NEW YORK, April 23 (UPI) -- Everything about the life of Linda Lovelace, who died Monday at age 53, was so, so sad.
She had been a prostitute, a drug abuser, and the star of some of the raunchiest porn movies ever made, back when the Mafia filmed them secretly in ratty New York apartments.
She stretched her 15 minutes of fame to 30 by converting to feminism and condemning pornography as "legalized rape," but there was never much conviction in anything she said or published. And yet there was a softness to her, and a gullibility, and a desperate desire to be loved and accepted, making her seem more like a confused girl from Yonkers than the leader of the porn revolution.
She was probably as stunned as everyone else when "Deep Throat" became the most famous and profitable smut movie in history, especially since it was little more than a down-and-dirty stag film shot in ratty Miami motel rooms. In the context of the tens of thousands of porn movies made both before and after, it ranks pretty close to the bottom in terms of cinematography, acting, entertainment value and just plain sexual thrills.
But "Deep Throat," strange as it may seem, changed America's sexual attitudes more than anything since the first Kinsey Report in 1948.
It altered the lives of everyone associated with it. It super-charged the feminist movement. It gave the Mafia its most lucrative business since Prohibition. And it changed the nation's views of obscenity forever.
We'll never know exactly how much money it made -- and continues to make -- but estimates have gone as high as $600 million, which would make it one of the most successful motion pictures of any kind in any country in the history of the world.
Nations, like people, have moments when they just need to get drunk and party, and apparently something of the sort was happening in June 1972 when, at almost the same moment, the Watergate burglars broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee and "Deep Throat" opened at the World Theater in New York City. "Deep Throat" was not just a dirty movie, it was a cause, and it was so popular that most film critics were afraid to deprecate it for fear of seeming unhip.
Ed McMahon, the sidekick of Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," was such a fan of the movie that he showed up with six friends and a case of beer, then stood outside the theater afterward enthusing with the public.
Frank Sinatra was one of the early audience members, along with Vice President Spiro Agnew, Warren Beatty, Truman Capote, Shirley MacLaine, Nora Ephron, Bob Woodward and Sammy Davis Jr., who grew so enamored of Linda Lovelace that within the year he and his wife would be having group sex with her and her husband.
"Deep Throat" is finally one of those movies that really can't be explained. It was simply there at a certain crazy time, and it brought out every suppressed urge of a public starved for sensation. And Linda Lovelace was the ill-equipped starry-eyed girl at the center of that vortex.
Lovelace may be the only American celebrity to publish four best-selling autobiographies. The first two celebrate free uninhibited sex as the most liberating form of human expression since man learned to speak. The last two describe pornography as a felony assault against women, a menace to the future of civilization and the very essence of evil. In this one desperately unhappy woman we have both the yin and the yang of the sexual revolution played out before our eyes.
Linda Boreman -- her real name -- started down the road that would turn her into the world's most famous sexual performer on a day in 1969 when she was recuperating from a car accident at her parents' condo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
She and her girlfriend were relaxing poolside in their bikinis -- despite scars all over Linda's body -- when a bar owner and sometime pimp named Chuck Traynor spotted her and offered the two girls a joint and a ride in his Jaguar. She was 21. He was 27. In a matter of weeks she had moved in with Traynor, and she soon found out that opposites truly attract. He was the rough and possessive type, part of the small-time criminal underworld; she was the protected daughter of a cop. She didn't know much about sex at the time, but Traynor said he would teach her, using hypnosis to increase her sexual appetite.
Lovelace had grown up in Yonkers, the daughter of a New York City cop and a domineering mother who believed in frequent corporal punishment. At Catholic school she got the nickname "Miss Holy Holy" because she wouldn't let boys touch her. When she was 16 her parents retired to Florida, and she finished high school there without making many new friends. She lost her virginity at age 19 and gave birth to a baby at 20. (She claims her mother tricked her into giving the baby up for adoption by having her sign papers she didn't read.) She returned to New York to enroll in computer school and was planning to open a boutique when a nasty car accident left her with a broken jaw, broken ribs and a lacerated liver. That's when Traynor walked into her life.
The hypnosis apparently worked, because within a few weeks Lovelace was turning tricks. Traynor owned a bar, the Vegas Inn in North Miami, but when business dropped off, he returned to pimping. In later years Lovelace would claim that she was a virtual prisoner during her prostitution years, 1969 to 1972, and that she was frequently beaten and threatened with a gun. The truth is difficult to determine, because Traynor freely admits beating her but says it was part of mutual sexual games, and that he did carry guns but he never threatened to use one on her. He also claims she could have left at any time. As late as 1974, Lovelace was declaring in public interviews that she loved Traynor.
