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It’s with great sadness that The Rialto Report marks the passing of Jennifer Welles.
She passed away last Tuesday at the age of 81.
Jennifer Welles was one of the last truly old school performers. In the 1950s she was a song and dance lounge club performer, in the 1960s she was a burlesque dancer and then soft core film actress, and in the 1970s when she was 40 she became one of the superstars of hard core films in New York.
Jennifer Welles was one of the first interviews that we published on The Rialto Report, and it is by far one of the most downloaded. But rather than just re-issue the podcast, we wanted to also look back at a mystery that lay at the heart of her life for a long time.
We’ve recorded a new introduction to our podcast interview with her.
This podcast episode is 57 minutes long.
Ashley West writes:
When I started The Rialto Report as a way of helping preserve people’s memories from the early adult film industry, I really wanted to speak with people who’d been out of the public eye for many years.
And there was no one who’d been out of the public eye more than Jennifer Welles.
Jennifer in her burlesque days, as ‘Lisa Duran’
Every day at The Rialto Report, we get people enquiring about one star or another. The emails often say that the star in question has completely disappeared.
The truth is that 99% haven’t disappeared. They’ve just stopped being part of the adult industry, they’ve gone back to working in more conventional jobs, and gradually they’ve lost contact with their old world. They don’t disappear. They just do something different.
But for 40 years Jennifer Welles really did disappear. And it was completely deliberate too.
I remember interviewing director Ron Sullivan who’d been a huge fan and close friend of Jennifer’s. He told me that in 1977, she’d gone to see him. And the purpose of her visit was to tell him that she was retiring from the adult film business. Not only that but that she was leaving New York, and cutting off all ties with everyone she knew there. In fact, she told him, she would never see him again and he should not try and contact her. Several other of her friends told me the same story.
Obviously this news was a shock to people. Everyone was sad and concerned to see her go, but she appeared determined.
And true to her word, Jennifer Welles did leave New York and she never contacted anyone from the adult film world again.
So what happened?
I found that 15 years before she left New York, she’d got married. It was the early 1960s – and she got hitched to a trumpet player called Manny Duran. I figured that if could find him, maybe he’d know something about why she disappeared so suddenly. I looked him up and found that he was still performing. In fact he was at BB King’s in New York every Tuesday. I called him up, and he invited me to a show to celebrate his 80th birthday. This was back in 2006.
Manny told me that he grew up in San Antonio, Texas and first began playing the trumpet in local mariachi bands. When he was in his teens, he heard Louis Armstrong on the radio for the first time, and it changed his life. He resolved to learn how to play like that, and so in 1956 he hitchhiked to New York to pursue a career in jazz. He had a tough start. On his first day, his trumpet and clothes were stolen, and he lived out of a car for the first year, working as a waiter at a jazz club. But he was talented, and his dynamic trumpet playing soon set New York’s Latin jazz scene ablaze. He recorded with greats like Dizzy Gillespie, and he was in demand all over the country.
Back in the day he had crazy black hair and a Frank Zappa beard, but by the time I met him, he was bald as a pool ball.
Manny was generous with his time, and he loved to talk about jazz. He also loved to about Jennifer Welles. In fact his tone changed when he spoke about her. He became misty-eyed and talked in a soft whisper. He referred to her as Lisa which had been her given name. Yes, they had been married, very happily, for many years. They were young and in love, and times were good. But they also loved their art, in her case it was acting and dancing, in his case it was jazz, and this created two problems. First they found it difficult to spend time together. Both of them toured, their work was irregular, and Manny said that often they were like ships passing in the night. They tried working together, hiring themselves out to filmmakers as a team; she would star, he would compose and perform the soundtrack music. But it was difficult.
The second problem was money. Or rather the lack of it. This affected Jennifer more than it concerned Manny. He was used to living cheaply and was willing to make sacrifices, but she wanted a better life. She didn’t like not knowing if they’d be able to pay next month’s rent. She was tiring of the struggle.
In the mid-1970s, their financial worries eased a little. Manny’s music career was taking off, and Jennifer received $10,000 for appearing in a fictionalized sex biopic called ‘Inside Jennifer Welles’. They were happy and took a rare vacation together.
Then in 1977, Manny remembers Jennifer met a fan of hers called Philip. He was a wealthy real estate developer, and he’d always be there when she appeared at movie premieres or adult film industry events. Manny remembered him hanging around in the background, but not saying anything.
