AVN Awards: At Porn’s Biggest Weekend With Mark Spiegler
Adult-film stars have descended upon Las Vegas, hustling for gigs at the industry’s biggest convention. Richard Abowitz shadows porn’s top talent agent as he wheels and deals.
Mark Spiegler waddles, shifting his girth from one foot to the other, swaying slightly side to side. His distinctive gait was on display at the Venetian’s Palazzo in Las Vegas this week as he advanced through a crowd of gamblers who gawked and parted for Spiegler, 52, an old T-shirt over his rounded shoulders, not tucked-in, with his belly sticking out of ill-fitting jeans. They stared because this ugly duckling was followed in near-formation by a head-turning pack of gorgeous swans: The Spiegler Girls, the elite group of A-list porn stars he represents. Among the 2011 crop of Spiegler Girls following him were top-tier industry stars like Kristina Rose and Asa Akira, as well as newer talents such as Tori Lux and Lily LaBeau.
For over a decade, despite never representing more than 25 women at a time, while his chief competitors often represented hundreds, Mark Spiegler has been the Ari Emanuel of porn. His talent agency is arguably the most sought-after and selective in the industry. Tomorrow night, at the AVN Awards, porn’s self-proclaimed Oscars, Spiegler Girls have almost 100 nominations combined and, most impressively, five of his clients are up for the porn industry’s most coveted prize, “Performer of the Year.” Spiegler is ecstatic. “We have one-third of the nominees for ‘Performer of the Year’ this year, and I maybe represent three percent of the well-known girls in the industry.”
But the awards ceremony tonight at Palms Casino Resort is only the icing on the cake for Spiegler’s Las Vegas trip. His real reason for being here is to use the industry’s biggest annual gathering, a porn convention taking place at the Venetian in the days surrounding the AVN Awards, to advance his business: selling girls to shoot porn. Spiegler’s typically blunt assessment of his job: “I’m a legal pimp.” He refers to himself on business cards as “Patron of the Tarts.”
“I’m a legal pimp,” says Spiegler. He refers to himself on business cards as “Patron of the Tarts.”
Spiegler invited The Daily Beast into his Palazzo hotel room as he assembled about a dozen Spiegler Girls for their stagey walk through the hotel to a dinner he’d arranged with influential porn reviewers and executives from various adult-film companies. “I also want to go over with each girl exactly where she needs to be tomorrow and what she needs to do at the convention.” Throughout the meal he directed social interaction, arranging conversations, deciding who should meet who. “Before the industry fell apart a few years ago you used to be able to arrange a lot of business at the convention,” Spiegler says. “Now people just meet and the business is done back in L.A. I definitely have to hustle more but this trip to Vegas each year is still worth it.”
While to some Spiegler’s job may seem ideal, the devil is in the details. Both he and his clients cannot recall him ever taking a day, or even an hour, off from work over the past few years. He has no children and does not have time to date. All of his time is spent with his Girls. Ones new to the industry often live at the apartment he shares with his cat. He enforces a curfew and does not allow guys over under any circumstances. Even in his hotel room, as he tries to ready his clients for the restaurant walk, his phone is constantly ringing—other clients asking him to deal with everything from boyfriend drama to airplane issues.
The degree to which Spiegler’s clients depend on him can seem unsettling. “If Spiegler were to drop me, I would probably quit the business,” Asa Akira says. Up for 14 nominations this year including “Performer of the Year,” Akira has near 40,000 followers on Twitter and would seem to be in no way dependent on her agent to keep her afloat. But after a couple of years in the industry, she feels her work has received a huge boost because she was accepted by Spiegler as a client in March 2010. “He manages all our careers. If you are going to wait to do anal, he knows at what time to do your first anal. He knows the perfect way to go about a career.” As for the oddity of a porn agent being a father figure to so many of his clients, Akira says, “As cliché as it sounds, there is something about porn girls where we are missing some sort of paternal figure, and Spiegler is really good at filling that role.” Spiegler’s view on being “Papa Spiegs,” as some of his Girls call him, is more ambivalent. “I guess I see myself as a father figure, if I think about it.” But he would not send his own flesh and blood into the porn world. “I don’t recruit new talent and I turn down most of the people who email me who think they want to do porn,” he says.
