PORN VALLEY—Karen Summer: That's got to be a familiar name to fans of classic porn. After all, she appeared in, and occasionally starred in, 114 loops and movies between 1981, when she first stepped in front of the film cameras, and 1991, when she did her final three movies for Erotic Video Network. Well, guess what? She's back!
"I moved into my house here in L.A. in February," Karen told AVN in a recent interview, "and two weeks later, I was at 'Sin & The City,' which is a kinksters and fetish weekend in Vegas, and I ran into Nina [Hartley] and Nina's like—she's surrounded by like a bazillion people, and I'm just keeping it low key but I said, 'Hey, Nina!' And she looks at me, she goes, 'You know, I don't really remember'—and then she looks at me again and grabs me and then, of course, the first thing she does is grab my boobs. 'Why aren't you making money with these?' she said. 'You need to be back in the business.' So I said, 'We've got to exchange numbers; now's not the time to talk,' but I knew in a heartbeat, it just hit me, it was like, 'Hey, you know what? Maybe it is time!'"
Fact is, Karen was well-respected in her day, with a starring role in Confessions of Candy, a send-up of the character Carol Connors had earlier made famous, plus Hot Flashes, where Karen took part in six of that movie's 18 scenes that ranged from solos to orgies; Mouthful of Love and Sexbusters, where she appeared in five scenes for each; Looking for Love and Looking for Lust, in each of which she managed three hardcore scenes; and even Juliet Anderson's directorial debut, Educating Nina, which was Nina Hartley's very first movie. We could go on, but it should be clear that Back In The Day, Karen Summer was a sex machine.
"I never could watch my own stuff," she said wistfully. "It's weird, but you see yourself from angles that you don't normally see yourself from. It's like, 'What? Is that me?' And you're with your man at the time, and he's like, 'Yup, that's you,' and you're like, 'Really? That's what it looks like? Okay.' Back then, we used to do premieres at theaters, and the first time I ever saw my pussy 40 feet wide on a screen, I was like, 'Oh my God!' and I had to run out of the room. You're just not ready for that. It's as funny as hell and scary at the same time."
We asked Karen how she got into XXX in the first place—and were unsurprised by the answer.
"I was actually doing stand-in, photo-double, extra work for the regular movie industry," she explained. "My whole family was in it, and so I was actually a production assistant and a stand-in on Dukes of Hazzard, the last three years it was on. Daisy Duke had her own stand-in, but I stood in for most of the rest of the female stars. I'd grown up with the assistant director, and you know, that whole business is nepotism. Anyway, here we are on our last season; my girlfriend, who was my best friend in school—we lived down the street from each other, grew up in Tarzana and Encino—is working as a cocktail waitress at El Torito when it was on Ventura Boulevard. After work one day, I go by the bar to pick her up, because we're going to go out that night, and who's sitting in there, surrounded by a bunch of young women, but Jim South? And he approaches us and asks if we would be interested in doing modeling. And within a week, I'm off of the Burbank backlot and I'm, you know, naked! Saying 'How you doin'?'
"As you know, back then you started by nude modeling; you didn't go right into movies; it was nude modeling," she continued. "And if you were comfortable and you wanted to make more money, of course, you did porn. And the first film we ever did [Shades of Ecstasy, directed by the famous Hal Freeman]—my girlfriend went by the name 'Mona Page'—we wanted to be more comfortable, so we told her mother, who was a real estate agent, because my dad's in the business, that they wanted to film a commercial and she's going to make $300 if we let them film out of the house that day since she's going to be at work. So as her mother's pulling out, you know, leaving for work that morning, we're like 'Bye-bye,' and up backs a porno truck with all these people in the townhouse. I think the last people were pulling the last lighting and cables out as her mom was coming in from work that night, and we're sitting there trying to scrub out faces and everything, and dress like kids, like the 20-year-olds that we were then."
But though Karen's worked for some of that era's greats—Jack Remy, Larry Revene, Svetlana, Godfrey Daniels—did multiple movies for Bruce Seven and appeared in one of John Stagliano's first directorial efforts, Bare Elegance, her all-time favorite director remains the late Kirdy Stevens.
