In Rabid, 1976
David Cronenberg discusses casting, and working with, Marilyn Chambers in his low-budget picture Rabid, from the 1992 book Cronenberg on Cronenberg:
[Producer] Ivan [Reitman] just said, "It would be really great for us if you like Marilyn Chambers for this movie, because her name means something, we can afford her and she wants to do a straight movie. But if you think she's bad, we'll forget it." I think what she had to sell was the girl next door, who fucks eight guys at once. She's the cheerleader; she's the one everybody wanted to fuck at high school. And she does it, right there on screen. I've never to this day seen one of her hardcore movies, but I saw a softcore movie she did and she was incredibly sweet and unspoiled.
When I met her she was a lot harder than I had hoped. She had plucked eyebrows and her hair was very pre-Farrah Fawcett. She had been doing Las Vegas. Chuck Traynor, her husband/manager, was not my favorite kind of guy. Very tough. They were both into trading gold-plated revolvers with Sammy Davis Jr., that kind of thing. It's a world totally foreign to me; not one I'll ever get to know too well. But Chuck was very protective of Marilyn, and very supportive of the movie. And Marilyn herself was very shrewd and sharp, and worked really hard. She'd obviously had some rough times since that first little movie that I saw of hers. But she was a real trouper, and invented her own version of Method acting. When she had to cry it wasn't a problem, because Chuck would say, "Remember when Fluffy died"—Fluffy was her cat—and then she'd cry. I thought she had real talent, and expected her to go on and do other straight movies. But she went back. I don't know if it was Chuck, or that the industry still wouldn't accept her.
Chambers went back, indeed; her 1980 return to porn features was the much-bruited Insatiable, which paired her with "legend" John Holmes. Her feints toward retirement were invariably followed by highly-publicized "comebacks." She broke with Traynor; distorted her lithe figure with a breast augmentation; and so on. She was less than two weeks away from her 57th birthday when she was found dead in her home by her 17-year-old daughter. The cause of death has not yet been announced. But the odds that she'll go down as a cautionary tale seem pretty good.
The annals of porn fairly teem with hardcore performers who pursue mainstream fame with at best mixed results; a sufficient number, at least, to provide "straight" magazines with enough fodder for a list-y feature every few years or so. Until Traci Lords hooked up with John Waters—and in Lords' case, it was after she had abandoned porn for good—Chambers had the distinction of being the only porn performer to work with what we call an auteur. Now, of course, there's Sasha Grey collaborating with Steven Soderbergh on The Girlfriend Experience, a film in which I have a small part, performing opposite Grey. Sasha strikes me much as Chambers struck Cronenberg—that is, shrewd and smart. She has the added advantage of not having what has become known as a "suitcase pimp" accompanying her on her shoots. And judging from our brief conversations, she seems fully aware of how scuzzy the business she's in can be, and how to deal with that. In an interview with New York magazine this week, Sasha says, "Do I want to be 35, having sex on-camera? No. I want to be sitting on a fucking porch at my beach house with my own successful company."
I think she absolutely can pull it off. But still, I have to say: from your lips to God's ears, comrade.