Born Marilyn Ann Briggs in Providence, Rhode Island, Chambers was raised in Westport, Connecticut, in a middle-class household. It is often reported that she was born in Westport; however, in a 2007 interview Chambers confirmed she was born in Providence but grew up in Westport. Her father was in advertising and her mother was a nurse. She was the youngest of three children, including a brother, Martin Briggs (keyboardist for 1960s Boston band The Remains), and a sister, Jann Smith. Chambers attended Burr Farms Elementary School, Hillspoint Elementary School, Long Lots Junior High School, and Staples High School. Her father tried to discourage her from pursuing a modeling career, citing brutal competition. “Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always wanted to be an actress,” Chambers said in 1997. “I was always a performer, a junior Olympic diver, a junior Olympic gymnast. My mother always told me I was a show-off”.
“When I was about 16 I learned how to write my mother’s name on notes to get out of school”, she said. “And then I’d take the train into the city to go to auditions”. While in high school she landed some modeling assignments and a small role in the film The Owl and the Pussycat (1970), which starred Barbra Streisand and in which Chambers was credited as Evelyn Lang. During her early career as a model, her most prominent job was as the “Ivory Soap girl” on the Ivory Snow soap box, posing as a mother holding a baby under the tag line “99 & 44/100% pure”. Upon the release of The Owl and the Pussycat, Chambers was sent to Los Angeles and San Francisco on a promotional tour along with co-star Roz Kelly. After that she did not receive any roles except for a low-budget film, writer-director-producer Sean S. Cunningham’s Together (1971), in which she appeared nude. In 1970, she moved from Westport to San Francisco, where she held several jobs that included topless model and bottomless dancer. “I moved to San Francisco thinking it was the entertainment capital of the world, which it is indeed not,” she said.
Chambers sought work in theater and dance groups in San Francisco to no avail. In 1972 she saw an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle for a casting call for what was billed as a “major motion picture”. She rushed to the audition only to find it was for a pornographic film, which was to be called Behind the Green Door. She was about to leave when producers Artie and Jim Mitchell noticed her resemblance to Cybill Shepherd. They invited her upstairs to their offices and told her the film’s plot. Chambers was highly dubious about accepting a role in a pornographic film, fearing it might ruin her chances at breaking into the mainstream. But she was turned on by the fantasy of the story and decided to take a chance, under the condition that she receive a hefty salary and 10 percent of the film’s gross. She also insisted that each actor get tested for venereal disease. The Mitchell Brothers balked at her request for a percentage of the film’s profits, but finally agreed, realizing the film needed a wholesome blonde actress.
The film told the story of a wealthy San Francisco socialite, Gloria Saunders (Chambers), who is taken against her will to an elite North Beach sex club and loved as she’s never been loved before. Unusually, Chambers does not have a single word of dialogue in the entire film. After engaging in lesbian sex with a group of six women, she has sex with the African-American boxer Johnny Keyes. This possibly makes BTGD the first U.S. feature-length hardcore film to include an interracial sex scene. The porn industry and viewing public were shocked by the then-taboo spectacle of a white woman having sex with a black man. The scene with Keyes is followed by Chambers mounting a trapeze contraption suspended from the ceiling. She then engages in vaginal intercourse with one man as she performs oral sex on another and masturbates two others. “Each sequence was a surprise to me”, she said in 1987. “They never told me what was happening next. I just did it as it happened, and it worked. I’ve always been highly sexed. Oh, my God, I love it! Insatiable is the right word for me”.
After filming concluded, she informed the Mitchell Brothers that she was “the Ivory Snow Girl”; the Mitchells capitalized on this by billing her as the “99 and 44/100% pure” girl. Although she said at the time the film would help “sell a lot more soap”, Procter & Gamble quickly dropped her after discovering her double life as an adult-film actress, and the advertising industry was scandalized. The fact that Chambers’ image was so well known from Ivory Snow boosted the film’s ticket sales, and led to several jokes on television talk shows. Nearly every adult film she made following this incident featured a cameo of her Ivory Snow box. Chambers was relatively unknown prior to BTGD; however, the film made her a star. Green Door, along with Deep Throat, released the same year, and The Devil in Miss Jones, ushered in what is commonly known as the porno chic era. Critics have since debated whether she was really having orgasms in her scenes or just acting. She stated in one early interview that they were real, but denied it in an interview many years later.
