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Kelly Nichols was born Marianne Walter, on 8 June 1959. She grew up in West Govina, California, often emulating her five older brothers and becoming known as a tomboy. Soon after turning eighteen she moved to Los Angeles where she planned to attend art school. In order to pay her fees she answered an ad in The Free Press asking for models. The photo sessions took place in a message parlour and would usually end with the photographers paying the models for sex.

“I was there for a week, just taking pictures, not letting the guys touch me. I wasn’t making money. The other girls were coming away with $500 a night. So one girl finally told me what was going on. So I quit. But I was advanced enough that taking my clothes off in front of guys didn’t bother me. And I was making $50 a night instead of $25 as a secretary.”

Kelly then answered an ad in Sunset International for nude models that led to “my first professional modelling jobs. Boy, some of the doozies they threw at you! Little girl from the suburbs and you have photographers chasing you around the house. Craziness! But it was good training.” “I started off working with Hal Guthu, who also did nudes of Demi Moore.” This eventually resulted in two photo spreads for Penthouse, once as Pet Of The Month.

By now Kelly was taking acting classes, and in 1978 appeared in the mainstream movie ‘The Toolbox Murders’. “I was the girl who gets murdered in the bathtub in ‘Toolbox Murders’. That’s how I got my Screen Actors Guild card… I was getting paid for it – but I wasn’t that excited about it because I don’t want to be a straight actress. Bob Veze, my mentor, was always very frustrated with me because he thought I could be Demi Moore – who came out of his studio. But I didn’t want it that bad, and you have to want it bad to exist in Hollywood. You’ve got to be willing to go to all the auditions. I went to auditions, and I hated them.”

“I didn’t want to fuck to get a part. I just didn’t care that much. Instead I’d say, ‘I don’t need the part. Just invite me to one of your parties – then I’ll fuck you!’ I mean the whole casting couch thing – there was more crap like that going on in straight Hollywood than in porn. There were more people that wanted parts so bad – and people would hold that over their heads. I had one experience with a very famous producer. He really liked me, and it was one of those times when I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, so I was fucking him. He was trying to promise me things, but I told him, ‘I’m just here because I want to be.’ The producer was trying to tell me, ‘This town sucks!’ I was like, ‘No, life is pretty good.’ He goes, ‘I’ll show you. Just stay in the other room.’ He makes a phone call and this little girl comes over. She stands outside his office and starts unzipping her top. She goes in. Brings her portfolio. He talks to her then has me come in and meet her – and then he kicks her out. He says, ‘That girl is fifteen and a half. Her mom dropped her off and parked down the block. She was super upset when she left because her mom wanted her to stay longer. You know why? Because she wanted her daughter to fuck me. That’s the town you’re living in.’”

The occasional bit part in films and the odd nude modelling didn’t pay the bills though, so by 1979 Kelly was also working as a make-up artist. “I started as a make-up artist in L.A., but then I did a girl/girl [sex] scene to get money to go see my boyfriend, Barry, in New York City. So I did not see it as a career move. This was just something to make money, like nude modelling… But when I got to New York, Barry didn’t look like Barry. He’d completely cut his hair, and bleached it bright yellow. Real punk. He lived in one of those god awful apartments on 71st and Columbus – you know, you walk in and there’s the bunk bed and a bathroom over there and a window to jump out of – except it’s facing bricks!”

“This is what I walk into: Barry needed money for rent. He’s already months behind. So already I’m right back in the pattern. We go to his work. Well, the theatre he’s working at is Show World. And he’s not a projectionist; he’s an actor on stage. And he’s been fucking Serena, who I knew when she was a nude model… Serena was a nude model with me in Los Angeles… I used to love to look at her because she looked like a drawing… Just gorgeous! I thought, ‘That’s what I wanna be when I grow up.’ I’d given up everything I had in L.A. to come out to New York. I wasn’t prepared for this.”

Through her boyfriend she became involved with drugs for the first time. “When I get to New York, I’m just with Barry. So whatever he says goes. I will follow his lead. If he snorts it, I’ll snort it.” Barry was unstable and unpredictable at the best of times, and with both of them high, things reached crisis point one night in a club. “I snorted what I thought was coke – and that was the end of me. Barry says I walked away with somebody. I don’t know; I was so angry with him later on, but I realised he was also under the influence. But he should’ve protected me. I don’t know what I expected, but I ended up with my clothes off, in a room apparently under the club. Some poor guy was handing me my clothes and trying to get me outta there. I don’t remember any of it. I just felt really sick and violated and – and just awful. It was the first time I got raped. My pants and panties were torn; I had to use my shirt to cover myself. I had no money. I didn’t know how to get to where I lived… Some time in the morning, I stumbled home and sat outside the door. Barry finally came home three hours later… He was angry with me for some reason, I don’t know why. I was the one that got abandoned. So Barry talks me into going to work at Show World.”

