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Dinner with Linda Lovelace

WWW- from the NY Times: I once had dinner in New York with Linda Lovelace. This is not a boast. It was some time ago, well before I’d thought of writing a book on sex and collecting, though I was certainly already interested in both subjects. The year was 2000 and Linda, who was then in her early fifties, was trying to make a modest comeback. My girlfriend, Dian, was the editor of a men’s magazine called Leg Show, and Linda was in town to do a photo shoot for her. Linda wasn’t prepared to take her clothes off for the shoot, or more precisely she wasn’t prepared to take her clothes off for the sort of money Leg Show was willing to pay. Therefore Dian had arranged for her to be seen in a corset, high heels, shiny tights, and so on. This, I suppose, might have allowed Linda to square an appearance in a men’s mag with her continuing professed antipornography stance, but my guess is she didn’t need to square anything. She was a woman who could live with contradictions.

Linda Lovelace, real name Linda Boreman, was, as everyone of a certain generation will need no telling, the star of Deep Throat, a preposterously lame porn movie, made in 1972, about a woman whose clitoris is located a long way down her throat and who can therefore get satisfaction only from “deep-throating” men. There have been crasser premises for movies but not many, not even in porn. Yet the moment found the movie. American society was ready and eager to embrace hard-core pornography, and Deep Throat struck lucky. It became a hit, a must-see, a couples movie, even a date movie.

I don’t think you can pretend that Linda Lovelace was the only or even the main reason for the success of Deep Throat, but she did what was asked of her, and it’s apparent that the camera liked her a lot back then. On-screen and in still photographs from that period, her face had a lopsided, quizzical, hippieish laxity about it that was very much of its time, but still remains appealing today. In the early days she had a shaggy, let-your-freak-flag-fly kind of perm, trading it in for a then-more-fashionable yet somehow more staid feather cut.

She always looked as if she was enjoying herself in front of the camera. She denied this fervently in person and in print. She said she was hating every minute of it, but was acting as if she was enjoying it because her manager and husband, Chuck Traynor, had threatened to kill her if she showed any reluctance. If this is true, then Linda Lovelace was an infinitely better actress than anyone I’ve ever seen in a porn film.

In England, where I lived at the time, we never saw Deep Throat, but we certainly knew about it and we knew who Linda Lovelace was. We’d read the articles, the interviews, seen the film stills, read or at least heard about the so-called autobiography Inside Linda Lovelace, which wasn’t written by her but was prosecuted in England for obscenity. The prosecution failed, and after that England pretty well gave up fretting about the printed sexual word. Some of us thought that was a good thing.

The Leg Show photo shoot, indeed Linda’s entire comeback, was being facilitated by a man called Eric Danville, a writer who had worked for Penthouse, Forum, and Screw, a man who would admit to having had previous obsessions for certain female stars including Debbie Harry and Madonna. The name Joan Jett was – and I imagine still is – tattooed on his forearm. Joan had autographed his arm at a New York gig, and after some hesitation he’d had a tattooist ink in the signature before it faded. It looked as good as you’d imagine.

Eric is a very competent researcher, known for his determination to track down anything and everything on a subject. About six years earlier he’d decided to write about Linda Lovelace, and had managed to get her phone number and call her up. She’d refused to speak to him, had indeed pretended to be her own secretary. This only spurred him on to become a serious Linda Lovelace expert and collector.

There is apparently quite a lot of stuff out there, although the primary materials, as it were, are limited. Linda Lovelace only worked in hard-core pornography for a very short time, literally a few weeks. A lot of the movies that purport to have her as their star are shameless rip-offs and repackagings of the porn loops she made before Deep Throat. These include a couple of her having surprisingly enthusiastic sex with a dog, which I had in fact seen, but before we had dinner that time I was sternly informed by Eric and Dian that “nobody mentions the dog.”

After Deep Throat she rose without trace, to become a celebrity, to make “straight” films like Linda Lovelace for President – a satire of sex and politics that’s probably even more disappointing to those interested in politics than to those interested in sex. She even appeared on the New York stage in a play called Pajama Tops.

Eric Danville, of course, had videotapes of all her movie work, he even had two versions of the sound track of Deep Throat that had been released on vinyl. He had masses of magazines in which her photographs appeared. He had bootleg live recordings of a Led Zeppelin concert where Linda had been the emcee. He had every pop or rock song that contained the name Linda Lovelace – most famously Elton John’s “Wrap Her Up.”

