Candice Vitala was born in New York on 15 October 1950. She was considered a bright student with an IQ of 136 and an inclination towards the arts. After graduating from the New York High School of Arts and Design, she attended Parson's School of Design and the City University of New York. "Those were special years for me, but the days were long because we had to mix our regular academics with our artistic studies. Because I've been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil, I decided to major in illustration and fashion illustration. I was disappointed though, because I had originally tried out for the High School of Performing Arts as a dancer... the school popularised by the movie Fame. They turned me down, probably because they could see that I would grow up to be voluptuous and wouldn't have the classic dancer's body." While attending college Candice had a number of dead-end jobs in order to pay for her education. "I really didn't have that many straight jobs. I certainly did my time in office work when I was very young. I think that certainly set me up to not want to do anything conventional because it was such a miserable experience working in an office. I had clerical jobs, between college and stuff, and I did sales and things like that. But I managed from a pretty early age to always get something rather off beat or creative to work in so that I could make my own hours… to make money I used to pose as an artist's nude model. I did sell some of my art work."
In the early 1970's she decided to relocate to the more liberal-minded city of San Francisco where she became active in the avant-garde theatre scene, performing with the infamous Cockettes, the Angels of Light and the late Divine. She later moved on to sing in jazz clubs and classical choruses. "I was living in San Francisco and I was already living a rather unconventional wild lifestyle. I was performing in underground theatre and I went on to do more serious singing in jazz clubs but I never really cared about making money with that stuff so that eventually I thought, well I've got to try and make some more money here and I didn't want to burden what I loved doing with worrying about that so I decided to go out and look for nude modelling and one of the agents asked me if I'd be interested in being in porn films and I was very shocked. I'd never even seen any. I was very insulted actually and what changed my mind was that my boyfriend at the time, who was a musician, decided to try it and also a close girlfriend of mine. And he was working for Anthony Spinelli who is really one of the nicest guys in the business to work for and does very nice quality stuff, and it was through him working that I got to see what it was really like." According to Candice "I was very surprised because I had the same preconceptions of what it [porn] must be like, very sleazy and dirty and a couple of junkies needing a fix, you know. And instead, at the time in the mid-1970's, a lot of filmmakers were moonlighting doing these movies, coming up to San Francisco and doing these for extra money. So they were all very professional. There was a script, there was a huge crew… there were budgets… the actors and actresses were very nice looking, very clean and healthy and it was like, my God, this isn't what I imagined it to be at all." Once Candice realized that the porn industry, at least in its upper echelons, did not comply with the negative stereotypes so often associated with it, "I decided to give it a try. Much to my boyfriends chagrin. I decided that if he could do it, I could do it. And that's what really got me into it." Although she admits that "the money was excellent", she also claims that there were other factors involved. "It wasn't like I'm gonna be rebellious and bad. There was more of a political idealism of what's wrong with making love for other people to see. It was more politically motivated than some schoolgirl desire to be a rebel."
Candice tried a number of pseudonyms, before eventually adopting the stage name Candida Royalle, from Voltaire's novel 'Candide'. She had a voluptuous figure, a beautiful face and soon proved that she was a natural in front of the camera. Lacking any sense of inhibition she began working with people such as John Holmes, John Leslie and Paul Thomas, often having anal sex or participating in double penetrations. People that knew her at the time claimed: "She was so hot, she used to fuck the pizza delivery boys. She was young and slender and sweet-looking with this heart-stopping long raven hair, and she was drugged all the time."
According to Candida "I would work one week every few months and have enough money to live on for some time because I was living a very bohemian life style. I didn't need a lot. And so I liked the hours. There was a certain amount of glamour to it. It was fun getting made up and dressed up… Every time I turned up to do a shoot it was like old home week. You would run into all your buddies. I really remained very close to many of the people." John Seeman, who worked with her a number of times, later recalled: "Candida Royalle was nice. If she were around today, we'd be friends. I've always felt a kinship with her." As a result of her professionalism and easy-going manner, she proved to be popular not only with other actors and actresses, but also with the film crews. Furthermore, despite later claiming: "I probably liked the sex least of all" and admitting to being too shy to have real orgasms on film, her performances and sex-appeal soon made her extremely popular with the audiences.
By her own admittance, Candida Royalle never viewed the porn industry as a means to make big money, and as a result only made about 30 films between 1975 and 1983. "I didn't really think about the negative aspects because once you start thinking about that, you have to do something about it. And if there is no way to change it then you have to just leave and I liked the money. Eventually I realised that I had a lot of ambivalence about doing these movies… I decided to do movies for one last year because I was getting a name and I could get some good money from them. I thought it would be nice to do some that I could feel proud of." In 1984 Candida married Per Sjosted, and retired permanently from the acting business.
Candida's reaction to her involvement as an actress in the porn industry has been mixed. In one interview she claimed: "The movies were crude... embarrassing. I grew up Catholic, in a conservative atmosphere. Actresses [in porn] have to understand that we are seen in a negative light - we have broken the worst taboo. There's got to be pain... If you don't feel it, you're in denial. That leads you to do things that keep you from feeling, like taking drugs." However, she has also admitted: "I think I liked the attention, I liked, you know, feeling like a beautiful sexy star, and at the time I actually felt that way. I think even though I later had to deal on a psychological level with all the negatives that I experienced, the positives were there also and one of them was that it did keep me very open minded about sexuality and sex, and I appreciate that."
