An Interview With Vanessa del Rio: Legendary Porn Star Talks Changing New York, Subway Perverts, And A Madam In The Governor's Mansion

Yeah, yeah, lots of New Yorkers remember the old days when the streets were dirty, the drugs were cheap, and the only Mickey Mouse you'd see in Times Square was tattooed on a dancer's ass. But how many can actually say they were that dancer (sans tattoo, I assume)? Well, Vanessa del Rio, for one.

The legendary porn star is a New Yorker to the (hard)core. Born and raised in Harlem, del Rio ditched her Catholic schoolgirl roots for the adult entertainment world, becoming what many consider to be America's first Latina star. Throughout the 70s she was a top box office draw, and only retired in 1986 during the AIDS scare.

Del Rio has managed to live on, though, becoming a hip hop icon, a mainstream actress, and the subject of a TASCHEN biography.

The Huffington Post caught up with the "Black Marilyn" via email to discuss the death of Times Square, subway groping, and, of course, Sarah Palin.

How did a nice girl from Harlem get involved in the 70s porn world?

Well, this nice girl from Harlem was born with a rebellious free spirit, firmed up by Catholic school and growing up an isolated only child, not allowed out on the streets because my parents thought they were too dangerous, leading me to live in my head -- with all the sexual fantasies I couldn't discuss with anyone.

What lead to the decision to start making adult films and how did you first get into it?

Being raised so strict made me want to experience everything I was warned against. I left home at an early age because of these restrictions, and walked right into the wild life of the streets, the sex, drugs, rock-n-roll -- and let's not forget disco -- lifestyle of the East Village in the 70s.

The quick progression after I left home at 16 was keypunch operator to computer programmer to waitress to barmaid to go-go dancer to streetwalker to call girl to PORN STAR! Woohoooo!

Do you still live in New York?

Yes I still live in Nu Yawk, where I run my website (here comes a plug!)

After doing over a 100 adult films, you started working with hip hop stars -- getting name-checked in songs and appearing in the video for Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s "Get Money." How did that happen?

Both porn and rap are very raw and very (X)plicit forms of expression, so in the minds of many the two go together.

I was the first "woman of color" to become famous in the porn biz, often referred to as the 'black Marilyn', so it was natural for me to be noticed. I was surprised when I first heard my name in a rap song. Since then, I've been name-checked in lots of rap songs and no matter what the lyrics I always think, "What a compliment!"


You're doing a signing event for the TASCHEN biography that calls you "America's first Latina star" -- do you feel that's an accurate title? Are you a fan of any of the current Latina stars?

I was the first identified Latina -- I don't know if there were any before me in the porn biz, but yes, I'll take it! I don't watch porn much anymore... kinda been there, done that, but I will tell you that the Latinas that are in the biz now are GORGEOUS!

Outside of porn, I love Rosario Dawson, whose ethnic background is very close to mine. I'm just waiting for someone to film my life story so I can beg her to play me! Are you listening John Waters?

Aside from the recent terrorist attempt, do you prefer the old Times Square to the new "Disney"-fied one? I would imagine you had a lot of fans around there back in the day.

Yes, darling, I do prefer the ol' '70s Duce to the modern "Disney"-fied one. You had to have been there to appreciate it. It's where I walked the streets as a prostitute, where you could buy a joint in a legit theater and smoke it in your seat, where I danced as Vanessa del Rio at Show World, the world's biggest sex emporium, now closed, and where pimps cruised all night long in pink Cadillacs.

But life goes on and perhaps one day The Duce will return with a Total Recall twist! And yes, I was very well recognized and respected back then.

Geez, I'm feeling like Gloria Swanson with all these recollections! Tell me you're old enough to know who Gloria Swanson is!

Do you ever get hassled on the street by people who recognize you?

Never been hassled, but often get recognized!

The incident that stands out for me is when a staggering derelict bum muttered my name as I walked by (near Grand Central Station). I just kept walking, and he all of a sudden got lucid and yelled, "Hey, I spent a lot of quarters on you!"

I smiled at him, amused and giggling, but still kept walking!

You're probably pretty liable to be a target for a subway groper or two.

You devil, you read the book didn't you!? I have had my share of subway encounters and it's all in there... including the dwarf who chased me through the subway with his hard dick in his hand. Guess I shouldn't have encouraged him!

It's all deliciously pervy stuff -- well, with our attitudes back then it was, nowadays I guess it would have a more sinister feel.

The adult industry is mainly run out of the San Fernando Valley -- is there still a New York porn scene? Do you keep up with people in the industry?

Yes, there is a porn scene in New York, but it's small, and more on the artsy side. I have a few special friends here, most of them from the old New York porn scene, that now lead the avant-garde New York sexy scene.

Hmmm, artsy porn... Mr. Benedikt Taschen sure did make that possible for me! (Thanks Benny!) What an honor to have this big beautiful book from the best publisher on the planet. And I have to give props to my gal pal Dian Hanson, who knew exactly where I was coming from in my Slightly Slutty Behavior.

Kristin Davis, the madam who allegedly supplied prostitutes to former-Governor Eliot Spitzer, is now running for governor herself. Any interest in throwing your support behind her?

Hey, if Sarah Palin made it to the podium I'm sure Ms. Kristin Davis can at least get near it. Just think if a Madam ran the state: there'd be clean sheets in every home, and a penis check before any politician stuck it to the citizens. We know that won't pass!