That grin of hers... Marilyn’s instant expression of earthy satisfaction. It was like a combination of Huck Finn, The Miss America Pageant, and the first great fuck you ever had, all rolled into one.
One weekend in the summer of 1999, long after you'd think anyone remembered, a package arrived with a hand-printed message scrawled on the envelope. My hands trembled a little. It said, "A letter from your FIRST girlfriend!"
No way. Could it be my junior high school flame? Last time I saw Miss Thing, she was on the back of a bike heading to Sturgis.
No, this package was from a different kind of girlfriend, albeit with a similar radiance— a sex symbol who was an equal trigger for my teenage nostalgia.
Inside the envelope was a video and comeback announcement from none other than the best-selling actress in the history of porn, Marilyn Chambers. The tape was called Still Insatiable.
Marilyn may not have been in 9th grade with me, but we were both teenagers at the same time. She became famous in 1972, when I was 14 and she was just five years older.
I wonder how many pop cult devotees have an instant mental image when Marilyn Chamber's name is mentioned. Do you flash on her swinging the trapeze in Behind the Green Door, taking all comers— or are you haunted by her voracious marathon on the pool table in the original Insatiable? Perhaps you have a David-Cronenberg corner of your heart etched in her memory because her starring role in Rabid.
For most people, even if they never saw a hardcore film in their lives, the Chambers legacy will always conjure the image of a sweet young thing with an adorable smile, cradling her baby on the Ivory Snow detergent box.
She was the girl who went from modeling for soap suds to becoming a porn star legend, cast in one of the first high-production, no-holds-barred X-rated movies. But there was something about her that was bigger, an icon of the 70s, an authentic germination.
Reading the DVD cover letter, I learned that Marilyn decided to make her comeback role by playing a right-wing politician who stumps for anti-porn legislation. She investigates the sordid depths of the sex biz and inevitably succumbs to her libido, thereby…. changing her position. It’s a porn script!
Can’t you just see her starring in the ultimate Sarah Palin rehab farce?
Marilyn certainly grew up from when she was a whippet-slim fox with a boyish figure. In her new movie, she was womanly with breasts and hips— a sweet Momma’s belly. I asked her director and old comrade-in-porn, Jane Hamilton, how fans reacted to her image who'd seen the comeback movie.
Jane said, "About half are irate because they don't ever want to see Marilyn again if she's not exactly as they remember— and the other half wouldn't care WHAT she looked like as long as they know its her— they love her, period."
"I think I'm part of that last crowd," I said.
What gave me goose bumps in her return to the screen was the moment when her steely blue eyes turned right into the camera, and that smile of hers made everything else in the picture disappear.
When Marilyn made her first film, neither she nor anyone else had any idea she was making history. Her early producers, Jim and Art Mitchell, were bone-grateful to have a radiant young beauty who would go for it. I don't think anyone realized what her star power was all about. That captivating smile of hers personified a whole attitude about taking your pleasure and loving every minute of it.
The other key to Marilyn's appeal, the character behind that great face, is found in the title that most serious sex fans know her by: Insatiable. She could bottom on camera like few others. —So much cinematic power from an ironically-labeled “submissive” position.
Marilyn inhabited an unyielding, butch, yet feminine mojo— where you might imagine taking on the entire Nave SEALS and then taunting them for more. She made porn clichés like “volcanic” come to life. She was Pelé-esque, but with the endgame of vulnerability and... ecstasy. Her bonhomie about what was possible— it was infectious.
She was so warm, witty, accepting of you as you were. A survivor of crazy times.
She was unique among showbiz people— and I do mean show business— it's hardly just porn— who was equipped to deal with life after one’s heyday. Very few have the security, good health, and family to translate from the A to D list, even if they have the wry humor for it, which Marilyn certainly did. She also had a strong family and great friends.
Getting old: not for the timid, certainly. But for those who spark so bright, the burn might be eviscerating. Marilyn, such an angel; what was all that shine about if not a capacity for love?
Portrait Photo: Life Magazine
Photo still: Rabid
Update: Marilyn died of undiagnosed heart disease, the number one killer of American women in her age group.