Gloria Leonard: The Mother of Phone Sex

Posted on: on 5 May, 2016

Gloria Leonard was the doyenne of the adult entertainment industry…a prime example of the best the industry had to offer. She was survivor of a really tough childhood. But in a twist of turns, she became a Wall Street executive; a film actress; a film director; a publisher of the High Society magazine; pioneer of the multi-million dollar phone sex industry, president of both the Adult Video Association of America and its successor, Free Speech Coalition; and a very outspoken Americans’ free speech rights defender in public debates and college lecture halls.

Leonard was born Gail Leonardi in the Bronx, NY on August 28, 1940. She also grew up there. Leonard, a classy, brassy broad…was a throwback to those wise cracking old Hollywood dames, with sharp one-liners that could cut any man to size. She was wise, funny, spoke her mind out and never apologized for being who she was.

While growing up in New York, she was a waitress at Old Astor Hotel. Leonard later worked for Elektra Records as a copywriter. She went on to work as a Wall Street stockbroker for Schweickart and Company. Leonard also did lots of PR, working for various firms, even representing Johnny Carson.

Adult movie actress

Gloria Leonard loved theater too. She occasionally performed on summer stock, and even auditioned for 1971’s The Godfather; though unsuccessfully. Undeterred, she moved to the Caribbean carrying her daughter along, to work in a film company. On her 1975 return to New York, Leonard was cast on Radley Metzger’s “The Opening of Misty Beethoven” (1976), an erotic adaptation of George Bernard’s play “Pygmalion.” This turned out to be a fantastic experience for her and it would cement her decision to become an adult movie actress.

All In all, Leonard acted in about 60 adult films. Her most memorable titles include All About Gloria Leonard, Fiona On Fire, Legend of Lady Blue, Three Daughters and October Silk. In 1986, she won the Best Actress award for her role in the film, Taboo American Style (1986).

High Society Magazine

Gloria Leonard’s high on-screen profile as well as her background in PR, landed her a job as publisher for High Society, a men’s magazine in 1977. She held this job for more than ten years while continuing to act in various films. High Society’s owner Carl Ruderman gave her the job, expecting from her just a figurehead, but she ended up being more. Leonard worked so hard; she would visit wholesalers herself, maintain relationships with distributors, hire and fire staff, supervise layouts and even decide upon content. So really, she became High Society’s hands-on editor.

The First Phone Sex Lines

Phone sex started in late 1970 as High Society’s marketing ploy, all credited to the crafty and ballsy Gloria Leonard. She introduced the idea of using a voice to advertise magazine issues. Gloria started off by recording her voice on 900-number chat lines that were highly available then, through which she could sell this magazine’s next issue; customers would phone up and then hear the details of the next magazine’s issue.

Soon, with their popularity and premium nature, these lines made so much money for the company and her. She would go on to record other models among them Annie Sprinkle talking sexy. She even persuaded Ruderman to purchase a number of these lines.

But this service gained so much popularity—and quickly came to the Congress’ attention, which in the July of 1988 passed the Telephone Decency Act, making it illegal to use a phone to communicate indecent or obscene content for commercial purposes punishable by 6 months in prison or a $50,000 fine. Sable Communications, a company Ruderman formed to offer the phone sex recordings later would later sue FCC and overturn this act. On the 19th of July 1988, the prohibition against indecent speech on 900-number recordings was ruled unconstitutional, though the ban on “obscene speech stood.

Her Involvement in the Free Speech Rights Movement

With phone sex legalized, Gloria Leonard turned her attention to other aspects of the adult entertainment industry. On leaving the High Society, she was appointed administrative director for the Adult Film Association, serving in this post between 1989 and 1992. And in 1998 Leonard became president to Free Speech Coalition, a porno industry trade group.

While serving on her various posts, she was very active in the speakers’ circuit, giving speeches at universities, colleges and before civic groups. Referring to herself as ‘the stand up constitutionalist’, she also engaged in various debates, some with members of Women Against Pornography, a New York based group.

And through all of it, Gloria Leonard helped form, and was a member of the adult industry’s actress support club, dubbed “Club 90,” after her home in New York City’s 90 Lexington Avenue, which was group’s first meeting place. Other members of this group, which is still in existence, include former actresses Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Hart, Veronica Vera and Candida Royalle.

Family Life

Leonard was first married very young. However, the first two marriages ended in divorce. Her third marriage, to Bobby Hollander, a director and producer of adult films, ended with his died in 2002.

At her death, Leonard resided in Hawi, Hawaii. She is survived by her daughter, Robin, and her granddaughter, Roxanne Felig.

The amazing Leonard was a free thinker, feminist, a free speech advocate and one of the greatest contributors to the phone-sex industry. If she had hesitated to do something that back in the day was considered taboo, we would never enjoy the pleasure that phone sex lines provide us. Her simple yet genius idea was a massive leap for among others, the phone chat industry. Long live Leonard.

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