Following her retirement Candida decided to go into therapy. "I was very bewildered about why I went into an industry that was so sort of looked down on by the rest of the culture and I knew would get in the way of certain things I might want to do in the future, and I had many promising careers that I could have taken up, and I was troubled by it. I thought, why did I go and do this? It's not like I wanted to be a big sex star… I wanted to come to terms with the career I had in the sex industry so that I could understand it and live with it. I didn't want to carry around this big question mark and I didn't want to subject myself to any of the shame that I felt creeping around down there because as much as we, on the one hand, came from the generation of free love, sex is great and it's open and beautiful and there's nothing wrong with it, I also grew up with all the information that we received in the fifties… I came to the conclusion that I felt that the concept of adult movies was perfectly valid in some instances. In most instances, it's the only form of sex education that we receive. And there was really nothing wrong with consenting adults performing for other consenting adults to view."
She eventually concluded that: "a lot of what was out there was negative and degrading. I thought what would it be like if a woman created this work? With the advent of home video, this was a new phenomenon waiting to happen. I saw it as an excellent business opportunity, and a great artistic and political challenge because everyone said it couldn't be done." As a result, in 1984 she established Femme Productions along with her husband. The idea was to create adult films from a female perspective. Her first film was financed by her Swedish husbands' father, who had made a name for himself producing Swedish Spaghetti Westerns, while simultaneously running a chain of adult cinemas. She later described her work as "explicit, but it's more tender and sensual. It's not a bunch of extreme close-ups and I don't have cum shots. I don't like calling my work pornography, but erotica sounds feeble and namby pamby. I describe my movies as 'sensually explicit.'"
Candida's philosophy with regards to her movies is based on the belief that "women's sexuality itself is much more complex and layered than men's…. men are programmed to respond to very simple stimuli. Again, it's a primal need for women to be much more selective in who they allow to impregnate them. Men just can drop their seed everywhere, just flash a pretty body in front of a man, he gets turned on. It's not going to do it for women. But that doesn't mean we're not visual. It just means that we need a little bit more than just a pretty face or a handsome, athletic body. Women are visual. There have been several studies where women were shown erotic visual images while hooked up to electrodes that monitor their sexual response. When researchers questioned them afterwards, they would say that they didn't really find it sexually appealing. Meanwhile, they were physically responding. So, a lot of it is social conditioning; they feel guilt, they shouldn't be responding because of being told that they're not visual. Sometimes they're not comfortable with what they're responding to. But if you start to create material particularly for women, visual stimuli, you will see women responding. It's just been a matter of catching up with that and creating visuals that are stimulating to women. Beyond that, it's also that women want more. Don't just parade a bunch of guys in front of me. There's more complexity to, more levels."
Former co-star Jerry Butler is cautious about her approach to porn. “Candida Royalle was an actress when we did ‘Delicious’ together (1981). Then, we were just a lion and a lioness in the same arena. But when she’s directing, it’s a whole different story… I did a sex scene with Rhonda Jo Petty in the first video, which is also called ‘Femme’… Candida means well, but I think she’s taking an abstract route to clean up things she might personally feel dirty about. Movies were raunchier in the days she was acting in them! When you’ve been splashed with come on film, then how sophisticated can you really be? Maybe she got sick and tired of that, so now she is trying to redeem the industry. I understand the approach, but I don’t think romantic sex will sell. Like it or not, most men enjoy seeing raunchy, animalistic sex. A lot of women are probably the same way, even if they are afraid to admit it. Women are so determined not to be seen as sex objects today that it sometimes gets in the way of their sexual response. Passion should not bee too deliberate or thoughtful.”
A few years later Candida came to a similar conclusion, admitting that attitudes of women towards pornography had changed since she released her first film back in 1984. "One complained that it took ten minutes for the first sex to start, which I thought was so funny, because it used to be seen as a plus. Another was saying that she'd like to have it look more like male porn, with really great music. And I think what you're seeing is that it's young women growing up with less guilt about watching porn. They've watched porn with their boyfriends and they got sort of conditioned to respond to male-oriented porn."
Due to the fact that Candida Royalle never rejected her past as a porn star, and then proceeded to establish an adult film company of her own, anti-porn feminists have often attacked her. “I had joined the Women’s Liberation Movement before porn because after experiences with men in the workplace, I started to get really angry about things. But I left the women’s movement because it was getting split up – and that whole lesbian-feminism was coming in – what eventually turned into the Dworkinites and the MacKinnonites. Anti-sexuality – I mean, that’s just not for me.” "I was never forced or coerced to do anything. The feminists couldn't have cared less about whether we were victims or not. They never spoke to us. They would never know if we were victims. They had no idea what was going on. When we tried to tell them, they didn't want to hear it. They don't want to hear that I made the choice to do this."
Today she is a member of Feminists For Free Expression, a non-profit anti-censorship organisation. She argues that: "I had been a young feminist in college. In those days, the feminist movement really embraced the whole sexual liberation of women. What I saw happening in the early 70s was a shift to 'men as enemy' and sex as something you shouldn't share with a man, we should only turn to our sisters now for sex; sleeping with a man was like sleeping with the enemy. And I just didn't like where this was all going. I thought this was very repressive to my sexuality and kind of going back to a very puritanical way of thinking. I didn't think that we were helping anyone by becoming enemies with men; we have to try to work together."
Candida Royalle's movies for Femme Productions are considered 'couples films', and although popular in some circles, her fame continues to primarily rest on her work as a porn star in the late 1970's. She may not have had the class of Annette Haven or the sex-bomb image of Seka, but she was nevertheless a solid porn performer sought after both by the industry and the public. She appeared in some of the best films of her time and is generally considered one of the top ten US porn stars of the decade. She has since been inducted into the AVN Hall Of Fame as an actress and producer.
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