Oral Argument

''Deep Throat'' premiers -- In 1973, the porn flick became an X-rated sensation

It was the first porn movie with a script, a musical score, and a sense of humor — and if there was a certain, well, predictability to the plot, millions of Americans didn't seem to mind.

Filmed for $25,000 over six days in Miami, Deep Throat, a celluloid Baedeker to oral sex starring Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems, premiered at Times Square's New Mature World Theater in June 1972 and fast became the X-rated sensation of the decade — as well as one of the most legally embattled movies ever made. Drawing much tonier crowds than the usual raincoat-and-dark-glasses clientele, it was seen by Frank Sinatra, Spiro Agnew, Warren Beatty, Truman Capote, Nora Ephron, and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, whose boss chose its title as a nom de snitch for his secret Watergate source. Over the past 20 years the film has generated $600 million, making it one of the most profitable movies of all time.

Of course, not everyone was a fan. Prosecutors in several states tried to ban the film on the grounds of obscenity. They failed in Massachusetts and Tennessee, but on March 1, 1973, New York criminal-court judge Joel Tyler called the movie ''a nadir of decadence one throat that deserves to be cut,'' and fined the New Mature World Theater $3 million for showing it. ''If I were to write that (decision) today, I would be deemed a fool,'' Judge Tyler, now 71, reconsidered on the eve of his retirement in 1991. ''Movies and television have completely changed our outlook on the human form.''

Well, not completely. Since the New Mature World Theater never appealed the ruling, Judge Tyler's decision has never been overturned. ''Technically,'' says Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz, who conducted the Tennessee appeal, ''it's still illegal for a theater to show the X-rated Deep Throat in New York, even though you can rent it at pretty much any video store in Manhattan.'' And even though films that are far racier have proliferated.

Deep Throat's two stars don't seem wildly nostalgic about their experience working on the film: Lovelace (a.k.a. Linda Marchiano), now 44, later denounced the movie with a bitter antiporn book, Ordeal (1984). Costar Reems (Herbert Streicher), 45, became a porn-again Christian and sells real estate in Park City, Utah.

And that theater in Times Square? The lot it was on is now a construction site. Progress, progress.

Time Capsule: March 1, 1973
Burt Reynolds was shameless in Shamus; Roberta Flack slayed 'em with Killing Me Softly With His Song; the fattest bestseller was Dr. Atkins' Diet Revolution; Sonny and Cher were TV's happiest hippies, babe.

Originally posted Feb 26, 1993 Published in issue #159 Feb 26, 1993 Order article reprints

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