(Editor's Note: When most women admit that they work in porn, the assumption is that they are performers, but the adult industry encompasses many facets—film, Internet and print. One of the most powerful and enduring figures behind the scenes is Dian Hanson. From her days in the trenches at skin mags to her current gig as "Sexy Editor" for high-end art Publisher, Taschen, Hanson has steadily aimed a keen eye and discerning mind at the sexual universe, often with breathtaking results.
In the first installment of this two-part interview, Cole Riley talks to Hanson about the glory days of the porn industry and how she found herself in the business.)
It was a matter of fate. I was looking for a job, any job, as I stepped into an elevator in a Times Square office building early one morning. The neighborhood had yet to change from the legendary seedy sex district into the gaudy neon Vegas strip it is now. The man who would become my boss was lamenting the lack of candidates for an editorial position. I spoke up and followed him out of the lift. We talked about my writing skills, joked about the freewheeling atmosphere of the place, and the purpose of his publications. All smut. I was hired as a writer for the mythic Oui magazine.
This was the Golden Age of Porn. You could look up from your desk to see Vanessa Del Rio, Erica Boyer, Samantha Fox, Lisa Be, Sharon Mitchell, Susie Nero and Anna Ventura being interviewed on their latest movie, or taking a break from a stint from dancing at Show World around the corner. One of the first people I met was Dian Hanson, a tall, gorgeous blonde who seemed self-assured, eternally pleasant, yet no nonsense. She was patient with me while I learned the ropes of writing the sexual fantasies that filled the letters section in the front of the magazine.
Hanson’s skills and savvy quickly garnered her a serious reputation for helming fetish magazines such as Leg Show, Juggs and Big Butts. “It’s devastating how well Dian understands male sexuality,” underground cartoonist R. Crumb (who, along with artist Joe Coleman, and assorted other gents, once dated Hanson) told a reporter. “She caters to perversions with an expertise that’s scary.”
The Accidental Pornographer
If 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.
“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.”
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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