In 1979, Daily Variety’s Todd McCarthy found himself in the awful and unenviable position of having to compose an obituary for an old friend and high school flame, Playmate of the Year and actress Claudia Jennings. When news of her sudden demise came across the wire, Todd later recalled, he worked quickly before the grimness and sadness of the occasion could overtake him. When I undertook a biographical article of Jennings, I told Todd I hoped to never find myself in that position.
In 2003, having contributed scenes to, and re-edited, several softcore movies produced by my distribution clients, I pondered the jump to directing. Although I was the cable TV and hotel rep for many porn studios and producers, the highest ROI could be found in late night “Skinemax” fare. I knew that anything with “Wives” in the title performed well, and I also knew that if I were to make the jump, I needed something to set me apart.
Shyla Stylez had made the news by marrying Bob Friedland, an older gentleman who ran Jill Kelly Productions, at around the time she was signed as its contract star. The two later split, and Friedland held her to the terms of her contract, meaning she could not shoot hardcore scenes for anyone else until the contract’s term lapsed. She was known for being able to perform some relatively extreme sex, and commanded an excellent rate as a performer.
Although we were not formally introduced, I ran into her at the 2002 AVN Awards. I’m in the business of words, yet I still find it challenging to describe the effect of being around her. She had enormous ‘presence’ packed into a petite frame. Despite her high-glam looks and generous bust enhancement, the sexuality she exuded in person was of the small town “girl next door” variety. Moreover, it was effortless and uncontrived. Descriptions of Marilyn Monroe seem to fit her as well (sadly, they do today more than ever). She simply was sexy. And likeable, with a sarcastic sense of humor I felt drawn to.
In the wake of her messy separation, Shyla dropped out of public view. When I sought her out for an interview about the situation (I was then only moonlighting as a writer), I had to go through back channels, but she agreed and met me at Peet’s Coffee on Ventura Blvd. in Studio City. It was September 2003, and she was then only a few days past her 21st birthday. She looked fresh-faced and healthy. Although she was guarded on some matters, in general she spoke quite frankly. She had been relying on men — sugar daddies, she implied — to take care of her when she could no longer shoot scenes. I offered her an opportunity to get some on-camera work, and introduced her to a producer of reality/news programming whom I had asked to stop by. As predicted, he was taken with her and quickly hired her for a series of “pretty girl” stuff and re-enactments.
After chatting at Peet’s, I invited her to join me for dinner up the street, at Mexicali. I was then 36 (though separated by years, the dates of out birth were only a few days apart) and had to keep reminding myself that she was a porn star because she seemed, in many respects, like a high school-age girl. She wore a zip-up top that first night at Mexicali, one that demanded to be peered down, but this seemed to me to be a girlish test of her feminine power. I would not take the bait. I left the table twice to take phone calls, and each time I returned to find she had zipped the top a bit lower.
From the start she was Amanda, not “Shyla”, and in the coming weeks we went out a few times. Although it was not a grand romance, nonetheless it became clear that there were some feelings between us. She met many of my friends, and I introduced her to as many ‘Hollywood’ people as I could in hopes of landing her work, in which I was fairly successful.
By the time the January 2004 AEE show came around, I had talked myself into fronting the money for my own Cinemax-style feature (in HD, no less — a big deal in 2004). She was my date for a dinner I threw at Piero’s for friends and clients during AEE, and it was there that I asked her to take the starring role, and to carry the movie. She accepted immediately and sweetly told me she would do anything for me because I was the only person in LA who hadn’t blown smoke up her ass.
So I wrote the role with her personality and sense of humor in mind, and one month later we shot “Call Girl Wives” in Los Angeles, followed quickly by two more features. All performed handsomely, but CGW was an unbelievable, record-busting smash. Part of it was the title, to be sure, but the rest was her beauty and charisma. The camera loved her, and, as one review noted, visually, the picture was a love poem to her.
The movies we did together did not seek to trade off her “Shyla Stylez” persona: she selected the screen name Amanda Auclair for the movies, borrowing her grandmother’s surname. She was simply wonderful in the stuff we did together; she was game for anything, and had a marvelous deadpan delivery of some of the strange lines (including a “Yentl” joke in CGW, of which we were both quite proud).
Like anyone, particularly one so beautiful and in demand, she could be demanding . . . and she absolutely loved to bust my chops. I remember phoning her when I replaced my burgundy Jaguar (which she drove in CGW) with a new supercharged model. She said, “I hope you didn’t get it in that ‘family car’ color again.”
My two strongest recollections of Amanda come from a shoot in the summer of 2004. After being a bit curvier than usual in her first movies for me (I had no complaints), she had suddenly slimmed down and toned up a bit. I’d never seen her look more breathtaking (watch “Alabama Jones and The Busty Crusade” and you’ll see what I mean). When I commented to her about her figure, she said that, unbeknownst to her, she had been pregnant when we shot our first movies, but wasn’t anymore. She also indicated that she thought I had been the father.
My surprise had not subsided when we shot my favorite acting performance of hers that day — a last-minute reshoot for CGW with the late, legendary director of photography John Keeler. Amanda and I would sometimes watch movies at my house, and I once pointed out that Richard Gere has a habit of pausing his delivery halfway through a line, looking away in angst, and then turning back to complete the line. On set, she was having trouble with some dialogue and asked me, mid-take, what to do. “Richard Gere!”, I replied. Without missing a beat she jumped back into character and did a pitch perfect Gere-inspired delivery.
It was on set that I first saw hints of her partying. She was sometimes a bit jittery, and had to focus pretty hard to stand very still in close-ups. Although I never saw her do anything stronger than alcohol, she did make a few terrifying confessions in our private moments.
Then she moved away — to Chicago, to live with some guy — and I would thenceforth only see her occasionally and by chance in L.A. Once, at the 2010 XRCO Awards, I found her in very bad shape: bloated, obviously on pills and having difficulty standing up. But, a couple of years later, at Glenn King’s show on Vivid Radio, she arrived with her girl Tia Cyrus, and was clear-eyed and happy.
Just over one year ago, I saw her at Jeff Mullen’s Halloween party in Hollywood. She arrived with Tia and she asked me to take some photos of them, and text them to her. She suggested we have lunch sometime soon, but I never saw her again. She did phone me months later, but I missed the call. My text messages to her went unreturned.
There has been lots of talk over the years about Amanda, and her health; there are as many stories that I don’t believe as there are those I wish I didn’t. Thankfully, when I think of Amanda I don’t see that part of her life; I remember a very special and daring young lady who was much more fragile than she believed herself to be, sitting across the table at that Mexican restaurant, wanting to be liked.
By Michael Whiteacre