What film starring a Colorado-connected actress still holds the record for most profitable porn movie of all time? That would be Deep Throat, the first adult film to debut in mainstream theatrical cinema, helping to bring the sexual revolution to the middle class and breaking box-office records upon its release back in June 1972, exactly fifty years ago. Star Linda Lovelace quietly lived out the last years of her life in metro Denver, dying from complications following a car accident in 2002 at the age of 53.
Damiano Films is now run by Deep Throat director Gerard Damiano’s children, Gerard Damiano Jr. and Christal Damiano, who are working to preserve and promote their father’s legacy in the porn industry. Damiano was the auteur of other films on the adults-only spectrum, from the nearly-as-famous The Devil in Miss Jones to the dubious achievement of what Damiano Films term a “cult classic” called Let My Puppets Come, which is exactly what it sounds like: muppet porn.
The festivities kick off on June 10 in New York City at the Roxy Cinema Tribeca with a 16mm screening and panel discussion among 1970s porn stars and historians. Deep Throat will also be featured in a month-long exhibit at NYC’s Museum of Sex called Porno Chic to Sex Positivity: Erotic Content & the Mainstream, 1960 Till Today.
Even if Lovelace were alive, it's doubtful she'd participate in the celebration, considering the arc of her short lifetime, in which she moved from porn star to porn defender to anti-porn activist to attending porn conventions and signing autographs, a journey recorded in her own words in four separate autobiographies from 1974, 1980 and 1986. Her porn career comprises only six films in as many years, from 1969 to 1975. And in 1986, Lovelace testified before the Meese Commission on Pornography, when she stated: “When you see the movie Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped.”
Therapist and author Judith Herman, known best for her book Trauma and Recovery, says that much of the behavior exhibited by Lovelace later in life suggests that she suffered from PTSD. But it remains unclear whether that condition was caused by her parents, the porn and prostitution experiences in her young adulthood, or both.
Born Linda Susan Boreman in the Bronx in 1949, Lovelace had a religious upbringing that included Catholic schools and the nickname “Miss Holy Holy” due to her youthful aversion to sex and even physical contact. Her father was a largely absent New York City policeman, her mother a distant and domineering waitress; when her father retired from the force in 1965, the family moved to Florida, where a few years later the unmarried Lovelace gave birth to a baby. Lovelace put that child up for adoption, but wrote years later that her mother had tricked her into signing away her rights on papers she didn’t read.
But here's where it gets complicated: Until the end of her life, Lovelace never really wavered on the claim that she’d been forced to do all she did in the porn industry, and all that goes with it. Her films after Deep Throat played off her fame from that first flick, never rising to the original’s level of success — and definitely not its level of cultural acceptance. Contemporaries of Lovelace report not having any clue that Lovelace was being forced into anything, though some agree that Traynor was abusive behind closed doors. The attitude of many was summed up by fellow ’70s porn star and later porn advocate Gloria Leonard, who said that “this was a woman who never took responsibility for her own choices made, but instead blamed everything that happened to her in her life on porn.”
In her two autobiographies from 1974, Lovelace defends porn and the right to sexual expression, painting herself as a champion of free speech and free love. By 1976, she’d survived heavy drug use and had been born again; she had to be replaced on the film Forever Emmanuelle because she reportedly refused to do any nude scenes.
Lovelace divorced Traynor in 1975 and married a blue-collar cable installer named Larry Marchiano in 1976. They had two kids — the first in 1977, the second in 1980. That was the year her third autobiography was released. This one, titled Ordeal, was a 180-degree turn from her pro-porn earlier years, and Lovelace went into great detail as to how much of what she did was either metaphorically or literally at gunpoint: porn, rape, prostitution, everything. For most of the early ’80s, she teamed up with several feminist activists connected to Women Against Pornography (WAP), including Gloria Steinem. She would later disavow her relationship with WAP, claiming that once again, she was being used by others for their own agendas.
It was in 1990 that Lovelace made her way to Denver with her husband and two children, Marchiano's drywall business having failed. The couple divorced in 1996, but the two remained in touch until Lovelace's passing six years later; the family still resides in the Denver area today.
After her second divorce, and probably at least in part for financial reasons, Lovelace was back on the porn convention circuit, signing autographs and meeting fans to help make ends meet. But in those last years, she seemed content with all she’d been through and how she managed to come out on the other side. In a 1997 interview on Entertainment Tonight, she summed it all up: “I look in the mirror and I look the happiest I’ve ever looked in my entire life. I’m not ashamed of my past or sad about it. And what people might think of me, well, that’s not real. I look in the mirror and I know that I’ve survived.”
America never got to know the real Linda; we only knew the character, the performer. But perhaps the fiftieth anniversary of Deep Throat will finally show her some respect.
And not just provide another example of Linda Lovelace being used for someone else’s gratification.