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November 13, 2012

'The Sessions' based on sex surrogate from Salem

SALEM — Like a lot of little girls who went to Catholic schools in the 1950s, Cheryl Cohen Greene had fleeting thoughts of becoming a nun.

“I loved the habit,” she said with a laugh.

That possible career path will surprise anyone who sees “The Sessions,” a recently released movie based on a true story about a paralyzed man in an iron lung who wants to lose his virginity and hires a sex surrogate.

Helen Hunt plays the sex surrogate — Cheryl Cohen Greene.

“I thought she did a beautiful job,” said Cohen Greene, 68, the former Cheryl Theriault of Salem.

Cohen Greene, who returns to Salem regularly, was raised in a French Catholic family, lived across the street from Salem State, went to the former St. Mary’s Grammar School on Hawthorne Boulevard and graduated from Salem High in 1962.

“We just had our 50th reunion,” she said during a phone interview from her home in Berkeley, Calif. “I was president of the Pep Club. I had to go.”

Cohen Greene’s life has been a whirlwind since the movie debuted earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won two awards. It went into limited release last month and is currently playing in movie theaters. There is Oscar buzz around both Hunt and actor John Hawkes, who plays Mark O’Brien, the writer and poet who contracted polio as a child and spent much of his life in an iron lung.

O’Brien, who died in 1999, wrote an article about his experience with Cohen Greene. “On Seeing a Sex Surrogate” appeared in The Sun, a literary magazine, in 1990. He also was the subject of a documentary, “Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien,” which won an Academy Award in 1997.

Since “The Sessions” made its film festival debut earlier this year, Cohen Greene has been to a movie premiere in Los Angeles, taken part in a question-and-answer session with film critic Jeffrey Lyons, spoken at Yale University, had a sit-down with Playboy magazine, and dined with celebrities in New York City.

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