Monday, January 10, 2022

Linda Lovelace—Porn’s First Superstar Turned Anti-Porn Crusader

                           Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat.

Linda Lovelace was the first superstar of pornographic films who took them from tawdry peep shoes and dirty bookstores to feature films that played in movie houses across the country.  Her breakthrough Deep Throat showcased her mastery of the title maneuver and went on to be the first mass market video release launching the billion dollar industry of today.  Later she became an anti-porn crusader and Born Again Christian who exposed her exploitation in a memoir.

Born as Linda Boreman on January 10, 1949 in The Bronx, New York her life was a template for the lives of all the abused and exploited young women trapped in prostitution, drug abuse, and pornography.  Her father was a New York City Police detective who was frequently absent, alcoholic, and physically abusive.  Her waitress mother was cold, bitter, and resentful.  She was given a strict Catholic school education.  At all-girl Maria Regina High School in suburban Westchester County she was nicknamed Miss Holy Holy because she kept her dates at a safe distance to avoid sexual activity.

Whatever security and stability she had rapidly crumbled after her father retired from the Police Force and moved the family to Davie, Florida when she was 16.  She began to act up and act out.  By age 19 she became pregnant with her first child who she gave up for adoption. 

Alienated from her disapproving parents Boreman moved back to New York City to attend computer school.  But shortly after she was in an automobile accident in which she sustained serious injuries that required a blood transfusion. The transfusion was tainted with hepatitis which caused chronic health problems and led to a liver transplant 18 years later.

During her recovery Boreman had to move back to Florida to live with her parents, a stressful and tenuous situation.  While recovering she met Chuck Traynor, charming rogue who showered her with the attention she craved.  He convinced her with no great difficulty to return with him to New York. where they married.  Soon after, according to Boreman, Traynor began abusing her and forcing her into prostitution as her pimp.

                                      Lovelace with her pimp, husband, and abuser Chuck Traynor.

In her 1980 memoir Ordeal described her experience with Traynor, although others have disputed it complete reliability.

When in response to his suggestions I let him know I would not become involved in prostitution in any way and told him I intended to leave, [Traynor] beat me and the constant mental abuse began. I literally became a prisoner, I was not allowed out of his sight, not even to use the bathroom, where he watched me through a hole in the door. He slept on top of me at night, he listened to my telephone calls with a .45 automatic eight shot pointed at me. I suffered mental abuse each and every day thereafter. He undermined my ties with other people and forced me to marry him on advice from his lawyer.

My initiation into prostitution was a gang rape by five men, arranged by Mr. Traynor. It was the turning point in my life. He threatened to shoot me with the pistol if I didn't go through with it. I had never experienced anal sex before and it ripped me apart. They treated me like an inflatable plastic doll, picking me up and moving me here and there. They spread my legs this way and that, shoving their things at me and into me, they were playing musical chairs with parts of my body. I have never been so frightened and disgraced and humiliated in my life. I felt like garbage. I engaged in sex acts in pornography against my will to avoid being killed... The lives of my family were threatened.

By the late 60’s he was making hardcore loops, short 8-mm silent films made for peep shows and dirty bookstores.  These were a step below the 16-mm films meant for clandestine stag shows and smokers that had been produced for decades.  The peep shows met an insatiable demand for ever changing new material and Boreman made dozens of them.  She was particularly in demand because she would do virtually everything—oral sex, lesbian scenes, group sex, double penetration, and anal.

In 1969 Traynor put her in Dogarama a bestiality film which she later denied making.  When it surfaced years later there was no doubt that Boreman was the star.  She then claimed that Traynor had forced her to do it “at gun point.”  Cameraman Larry Revene and future porn star Eric Edwards who was also in the film later described her not only as a “willing participant” but as a “sexual super freak” who would try anything.

Everyone however acknowledged that Traynor was dangerous and abusive.  It is consistent with the experience of women caught up in pornography to believe that they are willing participants even claiming to feel it is “empowering” only to recognize the abuse latter.  The experience has been compared to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Stockholm Syndrome.

In 1971 Boreman made Piss Orgy, a golden shower flick which only cemented her wild reputation.

But Traynor had bigger admissions and the time was ripe for them. 

