PORTER RANCH, Calif.—It wasn’t a convention, it wasn’t a movie premiere, but nonetheless the banquet hall at the Porter Ranch Country Club was filled to overflowing as family, friends and colleagues gathered on Friday to pay tribute to adult industry icon Russell “Russ” Hampshire, a Founder not only of the industry itself and the well-respected VCA Pictures, but also one of the first Board members of the Free Speech Coalition.
“I worked for Russ from 1996 for about ten years, till whenever Hustler bought them,” noted Bonnie “BonBon” LeBlanc. “Russ was amazing to work for. Russ would say to us all the time that, ‘You will never work for anybody better in this industry,’ and he was correct. He not only provided for all of his staff; he provided for their entire families as well. He took care of everything. When I had my kid, it cost me all of $100 and that was just for office visits. Russ covered everything else on it, so he was an amazing person.
“He would also pay us to vote,” she added. “He wanted to make sure our voices were heard, so if we voted, he gave us money for that. It was crazy; all these little things, he would have huge Halloween events where we would all dress up and he would have grand prizes and give everybody like $500 for the first place winner, and just really—nobody did that! He was great. He wanted it to be a family, and he was in every part of it. If there was help needed in the warehouse, Russ was in the warehouse boxing DVDs along with everybody else when it started.”
Hampshire’s stepson Mark Muus had arranged for his mother, Hampshire’s wife, and several VCA employees to speak at the memorial, the first of whom was Betty Hampshire, who began by thanking several people, including Michael Warner, Ron Braverman, Frank Kay, Steve Hirsch “and all my friends who helped me put this together for the last crazy three weeks… I couldn’t have done it without you.”
(Pictured: Betty Hampshire, back center, and to her left, sister Christina Howell.)
“I just want to mention real quick the day I met Russ, which was March 25, 1985, at Victoria Station, when he had his business on Pontius, and he was interviewing me as an assistant secretary,” she recalled. “During the interview, I kind of lied. He asked me if I type, and I said, ‘Yeah, I can type.’ And he asked me if I knew shorthand. I didn’t even know what that was. I said, ‘Yeah, I know shorthand.’ Anyway, I got the job, and I was hired on April 1, and any of you guys who’ve worked with Russ, you know his handwriting just sucked. I mean, everybody would go, ‘What is he saying? What does this mean?’ So he gave me this three-page order to type at 4:45 p.m. and asked me to get it typed and into the back to get shipped. Now, mind you, I came from the tool industry. My first day on the job, there’s titles like DMJ—Devil in Miss Jones; Every Woman Has a Fantasy—I’m like, ‘Wow, this is definitely weird.’ So I’m trying to get this order typed; I’m flying on that IBM Selectric; I’m flying; I’m making mistakes. He came over and he just turned the typewriter off and said, ‘Come in my office.’ And I just knew it wasn’t to be good. So I went in his office and he said, ‘Thanks for coming in. You’re not gonna work out, so thank you for stopping by.’ I wasn’t laughing. I started to get tears in my eyes; I go, ‘What? Are you firing me? You can’t fire me after one day! How can you know I’m not good to work with you in one day?’ And I got all worked up, and he goes, ‘April Fool! April Fool!’ I knew I was going to be in a long funny relationship with that guy. He did have a sense of humor; he did stuff like this quite often, playing practical jokes, and some people only know Russ as that roaring man who intimidated people, who wouldn’t put up with anything less than perfection from anybody, and that’s just the way he rolled, and when you did a great job, he thanked you, and when you didn’t, he let you know.”
Five years later, Hampshire invited Betty, whom he hadn’t even dated, to a couples retreat at Porter Ranch. At first, she demurred until he promised they’d have separate rooms; then she accepted and they had a wonderful time—and started dating after that.
“We got married in 1992 in the back yard of our Chatsworth house, with family and friends, and it was amazing.”
After they set up house together, Betty discovered a trunk with some of Russ’s military memorabilia, about which he’d had conflicting feelings.
“He came back [from the Vietnam war] as a hero, 20 years old, and was called a baby killer, nasty things, and we discussed this quite often over the years, and he was just very unhappy about it; it caused him depression,” she noted. “I want to honor Russ for being a hero.”
