Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The L.A. coroner's office still hasn't announced a cause of death for once and eternal porn star Marilyn Chambers, found in her home at the age of 56. Foul play has been ruled out, and unless she died by her own hand, there's every reason to assume it was as a result of natural causes.

Or as natural as it could be, considering the life she led.

Chambers was interviewed extensively for Legs McNeil's oral history of the porno industry, The Other Hollywood, and in that book she comes off as funny, free-spirited and immensely likable. And by no means stupid; 1972, the year she starred in Jim and Artie Mitchell's Behind The Green Door, was the dawn of porno chic, when the grimy loops of yesteryear seemed to be giving way to a new era. Adult films were being shown in mainstream theaters, being reviewed in the pages of The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. Chambers was a working model and aspiring actress who did the film on a lark. To her, it was almost a piece of avante garde art, no different from any of the public "happenings" so popular at the time.

And she became famous, though not in the way she might have hoped. The big studios didn't embrace porno as it briefly seemed they might, and the industry remained dominated by shady characters. Chambers hooked up with the supremely sleazy sneaker pimp Chuck Traynor, best known for beating the shit out of ex-wife Linda Lovelace and selling her out in every conceivable way. There's no evidence Traynor physically coerced Chambers to do anything, but though he claimed to be protective of her, he steered her career straight into the seamier side of show business. From the moment she meant Traynor, her future was set.

True, she did land a lead role in David Cronenberg's early film Rabid, and she gave a perfectly competent if unexceptional performance. But in late seventies Hollywood, a drive-in horror movie was almost interchangeable with porno. The studios, too busy churning out late-period disaster movies and Burt Reynolds car crash epics, couldn't be bothered with the talent that made such trash.

So Chambers briefly retired from show business, but inexplicably remained with Traynor, whom she married in 1974. (Sammy Davis, Jr. served as best man!) They did massive amounts of blow together, he'd rent out her services to any intererested parties willing to pony up the dough, and she...went along. If she ever found herself wondering how her life turned out in such a way, she never said a word about it, not at the time, not in McNeil's book. She seemed genuinely fond of Traynor.

Her "comeback" role came in the 1980 film Insataible--the title tells you everything you need to know. As she aged, she went under the knife, had her breasts enlarged, eventually graduated to softcore Skinemax pictures instead of hardcore, a lateral move at best. She eventually divorced Traynor, remarried, had a kid, had a life. But for as long as she lived, she'd always be Marilyn Chambers, porn star.