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Joan Felt: The Leftist Voice Behind ‘Deep Throat’

Santiago, Chile — W. Mark Felt managed to remain in history’s shadows for more than 30 years. It would seem that his energetic daughter Joan, the person most influential in persuading her father to make public his role as “Deep Throat,” also had a past in her past.

Daughter Joan played a prominent role not only in “outing” her now-invalid 91-year-old father, but also in engineering book and movie deals. Long-estranged, father and daughter reconciled after he was widowed in the 1980s, and he has lived with her since.

Following his Deep Throat revelation in June, Felt has been praised and damned. No one, however, has accused him of being a leftist. For that matter, no one has accused Joan of that, either.

She was, though, very leftist, indeed.

After graduating from Stanford in 1964, she couldn’t decide between a career as an actress—she is frequently described as a Joan Fonda look-alike—or in Spanish literature. She decided to move to a country where she could pursue both careers. The choices: Spain, then ruled by right-wing dictator Francisco Franco, or Chile, then under a government that was democratic but also embarked on a hard-left revolution.

Chile was her choice, and she won a Fulbright scholarship to study here. She knew little about this far-away country, but unlike other Fulbright scholars who shared apartments, she took a room of her own near the downtown area of Santiago.

Leftist Influence

The rest of the story unfolds in a remarkable piece of reporting in Chile’s leading newsmagazine, Que Pasa.

“I didn’t want to be around gringos,” she told the magazine. “I wanted to immerse myself in the culture….Since I was my father’s daughter, I thought that we were the good guys and the Communists the bad guys. But when I began to frequent theaters and artists, I discovered that the sensitive people were all on the left or outright Communists. All of my friends were, and they were fantastic. That experience shook me—I had to let go my past views and open my mind to new ideas.”

She says she came to admire these “idealists” and listened respectfully as they savaged the U.S. for the “damage” her country had done to Latin America.

“That was the beginning of my rebellion: thinking for myself,” she said. I was still not a hippie, but I was on my way.”

Since her Fulbright grant required that she perform as an actress, she began touring Santiago’s lively theater scene.

By 1965, the budding actress was caught up in a bohemian lifestyle she had never known at home, participating in all-night, wine-and-cheese rap sessions. By day, she took courses in diction and voice, picking up bit roles on television and in theaters. One was with a professional company directed by the Rev. Jorge Canepa, a well-heeled priest who taught at St. George High School—run by radical leftist American padres. By then, she was also making a name for herself. “She was,” one remembers, “a looker.”

That “one” was Andres Pascal Allende, nephew of the Marxist-Leninist president (1970-1973) who led Chile to ruin, and himself one of the founders of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR) terrorist organization. The MIR became the initial, prime target of the military government, which managed to find and kill in a gun-battle its top leader, at which point Pascal Allende took the reins of power, shuttling in and out of the country clandestinely from Cuba all the years of the military government (1973-1990).

Joan Felt met Pascal Allende when she returned to Chile after spending two post-Fulbright semesters at Stanford. The country she returned to was by then fully in the throes of revolutionary ferment. This time she found work as an interpreter at the University of Chile and obtained grants from the Rockefeller Foundation to do translations.

At the university, she met Uruguayan historian Gustavo Beyhaut, 20 years her senior, and despite the age difference, decided to move in with him. During that same time, she struck up a friendship with Carmen Castillo, then married to Pascal Allende. The three became inseparable, especially the two women on weekends when the young Allende “disappeared.” She would learn later, she says, that he was running a guerrilla training camp.

During his weekend absences, Felt and Castillo frequently travelled to the fashionable seacoast resort of Algarrobo, staying there with Pascal Allende’s uncle, the then-Senator Salvador Allende.

Of Allende’s razor-thin election as president (on his fourth try, on Sept. 4, 1970), William F. Buckley—mindful of massive U.S. aid to leftist Chile—wrote at the time: “It as if the child on whom we devoted the most attention and care had decided, upon finishing graduate school, to embrace cannibalism.”

That is not, however, what Felt saw: “He was very pleasant with me, a very impressive person. You could see by his manner that he was a leader, a person of strong self-confidence. He was always surrounded by people who admired him, but he never treated me as a lesser being.”

Life as a Hippie

Despite her strong ties to Chile, Felt returned to the U.S. and rapidly lost contact with her former friends. “I immersed myself in my life as a hippie, and just lost contact.” When she learned of the coup that overthrew Allende in 1973, she presumed that all her friends would be dead. (They weren’t).

Until recently, her Chilean experiences remained buried in her past, even up to her recent involvement in the Deep Throat phenomenon. But Chile has emerged anew as a fascination.

“I must return,” she told Que Pasa.

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Written By

Mr. Whelan lived in Venezuela for five years as part of a Latin America career spanning more than four decades.

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