Next to speak was Jane Hamilton, at various times an actress, director and “Jane of all trades,” who lauded Russ for all the faith he’d shown in her.
“Russell was a legend,” she declared. “Long before I really knew him, I knew of him. He was VCA; he was a mover and a shaker way, way, way, way, way back when, when I was still in the movies. He was a person who had a great reputation, and I really fell in love with him when he agreed to distribute Candida Royalle’s pictures. It was this new concept called ‘couples movies,’ and he didn’t even believe in it, but he gave her a place to be, he gave her a shot, and this is what I know of Russell: He was always the guy who was willing to give somebody a shot. He was always innovative; he was always looking to the next edge, and he would go on a risk for somebody and he would do it especially for women, which is amazing… He gave women such an opportunity, and he let you do your thing. I mean, if you screwed up, boy, did he let you know! But he gave us the opportunity to prove ourselves and he gave us a place to be.”
Among the people whose careers either started under Hampshire or blossomed under him included Jim Holliday, Antonio Passolini, Mondo Tundra, Michael Dance, Michael Ninn, Rob Spallone, and “so, so, so many others.”
“And the talent that he gave us to work with was amazing: Kylie [Ireland], Chloe, the Julies—Ashton and Meadows—Stasy Valentine; these were all incredible women with loads of talent, and without VCA I’m not sure they would have reached the heights that they reached,” Hamilton said. “When Ginger [Lynn] and Marilyn [Chambers] decided to come back into the business, where did they go? They went to VCA because they knew that they would be in good hands, that they would be treated fairly, that they would be respected as artists.
“I just want to say, thank you so much, Russ; thank you for always running a top-notch operation,” she concluded. “Thanks for giving us all a home to be creative, to be proud of, to feed our families; thank you for seeing more in us than we often saw in ourselves. We love you and we miss you and we know you’ve got everybody in shape, wherever you are.”
Next at the rostrum was producer/director Rob Spallone, who told the audience that he’d been surprised to hear, in the late 1990s, that Hampshire had wanted to talk with him. Turned out Hampshire had been made aware of a dispute between Jim South, owner of the World Modeling talent agency, and Spallone, who’d started a fledgling agency himself to, in his words, “bust [South’s] balls.” Hampshire brought Spallone and South together in a meeting where Spallone agreed to close his agency, South agreed not to charge Spallone an agency fee for the models Spallone used, and Hampshire offered Spallone a contract directing gonzo movies for VCA, beginning in 1999.
“He had me shoot two gonzos a month for over a year and a half, and I made a lot of money with him,” Spallone said.
“Everyone here has some experience with Russ, and you may not agree with what Russ did, but… what Russell did, Russell did his way and Russell did what he perceived was the right way, and even if he was 80 percent wrong, he went about it 100 percent correct; he was not gonna waver off his course,” Mark Muus remembered. “When I was 16 in 1985, my aunt Christina Howell used to pick me up in Reseda and she would take me from my apartment to Pontius, drive over the grade to get off at Santa Monica Boulevard to go to VCA and as a 16-year-old kid, I got to work in the warehouse… The boxes and the laminated flyers and Beta and VHS on the shelves at the time—I’m 16 and, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I just won the lottery; where do I order?”
Hampshire expected a lot from his stepson, calling Muus into his office once a week to question what work he’d done during that time and “pulled out a crisp $100 bill, and I thought I was rich… What I’m trying to convey is, Russ was military about it; when I went into his office, I had to check the boxes, otherwise I didn’t get my $100 bill; maybe I got 50 bucks that week or 20 bucks. He busted my balls, and this is two years before he even met my mother, so I was just a kid who he let work in his warehouse.”
Muus conveyed that Hampshire really took the boy under his wing, doing everything from supervising the contractors who helped refurbish Muus’s first house—”Those guys worked on my stupid little Topanga house like it was the freakin’ Taj Mahal; they did so much good for that house because Russ had taught them and set the expectation in advance, he paid in advance and he made the standard clear of what it needed to be, and that’s the way it was going to go down.”—to helping Muus buy his first—and second and third—car and even bribing the bartenders at the Woodland Hills Country Club in 1997 to keep the bar open an extra hour for Muus’s bachelor party “that is not allowed to be talked about to this day.”
