My Father, the Pornographer
Kristin Battista-Frazee's dad was a distributor of <i>Deep Throat</i>, the biggest porno of all time.
A young Kristin Battista-Frazee with her mother and father, Anthony Battista, one of the most successful pornographers in the world. (All images courtesy of Kristin Battista-Frazee)
Porn as we know it owes a lot to Deep Throat. The seminal 1972 porn film follows Linda Lovelace, a sad, sexually unfulfilled woman whose life is changed forever when she discovers that her clitoris in her throat, meaning she can finally come – but only when guys jizz in her mouth. Grainy shots and dodgy editing aside, it’s a funny premise and a decent film with something for everyone – cock shots, tit shots and great dad jokes, if your dad is a pervert.
The script was over 40 pages long, which allowed you to invest a little in the characters, and also explains how it crept over from the then-clandestine world of pornography and into mainstream. It’s since made £375 million worldwide, which amounts to roughly £2.1 billion in today’s currency, and is (reportedly) the highest grossing film of all time.
One of the principle drivers of this spermy train was Anthony Battista, a pornographer who, along with some pals, was responsible for distributing the film all over the East coast of America and, by proxy, worldwide. He was also an upstanding stockbroker, renounced Catholic and a family man from Philadelphia, who juggled both lives pretty efficiently until he was indicted by the federal government on an obscenity charge.
His daughter, writer Kristin Battista-Frazee, was four when all that happened. She’s now in her forties and has written a book, The Pornographer's Daughter, about growing up when your dad is one of the most successful pornographers of all time yet won’t talk about vaginas at dinner.
I rang her up for a chat.
VICE: Hi Kristin. When you first watch Deep Throat?
Kristin Battista-Frazee: I watched it for the first time pretty recently I thought I probably needed to if I was going to write about it. I’m glad I waited, because now it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But I also understand why it was so popular – Linda Lovelace had this incredible skill and that skill was realised.
Her skill being her ability to give good head?
The way she could give a blowjob was pretty special, and credit where credit is due. It was marketed very creatively, but she was really good at it. The working title for Deep Throat was The Sword Swallower.
Yes, so they settled on Deep Throat, which was perfect.
At the time, and as outlined in her memoir, Ordeal, Linda claims Deep Throat depicts her being raped.
I have talked to my father and he didn’t believe she was forced.
There were claims at the time that a gun was held to her head during some of the scenes.
The gun to her head was, I had heard from Eric Danville, author of The Complete Linda Lovelace, figurative. It didn’t actually happen – that whole story got blown up into a myth. She was in an abusive relationship though – that is true – and her husband, Chuck, was an awful person.
Did your father know Linda and Chuck?
He met them once, yes. He wasn’t a fan of him. I think the words he used were "real creepy guy".
So, given your father probably knew a thing or two about sex, did you ever talk to him about it?
We never had a formal chat. I got my sex education at school – I remember taking a 6th grade class; we watched a film and it seemed like a normal experience. If I was going to speak to anyone it would be my mum.
Anthony Battista at the beach.
Did you discuss sex as a family?
Not really. We were a pretty normal family – not extreme Catholics, but traditional – so there were no chats over chicken pot pie on a Tuesday night. I had the classic school sex education, which was pretty effective. A video in class, some discussion. It was a weird time – don’t forget I grew up in the AIDS era, so we were indoctrinated with the belief that casual sex would kill us.
How did your dad break the news that he was distributing porn to theatres across the East coast?
I was six or seven when I found out. I say found out – my parents said it was "something for adults", which meant nothing. But as I got older, Deep Throat became more engrained in popular culture – people had heard of it – so I got a feel for why he was out working long hours. It wasn’t a formal sit down thing, it was more of a natural thing within conversation. He still worked for his company while distributing Deep Throat. To him it was a business venture.
Did you ever have that awkward moment of watching sex on TV with your parents and the room falling suddenly quiet?
Oh yes, I can remember a few. The thing is, no matter what your parents do, you don’t want to think about them as sexual beings.
Maybe that was why people had an issue with porn in the 70s and 80s.
Sure. People thought it promoted promiscuity. People were paranoid. And afraid. I get it. It was a different time.
Did your friends know that your father was this huge pornographer?
I was pretty discreet about it – I mean, I went to a Catholic school. I told my best friend Kelly and she was like, "Really? But he looks like an accountant." I guess he did.
