hat a scene, huh?” laughed James Townsend, the unflusterable owner of Capitol Video Sales, as he surveyed the virtually all-male mob clogging his Dupont Circle store’s aisles, not to mention the sidewalks and streets around the outlet.
Several hundred locals (“I don’t think we expected this many people,” said Townsend) gave up their happy hours last Friday, Jan. 13, in hopes of rubbing elbows, and maybe some other body parts, with Vanessa Del Rio. The native New Yorker, who began a 12-year run as a hard-core movie lead in 1974, was the latest in a series of retired porn stars feted by Capitol.
First in line was Mount Rainier’s Joe Forrest, a confessed celebrity hound who’s been garnering autographs for decades. Forrest showed up at Capitol’s front stoop an hour before Del Rio’s scheduled arrival time of 5:30 p.m.
“I just want to get to Vanessa,” said Forrest. That seemed to be the general consensus.
Some 15 minutes late, Del Rio showed up, decked out in an all-black ensemble of spike heels and a suitably hole-some skin-tight jumpsuit (though, truth be told, her breasts have been augmented to such a ridiculous degree that the infield tarpaulin from Camden Yards would have qualified as skin-tight).
Gross revenues were the rule during her five-hour gig. While there were some attendees, like Forrest, who waited in line just for a freebie signature, most plunked down $20 for the standard package: an autographed Polaroid taken with Del Rio and a copy of one of two Vanessa-only nudie mags (Leg Man or Bust Out).
Movement was also very brisk on Del Rio’s videocassettes, thanks to Capitol’s policy of offering purchasers a more favorable place in the greeting line. By 7 p.m., all that remained of what 90 minutes earlier was a large bin of tapes was a handful of copies of Maid in America, Viva Vanessa, The Undresser, and Deep Inside Vanessa. (Sadly, there’s no evidence of the industry’s cunning linguists, parodied with riotous accuracy in Clerks, in Del Rio’s oeuvre. Capitol’s shelves, however, did feature such gems as Tits a Wonderful Life, Saturday Night Beaver, and Little Shop of Whores.)
Outside the store, the mood was fairly raucous, despite the heavy number of D.C. police officers who showed up for crowd control. Those in line exchanged chosen moments from Del Rio’s back catalog, told dumb jokes (“Where’s Clarence Thomas?”), blustered about what they’d do when they met the star, or needled passers-by brave enough to ask what the fuss was about.
“Who’s in there?” one conservatively dressed middle-aged lady queried to no one in particular as she passed by.
“Garth Brooks, baby,” was the loudest reply. “Get in line!”
Inside, however, the ambience wasn’t nearly as locker-roomy. Nary a libidinous boast was uttered within earshot of Del Rio. The most lively verbiage of the evening was offered up by an individual who identified himself as Travis. After telling Del Rio in hyper-excited tones how humbled he was to meet “the queen,” Travis recalled his most beloved of her scenes.
“Remember that line in that movie of yours?” Travis rambled. “You’re in the tub with that guy, and you said, “Sniff, don’t lick!’ Man, that killed me! “Sniff, don’t lick!’ That was great!”
As Del Rio thanked him for his kind words, Travis gave her instructions for the autographed Polaroid.
“Make that one out to my son Tomar,” he said. “Tomorrow’s his birthday.”
Del Rio complied, adding with absolute sincerity, “What a nice father you are!”
But apart from Travis, the small talk between the star and the starstruck rarely got beyond the “Golly, gee! You’re the best!” variety. It’s doubtful Debbie Reynolds’ following could have gushed any more chastefully.
This wasn’t the first time Townsend, whose stores have been hosting porn legends with some regularity of late, had seen the sidewalk-to-autograph-table transformation from boastful braggarts to fawning fans.
“They can all act like tough, macho assholes out on the street,” he said. “But then when they get in here and actually are near the star, they all turn into little kids.”
Del Rio said the docile demeanor of the crowd inside Capitol wasn’t atypical for this type of encounter group.
“I’ve never had any problems with people yelling or being crude at events like this or even when I’m out on the street,” she said. “Everybody’s always been nice to me, and there is respect, really. And when I get recognized on the street, it’s always been like, “Way to go, Vanessa!’ ”
And although she hasn’t worked in hard-core since 1986’s Devil in Miss Jones, Part III, Del Rio was pleased, but hardly surprised, by the size of the Capitol gang that showed up just for her. The porn industry’s move away from the theater to the home, from feature films to low-budget videotapes, killed off the need for box office stars, leaving older fans—the Woodie-stock Generation?—hankering for celluloid heroines.
“Since things have gone to video, there just aren’t the personalities anymore,” she sighed. “They just crank these movies out nowadays. There’s no more Seka, no more Samantha Fox, no more myself. No more stars.” (By the way, another ’80s porn luminary, Traci Lords, joined the cast of Melrose Place on Fox this week.)
A combination of line-cutters and torpid movement prevented Forrest, the first guy to show up at Capitol’s steps, from reaching his prey for almost three hours. When he finally did get to the signing table, however, it seemed like the wait was well worth it.
“She’s a movie star, you know,” he said, adding that he intended to handle Del Rio’s Hancock with all the deference he accords his Marilyn Monroe, his Ted Williams, and his Eleanor Powell.
Minutes after Forrest took his turn, a youthful Hispanic male quietly but earnestly asked Del Rio how he could get into the industry that she found fame and relative fortune in.
For the first time all night, Del Rio stopped smiling.
“Oh, well, I’m not sure. I’ve been out of the scene for so long,” she stammered, her gaze and tone indicating that she hoped the kid might choose a different line of work.