Marilyn Chambers and I were about the same age; a fact that occurred to me for no apparent reason during a wild party I attended in her suite at the Rio Hotel in Las Vegas in the late summer of 1995. Thoughts of that crazy bash, and what she meant to my generation, flashed in my brain when I heard the news of her death a few days ago while I was in New York.
The reason I was in that suite — observing and partaking in all kinds of things my mother wouldn’t approve of — was because she wanted to take me to dinner as a thank you for winning a civil lawsuit for her a year earlier — a case in which she obtained a judgment for $200,000 against her former producers for royalties owed on a few of her (less famous) films.
The movies were: Up And Coming (great title that), Insatiable 2, and the classic: Private Duty Nurses #6 – an underrated gem that resolved all of the narrative machinations, character issues and plot twists of Private Duty Nurses #5.
We had met several years earlier when I had assumed the mantle of her attorney, to handle an ongoing lawsuit against the shysters and sharpies who had used her up in the early ‘80’s and now, conveniently, couldn’t produce any records of her movies to document just how much money they had made off the sales and rentals of same.
Her co-plaintiffs (and my other clients) in the case were her (then) current husband, and her ex-spouse — a rough, tough ex-Marine named Charles “Chuck” Traynor, who had married and managed her through her halcyon years of porn stardom throughout the ‘70s and ‘80’s. Traynor (also the ex-husband of Linda Lovelace) was a Svengali-like manipulator of these gals who also (not so conveniently for his lawyer and this case) couldn’t produce much in the way of documentation and contracts to show just what the deal was when his wives and girlfriends were (literally) fucking their brains out for his fun and profit.
Outmaneuvered at every turn, and frustrated by our own lack of supporting evidence, we nevertheless proceeded to trial in front of the aging, hair-triggered and extremely Catholic Judge Tom Foley in Clark County District Court. Foley was famous for his temper and seemed to hate everything and everyone in the case, including me — who he held in contempt multiple times during the proceedings. A typical exchange:
JC: Your Honor I’d like to object…
Judge Foley: Sit down Mr. Curtas. You can object when I tell you to.
JC: But Judge, I need to make a record…
Judge Foley: (turning eight shades of red and screaming) SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!!
JC: Your Honor….
Judge Foley: Bailiff! This man is in contempt – one more time and I want him removed from the Court.
And so it went for three days.*
But Marilyn, God bless her, charmed his pants off (figuratively speaking). As so often happens in small business disputes, the case came down to a swearing contest between her ex-producers (who had trouble remembering just about everything, including whatever aliases they used to produce the movies), and sweet, housewife-y Marilyn (recently a mother) – who remembered not only what the deal points were, but how much she had been promised at various times.
She was direct, respectful and unflinching in her testimony, and said her lines like the pro she was. Trials are past tense events — those who tell the tale best are usually the victors, and Case No. A277974 Marilyn Chambers Taylor v. Real To Reel, Martin Greenwald and Stuart Segall was no exception. Within minutes of the testimony concluding, old irascible himself read his verdict from the bench, and Marilyn and I had something to celebrate.
Sometime between the verdict and our little party, Marilyn had decided to split the sheets with her husband, and her Vegas weekend had all the signs of a divorce blowout. At the time, I was also celebrating landing my gig as Nevada Public Radio’s restaurant critic – after years of angling for it. I remember mentioning my budding second career to her as we were leaving her room for Antonio’s, and she said something like: “Great! We can review the food together…” although we were well on our way to getting wasted, so finely-tuned our palates weren’t.
That night (and on other, less-intoxicated ones), she would tell me tales of the early days of porn, of the mob, and the drugs and violence and threats of violence she endured. She told me things she was forced to do that curl my hair to this day, and that I wish I could get out of my mind. But never did she play the victim. Traynor was truly a monster, but there was never a tell-all book, nor a self-abasing interview tour blaming everyone but herself for her behavior.
When I think about it, Marilyn was the first big star of my generation. Perhaps that’s what my buzzed-out brain was obsessing on that night in the Rio. The Beatles made their mark six years before we graduated from high school (1970), and all those famous boomers who were yet to come were still teenagers, or struggling or draft-dodging in 1972 – the year Behind The Green Door was released.
To this day, I’ve never seen it. Indeed, I’ve only seen a few snippets of one of her films (Insatiable 2) – solely for research purposes(!?) I don’t want to remember her for doing what made her famous. I preferred the funny, smart, self-deprecating, good-time gal and (let’s face it) uninhibited client I knew. The one who kept me enthralled with conversation from that great husky/sexy voice of hers. The star who knew who she was, and knew how to laugh about it.
* At the conclusion of the trial, in accordance with the proper court procedures applied to such things, I asked my victorious clients to wait outside while the Judge sentenced me for my contempt. As I stood in the almost empty courtroom, sweating a possible fine of thousands of dollars that I didn’t have, or a night in the hoosegow, the baliff asked me what I was doing there. “Waiting for the Judge to sentence me.” I said. “I’ve been held in contempt four times in three days, and this is what I’m supposed to do.” Without looking up from his paperwork, he mumbled: “Just leave….he’s already forgotten about it.” And so he had.**
** The Right and Honorable Thomas Foley died of a heart attack about a year later while sitting in a parked car, waiting for his wife — no doubt screaming at someone to the bitter end. I, and a lot of other attorneys in Las Vegas, still miss him.