Say hello to Dr. Hart, Dr. Royalle and Dr. Vera.
Posted Jun 28th, 2014 07:38 PM by Mark Kernes
SAN FRANCISCO—On Thursday evening, the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality bestowed honorary doctoral degrees in human sexuality on the surviving members of the adult industry's first performer support group, Club 90—named after the address of founding member Gloria Leonard's apartment in New York City. Leonard, of course, died earlier this year, but she was given the honor posthumously—and her fellow Club 90 members—Veronica Hart, Candida Royalle and Veronica Vera—were all present not only to accept their degrees, but also to lecture to students at the Institute on their lives, their works and what they'd learned from being in the adult entertainment industry for roughly 30 years. (The other founding members, Annie Sprinkle and Sharon Mitchell, were not so honored, having both earned their degrees several years ago.)
The ceremony took place at the Institute, 1523 Franklin Street in San Francisco, in the Institute's main lecture hall, which though small was filled nearly to capacity with students and invited guests. The degrees were presented to each actress by Dr. Ted McIlvenna, the Institute's founder and chairman of its board of directors.
Dr. McIlvenna began by noting that the event was being filmed by a video crew from Chile, which was apparently preparing a documentary on the American adult film industry. He explained, "I gave them some idea of history, and the importance of history; why we save things, how importance it was to save the experiences of people who find value in it. I talked about the arts and why we save the arts and why many of you decided to go into the art forms that you did, and I remember a lot of those things."
McIlvenna related some of his own history, noting that his father had been both a missionary to the American Indians as well as a student at a theological seminary in Boston, and while McIlvenna had been raised in a traditional religious household, his career took off in a direction that neither his father nor his bishop would have expected.
"The old Bishop told me, 'Find what God is doing in all this sex,' and that's what I've been looking for all these years," McIlvenna said he told the Chilean crew. "And you know what? I have joyfully been able to find those persons who were the prophets who did some things and were better seekers than me, and I could say, 'Thank you; let share with you and let me appreciate what you have done.'"
McIlvenna began the honoraria with Gloria Leonard, calling her a "wonderful woman," and reading from the doctoral certificate: "The Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, by virtue of the authority vested in the Board of Directors, and on the recommendations of the faculty, the degree of Doctor of Human Sexuality is conferred upon Gloria Leonard."
He next called upon Veronica Vera, who, after giving up her acting career, became a columnist for Penthouse Variations, and later opened Miss Vera's School for Boys Who Want to be Girls in New York City.
"Somebody told me, when I talked with her on the phone, I would fall in love, and I did," McIlvenna said. "The problem is, I didn't have a chance to cross-dress with her, so that's one of the things I'm looking forward [to] in the future."
"I do feel that, in a way, I've always kind of felt that I had some kind of calling," Vera responded, "and so to be able to hear you say that, it's just helps me to go on and know that there are other people who believe like I do and all of you do, so long live the Institute; thank you, Ted, for founding it, and for acknowledging us, and thank you all for just being here to celebrate with me and all of us, and I promise this will make me better at servicing—I mean serving others"—a slip of the tongue that drew raucous laughter.
Several people spoke about their love and admiration of Vera, including Veronica Hart, who is better known among the Institute's staff and students by her real name, Jane Hamilton.
"Veronica is one of the bravest, most awesome women in the whole world," Hamilton said, "but what you don't know about her is, she's a wonderful, wonderful caretaker, and she also helps people in transition in many, many ways. She's helped so many people transition from the planet, and that is one of her true callings and she is amazing at it and I want you to know that about her too."
Sharan Mitchell, however, got a little more earthy.
"My first threesome was with Vera," she said, "and God, that just changed my life. She has been an example of beauty and grace and dignity, and all the things a woman goes through in their lives, she has gone through, and not only helped others but has been an example for me."
"We were the High Heels School of Journalism, and we click-clacked into places. We covered Times Square, we traveled to the Whore's Conference and we've had so many amazing adventures and so much fun and sexy times," added Annie Sprinkle. "I've seen her grow as a sex educator... She's going to put this doctorate to such good use. She's helped so many feel good about their sexuality and I have to say, she's my favorite writer."
Candida Royalle (whom most at the Institute referred to by her real name, Candace) described Vera as "a wonderful, wonderful friend... You can't ask for a better person to have in your life and on your support team."
Next to be honored was Hart/Hamilton, whom McIlvenna said, of his acquaintances in the adult entertainment industry, he had known Hamilton the longest.
"Our paths have crossed in different ways," he noted. "She was a tremendous help in the development of the [Erotic Heritage] Museum in Las Vegas, and helped me in moments of being pissed off, and she's somebody that has been involved and been in and out of the adult industry.