Following Behind the Green Door, the Mitchell Brothers and Chambers teamed up for Resurrection of Eve, released in September 1973. Although not the runaway blockbuster that Green Door was, Eve was a hit and a well-received entry into the porno chic market. It also helped set Chambers apart from her contemporaries Linda Lovelace and Georgina Spelvin as the wholesome, all-American girl next door. Following Eve, Chambers was anxious to transition her fame into other areas of entertainment. At the time the Mitchell Brothers were still her managers. “They were always talking about some half-assed idea I knew wouldn’t come off”, Chambers said in 1992. “‘Flakes’ is a terrible word but they were, in a cute sort of way”. Chambers had always considered the brothers as her own brothers but when she abruptly announced that she was leaving them to take up with Chuck Traynor, the boys were appalled and had a falling out with Chambers.
In retaliation the brothers created a documentary in 1976 called Inside Marilyn Chambers, which was composed of alternate shots and outtakes from Green Door and Eve, as well as interviews with some of her co-stars. This was done without Chambers’ knowledge but when she learned of it just prior to its release, she negotiated a deal that would offer her 10% of the gross as long as she would contribute interviews to the film and promote it nationally. “I hated the film and I still do”, she said later. “It’s supposed to be the story of my life, and it’s not true. Jim and Art ripped me off. They felt I’d betrayed them … I felt they’d betrayed me, and for many years, we didn’t speak. Only when money was to be made did we start talking again.” Chambers reunited with the Mitchell Brothers in 1979 for two 30-minute features called Beyond de Sade and Never a Tender Moment, which explored BDSM. The films, which were shot at the Mitchell Brothers Theatre, co-starred Erica Boyer.
Chambers dreamed of having a career in mainstream films and believed her celebrity as the star of Behind the Green Door and the Ivory Snow girl would be a stepping stone to other endeavors. “The paradox was that, as a result of Green Door, Hollywood blackballed me,” she said later. “[Green Door] became a very high-grossing film…But, to a lot of people, it was still a dirty movie; for me to do anything else, as an actress, was totally out of the question. I became known as a porno star, and that type of labeling really hurt me. It hurt my chances of doing anything else”. Throughout the 1970s she was up for roles in several Hollywood films. Her biggest opportunity came in 1976 when it was announced in Variety that she was to star alongside Rip Torn in City Blues, a film about a young hooker defended by a seedy lawyer. The film was to be directed by Nicholas Ray. Ray had never seen Behind the Green Door or even screen-tested Chambers. Instead the two met and Ray was impressed. “I have a camera in my head,” he said, adding that Chambers would “eventually be able to handle anything that the young Katie Hepburn or Bette Davis could.” However, the project never came to fruition, in large part due to Ray’s alcohol and drug abuse.
Chambers claimed that Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel brought her in to talk about a role in the 1978 film Goin’ South, then asked her for cocaine and grilled her about whether her orgasms in Behind the Green Door were real; she was angered to the point where she stormed out of the interview. She was going to be cast in the film Hardcore, opposite George C. Scott, but the casting director took one look at her and said she was too wholesome to be cast as a porn queen. “The Hardcore people wanted a woman with orange hair who chews gum, swings a big purse, and wears stiletto heels. That’s such a cliche,” Chambers said years later. Season Hubley was cast instead.
Chambers won the starring role in film director David Cronenberg’s low-budget Canadian movie Rabid, which was released in 1977. Cronenberg stated that he wanted to cast Sissy Spacek in the film lead, but the studio vetoed his choice because of her accent. Spacek’s film Carrie was released during this film’s production and proved to be a massive hit (and a movie poster for the film appears when the main character walks by a movie theater). The director says that the idea of casting Chambers came from producer Ivan Reitman, who had heard that Chambers was looking for a mainstream role. Reitman felt that it would be easier to market the film in different territories if the well-known porn star portrayed the main character. Cronenberg stated that Chambers put in a lot of hard work on the film and that he was impressed with her. Cronenberg further states he had not seen Behind the Green Door, prior to casting her. “It was great working with David”, Chambers said in a 1997 interview. “He taught me a lot of things that were very valuable as an actress, especially in horror films. I found it useful in sex films, too!”
Chambers had some chart success with the disco single “Benihana” in 1976, produced by Michael Zager on the Roulette Records label. Billboard magazine said “She…sings quite nicely in a sexy little voice in this catchy disco tribute to an oriental loverman.” The song is played in the background of one scene in the film Rabid. In Insatiable she sang the theme song, “Shame On You,” which plays over the opening credits. She did the same for the song “Still Insatiable”, which was used in her comeback in the 1999 adult film of the same name. She also sang vocals in the 1983 X-rated film Up ‘n’ Coming, in which she plays a rising country music star. In the early 1980s, she was the lead singer of a country & western band called Haywire.