In 1967 the Swedish film I Am Curious Yellow was released to American movie art houses to much acclaim and controversy.  It was described as “serious movie about a society in transition” that also contained nudity and sexual content including oral sex being performed on a limp penis by the leading lady.”  The film was predictably seized by police and banned in Boston.  After a long battle in state and federal courts film was ruled “not obscene” on the basis of serious artistic content and “contemporary community standards.  With all of the publicity that the court cases generation the movie made more than $6 million in American ticket sales, and astonishing figure at the time. 

The floodgates were opened. Producers realized that the time was ripe for a feature length films shot on 35mm, with good production values, a plot however thin, and a multiple person cast.  First out of the gate was Deep Throat, written and produced by Gerard Damiano with Linda Boreman’s special talent.

                                    Deep Throat moved porn from the grimy margins of society to open big business.

She was billed as Linda Lovelace.  Her new name was taken from, of all people, Ada Lovelace, the mathematical genius daughter of Lord Byron who was co-inventor of the world’s first mechanical computing machine.

The film was released to theaters on June 12, 1972 and was an immediate sensation.  It played several times daily for over ten years at in the California Pussycat Theater chain. Despite being banned and censored in many places faltering second-run cinemas around the country became overnight porn houses bringing in new hard core audiences.  Estimated domestic ticket sales run from more than $50 million to as high a $300 million over its long runs in theaters and frequent revivals over the next decade or so.

Overnight Linda Lovelace was a household name and celebrity.  The cultural fallout from the film was immediate, widespread, and surprising.  As the Watergate scandal unfolded later that year The Washington Post dubbed the ultra-secret informer feeding inside information to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  Their subsequent book about the investigation and the block buster movie based on it, All the President’s Men made the code name famous.

Meanwhile the film was reviewed seriously, if not favorably in the New York Times and by Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.  Dozens of popular and scholarly magazines weighed in on the social significance of the film with all the earnestness usually reserved for a new Fellini release.  It was discussed as part of post-pill sexual liberation like swinging.  Celebrities including directors Martin Scorsese and Brian De Palma, Truman Capote, Jack Nicholson, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Walters and even Vice President Spiro Agnew not only saw the film but openly talked about it setting off what Ralph Blumenthal of The New York Times called porno chic.

In the ‘80’s Deep Throat was one of the first porno films released on VCR reaping untold millions more and creating a vast new industry.  The then ubiquitous mom and pop VCR rental stores that popped up in every urban neighborhood, suburban strip mall, and small town where back rooms became the profit center of the enterprises.  For a few bucks customers could leave the store with plastic bags discreetly filled with porno to watch in the privacy of their homes.  As technology changed the porn industry adapted through DVDs to web sites and streaming video.  Today pornography is the most frequent topic of Google searches.

Equally as long lasting was a dramatic change in American sexual mores.  Prior to the film’s release oral sex was certainly practiced, but not by most good girls who thought it was disgusting and degrading.  It was what men and boys went to prostitutes to experience.   But Deep Throat became part of the sexual education of a generation of young men, including a nerdy young hippy in a cowboy hat who otherwise missed most of the sexual revolution.  Young men came to expect and demand a blow job and young women learned to please them.  By the 21st Century older folks were shocked to learn that many teen agers were hooking up for casual sex and that many good girls could claim that they “never had sex” if there was no vaginal penetration—they could remain theoretical virgins if they just performed oral sex.

Despite all of the hoopla Deep Throat did little to improve Linda Lovelace’s life or even her career.  She did pictorial spreads for Playboy, Bachelor, and Esquire between 1973 and 1974 and Traynor kept her booked for personal appearances at porn movies theaters, strip clubs, and the remaining burlesque houses.  But he kept virtually all of the money she made and his beating only intensified.

In the mid-‘70’s Lovelace’s name was on two books glorifying her porn experiences, Inside Linda Lovelace and The Intimate Diary of Linda Lovelace.  She likely had very little input on the contents of the books.

Drug use always went hand in hand with the porn industry.   As her life continued to spin out of control Lovelace increasingly turned to pot but she also was on pain killers for the lingering effects of her old auto accident and new injuries regularly inflicted by Traynor.  And, of course, cocaine was becoming the jet fuel of porn.

                                Linda Lovelace for President was a soft core alleged comedy that bombed.

In 1974 Lovelace starred in Deep Throat II, a soft-core film meant for general release in regular theaters with an R rating.  Under the heavy influence of drugs and resentful of Traynor’s threats and beating she was difficult on the set and turned in lackluster performances. Even though it had no hard core scenes the completed film had to be heavily edited to satisfy the MPAA and get the R rating.  With most of the sex scenes cut and minimal nudity, the film was a failure at the box office.

