The Story of M
Young Marilyn Briggs left Westport to seek a new life in California. She found one in the movies-as Marilyn Chambers-but she never found the thing she wanted most.
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Her body wasn't exactly porn-star material. She was athletic, blonde and blue-eyed but tomboyish as an adolescent-the last of her middle-school friends to develop-and small-breasted as a young woman. Her street creds also came up short. She grew up on Marc Lane in suburban Westport, the youngest child of an advertising executive and a nurse, and graduated from Staples High School, where she was a cheerleader, acted in school plays and, while still in school, landed a modeling job that put her pure-skinned, girl-next-door face on millions of boxes of Ivory Snow.
Yet against all suburban odds, as Marilyn Chambers-her "stage" name-she became one of the most famous adult-movie actresses of the 1970s and '80s. Behind the Green Door, filmed when she was just 20 and released in 1973, made her an overnight star and helped bring pornography into the American mainstream. Playboy ranked her among the top sex stars of the 20th century.
It was a role from which Marilyn Briggs-her given name-never managed to escape.
At the time of her death in April of this year, she was living alone in a mobile home in a desert town on the outskirts of Los Angeles, estranged from her third husband and, after having battled alcoholism and addiction for many years, struggling to make a living working for a car dealership. She was 56 and had made over 30 films, the majority of them pornographic.
While some Westporters were shocked by her career path, many of Marilyn's old friends and acquaintances appear to have seen it as inevitable. She was a product of what was the town's seductive mix of art and money, bohemianism and raw ambition. She was also a product, in the most literal sense, of the sexual revolution that swept the country the late '60s and early '70s. But at both the beginning and the end of the day, she was mostly victim to her own desperate need for attention and success-whatever the medium, whatever the price.
In a sense, Marilyn Briggs created Marilyn Chambers long before Behind the Green Door. And she did it right in front of everyone's eyes.
Marilyn Ann Briggs was born in Rhode Island in 1951, the youngest of three children to William and Virginia Briggs, and moved to Westport with her family when she was in the fourth grade. Her sister, Janice Smith, four years older, lives in Seattle. Her brother, Bill, five years older, retired from the car industry and is a keyboardist in the recently revived '60s band The Remains.
In early photographs, the young Marilyn looks sunstruck and animated, as if energized by the mere presence of the camera. In a series of black-and-white dime-store photos from middle school, crammed into a photo-booth with a succession of classmates, she is the one in the camera's face-smiling manically, mugging uninhibitedly, giving the finger-while her friends hang in the background, smiling shyly.
"She always wanted to act, perform, be a star," recalls Darryl Coates Manning, a friend from middle school who stayed in touch with her. "She was clearly an extrovert. She always wanted to be front and center, no matter what it was."