Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Marilyn Chambers

A simple way to achieve fame is to become known for two contrasting things. Good example: Ivory Snow model and porn actress. Those were the tickets Marilyn Chambers punched in 1972, when the XXX-rated dream drama Behind the Green Door was released. The press immediately noted that its star had been photographed on the box of a detergent whose motto was "99 and 44/100 Pure." This ironic factette made the blond, willowy Chambers the porn industry's pinup princess. The notoriety helped sustain her sex-film career until this past April 12, when she was found dead in her Santa Clarita, Calif., home from a cerebral hemorrhage.

Born Marilyn Ann Briggs, the daughter of an ad man and a nurse, and raised in Westport, Conn., Chambers was rare among early sex-film actors for her Waspy good looks, girl-next-door appeal and refusal to use a jokey pseudonym as her nom de porn. She was also a smart businesswoman. When directors Jim and Artie Mitchell asked her to star in Green Door, she demanded the then astronomical sum of $25,000 and a percentage of the gross. She got both.

She also got on talk shows and bookshelves (with the autobiography Marilyn Chambers: My Story) and appeared in Rabid, a 1977 scare film about the human body as the ultimate toxic agent by David Cronenberg, who was then near the start of an exemplary career making meta-horror movies (Scanners, The Fly, Naked Lunch). But Chambers never realized her dream of starring in mainstream movies; for the next three decades she anchored dozens of hard- and soft-core movies. Spanning the entire era of above-ground erotic films, Chambers was the queen mum of porn.

— Richard Corliss