“It was kinda fun working at Show World; it was like I was in theatre. Barry was a good actor. It was funny. He put on some little shorts and put a collar on my neck with chains. I wore some little Danskin spandex thing, which would later be torn off me. And some whips and stuff. But it was not sex. It was just goofy stuff. They were paying us 60 dollars a show or so, but Barry had a friend there named Tim Connelly and his girlfriend Helen Madigan. Helen and Tim were doing the sex shows, and they were cool as cucumbers… I started to feel okay after I met them; seeing another couple that acted like all this was normal made it more normal.”

Despite the money they were making at Show World though, most of it was going on drugs and by mid-1980 they had serious financial problems. “Barry got us thrown out of the apartment on 71st and Columbus, so basically we were on the street. I was paying the rent; we’d go to nice restaurants, and I’d pick up the tab. I wanted it to be okay between us. At some point, though, I ran out of money. Then Barry heard that somebody was gonna do a porn film (‘Bon Appetit’, 1980). It turned out to be this sweet little gay guy named Chuck Vincent. Chuck took a look at me and said, ‘Oh, this is great. You’re a Penthouse Pet,’ which I had been when I was nude modelling… And Chuck Vincent loved the fact that I could do dialogue.”

“Barry and I, who are married at this point, are literally on the streets, living in a hotel off 42nd Street… The Chuck Vincent film had a really complicated plot, so Barry insisted that we get $4,000 up front. Chuck was very cool; he gave us the four grand. He was going to pay me $16,000, so we could get a fresh start… Well, Barry flips out. All of a sudden he gets righteous: ‘Now we have the money; let’s split.’ He wants to leave. It was really weird; I still had a moral code – these people had paid us money. They deal with banks. They could lose more than their asses. And we made a promise… We ended up having a huge fight, with him crying on the floor screaming at me, begging me not to do porn. So Barry’s outta my life. He just goes away.”

“They wanted me to be the lead… I had no confidence left and this helped restore it… My first sex scene was funny because they threw at me [gay porn actor] Jack Wrangler. Jack and I are friends now, but then I didn’t know what to expect. They’d set up the whole situation, like, ‘He’s gay, so be kind’. We were supposed to have sex in a car. I knew I should probably get him hard, but he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it myself.’ He got himself hard and said, ‘Now, when I say now, I want you to put your head down there, right around it, and I’ll just come on your face.’ It was all done for me.”

With her marriage to Barry over, Kelly slipped further into drug and alcohol abuse. Tim Connolly would later recall: “One day Helen and I were doing shows at Show World, and Kelly Nichols came to see us – and ended up on stage with us. Kelly was high, really high – speed or coke or PCP or something. I was really high, too; it was one of those moments where I just thought, ‘I’m going to be in trouble later.’ Here’s Kelly, this available woman who wants to fuck. And here’s my girlfriend, who’s really high and is throwing herself into the moment because she can feel this energy exchange between us and she just wants to be in the middle of it because otherwise she’s going to be left out. I fucked Kelly onstage… Did I fall in love with Kelly Nichols? Absolutely, immediately! She was the love of my life at that point.”

According to Kelly: “I’d met Tim through Helen, who I became friends with while I was with Barry… I went out and hung out with them as a couple. What I didn’t know was that things were blowing up between them. Tim was working hard… Helen was partying a lot. And their scene was quickly deteriorating… We were two lonely souls who hadn’t found ourselves yet, and our view of life was that it was just the two of us against the world. So Helen moved out, and I moved in.”

Drugs were an integral part of their relationship. “Angel dust was my drug of choice. I turned Tim onto it… Then we both find out we like to fuck on it.” Despite Kelly having become an established and extremely popular porn star by this point, money remained a constant problem. “I’m going through this kind of weird moral quandary because I have a girlfriend who’s hooking, and she wants to know if I want to try it. So I try it a couple of times but I don’t like it. Tim was just like, ‘Whatever brings the money in.’”

Despite continuing drug and alcohol problems, Kelly appeared content in her marriage to Tim. “My first husband met me after I’d done some skin magazines. There was always some bone of contention, some kind of jealousy happening. It seems to happen with men in general, and I don’t blame them. It all comes down to that, if I had to, I could always sell my body and make money. And men – unless they’re gay – can’t. But my second husband [Tim Connelly] worked at Show World in a live sex show. He has sold his body, he’s been there. Also, he used to live with Helen Madigan, who was a porn star for a while, so he’s dealt with porn star trips. He was with Helen four years before he got me… So he got to understand that side of it. These relationship problems happen so often in porn. Even the nicest guy will just at one point get jealous of your career, not understanding it’s just a job. Now if I come home I can tell my old man, ‘Hey, I couldn’t believe it. Today on the set I came with Michael Knight.’ And he’d go, ‘Really, wow!’ I’ve never seen a man who hasn’t been there himself able to absorb it on a gut level.”

The turning point for Kelly came in 1980 when Seka exploded onto the porn scene. “We were all amazed with Seka, this new girl who was starting to make loops. She was the first woman who had an inkling of what a woman’s career could be in pornography. The rest of us were little round pegs not fitting into square holes because we never looked at what we were doing as a job; it was just a passage to something else. We were just doing this until we figured out what we were gonna do next.”

