In a preview of what was to come, McGrady didn’t believe Linda’s story at first, either. But when she told him where to look for bruises in the frames of Deep Throat, he could see them. So he agreed to help her write the book, and was instrumental in getting it published by a low-end publisher he’d worked with in the past — the same house that had published both The Anarchist Cookbook and the Turner Diaries. Which explains why, in an unconventional move, the publisher also asked Linda to participate in a polygraph, which she passed with flying colors.
A lot of McGrady’s colleagues said he’d been “taken for a ride.” But the book, Ordeal, was a bestseller.
As they were working on it, Linda happened to catch an episode of Donahue that had Susan Brownmiller as a guest. Brownmiller was the author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape and was a founding member of a new anti-pornography group, which she was discussing on the show. Donahue asked her about Deep Throat, wondering, “Wasn’t [Linda] having a good time?” And Brownmiller said she couldn’t believe, no, that Linda had enjoyed herself.
Linda’s ears perked up. She had McGrady contact a member of WAP to confirm she hadn’t had a good time. And when she herself appeared on Donahue to promote Ordeal, Gloria Steinem was watching. Horrified by the way Donahue and his audience seemed to believe Linda was lying, she called McGrady, and then met with Linda herself. And then she wrote a piece for Ms. entitled, “Tell Me, Linda, What in Your Background Led You to a Concentration Camp?” People who’d worked with Linda and looked up to her were horrified; one referred to her, consistently, as a Benedict Arnold. But Linda had found a defender, and evidently she intended to cling to her.
From there things moved very quickly. Lovelace began speaking around the country at events for “Women Against Pornography,” the group Steinem and Brownmiller belonged to. She appeared on TV shows with Steinem, declaring that, “Everyone going to see Deep Throat is watching me being raped.” She appeared at protests of the screening of the film. She testified in favor of a Minneapolis ordinance, proposed by Dworkin and MacKinnon, which would have created a basis for women exploited by pornography to sue pornographers. Opponents claimed that the ordinance violated the First Amendment, and journalists always being interested in the protective of that prime directive, the ordinance effort became a kind of media circus. “The fact that this film is being shown and that my children will one day walk down the street and see their mother being abused,” Linda testified, “it makes me angry, makes me sad.” But the ordinance was eventually struck down as being too broad. And the anti-pornography movement sank under the accusations that it was pro-censorship. So Linda, again, was without a cause.
Dworkin and MacKinnon remained close friends with Linda; the relationship with Steinem, apparently, was more fraught but still friendly. But she was disappointed that the effort had not succeeded in killing Deep Throat; the 17 days in the industry still trailed behind her. She developed health problems due to silicone leaks in her breasts from the injections a quack doctor had given her. She needed and received a liver transplant. And gradually, she became a drunk. Her marriage unravelled. She continued to give a few anti-pornography speeches at colleges, but privately she was a mess. She used meth and weed. She ran through a string of jobs. So desperate was she for money at one point that she posed for a fetish magazine called Leg Show, and attended memorabilia shows that included Deep Throat. To the people in porn who offered to help her, she spoke bitterly of the feminists she felt had used her — but still kept in touch with MacKinnon and Dworkin.
And then one day she was driving home from a friend’s house when her car veered inexplicably off the road and threw her 60 feet. No one knows why she lost control of the car, though some of her friends said dialysis had made her woozy. Due to a clerical error it took two days for the hospital to get in touch with her family. Two weeks later, they turned off the life support. She was 53. A friend heard a radio jockey making oral sex jokes; obituaries focused mainly on the cultural impact of Deep Throat rather than the toll it took on Linda itself. Which perhaps explains why Linda’s family still speaks so bitterly about the entire affair. In a 2005 documentary about Deep Throat, her sister Barbara said she was sad Chuck Traynor had died before she’d had a chance to get to him herself.
I wonder what she thinks of Lovelace, which effectively perpetuates the same old flat story. You aren’t left with any questions about whether Linda was really brutalized, of course. You know that it was a rough ordeal for her. But there’s a lot of giggling beforehand, a lot of fairy dust wasted on figures like Hugh Hefner, and just a blank declaration of Linda’s survival without any hint of all the speed bumps that came after. There’s a better movie to be made here, one that doesn’t think there are easy answers about either porn or about survival. I look forward, one day, to watching it.