In 1975 Lovelace finally broke free of Traynor who may have allowed her to leave because his cash cow was a fading attraction.  She soon after she became involved with David Winters, an English actor, writer, director, and producer.  They made the raunchy comedy Linda Lovelace for President co-staring Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees in 1976.  The film flopped and was her last screen role.  Her entire film career after the early loops consisted of less than four hours of screen time.

Later that year Lovelace was cast to play the title role in the erotic movie Forever Emmanuelle but she was still doing drugs heavily.  She had already signed for the part when she claimed that “God had changed my life”, and refused to do any nudity, and even objected to a statue of the Venus de Milo on the set because of its exposed breasts. She was replaced by French actress Annie Belle. 

She left Winters for Larry Marchiano, a cable installer.  The couple married in 1977 and moved to Long Island where they had two children Dominic and Lindsay.  Despite her continued drug usage and increasing illness from her hepatitis infection, the two settled into a somewhat normal suburban life.  With the abuse of her first husband behind her Loveless was as happy as she had ever been.

Lovelace with her second husband Larry Marhiano.

Lovelace’s film career was over after the after the failure of Forever Emmanuelle she mostly retired except for some leg and lingerie photo spreads.  She concentrated on raising her children and trying to get clean from drugs.  By the late 70’s she was getting sicker with hepatitis.  By then her illness had forced her to give up drugs.

Relatively clean and sober and in recovery Lovelace had time to reflect on her career and come to grips with its trauma. The result was her anti-porn memoir Ordeal.  While it details have been disputed by some journalists and biographers, the broad outline of her downfall and abuse was true.

With the publication of Ordeal in 1980, she joined the anti-pornography movement. At a press conference announcing Ordeal, she leveled many of the accusations against Traynor in public for the first time. She was joined by supporters Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon, Gloria Steinem, and members of Women Against Pornography.  She spoke before feminist groups, at colleges, and at government hearings on pornography.

                                        The mass-market paperback edition of Ordeal.

In 1986 Lovelace followed up with Out of Bondage, a memoir focusing on her life after 1974.   Later, however she reported feeling used by the anti-pornography movement:

Between Andrea Dworkin and Kitty MacKinnon, they’ve written so many books, and they mention my name and all that, but financially they’ve never helped me out. When I showed up with them for speaking engagements, I’d always get five hundred dollars or so. But I know they made a few bucks off me, just like everybody else.

She underwent the long-expected liver transplant in 1987.   In 1990 Marchiano’s dry wall contracting business failed and the family moved to Colorado.  Financial woes and Lovelace’s occasionally erratic behavior placed a strain on their marriage.  In his own memoir first husband Trainor claimed that Marchiano drank to excess, verbally abused her children, and was occasionally violent with her.  Whatever the case the couple amicably divorced in 1996 and they remained friendly the rest of her life.

On April 3, 2002, Lovelace was involved in another automobile accident more serious than the one in1970. She suffered massive trauma and internal injuries. On April 22 she was taken off life support and died in Denver, Colorado, at the age of 53 with Marchiano and their two children at her side.  She was interred at Parker Cemetery in Parker, Colorado.

Interest in her story did not die with her.  She was the subject of a 2005 documentary, Inside Deep Throat and of 2008’s Lovelace: A Rock Musical debuted at the Hayworth Theater in Los Angeles. The score and libretto were written by Anna Waronker of the 1990s rock group that dog, and Charlotte Caffey of the ‘80s group the Go-Gos.  She was portrayed as a feminist hero and martyr.

Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor and Amanda Sefried as Linda Lovelace in the little seen feature film.

In 2011, two Lovelace bio pics begin production.  One, titled Lovelace, went into general release on August 9, 2013, with Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman directing, Amanda Seyfried—an actress best known for her wholesome roles—as Lovelace, and Peter Sarsgaard as Chuck Traynor. It received a limited release in 2013, but ultimately, despite drawing many positive reviews, it was a box-office failure.

The other film titled Inferno: A Linda Lovelace Story was scheduled to go into production with film with bad girl Lindsey Lohan.  Despite much advance publicity Lohan’s erratic behavior on the set led her to being replaced by Malin Åkerman.   Matthew Wilder, a former lover who also helmed Linda Lovelace for President was scheduled to direct.  Due to losing Lohan and a lack of financing the film never completed production.