Rolling With The Action: Trak Balls, Porn Stars and the 1983 Consumer Electronic Show

It may be difficult for anyone to believe this now, but once upon a time the porn industry was a welcomed participant in the Consumer Electronic Shows (CES), and just about every other electronic trade show in America. That’s right, VCRs, video games, home computers, Kenwood and Pioneer stereos were promoted right alongside 70s and 80s adult film stars, like John Holmes and Ron Jeremy.

1980CES06

The AVN Adult Entertainment Expo, until quite recently, had been informal partners with the CES for decades. So porn stars and techies co-mingling at conventions is not something new.

Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch over this, believe it or not, porn at an electronic convention in 1983 makes absolutely perfect sense to me, and here’s why:

With the VCR being the number one household item bought next to a microwave oven in the early 80s, and the adult film industry enjoying the last days of what’s known as The Golden Age of Porn, VCRs and porn went together like peanut butter and jelly  -or more accurately-  money and a cash register.

mithunad
Due to the booming “VHS market” in 1983
, a boom so great that companies unable to stockpile inventory warned of shortages at Christmas, the race to cash in big on sales of in-home smut had reached veritable stampede proportions. No corporate executive could afford to ignore the fact that the adult film industry played an important part of the increase and sustain of sales of TVs and VHS players, and especially since the public was responding unanimously to the less expensive VHS rather than the higher quality and more expensive Betamax.

Because of porn’s commercial relationship with the far more affordable VHS, the Betamax would actually die an untimely death. In fact, by the Fall of 1985 the more expensive yet better quality Betamax would become only a memory in the minds of bargain conscious American consumers.

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A mountain of 80s porn VHS tapes

I’m actually not surprised to meet people who grew up in The 80s who don’t even remember Betamax at all. For that matter, I’ve never met anyone who remembers “The 8 MM (Eight-Millimeter), either. VHS killed the other video format stars.

So the porn industry actually had a viable reason and a legitimate invite to the CES and other trade shows like it. The VHS was, just like the cell phone is today, porn’s ticket to ride.

On January 6, 1983, at The Las Vegas Convention Center, Sony, in spite of dwindling consumer interest in the platform, unveiled the Beta Hi-Fi VCR ,  PolyGram showed up to talk about the future development of something called “the compact disc”, and Atari promoted it’s latest invention, The Trak Ball.

s-l225Created by Atari engineer, Dan Kramer, as an accessory for the Atari 2600, The Trak Ball went with a full promotional team to the 1983 CES. It was there among the hundreds of kiosks and thundering crowds that the public really got their first look at The Trak Ball, including a very beautiful and provocative young woman who would go down in history not only as a legend from The Golden Age of Porn, but as an urban legend that would continue to captivate thousands of sleuths long after her sudden and mysterious disappearance from society in 1994.

Her name was Lisa De Leeuw.

lisa de leeuw border pic

Lisa De Leeuw, real name Lisa Trego, rose to prominence in the late 70s adult film industry due to her vivacious personality, voluptuous figure and the fact that Caballero Control Company, the largest porn distributor in the USA, had signed her. A natural red head with the ability to interchange her style from “girl next door” to “glamour girl” in a hot second, De Leeuw, who also had skills on par with a professional actor, was in demand by producers and fans of her films alike.

Since the porn industry had its foot in the door at the CES with just about every leading manufacturer of electronics at the time, Caballero Control Corporation, the same company who created controversy with the 1982 video game release of  “Custer’s Revenge”, sent their finest and newest stars to the convention by conveniently locating them at the Hilton Hotel just a few blocks away. John Holmes, Ron Jeremy, Seka, Marilyn Chambers and Lisa De Leeuw were frequently chosen to head up booths and/or make appearances at these hotel events, even if only sometimes it was a walk-thru.

As fate would have it Caballero Control Corporation (CCC) set up a booth at the Hilton Hotel while the 1983 CES was going on down the street. In case one isn’t aware,  CCC produced numerous “sex games” for the Atari platform in 1982 without Atari’s permission. Apparently, though, there was no hard feelings.

mystique line up
This “meeting”, caught on film and depicting Dan Kramer interacting with porn star and legend, Lisa De Leeuw, are extraordinary for the simple reason that no other photos are known to exist of the tentative partnership between The CES and the porn industry, or with any gaming entity at the time at all. Most people knowledgeable about the social and business structure revolving around goings on back in the day flat out deny the porn industry was ever present or ever booked in adjacent hotels or buildings near the CES event itself. But that simply isn’t true.

Dan Kramer was kind enough to share these vintage photos with me three years ago. I’ve decided that now is the time to share some of them:

Lisa De Leeuw and Dan Kramer from ATARI
Atari Engineer Dan Kramer signs an Atari Trak Ball promotional tee shirt for Caballero Control Corporation star, Lisa De Leeuw, in Las Vegas, 1983.
Lisa De Leeuw
Everyone loves Atari. Lisa De Leeuw and Atari’s Dan Kramer in 1983.
lisa and dan kramer atari
Lisa De Leeuw gets her hands on Atari Trak Ball creator, Dan Kramer

If ever there was a collectible tee shirt to be found, the one Dan Kramer signed for Lisa De Leeuw would be it.  So far it has never surfaced. And, unfortunately, in 2017, neither has Lisa.

Rumored to be deceased, Lisa De Leeuw , whose meteoric career spanned almost 20 years resulting in over 200 films and earning her a cult status that still exists today, suddenly disappeared without a word in the Fall of 1993. Urban legend tells that she died of complications from AIDS. Others claim she was murdered.  However, there is no death certificate filed under her legal name, Lisa Trego, and no record whatsoever of a missing persons report, so I believe that none of the aforementioned stories are true. Other renditions of the legend claim she’s a married mother of three children and living in Minnesota (public census record and more likely to be true), and another claims she’s living in a small town outside of Paris under the assumed name “Gretchen La Favre” and runs an animal shelter for horses.

Regardless of what the truth is, as if we could ever hope to know what that is, one thing can be considered undisputed truth: She looks retro-fabulous next to the Atari logo.

Lisa D article copy corrected proof

So there you have it, one more tidbit of lost Atari social history that may seem meaningless to some and offensive to others. Me, I think it’s wonderful because it harkens back to a time over thirty-years ago, when society was a little more relaxed and a lot more fun, when new technology was rapidly expanding and the world was wide-eyed innocent about where it could take us, how far it would take us, but all the while expectantly looking out the window during this wild ride into the great unknown that brought us here to where we are today.

After all, it’s not really about the journey but how we got there. Sometimes it was crazy. All the time it was beautiful.

There’s a lot to miss about those days.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “Rolling With The Action: Trak Balls, Porn Stars and the 1983 Consumer Electronic Show

  1. But surely track balls had been used much earlier by Atari on the Atari football arcade machine. The track ball or roller ball was also a post war invention too, not invented by Atari?

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  2. Great post!

    I went to a creative/technical university in the late 90’s and the instructors brought up that since it’s been around, that the porn industry has been at the forefront of tech. They credited the porn industry’s adoption of VHS as the reason it beat out the technically superior BetaMax. The things you learn in school! 🙂

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