The first kiss ever shown on screen between May Irwin and John C. Rise constituted porn in 1896. The scene from “The Kiss” was shot by inventor Thomas Edison. (AP Photo)

Meet May Irwin, the Stormy Daniels of the Victorian era.

And her pornographer, Thomas Edison.

That’s right, that guy.

Edison’s 1896 creation capturing Irwin and actor John C. Rice doing something naughty caused a nationwide uproar as newspaper editorials declared the end of American morality and called for police action in theaters that dared to show the 18-second flick.

“Magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting. All delicacy or remnant of charm seems gone from Miss Irwin, and the performance comes very near being indecent in its emphasized vulgarity,” one critic wrote.

Oh my. What did they do? Nuzzled, chatted, then kissed. A quick peck on the lips.

“The Kiss” is now part of the Library of Congress’s catalogue. And though the action May performed is certainly different from the scenes of Daniels’ biggest hits, “Porking with Pride #2” and “Spreading My Seed,” the two performers are similar in another way.

They became shrewd, savvy businesswomen.


Porn star and director Stormy Daniels attends the 2018 Adult Video News Awards in Las Vegas. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Daniels, who signed a confidentiality agreement right before the 2016 election about her alleged affair with Donald Trump, has now taken the president to court, arguing the $130,000 agreement is invalid because he never signed it. On Sunday night,  “60 Minutes” will air a highly anticipated interview with Daniels,  who told The Washington Post Saturday that her work in the porn industry has prepared her for whatever furor will follow.

By today’s standards, of course, May Irwin wouldn’t qualify as a porn star. A vaudeville actress, she channeled the infamy of “The Kiss” into a lucrative stage and silent film career. She was America’s sweetheart for another 30 years and amassed a portfolio of properties including an island home on the St. Lawrence River, another home on Merritt Island in Florida and a sprawling farm in Upstate New York.

You hear “porn,” and you may think predatory guys with cameras in warehouses. And, of course, those guys exist. The porn trade often exploits, demeans and damages women. But ever since Edison and his kinetoscope, there have been women like Irwin and Daniels, who have emerged as entrepreneurs in an industry made for men and run by men.

Gloria Leonard started out as a bond trader on Wall Street in the 1960s. She left to go into public relations, then jumped to a film company that went under in 1974.  She was an unemployed, single mom when she decided to give acting a shot. Her casting director didn’t tell her the first role she snagged in 1974 was in a porn flick.

“I was a fairly liberated lady, and I figured this would be the supreme test of just how liberated I really was,” she told The Miami Herald in 1983.

That film led to a 10-year career in front of the camera, until she became a director, then editor of a nudie magazine. There, she came up with an idea to increase circulation by teasing upcoming features with recordings in sultry voices. Some days, the seven-cent calls generated $25,000 in income. And the phone sex industry was born.

By the time the Supreme Court looked into the business in 1989 after congressional calls for an end to the phone sex trade, Leonard had given birth to a $2.5 billion industry. (The Supreme Court ruled in her favor.)


Porn actress Alexa Grace stands at a booth to meet with fans during the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In the meantime, Annie Sprinkle, who had her first experience with porn as a ticket-taker at a Tucson, theater showing “Deep Throat”  in 1972, became a top-grossing actress in the 1980s.

But she turned the industry upside-down with her gonzo, feminist take on porn. She produced educational videos and held workshops and created porn for women. She most famously toured in artsy, explicit shows including the notorious “Public Cervix Announcement,” where audience members could view her reproductive organs through a speculum.

Sprinkle said she used the power of her creativity to rewrite the script for women. Others do it with their earning power.

“Jenna Jameson did it with money. She was the first to make her millions in porn,” Sprinkle said.

“Porn is one place where women — the performers — get paid more, double, even triple what men are paid. It’s one of the few arenas where women get paid more than men,” she said.

Jessica Drake is another high-paid performer who uses her influence in other ways. “Jessica does all this charity work, like helping Haiti and other fundraising,” Sprinkle said.

Technology made the next wave of female power-players possible, said Lynn Comella, associate professor of gender and sexuality studies at University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“It’s been a long, steady process over the decades,” Comella said. “What we’ve seen through technological changes, the shift from film to video opened up a lot of opportunities for women to move behind the camera,” she said. “This affordable technology has been a recent catalyst.”


Pernell Walker, James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal in HBO’s “The Deuce.” (Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

“The grandmother of feminist erotica was Candida,” Sprinkle said. Candida Royalle, after years in front of the camera, took issue with what she called the “wham, bam, thank you, ma’am” style of porn and created couples-oriented, story-driven porn.

The power player Candy in the HBO series “The Deuce” is based on Royalle. Sprinkle, who was deep into the Times Square scene, is a consultant on the series.

“I told [Maggie Gyllenhaal, who plays the part of Candy in the series] to remember that sex workers get into it for different reasons,” Sprinkle said. Some, like Stormy Daniels, stay in it because they have success.

Two years after signing a big contract with Wicked Pictures, Daniels tried writing a script. A director bought it on the spot and her contract expanded to include writing. In 2004, she tried directing and found her calling. Since then, she’s been a vanguard power player in the industry, directing at least 10 films a year. Before she was ever connected to Trump, she was noted as one of the power women in the industry.

“This industry is filled with strong, smart, very business-savvy women,” Comella said. “They are calling the shots as directors and CEOs,” and they “are willing to stand up for themselves.”

Given the female power players who survive and thrive in such a cutthroat field, she said, “I’m not surprised to see it’s an adult performer” taking on Trump.

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