LOS ANGELES—Adult talent agent Jim South, whose real name was James Marvin Souter, Jr., died at 3:30 this afternoon at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks after a prolonged illness. The exact cause of death has not yet been revealed, but over the past 10 months, South had suffered a series of falls, the most recent one being about six weeks ago, in which South broke his collarbone, some ribs and his nose and suffered a concussion, requiring him to spend several days in the hospital. Ten days ago, after spending some time resting at home, South’s family moved him to a rehab facility, but they were forced to return him quickly to the hospital because he developed a problem breathing, in part because he had been a two-pack-per-day smoker for the past 65 years. In fact, after a fall last January, it was discovered that South’s blood oxygen levels were poor, so he was placed on supplemental oxygen 24 hours per day, but according to at least one report, the need for oxygen didn’t cut down his smoking habit much if at all. He was 80 years old, and just a month shy of his 81st birthday.
After working as an insurance salesman in Dallas, Texas in the 1950s and ’60s, South moved to the Los Angeles area in 1968 and reportedly first opened a mainstream modeling agency, then switched over to representing adult performers in 1976, when he opened World Modeling Talent Agency on Van Nuys Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. For many years, South and Reb Sawitz’s Pretty Girl International were the only two adult modeling agencies, and between them, they supplied adult producers with nearly every actor and actress who worked in adult film on the West Coast. South is credited with discovering some of the greatest classical adult actresses in the business, including Christy Canyon, Ginger Lynn, Francesca Le, Savannah, Tera Patrick and many others.
But South’s life as a licensed adult agent was far from serene. He was arrested several times by the LA Vice Squad for pimping and pandering, and since he represented Traci Lords, who snuck into the adult industry when she was 16 years old, he faced some charges for having represented her. Fortunately, none of those charges stuck, and he was able to continue his business, albeit often under police surveillance during those early days.
In a sense, South courted legal attention by openly advertising for performers in local tabloids including LA Weekly and LA Xpress, and according to Ashley West of The Rialto Report, who interviewed South several times, most recently for the podcast series Once Upon a Time in the Valley, South’s staff at World Modeling would often answer the phone with, “Good afternoon, World Modelling. Which paper did you see the ad in please? And may I ask you your age? Do you have legal ID showing your age? Like a birth certificate, a driver’s license. Let me run it down for you. … The majority of the work that we get is nude photographic modeling. The pay runs from $100 a day up to $1500 a day depending on who’s shooting you. Would you want to make an appointment, come in for an interview? I’ll go over the shootings with you and then you can make a decision from that. No-no, you have to come in for an interview, honey, I can’t book you if I don’t know what you look like.”
In fact, in October of 2004, LA Weekly included World Modeling in their annual “Best of LA” series, writing at that time that World Modeling was the “Best Starting Point for Your Career in Porn,” and describing South as “a tall, fatherly Texan with a dark-brown mustache and matching slicked-back hair.”
But South did suffer some setbacks along the way, perhaps one of the most dire being the HIV outbreak on 1998, when the industry went into a panic as Sharon Mitchell, who was given office space in World Modeling to contact all adult performers and bring them in for testing to try to trace the origin of the infection, which eventually spread to seven performers. Mitchell successfully identified “Patient Zero”—Marc Wallice—after several weeks, and it was from that incident that Mitchell’s Adult Industry Medical (AIM) Healthcare Foundation was formed, and the industry switched from using the ELISA antibody test for HIV to the far more accurate PCR-DNA test.
But as time went on, several other talent agents entered the world of adult video production, and South’s business fell off to such an extent that he closed World Modeling in November of 2006.
“I’ve been working probably since I was about 13, I’m kind of a workaholic, and I need to have stuff to do,” South told AVN in a 2007 interview. “I was starting my 32nd year in the same office, and I’d never really taken a vacation. With how the industry has changed—you don’t get girls usually out of the newspapers anymore; you get them off websites, and of course everybody and their brother calls themselves an agent. I just kind of got burned out on it. I was kind of spent. I needed some time to sit back and recoup.”
South spent the next year doing just that, and in early December of 2007, he reopened World Modeling, stating at the time, “I think I enjoyed the first month in semi-retirement, and since then, I’ve been going nuts. So, it’s the industry that I know and love, and I just thought I would get back into it.”
But South managed to get along well with the new crop of talent agents, and in November of 2008, South and seven other licensed talent agents formed the Adult Entertainment Agents Trade Association, in part to create “a more responsible, professional and legal adult entertainment industry.” That organization, however, didn’t last long as there was infighting among several members.
(l-r) Chris Cane, Mark Spiegler and Jim South.
South had many friends in the industry, many of whom expressed great sadness at seeing him pass.
“I loved the guy,” stated Chris Cane of Foxxx Modeling. “He was my first introduction into the business in 1998. He was my first contact. He welcomed me into the business—I was a producer back then—and took me out to lunch that day and was just a great guy. I was shooting some gonzo stuff, some ethnic lines that Jill Kelly was distributing for me, and he was my first contact and I hired some girls through his agency.”
Cane became a talent agent in 2004, but said that didn’t put a strain on his friendship with South.
“I think so much about the guy,” Cane said. “The industry is just a better place with him in it, that’s for sure, and he’s definitely going to be missed.”
