Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution: A History from Below (Hardcover)

Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution: A History from Below By Jane Kamensky Cover Image

Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution: A History from Below (Hardcover)

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Acclaimed historian Jane Kamensky chronicles an indelible twentieth-century American life—and offers an entirely new understanding of the so-called sexual revolution.


Whether in front of the camera or behind it, Candice Vadala understood herself as both an artist and an entrepreneur. As Candida Royalle (1950–2015)—underground actress, porn star, producer of adult movies, and staunch feminist—she made a business of pleasure. She helped crystalize the broader hedonistic turn in American life in the second half of the twentieth century: a period when the rules of sex were rewritten; when the white-hot “sex wars” cleaved feminism and realigned American politics; when Big Freud, Big Drugs, and Big Porn all came into looming focus; when the sex industry of the 1970s and ’80s radically upended conventional understandings of law, technology, culture, love, and human desire.


The sexual revolution was Royalle’s war—even when other avowed feminists exited the field or became her opponents—and pornography emerged as the arena in which she would wage it. With the founding of her adult film company, Femme Productions, in 1984, Royalle became an owner of the means of pornographic production, infusing her sets with the ideals of labor feminism. On-screen and off-, she was, by turns, exuberant and thoughtful, self-possessed and gleefully shameless. A trailblazer who lived along the cultural fault lines of her generation, she danced at Woodstock, marched for women’s liberation, survived the AIDS crisis, and became a talk show regular, interviewed by Phil Donahue, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Morton Downey Jr., Jane Pauley, and many others. As a performer, director, producer, and writer, she moved the needle of her industry. But she never transcended the politics of pleasure.


With full access to Royalle’s remarkable archive, historian Jane Kamensky has spent years examining the intersection of Royalle’s life with the clashes that have defined her era—and ours. Deeply informed by these never-before-studied materials, Kamensky explodes the conventions of biography, with its assumptions about who makes history and how. Written with cinematic verve, Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution evokes Royalle’s times in their broadest contours as Kamensky traces the rise of an improbable heroine who broke the mold and was herself broken in turn.



Jane Kamensky’s many books include A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley, winner of the New-York Historical Society’s American History book prize along with three others. For thirty years, she worked as a history professor and higher education leader, most recently as Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University and director of the Schlesinger Library at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute. In 2024, Kamensky became the president of Monticello/the Thomas Jefferson Foundation.
Product Details ISBN: 9781324002086
ISBN-10: 1324002085
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publication Date: March 12th, 2024
Pages: 544
Language: English
In an assiduously researched, elegantly written new biography, Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution, the historian Jane Kamensky makes a strong case for her subject’s story as both unique and, in a curious way, representative.

— Margaret Talbot - The New Yorker

In the new biography Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution, Kamensky puts Royalle at the center of an ambitious, ambivalent history that aims to unsettle any idea of a conflict with firm battle lines.

— Jennifer Schuessler - New York Times

[An] unexpectedly lively biography. . . . The book’s virtues include its melding of history with diaristic intimacy and clever, often incandescent prose.
— Julia M. Klein - Boston Globe

[Kamensky’s] rigor and thoroughness demand that the reader take seriously an underdog who made her name in a stigmatized industry. This book is a labor of empathy that refuses to simplify or valorize its subject.
— Rich Juzwiak - The New York Times Book Review

Beautifully crafted. . . . Kamensky shows that the sexual revolution was always only partly about sex. It was also about technological transformation; about personal branding, the search for authenticity; and about the blurring of private life and screen life. We may think of these things as artifacts of our digital age, but Candida Royalle knew them well. She lived her politics as many of us live ours today, in her body and on the screen simultaneously.
— Fred Turner - Los Angeles Review of Books

A tour de force, Candida Royalle and the Sexual Revolution is a penetrating history of America’s least studied revolution.… Originally conceived, impressively researched, and beautifully written, Candida Royalle deepens and complicates our understanding of America’s recent past.

— Alice Echols, University of Southern California, and author of Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture

A riveting, humane, and essential contribution to modern feminist history. Jane Kamensky has written a biography that reads like a novel, an astute intellectual work that recognizes and humanizes the role of sex workers in recent women’s movements. Thanks to this book, I am proud to recognize the place of Candida Royalle in my own lineage.
— Melissa Febos, author of Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism

A rich slice of Americana, a deep dive into the era of the pornographic movie industry and its feminist adversaries, told through the unexpectedly moving story of a woman, Candice Vadala, who tried, and failed, to make peace between the two sides. Whatever your views about porn, when you read Jane Kamensky’s beautifully sympathetic and clear-eyed biography, you will find yourself rooting for Candice, a woman struggling heroically to redeem a difficult life.
— Louis Menand, author of The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

Porn star Candida Royalle dared to bring feminist questions to the business of sex. Couldn’t there be a porn that would tamp down the degradation and misogyny? Couldn’t women claim space for their own fantasies? Did we all have to fit in at the Playboy Mansion? Jane Kamensky’s vital and illuminating account of Candida’s bruised life and uphill struggle to radically change porn from within asks us to consider the true meaning of sexual liberation.
— Cynthia Carr, author of Candy Darling: Dreamer, Icon, Superstar

Jane Kamensky has written a groundbreaking, cinematic, and sensitive portrait of an unlikely heroine: Candida Royalle, the adult film actress and director who pushed herself from the margins of porn to the center of the sex wars in the 1970s and ’80s. Kamensky understands exactly what Royalle gained, and lost, in her bid for sexual freedom and artistic independence. This is more than a biography of one woman who experienced the perils and pleasures of the sexual revolution ‘from below’—it is a brilliant, sweeping, and tragic history of desire, feminism, and sex in postwar America.
— Heather Clark, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Red Comet: The Short Life and Blazing Art of Sylvia Plath

Powerful. . . . A captivating biography of a major figure of the sexual revolution.
— Publishers Weekly

Kamensky traces the full arc of her subject’s life, from a childhood rife with tumult and abuse to her 2015 death from cancer. . . . Following Vadala’s lead, Kamensky’s biography refuses the binary between a pleasure-driven feminism and a victim-driven one to show how sex work and its cultures can be both liberating and oppressive.
— Maggie Taft - Booklist

Working extensively with Vadala's diaries, historian Kamensky sets the porn actress and producer's life and career in parallel with the wider events of '60s and '70s counterculture, second-wave feminism, and anti-pornography crusade, and the changing landscape of pornography itself. . . . This in-depth biography makes a good argument that Vadala is an unsung history maker.
— Kathleen McCallister - Library Journal