Remembering Marilyn Chambers

Marilyn Chambers died today.

Tomorrow the newspapers will call her a “former porn star.”  They will mention the scandal that erupted when Marilyn — the “99 and 44/100% pure” model holding a baby on the Ivory soap box — moved into hard-core films.  They may say that some of her movies were produced by the infamous Mitchell brothers, or that she worked with legendary male porn star Johnny Wadd.

They might even mention that she grew up in Westport, Connecticut, the daughter of an advertising executive father and a nurse mother.  The obituary writers will describe Marilyn Chambers, but they will focus only on her titillating past.  That’s natural; they didn’t know her.

I did.

And as a Westporter a grade behind Marilyn Briggs at Long Lots Junior High School and Staples High, with plenty of friends in common, I knew her when it counted — when we were young.  She was a field hockey player and cheerleader.  She was cute — very cute — and outgoing.  And though she was way ahead of most of us even then, and was already modeling in New York, she was still just “Marilyn.”

Her 1970 Staples yearbook writeup says:  “likes digging on life, being happy, ‘The Owl and the Pussycat'” — she had a bit part in that Barbra Streisand film  during high school, though she was credited as “Evelyn Lang” — “her dog, the city…dislikes school, commuting to New York, running out of gas, making decisions.”

She was a Homecoming Queen nominee.  She did not win  — but in a class poll, she won “Best Student Body.”

Her nickname, the yearbook said, was “Briggs.”  “Marilyn Chambers” was off in the future.

Marilyn Chambers - 1973

Marilyn Chambers - 1973

That future came quickly, though.  She made “Behind the Green Door” — the first hardcore pornographic movie widely released in the United States — in 1972.  I saw it, of course — knowing her made me a celebrity with my college friends — but watching it filled me with both intrigue and sadness.  She was 2 years and a continent removed from Westport, but it seemed she was now a lifetime and a universe away.

Marilyn made over 25 porn films.  She also ran for vice president of the United States in 2004 (on the Personal Choice Party ticket).  The years in between were not kind to her.  She battled drug and alcohol addiction, and her three marriages ended in divorce.

marilyn-chambers-2But as far away as she drifted, she never really left Westport behind.  She loved attending Staples reunions, and her former classmates loved seeing her.  Sure, it was cool having their pictures taken with her (their wives were not as pleased) — but once the cameras were gone, nothing had changed.  She — everyone — was back in high school school again.  They remembered old times, good times, times before anyone peeked behind the green door.

The media will have a brief feeding frenzy on Marilyn Chambers.  I’ll spend my time remembering Marilyn Briggs.

23 responses to “Remembering Marilyn Chambers

  1. Wow that was amazing. Your POV is so sincere and refreshing…Westport needs you now more than ever. I had no idea Marilyn attended Staples reunions. RIP Ms. Briggs.

    First time poster, long time lurker.

  2. Good write-up Dan. I was sad to hear of her passing, but it’s nice to remember the old days when we were young and somewhat innocent, like you said.

  3. Thanks for you blog.

    I had the chance to meet Marilyn on a couple of occasions at model conventions in the Los Angeles area. She was very nice and down to earth person. She told me she was just trying to raise her two daughters.

    My prayers are with them and trying to cope with the loss of their mother. 😦

  4. Chip Stephens

    She is now up there giving Principal Caulkins a well deserved back massage, rest in peace…

    FYI Obituary from LA Times from Scott G.
    http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-marilyn-chambers14-2009apr14,0,2571017.story

  5. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Dan, this is the Marilyn I knew, so thanks for your memories. Marilyn lived just a couple of houses from us on Roseville, since her house was on the corner of Marc Lane. I’m a lot older, but sometimes I helped my mom teach Sunday school at Greens Farms Church, and Marilyn was in that class. She was such a darling, and I was so so sad to hear the news of her death yesterday. Like you, I will continue to remember the Marilyn Briggs I knew and celebrate the talent that she showed.

  6. Bruce Fernie

    Very, very nice.
    I have said elsewhere that I saw the movies…who didn’t?
    But the Marilyn I remember the cute as hell blonde from Long Lots JHS with the really cool big brother.
    RIP

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  8. David Abrams

    I, too, have memories of her walking to and from Staples. She walked up Pumpkin Hill. Four years younger, I had a crush on her just watching her walk by.

