• Marilyn, before her time
Back in the early ’70s, I was a senior editor at the now-defunct Baltimore News American. As the funky, feisty counterpart to the staid establishment paper The Sun, of H.L. Mencken fame, our newsroom was the target of any pitchman who had something to sell and was looking for a frayed-collar newspaper eager to one-up The Sun.
Thus, we were immune to the blandishments of the average pitchman. When the circus came to town, we didn’t much care how many contortionists and sword-swallowers they trotted out in front of us. We even ignored the racist presidential candidate George Wallace when he came to our area to make a speech as part of his presidential campaign — and, thus, missed having a first-hand report when he was shot by a would-be assassin.
But, there was that day in ’73 when a fresh-faced young model and would-be actress visited the newsroom to hype her new X-rated film, “Behind the Green Door.” The fact that a few days earlier we as a group had just ignored a tiger being paraded on a leash through the newsroom by his trainer only underscored the fact you had to have something very special to sell to get our attention.
Marilyn Chambers had that.
The lovely, blonde 22-year-old from upscale Westport, CT, had just hit the news by appearing virtually simultaneously as the pure-as-snow mom on a box of Ivory Snow detergent and the incredibly raunchy star of the porn film “Behind the Green Door,” which shocked the world not only by displaying the enthusiastic debauchery of a pretty girl but the then-taboo sight of sex between a white woman and a black man. It had come out in 1972, the same year Linda Lovelace caused quite a stir in “Deep Throat.”
Everyone in the 150-plus person newsroom that day, men and women alike, stopped what they were doing when Marilyn and her agent walked in to meet the newspaper’s entertainment editor. There was something utterly mesmerizing about her, not just because many of us had seen her nude, active and as splayed as a human being gets in front of a camera, but because she was truly beautiful of face, lithe of form and graceful of movement. That tiger had nothing on her, which was a fascinating situation since the Baltimore of those days was known as a haven for strippers, raunch clubs and a live-and-let-live attitude.
Marilyn never made it beyond that sort of notoriety, not even when she twice ran for vice president of the United States on the ticket of something called the Personal Choice Party in 2004 and 2008 and not even with bit parts in such mainstream films as Barbra Streisand’s “The Owl and The Pussycat” (1970) and “Rabid” (1977). She wound up doing sleazy X-rated and R-rated flicks and Cinemax-style series, bloated and unattractive and an object to be pitied. It was difficult to see the downward spiral.
Then came word the other day that she had been found dead, three days shy of her 57th birthday and largely forgotten by most people.
Marilyn Ann Taylor, her real name, was found in her Los Angeles mobile home by her 17-year-old daughter, McKenna. The county coroner said the cause of death, while under investigation, did not seem to indicate foul play.
In an online chat with AdultDVDtalk.com in 2000, the thrice-married Chambers attempted to explain what caused her to take such a radically different career path after her mainstream movies and straight modeling work.
“Back then in my naive brain I was thinking that something like ’Behind the Green Door’ had never been done before, and the way our sexual revolution was traveling I really thought it was going to be a stepping stone which would further my acting career,” she said. ” … There will always be a stigma on people who do adult films. It’s unfortunate that that’s the way society has made it.”
Given how society, cinema and sexuality have changed over the past three decades, the Marilyn Chambers of the ’70s would barely cause a ripple these days.