“He was very kind to me; he was a bit of a mentor, and he was very gracious with my family,” Muus concluded.
“Russ was my boss for many years, he was my close friend, my mentor, my business teacher, and a truly great example of someone who had strength and compassion for anyone who crossed his path,” assessed Wendy Nitz, who’d known Hampshire for 33 years and worked for him much of that time. “I loved him like family, and he was always ‘Uncle Russ’ to my daughter Shawna and my son Jason… He was easy for me to talk to, and I knew he would always give me the best advice, if I liked it or not, because it not only came from his experience but it came from his heart. I have so many great memories and they all warm my heart. Russ did have the ability to scare the absolute hell out of anybody. You could hear the man roar from next door in Building B; you weren’t even safe if he was in Building A. But five minutes later, he could be sitting next to that person, just laughing and bullshitting and it had all been forgotten… I can’t tell you how many times he did roll his eyes at me, but I will miss that. And he really was the greatest boss. He was tough but he was always fair and he never asked anything of anyone that he himself had not done or would do. He was a man of honor and integrity; his word and his handshake held more credibility than any written contract or any agreement ever could.”
Nitz regaled the audience with several humorous anecdotes of her time at VCA, and noted that when VCA was sold to LFP and she opened her own business, Hampshire was always available to consult with her.
“Every business decision I’ve ever made has always had to pass only two questions: What would Russ do, and would my dad be proud?” she said. “And this hasn’t failed me once.”
The penultimate speaker was multi-award-winning director Michael Ninn, who recalled that Hampshire hired him at VCA after his stunning success with Black Orchid for Western Visuals.
“I did a movie called Sex, which was the first movie I did for VCA, and Russ got it right away,” Ninn stated. “‘Yeah, Sex, okay, Mike; that’s simple, that’s easy, it’ll sell.’ The second movie we did was called Latex, and Antonio Passolini went down to Russ’s office and said, ‘Michael wants to do a movie called Latex,’ and I could hear Russell screaming from my office, saying, ‘What the hell does latex have to do with sex? You can’t name a friggin’ porn movie Latex!’ So Tony came back to my office and said, ‘Russ said absolutely not, and he wants you in his office, and this may be a breaking point of you working with VCA.’
“So I went in to Russ and I said, ‘Russ, I need to do Latex.’ And he said, ‘But it doesn’t make any sense.’ And I explained to him, I grew up in a boys institution my entire life, and I said to Russ, ‘I could see out my window a woman putting on yellow latex gloves and she was beautiful and the kids were all sitting at the table’—I knew nothing about this life other than that was the perfect thing, and I explained to him I could see that out my window from the institution I lived in and I kinda saw him tear up and he said, ‘Send Tony in here,’ and I went back to my office and Tony came in about 20 minutes later and said, ‘What did you say to Russ?’ I said I just told him why I wanted to name the movie Latex, and he said, ‘Well, it worked. You have it.’ And so again, 50-whatever trophies [I got while working for] Russ, I thank you a million times for this incredible fucking journey I’ve been on; 28 years in the adult industry, he let me be everything I wanted to be, show the most beautiful stuff, never judged me. I truly thank him.”
The final speaker was Hampshire’s nephew Jeffrey Howell, now serving with the army’s Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) office.
“I too have known Russell a long time and have many, many, many stories I could share,” he began. “He used to drive me around in his Corvette listening to AM news radio ‘because only bums listen to music,’ and smoking cigarettes.”
Howell went on to talk about playing golf with Russ—and he felt about the iconoclast smoking in Howell’s new truck many years ago. He then introduced two army specialists who paid tribute to Hampshire by playing “Taps” and presenting Betty with a ceremonial American flag.
Several attendees at the memorial also shared their memories of Hampshire with AVN.
“Ohmigod I have so many memories of Russ!” said his sister-in-law Christina Howell. “I think my favorite one was when he first hired me. Back in the day, [VCA] was in Santa Monica with two buildings and I was hired to be their mail-order bookkeeper. That’s when he was very small. And after about three months, my boss at the time was Jack Nash, who’s a legend in the business; he goes, ‘I’ve got some bad news and good news for you.’ I said, ‘What?’ He says, ‘The good news is, you’re getting a raise. The bad news is, I’m losing you; you have to go over to the other building and work with Russ Hampshire, the owner.’ I had never met Russ. Jack said, ‘He wants you in sales because you increased our mail-order sales by I-don’t-know-how-much percentage.’ I go, ‘You’re kidding me!’ So I went over there, I started selling VHS and Betas to the retail stores.
