Among those born on January 10, in 1949, was Linda Lovelace — a name many people still know to this day, all because she infamously did something that these days is pretty common.
But Linda Susan Boreman (that ironic surname) did it on camera in the days when such behavior flirted with prison, and her stunt was the beneficiary of a little marketing, a lot of luck and the kind of timing that can't be planned.
When the porn film Deep Throat (directed by the late Gerard Damiano, 1928-2008) came out in 1972, it was shortly after the Supreme Court had relaxed U.S. standards on what was considered obscene. Porn was beginning its boom era, and Deep Throat — financed by the Mob — was at the front of the line with a cutesy storyline of a woman (Lovelace) who can't achieve satisfaction until her doctor (Harry Reems, 1947-2013) helps her discover that her clitoris is positioned in her throat. In order to have an orgasm, she will have to become an oral gourmet, though quickly becomes more of an oral gourmand.
Lovelace's work in the film took all of six days, but it rocked the world and changed her life forever.
When it debuted in June of 1972, it quickly became a sensation. Legit trade papers had begun reviewing pornographic movies, helping to push curiosity among the general public. Celebrities like Lucille Ball (1911-1989) and Johnny Carson (1925-2005) were known to have watched the film, and it became chic to see it and talk about it.
(In a twist no one saw coming, the name "Deep Throat" was also inscribed to the Watergate informant who brought down the Nixon White House.)
For her part, Lovelace became an overnight icon of sexual liberation, giving outrageous interviews, appearing in see-through outfits and starring in a quickie 1974 sequel and in the utterly bizarre Linda Lovelace for President (1975), a feature film in which she marches in lockstep with a guy in a Nazi outfit, a guy in blackface and one in yellowface, and a stereotypical sissy.
It seemed there was nothing she would not do, and this perception was colored by the fact that she was credited in Deep Throat as "Linda Lovelace as Herself."
But was she being herself?
Her husband and — she later said — her virtual owner, Chuck Traynor (1937-2002), allegedly controlled every aspect of her life. By the 1980s, Lovelace — divorced from Traynor, remarried and renamed Linda Marchiano — had renounced her porn career and porn in general. Born-again, Marchiano asserted that Deep Throat was not just something of which she was ashamed, but should be categorized as rape porn.
Her 1980 best-selling memoir Ordeal described the life she had escaped, including narrowly avoiding being driven to Mexico to have sex with a donkey.
In interviews, Lovelace, who had improbably become a suburban Long Island mom of the variety who just voted George Santos into office, spoke articulately about why she felt all porn was degrading to women, and why all pornographers were "sleazy" and devoid of human empathy.
She definitely came off, convincingly, as a victim of human trafficking. And yet, Deep Throat remained and remains widely available.
Why? For one thing, Lovelace's version of events has been contradicted widely by people who were there as she made her films. Most anyone who knew him would acknowledge that Traynor was abusive, but most who also knew Lovelace have said she was a willing participant — albeit one who later had regrets. Complicating her story, Ordeal was published within a few years of two pro-porn books by Lovelace and many magazine layouts, and Lovelace has lied at times. For example, she steadfastly denied having had sex with a dog in 1969's Dogarama, but changed her story to say she'd been forced to do so once a copy of the lost film was discovered by her sympathetic biographer.
Nonetheless, she was unwavering in her claim that, "When you watch Deep Throat, you are watching me being raped," which she told the Meese Commission and again held to be true in her second memoir, Out of Bondage (1986).
Bizarrely, long after she'd established herself as a warrior against pornography, Lovelace did an erotic lingerie shoot for the adult fetish mag Leg Show in 2001. While the magazine's editor was a woman, Dian Hanson (b. 1951), it seemed a remarkably self-sabotaging action to take, whatever her intentions. She was credited as Linda Lovelace, the moniker she had associated with rape and abuse.
I've often thought about Lovelace's story as being similar to that of Jane Roe aka Norma McCorvey (1947-2017), the extremely complicated woman whose case led to nationwide abortion rights in the U.S., and who later did a complete turn-around and fought against those same rights. On her deathbed, McCorvey admitted being anti-abortion was an act — all for money. She'd been a lesbian, too, and then ex-gay, and she said the ex-gay part was also apparently to appease her right-wing handlers.
How to unpack people like Lovelace and McCorvey, who seem to me to exhibit a uniquely American mix of sincerity and fraud, undeniable victimization and also manipulative powers of their own?
Whatever we decide, Lovelace is not around to be a part of the discussion. In 1987, she had undergone a liver transplant due to battling hepatitis for 17 years, and in 2002 was involved in a car accident that resulted in so much trauma she was removed from life support and died.
She was 53.
For still more about Deep Throat, visit The Rialto Report, which presented an unpublished piece of Damiano's memoir in 2019.