Deep Throat: The Porno That Changed a Nation.  

It’s hard to imagine these days that a single, hardcore pornographic film could have a dramatic impact on an entire country.  However, just such an event occurred back in 1972, when a modestly-budgeted little independent film came onto the scene - a film entitled Deep Throat.

The movie was initially intended to be a comedy, albiet with scenes of explicit sexual content.  The premise in itself was entirely absurd:  A sexually-frustrated woman with the inability to achieve an orgasm enlists the aid of a doctor, who, upon examination, discovers that the reason she is unable to climax is because her clitoris, rather than being located above the vagina, is deep in the back of her throat!  At a mere 61-minute running time, Deep Throat lacked the qualification to be considered a feature film (that being a film 80 minutes or longer, according to the Screen Actors Guild).  Regardless, the “little porno that could” surprised everyone by single-handedly igniting a social, political, and sexual revolution.


It all began when a man named Chuck Traynor approached adult film director Gerard Damiano and introduced him to Traynor’s young wife, Linda Boreman.  After witnessing Boreman displaying a certain exceptional talent, Damiano was inspired to write a film revolving around the act of fellatio - an idea that was completely unheard of at the time.  Hardcore pornography was in its infancy prior to this period in America; while pin-ups and burlesque had gained greater acceptance following the second World War due to their positive effect on morale, actual sexual intercourse (or any detailed discussion of it) was relegated strictly to “educational” films, or illegal stag reels. 

The Evolution of Pornography:

During the 40’s and 50’s, many Americans had very little understanding of sex as anything more than a way to further our species.  This was a time when fathers, rather than participating in the delivery of their children, would remain in the hospital waiting room until called upon by a nurse after the labor was through.  Even those who had given birth themselves had limited knowledge about how exactly human reproduction took place, and certainly, they had never witnessed it themselves.  It was a period during which exploitation cinema was given certain immunity to thrive, as they could now operate under the guise of educating the public.  Men and women alike could see these films with impunity, regardless of whether or not they had education in mind.

Following the Paramount Decision in 1948, the major studios no longer had guaranteed venues to play their films, and now had to compete with exploiteers to grab an audience.  Suddenly, studio productions were utilizing the tactics of titilation that had previously forced the marginalization of exploitation cinema.  With the fall of the Hays Code and the outcome of cases like Roth v. United States, nudity and human sexuality began to proliferate in films, and by 1968, the implementation of the MPAA ratings system eventually led to the rise of “adult theaters” and “peep shows” - special venues that exhibited graphic pornography to the paying public.  In 1970, the film Mona the Virgin Nymph became the first explicit pornographic film (with a plot) to receive a general theatrical release in the United States.

Deep Throat and the Emergence of “Porno Chic”: 

The special “talent” of Linda Boreman (under the moniker of Linda Lovelace) was the nucleas for the writing of Deep Throat, which was funded and produced by a man named Louis Peraino, who, at the time, was the owner of a company called Plymouth Distributing.  The film cost $22,500 to shoot, with an additional $25,000 going towards the production of the film’s quirky, memorable soundtrack.  Director Gerard Damiano held a third of the rights to the film, but Peraino (plus his father and brother), forced Damiano out of the partnership, leaving distribution solely to the Peraino family, who, as it turns out, were part of a major network of organized crime.

Prior to the film’s official release, Deep Throat was given a glowing recommendation by Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw magazine.  It was advertised and promoted in the New York Times, and premiered in the World Theater in New York on June 12, 1972.  The film quickly became an unprecedented mainstream success, taking in $30,033 in its opening week, and would go on to take in a staggering $45 million in revenue that year, making it the 6th highest-grossing film of 1972, even topping Liza Minelli in Cabaret.

The film ushered in a period known as “porno chic”, when upper and middle-class men and women flocked in droves to see hardcore pornographic films in theaters across the country.  During this time, it was considered not only acceptable, but fashionable to watch and discuss pornographic films.  This seeming widespread acceptance of pornography in mainstream popular culture startled the conservatives of the era, as well as Christians and radical feminists, and what is known today as the “Golden Age of Porn” was marred with civil and political unrest, as an increasing demand for censorship and abolition of “obscenity” threatened to clip the wings of the film industry’s newfound freedom.

"Obscenity" Under Fire - Nixon and Conservatives Strike Back:

Two years prior to the film’s release, then-President Richard Nixon appointed the President’s Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, otherwise known as the Lockhart Commission.  The eighteen members of the commission spent over $2 million reviewing research, conducting interviews, and funding their own survey on whether pornography posed any kind of significant threat to the minds of the masses.  The report concluded that there was no demonstrable social harm to the public stemming from pornography depicting consenting adults, and recommended the appeal of existing obscenity laws.  President Nixon refused to accept both the report and the conclusion of the study.

It was then, under Nixon’s guidance, that a call for a “return to decency” was made, and legislative efforts against pornographic film began cropping up all across the country.  Because of the high profile and record-breaking attendance of Deep Throat, the movie became a lightning rod for litigation.  Theaters that showed the film had their reels and promotional material confiscated by law-enforcement officials, and the film was subsequently banned in numerous states across the country.

