Susie Bright’s Journal
Back to Bed with Susie Bright
Susie and Candy - The Candida Royalle Story

Susie and Candy - The Candida Royalle Story

The late film and erotic pioneer is getting her due . . . Is it fair or flame?

On this week’s show:

Candida Royalle created “straight women’s erotica” when people thought that was an oxymoron.

What did such a description even mean? And who was Candice Vadala, really?

Among many things, she was a friend and a sister.

Hello there, and welcome to “Back to Bed with Susie Bright”.
Please consider subscribing to my newsletter and podcast, if you haven’t already!
This is the week of April 5, 2024.

Many of you wrote me this month, “Did you see this?” — the late Candida Royalle’s archives and hardback biography splashed across the NYTimes features and book review pages, as well as The New Yorker.

Today’s podcast is the deep dive.

Was Royalle my friend?

Yes, very much so. “Candy and Susie.”

I am happy for her— and also protective.

This is how I remember Candy and our friends, in the 80s

I first met Royalle because of our mutual friends Annie Sprinkle and Veronica Vera, and Gloria Leonard. They were in a downtown feminist porn star group, they called “Club 90.” It was a support group for women who were in the original days of hardcore. It was a launching pad for great performances, and it was political uprising.

CV and I had a few rare things in common with our endeavors:

We changed the world and we didn’t make a dime. That is, to say: Our public influence was far greater than our commercial viability.

The public wanted the “message.” The retail distribution worked actively against us.

We faced unbelieveable prejudice (okay, so we were naïve!) from the old boy network of movie distribution, the porn and square side of the same coin.

And the feminist establishment? They were utter pricks.

Q: Am I jealous about her headlines, am I sad?

Not at all jealous! Candice was seeking an archive when she was alive, and very hurt to be snubbed with her early attempts. We were both thinking of archives, early in our careers. (Mine is at the Human Sexuality Library at Cornell).

I’m thrilled the Harvard Radcliffe Institute came to their senses. CV would have loved this.

Our girl was way too young when she passed, and if you knew her in person, it was like youth itself disappeared. Candy had the immortal spark!

Is the mainstream media being fair to Royalle?

What about her new biographer, Harvard history professor Dr. Jane Kamensky?

Critic Rich Juzwiak at the Times, reviewed Kamensky’s biography at length:

“From the age of 12, Royalle kept a diary, and her self-reporting is at least as intimate as anything she put into the world publicly. There are bouts of gonorrhea, a hepatitis C diagnosis, multiple abortions, prolific drug use (including a debilitating heroin habit), a suicide note. Royalle writes about her father’s abuse of her sister — and her own ensuing despondency. “Why not me?” she wondered.”


On its face, yes. But Candice would be pissed to see it as the lede.

What isn’t fair is that every time the NYTimes waxes eloquent about the Oscar and Grammy women nominees of a similar generation, they don’t say the exact same thing.

Women are more than our teenage diaries. If she had been such a pitiful wreck (ha!) she would not have been able to do half of what she accomplished in her life. She was a dynamo.

What’s missing?

For me, the biggest omission from CV’s mainstream coverage is the GAY GAY GAY life. I believe some of that is in the biography but none of the critics have mentioned it. I think it’s impossible to discuss Candida without an understanding of the gay counterculture.

No, she wasn’t gay. She was bisexual, she was a faghag to the nth degree. She lost dozens of close friends and stage buddies to AIDS. It was a wrecking ball. Like so many actresses, (think Elizabeth Taylor) she identified with gay men’s struggles and artistry. She had a queer sensibility. She could look like a very attractive “All American” suburbanite, but she was not that, at all.

At all.

Were we different?

Yes, and we debated our differences privately all the time.

My stories in OOB, and the films I made with my friends, were authentic to our scene, our love lives.

Candida’s own sex life was much more complex than what she produced, because her business plan was to coax the more timid het woman coming out of her shell.

Well, what a quest. Everything she did was criticized for being too hard or too soft; she couldn’t win. It was extra annoying, because it wasn’t HER autobiography.

She was much more private than I, even if the public thought we were both exhibitionists.

The main reason she got bitter about being the “straight lady erotica pioneer,” was that her distributors were pigs. The guys who run the film biz, whether it’s Hollywood or porn at the time, are the male chauvinists of the first water. They controlled her Final Cut.

Thank god our lesbian video company didn’t surrender creative control, on top of everything else. We couldn’t. There was no one except us, who believed in us. Lesbian erotic filmmakers distributed our videos independently, and often direct to retailers. The distributors came to us, only after it was in the box.

Royalle’s husband at the time, and her co-producer, Per Sjostedt, had family soft-porn money from a sixties European legacy. He funded their productions. They respected each other, and both felt burned by the vitriol they received, and the lack of income to soothe the wound.

Biographer Kamenski said, in a separate Times story;

“[Royalle] is way too critical and self-critical for many of the sex-positive feminists,” Kamensky said. “And she absolutely does not fit into an anti-pornography box.”

Perhaps this is a quote out of context. As a sound bite, it’s misleading.

Royalle was one of a tribe. It’s in the same spirit of why she was once a San Francisco Angel of Light! She was not shy to bring up the lesbian and gay erotic filmmakers, and all her creative collaborators. It was a tribe. Without queer and lesbian porn, the “straight” pioneers wouldn’t have done what they did.

And they weren’t so straight, as I said before.

We all made our movies, philosophically, for same reason: the righteousness of women’s orgasm, and women’s sexual point of view.

After I recorded my podcast, I went into my box of our old letters. I was a little scared to open it up, because a great deal of our last conversations were about her ovarian cancer saga.

But I found something that made me smile; it was exactly what I’d been remembering. She wrote, with her usual prescience:

“With all the docs I've been in and the interviews I've given, there are still so many things I've never disclosed… I didn't want to spill it out, only to have some gossipmonger turn it in another “See, I told you so,” devil-made-her-do-it piece of nonsense about another “porn victim.”

“There are so many shades in any story, and too many people want to fit our stories into a black or white example of how only girls with hard-luck pasts end up in porn.

“I've had my share of bum breaks, from broken family to drug abuse and sex at too young of an age— but honestly, if we sampled the human race, and, in particular, the female half, I'm certain we'd find about a third of ALL women with similar stories. We’ve come close to those available statistics already!”


I first interviewed Candida for Audible in the early 00’s. You’ll love the conversation.

Here’s the full title of CV’s new biography. I just claimed my copy from the public library.

CANDIDA ROYALLE AND THE SEXUAL REVOLUTION: A History From Below | By Jane Kamensky | Norton Press

Candice once wrote a sex advice book for women: : How To Tell a Naked Man What To Do.

The cover art is corny, the title is misleading, but the advice for the bedroom is pure theater savvy. She has the best lighting suggestions I’ve ever heard.

CR made a documentary the last year of her life. She was simultaneously looking for information about her mother, who disappeared when Candy was a toddler. She was going to call it, “While You Were Gone,” which I really liked. Instead, it’s called “Candice.” I wish she had gotten that Final Cut.

I think you might like to subscribe.

Susie Bright’s Journal
Back to Bed with Susie Bright
"Susie Bright is a national treasure, right up there with the Grand Canyon, the battlefield at Gettysburg, the Okefeenokee Swamp, and the Smithsonian Nancy Reagan Memorial Dress Collection."
• Whole Earth Review