Don’t Blame It on Rio

Vanessa Del Rio made her last film 20 years ago. Yet people who weren’t even born then approach the 55-year-old

Vanessa Del Rio made her last film 20 years ago. Yet people who weren’t even born then approach the 55-year-old actress on the street and tell her how much her movies have meant to them. This month a book of her life’s work, signed by Ms. Del Rio and weighing 12 pounds, is selling for $400 ($1,000 for a special edition that includes a drawing by R. Crumb). There was a book party in SoHo on Nov. 8, to which Bill Clinton was invited.

The former president was, regretfully, unable to attend, but there was an impressive turnout—hotelier André Balazs, movie director Brett Ratner, fashion photographer Sante d’Orazio. At 6:30 p.m., Ms. Del Rio stepped out of a 1960 Cadillac Fleetwood and onto a red carpet. Her raven black hair was teased up into a bouffant, and she was wearing a gold Cleopatra necklace, a long velvet coat slit to the waist, a leopard-and-patent-leather corset, black velvet pants and stiletto heels. She was accompanied by her boyfriend, Vito, and her French bulldog, Matilda. There were cries of “Viva Vanessa!” as she posed for pictures and signed autographs.

Also in attendance were members of the New York porn community: female-friendly director Candida Royale; cross-dressing expert Veronica Vera; Cecil Howard (who directed Ms. Del Rio in Babylon Pink); and Jaime Gillis, star of Deep Throat 2, who was accompanied by his girlfriend, Manhattan restaurateur and PBS chef Zarela Martinez.

Only 1,500 copies of Ms. Del Rio’s book, Slightly Slutty Behavior, were printed. One copy contains a “golden ticket,” good for a night out with her, to be documented by a “world famous photographer”—the book’s publisher, Taschen, won’t say who, but it could be Terry Richardson, whose 2005 photographs of himself receiving what he called “the best blow job I’ve ever had in my life” from Ms. Del Rio appear in the book.

On the cover is an image of Ms. Del Rio taken right after she’d completed a different blow job, circa 1976. It’s a romantic moment—the member in question belonged to her boyfriend at the time, George Payne, and the two were in the first flush of porno love.

The folks at Taschen would not lend me a copy of the book, and so for three afternoons I planted myself on an Eames chair in Taschen’s SoHo store and examined hundreds of pictures of Ms. Del Rio doing unto others, and having done unto herself. I did my best to ignore glances from patrons checking out El Greco, Bruegel and Caravaggio. I became very familiar with Ms. Del Rio’s carnal mouth, behemothic breasts, fleshy rump and piliferous 1970’s pudenda.

In the introduction, Ms. Del Rio writes: “Why does everyone deny being a slut? Why is it acceptable for a woman to have sex for money and not acceptable to do it because she loves it? Or for money and because she loves it.”

Vanessa Del Rio (née Ana Maria Sanchez) grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx. Her God-fearing Puerto Rican mother worked in a factory; her Cuban father was a jeweler and philanderer. He used to beat his daughter with an electric cord, leaving bleeding welts. “He doesn’t love us, he doesn’t love us,” her mother used to say.

Ms. Del Rio had an aunt who was a flasher, always pulling up her skirt; an uncle used to molest her while playing “horsey” in full view of her mother. She remembers being 14 and going with her mother to a Spanish movie house on 42nd Street to see The Virgin Goddess, which starred Argentinian actress Isabel Sarli, “the woman no man could possess.” “I want to be just like that,” the young Ms. Del Rio thought.

At 16 she lost her virginity to her boyfriend, also a virgin. After her father walked in on them, he stopped talking to his daughter and soon moved out.

Ms. Del Rio dropped out of Catholic school and worked at an insurance company, where she slept with the 42-year-old boss. By 19, she was helping a boyfriend—”Larry the Outlaw”—steal cars. For two years they drove around the country, taking drugs and getting arrested. She turned tricks and collected unemployment to finance their adventures. Up in New Hampshire the couple was pulled over by a state trooper, and Ms. Del Rio had sex with him to get Larry the Outlaw off the hook. That wasn’t really the sort of thing she found romantic, so she struck out on her own. She worked as a barmaid, a go-go dancer, then a streetwalker around Times Square.

At 22, she met a porn agent and became Vanessa Del Rio. Her first day on the job, she did a “double penetration”—an act she is credited with pioneering on film. She says she was so aroused, she blew the hippie cameraman during a break.

For the next 12 years she acted in 8mm “loops,” 16mm “one day wonders” and 35mm motion pictures—120 films in all. She made $40 a loop (a dollar a minute) and $150 for feature films, which paid her rent on the Upper West Side. At first she was cast as maids, then finally, simply and magnificently, as herself (Viva Vanessa, Deep Inside Vanessa Del Rio).

She became known for ravenous blow jobs and a willingness to try new things, like having sex with “little people.” She made her share of “roughies”—films that involved bondage and rape scenarios. The biggest penis she ever sucked was Dick Rambone’s, but she refused to engage in anal sex with him, so they used a stunt ass.

The first thing she did every morning was smoke a joint. She’d get to the set by 6 a.m., sit around doing drugs, wait for her scene, wash up, do the next scene, then go home and end up at clubs like Max’s Kansas City, where the porn people mingled with celebrities. She gave blow jobs in bars and one night went home with five gypsies, all members of the same family.

Don’t Blame It on Rio