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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

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.

But 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.

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