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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BEHIND THE GREEN DOOR
In the summer of 1971, Marilyn drove from Westport to California with two guys she knew from Fairfield, Dean Builter and Perry Tallman, along with Westporter Ritchie Polgar, reportedly to stay with her friend, Sammy Samuelson. Then again, it may have been the summer of 1972, not '71; it may not have been Samuelson she was visiting; and Polgar may or may not have been in the car.
"It was a real '70s trip," Builter remembers, admittedly hazily. "We were going out to California because we were bored-lost, dazed and confused-and she wanted to go out to meet Sammy, I think. We got a car from Peter Stone [who ran the Drive Your Car service in Westport], a big Buick something that we had to deliver out there."
The trip from Compo Beach to Laguna Beach took two weeks, including time to repair the Buick, which had blown up somewhere in the Midwest. "It's an effing blur," Builter says now. "I mean, we did a lot of drugs on the way out there. We were pretty much crazy the whole time. She and I were basically all over each other and Perry wanted to kill her because she wouldn't stop talking because of the drugs: 'Why don't you let me drive? I can drive just as good as you can, let me drive, yayaya.' When we got to California, we dropped her off at Laguna and somehow she made it up to San Francisco-I don't know how."
Nor can he account for much else about the trip, including Ritchie Polgar. "I can't remember what happened to him," Builter says now. "It's like we pulled into California and he wasn't there."
However Marilyn Briggs managed to make her way to San Francisco, once there she answered a casting call for a film being made by the Mitchell brothers-Artie and Jim-at their notorious O'Farrell Street Theatre, which doubled as a strip joint.
At least that was her version of the story. But she had already appeared in Together, a 1970 pseudo-documentary about kids in a commune filmed in Westport at the Long Lots Road home of Sean Cunningham, who went on to direct Friday the 13th and Spring Break. And when the Mitchell Brothers saw Briggs' wholesome, Cybil Shepherd-like looks and, more importantly, her nude diving scene in Together, they reportedly first offered her a supporting role, then the lead, in Behind the Green Door. They also changed her name to Chambers.
Unsurprisingly thin on plot and character development-a young woman is kidnapped and held behind closed doors in a theater, where she is ravaged by women and men, including porn actor Johnnie Keyes, in front of an audience-the film's instant, enormous success was due largely to the fresh-faced innocence of its young, blonde star. Marilyn's radiance was contrasted and highlighted by the dark presence of Artie and Jim Mitchell, who also had roles in the film-appropriately, they played the kidnappers-as well as by the movie poster's promotional spin on the Ivory Snow copy: "Starring Marilyn Chambers, 99 and 44/100% pure."
Liz Boyd visited her childhood friend in San Francisco in 1973 just as both the film and the Proctor & Gamble product were released.
"When I walked into the apartment, she said, 'Come here, I've got to show you something,'" Boyd recalls. "And she opened this envelope with the proofs of the Ivory Snow girl and the check she had gotten, and she said, 'They are gonna shit when they find out what I'm doing.' They put those boxes on the shelves literally when she got that check and she went out and bought all of them from her local grocery store. I mean, she had boxes of Ivory Snow until she died. I think she knew it would be a huge controversy."
Sure enough, Ivory Snow boxes became a sleazy collector's item overnight. More predictably, Procter & Gamble replaced Chambers' photograph shortly after the film's release. According to Boyd, Marilyn sold the boxes from her private reserve on eBay when she needed money. But she needed money long before eBay came along.
Reportedly made for $50,000, Behind the Green Door was the most widely released porn film in the U.S., grossing well over $25 million. It continues to sell on DVD. But Marilyn wound up with little of that.
Her manager/husband from 1975 to 1985 was Chuck Traynor, a minor porn actor and the notoriously abusive former manager/husband of Linda Lovelace, whom he reportedly forced to make Deep Throat-another porn classic released later that year-at gunpoint. Traynor owned the rights to half the royalties from Marilyn's films. Eventually, in order to escape from his brutality, Marilyn gave up her half, too.
"He was a really bad guy," Bill Briggs says. "Basically he said, 'You can leave but you're not getting anything,' so she left everything behind. She had made all of them-the Mitchells included-rich and she never had had a lot of money after that."
Things didn't end all that well for anyone else though, either. In 1991, Jim shot and killed Artie in their second-floor office above the theater and went to prison. He died in 2007. (The Mitchells' lives were later reproduced in the 2000 film Rated X, starring brothers Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez.) Traynor suffered a fatal heart attack in 2002, three months after Lovelace died following a car crash.