Traynor eventually married Lovelace -- according to her, so that she couldn't be forced to testify against him on drug charges. Both became habitual users of marijuana and methamphetamine, and Traynor increasingly came to think of her as his meal ticket.
Eventually he moved her to New York where he hoped to sell her services to the most famous madam of her day, Xaveria Hollander, the "Happy Hooker" herself. But Hollander turned her down as an employee, and it's not difficult to see why. Lovelace was not a particularly attractive woman, especially by the standards of the call-girl world. She had frizzy hair and a square mannish face; her breasts were fake, the result of illegal silicone injections she got in 1971, before implants had been invented. Her sole appeal, according to those who worked with her, was that her personality came off as winsome and girl-next-doorish. There was also a little bit of the hippie "free love" spirit about her.
Undeterred by Hollander's rejection, Traynor turned to the next best thing -- "loops." These were five-to-ten-minute filmed sex acts that were also known as stag films, smokers and peeps. They were all illegal, filmed secretly with 8-millimeter cameras in New York City apartments with anonymous actors, crews, and moneymen supplied by the Colombo crime family. Lovelace made dozens of these, most of them directed by a guy named Ted (Tom) Snyder, who wore cowboy hats, gold chains and a gold pinky ring with "Ted" spelled out in diamonds.
When Traynor and Lovelace met Snyder in 1970, he was working out of a filthy apartment on 48th Street, in the Times Square area, and frequently used an actor named Rob Everett as Lovelace's partner. Everett said Lovelace was not only a willing participant in the filming, but "She loved sex." Her fellow actors, responding later to charges that she was forced into the business, even went further to say that she loved prostitution, multiple partners, and especially any kind of rough sex.
Under Traynor's guidance, the loops got more and more freaky. Lovelace appeared in a bestiality loop that she would describe in one of her autobiographies as something she did at gunpoint. But the six people on the set that day were interviewed by film historian Jim Holliday, and all except Lovelace claim that she not only did it willingly, she seemed to enjoy it.
Traynor and Lovelace got their big break at a cocktail party for swingers where they met Gerard Damiano, a director of softcore porn who was casting hardcore scenes for a new movie called "Changes." Damiano was so impressed with Lovelace that he wrote a script especially for her. That script would become "Deep Throat," but first Damiano would have to convince his Mafia bosses to use her.
Louis "Butchie" Peraino was the Colombo associate who had to approve the budget for Damiano's "Deep Throat" script, and the 300-pound "Butchie" was not impressed at first by Lovelace. He knew her as the star of the "M" series of loops. He wanted Carol Connors, a big-breasted blonde, to play the lead in what was, for him, a major investment of his father's money. But he changed his mind when Damiano had Lovelace demonstrate her sexual technique for him.
Lovelace would be paid $1,200 to appear in the new film -- actually Traynor took the money -- which was titled "The Doctor Makes a Housecall." To give it a bigger look than the usual loop, Damiano filmed it in Miami with $23,000 of the mob's money. One of the crew members making the trip with Damiano was Herbert Streicher, a 25-year-old Jewish kid from Westchester who had done Wheaties commercials and Off-Broadway theater but was still struggling to make it as a legitimate actor. He had turned to porn, both behind and in front of the camera, to pay the bills, and had even made a couple of loops with Lovelace. On this trip he was hired strictly as a grip and gaffer.
Streicher liked Lovelace, and would always defend her as a sweet trusting person, even though he pooh-poohed her accounts of being forced into porn.
"She's a beautiful person," he would say later. "As far as a personality, Linda has got that magnetic ability to draw an audience or anybody in a room directly to her, that twinkle in the eye, that real smile without phoniness or presumptuousness. Linda's a sweet, sweet girl, a very together person. She's not super bright, and she's not an actress, but she's totally open and free sexually."
If anyone knew what he was talking about, it was Streicher: his screen name was Harry Reems. When Damiano couldn't find anyone to play the key role of the doctor, he took Streicher/Reems off gaffer duty, bought him a white coat at a barber supply house, and film history was about to be made. The cast and crew settled into the Voyager Inn on Biscayne Boulevard and spent an uneventful six days shooting scenes that could just as easily have been shot in Brooklyn. Lovelace would later claim that she was savagely beaten by Traynor on the night before shooting began, but no one else noticed anything strange about his or her behavior. If anything, they thought Lovelace was a little too much in love.
