Gerard Damiano: Director of the hugely successful porn film 'Deep Throat'

The director Gerard Damiano made Deep Throat, the highest-grossing X-rated film of all time. Shot over six days in Miami and New York for a budget of $25,000 in January 1972, the movie starred Linda Lovelace as a frustrated woman who can only achieve an orgasm by giving her male partners oral sex. Deep Throat opened at the New Mature World Theatre, a grindhouse in New York's Times Square in June 1972, and recouped its budget within a week. It also became a cause célèbre thanks to its graphic sex scenes and the constant legal attempts to close it down.

Eventually banned in 23 states in the union, it attracted huge audiences wherever it was shown and inaugurated the era of "porno chic" in the US and many European countries. Deep Throat became such a cultural phenomenon that the expression was used as a code name by the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to refer to their source during the Watergate scandal in 1974.

Damiano wrote and directed Deep Throat under the pseudonym Jerry Gerard, and spent three months editing the footage. But he sold his rights for $25,000 to members of the notorious Peraino mob family who had bankrolled the venture. "Look, you want me to get both my legs broken?" he famously replied when asked why he had been so accommodating to his former partners.

The Mafia controlled the distribution of the hardcore film, which grossed as much as $600m according to estimates by the FBI agents who attempted to follow the money trail throughout the rest of the Seventies. Lovelace herself received a paltry $1,250 and later claimed that her husband Chuck Traynor had forced her to participate in the making of the film. While many of these facts had come to light over the years, in 2005 the film-makers Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato told the whole sordid, sorry tale in a documentary entitled Inside Deep Throat, for which they interviewed Damiano, along with the movie's male lead, Harry Reems, the publishers Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt and the cultural commentators Erica Jong and Gore Vidal.

Damiano also directed The Devil In Miss Jones (1973), another landmark, but more ambitious, adult film starring Reems with Georgina Spelvin in the title role as the spinster who commits suicide and explores her sexuality in a bizarre afterlife for a week. Something of an auteur, Damiano could nevertheless improvise with the best of them and drafted both Reems, originally on the Deep Throat set as a technician, and Spelvin, a theatre actress engaged as a caterer, at short notice when the hired talent failed to perform to his satisfaction.

While other directors attempted to turn Deep Throat and Miss Jones into franchises, Damiano moved on and made the dark psychodrama Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974) and received surprisingly good notices. "I didn't know whether to be flattered or offended," he admitted. "Apparently those guys were misled by my name into expecting nothing but hardcore porn. Still, that is the next step: why do we need socially redeeming values in these films? Why isn't pornography, in and of itself, of social merit?"

The Story of Joanna (1975) also found favour with the critics. Yet neither the horror feature Legacy of Satan (1974), his only non-X-rated film, or any of the 40 or so other hardcore movies he directed before retiring in the mid-Nineties matched his early work for impact or imagination.

Gerardo Rocco Damiano was born to an Italian Catholic family in the Bronx area of New York. His father died when he was six and he was brought up by his mother who never remarried. When he turned 17 at the end of the Second World War, he joined the Navy. After four years, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to complete his education and study X-ray technology. In the mid-Fifties, he opened a hairdressing salon in New York and always claimed that eavesdropping on the conversations of his sexually frustrated clientèle set him to thinking that X-rated films could have crossover appeal.

Through his accountant, Damiano met a newsreel director who was trying to make a horror film on the cheap. He enjoyed being on the set and began chauffeuring people around in his white Coupe DeVille – later driven around Miami by Lovelace in Deep Throat – before being given a camera. He was soon making pseudo-educational documentaries – Marriage Manual, Changes (both 1970), Sex USA (1971) – and straight porn – We All Go Down (1969), Can't Get Enough (1970), The Magical Ring (1971) – and 8mm "loops" with the backing of the Perainos.

While filming material for Changes, Damiano came across Lovelace. "I thought 'Stop the Presses!'," he recalled. "The insert I made did not get into the film. It went right on the cutting room floor because I realised she had too much potential to throw away on merely an insert. I was so knocked out that I went home and wrote the whole screenplay over the weekend. We're going to do a film about a girl who has her clit in her throat . . . And we went into pre-production work that Monday."

The script was given a couple of clunky titles – including The Sword Swallower – before it became Deep Throat. "At the time, my partners said the title was no good, but I was adamant. I said it would become a household word. And it has," he told the film critic Ro ger Ebert in 1974.

During the late Seventies, Eighties and early Nineties, Damiano divided his time between shoots in New York and weekends in Fort Myers, Florida, where his son and daughter went to school, and where he later retired. His retirement years were spent attending plays, art exhibitions and charity events. In August this year, many former stars of his films, including Spelvin and Annie Sprinkle, travelled to Florida to attend a surprise party for his 80th birthday.

Damiano's early films helped to launch the modern adult-entertainment industry, but he remained unmoved by his work. "I find pornography by itself to be boring on the screen," he said in 1974. "The only thing that perpetuates it is censorship; people like to feel they've been slightly daring to go to a hardcore flick. But sexual intercourse does not lend itself to cinematography. I don't care what the Kama Sutra says. There are not 101 different approaches to the subject. There are only three or four."

Pierre Perrone

Gerardo Rocco Damiano, writer and director: born New York 4 August 1928; married Paula Morton (one son, one daughter); died Fort Myers, Florida 25 October 2008.

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