03/13/1995 at 01:00 AM EST
YOU'RE DEAD BROKE AND YOUR Career is on the skids. A director offers you $500 to work in an X-rated film. Would you do it? For Georgina Spelvin, the answer, 23 years ago, was yes. "Nobody put a gun to my head. I did it voluntarily," says Spelvin, who starred in The Devil in Miss Jones, a movie that reportedly grossed $50 million and became, after 1972's Deep Throat, the second most successful porn film of all time. "I couldn't resist the lure of the camera. I was naive."
Spelvin was also a woman with a serious drinking problem. Though she never got rich, she was willing to wallow, she says, in "the grosser and grosser" world of hard-core movies for a long time while the paychecks kept coming. The actress, who at 18 played a lead role in the original Broadway production of The Pajama Game in 1954 and danced briefly on screen in 1969's Hello, Dolly!, made more than 100 adult films before she ended her career in 1978.
Now 58, and sober for 13 years, Spelvin thrives on a steady day job. For six years, she has been a computer production designer with a Los Angeles medical trade journal. Her duties include designing layouts for covers and articles with titles such as "Shutting Off Health Care to the Undocumented." At work, Spelvin's past is common knowledge, though rarely discussed. "When I first heard, I kind of gasped," says her supervisor, Janice Nagano. "But she's a wonderful employee."
Settled comfortably in a modest house in the Hollywood Hills, Spelvin celebrates the simple pleasures of home and hearth. "Today I've got a steady job, a mortgage, two cats in the yard, a car paid for," says Spelvin. "I'm on sugar hill, baby." Her love life is certainly different than it once was onscreen and off. She has spent the last 12 years with her live-in boyfriend, TV-commercial actor John Welsh, 56, whom she met in rehearsals for a play in North Hollywood. "He's my steady beau," Spelvin says.
"She's a wonderful actress," says Welsh. "Forget about the porn."
Not that Spelvin is ashamed or repentant. Unlike Deep Throat star Linda Lovelace, who said she was exploited, and who later became an antiporn crusader, Spelvin says, "Porn has a place, and I will defend the right of adult films to exist." She is against public displays of graphic material though and decries the overall lack of artistic ambition in the porn industry today. Did she feel degraded by her work? "No," she says, "because I chose not to be."
Her feelings about her alcoholic past, however, are far more emotional. Spelvin, who was born in Houston, says both her mother, a swimming coach, and her father, an oil company seismologist, were heavy drinkers and that she "was drinking wine at cocktail parties when I was 2." She drank, she says, through high school, after her move to New York City at 17 to become a dancer, through two failed marriages by the time she was 26 and through her rise and fall in the porn world. Her low point came in 1978, she says, when she went on a three-day binge in Manhattan, wandering the streets.
What finally sobered her up, admits Spelvin, was the death of her parents—her mother in 1981 (of causes related to alcoholism, she says) and her father, of a heart attack, two years later. "I had to be responsible," she says. "I went into AA. There was nothing to do but get sober."
Spelvin has plenty do now, between her job and the nonporn showbiz projects she dabbles in from time to time. Recently she starred in Red Ribbons, a community service film made for under $3,000, in which she played the mother of a son with AIDS. "I'd love to have been Shirley MacLaine," she says, with a shrug. "But I'm not. At least I can say I've discovered the joys of monogamy."
LORENZO BENET in Los Angeles