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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FAST TIMES AT STAPLES HIGH
If the late '60s and early '70s were turbulent times in many parts of the country, for many they were particularly tumultuous and libidinous in Westport. Marilyn's childhood friend Darryl Coates discovered that when her family moved to the West Coast after her sophomore year. "When I got to California," she says, "I found that Westport was way ahead of the Bay area suburbs in terms of what kids were doing."
Not that the same problems weren't, and aren't, found in surrounding towns. But Westport had a jump start.
While towns such as Greenwich and New Canaan tilted toward conservative bankers, lawyers and financiers, Westport attracted those of a more liberal bent. Artists from New York City began flocking there around 1910, bringing with them liberal lifestyles and establishing an artists' colony that had few restrictions or inhibitions. Writers also were drawn to the seaside town (though in the case of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, who rented a house near Longshore Country Club in the summer of 1920, it may also have had something to do with the speakeasies, which boomed after Westport voted against Prohibition). In 1931, the Westport Country Playhouse opened, in effect posting a casting call to the entertainment crowd and furthering the town's reputation for fabulous fun and fame.
The "fast times" mood still prevailed in town in the late 1960s, when many Staples students were openly drinking-some were doing drugs in the bathrooms-and freely acting out their parts in the sexual revolution.
Dr. Robert Selverstone, a psychologist who had come to Westport from Ridgefield High School, was a guidance counselor at Staples High at the time. "There was a sense of increased sexualization and a push for what was permissible," he recalls. "There was this testing-I think more so than at other schools. Staples was a more liberal place than other schools."
Selverstone also remembers Marilyn Briggs. "By her senior year she was wearing much tighter and more revealing clothing and had kind of moved to an embrace of her sexuality, and was comfortable in it and in displaying it," he recalls. "I remember Marilyn walking outside between buildings and male students, and even teachers, watching her. There was an awareness of her self and her sexuality. There was an aura of her sexuality."
Not that she was the only suburban girl gone wild. Nile Rogers, the guitarist and music producer who grew up in Harlem, first came to Westport in his late teens after meeting some of Marilyn's peers at a club in the city. "I'd known what I thought were some pretty crazy girls in New York City," Rogers said several years ago at his home in the Saugatuck Shores section of town, "but these were the wildest women I'd ever met."
Despite their own reputation for excess, many Westport parents saw things reeling out of control.
Eleanor Craig Green, a family therapist in town, keeps a clipping of Marilyn's obituary in her datebook. Her daughter, Ann, a Staples classmate of Marilyn's, was an Ivy League student and aspiring actress who was swallowed up by the drug scene in the East Village. "Ann got caught in a world that was much more powerful than she recognized," Green says, "and Marilyn, too. She was a beautiful girl and was taken horrible advantage of. I suffered as a parent from the reality that there was no frame of reference for what kids were doing in those days. For my generation, it was beyond our thinking in terms of drug use and so forth. That was a harsh reality."
Ann Craig died of AIDS in 1984 at age 34, a tragedy chronicled in Green's book, The Moon Is Broken.