The Pioneer of Porn

What do you say to a naked lady? For more than 30 years Leroy Griffith has been saying, "You're hired!"

You must grasp up front that Samantha Strong is sex incarnate, a living blueprint of the American definition of pure, raw, hetero lust: big-haired (and blond, natch, or maybe not so natch), big-chested, thin-waisted, red-lipped, and generally as subservient as a shoe. Even dressed down as she is for this occasion -- entering the anteroom that leads to the modest Collins Avenue office of the guy who hired her for a Miami Beach striptease gig -- Samantha Strong should rivet all male attention, especially since the only distraction is the person with her: a slight, aging, poker-faced man with little more than a diamond pinkie ring in the way of ostentation. At first glance, somebody's grandfather.

Strong is politely convivial, as sweet and demure as any superstar of pornographic movies could be. Smart. Even so, and much to your chagrin, your attention is drawn to and stays with Leroy C. Griffith -- the understated guy who hired her, the grandfather. It's not charisma, really, or magnetism, but it's there: a presence.

He might not look the part, but Griffith is a highly successful flesh purveyor with a 30-year faith in South Florida real estate and a knack for either avoiding or creating trouble, depending on which might better achieve his goal of the moment. Lining the walls of the anteroom are framed photographs of Griffith posing with various pals and acquaintances: the late Sammy Davis, Jr. (a close friend for two decades), former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson, the cast of Miami Vice, and a pugnacious actor named Mickey Rourke, who once worked for Griffith as a porn-movie cashier and projectionist.

Less prominently displayed is Griffith's history as a theater owner, and his legal and civic crusades as a shaper of one vivid aspect of South Florida's cultural milieu. Though he's waged war (and won plenty of times) on a number of fronts -- typically against the government and the press, the twin pillars supporting America's superego, the two entities that keep trying to tell everyone else "no" -- the right of adults to choose their entertainment as they see fit has been his most sexy campaign. It has led him into skirmishes with activist community groups, with the cities of Miami, Hialeah, and Miami Beach, and with the State of Florida as well.

Samantha Strong, sitting ladylike on the black leather couch in the anteroom, is too young to know much about Griffith's storied past. What she wants to know is whether she can have a soda. Just a minute, honey, Griffith tells her, and then he'll take her to Wolfie's, the landmark restaurant next door, where Griffith often invites visitors for a bite. First, though, he wants his secretary to negotiate a deal on a rental car for Strong. "Just get the best rate. Here's a gold card, use that, or whatever the best rate is." He looks up from his handful of plastic money. "Oh, and make sure she has a driver's license, would you?"

Strong must be well cared for because she is the "talent." Over the next two weeks, she'll perform live shows at two Griffith theaters -- the Roxy on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach and the Pussycat on Biscayne Boulevard in Miami -- wagging her wares for gawking onlookers who will pay fifteen dollars to experience the popular porn actress in the flesh. For now Griffith will provide her that cold drink, as soon as he takes this phone call concerning the lighting for Strong's stage show, makes sure it's set up right and on time. The rental car is on its way. Now the accommodating grandfather can escort his star up the sidewalk to Wolfie's, a nice family place.

You are confused and uncomfortable, but that's because you have to be here. Everyone else seems to be enjoying it to the point of drooling, but you keep looking away and asking inappropriate questions, your attitude all wrong. And Lacy's feelings actually appear to be hurt. Lacy is an extremely petite, 24-year-old blonde who, for ten dollars, will sit you down on a loveseat and instruct you to immobilize your hands by holding onto the couch's upright back. For the next several minutes, to the throbbing backbeat of DJ-spun rock songs, she will remove all her clothing and gyrate provocatively within inches of your face and crotch.

Lacy says she's been in Miami Beach for three years, waitressing until five months ago, when she landed this job at Dej… Vu, Leroy Griffith's upscale strip club at Collins Avenue and Twentieth Street. She took the job because the money is better, she says, though she certainly doesn't intend to make a career of it. After the "couch dance" ends, Lacy finishes the four-dollar, nonalcoholic drink you've been asked by a waitress to buy for her. You have just one more question for Lacy. "No, I don't feel exploited at all," she answers. "Not at all," she repeats firmly.

Griffith says he doesn't have to recruit dancers like Lacy; they come to him on their own, independently, in search of a paycheck. "In the old days," he says, "it wasn't that way. Dancers had agents, they'd have a contract, and they'd have 20 or 30 weeks' work for them, steady work from theater to theater. We'd bring in road shows. Now it's a different ball game. There's not nearly the talent involved that there used to be. Now it's just a pretty body and the woman is willing to take her clothes off. They apply like any other job. Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Sally Jessy Raphael, every show has carried these new gentlemen's clubs, and they tell how these girls make $1500 and $2000 or $3000 a week. So that's gonna attract a lot of people."

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