  9. OK. This one’s too good not to share. I met Marilyn in 3rd grade at Burr Farms Elementary We had just moved from Nwlk. An immediate coindidence was the Lennie Metalitz (” Metal Tits”) was a guy my mother, Harriett Fried Bailin knew from Bridgeport. OK OK. SO what.
    Harriett was a songwriter. SO she wrote us a 3rd grade play/musical. Marilyn Briggs was cast as a “pussycat”. WIth some minor singing and movement. MANY YEARS LATER, after Harriett had moved to Athens Greece (after the premature death of my dad Jack Bailin in 68) Mom somehow stumbled into a theatre showing “Behing The Green Door” the Mitchell Brothers Classic. The next time I visited Harriett in Athens, and she recounted her experience of seeing Mar in the “movie”, she couldn’t stop laughing. At what a surreal experience it was. I couldn’t stop laughing with her. GOD BLESS MARILYN. She was a bright light on this trouble planet and I loved her.
    MLB

  10. A wonderful remembrance. I attended second grade in 1957 at Northfield School. This was located in a rather blue collar section of Litchfield. One of my classmates was a very happy girl whose name was Marlilyn Briggs. She was only there for one year but most of us in the class remembered her. In the early 70’s we wondered if Briggs was Chambers because somebody knew that Chambers had grown up in CT. Apparently, the innocent, charming, and pretty young girl I knew grew up to make some tough decisions in life. Bless her and may she rest peacefully.

  11. Marianne Pettee Churchwell

    Nice rememberance Dan. Marilyn was always happy to run in to old school friends on the streets of Westport.

  12. Peter Yannone

    Hi Dan,

    I like and appreciate your well written article. I posted my condolences on the westporters.com website this morning, and perhaps you may relate to my experiences. Thanks.
    ========

    I met Marilyn in our senior year. We sat adjacently in Mr. Miller’s ECCP class.(Engineering Curriculum and Concepts Program) I was spending my weekends in Boston investigating campus life and sampling the various forms of riotous living they had to offer. Marilyn was spending her weekends in New York diligently working, at that time, on “The Owl And The Pussycat” On Mondays we would briefly exchange accounts of our disparate weekends. That was in 1969 and 1970.

    The next time we met was on a lonely stretch of highway between Waco and Temple, in central Texas. It was 1997, and my wife of fifteen years brought it to my attention that Marilyn was coming to the area to promote a new composite video of her past works. Marilyn was on the road and working just as hard as she was when I saw her twenty-seven years earlier.

    When the day arrived, my wife, two daughters and I drove the twenty miles south, in the brilliant blue skied morning, to Love’s Video. Located on the service road of Interstate 35, surrounded by little other than grazing pasture, was the small building housing an establishment which presented itself as a family video store — with an adult section. A crowd had gathered at the rear of the building. We parked at the edge of the gravel parking area, half on the weeds, with about thirty other cars and pickem-up-trucks.

    Inside a line had formed. Some men and women were leaving proudly, holding in one hand, autographed Polaroid photos of themselves at Marilyn’s side, and in the other a video or two. The line was not moving because, we were told, Marilyn and her crew were taking a small break.

    As we waited the four of us chatted with the folks around. My wife was adamant that our children not be kept in the dark about the realities of humanity such as the porn industry. Her father had owned and run a triple X theatre when she was a child, and she always valued this experience as a privileged insight into human hypocracy. She spoke of how the town’s elete had their own special rear parking lot and entrance to her family’s theatre. Now, just as her mother had done, she protected her children by dissipating any intrigue all this may hold, by yanking it out of the shadow and into the bright Texas sunlight.

    When Marilyn and her road crew emerged from behind a whitewashed, cracked hollow-core door of the ten by ten break room, she looked as sharp as a tack, especially in contradistinction to her roadies who were followed into the room by thick, oily hemp fumes. She took her place at the front of her fans and the autographing and polaroiding resumed. After a couple of dozen bright flashes we were at the front of the line.

    There she stood, looking splendid in her leopard skin costume, in front of empty red wire wall racks, in a bleak, little, forgotten room on the side of a highway designed to get you from nowhere to nowhere in no time at all. This was hardly a suitable setting, in my mind, for this celebrated American icon. But Marilyn was about her work and knew her fans and the happiness she brought them by coming to see them personally in the American heartland. Her spirits were up and she conveyed a love for what she was doing.

    My admiration for her and her willingness to put in a hard day’s work were at once renewed. She did not recognize me, and even her memories of Mr. Miller’s class were lost among far more significant ones. We did have enough common memories to connect. She immediately related to my children, who were absolutely enamored by her. To them, Marilyn was a real live Barbie: Wow! I will not forget how sweet she was to the girls.

