Porn Again

Once a national sensation, Marilyn Chambers is finally ready to retire from the porn business

Green Door wasn't the first porn flick aimed at a mainstream audience, but it stands apart from Deep Throat and other early porn classics because of who Marilyn was, her picture on the soap box and a previous foray into the mainstream when she appeared with Barbra Streisand in The Owl and the Pussycat. "That she would be in a film of this kind was a tremendous breakthrough," Cohn says. "It was unprecedented. There was this kind of sweet spot in time where films with very, very explicit sexuality might have, quote-unquote, gone mainstream. Marilyn thought it would happen." Without films such as Green Door, the mainstream today would be a different place. "There never could have been a Basic Instinct or a Fatal Attraction or American Gigolo -- which was a quality film with Richard Gere which had full frontal male nudity -- with all that explicit sexuality had it not been for those films. They were necessary in their radical departure from the restrictions of the past to empower mainstream films to deal with sexuality."

Cohn tells Marilyn what an honor it is meet her and collects her autograph. One by one, the other men thank Marilyn for all those private moments. A fan who says he bought the first VCR sold in St. Louis confesses that he wore out two copies each of Green Door and Insatiable once he upgraded to a machine with fast-forward and rewind on the remote control. Insatiable is a constant topic. "That guy on the pool table ..." a fan begins. Marilyn knows what's coming next. "It's not Tony Danza," she answers before he can finish the question. "He has the same tattoo," the fan exclaims. And he's dead, Marilyn says, not mentioning his name and not able to recall whether it was AIDS, drugs, a combination of the two or something else entirely. "It's unfortunate," she says. "A lot of people can't survive the business. They can't." She pauses. "They just can't. It's rough."

But the mood is generally light. A portable radio beside the cash register plays oldies -- "Margaritaville," "American Pie," Sam and Dave singing "Soul Man," a version Marilyn proclaims better than the Blues Brothers'. And she just loves to sing "Last Kiss" at karaoke (and she can sing, having recorded the soundtracks to at least two of her films). "Where did this song come from?" she asks as J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers croon, "Oh where oh where can my baby be?"

Marilyn Chambers: "None of my marriages worked out. I'm very honest, brutally, to a point. Most men can't handle that."
Jennifer Silverberg
Marilyn Chambers: "None of my marriages worked out. I'm very honest, brutally, to a point. Most men can't handle that."
Procter & Gamble inadvertently gave Marilyn a publicity boost in the '70s when she was featured on a box of detergent.
Jennifer Silverberg
Procter & Gamble inadvertently gave Marilyn a publicity boost in the '70s when she was featured on a box of detergent.

Chambers pontificates about the glut of porn in America, tens of thousands of videos shot every year on the cheap. "It's so amazing," she says. "It's become savoir-faire. There's so much product. The problem is, no one makes very much money." She gives her all with every Polaroid, embracing the fan with her left arm while crossing her left foot behind her right, where she touches just the tip of her sandal to the floor in a perfect glamour pose, even though the photo will only show her from the waist up. She defends her work when a fan asks why she started making X-rated pictures again after a 14-year layoff. "There's a lot of people out there who want to see someone older with some fat on her who doesn't have a lot of plastic surgery," she explains. She worries that patrons at the Diamond Cabaret later that night will be disappointed that she's only shaking hands and signing pictures. "I'm not performing," she says. "Who wants to see an old broad perform?" Nor will she ever sign autographs in another adult bookstore after this trip. "This is the last store thing in my life," she vows.


Nearly five hours later, Marilyn is still going strong when she arrives at the Lemp Mansion for a formal dinner with 15 fans, each of whom has paid $69 for the privilege. She's spent the afternoon signing autographs at two VIP stores, in between fighting ever-worsening Friday rush-hour traffic, but she's had enough time to change into a long black sequined dress with just one button fastened in front.

She looks marvelous, and the regular jacket-and-tie crowd gawks as she chats with fellow diners in the bar.

She would like a ginger ale, but none is available. Perhaps she should have a beer, but that wouldn't be ladylike, would it? Assured by everyone present that she may have anything she likes, she orders a Budweiser. "Bud Light?" the bartender asks. No, Bud, she says. She fishes out a Marlboro Medium while three men look through their pockets for lighters. She has heard all about this place, the rise and fall of the brewery that was once the largest in St. Louis and the litany of Lemps who killed themselves inside the mansion. She is, she says, a history buff and tells the group that her sister is an archaeologist.

After 15 minutes in the bar, the group moves to the dining area, where Cohn starts things off with a toast to Marilyn, whom he calls the Grace Kelly of adult films. He has to leave early for a meeting but walks away impressed. "There was a poignancy about seeing her after all these years," he says. "She was a lot like the character Amber Waves in the movie Boogie Nights, a kindly, somewhat matronly person who does sex work, basically. She was very much as I anticipated she would be: middle-class, basically conventional in all her demeanor. She's gotten on with her life. She was clearly a mature and stable person. But there was clearly something unfulfilled when she looked back. That was what I found to be somewhat poignant about seeing her. It's almost like Sunset Boulevard -- 'Ready for that close-up now, Mr. DeMille.'"

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