From Panther to pornstar to public relations

Taking her place alongside the likes of Oscar-nominated actress Joan Allen, folk legend Burl Ives and Steppenwolf Theater co-founder John Malkovich in the pantheon of famous Eastern alumni, Calli Cox made a name for herself not in music or the stage, but in the world of adult cinema.

An Eastern graduate in 1999, Cox – who chose to go solely by her stage moniker for the sake of her family’s privacy – initially intended to parlay her degree in middle level education into a job as a teacher until fate, and an amateur exotic dancing competition at Diamond Cabaret in East St. Louis, intervened. Although Cox finished her degree, and even taught for a year at Effingham junior high and substitute taught for a year at an Urbana high school, she supplemented her educating income by working at clubs during summers off.

Performing at gentlemen’s clubs in Centerville and Champaign, Cox used her summer income to support her “low teacher salary.” She said being in front of club audiences had similarities to teaching a classroom full of students.

“My first time stripping was very nerve racking to say the least,” she said.

However, it didn’t take long for confidence to build. “It’s easy to be up in front of lots of people when they are all cheering for you and telling you wonderful things, but it’s not so easy when you teach school for the first time.

“I was very nervous about that,” she said. “Those kids don’t have to like you, (and) a lot of them won’t like you.”

Cox’s first break came courtesy of Playboy’s popular syndicated series “Night Calls,” where she was given a scene-stealing role on the show. “I was a huge fan of the show and I E-mailed them pictures one day,” she said of “Night Calls.””While in Los Angeles for the show, I met an agent in the business and stayed in touch with him.”

A break comes courtesy of “Night Calls”:

With her role on “Night Calls,” Cox received the notoriety, and ultimately the change in career, she desired. Explaining this new career, however, was a different matter. Although her dancing was accepted by her friends and family, Cox had concerns that her newfound roles in adult film may not be taken with the same aplomb.

“No parent wants to hear that their child is doing pornography,” she said.”However, I have to give them a lot of respect for dealing with it as well as they have.”

The reaction by friends was similar as Cox’s friends from college echoed her family’s sentiment. Michael Garrard, a biology major and 1993 graduated of Eastern, had known Cox before she was known as Calli in the industry and the pair have been friends since childhood in Robinson.

“It was so gradual that it wasn’t as shocking as it might sound,” Garrard said. “I can look back and it sounds like a stretch, but as it was happening, it didn’t seem strange.”

A self-described “dork” in high school, Cox has consistently eschewed stereotypes of her industry and has always been considered intelligent and sweet by those who know her. “She was always in the smart crowd,” Garrard said.

“She went out for track and was even a little shy in a typical high school way. She’s always been really smart and perceptive.”

After the job with “Night Calls” and the acceptance of her family, Cox moved to Los Angeles in February 2001 with the help of the agent she made contacts with in her dealings with Playboy. Cox’s next step was to establish a stage name for herself within the industry and chose Calli because of her new found residence in the Golden state and Cox because, in her words, “it just fit.”

As for her introduction into the industry, Cox was unsure exactly what her roles would entail or how to handle herself in profession she was relatively unfamiliar with.

Breaking into the adult film industry:

“I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I hadn’t watched a lot of adult films, and when I started in the industry, I had an agent who explained nothing to me. I didn’t know any of the terminology, I had no idea things would take so long, and I wasn’t sure how people would treat me.”

Despite these initial misgiving and uncertainty, Cox has appeared in more than 200 features and has been awarded numerous accolades in her field. In 2001 she was nominated for Best New Starlet by Adult Video News and was awarded best newcomer by Adult Stars Magazine. Cox is also nominated for Performer of the Year by the aforementioned Adult Video News in 2003.

While Cox said she enjoyed performing in films, her passion now lies behind the camera as she was offered a public relations position at Shane’s World in August 2002.

Shane’s World is one of America’s leaders in the adult film industry and has found a profitable niche marketing videos and appearances to college students. Cox now works in public relations as well as writing talent bios, working company promotions or traveling with Shane’s World on shoots across the country.

From pornstar to public relations:

Explaining the impetus for the career switch to public relations, Cox said she needed a change from the hectic schedule as a performer and wanted to try something new. Because of her existing connections in the industry, she hooked up with owner of Shane’s World, Jennie Grant. “Her work ethic, background in teaching and personality made her a good fit behind the camera,” Grant said of Cox’s hiring. “She’s the best. She’s always willing to pitch in or go the extra mile and is on top of everything she does.”

It was also Cox who went to bat for the company when Shane’s World became embroiled in a lawsuit over a movie the company shot at Indiana University. While Shane’s World had previously shot movies featuring the company’s roster of starlets performing with college students on college campuses, the case with Indiana University garnered a great deal of publicity and controversy.

“We like to party with college students and give them the opportunity to be involved in our videos if they so choose,” Cox said.”We decided to go to Indiana because it was ranked the No.1 party school in the nation.”

“Needless to say, the AP wires picked up the story that we had filmed an adult video there and the media went crazy,” she continued. “There was an investigation through the university to see if we had committed any illegal acts, but we didn’t.The only thing that has happened since is high sales!”

Although Cox said Shane’s World typically comes to schools that invite the company, there is still a bit of notoriety associated with the event, and she said controversy isn’t necessarily the norm. While many people see the adult film world as “seedy,” Cox stressed this is typically not the case.

“Although there are people and parts of the industry that are ‘seedy,’ you can find those bad apples anywhere,” she said. “I can say that drugs do not run rampant on sets, girls aren’t made to do anything they don’t want to and the majority of the people in my industry genuinely enjoy what they do.”

Looking back at Eastern and Sigma Sigma Sigma:

With her latest change in career, however, Cox sees herself in a stable position in the industry and looks back fondly on the people she knew while attending Eastern. Although her education served her well, Cox said she especially remembers her year as a member of Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority.

“I was only in the house for a little over a year,” she said of her experiences with Sigma Sigma Sigma. “I had a lot of fun with the girls. I made some good friends and experienced some things that I’ll never forget.”

Cox has even become a piece of Sigma Sigma Sigma lore as many who have seen her films have noticed the three sigmas she has tattooed on her posterior. Although no members of Sigma Sigma Sigma agreed to comment about Cox on record for this piece, they acknowledge she was once a member.

Cox appears to be looking toward the future in the industry in which she has made many friends and is fondly mentioned by those who knew her before her name change or notoriety in the business.

“People assume (people) in the business have nothing else or that they have to use their bodies because they can’t do anything else and that’s definitely not her,” Garrard’s wife Kelly commented. “She’s a fun, sweet person and unless she told you, most people would have no idea what she did for a living.”

This sentiment was echoed by Grant, saying: “She’s really smart. She’s very warm and kind and doesn’t always necessarily get credit for that. She goes for whatever she wants and she puts all of her energy into what she’s doing … and is unafraid to learn anything new.

Looking toward the future:

As for what the future holds, Cox is simply content to continue her public relations job at Shane’s World and make the most of her opportunities.

“I really like the job I am currently performing,” she said.”I can see myself staying around the industry for awhile; staying behind the camera. After that, I can’t say.”