Skip to main content

The Stories of Linda Lovelace


Lovelace isn't the movie you expect.

It's the story of how Linda Marciano got her fame in America. It was 1972 and her name was in lights on the cinema marquees. She was the star of the X-rated movie Deep Throat.

Cinema marquees, you ask—really? Yes, really. One could say it was a transitional cultural moment. Porn was crossing from the private sphere into the mainstream, and Linda was the center of attention. She was that mysterious woman with the surprising sense of humor and that secret talent. She had a prime spot in the limelight and on Hugh Hefner's guest list. It was the time of free love, free expression, and free speech. She was America's first porn star.

Except she wasn't free.

The film Lovelace (starring Amanda Seyfried and Peter Sarsgaard) expertly tells the two stories of Linda—the story you've heard and the story as it happened. Linda, whose real name isn't Lovelace, was in fact coerced by her pimp and husband Chuck Traynor into performing in prostitution and pornography. Often forced to perform sexual acts at gunpoint, Linda sustained years of mental and physical abuse and lived in constant fear of his next violent beating or threat to her family.

Perhaps most tragic of all is that when she finally escaped, no one believed her. Linda published her biography Ordeal in 1980, bringing her story to the public. But, with the rare exception of praise from such anti-porn feminists as Gloria Steinem and Andrea Dworkin, the book was largely unread and forgotten. Lovelace struggled to make ends meet for the rest of her life until 2002 when she died in a car accident at the age of 53.

Why didn't anyone believe her? It's hard to say. Some costars from porn films were quoted casually saying she couldn't be trusted. Others deflected and remarked instead about her drug use. It couldn't help but sound like her voice was discredited in the same way so many rape victims' are. Who can believe such a woman? You can't trust someone who would do those things—who would allow such a thing to happen to herself.

Of course we know this thinking is absurd: a rape victim or a sex-trafficked woman in no way allows violence against them. That's what makes it a violation. Reading up on Marciano's story, I was surprised that no one found it suspicious that those often quoted discrediting Marciano's story were people working in the porn biz. Isn't there an obvious conflict of interest here? Porn is a booming business, after all, and her story throws something of a wet blanket on it. Deep Throat made over $600 million; it might be a tad upsetting when people find out the leading lady was allotted only $1,250 for her part in the movie, not a penny of which she saw, thanks to her pimp.

So I was impressed to read Larry Flynt of Hustler affirming her story in a recent interview with CNN. Flynt says he knew both Linda and Chuck Traynor and says, "she was just being used every step of the way. . . . That type of coercion did exist. I think she was being very much controlled by Chuck (Traynor). . . . That's why I refer to him as a pimp."

The film Lovelace served as the occasion for CNN to seek Flynt's comment. While it tanked at the box office this summer, Lovelace was actually a good film—well paced, well directed, and with a remarkably moving culmination at the end—in other words, not just a piece of advocacy work pretending to be art. Perhaps the film wasn't cut out to be a blockbuster people see on opening weekend with a date or their friends; the subject matter may suit it better for DVD. But, if nothing else, the film brings to the fore Linda Marciano's story of overcoming—a story that, now that it’s on the screen, might finally compete with the alternate story America first watched and believed.