This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Debbie Does Dallas, one of the most successful mainstream pornographic films of all time. Released at the tail end of the ‘Golden Age of Porn’ the skin flick helped legitimise the pornographic industry while going on to become a pop culture phenomenon, with even the most straight-laced film fans aware of its impact.
Debbie Does Dallas starred the beautiful Bambi Woods as the eponymous heroine Debbie, a high school cheerleader wanting to travel to Texas and try out for the world famous Texas Cowgirls Cheerleaders. With little money to get there, Debbie convinces her friends to trade sexual favours for cash so she can earn enough and head to the tryouts. Amazingly her friends agree, and what follows is 90-odd minutes of fellating, cunnilingus, vaginal and anal sex, lesbianism, and a good old-fashioned ménages-a-trois to round things off.
Produced and directed by Jim Clark, Debbie Does Dallas was funded by Mafia heavy Mickey Zaffarano, one of the main players in the porn industry during its heyday. Featuring a raft of well-known porn veterans including Robin Byrd, Christie Ford and Robert Kerman, it was the unknown Woods who stole the film as the sweet and innocent girl next door, Debbie. Woods’ involvement in the film was quite strange, coming about because she owed a friend some money. By appearing in the flick, Woods could earn enough to pay off her debt and go back to her normal life.
Shot in and around New York, many of the scenes in the film featured well-known locations, such as the Brooklyn College athletic field and the Pratt Institute library in Brooklyn. The production crew didn’t have any permits and were often filming in public without approval, running the risk of arrest.
Opening at New York’s Pussycat Theatre during October of 1978, Debbie Does Dallas became an unprecedented hit and began to sell out theatres across the States, but not without resistance. The Dallas Cowboys forced one cinema to stop showing the film on the basis the flick was alluding to the real-life Cowboys’ cheerleaders, while the FBI were in the midst of a three-year undercover operation to bring the industry down from the inside. Zaffarano was a key figure in the sting and was eventually caught but died while being arrested in 1980, two years after the release of Debbie Does Dallas.
Despite the controversy, the film reportedly made close to US$3 million dollars in its first year and sold over 50,000 VHS copies upon its initial release. This helped push videocassettes as the new way of watching porn while simultaneously killing off theatrical porn releases in the process. The film’s tremendous success spawned a number of sequels, spin-offs and remakes over the next four decades. An Off-Broadway musical comedy was even produced in 2002, with many theatregoers left unsatisfied after discovering there was no nudity or sex in the performance.
But the film’s biggest legacy may be its star Bambi Woods. Positioned as the next big thing in porn, Woods mysteriously disappeared from the spotlight and was never heard from again. With no record kept of her real name it has been impossible for anyone to track her down, although there are two schools of thought on her whereabouts. A 2005 article by The Age claimed she died of a drug overdose in 1986, while a Channel 4 documentary, Debbie Does Dallas Uncovered, alluded to Woods being alive and well and most likely living an anonymous life, not wanting to relive her past as an adult performer.
Whatever happened to Woods will most likely never be known, but for a few short years she was the biggest name in the porn industry and the catalyst that launched Debbie Does Dallas into the top five of highest grossing porn films of all time, earning herself and the film, a place in cinematic history.