“The first time I met Jim was in 1995,” recalled prominent talent agent Mark Spiegler of Spiegler’s Girls. “I was going to shoot a movie with Roy Karch—I was his production manager and producer—and we went over to Jim South’s office and I met him, so that was the first time, and so I hired girls from him for a little bit when I was producing stuff. I officially got into the agent business in ’98 or ’99, and after that, I didn’t have too many dealings with him. The last time I saw Jim was at his 80th birthday party at Monty’s Steakhouse. Every few months, a few old-timers would go out with him for brunch at Nate’s on Ventura, but the last time we were supposed to do that, he couldn’t go because he was having breathing problems.”
Veteran performers were equally sad to hear of South’s passing.
“I’ve been around for 36 years, and it all started with our very own Jim South,” recalled acgtress Christy Canyon. “[Director] Greg Rome was my introduction to Jim South in September, 1984. I was broke, 18; it was the mid-’80s; I had no money, car broken; I was on the sidewalk and Greg Rome came rolling around the corner in his white TransAm, pulled over, asked me to wait in his car. He showed me a copy of Hustler and that’s how it all began. He gave me the card for World Modeling and I was like, ‘No way, I come from a middle-class family,’ and then one night, it was about 11 o’clock; I was working my two jobs making no money—phone’s gonna get turned off, rent’s overdue—I figured I’d try this Jim South guy; got his very familiar ‘Welcome to World Modeling’—of course, he wasn’t there that late so I left a message. He called me 9 o’clock the next morning; went to his office that day and it was a match made in heaven from then on out. I met him and instantly felt safe. I wasn’t talking to my family, but Jim South was my everything. He was my safety net, he was my moneymaker, he was my dad, he was my brother, he was my best friend, he was everything but my lover. It was a beautiful two-way street. It was a win-win-win situation.
“I quit the business in about April of ’85, so from September to April, he was my agent,” she added. “He had me not just working every day; sometimes two to three jobs a day. You know, a blowjob in the morning, a fucking scene in the afternoon, a magazine layout in the evening; I mean, it was jam packed. And then I came back in 1989, and Vivid was there with this new thing called contracts, and we got a royalty, so I didn’t go back with Jim for no other reason other than that I didn’t need an agent.”
Another veteran actor, Tom Byron, posted his thoughts on South’s passing on Twitter. He wrote, “
AVN Hall of Fame performer Mr. Marcus told AVN, “He was the original.”
“I was talking to TT Boy earlier and we were saying without him none of this would exist, at least not down here in the Valley. There would be no Porn Valley without Jim South.
“Jim was the only one. We had Reb [Sawitz] but Pretty Girl International was in West Hollywood. They were two different types of characters. Without Jim, you wouldn’t have had all those photographers and the video companies that followed his lead.”
Mr. Marcus noted that South was old school in every way.
“On the weekends, Jim was closed. And he closed every day between 12 and 1:30 p.m. for lunch. You couldn’t reach him. He wasn’t one to have a cell. I remember he was reluctant to do that. He was an in-your-face type of person—you would have to go see him and sit down with him and go through that book, pick the talent and then he would make the introduction.
“He would make the introduction and that was it; she was on her own, but he was always there if she had any problems.”
Mr. Marcus noted that he last spent time with South at his 80th birthday party at Monty’s in Woodland Hills last year that was organized by South’s good friend, Rob Spallone.
“That was a good day,” Marcus added. “Jim didn’t let a lot of people in. He kept a lot of things to himself.”
Mr. Marcus said South was “like my white step-dad.”
“He deserved a lot of respect. This is not an easy industry to be in and he weathered a lot of dark days. A lot of people were able to create brands and businesses because of World Modeling and Jim South.”
Indeed; Spallone himself told AVN that he owed much to South. Spallone had been a producer in the late ’80s and had a run-in with South when Spallone tried to set up his own modeling agency. Fortunately, VCA Pictures owner Russ Hampshire took Spallone under his wing and sat him down with South, during which meeting Spallone agreed, “Let bygones be bygones; no hard feelings; I will close the agency today.” Spallone and South also came up with an agreement that would allow Spallone to use any World Modeling talent in a movie for a flat fee of $200. After the meeting, Hampshire also signed Spallone up to direct two gonzo movies per month for VCA, and Spallone partially credits South for making that happen.
“Me and Jim become good friends; we went into a few businesses together, and never ever had a problem,” Spallone said. “He called me a month and a half ago. I got the message last week that Jim was very sick, and yesterday I heard that he was going into hospice today and he probably won’t last more than a day or two. I just felt sick. I threw a party for Jim about eight months ago; it was his 80th birthday. He was a great guy; everybody liked him. We met under shitty circumstances and then we became great friends. All the old-timers loved Jim.”
Although not officially a World Modeling client, veteran actress Amber Lynn nonetheless had fond words for South.
“I don’t remember how I met Jim, but it was possibly at one of the Vegas shows,” she stated. “I was brought into the industry by Reb Sawitz and was with Pretty Girl in the beginning, not Jim South, but later on, I worked with Jim South and all of the agents, and I’m friends with Jim. We had such a small town industry back in those days; everybody knew each other, so I was close to Jim and I think of him as a dear friend and I’m very sad right now. Jim’s nickname for me was Ambie-Bambie from when I was a 18-year-old kid and he called me that the last time I saw him.. he was a good man, a great agent and a friend. The last time I went and saw him was when Bianca Seven and I went over to bug him, grab him and take him to lunch at that deli across the street from World Modeling. I have nothing but respect for that man. I’m heartbroken right now; I just don’t know what to say.”
This is a developing story.
Photos courtesy of Marco Pallotti