When the film Lovelace came out a few years ago, it managed to resurrect many of the same sort of anti-porn stories that accompanied Linda Lovelace’s book Ordeal in the 1980s, despite the fact that most of those stories have been comprehensively shown to be dubious at best, and carefully ignoring the inconvenient aspects of Linda’s own life – unquestionably a difficult one from the end of the 1970s onwards, when fame had left her behind and fortune had never quite emerged. In the years before she died in a car crash, Lovelace had complained bitterly that the anti-porn feminist movement that had eagerly embraced her as the poster girl for the evils of porn had possibly exploited her more than the adult film industry ever did (their concern for her not extending to helping her out when ill-health, poverty and another abusive marriage were plaguing her life), and in her latter years she would do a photo shoot for Leg Show magazine and appear at conventions, happily signing Deep Throat DVDs and merchandise.
Much of this late embracing – or at least making peace with – her past was down to writer Eric Danville, a former Hustler journalist who wrote the fifth Lovelace (auto)biography, The Complete Linda Lovelace, shortly before her death, and knew her in the last few years of her life. Danville would later, in 2003, write the first screenplay based on her life, but although commissioned by a producer, his version of the story would go unfilmed and widely ignored, even as Lovelace and the (also ultimately unfilmed) Lindsay Lohan project Inferno competed to tell the story.
Linda’s story is a complex and often contradictory one, much more so than Lovelace suggests. Danville’s 110 page screenplay, simply titled Linda Lovelace, offers a far more interesting take on the story. Reading it, I was – unfortunately – reminded somewhat of Jim VanBebber’s The Manson Family. Like that film, this screenplay tells the story through the eye-witness accounts of those involved, jumping between time periods within the main narrative. So we get Linda’s testimony to the anti-porn Meese Commission, news reports on her death and contemporary interviews with people like Throat director Gerard Damiano, co-star Harry Reems and most significantly, Screw publisher Al Goldstein, who had something of a love-hate relationship with Linda and appears throughout the story as a thorn in the side of the newly respectable porn star, reminding her of the time she fucked a dog on camera (the most notorious and contentious part of the Lovelace story).
Danville perfectly captures the contradictions of the Linda Lovelace story – the fact that her marriage to an abusive asshole is what got her into porn, but also that making the film was ultimately the saving of her. Without Deep Throat, she may have remained Linda Borman, battered and abused wife, for a lot longer – possibly until the point when she was beaten to death. The fame caused by the film gave her the opportunity to escape Chuck Traynor’s control. One of the fascinating things about this screenplay is watching the slow, almost unnoticed shift in power between the two, which begins with Throat and ends with her leaving him.
The screenplay also allows for the ambiguities in the story. While no one disputes that Chuck Traynor was a violent, jealous dick and latterly little more than a suitcase pimp, the true nature of their relationship has always been open to question. I’m not suggesting that Traynor wasn’t a manipulative and unpleasant asshole, but I doubt the story of the couple is quite as black and white as is often suggested. And with both Lovelace and Traynor dying in the same year, we’ll probably never really know the truth. Certainly, Ordeal is a knowingly manipulative and salacious book, and many of the claims that would be later attributed to her are not actually in the original text.
This story ends – apart from a Meese Commission coda – with Linda’s escape from Traynor. Her anti-porn campaigning is only touched on, and that makes sense, because if you cover that, you really have to cover everything that happened afterwards (or just pretend it never happened, as in Lovelace) and that would make for a very long movie.
It’s a shame Danville’s excellent screenplay was never filmed, as it seems a more honest portrayal of the truth, a more creative way of telling the story and benefits from being written by someone who knew her rather than a Hollywood hack seeking to exploit our fascination with porn while condemning it. It’s an ugly story, certainly – and one that has no connection to the rest of the porn industry even as it was in the 1970s, let alone now – but a fascinating one.