It took Donna Martin seven seasons, 206 episodes, and a lot of false starts by a blue-balled David Silver to finally lose her virginity on Beverly Hills, 90210. But at long last, at the tail end of the two-part season finale that aired on May 21, 1997 (“Graduation Day”), she gave it up. “It was scary after so long to think it was finally going to happen,” Tori Spelling tells Vulture. Spelling was, of course, daughter to megaproducer Aaron Spelling and, according to longtime 90210 writer and producer Larry Mollin, Father Spelling was largely the reason Donna stayed chaste for so long. “All the other kids’ characters were having sex and hers was still the virginal girl,” he says. (But let’s not forget Andrea Zuckerman; she didn’t put out easily, either.) As part of Vulture’s ongoing micro oral history week, we spoke with Mollin, Tori Spelling, and Jason Priestley — who did double duty by playing Brandon and directing the episode — and got the inside story about Donna’s big night, her revealing white lingerie, and the many mood-setting candles.
Larry Mollin (writer and executive producer, “Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2”): The thing that was always at play in the Donna story was that Donna was played by the daughter of Aaron Spelling. The minute we’d go in to pitch stories about an episode, he’d ask, “What’s Donna doing this week?” Even though Donna wasn’t one of the main characters in the inner-circle — she was a supporting character, really, in the beginning — you always had to start what the episode was about with “What was Donna doing?” That’s what the old man wanted to hear. It was sweet. It was actually very endearing, his admiration for her. Tori was really out there. She was just enjoying herself. So even though the old man couldn’t control her, he could control Donna Martin. It was an odd situation, like he was getting his fatherly satisfaction out of controlling a character when he couldn’t really control his daughter.
Jason Priestley (director, “Graduation Day Parts 1 and 2”): That was the common lore that we all understood as well.
Tori Spelling (Donna Martin): Maybe at first [he was being protective]. I’m not sure. When I was first cast, Donna was a just a smaller side character. She was a friend of Kelly and Brenda’s. So there was never a discussion about her character staying a virgin. I think she stayed a virgin because once we established that she was a fan favorite, people really started relating to her. Teens constantly would approach me and tell me that they were virgins and they had times where they were scared that being a virgin would make them seem uncool, but then Donna made it okay.
Mollin: All I could assume was Donna gave good blow jobs. You’d always say, “Donna isn’t having sex but she’s definitely giving hand jobs, she’s giving some good blow jobs.” You know, Ray [Pruit, her abusive onetime boyfriend, played by Jamie Walters] isn’t staying for nothing; there’s something going on there, he’s getting off.
Priestley: I think that the fact that Donna Martin was still a virgin was something that we all joked about, and joked about a lot. How could we not?
Tori Spelling: I don’t remember that! I remember them thinking it was funny how the virgin on the show always wore the most belly-baring outfits.
Mollin: There had been some near-misses with Donna. The “Windstruck” episode [in season four] was a near miss, where she was almost going to lose her virginity — at least that’s what David thought.
Spelling: We knew it was inevitable. I think at one point I jokingly said, “Come on, Dad. It’s time.”
Mollin: We would come up before each season started and say, “Is this the year? Is this the year?” And [Aaron would say], “Well, it may be. I think so.” Finally at the end of college, we all said, “We really gotta do it this year. You can’t go through college … it’s just too much.” You’re starting to feel a little guilty. There was a sweeps episode [in season seven] called “All That Jazz” where Donna and David go to New Orleans, and he had told us we could do it there. So we were gonna do it. And then he changed his mind. Right in the last rewrite of the script. “Nope, nope, nope. Don’t do it.” He finally agreed.
Priestley: At that point in time, I was directing five episodes a year. I sort of had to take the episodes that came up in my window of availability to direct all of the episodes that I was contracted to [do]. And, luckily for me, I got handed the episode where Donna Martin lost her virginity. Of course, Aaron being my boss but also being my friend, I felt a great responsibility to handle the deflowering of his daughter’s character in the most tasteful way that I could [laughs].
