By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Marilyn Chambers, 56, the onetime Ivory Snow model who became the star of the pornographic film "Behind the Green Door," a salacious sensation that helped hard-core movies find a mass audience and a measure of public acceptance, was found dead April 12 at her home in Santa Clarita, Calif.
The Los Angeles County coroner's office was planning to conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Foul play was not suspected.
Ms. Chambers was 19 when she appeared in "Behind the Green Door," which was one of the first films in the era of "porno chic" when it was released in 1972. Along with Linda Lovelace, the star of "Deep Throat," and Georgina Spelvin ("The Devil in Miss Jones"), she found an unlikely fame in explicit movies just as they were emerging from the shadows of back-alley peep shows.
With shaky plots and attempts at serious acting, the films aspired to artistic legitimacy and found a niche in the popular culture of the time.
Before her career in pornographic films, Ms. Chambers was an advertising model, and her girl-next-door face appeared on boxes of Ivory Snow detergent with the slogan "99 44/100 percent pure."
She was not aware that "Behind the Green Door" was to be a hard-core film when she answered a casting call in San Francisco. She was about to leave when the film's producers, brothers Jim and Artie Mitchell, persuaded her to stay. She negotiated a contract for $25,000, plus a percentage of the profits, which proved lucrative when the $60,000 film ended up earning $50 million.
The film broke many taboos, including interracial sex and orgy scenes, and Ms. Chambers won legions of fans with her enthusiastic performance and appealing beauty. Ivory quickly withdrew her image from its soapboxes.
She posed for Playboy and made two other hard-core films, "The Resurrection of Eve" and "Inside Marilyn Chambers," before announcing the first of several retirements in 1976.
After unsuccessful efforts to find work as a singer and actress, Ms. Chambers returned to making sex films in 1980 with "Insatiable," which became a huge hit in the nascent home-video market. She made countless appearances in strip clubs and was sometimes arrested for her explicit stage acts.
In recent years, Ms. Chambers occasionally worked as a nursing assistant in retirement homes, but she continued to appear sporadically in pornographic films into her late 40s.
"I'm just your basic girl next door," she told the London Independent newspaper in 1999. "I'm naughty and I'm nice. And I love sex. I hope I die having sex."
Marilyn Ann Briggs was born April 22, 1952, in Providence, R.I., and grew up in Westport, Conn. She was a diver, gymnast and cheerleader in high school and appeared in commercials for Clairol and Coca-Cola. At 18, she had a small role in the Barbra Streisand film "The Owl and the Pussycat" and was working as a bottomless dancer in San Francisco when she signed up for "Behind the Green Door," adopting the last name of Chambers.
Ms. Chambers had problems with drugs and alcohol in the 1980s but always seemed to rebound. She landed a few small parts in movies, wrote a sex column in Club, a men's magazine, and made a semi-serious stab at public office, running as the vice presidential candidate of the Personal Choice Party in 2004.
Ms. Chambers was married and divorced three times. Her second husband was "Deep Throat" producer Charles Traynor, to whom she was married for 10 years.
"It was very difficult for me to meet men who didn't have this preconceived notion about me, or else were totally intimidated and shaking," she said.
Survivors include a 17-year-old daughter from her third marriage to trucking executive Tom Taylor.
Two years ago, Ms. Chambers told the Providence Journal that the adult-film business "chews women up and spits them out. It's a business I'd never want my daughter to be in."