Porn Again

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

Dinner starts awkwardly. The staff has arranged two tables in a private dining room, leaving five decidedly downcast fans to sit staring across a table at each other instead of Marilyn. This won't do. After everyone has ordered -- with all choosing prime rib over chicken -- Marilyn summons the headwaiter. These tables must be rearranged so we can all sit together, she insists. The waiter protests mildly, cautioning that moving the tables together could take 30 minutes. That's bullshit, and Marilyn knows it. Do your best, she tells him, all sweet and polite. Then she invites everyone out to the porch for some air. "We're going to go get haunted," she says with a devil-in-Miss Jones smile as she heads into the late-spring evening.

With the exception of Marilyn's stunning dress and John, there's no sign that this group is anything out of the ordinary, perhaps just the hippest cousins and siblings escaping from a large family reunion to live it up for a few hours with a favorite aunt. Marilyn aside, there are three women here, one a VIP employee and the other two brought by significant others. John, who appears about 30 years old, is alone, unsmiling, keeping to himself. On the porch, he stays to one side, away from the crowd hovering around Marilyn, all the while watching from afar. He remains until the restaurant staff, after 10 minutes, announces that the room is ready. Then he sits at the foot of the table, where he can stare wordlessly at Marilyn -- no way of knowing whether Travis Bickle or just another lonely guy in love is behind those eyes. His demeanor does not escape Marilyn's attention. Midway through dinner, she asks whether he's having a good time. His "uh-huh" response is barely decipherable, more grunt than words. Please, she begs, will you smile? He flashes the briefest of grins, then switches back to inscrutable, prompting a polite laugh from the group, which quickly moves to other subjects.

Table talk drifts from porn to what-else-have-you-been-doing-lately. She rolls her eyes at the memory of John C. Holmes, on whom the character Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights is loosely based. Holmes was an awful lay, too coked out to get wood, as they say in the biz, and a test of her patience as he struggled to finish. One scene took seven hours, she recalls. "I kept telling him, 'C'mon, John, let's go, hurry up, it's time,'" she says. Holmes, who died of AIDS in 1988, is remembered today for the size of his penis, his appetite for cocaine and his acquittal on murder charges in a drug-ripoff-turned-bloodbath.

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.

Someone asks the inevitable: How realistic was Boogie Nights? Not at all, she answers. For one thing, she never considered crew members and fellow performers her friends away from the set. "I mean, hanging out with those people all the time, who'd want to do that?" she asks. Aha, the questioner says, just another example of porn stereotypes, Hollywood making up stories about everyone being on coke all the time. Marilyn stops him. "Most of us were," she says. Marilyn, who acknowledged a drug problem more than a decade ago, today drives a Lexus with personalized license plates reading "LUV NA."

Marilyn doesn't often do this kind of thing, at least, not anymore. She last made an autograph appearance about a year ago, in Portland, Ore. This two-day trip to St. Louis is a whirlwind tour. She must be back at her house, near Edwards Air Force Base in Southern California, on Sunday, Mother's Day, which is also her daughter's 10th birthday. Marilyn will give her daughter a camera. "She's interested in being on the photographer side of the lens," Marilyn says firmly. Early next week, she'll fly to New York, where she is scheduled to tape a segment for the Learning Channel on -- what else? -- sex. Then there's her radio show, which she's been doing five days a week for about a year. So far, it's in just a few markets -- Dallas, Miami, San Diego -- but she's hoping to land a drive-time slot in Chicago soon. The show features astrology, psychics and call-in listeners, who mostly have questions about sex. "It's not shock stuff," she says. "It's not trashy. We try to find different terminology for genitals. We talk about sex, but we don't say 'giving head' or 'giving blowjobs.' We don't have a lot of competition. I personally love radio. I don't have to dress up."

After more than an hour at the table, Marilyn has barely touched her prime rib. She asks a waiter to box it up. Just before dessert arrives, Richman goes to his car and retrieves a grocery bag filled with Marilyn tapes -- Green Door, Insatiable, Insatiable II, Still Insatiable, Dark Chambers -- there's plenty to go around, and at a 20 percent discount, no less. Money changes hands, and Marilyn autographs the video boxes, expertly rubbing away the protective wax with a finger to ensure that the "With Lust, Marilyn XXX" will last forever.When she finally rises to leave, everyone tags along beside and behind. She's already late for a 9 p.m. appearance at the Diamond Cabaret, across the Mississippi River, but she has one last mission here.

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