Chambers wrote an autobiography, My Story, in 1975, and co-authored Xaviera Meets Marilyn Chambers with Xaviera Hollander in 1977. Both were published by Warner Communications. She also wrote a sex advice column in the mid-to-late 1970s for Genesis magazine called “Private Chambers”, and one for Club magazine throughout the 1980s called “State of the Nation”. In 1981 she released a book of sex positions and tips called Sensual Secrets. One of the male models featured in the photos with Marilyn was a young Ron Jeremy.
Although she had tried for several years to shed her image as a porn star, Chambers returned to the adult film industry with 1980’s Insatiable. In the film she played actress, model, and heiress Sandra Chase, whose appetite for sex is, as the title suggests, insatiable. Sandra is getting ready to make a movie and her manager, played by Jessie St. James, is working on getting some big names to appear alongside Sandra. The story is told in a series of flashbacks which detail Sandra’s sexual encounters. “My manager had never really wanted me to do X-rated film[s],” she said in 1997. “He tried to move me out of that, but—seeing as things didn’t go that way, and I wasn’t getting legitimate projects—it was something that we needed to do. I was known in the X-rated business, and it was the right time. It was a cool story and the budget was going to be a lot higher; there were going to be helicopters and Ferraris. It was going to be very classy. There were some names in it that would be good for the box office, [including John Holmes] and that was at a time when X-films were still playing in theaters.”
The bet paid off. Insatiable was the top-selling adult video in the U.S. from 1980 to 1982 and it was inducted in the XRCO Hall of Fame. It was followed by a sequel, Insatiable II in 1984. Another X-rated film, Up ‘n’ Coming, was released in 1983. She also released six direct-to-video features in the early 1980s called Marilyn Chambers’ Private Fantasies, in which she acted out her own sexual fantasies alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. The scenarios and dialogue for the series were written by Chambers. Despite her return to the adult film world, Chambers dreamed of launching a successful mainstream acting career, but was unable to do so.
Chambers left the pornography business because of the increasing fear of AIDS. In 1999, Chambers returned to San Francisco to perform at the Mitchell Brothers’ O’Farrell Theatre. Mayor Willie Brown proclaimed a “Marilyn Chambers Day” for her unique place in San Francisco history, and praised her for her “artistic presence”, her “vision”, and her “energy”. That same year Chambers returned to adult features with a trio of films made for VCA Pictures called Still Insatiable (1999), Dark Chambers (2000), and Edge Play (2000), each directed by Veronica Hart. Near the end of her career, Chambers appeared primarily in independent films, including her last role in Solitaire. Chambers claimed that the more laid-back pace of these roles suited her as “there’s a lot less pressure on you to perform [and] you don’t have to be young and skinny”. Among these were Bikini Bistro, Angel of H.E.A.T. (with Mary Woronov), Party Incorporated, and Breakfast in Bed. In a 2004 interview, Chambers said “My advice to somebody who wants to go into adult films is: Absolutely not! It’s heart-breaking. It leaves you kind of empty. So have a day job and don’t quit it”.
Chambers was married three times. First was to Doug Chapin, whom she met while he was playing bagpipes for money on the streets of San Francisco. They married in 1971. She divorced Chapin in 1974 and married Chuck Traynor, who was recently divorced from Linda Lovelace, shortly thereafter. He also became her manager and they were together for 10 years. In the mid-1980s Chambers was “on her way to an early grave, consuming massive amounts of alcohol and cocaine daily, when she met her husband-to-be”, William Taylor, Jr., a truck driver, on a blind date. After their first date he called her to say that he couldn’t see her because he was a recovering heroin addict. Chambers got so angry she kicked a wall and broke her leg. Taylor came to visit Chambers in the hospital, and upon her release they began a romance and Chambers entered Narcotics Anonymous. The couple were married around 1991 or 1992. They had one child, McKenna Marie Taylor, in 1992. The couple divorced in 1994. When Chambers became clean and sober and during the early 1990s, her Lexus had a vanity plate that read LUV NA.
On April 12, 2009, Chambers was found dead in her home near Santa Clarita, California. Documents found with her body identified her as Marilyn Ann Taylor, presumably the name she assumed after a marriage. She was discovered by her 17-year-old daughter. The LA County Coroner’s autopsy revealed Chambers died of a cerebral hemorrhage and an aneurysm related to heart disease. Chambers was ten days away from her 57th birthday. The painkiller hydrocodone and the antidepressant citalopram were found in her bloodstream but not enough to cause death. Upon her death, the Associated Press reported she was survived by her daughter, sister and brother. Her ashes were scattered at sea.
- April, 22, 1952
- Providence, Rhode Island
- April, 12, 2009
- Santa Clarita, California
Cause of Death
- cerebral hemorrhage and an aneurysm related to heart disease