It is this ability to pick the few women who can handle the lifestyle that has become the key to making the Spiegler agency a success. Glenn King, owner of Mean Bitch Productions, says he uses Spiegler Girls whenever possible for his films that specialize in “sexy glamorous beautiful women who use men as sex slaves.” According to King, “While other agents are just trying to sell a client, Spiegler knows how to pick ones who are deviant in the way we want.” In an industry known for stars who can bring financially damaging drama onto a set, Spiegler Girls don’t, says King. “Whenever we shoot I’ve got an investment. I have paid for a set, a make-up artist, male talent, a PA, as well as blocked off a day of my time. So if the girl shows up late, or doesn’t show up at all, or even shows up unclean with dirty hair or whatever, then I lose. Spiegler Girls always show up ready to shoot a great scene.” As for negotiating with Spiegler, even during the recession, you pay if you want a Spiegler Girl: “I don’t really get to negotiate with him. The price is the same for every woman.”
King has also witnessed Spiegler’s iron fist. “About five years ago, I won’t say her name, but a well-known performer, a Spiegler Girl, showed up with a [HIV] test one day expired. To be fair, the industry as a whole was less strict about tests back then. I called Spiegler and he took care of the scene without charge and told me to let the girl know she was no longer with his agency.”
When it comes to the actual work, however, the tyranny ends. His clients make their own choices about what they’re willing to do in a scene. “Spiegler let’s you tell him what you are comfortable doing and he never pushes you to do anything else. But within that zone, he tells us what to do,” Akira says. “It is basically a dictatorship,” confirms Rose. “I told him what I wanted to do, and from there he has told me what I am doing and where I am going or anything he wants to say to get me there.”
While strict in terms of work, a large part of Spiegler’s time involves absorbing the life drama so that his clients can show up on porn sets without issue. Take last year’s Vegas trip. Kristina Rose admits that this year she is staying at the Venetian under an assumed name after hotel security had her arrested last year and banned her from the property for life. Rose, who this year is up for more than a dozen awards including “Performer of the Year,” for which many consider her a favorite, recalls last year’s incident. “Basically I did something stupid and brought my boyfriend at the time to AVN. We got drunk and we got in a fight and I kicked his ass. The Venetian was not pleased.” As for getting out of jail: “I don’t call my family. My family is not going to help me. The only person I can rely on is Spiegler. So I called Spiegler at five in the morning.” He got both her and her boyfriend out of jail.
Rose wasn’t Spiegler’s only headache. After last year’s awards show another Spiegler Girl had a run-in with Vegas authorities when she hurled a chair at a man who groped her—missing him but hitting a slot machine at the Palms. And this year, already one porn star who was supposed to be at the dinner had reportedly been spotted at the casino bar since early morning. “She might not be a Spiegler Girl by the end of this convention,” Spiegler says.
All of the effort pays off, Spiegler thinks, when it comes to his bottom line. “I don’t want to shout it from the rooftops,” he says, “but most agents had business go down last year. I may not have slept much, but my business is up by 6 or 7 percent. I really care about these girls. I want them to be successful in this business. But part of that is remembering that it is a business.” Still, for individual Spiegler Girls this has been a tough year and he keeps tabs on how often each client works. A few say that in the past year he has waived his commissions during a bad month.
But when the check arrives, Papa Spiegs disappears and the dictator re-emerges. He looks at his Girls, and in exaggerated pimp style says, “Give me your money.” And then the most successful talent agent in the industry asks each client who ordered what, and meticulously divides the check among the attendant porn stars. When one of the Girls mentions she only had coffee, Spiegler thinks for a moment. “I got your coffee,” he says. “I can pay for that. It’s just coffee.”
Richard Abowitz covered Las Vegas for over a decade as a senior writer and editor at Las Vegas Weekly. For many years Abowitz wrote Movable Buffet blog and print column for Los Angeles Times. In addition to covering Vegas, Abowitz has been writing about music and culture for Rolling Stone since 1996. Abowitz blogs at GoldPlatedDoor.com.