovered in May 1986 that Traci Lords, one of the most popular stars of the 1980s, completed 100 adult films before the age of 18. Her former bosses and co-workers branded Lords a liar.
A DJ helped them out of a jam.
Shock jock Howard Stern’s popular morning show celebrated porn and the stars that titillate its consumers. Nearly two decades after a cameo in Stern’s autobiographical film Private Parts, Jenna Jameson has turned that exposure into a multi-media empire.
Jameson has starred in films, published an autobiography and a novel and released an “anatomically correct” action figure, while earning $30 million from her digital media empire ClubJenna.
Jameson’s mainstream success made porn appear glamorous, experts say.
[quote]“[Her success] masks the fact that very few women actually sustain a career in pornography and acquire any kind of wealth,” University of Texas journalism professor Robert Jensen said in the documentary Payingfor Pleasure.[/quote]
Mainstream media’s so-called pornification began when pornographers transitioned from making 15-minute carnal clips to five-minute music videos. Extreme porn director Gregory Dark has made about 150 clips for artists as varied as Linkin Park to Mandy Moore. In 2002, he directed the A*Teen’s remake of Can’t Help Falling in Love With You. It was part of the original soundtrack for the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch.
That sort of influence is nothing compared to the dollars and eyeballs it draws from the Internet. With the advent of broadband and high-speed connections, viewers could stream scenes and entire movies without downloading or renting. About 70 percent of viewers are straight men watching alone, author Pamela Paul wrote in Pornified.
Estimates found that there are about 420 million porn sites, a number that grows daily.
About 13,000 videos are released every year.
Watching porn may also have subliminal effects on its viewers. About 70 percent of sexual abuse cases involve porn, Paul wrote.
Abuses can turn fatal, as Paige’s death shows.
Police initially suspected foul play. Several months before Paige’s death, police arrested her husband on suspicion of domestic abuse. They accused the director known as “Wanker” Wang of pistol-whipping his wife.
He was never charged.
Police found Wang dead in a motel room a month later, purportedly of suicide. The room was turned into a shrine to Paige. Traces of methadone were found in his system.