Harry Reems and the Order of the Court:

As a result of his participation in the film, actor Harry Streicher (better known under the moniker of Harry Reems), was arrested and eventually convicted (along with eleven other individuals and four corporations) of conspiracy to distribute obscenity across state lines, and was sentenced to five years in prison.  It was the first time an American actor was ever prosecuted by the federal government simply for playing a role in a film.  In the wake of his conviction, Reems saw support from many of Hollywood’s elite, including Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty.  However, before his sentence was to be carried out, the nation saw the resignation of Nixon from the seat of the Presidency as a result of the Watergate scandal, and the new appointment of Democrat Jimmy Carter to the White House.  In a twist of almost karma-like irony, the FBI informant that linked the Nixon administration to numerous crimes of sabotage against the Democratic party (thus forcing Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency), did so under a code name: “Deep Throat”.

Reems’ conviction was overturned on appeal due to the fact that his role in the film took place prior to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on obscenity in 1973.  The actor was granted a new trial, and the charges against him were dropped.  However, due to the stigma of his original prosecution, Reems was never able to graduate into mainstream cinema, being dropped from the cast of of the 1978 musical blockbuster Grease, and replaced by Hollywood stalwart Sid Caeser.  Reems’ life after that took a downward spiral into alcoholism and drug abuse, eventually leaving him penniless and panhandling on the streets of New York.  After hitting rock-bottom, the actor converted from Judaism to Christianity, which he claims aided him in his journey to reclaim his life.  He eventually found a peaceful life as a real estate agent in Utah, where he settled with his wife until succumbing to pancreatic cancer.  Still using the name “Reems” until the day of his death, he passed away on March 19, 2013, at the age of 65.

From Fellatio to Feminism - The Life of Linda Lovelace:

While she was given immunity from the charges that were lobbied against her co-star by providing testimony, Linda Lovelace would not be above facing trials of her own.  The famed porno actress penned numerous biographies, the first two of which she revelled in the liberation she felt from working in pornography.  However, after her divorce from husband Chuck Traynor, she began to go public with stories about physical and mental abuse, making claims that Traynor forced her into the adult entertainment industry, and that she had been coerced against her will into taking part in the sexual acts she performed on film, even going so far as to say that Traynor was often just off-camera, holding a gun to her head.  However, these claims were met with confusion from fellow cast members from various films.  While Lovelace did indeed suffer physical abuse from her marriage behind closed doors, her co-stars in front of the camera painted a different picture of Lovelace, as a pathological liar without sexual boundaries or conviction, and denying her allegations that Traynor had ever held a gun to her head during filming.  Lovelace had once completely denied her role in a 1971 bestiality film titled Dogarama, until footage from the film surfaced, proving otherwise. 

After having performed in numerous pornographic films and taking a stance against the censorship of pornography, Lovelace suddenly became pietistic - declining to appear nude, and declaring that her “love of God” had caused her to change her mind about pornography.  Suddenly, the former porno queen became a part of a radical feminist anti-pornography movement, stating, “Virtually every time someone watches that movie, they’re watching me being raped.”  Unfortunately for Lovelace, she failed to gain sympathy from fellow actors in the adult film industry, due to the skepticism regarding her credibility.  Fellow adult-film actress Gloria Leonard was quoted as saying, “This was a woman who never took responsibility for her own […] choices made; but instead blamed everything that happened to her in her life on porn.”  It was not so much that she was forced into her adult film work through physical violence, but that it was occurring (in her marraige) at the same time as her filmed performances.  Because of this, it is believed that Lovelace psychologically connected the two, resulting in feelings of stress and trauma relating to her stint in pornography.  When it came to her involvement in the feminist movement, Lovelace did have support from notable activists such as Gloria Steinem, but later confessed to feeling “used” by the anti-pornography movement, and never receiving moral support or financial assistance.

Towards the end of her life, she once again embraced her past in 1995, appearing in a tasteful photo shoot for Leg Show magazine.  Sadly, due to complications arising from an automobile accident, Linda “Lovelace” Boreman was taken off life support, and passed away on April 22, 2002, at the age of 53.

The Resounding Legacy of Deep Throat:

While the rumors of Deep Throat's total grosses reaching over $600 million (thus making it the most profitable film ever made) are dubious at best, the fact remains that a dirty little movie shot on a shoestring budget singularly catapulted hardcore pornography from the filthy, hushed back alleys of yesteryear into mainstream consciousness, and birthed a wildly profitable industry that continues to flourish to this day.  For better or worse, it changed the sexual attitudes of an entire nation.  Deep Throat is to oral sex what Night of the Living Dead is to zombies.  The entire world became keenly aware of the fact that yes - women not only can have orgasms, but they want them.  It also helped strip away the outdated notion of a clitoral orgasm being something “evil”, and to be avoided at all costs. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the case of Miller v. California, “obscenity” was redefined from that of “utterly without socially redeeming value” to that which “lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”.  Deep Throat, along with another celebrated pornographic film, The Devil in Miss Jones, would be the last hardcore films ever to receive widespread, mainstream exposure.  The cheaper medium of video over film led to the closing of adult theaters, as well as the end of the mainstreaming of pornography.  However, the advent of Betamax and the VHS made it so the pornographic genre could continue gaining momentum in private homes.  By the late 70’s, pornographic tapes comprised approximately half of all American sales of prerecorded tapes.

Now, over 40 years after Deep Throat hit theaters and challenged the morality of a nation, the film is still being remembered and lauded for its impact on the history of cinema, American sexuality, and the subsequent demand and proliferation of hardcore pornography that continues to this day.  The film and its stars have become the subject matter for biographies, documentaries, feature films, remakes, and even plays and musicals.  Now, and for decades to come, Deep Throat will continue to be remembered as the little porno flick that sparked a revolution, and the pornography of today shall forever owe a debt to one enigmatic young woman, and the “special talent” that made her a legend.

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