RIP Marilyn Chambers (and a Brief History of Adult Entertainment)


During the 1960s and 70s, you didn't have to scour through the fine print in the sports section of your daily newspaper to find adult entertainment venues; adult theaters had their locales and screening times listed on the same page as the Bijou and other family-oriented cinemas. One of that era's first "stars," Marilyn Chambers, passed away today at age 56 of unknown causes. As we send our condolences to Ms. Chambers and her family, we also remember her via this quick, mostly-safe-for-work look at the world of erotica.

The Printing Press and Porn

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Flash forward to the late 19th century, when photography has become as mainstream as mass printing. Magazines and postcards featuring nude women in sexual poses first started popping up in France and became huge sellers around the world. Interestingly enough, while many of the drawings from the previous centuries featured explicit depictions of sex acts, when actual photography became the norm, such between-the-sexes interaction was taboo and could only be found in "underground" publications imported from Amsterdam until the early 20th century.

Playboy Hits the Scene

So-called "men's magazines" have been behind the counter at certain newsstands for decades, but it took Hugh Hefner to bring them out onto the legitimate magazine rack. "Hef" had been infatuated with pin-ups since his youth and decided his future career path once the Kinsey Report was published. He combined his love of the nude female physique with the burgeoning sexual revolution and founded Playboy magazine. He'd originally intended to call his publication Stag Party, but he found out that there was already an existing publication called Stag. A friend of his owned a small car dealership called "Playboy," and Hefner thought that, if enough manly-men were pictured sporting tuxedos or smoking jackets while surrounded by scantily-clad females in ads, the name might just catch on.

Sex on the Big Screen

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The Mainstreaming of Porn

How did porn temporarily become mainstream? It was a combination of marketing and the freewheeling sexual attitude of the early 1970s. At the time, herpes wasn't a concern, and AIDS hadn't been heard of; any disease transmitted in an intimate fashion could be cured with a shot of penicillin. In 1972, producer Gerard Damiano had filmed what would usually be considered a typical porn film in six days for about $25,000 starring an actress known as Linda Lovelace. Despite its X-rating, Damiano campaigned to have his film, Deep Throat, shown in mainstream theaters. The resulting court case garnered major headlines, and soon Hollywood's hipsters were photographed in line at adult theaters waiting to see the controversial film. Enough buzz was created that the film was eventually screened in family-style theaters across the country, albeit in late showings and with an X rating. Thanks to all the press, Deep Throat soon became the movie to be seen, and it eventually grossed a little over $400 million.

How Marilyn Chambers Got Into the Business

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