- More than 10 years after her death, Linda Lovelace remains a porn icon
- Over the course of her career, she embraced and denounced "Deep Throat"
- Some, like Larry Flynt, believe Lovelace was used as a sex slave by her husband
More than 10 years after her death, Linda Lovelace probably remains America's best known porn star (apologies to Jenna Jameson and Traci Lords). It's an unlikely distinction given that Lovelace -- by her own estimation -- only spent a total of two and a half weeks working in the adult film industry.
But those two and a half weeks included shooting "Deep Throat," the X-rated film that turned into a pop culture phenomenon after its release in 1972. It became the first adult film to cross over to mainstream audiences, earning an astounding $600 million.
There are many reasons the film became such a breakout hit. Some have described "Deep Throat" as the first porno film that attempted to tell a story, albeit a ludicrous one.
" 'Deep Throat' had a plot," said Darwin Porter, author of "Inside Linda Lovelace's Deep Throat: Degradation, Porno Chic and the Rise of Feminism." "I mean, not a great plot, but a plot.
"It had certain comedy overtones to it, too, and this was very unusual and bizarre (for a porno film at that time)," Porter told CNN.
Porter says "Deep Throat" also benefited from a legal and moral crusade waged against the film.
"So many people wanted to ban (the film), beginning with the government and certainly Mayor John Lindsay of New York," Porter said. "When (Lindsay) banned it in New York, he made the movie famous all over America."
Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt offers a more straightforward explanation for the film's broad appeal. He told CNN it amounted to fascination with Lovelace's gift for a particular sex act suggested by the film's title.
Flynt told CNN, "I think it's the unique talent shown during the film is what piqued a lot of excitement."
The huge success of "Deep Throat" might lead some people to imagine that its star led a charmed life. But that was far from the case, to judge from the recent biopic, "Lovelace," starring Amanda Seyfried in the title role.
The film actually presents its audience with two versions of the Lovelace story. For most of the film, she is shown as being manipulated into porn by her then-husband, Chuck Traynor. But in an darker version of events shown toward the film's end from Lovelace's point of view, she is depicted as essentially a sex slave.
Neither scenario is a happy one. Flynt, who says he knew Lovelace and Traynor, seems to believe the darker version.
"She was just being used every step of the way," he told CNN. "It wasn't something where she'd wake up every morning and think, 'I can't wait to get to work in the morning.' That wasn't the situation."
Flynt said Traynor prostituted Lovelace, forcing her to make adult films.
"That type of coercion did exist," he said. "I think she was being very much controlled by Chuck (Traynor). ... That's why I refer to him as a pimp."
But not everyone sees the matter as that black and white, including actor Chris Noth, who plays "Deep Throat" producer Anthony Romano in "Lovelace."
"I'm not clear if she was totally pushed into it," Noth told CNN. "In the scope of what you can read and see about her, it's hard to believe that situation in totality."
Porter believes Lovelace was coerced into doing porn "to a degree." The author says Lovelace demonstrated considerably more free will during the three years after "Deep Throat," during which, he says, the actress capitalized on her fame to run with a celebrity crowd.
"She dated the top stars of Hollywood, and nobody forced her to do that," Porter said.
Porter claims many a Hollywood luminary -- including John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin -- was eager to ascertain whether Lovelace's sexual technique lived up to the legend.
Porter says it was another member of the Rat Pack who helped her make the rounds of Hollywood's A-list.
"Sammy Davis Jr. did more than anyone to make her the queen of porno chic," Porter said.
"He suggested that the 'in thing' to do was to have a date with Linda Lovelace. He was virtually her publicist."
Lovelace eventually renounced "Deep Throat" and Hollywood. She divorced Traynor, married another man, raised a family and lived, in her words, as a "typical housewife."
For a time, she publicly campaigned for the elimination of pornography.
"Linda Lovelace became a spokesman for the anti-pornography movement," Porter noted. "She was adopted by the leading feminists, the most important of whom was Gloria Steinem."
This phase of Lovelace's life was to have been portrayed in the biopic. Demi Moore was cast to play Steinem, but she dropped out. The part then went to Sarah Jessica Parker, but her scenes were later cut from the film.
Lovelace later split with the feminists. "Linda felt that ultimately she was being used by them," Porter said.
Lovelace, who preferred in later years to go by her married name, Linda Marciano, died in 2002 as a result of a car crash. Traynor, her ex-husband, died a few months later of a heart attack.
Toward the end of Lovelace's life, her views on pornography and "Deep Throat" continued to evolve.
"She started attending porno conventions and started selling 'Deep Throat' memorabilia," Porter said. "It was almost a turnaround, a reversal for her."
As for her legacy, Flynt says Lovelace will always be an icon because "she was in the right place at the right time."
And that time, he said, was a turning point in the culture.
"At that point in our history the Supreme Court was trying to figure out how to deal with pornography," he told CNN.
"Suddenly 16 millimeter film was available and it wasn't long before Beta and VHS became available and you could move these movies directly into the homes. So you see a very budding industry there (in the '70s) that was no longer something that was in the seedy back room of some adult bookstore."
Porter also sees Lovelace as a historic figure.
"She did launch a billion dollar industry and she is the queen of it all -- a very unlikely queen, but history sometimes selects unusual people to put on thrones."