On St. Valentine's Day, just after dark, the X-Rated Critics Organization convened to bestow its annual awards for the year's best adult films and performances.
Producers, directors and about 100 actors arrived at the Country Club in Reseda for this invitation-only event, which was dubbed "Into the Valley of Lust."
It was a party. It was an X-rated version of the Academy Awards. It was a combination high-school beer bash, Mardi gras and Frederick's of Hollywood lingerie show.
An erotic dancer moved through the audience to the music of "Easy Lover." In the lobby, a bearded pirate chatted with a woman wearing fish-net panty hose, a bra, spiked heels and nothing else. An actress named Danielle strolled into the bar and pulled her top down.
"This is the X-rated industry. We're totally uninhibited," said Bill Margold, the evening's host. "We are not ashamed that we perform sexual acts for the entertainment of the masses."
Outside the club, an odd-looking man in dirty tennis shoes was hanging around the front door. The doormen kept shooing him away. Starlet Ona Zee arrived and he rushed toward her with a box of Valentine chocolates.
"Oh," she squealed, "that's \o7 so\f7 sweet."
She took the gift, then disappeared inside. The man remained on the street.
"They won't let me in," he said. "I've got over 500 magazines. I've got 500 videos. My whole life is X-rated."
The critics' organization has been handing out its awards--heart-shaped wooden plaques--for four years now, but the ceremony remains a loosely organized event. There are no official nominations. Critics simply mail in their selections for such categories as Starlet of the Year, best Kinky Scene and Group Grope.
Only a dozen critics attended last Sunday's ceremony. About half of the winners showed. That was all right with Colleen Brennan, a veteran actress and the grand mistress of ceremonies, because it cut down on acceptance speeches.
Many of the guests didn't put much stock in the awards, anyway.
Tom Byron, a previous Stud of the Year, was scheduled to present Film of the Year, but for some reason left the Country Club early. At the start of the evening, the 27-year-old actor said that he has acted in so many films that he can't recall any one scene or favored line of dialogue.
Even Margold, a longtime critic, said, "If you want to buy a video with some redeeming value, go out and buy Citizen Kane."
In lieu of pomp and circumstance, the guests settled for celebration. They mingled at the bar, drinking cocktails and seeking out old friends.
"People just get together and let their hair down," said Byron, before he left. "It's kind of like a family."
The women frequently disrobed to cavort in the bar and in the lobby. During the evening's second erotic dance number, a handful of actresses rushed the stage, pulling off clothing and underwear, to join in the fun.
Amid such frivolity, there was some tension. At the door, lesser-known invitees were eyed with suspicion. The producers--men looking out of place in conservative suits--ducked away from photographers and refused to talk to reporters.
"The adult-film industry has had a few bad times," explained actress Porsche Lynn, who would win Starlet of the Year later that evening.
Police have recently invoked California's 1982 pandering statute in an effort to shut down the adult-film industry. Authorities claim that paying an actor to have sex on film is tantamount to soliciting a prostitute.
"You'd better not have a badge," a doorman told one person entering the Country Club Sunday night.
This unpleasant undercurrent may have served to fuel the evening's festivities. Several actors commented that it was a relief to be among friends, to be in a place where they were accepted.
"It's nice to be around people where there's no heat," Zee said. "It's like an umbrella."
Ultimately, that was what the evening was about. As unusual as the proceedings sometimes became, the guests appeared relaxed and seemed to enjoy themselves.
At one point in the program, John Leslie, a legend in adult films, jumped up to play blues harmonica with the band. Later, several actresses who call themselves The Pink Ladies Social Club performed the erotic dance that drew so many colleagues to the stage.
And there were the awards. Twenty-three were presented. "Pretty Peaches II" won best film. Christopher Rage won best director of an all-male film, and a man who accepted the award for Rage thanked the critics for "having the vision to vote for something this bizarre."
"These people just want a little recognition," said Jim Holliday, the X-Rated Critics Organization's official historian.
"Deep Throat II" was the evening's biggest winner, taking home a handful of plaques. Michael Evans was honored for the film's screenplay, which he likened to an "Ed Meese situation." Jamie Gillis won best actor for his performance in the film.
A smiling Krista Lane, Gillis' co-star, stepped to the podium to accept the best-actress award. She held the wooden heart aloft and wept softly.
"I want to thank everyone out there," she said. "This is the best fun I've ever had."