Linda Blair was born in 1959 in St. Louis, Missouri. Her family relocated to Westport, Connecticut two years later, and by the time she was nine, the little girl was modeling for catalogues in New York.
When she was just ten, Blair appeared in two small movies and a soap opera but her ambition was to be a veterinarian. And then came the casting call for The Exorcist, based on the novel by William Peter Blatty. The story about a little girl possessed by the Devil seemed almost too shocking to translate to the big screen.
Director William Friedkin knew immediately that she was right for the role. He recalled, "I met with her and she was very bright and personable. Her mother was very charming and sweet; she sat in the room. I met with several other young women too and it was impossible. You couldn't even reach them on this level. I said to Linda, 'Do you know anything about The Exorcist?' And she said 'Well, she hits her mother across the face, pushes a man out her window and she masturbates with a crucifix.'
And I said 'Do you know what that means...what you just said...masturbate?' She said 'Yeah, it's like jerking off, isn't it?' And I said 'Yes it is. Have you ever done that?' And she said 'Sure, haven't you?' And I turned to her mother and said 'I'd like to test her.' So I shot a test with her and Ellen Burstyn, and it was clear this was the girl."
Blair was clearly mature for her age but she was perfectly cast as the innocent girl caught up in horrific circumstances. It was a startling debut, one for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Although the demonic voice was dubbed by Mercedes McCambridge, and some of the more suggestive movements were done by a stand-in, Blair's acting was terrific. So good, in fact, that the press wondered about her mental health after the making of the film.
Blair told the writer Mark Kermode in 1989, "They wrote all these things about how deranged I was and the psychiatric problems I was supposed to have... the audience, they chose to see a scary film, and maybe they wanted to believe all those rumors because it helped the whole process."
On a more basic level, the young actress was physically hurt by props on the set, including a board that was tied to her back and raised up and down repeatedly. This painful experience was balanced by the success of the movie, which went on to become a sensation and one of the highest grossing movies up to that time.
After The Exorcist, Blair landed juicy roles in television that were often controversial. One that received much attention at the time was 1974's excellent Born Innocent. In it, she played Chris Parker, a young runaway who ends up incarcerated in a juvenile detention home where she's tormented and eventually raped. The following year, she appeared in two other acclaimed Made-for-TV movies, Sarah T. - Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic and Sweet Hostage.
She later found a niche in low-budget horror films and made a number of them, including Stranger in Our House AKA Summer Of Fear (1978), The Chilling, Grotesque and Dead Sleep.
A Terror Trap favorite is 1981's Hell Night. Blair played Marti, a virginal pledge who must spend the night in a deserted mansion in order to join a sorority. Unfortunately, two deranged members of the family that was murdered there still reside in the house. Much gory fun and mayhem follows.
Ready, willing and able to work...Blair starred in a succession of exploitation flicks in the mid '80s, including Chained Heat, Savage Streets, Red Heat and Savage Island.
These days, Blair devotes much of her time to animal rights issues, a noble cause if there ever was one...as well as the occasional cameo.