If you’ve ever seen a documentary about adult movies made between the late 1970s and the mid-2000s, you’ll probably be familiar with Jim South, head of the World Modeling Talent Agency. Depending on the attitude and the honesty of the filmmakers, South would either be portrayed as an old-school Southern gentleman who looked after his clients – who were pretty much every adult film performer and model in America, certainly on the West Coast – or he was little more than a pimp who exploited the innocent. The latter argument is the one pushed forward by Traci Lords, who refers to him as ‘Tim North’ in her somewhat dubious and self-serving autobiography and suggests that he plied her with cocaine and alcohol while signing her up as a porn star in 1984, when she was still underage; Traci’s arguments become a little more dubious when you discover that she went to his offices by appointment, complete with a fake ID so good that it later fooled the US government into giving her a passport – South hardly picked her up off the streets, and if he did ply with drugs and booze, she seems to be a unique case – no other performers in a quarter-century seems to have made similar accusations.
In fact, South seems to have been a beloved figure in the industry, a surrogate father to many a performer and his offices a place where the intimate family of adult performers in the re-internet age – when at any time, there were only a small number of porn stars performing, all of whom knew each other – could meet up, gossip, complain and generally socialise. And if South was a pimp, he was a pretty altruistic one – he was paid $65 a day per performer, regardless of what they earned, and that payment came from the producers, not the star.
His working method would remain consistent throughout his career – new talent arrived in his office, the sort of ‘modelling’ required was patiently explained, a nude polaroid was taken and the newbie’s details circulated to the industry. South prided himself on taking a ‘hands-off’ approach to his clients – it was business, not pleasure, that drove him.
Obviously, South was connected to assorted industry scandals over the years, but only as someone caught in the crossfire; invariably, there would be suicides, deaths, and abusive characters within the adult industry, just as there is in every other aspect of entertainment – but, Lords aside, few people seem to have anything bad to say about him, and those that do often have axes to grind or have left the industry and want to paint it as an entirely negative experience – the straight world only accepts porn stars if they are repentant or victims, ideally both.
World Modeling closed in 2006, a victim of the changing world of adult entertainment – in an online world, agents were increasingly irrelevant. South would continue to pop up in documentaries, and relaunched his agency on a smaller scale a year after it closed, but the demise of World Modeling – and now the death of Jim South on August 28th 2020 – felt like the end of the golden age of porn. What we have now is very different – in some ways a more artist-controlled business, but one that has finally removed itself (the handful of surviving feature film producers aside) from any connection with the wider entertainment industry and where stars are few and far between. It’s a lot more disposable and less interesting, frankly.
Check out the Rialto Report podcast interview with South here.