One day, when Manny got home, Jennifer had an announcement. Philip had asked her to get married. He would give her everything she wanted. A beautiful house, clothes, spending money, anything. Anything except freedom, that is. Manny said that Philip didn’t want her to have any contact with her current life. She would get divorced, she would move away from New York, and she would cut off all ties from everyone she knew.
Manny said he remembered Jennifer started crying, but that she still felt it was the best thing for her to do. Manny was devastated but said he understood. She’d never have to worry about money again. She’d be set up for life.
Manny’s final memory of her was standing on the sidewalk seeing her car leave. Jennifer looked back at him, through the back window, crying. He said that image had haunted him for a lifetime.
He’d often wondered what happened to Jennifer over the years, but he never heard from her again. He just hoped her new life had worked out for her.
Manny died just a few months after I met him.
A few years later, I did manage to track Jennifer down. She was living in a remote part of Arizona in a tiny ranch house powered by solar energy. She was off the grid, had never owned a computer, but had a cell phone and was happy to talk.
She and Philip had got divorced several years before, and now she spent her time raising horses and rescuing dogs that had been abandoned or abused.
She was back to struggling with money as she needed more funds to take care of the animals, but this time she said she was completely happy.
As for her past life, she missed New York and hoped to return some day. She was happy to talk about the adult films too, describing them as tame stuff. She laughed that she’d been living like a nun for many years.
And then she asked about Manny. Had I been in contact with him? What happened to him? Was he doing ok?
I told her of Manny had died back in 2006, and she was upset. He was a good man, and they’d had a good life together. She regretted not reaching out to him before he died. The truth was, she said, she felt such guilt at leaving him that she never had the courage. The marriage with Philip had been the worst mistake she’d ever made, and she missed the days she spent with Manny.
She told me about the day she left Manny. She remembered being driven away. She looked out of the back of the car at Manny standing on the sidewalk. He looked lost and alone. She kept looking at him until he was just a tiny dot disappearing in the distance.
She said that image had haunted her for years.
I’m truly heartbroken to hear this. Jennifer was the QUEEN of the New York scene.
Rest in peace, Jennifer.
Jennifer Welles may not have appeared in great movies, but she was a great star.
I followed her from the black and white days to the color of porno chic.
She was and will always be a legend.
R.I.P. a sweet lovely lady. Our scene together in INSIDE JENNIFER WELLES wasn’t very sexy but it was funny and we had a ball doing it. We laughed all the way through it . It breaks my heart to hear of the loss of another Porn Dinosaur but even more so of one who I enjoyed working with so much.
I thought the scene between Carter Stevens and Miss Welles was the hottest in the film. He looked like the average Dad on the block, losing some hair and a little overweight, yet he gets to have sex with this blonde bombshell who is every guys fantasy! You find yourself cheering for him in that film. RIP Ms Welles, we are going to miss you, always so classy.
I’m 50 and found her I guess in the late 90’s. Well after she had retired but she was so honest and just having fun it was so damn sexy. Inside.. was the only adult DVD I ever bought. Oh my God how I wanted her to school me. I vividly remember seeing her on the telephone hehehe. WOW.
Thanks for putting this together. I honestly felt the loss. She was fucking champion of women’s, hell all of us, sexual freedom. Im so happy she found peace at the end. Paul
She was still beautiful even as a 80 year old lady……….
Very sad to learn of the passing of Jennifer Welles.
The first MILF? Maybe that goes to Gloria. I don’t know, but she was truly amazing. And a great interview. She seemed to be pretty together and a ton of fun.
She was a legend and will be missed RIP Jennifer Wells
My very 1st adult fantasy. Milked to her countless times. So hot. But she decided to dump everyone she knew and her fans for money. Than she wound up poor and alone. she cared about herself and only about herself . My fantasy on film but i dont think i would have liked her as a person. RIP
She was an actress. She gave the best performance in an adult feature, and was laugh out loud funny in “Little Orphan Sammy”, a performance that can’t be matched. Was so glad you found her after all those years and she knew she was still remembered. Thank you for that Ashley. RIP Dear Lady.
If there were icons of the silver screen in the golden age, then Jennifer Welles. She was talented, stunning, and connected with the audience in a way that transcended her age.
And an important note: if it wasn’t for the Rialto Report, the epilogue to her life would never have been recorded in such a touching way.