Was your house full of porn?
Kelly and I actually went on a rummage for some when we were teenagers. All we found was a copy of Penthouse Forum in the back of a closet. It was full of essays and very few pictures, so we just went back downstairs and ate Rice Crispie treats.
Kristin with her parents at her college graduation.
And yet your father went onto open a chain of sex shops in the US. He must have been quite comfortable with the subject matter?
He didn’t really talk about it. He saw it as a lucrative business, earning money by catering to the frustrated libido. I didn’t visit his businesses until I was 26, and even then we went, my cousin and I, out of curiosity. He had five, and sold videos, whips, chains, condoms and toys. I remember we had a chat about vibrators. I was asking him what his hottest selling products were and he quickly produced the pocket rocket. "Women love it because it fits in their handbags," he said, and pulled it out of its packet.
Did he show you how it worked?
They’re pretty effective.
I mean, I could guess from the shape and the little button at the end. To him it was like selling rakes, or something.
What about you and sex – what was your first time like?
I lost my virginity at 20. I’m a late bloomer. I wanted to wait for the right person in college, and I ended up marrying him.
Do you watch porn now?
I do for research purposes, yes. I have written about and interviewd a few of the best, like Jessica Drake and Stormy Daniels. Fabulous women.
Whether or not Linda’s account was factual, has it coloured your attitude to porn now?
Personally, I prefer the idea of sex performers wearing condoms. It could be a genre of porn. Wicked Pictures is condom-only porn and it’s great. I mean, the whole fantasy of having unprotected sex is weird in itself. I feel like porn can have a productive place. Here in the US we don’t handle those conversations that well, but I do think it becomes part of sex education whether we like it or not. It’s also helped women to realise it’s OK to be sexual and highlight the slut shaming of women who are honest about their desire. That said, it’s far too available to children, and there is a fringe of the industry which is too extreme – I don’t think that’s productive. Still, what’s obscene is in the eye of the beholder. I'm an advocate of free speech, and extreme porn is subjective.
So you agree with Miller vs California, right?
Yes, right, that gave the right to local communities to decide what’s obscene. I think that’s the right call.
Rape porn, bestiality, the exploitation of women... that sort of thing?
There’s an actor called Max Hardcore who does extreme porn – things like urination humiliation. A lot of people don’t think that’s OK, me included. He’s done jail time. But my dad says he shouldn’t be in jail. He’s very sensitive to first amendment rights. As for exploitation, well, it’s tricky. You can be exploited in any industry. I don’t think the porn industry has a higher instance of exploitation.
Okay. How did your mother and grandmother feel about it?
My grandmother, Maria, was something else. She wanted to see the film so she took her friend Ida along after my dad got her free tickets. Part of the reason was that it was free – she was a child of wartime, so took anything free that was being offered. She thought it was disgusting but she did understand that people were sexual beings. My mother was in two minds, but, ultimately, [my father] was very good at his job – at distributing – and she mostly supported him. She even decorated the bathroom of his stripclub. Yellow curtains.
Another family day at the beach.
He opened a strip club?
Yes, in Philadelphia. It was called Golden 33 and was pretty successful, too – although it had its issues with the law. He had a good eye for what people liked, and, with Tommy Rizzo, my father’s business partner, they found a dancer called Honeysuckle Divine who was very popular because of her, um, skills
He had an eye for talented women! What did she do?
Mostly vagina work. Stuff with ping-pong balls, mop handles. She would insert peanut butter inside herself, like a tampon, spread it on bread and shout, "Who’s hungry?" before giving it to someone in the audience.
Who would then…
Right. What happened to her?
She and Tommy were arrested on charges of obscenity.
Oh dear. Your father was a family man, but working in the sex industry presumably had its temptations?
Yes, and he didn’t separate himself entirely. He did become entangled at the club. He had affairs and that was the driving force behind the demise of their marriage, her decline in mental health and suicide attempt. There were lots of fights and screaming matches. To me he was always dad, though, a man steadfast in his belief that he wasn’t guilty. He thought people had a right to watch the film, and he made that happen. His involvement in Deep Throat was pretty principle-based. People had rights.
Deep Throat arguably reshaped the sexual landscape for pornography. Are you proud of your father?
I feel proud that he fought against forces for what he believed in. There will always be a vocal minority against porn, but that’s life.
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