These days it seems every reality star has a sex tape floating around, but back in the '70s being a porn star meant you were a real bad ass. Super-sexy Afro-Cuban/Puerto Rican bombshell Vanessa del Rio was a Real Bad Ass. Del Rio f*cked her way through the adult film world of the '70s and '80s, and you can read about all the x-rated details in Vanessa del Rio: Fifty Years of Slightly Slutty Behavior out now by Taschen.
Del Rio recently signed copies of her lavish and lascivious coffee table book (MM bought one as a gift for my horn-dog older brother) and PAPERMAG caught up with her, looking as sexy as ever and telling tales of the early days of adult film.
Mickey Boardman: Let's talk about how you got into doing porn.
Vanessa del Rio: I got into the business through a madam that I used to work for when I was a call girl. She asked me if I wanted to do an adult film and I was like 'Sure, how much does it pay?' It paid $150 -- exactly what I needed to pay the rent and go to Europe with a friend of mine who had invited me. I had so much fun I just had to keep doing it.
MB: What was the porn industry like when you started in the '70s?
VdR: It was very underground in those days. You would give your number out and then the number would be passed around whenever there was a movie being made and you would get a phone call.
MB: The first time that you filmed, did you enjoy it?
VdR: I was a little afraid of acting, but the sex was not a problem. I was already a go-go dancer and I had already done some hooking and stuff. So, I was already used to using my body. I had a glass of wine and as I got wasted and was just like, "Woo! This is fun!"
MB: You're a legend in this business. When did you realize that you were a star?
VdR: Well, like I said, it was all very underground at first, but then this magazine called Cinema X came along. They started to actually name porn actors in their stories, and would review the movies that were playing at the Pussy Cat in the East Village or whatever the theater was. So that's when you start to realize: "Ok, this is a business." I have never really taken it seriously. It was just a form of making money and it was kind of kitsch, it was kind of fun.
MB: Did you choose your name or did someone choose it for you?
VdR: I chose Vanessa because I had a friend in kindergarten named Vanessa and I had a very best friend at the time who was a movie buff. She said why don't you choose Del Rio after Delores Del Rio. So Vanessa del Rio sounded great.
MB: It does, and it also adds an exotic flavor. I know you are Cuban.
VdR: Afro-Cuban Puerto Rican.
MB: You really seemed to camp it up in your movies. Did that happen right away or was it only later that you cut loose?
VdR: Camp was my life. In the East Village, camp was Debbie Harry and the Stilettos. My wardrobe in the film was my everyday wardrobe. Not only did they not have a budget for wardrobe, but I used my own. I see things now: "Oh, I remember that dress!" Leopard. I was wearing so much leopard back then.
MB: Were you always happy doing porn?
VdR: There was actually a time when I was doing psycho-therapy. I had to analyze my life because I was tearing myself down. I had to look back and ask 'Where was I? Where am I now and where am I going?' I got to a point where I didn't want to be Vanessa del Rio. But, as I was working on changing myself I came full-circle and realized I love this [part of my life]. There was nothing wrong with it. It was great.
MB: Are your movies still available now?
VdR: Yes, they are. I sell them on my website. So they are still out there and I get them from the distributor.
MB: Do you find new fans coming in or is it more the people who fell in love with you back in the day sticking with you?
VdR: Some of them are fans that weren't even born when I quit! [laughs] These movies are passed down from fathers or uncles and sometimes even mothers. I've had women come up to me to tell me that their own mothers told them to watch my films to learn about sex. To learn how to be a sexual woman. That's like "Gaaaawd!"
MB: Have you found that people who you attract with the Taschen book are different than your general movie fans? Is it more of a librarian, nerdy type or...
VdR: Well, it may be the dirty librarian that never let they were watching my films. Taschen had an ad in Publisher's Weekly way before the book was even made -- it was when Helmut Newton took my picture and they used that picture as the back page of Publisher's Weekly. I was like, "I fucking made it!"
MB: You're mentioned in so many rap songs. Do you like rap?
VdR: I don't really like the really hardcore stuff. I am a jazz person. I do like the more romantic, melodic rap instead of the street, violent rap. Remember when you could plug into the channel and buy a video? I remember hearing Chubb Rock say: "She got all Vanessa del Rio on me" and I was like: "What? What's that about?" And I actually paid to see that thing. At the time I had a lawyer for something and I called him up to tell him and he said, "You want to sue him?" And I said "Hell no! I want to thank him! What are you kidding me?" I did the video for Biggie Smalls' and Kim's "Get Money." I did something for Busta Rhymes, but that was a party scene so you might have missed me. Digital Underground mentioned me and a few others. It's flattering! It's like "Wow!" This book is like the biggest "wow" ever. The fact that Taschen did the book.. it just takes my career to a level that I have never dreamed.
Vanessa del Rio: Fifty Years of Slightly Slutty Behavior is out now through Taschen.