Of course he had all the books attributed to her, all of them ghosted, all more or less autobiographical, charting a course from fake sexual liberation, via victimhood, toward a misanthropic feminism. Ordeal, a midperiod work, and in some way the most compelling in the oeuvre, tells horrific tales of rape and sexual violence, yet still remains part of that long, long line of popular confessional literature in which the sins have to be recalled in prurient detail before they can be forgiven.

While amassing his collection, Eric made further attempts at contacting Linda and assuring her of his good intentions. After her experiences with Chuck Traynor she was naturally suspicious of men who wanted to “help” her, but she and Eric became friends, and she gave him some snapshots for his collection, nice enough, perfectly innocent pictures taken on holiday in England in the 1970s, one of which showed her posing with Stonehenge as a backdrop. In return for this, Eric was helping her make some money by organizing the sale of authenticated Linda Lovelace items on eBay.

Linda needed all the money she could get. A liver transplant had left her in need of some very expensive drugs, and she’d fallen on hard times when Eric caught up with her. She’d worked briefly as an office cleaner in Colorado but lost the job because company policy insisted that employees had to give details of every name they’d ever worked under. For entirely obvious reasons she hadn’t told them that she used to be Linda Lovelace, but they found out anyway and were then able to fire her because she’d “lied” to get the job.

So she was glad of the attention, glad to be invited to New York to do a photo shoot, glad to be taken out to dinner. It wasn’t just me and her, of course. Eric was there, too, and so was Dian, and I seem to remember Eric’s wife, Abby, being there briefly, too. Linda looked not bad that night. The skin on her face was a little florid and pockmarked, but she was lean and tanned and she certainly looked alert and alive, and if she seemed a little damaged at the edges, she certainly didn’t look destroyed. She still had the feather cut. She was polite and a little nervous and seemed to be consciously on her best behavior, but then so was I.

In some ways she was quite the innocent. She hadn’t heard of reflexology, for instance, and when the drinks menu came she didn’t know what “ale” was. She talked a lot about her children and her grandchild, but she was also happy to talk about her past. She’d met her fair share of the rich and famous, she said, but they’d seldom been the way she wanted them to be. Clint Eastwood was a terrible disappointment because when he sat next to her at the Playboy Mansion he’d been wearing jeans and sneakers. Elvis had been a sad, drugged-up fat man who erupted from time to time in a flurry of karate moves. The only one she’d really been impressed by was Tony Curtis because, she said, he seemed like the same guy offscreen as he was on.

There had been some talk that after dinner we might go back to Eric’s apartment. It would be a rare occasion when a collector, the subject of his collection, and the collection itself would all be in the same room at the same time. And so it came to pass. As I’ve said, I had no idea at the time that I would ever write a book about sex collectors, but even so I could see this was going to be a special moment.

Eric’s apartment, where he lived with Abby, was a monument to their shared and separate enthusiasms. She was editor of a magazine called Extreme Fetish, and a professional giver of parties, usually with some fetish theme. Around the apartment were some of her clothes that bordered on fancy dress, books, fetish magazines, videotapes, records, vibrators, and it was all highly organized. Along one wall of the living room were two museum-style floor-to-ceiling vitrines that had been sawed into sections before they could be got up the stairs and into the apartment. There were also a couple of “cabinets of curiosities” mounted on the walls.

The Linda Lovelace collection was in a glass-fronted bookcase in the bedroom at the foot of the four-poster bed. It would have been easy for Eric to sit up in bed and gaze with pride at his collection; in fact it would have been pretty impossible for him not to. Eric was keen to show it off, and Dian and I were an enthusiastic audience, but the presence of Linda was clearly giving Eric some anxiety.

To an extent Linda reacted the way anyone might while rummaging through an old box of photographs or family keepsakes. Some of the things in Eric’s collection she remembered well, others she’d never seen before, didn’t know where they could have come from. There were photographs that she didn’t remember being taken, of her standing next to someone she didn’t recognize. But occasionally she’d look at herself in a photograph and say something like “Oh, I still have that dress,” and Eric would say, “Well, if you want to sell it we can put it on eBay.” The fact that there was a picture of Linda wearing it improved the provenance and supposedly increased the value.

I think both Linda and Eric were a little embarrassed by the occasion, as who wouldn’t be? Occasionally she’d laugh nervously and say something like “This guy knows more about my life than I do.” Whether or not this was literally true I’m not sure, but I suppose all serious collectors know things in a systematic, codified way that the subject of the collection never will.