"She's certainly been a magnificent actress; she made many great things; she continues to be an inspiration," he added later. "We're so happy that she's continuing on. We're looking forward now to having a research and development center in southern California... I'm so proud of what she's done, working with all of our wonderful people in China. It's like having a missionary there... We started a long relationship, and [went on] trips to China, and I think what's going to be [happening] is the development of an educational program for the rim of Southeast Asia, and I really think we'll have those centers everyplace, and Janie will be teaching for a long time. We're so proud of her and what she's done and what she's accomplished."
When it was her turn to speak, rather than reciting her own accomplishments, Hamilton spent several minutes extolling McIlvenna's good works, describing him as "a beacon of hope and approval and acceptance for those of us who've always felt differently about life, about sexuality and wanted to go down those paths.
"This man is most incredible, and he's now turned around and acknowledged all of the work that we've been doing, and there's not very many academics that would give us the time of day, let alone acknowledge our life work," she continued. "And I thank you for giving me the opportunity to work at the Erotic Heritage Museum. That place was so very important. It was a place for people to gather and exchange ideas. It was a safe place. Everybody could come there. You could be overweight, you could be really gay, you could be anything you wanted to be and you were be okay. It was okay for you to walk in the door as a boy or a girl or whatever, but everybody was accepted. It was such a wonderful place for people to come and talk positively about sex, feel good about their own sexuality and oftentimes learn a thing or two. It was a wonderful, wonderful meeting place. I hope to see it reopens under however it can; it's such an important place to be."
Hamilton also talked a bit about her work in teaching sex education in China, saying it was "very, very life-changing and affirmed that I indeed wanted to be a sex educator. It was an important place for me to go, and it's definitely giving me a place for the future.
"We're talking about things like pornography and obscenity laws, and somebody said that feminism hasn't even begun yet; we're still talking about equal pay for women here; that's still a big discussion," she continued. "Excuse me; this is 2014 and we're still talking about that? This is ridiculous. But we're so far ahead of other countries, at least having the conversation and acknowledging women. Let's help women everywhere rise up; let's help them get the respect they need; let's help them get the pleasure and the ecstasy in life that makes it all worth sticking around for. Let's hope we can spread that, and the way we can do that is by example and by education—and I guess donations, too."
Royalle took note that Hamilton had barely said anything about herself in her "acceptance speech," and remarked, "Basically, she is such a giving person. This was supposed to be her moment to say something about herself, about her experience, and she gave it all to Ted, and understandably so. But you gave your moment in the light to someone you felt deserved it, and that is so typical of you, Jane; she's one of the most giving, thoughtful people, and always concerned about others, always wanting to help others, do things for others, almost to a fault... and I'm so happy you're getting the recognition you deserve. I'm so happy you've found finally your partner in life, who clearly adores you as he should, and I really congratulate you... You deserve all the goodness you can get."
Mitchell was once again the person to bring things down to earth.
"Not only have we been good lovers and good friends but Janie's always been one of the few people in my life—and there's five of them here tonight—who've been able to tell me what's really going on," she said. "When stuff hasn't been so pleasant, when I've not been making the best decisions, they said, 'You know what? No; you're not doing the best thing, but everything's gonna be okay, but you might want to rethink this.' And to me, that's the real definition of a friend, and Jane has always been there, to keep me working, to keep me thinking about myself, and to keep me cumming."
Vera, after extolling more of Hamilton's virtues, entertained the audience by telling of the time Hamilton visited her in her New York apartment, and she, Vera, offhandedly remarked that her closet needed fixing; Hamilton immediately went out to a hardware store, got lumber and nails and spent several hours fixing things so that there was finally a place to hang her dresses.
"So basically, if you need a horny handyman, call me," Hamilton responded.
The assemblage also heard from Tracy, Hamilton's English-to-Chinese translator in China, who noted of Hamilton, "She's done a great job in China. She lets the Chinese women know, if you try, you can have a better life. She makes the people understand, 'Keep trying. Try new things. If you think you deserve a better life, try and get a better life. Everyone deserves a good life. Open your mind.' She keeps telling us that. She's famous in China. I like this woman... even though sometimes she drives me crazy a little bit."
The final honoree was Candida Royalle, who rated McIlvenna's longest introduction, in which he described her and her works as "classy" and always having "intimacy."
"If you haven't had a chance to talk with her and see her films, she has made so many contributions it terms of the roles of females and female rights and really always had a sense of style," he said. "I'm not sure where she got that but she's always had a great sense of style, and at conferences, occasionally we'd run into each other many years ago. I'm telling you, if you go to a sex conference, and you're involved with all of those people trying to hustle things and are interested in being criticized, and you see her walk across the floor, everybody stops and notices. I don't think she knows that about herself. She has one of the sexiest walks in the world."