Spelling: I was beyond nervous. I wanted it to be perfect. Which is funny because that’s how people want their actual first time to be. Perfect. My heart was pounding.
Priestley: Aaron did not [give me notes] at all. But you gotta remember, I was hamstrung because our show was an eight o’clock show. And Fox’s Standards and Practices back then were very strict about what we could show and what we could not show. They could be on the bed and they could be kissing, but that was it. It was a different time back in the mid-nineties. We had to make sure that our characters were gonna play it safe. That was another edict that came down from on high, you know? Everybody had to play it safe and everyone has to talk about condoms before they talk about having sex. There were a lot of things on our show that were edicts that came down from on high.
Mollin: We were in the shadow of AIDS. [The message] was really breaking out: You need to have safe sex. So we just always felt like we needed to show that.
Priestley: That lingerie that she was in, that was about all that I could get away with. [And] it had to be white! Come on! She was a virgin; she was about to lose her virginity. And it was an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210.
Spelling: I was so uncomfortable wearing lingerie. I felt so exposed. I remember not letting Brian [Austin Green] see me before so that the reveal of Donna to David would be very real. And I remember being nervous hoping he would think that I looked good in it. Such a girl moment. After we did the first take, he told me I looked beautiful and it made my day.
Mollin: It was apparent that this was the [show’s] big relationship: Donna and David. So no matter what we did — we’d put all the obstacles we could in the way — eventually, if the series was going to be told correctly, they would get together. Because that was the couple that the audience was really rooting for.
Spelling: Deep down we all knew from the beginning that she would lose it to David. It couldn’t go any other way. That was their fate.
Priestley: It couldn’t be with Ray, could it? No.
Spelling: Donna and David were each other’s first loves. When you go through so much with someone, how can some of that not rub off personally? I will always hold a special place in my heart for Brian.
Priestley: Tori and Brian didn’t have any struggles, the two of them, at all. With each other or with me.
Mollin: Jason did a nice sensitive job with that scene. The only thing, which I personally always hated with directors, is everything has to have freakin’ candles. Candles and fuckin’ mirrors. It’s like they just invented the thing. We’re gonna start the shot shooting in the mirror and pulling out. What? Believe me, writers did not write candles in. Writers couldn’t give a crap about candles — no one has candles. They’re annoying.
Priestley: I wanted to have a whole bunch more candles. I wanted candles everywhere. I had to have one of the producers come and say, “Oh no, you can only have five candles or we’ll have to get a fire marshal here. We can’t afford to have a fire marshal.” That’s all we had because they didn’t want to spend the $400 to have a fire marshal there.
Spelling: I was scared we would all catch on fire!
Priestley: In retrospect, when I think back, it’s like, Oh my God, that’s so cornball.
Mollin: I always felt really good about the end of it. I remember the lines: David goes, “How did I get so lucky?” And Donna says, “You waited.” It just came out.
Priestley: Oh, yeah. Yeah. “How did I get so lucky? Because you waited.” That’s all she said [imitating Donna]: “You waited.” You know what? They didn’t flub that and they didn’t laugh about that. When it came down to selling that stuff — you have to understand. Let’s see, how do I phrase this the right way? You have to understand that when it comes to Donna Martin, Tori Spelling is not Donna Martin. So, when it came to delivering Donna Martin lines like that, Tori would commit so hard because she had to. Because they were so not her. And she committed to them … fully. And she was in it. She was there. And when she delivered that line, it’s a horrible, corny line, but Tori’s like a thousand percent committed to it. Right?
Mollin: She was a young actress, worked very hard, even to the end. She was one of the few who always kept up a really good attitude.
Spelling: When [the episode] aired, I was supremely proud. It was bittersweet, though, because a chapter of Donna’s life was closing. It’s hard to play a character for so long and not make it personal.