Born Nora Kuzma, Traci Lords is especially famous for her underage appearances in pornographic films and Penthouse magazine, during the 1980's.
However, when Larry King interviewed Traci Lords about her book Underneath It All, for his show on CNN, on July 14, 2003, she talked a lot more about her background, her unhappy childhood, the fact that she was raped by a "boyfriend" at age 10, the fact that she was then repeatedly molested by her mother's partner -- who was the one who took her to a nude modelling agency --, her ongoing trauma, the circumstances in which she made her "choice" to get into porn, the conditions in which she participated in pornography, her emotional disconnection while performing for porn, her use of drugs to be able to cope, the pay she got, her suicidal thoughts, the lies people said about her, and the fact that parts of the story of her earlier life are similar to the stories of other women who are in pornography and prostitution. The only differences between Traci Lords and most of the other women in pornography are that she was underage, there was a scandal, and then later she got the chance to make it to Hollywood as an actress -- the overwhelming majority of prostituted and pornographized women do not get such a luck. As for prostitution, Traci herself says that she works with an organization which helps underage prostitutes.
Here are some excerpts of the CNN transcript of the 2003 interview of Traci Lords by Larry King (these can give us some insight about Traci Lords and other women who get into pornography):
"LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Traci Lords. She overcame being a drug-addicted underage porn queen to become a legitimate actress and singer. That's only half the story. There was childhood rape that damaged her and the moment her X-rated double life was exposed in the middle of a high school cafeteria... [You were born] Nora Kuzma, May 7, 1968, in Steubenville, Ohio. Why did you change your name? You didn't like...
TRACI LORDS: No, originally -- I started going by Traci Lords in 1984, and that was after I had run away from home. I came from a small town in Steubenville, Ohio, and early on, I had a lot of sexual abuse that had happened to me. I was raped when I was 10 years old, and then my mother's boyfriend started molesting me from the time I was, like, 10 until I was about 15. So I was...
KING: Were you overdeveloped at 10?
LORDS: I was... [I]t was definitely a curse. At least, I saw it like that when I was a little girl because I had all of this sexual energy thrown toward me. I didn't really know what to do with it. And then, you know, the very traumatic experience of being raped as a child, you know, filled me with shame and a lot of guilt. And ultimately, it was one of the reasons that I ran away from home.
KING: And got rid of the name.
LORDS: Yes, and got rid of the name. I think I was trying to get rid of a part of myself that I saw as being very painful...
[T]here has been so much about me that has been said and so many, quote, unquote, "true Hollywood stories" done that have been anything but true, I really wanted to set the record straight. I thought I deserved to do that. And also, you know, two-fold, there is such a huge epidemic in this country right now, with teenage prostitution and pornography, that I think that the other side of the story really needs to come across and be told... I don't think that there is one human being in this world that would wish, you know, to be injured as a kid the way -- in ways that I was...
KING: What age did it start, your abuse?
KING: And it was your father?
LORDS: No, it was a boy from school, an older boy that I had a crush on. He was 16 and I was 10 years old. I mean, you don't really have a boyfriend when you're 10 years old... But you have those feelings and you giggle like a little, innocent kid would. And when someone, you know, violates your trust...
KING: Did he physically... enter you?
LORDS: Yes,... he violated... me [at age 10], and the whole trust issue and what that does to a child, I think it's so destructive because -- I mean, at least in my case, and from what I understand, it's a pretty typical reaction to blame yourself for everything that's happened.
KING: Did you report it?
LORDS: No. I didn't tell anyone. That was one of the huge things that I talk about in the book. I took on that shame for so long and thought that it really was all my fault.
KING: Your father was violent, though, with your mother, right? I mean, you had a turbulent childhood.
LORDS: I did. My parents split up when I was really young. And my dad -- I don't think that -- that my dad was a bad man necessarily. I think that he was someone that lost his dream, somebody that, you know, really took to the bottle. You know, he drank a lot. And he was somebody that was very angry, that had a really violent temper. So as a child growing up, I had this, you know, sexual abuse that was really violent. I had these thoughts in my head of, you know, This is what girls are for, this is what this is about. And then I had my mother's boyfriend, who I loved and trusted, you know, really betray me and start molesting me in my sleep and made me think I was even crazier. And ultimately, he was the one who took me to the nude modeling agency and said, Everybody starts out as a model this way. It was incredibly naive. It was really stupid, and...
KING: That... early sexual experience does what to you? Does what to someone?
LORDS: Well, when you're talking about something like rape, it fills your head with a lot of mixed messages.