"Honestly, everything I ever did for Kirdy Stevens, I love them; they were like family to me," she said. "Every time I got the opportunity to work with him, I jumped at the chance. He's was a great man. I knew his family, his kids. He was a great director. His wife was wonderful. You went to his house, and they treated you like family.
"They [other producers] called me 'Ricky Lane' for the first couple of things I did," she explained. "Then they said, no, that was too young, it would box me in. Okay, fine. My real middle name is Michellie, so they said, 'Okay, go by Michelle Lee.' Well, there's a real actress out there by that name, and we didn't want to cause chaos, so I sat down with Kirdy Stevens and said, 'I've got to get a name that I'm going to stick to.' I probably was in the business for a good six months or so before that, and everybody always called me 'Sunshine.' So I was like, 'Okay, I want a name that sounds like a name that I can answer to,' and we came up with 'Karen Summer.' There was no other 'Summer,' no other 'Karen' then. Now, I understand there's quite a few. People take what's good and build on it. I'm complimented by that, but I am the original Karen Summer."
In all, Karen was in five Kirdy Stevens movies, including Taboo 4 and 5, Playing With Fire, Daisy Chain and The Animal In Me.
"I loved working with Ginger Lynn in those Taboos," she sighed. "I'm most comfortable with my people. Ginger is like family; Amber [Lynn] is like family, Nina is family. It's funny what people remember about you, like I said with that thing with Nina at the XRCOs: she grabs me and turns around and hollers to the room, 'Do you know it was 30 years ago this month this was my first woman I ever was on film with?' I'm at the XRCO Awards the first time and I'm running into Amber. Of course we've tweeted and chatted, texted, and she grabs me and goes, 'Ohmigod, Karen, it's like having my sister home.' Then she says to the crowd, 'Do you know this woman taught me to give head?' I was like, 'Ohmigod, the oddest things—I'm always glad to give a helping hand, you know.' It was funny. Ginger was talking about the first time—it was Taboo 4, we got to play sisters and we had just so much fun, because at that time, we wore the same size clothes—same size, same height, same everything."
After Karen left XXX in '91, she continued feature dancing at clubs, spending as much as 40 weeks a year on the club circuit, and she just got tired of it.
"Finally, I landed in Florida, and honestly, I just decided to give myself a break, and I had family out there, and I said, 'You know what...?' And then all of a sudden I went, 'Hey, this is kind of cool not being on a plane every week.' And the next thing you know, push comes to shove, I was just dancing locally, incognito so to speak, and I met a gentleman, I got married, I decided to quit doing everything. I went to school. I became a paralegal. I did that for years in Florida. I worked for three different types of firms, three different types of attorneys.
"And then life went on," Summer continued. "We were trying to start a family and this, that and the other thing, and it ended up, my husband and I got divorced in 2000, and we still remain great friends but we never did have children, and I decided, 'Okay, it's time to shake it up again.' So I went back to school and I got into the healthcare field. I've got a nurturing mommy heart and I didn't have my own kid so this way I get to take care of people, and I really wanted to become a hospice nurse, so I got to work in the healthcare field."
Karen provided hospice care for both of her parents in their final days, and it was her dad's passing at his home in Los Angeles that inspired her to move back here, get back into adult, and get a new agent: Ben Fisher of 877xagency.
"I haven't done anything in the industry yet, but Ben's helping me get my feet wet, since he's like family to me," Karen said. "I'm just getting my promo pictures together; I've got my Twitter account, @KarenSummerXXX; I've got my Facebook page; I'm going to have a website up soon; I'm getting some promo shots done, but I don't have anything set up yet. I have some interviews set up; I'll be doing XXX Porn Star Radio on Wednesday nights, my own two-hour spot on Hump Day between 6 and 8 Pacific time. I can talk all day long, plus I'll get the opportunity to speak to people because they'll be able to call in and talk to me. I'm working on licensed merchandise, and I understand I'll be inducted into the Legends of Erotica Hall of Fame."
Karen's also into BDSM in her personal life—she describes herself as a "collared power sub"—and she hopes to get some directing gigs with BDSM companies like Bizarre Video. But whatever she decides and wherever she goes, she's sure of one thing: "Summer's coming, and there ain't nothing hotter than Summer."