Taboo: the life of a real-life porn star

Just what does it take to get in to pornography – and get back out again? Veteran adult film actress Kay Taylor Parker talks to Peter Molloy about her own journey.

Sex World. The Seven Seductions. Intimate Lessons. Nasty Nurses.

As bullet points from a professional resume go, they’re unquestionably eye-catching. Then again, so are entries slightly later on the list like Soul Splinter Identification and Retrieval, or How to Heal Shame – the Web of Unworthiness. But more on that later.

Welcome to the striking career paths that have book-ended the working life of Kay Taylor Parker.

Talking to her, Parker sounds nothing like the caricature of a brassy porn diva that springs to mind from a quick Wikipedia perusal of her filmography.  Animatedly chatting down the line to Belfield from her home outside Los Angeles, the chirpy 65-year-old does a comprehensive job of demolishing most of the preconceptions I have about encountering a real-life porn star for the first time.

Excitedly switching back and forth on topics ranging from the Woodstock Festival to the emergence of the internet, Parker’s warm, English-tinged US accent was reminiscent more of a favourite aunt at a stifling family function than a chesty Californian adult star. It’s probably appropriate though, because the Birmingham native and porn icon seems to have always had a foot on both sides of the fence.

Born in England toward the end of the Second World War, Parker left for the United States midway though the 1960s.

“It was one of those strange opportunities that was just handed to me – I had no previous aspirations of going over. [However], I somehow always knew I wouldn’t grow up past adolescence in England.”
After following a fairly predictable emigrant trail that took her from New Mexico to California, Parker found herself in the midst of San Francisco and the tail end of the flower power era.
“Once I arrived in San Francisco, there was no way I couldn’t be part of the scene – it was everywhere. It was a really amazing time.”

By the late 1970s, the English arrival was past her 30th birthday, and had finally managed to escape the kind of 9-to-5 banking jobs that had initially supported her upon her arrival on America’s West Coast.

“It took a while until I was actually sitting there saying: ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe that I’m getting ready to do this, on film’”

“I ran this little store – it was a little shop that was just dripping with trinkets. I was in my element, because I’m very creative.”

The next phase of Parker’s professional career, however, was to take that love of creativity to an altogether different place.
kay-parker-before

After becoming involved with established porn actor John Leslie, she found herself auditioning for her very first part in an X-rated film – a 1977 feature titled, with Ronseal simplicity, Sex World. At this point in Parker’s account, I couldn’t help but interrupt to ask the obvious question: how on earth does it feel to attend the mother and father of all nervous casting calls?

“It took a while until I was actually sitting there, saying, ‘oh my God, I can’t believe that I’m getting ready to do this, on film’. It’s irreversible – once it’s done, it’s done. I almost left my body – I was in an altered state, I think – and then it was done.”

Now here’s the thing. Ask people – especially males – about porn, and you’ll get a nearly universal reaction.

I had my fill of almost identical conversations prior to talking to Taylor. Once the obligatory guffaws and nudge-nudge, wink-wink jokes about all the “research” for a feature on pornography have been dealt with, what’s left is a very tangible sense of curiosity. What’s it actually like? How does porn operate as a job choice? I wanted to see what kind of insight Taylor could offer about life in the industry.

“When you come down off the screen, you’re just a normal person”

“I don’t know if there was ever a time [when] I could say I enjoyed it. From a sexual point of view, it’s never really enjoyable – it’s too technical, and it’s broken down into pieces, so it’s not a continuum. You’re not really able to get into the flow of things. But there were moments that were satisfying; [where] primarily because of the person I was working with, there was a beautiful exchange, and because of that you were able to portray something sensual and satisfying to watch. But the sexual part of shooting it is not an easy thing.”

Parker’s heyday in the adult film industry during the late 1970s and early 80s coincided with the last years of a more traditional approach to pornographic film-making – one where even rudimentary storylines and acting took at least some precedence over the generic clips of by-the-numbers fleshy fumbling that dominate the market today.

For all that though, taking a starring role on the flickering screens of the adult film theatres that proliferated in the US at the time didn’t necessarily translate to a glamorous, glossy working environment for Parker.

“If you were a woman, and you were at the top of your game… you could demand a pretty high rate. I think at the peak, I was making $1500 a day. But the average time you spend on a film was two or three days: I was working as a waitress simultaneously just to pay my overheads.”

So just how would an average day at the office go for an established porn star?

“[It] could be 24 hours straight. It’s exhausting work, really. The sexual stuff – unless it goes very smoothly – can take the longest, and be the most draining. [It] can make you quite ragged energetically, and you never really know how long you’re going to be there.”

One of the unavoidable questions that raises its jealous little face when contemplating a working life in pornography is the impact it must surely have on personal relationships and family life. Put clinically; how can monogamous partnerships possibly work when one (or both) of those partners boasts a working day that involves multiple acts of filmed copulation?

“My family didn’t know about it at the time. In terms of personal relationships, it added an interesting dynamic. When I did indulge in a relationship; I think for some of them, it was curious, and some of them were intrigued. I think they knew, though, that it wasn’t me. When you come down off the screen, you’re just a normal person – that was what they were engaging with.”

“From a sexual point of view, it’s never really enjoyable – it’s too technical, and it’s broken down into pieces”

Eventually, factors had coalesced by 1984 to convince Parker that her time as a doyenne of the porn industry had run its course.

“There were primarily two reasons. One was AIDS – [it] became a reality, and a big factor. The other obvious thing was that by that point, video was a big reality. That meant low, low budgets, and it’s very difficult making the transition. I did one or two videos and said, ‘That’s it, I can’t do this anymore.’”

It’s here that the other side to Kay Parker’s professional and personal life began to take over properly.
kay-parker-after

Today, the bubbly ex-actress’s website describes her as a ‘counsellor, mediator and minister’. In person, Parker herself is more enlightening.
“I call myself a spiritual mentor – I help people to understand why they’re here. I look at everything that would inhibit a person’s ability to know who they are – let’s put it that way.”

Parker now runs her own spiritual counselling service, helping clients “discover more about themselves.” She pre-empts my predictable question by acknowledging that a significant proportion of her male clients are – at least initially – attracted from curiosity about her past notoriety.
At this point, a student journalist with ambitions of carving out a future niche in the cutting, snide print columns of modern media, should by reflex be preparing to ratchet up the sarcasm.

But the inconvenient thing is, Parker is so charmingly, captivatingly sincere about who she is and what she does, that it’s hard to feel anything but a respectful curiosity. I wondered if she saw her current spiritual side as having developed in spite – or perhaps because of – her career in pornography, or whether it had been a consistent theme.

“It was always there, even from [when I was] a child. A lot of what I saw, and felt and experienced didn’t make sense. I can’t do these things that normal people do because I’m very sensitive.”

When the dust has settled, what’s it like to reflect on a life of undeniable extremes?

“I’m very pleased with myself – not in an egotistical way, but I know who I am.”

There have to be worse ways to feel; a decade of painfully-punned film titles or not.

  • JC

    well done piece. I too have met Kay, triggered by fascination over the past life, and found her just as engaging and disarming. Excellent insight.