Serena was one of the most popular stars of 1970s adult film. She stood out from many other actresses. She was striking, aloof, distant, and cool and had a genuine star quality.
She was private and enigmatic too, and details of her life seemed to be mysterious and unknowable.
This is set to change however with the publication of her autobiography later this year, entitled ‘Bright Lights, Lonely Nights’ (Bear Manor Media).
On this episode of The Rialto Report, we are joined by one of the first directors Serena ever worked with – the rockabilly Rasputin, Johnny Legend, who remains her friend to this day, and who describes what it was like to make ‘Teenage Cruisers’ – one of the strangest films to come out of the golden age – with Serena.
And we speak to Serena herself, as she prepares to come back into the public spotlight and reveal all for the first time.
This episode running time is 109 minutes.
It’s a complex and compelling story, detailing her life as a teenage runaway, single mother, underage performer in the adult industry, dancing at the Mitchell Brother’s O’Farrell Theater – whilst all the time struggling with undiagnosed mental illness.
And then there was Serena’s relationship with Jamie Gillis. It was a striking affair between two of the biggest names in adult film. She was a Californian, hippy red-head. Jamie was a dark, intense New Yorker. She moved to New York to be with him – and their relationship was unusual. It played out in films and in their private lives; on screen Serena would often assume the passive role in explicit S&M scenarios that were notable for their extreme sexual content. Some doubted whether they were truly consensual, whether Serena was being coerced or manipulated.
When we spoke to Jamie in the last years of his life before he passed away in 2010, he was clearly still enamored with her.
Here’s how he wrote about meeting Serena:
“I first eyed Serena when she was posing for Sam Menning in his LA studio in 1973 or 74. She was writhing around naked while Sam snapped away and I was immediately smitten. He told me she was living with some guy in a remote area of northern California. I gave him a “too bad” shrug and left but I never forgot her.
A few years later she showed up single in New York City as the featured dancer/stripper at the Show World Center on Eighth Avenue and 42nd St.The place was going strong as a multi-level Times Square sex emporium and as I lived in the area, it was my neighborhood ‘playground’. A couple of floors featured 25 cent peep show girls. What a great relief it was to be able to go look at a naked girl for almost nothing and either stay to masturbate to her or simply bask in the wonder of it all.
An upper floor was dedicated to live sex shows but Serena’s act was much more demure. She danced around the stage with very easy, fluid motions, waving her arms overhead as if she were a young sapling bending with the breeze. You weren’t so much aroused by her performance as moved by it. You just wanted to hold her and love her. Maybe I was just pleased that this angelic, blond vision with the great ass and snub nose had come to a place and time where she was within my reach.
All I had to do was go backstage to say hello and she was mine”.
In 2001, Serena was in a coma that resulted in her losing parts of her memory. She’s written her autobiography by piecing together her life with help from family, friends and fans. It has been a journey of discovery for her almost as much as it will be for the reader.
So who is Serena today, and how does she remember the years in the adult films? What does she make of her role as the one-time Queen of Kink? And what is the truth behind her relationship with Jamie Gillis?