“I started to get hold of my life. After ‘Games Women Play’ (1981) I had to be in a real good film, and ‘Roommates’ (1981) put me right up there.” ‘Roommates’, also directed by Vincent, became her favourite and perhaps most famous film. In his analysis of the industry David Flint writes: “’Roommates’ was a hugely ambitious soap opera, with Samantha Fox, Veronica Hart and Kelly Nichols as the main characters whose lives are explored throughout the film… ‘Roommates’ is the ideal film to show to anyone who doubts the artistic potential of the adult film genre. Take away the sex, and this film would still stand up as a fine dramatic piece, with excellent performances from the leads, a strong story and slick production qualities… Intended as a crossover film, ‘Roommates’ did manage to play some mainstream cinemas, and was reviewed by mainstream critics – something that had generally ceased to happen since the heady days of the early Seventies.”

Around 1982 Kelly and Tim split up and she moved in with her friend and fellow porn star, Samantha Fox. Samantha would later recall: “She was a really good roommate… We used to work out together, and one of the fun things we did, we used to have [porn actor] George Payne come over and give us massages, and he had this one trick: he would strap a Hitachi vibrator under his jaw, had a chin-strap running around his head, and then we would lay down side-by-side and he would give us head, and we would make comments – ‘That’s pretty good’ – like commenting on his new invention.” The two of them acquired party-girl reputations within the industry, and their alcohol and sex fuelled lifestyle became legendary. “We’d look at each other at the end of the night and hop into bed together, and the guys couldn’t keep up with us!”

Despite her growing success within the industry though, Kelly never felt comfortable with her fame as a porn star. “I didn’t know I had a pretty face and I hated my body. So how could I think I was a porn star, making my body naked and putting on make-up and being called beautiful? I go though binge-purge periods, generally in conjunction with certain things I do. For example, around the time I made ‘The Mistress’ (1982) I had just had several horrible things happen to me, and I put on weight. This was around the time I joined the Marines. I went through the physical and got accepted. That’s what Chuck Vincent wrote ‘Puss ‘N’ Boots’ (1983) about. He owned the title but never had a story to go with it, so when he heard about my joining the Marines, he flipped and decided to do this film. I was so freaked out that I needed something from the outside to tell me what to do. My parents weren’t around and I was emotionally paralysed, incapable of handling my own life. All sorts of weird stuff had happened to me – a bad relationship, a horrible abortion, an attack on my house. It had nothing to do with the business. It was that my own life was not formulated in anyway I could recognise… I’d go to shoots and drink because I needed to feel calm. I think 25 was a watermark year, because you’re a quarter of a century old, and you think, ‘What do I do when I grow up? In five years I’ll be 30, and people aren’t going to tolerate this.’”

Kelly’s stint in the Marines didn’t last and she soon returned to the adult industry. Between 1983-1985 she starred in over 25 porn films and a number of mainstream B’ movies. According to Kelly the hardest part of being a porn star was the effect it had on her private life. “When you first meet a guy, how do you tell him you’re a porn star? But you have to – eventually. And it has to be before it’s gone too far, or they feel bamboozled. There has to be a fine timing, between where they just look at your tits and look at you as a slut – and where they think of you as a person. And if you really like them, it changes the dynamics, and it’s really strange. You’re just marked for life.”

Nevertheless, in 1985 she met fledgling screenwriter John Skipp, and decided to retire from porn films. They settled in rural Pennsylvania and had two children. “Samantha Fox is like me. We’re both excess people. I’ve had a bout with drugs. Samantha did too. You have to find a substitute. For me it was having a base. I finally found someone – my husband – who could totally complement me, give me the strokes that I need in certain areas and push me in others. I come from a big family, so I found that I need people around me. When I was single I’d seek company but it wasn’t always the right kind.”

Kelly and John later moved in Los Angeles in the late 1980’s when his screenwriting career began to take off with films such as ‘Nightmare On Elm Street 4’. Their marriage didn’t last though, and she eventually divorced for the third time. In 1992 she returned to adult films and over the next few years starred in a number of bondage and domination movies. She eventually quit in 1995, reverted to her real name and became romantically involved with pornographer Wesley Emerson. She now works as a make-up artist for adult and mainstream productions.

Kelly Nichols starred in some of the best adult films of the early 1980’s: ‘Games Women Play’ (1981), ‘Roommates’ (1981), ‘The Mistress’ (1982), ‘Puss ‘N’ Boots’ (1983), ‘In Love’ (1983) and ‘Public Affairs’ (1983). Nevertheless, despite being one of the most popular starlets of her time, drug and alcohol problems, along with general mismanagement, meant that she wasn’t selective with her roles. This is something she acknowledged at the time. “If you want to last in this business more than five years, do not do what I am doing. Do not cash in… If you want to last ten years, do not party heavy. Space out the films. Otherwise, you’re going to overdose the public. I learned that working with magazines. Guys do not want to jerk off all the time to the same girl.”

Nevertheless, despite her often-turbulent time as a porn star, Kelly has no regrets. “The industry has given me the best clarity I’ve ever had. I have a street sense I never had before. I have a home base, a husband, and money in the bank. And I have an insight into my own sexuality that, considering my repressive background, I never could have had otherwise. This industry which has made so many people crazy has made me sane.”