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Linda Lovelace and ‘Deep Throat’s’ 40-Year Legacy

Tracy Quan (The Daily Beast): As Deep Throat turns 40 in June, its star, Linda Lovelace, is still on our minds. There’s been a surfeit of buzz surrounding Lovelace, a yet-to-be-released biopic featuring Amanda Seyfried as the porn actress and Peter Sarsgaard as her awful-sounding manager-husband Chuck Traynor.Lovelace had a talent for popularizing sexual attitudes and for being at the center of the storm when change was occurring. Never a deliberate trendsetter, she nonetheless had an impact on what became normal in our bedrooms. She’s also one of the most misunderstood icons of the 1970s.

She Was the World’s First Porn Star

Linda Lovelace, who unwittingly shaped the way we make, consume, and think about porn was no obvious star. Her publicity shots from the ’70s radiate fragility rather than charisma.

While paving the way for later stars like Annie Sprinkle, who told me recently, “I got into porn because I was inspired by Linda Lovelace,” and hard-bodied performers like Jenna Jameson, she had little in common with her flamboyant successors. At her peak, with a pretty smile, pleasant face, and a cute girlish body, porn’s first superstar had more in common with amateur porn models of the ’90s.

Lovelace Unwittingly Fell Into a Revolution About Porn

Sprinkle’s first job in porn was selling popcorn at the Cine Plaza theater in Tucson where Deep Throat was playing. “The Cine Plaza was busted for interstate transportation and the manager went to jail for awhile because he had picked up the film at the airport,” she recalled. “I had to be a witness during the trial because I worked there. So my first experience with porn is very political. That’s how I got in at the age of 18. It was an important case that eventually opened a doorway to the golden era of porn, decriminalizing it.”

Porn was still highly illegal in 1972. “I can’t keep track of all the trials, there were so many,” Sprinkle said. “Nobody would dare say they were shooting a porn movie. If asked, ‘What are you filming?’ the standard line was, ‘It’s a student film.’ You couldn’t say, ‘We’re making an X-rated film.’ You were a totally rebellious revolutionary person!”The industry changed quite a lot, as did porn’s relationship to everyone else, including The New York Times, that great arbiter of respectability. Believe it or not, The Times ran print ads for Deep Throat in 1972. While watching the 2005 documentary Inside Deep Throat on my laptop, I caught a glimpse of the legendary Times ad and kept rewinding to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

The World’s First Porn Star Also Turned Into Its First Antiporn Star

Lovelace famously told the Meese Commission in 1986 that every time someone watches Deep Throat, “they’re watching me being raped.” It’s a statement that runs counter to what I see in the movie. The genial dialogue between Lovelace and her costar, Harry Reems, is like a vaudeville routine. (He plays a doctor searching for her clitoris and finding it guess where.) Deep Throat has a funny, provocative plot and a theme song evoking both Mickey Mouse and Mr. Rogers. Gonzo porn this is not.

Reinventing herself as a miserablist icon for ’80s feminists such as Catherine MacKinnon, Lovelace made Deep Throat newly relevant. If not for antiporn feminism’s hostile gaze, it might have been remembered primarily for its quaintness. Instead, Lovelace’s persona evolved into something complex and troubled, creating a more disturbing legacy and, ultimately, Hollywood interest.

Sprinkle recalled that “people hated Linda for turning against porn. They felt she had done a lot of damage.” Lovelace became a living rebuke to liberal feminists, civil libertarians, and the entire porn industry. Though many have come to think of porn and prostitution as distinctly separate, Lovelace claimed she had been forced into both by her husband. For better or worse, the prototypical porn star became America’s first antiporn star.

Melissa Ditmore, editor of The Encyclopedia of Prostitution and Sex Work, met Lovelace in 2001. “Linda’s the first celebrity trafficking victim I know of in the 20th century,” Ditmore said, “and she explained that she felt similarly taken advantage of, first by her husband and later by feminists who included her as part of a dog-and-pony show.”

To understand what was really going on, you might have to read Ordeal, Lovelace’s bestselling 1980 memoir. “There she described domestic violence rather than violence on the porn set,” Ditmore said, “but the public has been left with the impression that these two things are the same.”

Published Date: Wednesday, April 25th, 2012 | 02:35 AM

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