“It was my second day there; I didn’t know anything from anything about sales,” she continued. “A big, big account of his called Star Video from back East called and said they didn’t get their shipment of Behind the Green Door with Marilyn Chambers. I didn’t even know what the hell that was, and the boss who was supposed to work with me had called in sick. So I went down the hall and I was intimidated; I didn’t know my boss Russ Hampshire, so I said, ‘Russ, somebody from Star Video says they didn’t get their shipment for a video called Behind the Green Door.’ He goes, ‘Lady, what? What do you mean?’ I says, ‘Sir, I don’t know what’s going on; I just took a message and this is the message.’ He got up, banged his head on the wall and he just walked down the hall to the video room I guess to find out what had gone wrong. Well, I was insulted, man, so I just went into my office, I got my purse and said, ‘I’m not working for this sick guy! How dare he talk to me and treat me like this,’ and I started walking out to the parking lot. He followed me all the way out and said, ‘You can’t quit!’ He says, ‘Where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m quitting.’ He says, ‘You can’t quit. You’re not gonna quit. I won’t allow you to quit.’ From then, I stayed with him, got Betty the job and they’ve been together forever.”
Former VCA employee Bruce Whitney (aka Whit Maverick) also had a sort-of run-in with his boss: “I have to say, the first time I met Russ was in a meeting with my then-supervisor, and Russ wanted something done a certain way, and when Russ wants something done a certain way, you are going to do it the certain way that Russ wanted you to do it, and my then-supervisor decided to pick a fight with Russ and argue the point, and I remember just sitting there watching it like a train wreck and thinking to myself, ‘I think I just got promoted.'” (Note: He did.)
Vivid Entertainment co-owner Steve Hirsch recalled Hampshire as, “A little gruff on the outside but very soft on the inside; one of the most generous men I’ve ever met and a great, great guy. And although we competed and we competed hard, I always had a direct line of contact with him and we used it.”
Likewise, Darren Roberts, the former co-owner of AVN who in the 1990s worked for the early adult website Babenet, which was housed in one of VCA’s buildings, recalled, “The people we meet throughout our lives all have something to teach us, and for me, Russ taught me what it meant to be honorable, honest and respectful.”
“Russ was like one of the best-known and one of the nicest guys in the business,” assessed top agent Mark Spiegler. “And also, he bought the first movie I produced, The Other Woman, with Jeanna Fine and Anna Malle.”
“What do you say about Russ?” asked special effects wizard (and former actress) Kerri Appleton, “I mean, Russ was a lot like a dad to a lot of us, especially to me, in the sense that he was always there with advice, he was always there with stories; he would always yell at you as you walked down the hallway because I was a publicist for VCA for a while as well as a contract girl, and everybody remembers the yelling; he would always yell at you. I’d walk out of his office so many times in tears and then you’d see him a few minutes later and he’d be like, ‘Oh, everything’s just fine.’ I remember at conventions, he’d just pull big wads of money out of his pocket and just roll off hundreds and hand them to girls and employees just as bonuses and thank-yous and I remember gambling with him and Betty—I think we were using $50 chips, which was scary, but it was somebody else’s money, so okay, right? The award shows, the limo rides—it gets a little fuzzy after you get in a limo with Russ and suddenly you’ve had a few drinks and then you don’t remember. I just know we had a lot of fun. He was a big part of my life, and I loved him; he was a good guy.”
Besides those named above, others who attended the memorial, which lasted about two hours, include Paul Fishbein, Frank Kay, Eric Guterman, Ron Braverman, Brad Armstrong, Jessica Drake, Steve Orenstein, Kevin Beecham, Jack Mendelson, Luc Wylder, Alexandra Silk, Jim Nitz, Michael Warner, Susan Colvin, Kelly Holland, Marci Hirsch, Cass Paley, Marianne Walter, Kimberly Wilson, Mischa Auer, Shawna McIntyre, Jared Buchanan, and Keith Gordon.