October 12, 2010

Dian Hanson: To Boldly Go Where No Pornographer Has Gone Before

by Cole Riley

The Accidental Pornographer

Puritan coverIf you ask Hanson about her life, she says matter-of-factly: “Born in Seattle, dropped out of high school, left home at 17, married and divorced a couple times, was a respiratory therapist and left that in 1976 for a life of porn.”

Of course, that doesn’t say it all. Hanson has lived a life most would envy. As a child, she was always tall for her age and smart as a whip. Raised a vegetarian, her father was the head of a Christian-mystic cult, or as she likes to say, “right-wing eccentrics.”

Porn entered her life at the age of 10, when she discovered her father’s stash of girlie mags. “When I turned 18, I took my birthday money and bought The Illustrated Report by the Presidential Commission on Obscenity and Pornography (Greenleaf Classics), a filthy compilation of every deviant thing in [the form of a] scholarly report,” she recalls.

Leg Show “I’d seen it in the backseat of someone’s car, and had to have a copy for myself. It was banned shortly after I acquired it.”

To earn a living, Hanson became a respiratory therapist—boring, but it paid the bills. Fate had other plans for her, though. “I had a boyfriend in Allentown, Pennsylvania, who did advertising for adult bookstores. The bookstore owner wanted to make a magazine to rival Hustler, which was just a year on the stands in 1978, and very controversial. I quit my job and signed on. We moved to New York City and started Puritan, a hardcore “classy” porn magazine, with the notion that hardcore would be soon legal on newsstands, as it was all over Northern Europe.”

Halcyon Days

Hanson recalls the raucous “old pornography industry” with warm nostalgia. “It was a very forgiving business back in the late ’70s, early ’80s, when almost anything would sell to someone,” she says. “Magazines could afford to have staffs of more than two people because the demand was high and people expected to pay for porn. Because we were still discovering what the audience wanted, we were allowed to experiment with imagery. There was a lighthearted camaraderie that united the workers at the various New York magazines. We partied together after work at bars and sex clubs, where we were viewed as celebrities and given free entrée.”

Vanessa Del Rio: Photo by Barbara Nitke, 1984, from Vanessa Del Rio: Fifty Years of Slightly Slutty Behavior (Taschen)

On the flip side, almost everything in the sex industry was mobbed up back then. In fact, Hanson’s first publisher at Puritan was shot and killed in a Florida parking lot. And of course, those were the giddy days before the AIDS plague took hold.

While there was concern about her work, family and friends were for the most part, supportive. Though for a time, Hanson’s mother feared that she might be a lesbian. “We included photos of ourselves at work,” Hanson laughs, “and she kept seeing me hefting big breasts or putting make-up on bare butts. I think her fear of me being gay was greater than her fear of me working in the sex industry. She kept asking, “Wouldn’t you rather work at National Geographic?’ not really understanding that places like that would look less kindly on my spotty education.”

Hanson (currently married to British novelist Geoff Nicholson) admits that many men have been uncomfortable with her porn affiliations. “It takes a strong man to accept a woman who’s seen more pussy in the flesh than he has,” she laughs, “but I’m not really complaining. I’ve been very happy with my career and generally happy with my personal life.”

To be continued...

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