In 1973, my mother met Deep Throat superstar Linda Lovelace when the actress was in Philadelphia starring in a comedy called Pajama Tops at the New Locust Theatre on South Broad Street.
The encounter was witnessed by a cousin of mine, JA, the stage manager for the play that proved to be such a flop that it left the city shortly after opening night.
Lovelace achieved international celebrity after starring in Deep Throat, known as the first pornographic film to go mainstream because it offered a plot and character development. Lovelace’s co-star in the movie was Harry Reems, a long standing adult film superstar who would go on to renounce pornography in 1983 when he married and became a real estate agent.
In 1973 I was hobnobbing between Boulder, Colorado and Boston and had no idea what Mom was up to. I certainly didn’t think that my devoutly Irish Catholic mother was kibitzing with the star of Deep Throat.
JA, being stage manager, was able to get tickets for my parents as well as his own. He also let it be known that he had made arrangements for everyone to go backstage and meet the star. Of course, it didn’t matter at all that ‘Pajama Tops’ had been a complete bomb. What mattered was that the star of the play was a cultural icon.
It was no secret to we Nickels children that Mom had always wanted to be an actress. The proof was in her genius for mimicry. Her kitchen table impersonations of aunts, uncles, the mailman and even the Fuller Brush Man nearly had us on the floor in stitches and disbelief.
When I first saw Mom in a production by People’s Light and Theater in Malvern— she played a French prostitute in a huge 19th Century hat—I was more than impressed at her mastery of the role. This was no amateur thespian having fun with a hobby but a true talent, that had never been given the chance to flower.
Linda Lovelace, born Linda Boreman in the Bronx to working class devoutly Catholic parents, was known as “Miss Holy Holy” as a teenage girl because she “never put out” for boys.
Mom, or Teresa Muldoon, was born to non-working class parents. As the youngest of thirteen children, she experienced a few years living in the family’s huge North Philadelphia mansion (complete with servants and private music tutors) before the Depression hit and changed the family’s fortunes considerably. Mom as a young woman was also devoutly Catholic, and a virgin until her wedding day, although she was never called “Miss Holy Holy” as far as I know.
The decade of the 1970s saw the disruption of almost every facet of American society. The Mom and Dad I left in Pennsylvania when I went to Boston in 1969 were in many ways not the same parents I returned to five years later.
That’s why JA felt he could issue the invitation to see Linda Lovelace at the New Locust Theatre. Porn had gone mainstream, and even Mike Douglas and Merv Griffin were talking about Linda Lovelace on their respective TV shows.
It’s easy to imagine Mom getting ready to go see Pajama Tops in Center City.
I see her in her bedroom putting on her makeup, especially coloring and sculpting her eyebrows. She uses an eyebrow pencil as a darkener, then wets a finger to soften the effect only to pencil in areas she’s made too light.
The hypnotic effect of watching Mom apply eyebrow pencil worked its way into my life when I began to wish that my eyebrows were dark and pronounced rather than “invisibly blond.”
Having mastered the art of eyebrow tracing from watching Mom, I’d use her eyebrow pencil on my own brows at various times, especially when company was coming to dinner. When I made my eyebrows too dark Mom would let this fact be known when she’d turn to me with a wet napkin in hand and scrub off excess eyebrow pencil right there at the table. She was discreet about this and never did it in front of Dad or guests.
“Oh Tommy,” she’d say. “Is that really necessary? Go upstairs and wipe the rest off.”
Had this happened in 2021 and not the 1960s there would certainly be talk about sending me to a gender dysphoria clinic. But I had no problems about being a boy despite my having tried on Mom’s high heels a few times when my parents were out on the town. Trying on exotic clothing was a kind of theater, like watching Mom play a prostitute in a high Victorian hat.
Yet long after I stopped darkening my eyebrows Mom would periodically check my brows every time we expected guests for dinner.
Getting back to Pajama Tops, after the curtain fell on this flop of a play, JA announced to everyone that it was now time to go back stage and meet the star.
JA said there was a bounce to Mom’s walk as the group followed him backstage. This indeed was a far cry from the Mom I knew when I was an adolescent, especially the time when she discovered that a classmate of mine had told me the facts of life in crude, raw language that also included factual errors like how human reproduction is achieved vis a vis a woman’s ear canal.
“Who told you that?” Mom said, “What’s his name?”
When I was finally persuaded to divulge the name of the informer, a much older boy who had been held back in school so many times that he was pretty much of a man with a deep voice in a class of seventh and eighth graders, I thought I saw Mom fight back a half smile. She was doing her best to remain serious. It was a People’s Light and Theater moment.
“He’s wrong about the ear thing,” Mom said, after which she turned and left the room.
Linda Lovelace’s problem, of course, did not concern the earlobes but another equally important part of the body.
JA, who has often told me that Mom was his favorite aunt, said that when the group entered Lovelace’s dressing room, Mom exploded into a hydrogen bomb of celebrity worship.
“She was out of control but I loved it,” he said. “What happened should have been on stage. It would have improved the play.”
Mom, JA said, let lose a litany of praise:
“Oh, you are the star of the show! And just look at this room! You have your own special ashtray~! Look at all the makeup, so much makeup. And look at you! This is beautiful, and you were magnificent… This is really marvelous! I can’t believe I’m here, I’m----------“
Betty, Mom’s sister and JA’s mother, had a worried expression on her face that JA compared to someone about to say the rosary. The two men, JA’s Dad and my own, stood in appreciative silence as Mom continued to praise everything in the star’s room, including the quality of the door knob.
Through it all, Mom stuck to Pajama Tops and never ventured into the mechanics of Deep Throat. The 1970s may have been liberating but that decade was defenseless when it came to the rock bottom foundations of Mom’s Tyrone County, Ireland, Catholicism. Mom was willing to go so far but then she’d boomerang back to her venerable roots.
No doubt Mom brought up Catholicism although avoiding the elephant in the room, which in this case would have been Linda’s onscreen sexual antics. Yet I can easily imagine Mom asking: “Did you go to confession after making that movie?”
JA still talks about Mom and Linda Lovelace 30 years after Mom’s death of lung cancer in 1993, and 50 years after the actual event. The Locust St. Theatre, built in 1927, had a complicated history but closed in 1980. Preservationists attempted to save the building but they were unsuccessful.
In 1975, Linda Lovelace starred in a comedy, Linda Lovelace for President, directed by Claudio Guzman. All Movie Guide stated that the movie was a time capsule from the era that made political correctness inevitable.” By 1975 Lovelace was already on her own anti-pornography campaign, telling reporters and writing in her own book, that her husband at the time, forced her to do Deep Throat and other adult films, under the threat of death. Friends of the couple, however, disputed this so what really happened is still somewhat of a mystery.
In 1974, she told Variety, "I'm not going to sit here and say I'll never do another hard-core film because I was forced into this one, that I needed the money... I did it because I loved it. It was something I believed in. And if, when I'm 65 years old, they're making an X-rated movie and they need a little old lady to be in it, I'm gonna say, hey, I'm right here."
Lovelace had a varied career. She once emceed a Led Zeppelin concert, and her name popped up in a number of rock and pop songs, including Elton John’s “Wrap Her Up.”
She also published 4 books about herself.
Her last days were difficult. She needed a liver transplant and to fund the medications for that she had work as an office cleaner in Colorado. She died in April 2002 as a result of injuries suffered in a car crash.
Both Mom and Dad died in the month of April though many years apart.