But one thing Linda certainly did know was her own signature, and when Eric showed her a signed film still, she was immediately able to tell him it was a fake. It wasn’t her signature. Someone had forged her autograph to increase the value of the still. Eric was crestfallen and horrified. He’d bought the still from a dealer he regularly did business with, and he swore he’d get his money back, though he didn’t sound very confident. But there was obviously something else at stake here. A true, knowledgeable Linda Lovelace collector, a connoisseur of the type Eric wanted to be and thought he was, should surely have spotted a fake a mile off. Eric hadn’t. He’d failed to live up to his own standards. Eric smiled nervously and then his face settled into a study of mortified disappointment. It pretty much soured the evening.

I don’t want to say that witnessing this event was some great road- to-Damascus moment of literary inspiration. I had already written about obsession, sex, and the relationships between people and things, though it had mostly been in fictional form. And I suppose, like any professional writer, I was always on the lookout for some new way of writing about old subjects. Nevertheless that night with Linda and Eric and the forged signature was one of those intense, moving, all-too-rare occasions when a writer says to himself, “You know, I think there’s a book in this.”

Incidentally, on page 55 of Ordeal Linda says that Chuck Traynor gave her two pieces of advice: “I should never let anyone take my picture, and I should never sign my name to anything. He said those were two things that would always come back and haunt you later on.”

I remember very clearly the first piece of sexual material I ever, so to speak, collected. It was a copy of Carnival, what we would probably today refer to as a pinup magazine. It contained jokes, cartoons, a bit of hairy-chested fiction, and on most pages were my reasons for buying it: pictures of partly undressed women. Many were in bikinis, or if naked, they were posed in a way that preserved most of their modesty, but a few were less modest and showed bare breasts, nipples, and the occasional bottom. Pudenda and pubic hair were entirely unseen, their display as unthinkable to the publisher (City Magazines Ltd, 167-170 Fleet Street, London EC4) as they were to me.

I was thirteen years old, the year was 1966, and given that I managed to buy the magazine quite openly, if nervously and furtively, at a newsstand in the center of Sheffield, I don’t suppose I, or the person selling it to me, was involved in anything very transgressive. Nevertheless, as I thumbed through the magazine that night in bed (yes, under the covers; yes, using a flashlight), it seemed to me I’d gained access to a world of infinite female mystery. In fact I probably believed that the magazine was the means of solving that mystery. Here were women showing their naked bodies, exposing themselves, flaunting themselves. It seemed a bizarre, an indecent, and a wonderful thing for them to be doing. I looked, I saw, I seemed to understand. And I remember thinking to myself these images were so intense and so revealing that they were the only ones I’d ever need to look at or own. That delusion lasted a surprisingly long time; say a month.

One of the reasons I remember that copy of Carnival so well is that I still have it. It’s here now. The cover, printed in intense, slightly blotchy color, shows a blonde wearing a striped dress that manages to expose both cleavage and thigh. She’s at a dockside, half sitting on a metal capstan, and the mountains in the background suggest she’s somewhere in the Mediterranean. Her face shows a healthy, enthusiastic, uncomplicated sexuality. There’s nothing corrupt or decadent about her – she’s a cover girl – although some of the models inside the magazine look far more knowing and overtly sexual.

Actually, the models are of two sorts; first there are young actresses, some of whom you may even have heard of: Edina Ronay, Martine Beswick, Jackie Collins (yes, Jackie, not Joan), and they’re more or less decently dressed. Then there are the glamour models proper, some of them identified as French, Italian, or American, thereby representing the wildest shores of sexual exoticism that could be imagined in England in the midsixties, and these girls were prepared to show rather more. So here they are, as naked as the magazine allows, wearing see-through baby-doll nighties and high-heeled mules and wisps of leopard skin, pretending to play the guitar or lolling provocatively on patchwork leather poufs. It’s tame stuff, of course it is. I suspect that almost any thirteen-year-old boy of today would find it quaintly innocent, and I’m certainly not trying to make any claims for it as a classic or significant or seriously collectible bit of erotica.

Now, the mere fact that I still have that copy of Carnival might suggest to you that I am, and have long been, a sex collector, but when I first started writing this book I certainly didn’t think so. Back then I’d have said I kept that first magazine simply because it was the first. It was a souvenir I’d held on to because of what it represented, because of the effect it had once had on me. It certainly didn’t mark the beginning of my career as sex collector, I’d have said, since I didn’t think I’d had any such career.

I meant it sincerely. I wouldn’t have been trying to deceive you or myself. I would have said I was fascinated by the subject of collecting, and that I could see the attractions of creating and owning a collection, but that I didn’t have any urge to do it myself. And I would probably have admitted that I shared some of the same acquisitive “genes” as collectors, but I’d also have said that there was some important gene missing, something that held me back, that prevented me from becoming a “true” collector, whatever that was, and that I was happy to be held back.

And yet, and yet …


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