A real acting challenge

Deep down, David's laughing a lot

Published: Apr 05 2014, 01:01:am

Sunday, August 3, 1980.
THE VOICE ON THE other end of the line was jocular with a slight hint of pleading. "You don't want to talk to Marilyn Chambers, do you?"
    The Ivory Snow girl? The wholesome-looking young woman who had played a starring role in the X-rated Behind the Green Door [1972] while, at the same time, her picture was appearing on millions of boxes of Procter and Gamble's "99 and 44/100 % pure" soap flakes?
    "Well, I don't know," I said, feeling just a touch put upon. "What is it that I don't want to talk to her about?"
    "It's Cinepix," the voice said, the pleading a little more evident in his tone. "She's in their picture Rabid and they want to know if there is any interest out here in a Marilyn Chambers publicity tour. Please say you're not interested."
    I couldn't believe what I was hearing. The film business thrives on publicity, and yet here was an executive of the Famous Players Theatre chain begging me to ignore a bona fide Canadian feature film, a picture produced with the financial assistance of the taxpayers through the Canadian Film Development Corporation.
    "I'm interested," I said. I was interested in talking to Chambers, the film's star, to David Cronenberg, its director, or to Ivan Reitman, its executive producer.
    "Gimme a break," he said. "You don't know what I went through with Linda Lovelace."
     I pointed out that the 1975 Lovelace tour had been on behalf of an American-made sexploitation comedy called Linda Lovelace for President.
    Chambers' picture was legitimately Canadian, a science-fiction thriller with no explicit sex. We all had a responsibility to promote Canadian cinema, didn't we?
    My fine patriotic sentiments notwithstanding, word somehow got back to Cinepix that no one here was interested in talking to Marilyn Chambers. Rabid slipped through Vancouver during the summer of 1977, eventually going on to become one of the all-time top-grossing Canadian films.
    Chambers, 28, the Connecticut-born actress who came to Canada to make a horror hit, finally made it to Vancouver this week. She was here to publicize the opening of her sixth feature film, Insatiable, LINK currently [1980] on view in Blaine, Washington's SeaVue Theatre.
    Bright, athletically attractive and disarmingly open, she remembered her Canadian project with strong, positive feelings. "I always wanted to do a horror film," she said. "It wasn't a glamourous part, but it was a real acting challenge."
    She was playing in a 1976 New York stage musical, Le Bellybutton, when the show's producer  Ivan Reitman, "a very straight, gentlemanly Canadian," called her about testing for a film in Montreal. Rabid is the story of "a nice girl who's transformed into a kind of vampire. She doesn't understand what's happening to her but she tries to cope with it." After reading for writer/director David Cronenberg she was offered the part and a percentage participation in the picture's profits.
    After working in TV commercials as a teen, Chambers broke into feature films with a bit part in the 1970 Barbra Streisand comedy, The Owl and the Pussycat. Disenchanted with  Hollywood, she moved to San Francisco, where she eventually joined the film-making community of adult-theatre owners Jim and Artie Mitchell, the producers of her first three X-rated pictures.
    Rabid was her sixth feature. "I learned a lot from Cronenberg," she says. "He insisted that I underplay everything. In horror you have to let the situation work for you."
    According to Chambers, Canada's most consistently successful movie director is "a gentle, soft-spoken intellectual with a wry sense of humour. I think, deep down, David is laughing a lot."
    Following Rabid, she returned to the stage. "It would have been easy to make a lot of terrible films," she says. "What I really needed, though, was to feel some critical response, and some direct audience response. The stage is a terrific place to get that experience."
    She was featured for six months in a Las Vegas production of Neil Simon's The Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and co-starred for a year opposite Phil Ford in Jules Toscas's Mind with a Dirty Man. Her most impressive achievement to date was a one-woman show called The Sex Surrogate.
    Like Linda Griffiths in Maggie and Pierre, Chambers played all the roles in playwright Mel Goldberg's tragicomic tale of a personal relations therapist. The show ran two months in Las Vegas and another six in London, England.
    What made her decide to do another sexually explicit film? "I feel that I owe it to my X-rated film fans," she says. "I enjoyed doing it, and I really believe that it's a more honest kind of film making."
    She recalled being among the actresses tested for the co-starring role in the 1979 George C. Scott feature Hardcore. In it, Scott plays a distraught Midwestern businessman searching for his runaway daughter in the California porno subculture.
    He is helped by a brash young triple-X actress, a part that finally went to Season Hubley. "They said that I wasn't convincing as a porno queen," Chambers said, flashing a big, toothpaste commercial smile.
      "It was too bad, really. I think I could have brought something to that part."

The above is a restored version of a Province interview by Michael Walsh originally published in 1980. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: I interviewed Marilyn Chambers on a sunny August afternoon in her suite at Vancouver's Bayshore Inn. She strode into the room wearing high heels and a string bikini the same colour as her electric blue eyes. The film that she was promoting was rated X, and she was aggressively in character as a porn queen. We shook hands, and I asked if she would mind if we discussed her previous feature, the one she'd made in Montreal for Canadian director David Cronenberg. The change was immediate. Her broad grin softened into an actual smile. "No," she said. "I'd like that." First, though, she put on a robe, a better look for a serious interview. Apparently, she had decided that, like producer Ivan Reitman, I was "a very straight, gentlemanly Canadian," and the result was the conversation recalled above. An intelligent and complex woman, her biography includes a run for office in the 2004 U.S. presidential election. The vice-presidential nominee of the Personal Choice Party in the state of Utah, candidate Marilyn Chambers Taylor was paired with ideological libertarian Charles Jay, the party's presidential candidate. Their campaign emphasized that she had once owned and operated a gun shop, and together they received 946 votes. A "third party," the PCP took 0.10% of the Utah vote, coming in sixth behind Republican George W. Bush (663,742 votes, or 71.56%).

See also: My review of Insatiable (1980).
In an interview during a 1983 visit to Vancouver, to promote the film Up 'n' Coming, we talked again, this time in the sort of question-and-answer format that allowed her to speak directly to the anti-porn lobby's talking points. For a comprehensive consideration of her life and career, I recommend Jared Stearns' website Private Chambers, The Marilyn Chambers Online Archive.