KING: Anger at men?
LORDS: For me -- anger at men. You think that sex is violent. You have incredibly low self-esteem. You do take on all of that shame and all that stuff. To have a healthy, you know, outlook on life is really, really difficult. And it's taken me -- you know, at 35, it's taken me the last 17 years to get to the point where someone can ask me these kinds of questions without me totally crawling out of my skin.
KING: You don't think of it as love, though, do you?
LORDS: What's that, sex?
KING: Yes. When you're abused...
LORDS: Oh, God, no. No. There's nothing...
KING: Nothing to do with love.
LORDS: There's nothing loving about it, no. Absolutely not. For me, porn was about my pain in my life as a child. And I was completely acting out. I was a wild kid. I was angry at the world. And I was very rebellious, and I wanted to show everybody... I think I was punishing myself, more than anything...
KING: [...] You stole a birth certificate and adopted a new...
LORDS: No, I didn't.
KING: What's that about?
LORDS: I -- you know, that was, like, one of the many things that I started discussing at the beginning of this interview. There have been so many things said about me that aren't true... My story was sensational enough, and one of the frustrating things about listening to these shows and reading these interviews is that they made it even worse than it was... I was 15 years old, and [the new identity] was Christie Elizabeth Nussman, but it wasn't a stolen birth certificate. It was a birth certificate that was given to me... I was more of a teenager growing up. I was Christie, the assumed name, and I was Traci Lords, the sex star. And what I really was, ultimately, is incredibly lost.
KING: Yes. Where was your mother in all this?
LORDS: I was a runaway. You know, I ended up on the streets in Hollywood, living under overpasses... Actually, when I left and went to Hollywood, it was because I had already started doing, you know, the nude pictures.
KING: In Steubenville, Ohio?
LORDS: No, no, no. I was in California from the time I was 11 on... And when I left home, my mom and her boyfriend had broken up. And you know, the...
KING: How did you get...
LORDS: [...] I was 15... and I was looking for a job [in Hollywood], and I answered this ad for models. And the boyfriend, my mother's ex-boyfriend, actually took me there and convinced me that, Hey, Marilyn Monroe started out doing nudes. This is the way it works.
KING: Where was this?
LORDS: It was in Hollywood. And so I went into this agency with the fake ID that we just discussed. And you know, they said, Are you 21? And I went, Uh-huh. And it was a time, I think, in porn, in the early '80s -- this was '84 that this happened -- where, you know, if you said you were old enough, people kind of went, yes, OK, sure, you know? It wasn't -- it wasn't what the business, so-called, is today. Not that I have any connections to that business, but I've heard that after the whole thing that happened with the scandal, that they really carefully screen those girls, and which I think is perhaps the only good thing that maybe came out of some of the stuff that happened to me.
KING: How did you go from nude photos to porn?
LORDS: So shockingly easily that it is chilling to even think about. And in writing this book and going back to those days and remembering what that was like -- it was never intentional. I never set out to be a porn star. I never -- wasn't trying to do anything. I was stoned. I was on a set. I was supposed to be a girl in a bikini walking around the pool. And you know, I got high enough, a guy hit on me, and it was a filmed thing. And that was the beginning of my career in that world.
KING: And no one knew you were 15 or 16?
LORDS: Nobody really asked, at that point... There was one person at the beginning that said, you know, I need to see your birth certificate. I'm going to -- your ID, rather. I'm going to copy it. And everybody pretty much took his word for it, you know? So when the whole outcry about this happened, the whole porn world came out and said... you know, She's a manipulative little girl, and this is what she -- manipulative woman, and this is what she did, and she victimized us. And I always said, You know what? I wasn't unwilling. I was a girl, a young girl that was really confused, that was really angry, that definitely acted out. Yes, I lied about my age, but honestly, nobody really seemed to care that much. They wanted to make money.
KING: Was it hard the first time to pose nude?
LORDS: Yes, it was. It was. And cocaine was, like, courage.
KING: So this happened around the same time?
LORDS: Oh, it all happened at the same time, yes.
KING: Who tuned you on to that?
LORDS: The same agent that signed me up to do it, and the boyfriend, my mother's ex-boyfriend.
KING: So in many of the porn films, you'd be stoned while doing them?
LORDS: Oh, yes. As often as possible. I was stoned for about three years, from 15 to 18, almost constantly. I was suicidal. I was wild...There were times that I thought that it was fun, and who cares... I was fooling myself... [O]n the inside, I was a really scared, really hurt little girl...
KING: What was the first one where you knew it was a porn film?
