Family & Companions
No matter what path actress Traci Lords attempted when her career finally came to an end, she would for better or for worse be remembered for being one of the most famous and successful - not to mention underage - adult film stars in history, having done roughly 100 XXX-rated movies while under the age of 18. Since that unfortunate time, when the scandal of her being too young for porn rocked the industry to its core, Lords was one of the few porn stars to legitimately go mainstream, appearing in several television series, low-budget movies and the occasional studio film, including the Wesley Snipes vampire vehicle, "Blade" (1998). Not content to stick with features, Lords broke off into other avenues - music, television, even video games - making sure that despite her sordid past, perhaps someday she would be associated with something more respectable.
Traci Elizabeth Lords was born Nora Louise Kuzma on May 7, 1968, in Steubenville, OH. Her stage name was a compilation of Nora's high school best friend, Traci; the character Katharine Hepburn played in "The Philadelphia Story" (1940), and the last name Lords, after her favorite actor from her favorite show, "Hawaii Five-O" (CBS, 1968-1980), Jack Lords. As a young girl, the future adult film star moved to Lawndale, CA, with her mother, Patricia, and three sisters, fleeing their alcoholic steelworker father, Louis. But the family was far from being safe - her mother's new boyfriend turned out to be a cocaine dealer and molested young Lords, which led to her eventually running away from home before her 16th birthday. She eventually moved in with her mother's then ex-boyfriend while attending Redondo Union High School, who began taking the 15-year-old around to various modeling agencies, eventually landing at Jim South's World Modeling Agency, which recruited women for nude spreads and porn movies. In order to get work, Lords presented South with her friend's sister's birth certificate, which read "Kristie Elizabeth Nussman age 22."
With the help of her fake ID and with her mother's ex-boyfriend claiming to be her stepfather, South was easily convinced of her age, and after having her strip naked, immediately saw Lords' potential to be a porno star. After being sent out to photo shoots for various magazines - the kind wrapped in plastic and displayed behind the counter at convenience stores - Lords made her first official porn film, "What Gets Me Hot!" (1984). She got paid $10,000 for only four days - at a time when the average new actress received $500 a day. And she was only 15. Firmly entrenched in Hollywood's underbelly, she began to make a long string of movies, including "Open up Traci" (1984) and "Two Timing Traci" (1985), to "Sex Fifth Avenue" (1985) and "Kinky Business" (1985), with each one becoming slowly, but surely more graphic. The incredibly developed, full-figured Lords easily duped photographers, producers and directors, though some later claimed they knew something about her was off. Between her short, but active career, which spanned from 1984-86, Lords made anywhere between 80 and 100 adult films, some of which consisted of leftover footage from previous shoots.
In 1984, Lords posed for a Penthouse centerfold in the same issue that ultimately published unauthorized nude photos of singer-actress Vanessa Williams. After Lords' underage status was revealed, the issue became illegal to possess, which only upped its collectability in the ensuing years. Allegedly earning over $1 million from her movies, Lords was eventually able to raise her own financing in order to enter the production side, write her own scripts, star in her own projects and market the resulting product as she saw fit. With boyfriend and manager, Stewart Dell, she formed Traci Lords Productions and began producing such movies as "Traci Takes Tokyo" (1986) and "Beverly Hills Copulator" (1986) later in her career.
By the mid-1980s, Lords was the queen of porn, recognized worldwide and mobbed wherever she went. In the summer of 1986, two days after turning 18, she traveled to Cannes to make "Traci, I Love You" (1987). When she got back to Los Angeles, the FBI raided her apartment and arrested her after someone informed the FBI that the actress was underage. Federal prosecutors arrested the owners of her porn movie agency and X-citement Video Inc., as well as branding the hundreds of films she appeared in illegal child-pornography. Within hours of the news, the videos were taken off the shelves. Porn distributors, not wishing any onerous child pornography charges, destroyed millions of dollars worth of magazines and tapes. For a business rarely shocked by anything, the Traci Lords FBI investigation shook many trees, causing even the sleazy skin industry to both check and double-check birthdates.
