Marilyn Chambers had a wholesome look in the 1970s -- she was once the Ivory Snow soap box model -- but she also had a hot, lean body.
She used it to advantage in the landmark adult film Behind The Green Door and thus became a notorious legend of porn.
Now 52, Chambers is living a paradox. She is literally bittersweet or happy-sad. She is still bitter about the stigma -- "the stain in the public eye" -- that clings to her for her porno past. Yet she is proud of her celebrity.
Meanwhile, when not on the autograph/memorabilia circuit that values her notoriety, she selflessly works as a nursing assistant with aged people, many of them facing death.
"Unfortunately," Chambers tells the Sun by telephone from her home in Canyon Country, Calif., "our society is very unforgiving and, you know, (there is) the stigma attached to the adult film business."
The conversation, spiked with double entendres and funny asides and genuinely touching moments, is sparked by this week's DVD release of Rabid. The film arrives in a special edition that features a commentary by Canadian director David Cronenberg, a photo gallery and an excerpt from a past Cronenberg interview.
In 1976, Cronenberg was fighting to get the blood-lust genre picture, his second feature, before the cameras. After a brief flirtation with Sissy Spacek for the lead -- producers rejected the notion because of her freckles and Texas accent -- Cronenberg cast Chambers in her first major "straight" role in a mainstream movie.
On the disc and in a Sun interview, Cronenberg wonders aloud why Chambers never made it into "legit" films after her polished performance in Rabid. "That's the question that everybody asks and that's the first thing I would ask her because we all thought so, too," Cronenberg says.
Chambers -- who talks of trying "not to be bitter" -- is angry: "I'm kind of pissed off that I didn't get over the hump, pardon the expression, and get to do my major film."
Even today she still dreams of mainstream roles as a character actor. "I would love to do it, play somebody's grandma, a good-looking grandma (she giggles). Yeah, I look pretty good for 52, I've got to tell you."
Chambers (born as Marilyn Ann Briggs in Westport, Conn.) once got close to her brass ring. She was signed for a film called City Blues with co-star Rip Torn. Norman Mailer wrote the script. But director Nicholas Ray (Rebel Without A Cause) took what Chambers says was a cocaine overdose during pre-production. "He died. That kind of put a damper on the movie and it was never made."
On five other legit movies, Chambers was signed but producers' wives ordered her dumped. "So, yeah, there is some bitterness there. But I feel proud of what I have done."
She says she has no shame.
"No, (I'm) just kind of resolved to the fact that this is it and you might as well enjoy it and reap the benefits of working 30-something years to achieve a name. And life is cruel when you get to be over 40 and nobody wants you, nobody wants to see you without your clothes on. Which is fine with me, because I don't want to take them off any more."
Divorced and a single mom to 13-year-old McKenna Marie Taylor, Chambers did return to explicit adult films from 1999 to 2001.
"I did it because there were no older women in films, and I feel that older women are very sexy and have a lot to offer. And it was condoms-only, so I thought: 'What the heck!' I did it and that's done and that'll be it -- I'm not taking my clothes off in front of anybody, anymore, ever."
The spectre of AIDS is a factor (the adult industry was shut down earlier this year after the HIV virus spread to several actors and actresses, including a Montreal newbie). So is the sleaziness of the business side of the industry, Chambers says, citing lousy pay for performers while filmmakers, and the companies behind them, make billions.
"My advice to somebody who wants to go into adult films is: Absolutely not! It's heart-breaking. And it's really not ... (she searches for words, sounding emotional) ... it leaves you kind of empty. So have a day job and don't quit it."
In 1976 Chambers wanted to quit her porno day job. Cronenberg was a struggling Toronto filmmaker best known for enraging reactionary politicians because Canadian tax dollars went into his horror thriller, Shivers. That's when he cast Chambers for Rabid.
"It's interesting to think that Marilyn and I were natural allies without maybe quite knowing it," Cronenberg says about their affinity as outsiders in society. "I hadn't thought of it quite that way, obviously, but after the pounding that I got over Shivers, I must have felt that way."
Says Chambers: "That's probably what we have in common."
There is a big difference today, however. The 61-year-old Cronenberg may still be eccentric and out of the mainstream, but he is respected as one of the world's auteurs.
Chambers is still the outsider, looking in.