'Barely Legal:' Hustler Video's Hero Line

Jun 6, 2011 5:00 PM PST

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — “It’s been our hero line for so long,” says Drew Rosenfeld, Hustler Video’s creative director. “‘Barely Legal’ is synonymous with Hustler.”

Created by the late LFP photographer, Clive McLean, the series is barely 12 years old. Yet its phenomenal success — it’s one of the few porn brands known to the mainstream — has spawned scores of imitators. One of the very first young girl lines, it turned out to be far and away the most influential.

“It’s a top seller for us on all levels,” Rosenfeld said. “TV, broadcast, on the web at BarelyLegal.com, it is our No. 1. And certainly for DVDs it’s in the top tier every month.”

McLean and Larry Flynt shared the initial vision for “Barely Legal” and, as creative director, Rosenfeld has strived to maintain that vision through multiple directors. Flynt, he emphasized, is still “very hands-on” with the line.

According to McLean’s widow, Erica, Clive came up with the idea of videos based on LFP’s chart-busting, young-girl sex magazine. That was in 1999 and, she remembers, “There was no video department. We were the pioneers.”

About a year later, after they reached Vol. 6, the series had already climbed to the top industry sales charts. “We didn’t expect it,” McLean continued. “We wanted to bring Clive’s photography to life, make a story from it. We were just happy to do it, ’cause it was fun, a whole exercise in erotic filmmaking.”

Its signature vignette style was created early on. “What happened is some of the girls didn’t know how to deliver their dialogue, or some of them would just split afterwards, so we made it where I did all the voice-overs. ‘My first time in the circus was amazing. I went backstage and the strongman was really strong and had hard muscles…’ That made it easier. We were able to shoot it without having to stop and have the girls read it.”

The McLeans searched far and wide for willing newcomers. “Most of the people we worked with were not in the industry,” she said, “and ten years ago there weren’t as many young girls coming in as there are now. Today it’s a constant flow of 18, 19, 20-year-olds.”

The series gave many beginners a push to porn divadom, including Monica Sweetheart, Aurora Snow, Ashley Blue, Gauge, Cytherea, Jenna Haze and a “chubby” young Belladonna.

Together, Clive and Erica shot 50, five-scene volumes of “Barely Legal,” plus several spinoffs (“Barely Legal Summer Camp,” “Barely Legal Innocence”). “We were just preparing to do ‘Barely Legal 51’ and he was diagnosed,” Erica said. He died of cancer in 2005.

A friend, director Jane Waters, picked up the slack for Vols. 51-52, and then Erica took over for five more installments. Andre Madness, who was already shooting for Hustler, was then assigned the series, turning out 10 volumes in 2006.

Erica came back on board to direct the next 26 installments, including the one-of-a-kind Vol. 75, a tribute to her husband, featuring a stellar array of guests who reminisced about working with him.

When she transitioned to feature films (“Hardcore Circus”), the series was taken over by Hustler photographer Matti Klatt, a longtime associate of Clive’s. When Klatt (Vols. 95-108) moved on, Rosenfeld looked around for a successor and decided on Otto Bauer, who had made several series appearances as a performer, beginning in Vol. 43 with wife Audrey Hollander. (They were also among the stars paying tribute to Clive in Vol. 75.)   

“Otto’s always been known to be a little wild,” Rosenfeld said. “We’re not as wild as Otto, so we had to have that conversation before we got started. But it’s fun to work with him. He brings a little more edge. The way porn’s progressed since 1999, it’s gotten a little edgier, and we want to be current too.”

Most importantly, he feels that Bauer, as a performer himself, brings a “comfort zone” to the new girls. “These are all girls that more often than not have never been in front of a camera crew; they’re nervous, and if you don’t have a director who’s aware of that, who knows how to make them feel comfortable and enjoy what they’re about to do, then the whole thing comes off a little weird,” Rosenfeld said.

 “I can speak the language that a straight director can’t,” Bauer explained. “I can say, ‘Baby, I understand, ’cause I’ve been there. I know this is a difficult scene but guess what, I did it two months ago. This is something you can do.’”

For Otto (who also performs in the series), the key to a great scene is when “the girl makes the decision that she’s gonna fuck the guy and it’s honest and it’s sincere. It’s a real moment in the girl’s life that plays in her eyes. It tells the truth. The viewer at home can see that this isn’t something this girl does all the time.”

Bauer isn’t burdened with talent searches. “We do the casting internally,” Rosenfeld said. “A lot of that is coming from fresh new girls that are already shooting for the magazine. We want to get them right away before they’re off and running to other companies.”

Rosenfeld singled out two discoveries with major star potential: Tegan Summers — “she did her very first scene for ‘Barely Legal’ and now she’s probably shooting six scenes a week” — and Rhianna Rhymes —“African-American, 19, all legs, gorgeous.”

There have been some changes recently. Instead of presenting each volume with just a number, Hustler now gives each one a special theme — public sex, car washes, runaways (“Barely Legal 116: Horny & Homeless”).

But whatever the surface adjustments, Barely Legal’s core remains the same: fresh faces, first-time sex, just the way McLean and Flynt envisioned it. “Clive was so proud of it,” Erica said. “He saw it go on to be as world-famous as it is. Everybody knows the name of it, and Clive’s name too, not only for being a brilliant still photographer but for jump-starting a fabulous franchise.

“We’re part of history, I guess.”

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