"She doted on [Traynor]," said Damiano. "She loved him, she was close to him, she was never out of his sight." In fact, Damiano discovered that she was so protective of Traynor's feelings that she would try to disguise the fact that she was enjoying the on-screen sex. After a while they started sending Traynor out to get cigarettes when they needed a "money shot" -- "and the sex got five times better because she relaxed," recalled Reems.
Of course, the other way to interpret that is that she was an abused intimidated slave -- the way she would be portrayed by Andrea Dworkin and Gloria Steinem, among others, in later years.
"Deep Throat" was the longest 62 minutes that millions of people would ever sit through. In retrospect, the most inspired decision Damiano made was to rename the movie "Deep Throat." Nothing else could possibly explain its success.
Lovelace was interviewed by Johnny Carson on "The Tonight Show," further stoking the interest of socialites, students, swingers, and the curious. Sinema magazine summed up the effusive prose of the day, praising Lovelace's "fresh carnality, the air of thoroughly debauched innocence, the sense of a woman exploring the limits of sexual expression and feeling. Linda Lovelace is the girl next door grown up into a shameless . . . woman."
Everything peaked for her about a year after the movie's release when she appeared on the cover of Esquire and in a Playboy pictorial. She published her first autobiography, "Inside Linda Lovelace," and stated in the opening chapter, "I live for sex, will never get enough of it, and will continue to try every day to tune my physical mechanism to finer perfection. ... Nothing about sex is bad. That should be repeated over and over ... and perhaps the truth will eventually be seen." She also claimed that she had devised a sophisticated system of oriental and mystical self-discipline, bolstered by hypnosis, in order to achieve her secret techniques for satisfying men and herself.
What's odd, in retrospect, is that she failed to do the one thing that would have provided her with long-term income. Although she did occasional single-scene appearances in other porn movies, she only made one other full-length film--the sequel to "Deep Throat" -- then swore off hardcore altogether.
The Linda Lovelace films that did flood the market were actually her old loops that had been strung together to make choppy compilations like "The Confessions of Linda Lovelace" and "Linda Lovelace Meets Miss Jones." The "Deep Throat" sequel, on the other hand, was released in a softcore version only, and by the time it came out in 1974, with an R rating, audiences were infuriated that it didn't deliver the goods. (Supposedly the hardcore scenes had been removed because of a tricky legal situation, but that footage was stolen from a vault in New York City and never seen again.)
The beginning of the end came when Lovelace was arrested at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas in January 1974 for possession of cocaine and amphetamines.
She was just starting out on what she hoped would be a legitimate nightclub and theater career. The Aladdin Casino booked her for a play called "My Daughter's Rated X," but it closed after a week when, once again, audiences were disappointed to see that she didn't get naked.
She tried dinner theater in Philadelphia, bombing in "Pajama Tops." And sometime during this ill-advised nightclub period, she and Traynor broke up, and she instantly moved in with her producer and choreographer, David Winters. Winters became her new Svengali, setting up a new book deal for her that led to her second autobiography, "The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace," and a movie called "Linda Lovelace for President" that ended her dreams of mainstream stardom for good.
Perhaps the most revealing interview she ever gave appeared in Penthouse magazine, and in it she sounds like a country girl lost in the big city. "After I got away from Traynor," she told Eric Danville, "it was a lot more fun, because I wasn't being sexually abused. I was walking around with transparent clothes on, but that wasn't too bad. I didn't think looking sexy was a terrible thing. I had many, many good times when I was with David. When I was with David I had an awesome time. I met a lot of people and had a lot of fun at that point. I went to see my first play. I saw Richard Chamberlain in 'Cyrano De Bergerac,' I saw 'Grease' in Manhattan. I saw the Alvin Ailey Dancers. I became cultured, I guess. I'd never been cultured."
By 1976, when "Linda Lovelace for President" ended her career, she had called it quits with Winters and run straight into the arms of yet another man, a construction worker named Larry Marchiano. By 1980 she had become a mother of two, a born-again Christian, and a feminist -- and was living on welfare as her husband tried to make ends meet as a cable installer on Long Island.
She had already become the feminist poster child for the demeaning effects of pornography, turning up in Andrea Dworkin's 1979 book "Pornography: Men Possessing Women." And now it was time to tell her story a third time, in the book "Ordeal," co-written by Mike McGrady, the writer who had planned the "Naked Came a Stranger" hoax of 1969. (The publisher, perhaps leery of McGrady, was so concerned about libel suits that Lovelace was required to take an 11-hour lie-detector test before they would go ahead with it.)