Indeed; Royalle admitted that she didn't know that, but there was plenty she did know from a life full of self-examination and creativity.
"I'm really, really honored," she told the assemblage. "I never expected this. I was always too lazy to go to school for one of these [but] I was not too lazy to make these films, thank goodness, and I thank you so much. I have to say, when you spoke earlier of a calling, truly, I realized at a certain point that this was somehow, for some reason, my calling. Everything came together—I spoke for two and a half hours about it yesterday—but you know, you talk about the perfect storm. Everything just started to fall into place. I realized at a certain point right in the middle of the '80s that I was meant to give a voice to women and to the adult industry. And I had been a young feminist in college. People would say, 'How could you be a feminist and do this?' I didn't know how answer that, and I finally had the answer, and it all just fell into place. I realized I was meant to do it, and this is just a wonderful culmination at this point in my life, and I thank you very, very much. I'm very grateful."
Sharon Mitchell credited Royalle with awakening Mitchell's own sense of self as a feminist, which she said had stood her in good stead for her entire career.
"The truth is, though, that when I first started coming of age, and I started becoming one of the adult entertainment industry [people] in New York City, Candace was already in the rock 'n' roll scene and so on and so forth," she began. "And the truth is that I would listen to Candace and she would say, 'We're feminists. We're feminists,' and I was like 17, 18 years old, and I thought we were feminists, and then all these fucking crazy women against pornography and all these fucking crazy bizarre women used to come down, and I was appalled, because Candace had me convinced in my head, 'I'm a feminist. Wait a second. I'm taking control of my body, my mind, my finances. I'm a feminist for free expression,' which is what Candace had always said. And so I always thought that, and I was absolutely upside down appalled that other women would have a negative view of what we were doing for a living. I mean, Candace gave me an identity of feminism, and that was very important to me. And I remember these stupid, cowardly-ass chicks. I mean, they were fucking pussies; they really were. No offense. I mean, every time you would invite them for a debate, who would show up? We all did. Did they show up? Never. The only time they would show up was eventually, years later, when they would debate Gloria."
Royalle interrupted her to note that she herself had personally debated such antagonists as Andrea Dworkin and Catherine MacKinnon—which led to Mitchell's recalling that adult actresses had few media outlets, but "let's not forget the late night guy, Tom Snyder; he would have us on. He loved Jamie [Gillis], he loved Candace, he loved Janie, he loved everybody. But very few people would give us a platform. But Candace introduced me to the thought of feminism and the belief that I was a feminist, and that, no matter how tarnished by other people, was something that always stayed with me and you gave that to me and I love you forever for that. Not only for that; for just being my fucking buddy through all the shit I've gone through."
"Candida did something extraordinary," Sprinkle said when her turn came. "She set out to make feminist erotica, porn, and let me tell you, she got so much shit from men. The porn industry really tried to put her down. She tried to add sensuality, intimacy—"
"They said she was a fad," Mitchell interrupted.
"—and it was hard," Sprinkle continued. "They criticized her so much and she kept going and kept exploring. She is the mother that gave birth to feminist erotica, feminist pornography, and it wasn't easy. Sometimes being transgressive is being less hardcore, and they say, 'There's not enough hardcore in it.' She got so much criticism and she does have the soul of an artist, and she's making a new documentary, and we're so excited about that."
"I worked for VCA and my boss Russell Hampshire actually said that he owed Candida an apology because he said he thought there was no couples market back then; that was a market that didn't exist," Hamilton recalled. "I didn't even think of it as feminist stuff. I thought it was erotica that would appeal to women, that would include the women's sensuality; that's the way I always embraced it, and she has been the queen of it. Not only was she the queen at it and the mother, she turned around and gave all the girlfriends in Club 90 the chance to express themselves in her Star Directors series, and that was so kind and so generous, and so I thank you so much... She is the strongest, most resilient woman I know."
Vera had similar comments, telling how, when Vera's husband had fallen ill, Royalle had organized a "Share the Care" group to help out—and also that Royalle had been a maid of honor at Vera's wedding.
"So, [she did] all of these many things, and when we were told about this award from the institute, Candace said, 'I don't know. I just feel like maybe I didn't do anything; maybe I'm cheating to get this award'," Vera recounted. "And I mean, do you think she's cheating to get this award? I don't think so. No one deserves it more than you."
Royalle herself got in the last word: "You know, I've often said that truly, the most important thing in life, absolutely, aside from your health maybe, is the people in your life, and I think that these women really bear that out. Thank you so much. I'm a very happy girl today, Ted."
And with that, the honorees and guests adjourned to partake of snacks, wines and desserts.
Pictured, l-r: Jane Hamilton, Sharon Mitchell and Dr. Ted McIlvenna.
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