    When I heard of her death the other day, I was shocked and could not put pen to paper. I slowly realized that there was really too much to say about Marilyn and the respect she deserves, for having done what she did in life: choosing it, doing all the hard work it entailed, but most of all, standing up to the misunderstanding and hypocracy of popular misconcensus. I believe she knew most of us better than we are willing to know ourselves. I cannot help but think that this was a burden she willingly bore for the rest of us.

    I hope and trust that Marilyn’s daughter knows that she has much to be proud about regarding her mother’s accomplishments. Marilyn did not sit on the sidelines of American culture, as most of us do, but got in there, willing to work hard, tough it out, and define America as we find it today.

    It speaks very well of Staples High School that Marilyn is of our company. Heads up everyone!

  13. Peter, that was one of the best things I’ve read about Marilyn, and I have scoured the net through countless postings. Although, I didn’t know her like you, I had a profound sadness about her passing. I have the same feelings as you without really knowing anything about her personally. It is just wired inside me for some reason. I couldn’t agree more with every word you wrote.

  14. Thank you for the heartfelt tribute. Like every other celebrity, she was a human being and you helped illustrate that page of her life. My heart is filled with sadness for her and her family.

  15. Like Bob Horn, I also felt a great sadness at the passing of someone I did not know. My only memory was from seeing her on the 11pm news in Cleveland Ohio after one of her live appearances. (I did not make it to the show.) What I will never forget is how happy all of the news commentators were with the fact that she was in their town. She cheerily gave an interview outside in the cold to a giddy reporter.
    I am extremely grateful to everyone who has shared memories of her from the old days. It confirms that my instincts about her were right and that she was kind, warm, and friendly. I am glad that I found these comments.

  16. Bruce Courcier

    Marilyn was a wonderful girl. Even though her life took her in a direction i know she had not planned, She embraced what she did and always gave her all. I think that was her competitiveness from gymnastics. She was really a nice nice person, one whom i will miss very much.

  17. Just a westporter

    Is it ok to shed a tear or two for a pornstar?

    I never knew Marilyn Personally, but as a young New Jersey High school boy growing up in the early 70’s, it was her film debut that was an introduction to sexuality for me and my friends. The 60’s had Monroe, we had Chambers.

    But that is not where the interest in Marilyn ended. She was quite an intriguing personality and I continued to follow ,mainly her off the film scene appearances on late night cable interviews in New York City. With Marilyn, it was never a dull moment. From her film career to motherhood, it always seemed that she was full of passion.

    As chance would have it, I got married and settled down in Westport and it is here that I learned about Marilyn the Westporter as opposed to Marilyn the Pornstar. And Dan, you are absolutely right…I do not believe she ever left this town and perhaps in her heart, she knew till the end that her days here were when she was at her best. In one of her latest interviews, she speaks of regrets of not having had a big family and the normal life that was missed at the expense of her stardom. I just can’t help to think that this was a reflection on her part on the childhood that she so endeared.

    So, as I reflect on Marilyn’s life and passing, I think it is ok for a grown man to shed a few tears for a special lively girl that once occupied the same space on earth that my family calls home.

  18. Noel Canfield-- Staples '68

    Marilyn, you were a maverick. I’m so sorry you left us so young. Rest in peace, girlfriend.

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  20. Marilyn had talent but Hollywood shunned her. The same thing happened to John Anthony Bailey, the charming black actor who played Sticks Downey on Happy Days in 1974.
    Marilyn and John “whose porn name was Jack Baker” had a lovemaking scene together in one of her Private Fantasies films around 1984. Hollywood may have shunned them but at least Marilyn and Jack Baker had eachother, even if it was only for a moment of passion.

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  22. Derek DeVries

    I kew Marilyn well. She always beat me in spelling bees in the third grade at Burr Farms and we always had fun afterwards.
    Bill Brigs still plays with the Remains.

  23. I’m not a Westport resident, although I live in Fairfield County. I graduated from NFA in 1970, so I consider myself a “classmate” of Marilyn Briggs. I was devastated to hear of her passing a few years ago, and I am devastated again reflecting back on her today. I wish I could say I knew her, because I feel like I really did. And I feel like she knew me, too. Very attractive, hard-working, driven young lady. Reaching for the dream like we would all like to. Not afraid to take a chance and intuitive enough to sense a changing American culture – even if few would admit it at the time. I’m sure she thought the road she traveled would take her in a different direction than it ultimately did – who knew? But that was her, striking out into the unknown to try and make a go of it. Hooray for you, my dear. My heart is broken that you are no longer with us, but we will always remember this amazing young lady. Thanks Marilyn.