LORDS: You know, I don't really have any vivid memories of any of it...
KING: I'm just trying to wonder what it's like to do that. In other words, do you feel like an actress?
KING: What do you feel like?
LORDS: For me, what do I feel like? I felt disconnected from my body, and I felt high a lot and I felt angry. I felt...
KING: Were you turned on or not turned on?
LORDS: It was never about being turned on. What it was about was about venting. It was about rage. It was about release. It was about, you know, a kid getting off on power, if anything. That's what it was about.
KING: Were you very good at it?
LORDS: I've been told that I was. It's something that's very hard for me to hear because when I have people come up to me that are fans --... the old porn fans. And when people come up to me just completely with nothing on it, they don't get where it gets me, and they say, Wow, I have all your old movies, and I love it -- it's like being... stabbed...
KING: What was the pay like?
LORDS: Very bad. You know, one of the things that... I wrote about in this book is there's this whole myth about how I became, you know, the highest-paid woman in that industry and that, you know, I had plotted to do all of this. But you know, I never made a lot of money in that business...
KING: At the height of your fame, when you were -- they would advertise it's a Traci Lords film, what would you make?
LORDS: Oh, you know, the entire -- that whole three-year period, you know, I maybe made $40,000 or something.
KING: A picture, $40,000...
LORDS: For three years, yes. But as much as people have said that I've done hundreds of movies and things, one of the main points that I make in this book is that that's not true. They were all compilations. You know, you make one film in one day, and they edit it into 50 different ones with different titles and pictures. And all of a sudden, they think that you made 50. There were maybe 20 films over three years -- as if that's not enough! But I've heard, She's made hundreds of hard-core movies, and she did this -- and it sounds like -- you know, I've read quotes and seen things. And maybe at that time, I perhaps even bragged that I did more than I did because that's who I was then...
KING: A different person.
LORDS: ... saying, yes, that's right. Go ahead. And at the same time, saying, Please, somebody help me. It was that dual personality... Heroin was not my drug of choice... Cocaine was. but my point is that, you know, drugs do give you a certain amount of numbness, and I think that that was absolutely what I was looking for. It was a way to escape the reality that I was in, and my reality wasn't all that pretty.
KING: Were you ever whacked out?
LORDS: I was always whacked out.
KING: I mean, ever where you needed help or you had to go to the hospital?
LORDS: Oh, yes. I was extremely suicidal. I was... you know, killing myself slowly. At the end of it all, in 1986, when the FBI actually raided my apartment, I was stoned on cocaine. And I was 90 pounds, and I'm 5-foot-7. So I mean, I was pretty much wasting away. That was really, like, the end of it. Yes, so I was pretty bad off.
KING: Always be able to afford it?
LORDS: No, it was always really hard to afford it. I think that that's what -- one of the reasons that I stayed in porn for as long as I did. You know, it was...
KING: To pay for the cocaine.
LORDS: Yes, it was my drug habit...
KING: Traci, did you miss your mother?
LORDS: Absolutely. Yes.
KING: Did you call her?
KING: She wouldn't tell...
LORDS: I would never speak to her. I would call her and hang up because sometimes I needed to hear her voice. I did miss my mother.
KING: How did she handle the knowledge of what you did when she found out?
LORDS: You know, it was really, really hard for me the first time I saw my mother after all of this, you know, because I was so mortified. I really was. And it was, like, sort of a crashing thing... But it took me years, really, to, you know, confront my mother and say, Why didn't you protect me when I was younger? You know, Why did you let your ex-boyfriend do this to me? And my mother said, I had no idea... And she said, I swear to you, I just didn't know. And we talked about that. You know, that was one of the main things that happened to me. I mean, the rape set me up because I was so destroyed over that. And then what he did to me, as I was really coming into my teens -- 12, 13, 14 -- it just kind of finished me off and it made me so PO'd that I felt really worthless.
KING: Was your mother ashamed of what you did for a living?
LORDS: [...] [S]he had no shame about that. What she was really mortified about was the fact that she hadn't been there to protect me... We did grow up in a difficult situation, what with, you know, my father's alcoholic behavior and the violence in the house. So yes, whenever kids grow up in that kind of environment, there are real problems.
KING: The porn...
LORDS: [...]... I work with Children of the Night... Dr. Lois Lee (ph) -- yes, she founded this organization in Los Angeles, and she helps -- she has a hotline that goes all across the United States. And it's, you know, child prostitutes. And these girls -- I've been working with her for about 12 years. But these girls, they're all Traci Lords. You know, they have all been molested in some way or another, and they've all been child prostitutes. They're between 12 and 16 years old, the ones that are in the house at the moment. And the one thing -- they've all read my book, which is really wild. But the one thing that they have all said to me is, Wow, you're OK now. That's their dream...
