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The XXX files

Porn star, role model. Jenna Jameson keeps breaking rules, and with a bestselling memoir, 'How to Make Love,' she's earning r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

September 11, 2004|Strawberry Saroyan | Special to the Times

The first thing you see is a flash of blond. Then Jenna Jameson's bodyguard -- all in black, down to his pitch-dark sunglasses -- moves aside. There she is: the porn superstar.

Jameson stands, in a low-cut pink sweater, posing.

"I like that -- with the leg up," says an older photographer who looks straight off "Celebrities Uncensored."

Jameson lifts her black-booted limb -- her blue jeans are cuffed up to her knees -- and gives him another, ahem, professional look.

"Right here, Jenna!" encourages another snapper, whose lens erupts in a click-click-clicking of light.

No, we're not at an Erotica convention. We're at a bookstore. Jameson is at a signing for her recently released memoir, "How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale," at the Sunset Strip's Book Soup. On Sunday, the tome will hit No. 6 on the New York Times bestseller list, and here at the bookstore employees are more than on board. "Got Jenna?" publicity and events director Christine Louise Berry's T-shirt asks, and another organizer -- making his way through the hundreds of fans outside -- sports an equally novel tee. "Enjoy Jenna Jameson," it reads in white calligraphy on a red background, likening the star to Coca-Cola.

While Jameson may not be as all-American as soda pop, it's no big news that she's gone mainstream. In the last year alone, she's appeared on the cover of New York and Paper magazines. She is the subject of a current VH1 News profile ("Jenna Jameson's Confessions"). In initial "straight world" breakouts, she appeared in the 1997 Howard Stern film "Private Parts" and in the 2002 Eminem video "Without Me."

But a further switch seems to be taking place now. Conventional wisdom says Jameson's crossover reflects that of the sex industry itself. Yet throughout the week-and-a-half-long book tour, Jameson and her assistant Linda Johnson say, they've been surprised by a new breed of female fans. "The people are so different with this book, because people that have never seen an adult movie [are here]," says Johnson. "There are women standing in line with tears in their eyes, going, 'I related. That's my story, that's how I feel.' "

Clad in a tank that reads "Train Him to Obey," Jameson says in her room at the Park Hyatt hours before last week's signing: "It's a totally different crowd than I'm used to. I love seeing all the girls that are like, 'I loved your book, it touched me.' It's amazing just to feel the acceptance."

'I demand respect'

What's the appeal? In some ways, Jameson's is a classic American Dream story -- the XXX version. Growing up in Las Vegas the daughter of a policeman father and showgirl mother -- who died when she was 2 -- Jameson first approached a strip club manager at 17. Taking one look at her mouthful of braces, the salt-and-pepper-haired Italian told her, 'Come back when you've got those off.' That night, she had an epiphany: Taking a pair of pliers and wire-cutters, she ripped the metal off her teeth. Returning to the club the next day, the manager fell for her moxie.

It wouldn't be the last time. Though she was a smash as a stripper, Jameson soon set her sights higher. In 1995, she walked into the office of Steve Orenstein, founder of the adult-production company Wicked Pictures, and told him: "The most important thing to me right now is to become the biggest star the industry has ever seen."

Jameson says she never felt victimized by the sex industry. "The only reason why is because I wouldn't allow it. When it ever came close to anything like that happening ... I steered the bus this way," she says, gesturing. "Uh uh. Ain't gonna happen. 'I will walk off this set, I will walk out of my contract, I will not take it'.... Because society looks at you as a second-class citizen [when you're a porn star], so I demand respect from my peers."

What she was hit hard by was life. Jameson endured a psychologically absent father, an abusive stepmother, rapes and addiction to crystal meth.

But then "the little tugboat that could," as she refers to herself at one point, began to turn around. After finding love in the mid-1990s with Jay Grdina, an adult-film studio owner and business entrepreneur, they started ClubJenna, Inc., a web hosting, film production and marketing company. Its first title, "Briana Loves Jenna," became the bestselling adult film of the year, and Jameson has now become perhaps the most successful adult star to own her own brand -- the Oprah, if you will, of the adult film industry.

Judith Regan, the publisher of "How to Make Love," says Jameson's tale resonates with American women. "You take a young, impressionable, bright girl who was given no guidance, who at an early age comes to believe that the way to succeed in this culture is through sex and her body," she says, "[and that] is what has happened to the female in America."

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