Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Traci Lords

A Porn Star Is Born

Jim South saw potential in the fresh face and unblemished body. He expected "immediate placement," as his ad promised, once two details were disposed of.

First, he needed proof of legal age.

Roger had provided Nora with fake identification that added five years to her age. She showed the California driver's license to Jim South, and that was good enough for him. But the name on the ID, Kristie Nussman, sounded no more glamorous than Nora Kuzma. She needed a stage name.

Nora chose the first name of a friend back home in Ohio. For her surname, she added an "s" to that of Jack Lord, star of her favorite TV show, Hawaii Five-0.

Jack Lord
Jack Lord

She would later tell the Chicago Tribune that Lord was her "personal hero." She said, "When I was a little girl, I had a crush on him. He drove nice cars, was a little racy and had a bad mouth."

Traci Lords was born.

Within days of the nude test shoot, South had lined up modeling work for his new young talent.

Her first job was a $250 schoolgirl roleplaying photo shoot for a men's magazine. That was followed by many more nude and lewd layouts for the sorts of magazines that were kept hidden behind counters in cigar stores. Soon, South arranged an explicit nude session that landed her in the centerfold of Penthouse magazine in September 1984 — and earned Lords a $5,000 paycheck.

She was a sophomore at Redondo Union High School when the Penthouse issue came out. She promptly dropped out of school and bought a Corvette.

Patricia Kuzma confronted her daughter when she learned about the nude modeling.

"I told Nora if she didn't stop, I would go to the police, I would go to Penthouse," she would later say. But she admitted, "I did nothing in the legal sense." The two became estranged, and Lords soon graduated from magazine work to porno films, who she became a hot commodity.

"The business was all about fresh new meat," she wrote.

Her first XXX film, What Gets Me Hot, was released in '84. She said she earned $900 for her work over two days, working up her nerve with several screwdrivers. She went on to appear in 20 porno films in her first six months in the business.

"I wasn't acting for a camera," she wrote. "I was acting out. That's what porn did for me. It allowed me to release all the fury I'd felt my entire life. And that's what got me off. Freedom, peace, revenge, sex, power. I'd finally found a place to put my energies — I was vengeful, even savage, in sex scenes... At the ripe old age of sweet 16 I was nothing short of a sexual terrorist. Porn was a power trip for me."

Among her fellow actors, Lords developed a reputation as ardently sexual — one of the few porn professionals, apparently, who continued a scene after the videotape stopped rolling.

"She had the sexual precocity of a 40-year-old," said Jamie Gillis, a veteran male porn performer.

Jamie Gillis
Jamie Gillis

Among porn consumers, she became known for over-the-top vocalizations during sex scenes.

One of her female costars said Lords had the "cliched sexy look for the camera," pouting lips and youthful innocence.

No one apparently seriously considered the possibility that the innocence was not feigned, even though photos and video from that era clearly show a young teenager, not a woman.

Bill Margold, the former porn actor, said he thought there was something different about Lords. But he couldn't put his finger on it.

"It was 1985, and my wife Drea and I were going to do a movie called Portrait of Lust," Margold told an interviewer. "I said to Drea that there's something wrong with this girl. She sat there looking like a lump, a wet-looking, unformed lump. She wasn't formed properly. She had... baby fat and the dullest look I have ever seen on a female. And I couldn't put together that this was an underage female."

"If I had caught her, think of the misery that I could've prevented," Margold said. "Obviously, something stopped me from asking her if she was under 18. Maybe the hell-bent rush-to-disaster mentality of the industry."