KING: [...] The book is "Traci Lords: Underneath it All." You mention suicide. In fact, I'm told you -- suicide runs a lot through the book, right?
KING: Did you ever come close?
LORDS: I remember driving down the street and not knowing how to really drive and using both feet because I couldn't figure out how to just use one, so, it was -- and being really high on cocaine and being really, really distraught and thinking and -- Pat Benatar's song, "Hell is for Children," which is one of the titles in my book. A lot of it is inspired by the music that I listened to when I was involved in that part of my life, and thinking, it would -- isn't that the truth? Hell is for children and it would be so much easier to drive off of a cliff. So the answer to your question is, Absolutely.
KING: You would rather drive off a cliff?
LORDS: No, suicide was something that was right there.
KING: I mean, have you ever given a thought? Ever sat down with pills? Ever come close?
LORDS: Yes. Yes.
KING: What stopped you?
LORDS: Well, It didn't stop me once. I mean, I od'd once and ended up in community hospital. I was always killing myself slowly anyway. That is what the porn and the drugs were about. I don't think that I really believed that I would live to be 21. I thought that it was, you know, live fast, die young, big deal. It was just kind of that kind of -- that destructive attitude.
KING: How did you get out of drugs and porn?
LORDS: Well, it happened in 1986. It was in May. And the FBI raided my apartment...
KING: How did you get into the straight world? What kind of -- did you go right for acting jobs? What did you do?
LORDS: Well, what I did was I really wanted to be an actress, and I was looking for a way to kind of, you know, another outlet to vent a lot of stuff. I was in therapy. I was doing a lot of time on the couch at that point, three or four times a week, trying to figure out, you know, how to stay alive, really. And I started studying acting at the Lee Strasburg Theater Institute in L.A., and, you know, with all the sense memory and stuff. And I remember early on that people thought, wow, you're really good at playing this angry scene or this -- or whatever. But it was just where I was at...
KING: Has anybody asked you to do a film, a mature film, not a porno film in which you were asked to be nude or in a sexual scene?
LORDS: Yes, that has come up a lot. Yes.
KING: You don't do it or will do it?
LORDS: You know, I haven't done it. The last time -- my first film that I did for Roger Corman in '86 after the scandal, right after "Wise Guy" was the last time that I was, you know, topless in a film. And the reason for that was that I wanted people to, you know, look at me as an actress. As naive as that was at the time, because it just wasn't happening. That's really what I wanted... But in a way, I think that that really worked for me because people did start to take me more seriously. I kept my clothes on. I've always said that if a fabulous role comes up and part of it is nudity -- my issue is not with nudity, I'm not trying to be a nun now or something. I just don't want to be exploited in that way anymore. So to answer your question, if we were talking about "American Beauty," I should be so lucky, it wouldn't be an issue. But if we were talking about the "B" list film down the road, I'm not interested in being the breasts of the film...
KING: Do you know why young girls prostitute themselves?
LORDS: I have never met one that hasn't been sexually abused by an uncle, by a father, by a boyfriend, by somebody. They all have that in common. That's what I meant earlier when I said there's so many Traci Lords out there. My story is so completely typical, by the book, profile. It's scary.
KING: You just got famous.
LORDS: I just did it in a way where it became -- yes, it became news. It became -- and you know, a lot of that really bothered me. I write about the fact that they made it a bit of an advertising campaign, because putting that porn star title in front of my name, because what they really should have been talking about is child prostitution. By putting that title in front of my name and saying this poor girl was victimized, and then putting pictures of me half- naked, which is what they did on the news, I thought was pretty disgusting.
KING: They were using you.
LORDS: They used me, too. So, I mean, the lines between -- who are the good guys here? Is it the FBI that waited three years, they were telling me they were gathering evidence, is it the news people who are saying this poor victim and then putting pictures of me half naked, of the victim, revictimizing me? Is it, you know, these pornographers that are saying, well, she lied to us? Well, yes, I lied to them, but then they went and sold the tapes for three times as much money...
KING: Did you ever find out what happened to your mother's boyfriend?
LORDS: No... [H]e did so much damage. And he was never punished for that, and I thought that that was really incredibly unfair..."
Source: "CNN Larry King Live": Interview With Traci Lords, July 14, 2003
(Transcript at cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0307/14/lkl.00.html).