Thank you to all concerned. A marvelous epitaph.
Thank you so much Anon.
Thank you Miss Welles.
You lit up my life.
Thank you Ashley for doing this fascinating work.
She left her true love for a guy with money. Not the first time I’ve heard this story.
Still remember seeing her first movie posters on 42nd St., 1974.
She was stunning, and I figured she would be a big star for years.
Then she just disappeared, and I went back to checking out loops.
I’ve known her name for decades, but I’ve never seen her films. After listening to this wonderful podcast, I’m determined to rectify that situation. Thank you for this interview!
Thank you AJ!
We are losing the true legends so fast these days. RR thank you for helping preserve their history.
Thank you Andrew!
One of the sexiest women to ever grace the adult ? industry!
Thanks so much, Ashley, for that new intro to Jennifer Welles’ story. It’s understandable how she’d take the offer from Phillip and leave everything behind for security. Women’s opportunities have always been limited, and even moreso when a woman has what others would call a past, so why she went for the money makes so much sense to me. She also made the most of her “old age” as we’d call it. Her voice reflects a degree of peace and contentment with her life and all the decisions she made along the way. So great to hear, too that she’s a Jersey Girl! As a fellow Jersey Girl, I know we have a certain mettle, a certain zest for life, and that is evident still in her voice. Thanks so much for getting this interview with her. An amazing, fascinating woman who will be greatly missed.
This one was a shocker . She was a beautiful lady . We made our swan song to the industry together. I was Dr Ward the dentist in “Inside Jennifer Welles” Someday I’ll tell the Rialto Report the comedic behind the scenes disaster that befell us filming that day and how we literally had to throw the script out the window and hurry up and wing it
I look forward to that, Ken.
Ashley : I’m going to be in NYC ar the end of August , visiting with Larry Revene. Perhaps we could get together for a chat? I have other tales too , remembered since we first spoke some years ago, by the surge of loop digitation , and of course the Rialto Report
Sounds good. Speak to you then..
Terribly sad news if this is fact. I haven’t seen any mention of her death anywhere on the internet besides here. Have you seen an obit? I hope this isn’t true.
I’m curious, ‘Pinky’.
Where and why would there be an obit for someone who lived off the grid and had no connection with anyone from the adult film industry (apart from The Rialto Report who tracked her down)?
The Rialto Report were in contact with her for the last 5+ years and are reporting her passing, so why do you express doubt by asking “if this is a fact”?
My condolences regarding Ms. Welles passing. Very sad indeed
Speaking of going off the grid..
Is there anyway Rialto Report can track down Mike Ranger? He was very popular in the golden age (most notably as the son in Taboo).
Sorry for going off topic. This article just made me wonder about those golden age stars that vanished.
Here’s an important piece of burlesque/porn history:
When “Inside Jennifer Wells” was playing, I was publishing “Pornocopia”.
I decided to interview Jennifer. She was a very intelligent person, and mentioned her background in dance.
At the time the Melody (two blocks away from the movie theater) had become one of my daytime nesting places After the interview I dropped in and mentioned to Bob and Al I had met Jennifer. I speculated that putting her on stage,while the film was playing would be a game winner. They jumped at the chance. The following week and Jennifer performed five shows a day (Monday thru Saturday) to a sold out house.
Why that’s so important, historically, is that it was the first time a porn star was a feature dancer.
Before that week burlesque features worked Wednesday through Sunday (six shows a day) for $700- to $1000-. Jennifer’s contract was $3000 for five shows, Monday through Saturday.
After Jennifer came Leslie Bovee and Terri Hall. It was Leslie who came up with the idea of $10- poloroids, since tips were dismal at the Melody -the guys were burning their dollars with “Mardi Gras” before the feature came on.
Of all the innovations I may have fostered in the adult entertainment industry, this is the one of which I am especially proud. A lot of people got paid and a lot of people got entertained.
P.S. I watched Jennifer’s first show and was struck by the way she captured each person in the audience, even jaded me. It inspired a poem, which I shared with her and will share with your readers.
Blond on sand
That drifts and shifts
A mirage to my thirsty heart
You come on Monday
Whirl me on Wednesday
Thrill me on Thursday
And Saturday you part
To another place
For blond on sand
”I wasn’t bad looking when I was young”………Well that’s an understatement……..