This is the book in which she made her most serious charges, accusing Traynor of virtual white slavery and the porn business as a whole of legalized rape. "When you see the movie 'Deep Throat,'" she told the Toronto Sun in 1981, "you are watching me being raped. It is a crime that movie is still showing; there was a gun to my head the entire time." She hit the lecture circuit, talking about the evils of porn for $1,500 per speech, and would eventually testify before the Meese Commission on Pornography in 1986.
Her old friends in the business never really took the allegations seriously.
"After 'Deep Throat' the business simply passed Linda by," said Eric Everett, her original sex partner in her loop days. "She wasn't particularly attractive nor could she act. If she'd told the truth about her life, her book may not have sold as well as making up a story that claims she was forced to do these disgusting things."
Yet she continued to be haunted by the film. Throughout the 1980s she was still in demand as a professional witness for anti-obscenity movements. She appeared on "Donahue" and testified before the Minneapolis City Council when it was considering a law defining pornography as discrimination against women. And in 1986 she wrote her last autobiography, "Out of Bondage," with an introduction by Gloria Steinem. Mostly she used the book to describe her poverty-ridden circumstances and to counter attacks on her credibility that resulted from "Ordeal." She portrayed herself as the typical rape victim who gets raped all over again in the court of public opinion when she decides to tell the truth.
Just as the book came out, though, her health fell apart. First she had a double radical mastectomy, the result of the silicone injections she'd gotten in 1971. But during the procedure, doctors discovered that her liver was malfunctioning, the result of the blood transfusion she'd had after her 1969 car accident. Apparently the original blood donor had Hepatitis C, and barring a liver transplant, she would die. A liver did become available in March 1987, and she underwent a 15-hour procedure at Presbyterian-University Hospital in Pittsburgh, followed by two months' convalescence. For the rest of her life, she would need an anti-rejection drug that costs $2,500 a month.
In 1990 her husband's drywall business collapsed and the family moved to Colorado. She worked for a while at a drug store, but had to quit because of varicose veins that made it difficult for her to stay on her feet all day. (She said this was the result of Traynor's repeated beatings and rapes, causing permanent damage to the blood vessels in her legs as well as internal damage.)
In 1993 she went to work for a computer company, doing purchasing and record keeping for $9.45 an hour, but she was fired a year later for falsifying a time card.
Her third marriage broke up in 1996. Continuing her pattern of vilifying her exes, she described Marchiano as an emotionally abusive alcoholic that she had loved for only the first two years. Using an interesting choice of words, she told a Denver reporter, "I prostituted myself [to Marchiano] so I could have my kids. They were the most important thing to me. They were all I ever wanted."
For the last years of her life she lived in Denver in a small condo, working in "user support" for an investment company and cleaning office buildings at night. She had also become a grandmother in 1998, when her daughter Lindsay gave birth at the age of 17.
For the generation born after "Deep Throat," the term had entered the vernacular as a synonym for oral sex and the name of several cocktails. (All of them are served in a shot glass with either whipped cream or Bailey's on top.) But even Generation Y knows who Linda Lovelace is, as her daughter found out in high school. "I'm not ashamed of my mother," she said. "I'm never going to say, oh no, that's not her . . . I just have to deal with it ..."
But even as the very last smidgen of controversy seemed to have been milked out of "Deep Throat," Ron Howard, the Hollywood producer/director, optioned the rights to "Ordeal" for $3,000.
So given the growing Hollywood fascination with all things sordid, we may see her story told one more time. Until then, she'll mostly be remembered as the "How did she do it?" girl among the people who saw the film, and the "Bad men made me do it" girl among feminists and Christian crusaders. The porn industry has coined its own term, "The Linda Syndrome," to describe porn stars, like Angel Kelly and Samantha Fox, who become stars and then disavow their porn past and embrace feminism.
Lovelace was the longest surviving member of her original liver-transplant support group, so it's ironic that she died alone, as the result of losing control of her car on April 3 and hitting a concrete post. For almost three weeks she remained on life support. When it was finally turned off on Monday, her parents were at her bedside, along with Marchiano and her two grown children. It was a car accident that led her into porn, and all these years later, it was a car accident that finally released her. In both cases, she never knew what hit her.
(To reach Joe Bob, go to www.joebob-briggs.com or email him at [email protected] Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.)