After the FBI incident, Traci left the porn industry, but remained compelled to perform in some capacity, leading her to take voice and ballet lessons, as well as classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute in Hollywood. In 1988, she starred in Roger Corman's remake "Not of This Earth," her first mainstream film - and the only one in which she had a nude scene. That same year, she also landed a spot on "Wiseguy" (CBS, 1987-1990), indicating that her career as a real actress was in full swing. The film that brought Lords her first Hollywood legitimacy - to say nothing of surprisingly good critical reviews - was director John Waters' "Cry Baby" (1990), where she played a tough-talking sex kitten opposite Johnny Depp. On the set, she met Water's nephew, Brook Yeaton, a prop maker whom she married on Sept. 29, 1990 in a traditional Catholic ceremony. Unfortunately, the marriage lasted only five years.
Throughout the 1990s, her hard work began paying off as her reputation as a reliable actress grew. In addition to being a singer and an advocate for gay rights - not to mention an outspoken critic against the porn industry - Lords continued to land legit work in such shows as "Married with Children" (Fox, 1987-1997), "MacGyver" (ABC, 1985-1992) and the 1993 made-for-TV movie "The Tommyknockers," based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Among her many roles, she received the most critical attention for her work in Waters' "Serial Mom" (1994), "Virtuosity" (1995), starring Denzel Washington and a then-unknown Russell Crowe; a recurring role on "Melrose Place" (Fox, 1992-99), as a series regular in the second season of NBC's "Profiler" (1996-2000), playing sicko serial killer Sharon Lesher; and as herself in "D.R.E.A.M. Team" (2000), co-starring models Traci Bingham and Angie Everhart.
Lords became a favorite at the Sci Fi Channel when she joined the cast of the enormously popular science fiction adventure series, "First Wave" (1998-2001), during its third season. With Francis Ford Coppola serving as executive producer, the series featured Lords in the supporting role of Jordan Radcliffe, the mysterious and sexy leader of a militia force known as the "Raven Nation," which fights the alien invasion of Earth. Said series creator, Chris Brancato, at the time, "Lords has the right combination of substance and sexiness. Traci is the perfect person for this role."
In 2003, Lords published her autobiography Traci Lords - Underneath It All, to some degree of fanfare, though many deemed the book too tame a view of Lords' lewd young life. After a successful book tour and a spot on The New York Times bestseller list, Lords was accepted into the prestigious Fox Searchlab, where she directed a short film, "Sweet Pea," inspired by an incident detailed in her book about a teenage girl struggling to overcome doubt after being raped by her boyfriend. She also found time to star in the movie "Deathlands" (Sci Fi Channel, 2003) before making an appearance on the family-friendly "The Gilmore Girls" (WB/CW, 2000-07). Lords also attracted a lot of work as a voice-over artist for a variety of out-of-this-world characters for several video games and animated films.
Lords' versatility was also reflected in her parallel career as a singer-songwriter. She made her recording debut with 1000 Fires (1995), an album from Radioactive Records, featuring the hit single, "Control," which rose to No. 2 on the Billboard dance charts. An instrumental version of "Control" made it onto the "Mortal Kombat" (1995) soundtrack, which eventually went double platinum. After a long hiatus from music, Lords returned with the independently produced double-side, "Sunshine." Meanwhile, back in the feature world, Lords maintained a steady presence in both independents and studio films, appearing in "Blade" (1998) and "Crazy Eights" (2007). She then made a brief return to porn - of sorts - when she appeared in "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" (2008), director Kevin Smith's romantic comedy about a pair of roommates (Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks) who make an adult film in order to raise money to pay off their mounting debts.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Began working in porn films at age 15 (date approximate)
Turned 18 after making more than 100 adult films/videos
Feature "legit" film debut, in Roger Corman's "Not of This Earth"
TV debut, a guest spot on Fox's "Married ... With Children"
Gained some mainstream legitimacy by appearing in John Waters' "Cry-Baby"
TV-movie debut in NBC's "Murder in High Places"
TV miniseries debut in ABC's "Stephen King's 'The Tommyknockers'"
Recurring role on TV series "Melrose Place" (FOX)
Released first album (singer/songwriter)
Appeared with Juliette Lewis, Harry Dean Stanton and Peter Horton in Guess? Jeans commercials
Joined cast of the Sci-Fi Channel series "First Wave" in the regular role of an alien fighter
Co-starred with Tyler Mane in "Black Mask 2: City of Masks" (filmed in 2000)
Published her autobiography, <i>Traci Lords: Underneath It All</i>
Wrote and directed a short film entitled "Sweet Pea" (shown at film festivals in 2005)
Appeared in the horror film, "Crazy Eights"