That Old Feeling: When Porno Was Chic

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At the New York Film Festival, films with intense sexual elements were occasionally part of the 20-some features in the official program. In 1971, the year I joined the festival's selection committee, we showed Dusan Makaveyev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism, which had a hint of hard-core. The following year, the Festival had Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (Brando, butter), As we discoed fearlessly through the 70s we brought in a porno documentary from France (Exhibition) and a Japanese drama (In the Realm of the Senses) that had hard-core sex and a pretty explicit castration. The clear implication: these pictures were chosen to be in the Film Festival, so they had to be art.

At Film Comment, associate editor Melinda Ward and I put together a special issue on Cinema Sex (January-February 1973). It included Donald Richie's report on Japanese eroductions, Ray Durgnat on Jess Franco, Stephen Farber on sexual censorship in California, my long interview with Metzger and Ebert's definitive study of Meyer (which is quoted in the first pages of The Other Hollywood. My favorite essay, a real startler, was Brendan Gill's on porno films. Brendan, a New Yorker staff writer for a half-century, and author of the magazine's unofficial history, Here at the New Yorker, was a man of many passions, from theater to architecture to women, and in a sweet seizure of ardor his speech and prose were ever rising to an exclamation point . Pornography was one of those enthusiasms, as he expressed in his Film Comment effusion, called "Blue Notes." A sample:

"I go to as many blue movies as I can find time for, and it amounts to a blessing that two of the most important theatres housing hard-core porn in New York City —the Hudson/Avon for heterosexual blue movies, and the Park/Miller for homosexual ones —are within a couple of hundred yards of my office. At the moment of writing, another fifteen or twenty porn houses are but five minutes away. How lucky I am that this unexpected period of permissiveness should have coincided with my life, and how unready I am to have the period brought to a close by some new ruling of the courts!"

We probably wouldn't have done that special issue if it hadn't been for Deep Throat.


In essence, Deep Throat is part slapstick comedy, part carnal carnival: it's a burlesque routine (Harry Reems' Doctor Schnorrer routine) wrapped around a sideshow freak stunt (Linda's routine). And the movie —maybe all of porno chic —wouldn't exist if Chuck Traynor hadn't shown Damiano a bedroom trick his wife Linda could do. Which, putting it starkly, was to work a penis not only into her mouth but down her throat. Call it glottal fellatio —a glo-job.

Chuck and Linda came to New York in 1971, and quickly fell into the burgeoning local porn scene. The way she remembers, it was one big family: "You met one person, and he passed you on to the others. The still photographers knew the club owners who knew the madams who knew the eight-millimeter directors who knew the peep show kingpins who knew the adult bookstore owners and on and on. ... I swear, before the week was out, Chuck managed to meet every prominent pervert in New York."

Years later, Lovelace would publish an autobiography, Ordeal, in which she charged Traynor with all manner of brutality: he beat her, threatened her, forced her into Deep Throat and a lesser known but more infamous loop where she has sex with a dog. She found unlikely allies in the feminist movement, who took her case as prima-facie sexual victimhood. In 1986 Linda testified before Congress about her performance in Deep Throat, charging that "Virtually every time someone watches that movie, they're watching me being raped."

Other hard-core workers interviewed in The Other Hollywood dispute some of the Lovelace charges, including that she showed any reluctance to make the girl-meets-dog film. But there's no doubt Linda's life was mostly rough. She had scars on her body from car crashes, of which she endured at least three, including the one that killed her in 2002, when she was 53. An unhappy, possibly abused child, she left home early and had the ill luck to meet Traynor, about whom no one speaks with much affection. He sounds like an expert exploiter. She wrote that, on a visit to Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion: "Chuck decided to demonstrate a new trick he had been practicing —putting his entire fist into me. ... At this point everyone applauded, again, just like in an old Fred Astaire movie." A Roman bacchanal, with Hef as Caligula.


Damiano was shooting a 10-min. loop, set in a hospital, with Reems as the patient (he has a bandage bow-tied around his ailing member) and Linda as the ministering nurse. Then she performed her sleight-of-throat. As the actor recalled: "I couldn't believe she ate the whole thing!... It was a frightening sensation. My first thought was, 'Will she bring me back alive?'" (Spoken like a smart third banana.) "Gerry's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets and the cameraman's jaw brushed his shoes. I think all of us there knew we were present at a significant moment in sexual history."

Damiano quickly whipped up a script about a young woman who can't achieve orgasm, whatever her sexual activity. "There should be bells ringing, dams bursting, bombs going off!" she complains to a friend. Dr. Young, after a minute examination, detects Linda's clitoris in her throat. She starts bawling, and he tries to console her. "Having a clitoris deep down in the bottom of your throat is better than having no clitoris at all." "That's easy for you to say,' she snaps. "Suppose your balls were in your ear." He pauses, brightens, and says: "Well, then I could hear myself coming."

When Reems read an early version of the script, he recalled, "I saw a part I was dying to play —and my part was dying to play it, too." (Cue rim shot.) The director was a Reems fan: "I really dug Harry. He's a professional, he's a romantic, and he's an exhibitionist." But for some reason he didn't want him to play Dr. Young. Linda, of course, had to be in the movie; she was the movie. He gave her an alliterative, movie-star name and devised costumes, lighting tricks and cagey camera angles to hide her abdominal scar, a memento from one of her car wrecks. Linda was no goddess. But she was slim and freckled, not your standard porno skank, and her inexperience on screen played like freshness, innocence.

Though the cast and crew were in New York, Deep Throat would be shot in Miami. Why? Mainly because nearby Fort Lauderdale was the base of operations for Damiano's underworld sponsor. (You need money for a porno in 1971, you don't go to Chase Manhattan.) Louis Peraino, known as Butchie, was the son of Anthony Peraino, Sr., a made man in the Columbo family; one of the five Mafia gangs that ruled New York City. Butchie, who put up the $25,000 for the movie and received producer credit (as "Lou Perry"), was volubly apprehensive about Damiano's new starlet. Lovelace subsequently explained "why Butchie was so critical of me. It wasn't that I might ruin his film or cost him twenty-five thousand. I might make him look bad in front of Daddy."

Whomever Damiano hoped to cast as his male lead wasn't available, so Reems got the job, and Traynor was named production manager. Good thing on both counts. Chuck could be a jealous spouse, so when a sex scene was to be shot, Damiano would send him away on an errand. And Reems had a chance to display his indefatigable performance skills, as a burlesque comic and sex worker, made the enterprise very viewer-friendly. "Harry wasn't a great actor," says long-time porn entrepreneur Fred Lincoln, "but he was a great fucker." Reems is justly proud of his quick preparation for the money scenes: "I can get turned on by a picture of Minnie Mouse." (Fine, Harry, just don't say Pluto!). Even Federal agent Bill Kelly, who would lead the battle to put Harry in jail, offered the grudging praise that "He was the only redeeming thing in the entire movie, as opposed to Linda Lovelace, who's got as much acting ability as a lamp." Reems certainly earned his salary on the film: $250. Linda got $1,200.

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