Back in 1999, when I first approached my father about writing his autobiography, his answer was “NO”. “I don’t want to end up in the trunk of a car” he said. It was more than 25 years after the release of “Deep Throat”, and still he feared for his life. He felt that if he “named names”, there would be repercussions.
By 1971, he had had some minor success, with a few independent “Sexploitation” films, when he met Linda Traynor, who he would later christen “Linda Lovelace”. She was his muse, in a very real sense. When he first witnessed her unique talent for oral sex, he was inspired to write the script for “Deep Throat”. Shooting a full-length feature film in 35mm Color, was an expensive proposition, even then. He was looking for financing, when a friend introduced him to Lou “Butchie” Pirano, who unbeknownst to him at the time, was connected to the Colombo crime family. “When I found somebody willing to give me 25 grand to make a dirty movie, I didn’t ask any questions”.
When “Throat” achieved a level of unprecedented success (it is still arguably the most profitable film of all time), he quickly learned who he was dealing with. They “made him an offer he couldn’t refuse”. They kept the film, and he was lucky to get out alive. Back then, other kids would often ask me, “Is it true that your dad held a gun to Linda’s head to get her to make “Deep Throat”? I always believed that it was my father, who had a gun held to his head.
Although he appreciated the success that “Deep Throat” afforded him, he would be the first to tell you that it is not a very good film. “We were learning, and we did the best that we could”. He went on to make much better films, some of which are still considered to be the finest adult films of all time. He was more proud of coining the phrase “Deep Throat”. “I made it into the Dictionary!” he liked to say. When Woodward and Bernstein’s informant used it as an alias, the word became a noun, as well as a verb.
In 2003 he was approached for a documentary that was in the works, about the cultural impact of his movie. He had no interest in even talking to them. Now in his seventies, he was bitter about the film. “People are still making money off of it, and now they want to want to make another movie, and make even more money off of it, while I get nothing”! This is where I stepped in. I met with the directors of “Inside Deep Throat” to find out what their intentions were. They convinced me that they had great respect for my father, and his films. He would be the “hero” of their story. I called my dad and told him “They’re going to make this movie with or without you, but if you participate, you will have a chance to tell your side of the story, if you don’t, it will be everyone else’s version, and THAT will become the truth”. In the end, he agreed to appear in the film on one condition, under no circumstances would he talk about the mob.
“Inside Deep Throat” opened at Sundance, played around the world, finishing up on HBO and then Netflix. The film not only “named names”, but showed pictures of the Pirainos and their associates. By this time, most of the story had already run in the New York Post, as brother killed brother over “Throat”. The word on the street was, that everyone who had been involved, was either dead or in prison. I assured my father that the coast was clear to write his autobiography. However, he didn’t want to put in all the work, and then go knocking on doors to try and peddle it. He wanted a book deal first. Get the big advance, then write. This was back in the day when big book deals were still common, before self-publishing, and the Internet, changed that forever. His story had everything. Fame, Fortune, Intrigue, Celebrities, Mobsters, Love, Death, Revolution and SEX SEX SEX! And it was all true. “Deep Throat” was just one chapter in a story which encompasses nearly 50 movies, from the birth of the “Golden Age of Porn” to the advent of video. If anyone deserved a book deal, it was him.
Since I had worked out the deal for “Inside Deep Throat”, he asked me to be his agent. When I told him that I knew nothing about being an agent, he reminded me that I had gotten him paid more money for talking about “Deep Throat”, than he got for making it. He asked me “Where were you in 1972 when I needed you”? I reminded him that I was only 7 years old at the time. So, I spent the next 3 years meeting with literary agents, publishers, and potential co-authors. Since my father didn’t trust any of these people, there were countless “collaboration agreement” drafts, and many rounds of negotiations. We finally had a contract, which I had to pay a lawyer $500 just to look at. And then, my father died. The publisher pulled out, citing that the deal was for an autobiography, not just a biography. And we had nothing.
As kids, my sister Christar and I had always thought of our father as an artist, and a filmmaker (although for years we were never old enough to actually see his films). After his death, we felt that the best tribute that we could make to him, would be to restore his best films, so that they could be seen the way that he had intended. This was not an easy proposition. Although my father owned a major percentage of all his early films, he had a habit of aligning himself with unscrupulous business partners, who would inevitably make off with his share of the profits. Not one to look back, his solution was to find new partners, form a new company and make another movie. And the cycle would repeat. Having a different Production Company for every film resulted in a mountain of paperwork and film elements scattered across the country.
Today the majority of his films (including some of the most famous), are unavailable in their original form. What exists for the most part are bootlegs from disreputable sources, that have been transferred and converted with little regard for their content. Scenes have been cut out. Reels assembled out of sequence. In some case the master was made from a video tape. Yet for years people have continued to make money from them.
Meanwhile we watched our father, and his films, continue to be exploited in a seemingly endless parade of “entertainment-based vehicles”. The idea being, that if you can work the words “Deep Throat” into anything, whether it’s a TV series, or an energy drink, it’s going to sell. I have seen my father portrayed on the stage as a gay hairdresser who accidentally blundered into success, then cowered before both the mob and the feds. I have seen him portrayed in a major motion picture, played as if he was a mafia gumbah himself. These stories hide behind the phrase “based on true events”, which is another way of saying “fiction”. There may be a grain of truth, but there is a whole beach of bullshit. Now more than ever, we felt that his own story needs to be told. When we lost our book deal, I didn’t give up on the idea, but put it on hold, until we had an ending. The final chapter couldn’t be written, because as far as we are concerned, it hasn’t yet occurred. The ending that we want to see to this story is the one where we collect up all of his best films, restore them to the way he intended them to be seen, and show them. So that’s exactly what we are doing.
When he died in 2008, our father passed all of his intellectual property on to Christar and I. We set about tracking down all the elements of his films that had been lost. Although there are still a few pieces missing, we have recovered most of his work, including his masterpiece “The Story of Joanna”. We have also assembled an excellent team of lawyers to help untangle the paperwork. We hope to reacquaint his old fans with the films they loved, while introducing them to a new audience. That is the best tribute that we could make for our father.
When I think of all the time I wasted trying to find the publisher, the agent, the writer and the book deal, I wish that I had spent the same time and effort, just writing the book myself. It would be all but finished by now. Although I am not a writer, I feel that if I simply tell the truth about my father, I can help to set the record straight. And the truth would make for a very good read. His legacy is like a shadow that has hung over me for my entire life, and it is time to shine some light on it. So as both the film restorations and the book evolve, this blog will serve to document the journey.
Gerard Damiano Jr.
Queens, New York, Father’s Day, 2015
Gerard Damiano Sr., Christar Damiano and Gerard Damiano Jr. Fort Myers, FL, June 6, 2008
Photo by Carol Orr Hartman