Burlesque star Tempest Storm was right there in 1952 when Russ Meyer’s cinematic career first began. Storm was a regular performer at the El Ray Burlesk Theater in Oakland, California and Meyer had begun taking pin-up photographs of the dancers there which he then advertised and sold as sets or singles through glamour magazines. His pictorial of Tempest is an early example of the types of angles and shots he would use in his later filmography and the photographs are nothing short of stunning. Storm’s assets are shown off to their full potential, her curves and presence made all the more Amazonian by Meyer shooting her from below. Always one at photographing women well, Meyer makes Storm more than desirable in his pictures which at the time were rather risqué. Below is nearly the entire shoot, minus one or two pictures of which I couldn’t find online. Enjoy!
MEYER MONTH – ‘Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; Character Arcs Within Costume Design’ by Sophia Shillito21 Mar
First off, I have very limited knowledge of Russ Meyer as a filmmaker. Lydia is the reason I even know who he is and introduced me to Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I’ve always been fascinated with costume and costume design. For anything. That’s why I studied it at university and hope to pursue it… That’s my proviso for this article and a preempted defence if I make scurrilous remarks about Meyer!
Before talking about costume design for the three female leads in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls I feel that it’s worth quoting one of the most important costume designers for the field, Deborah Nadoolman Landis; “Costume is character.” Short and sweet. But, for me, it is short statements like this that help to solidify the importance of costume within film, theatre and television. Costume is used to help tell stories through the unspoken fleshing out of a character. A lot of press attention is given to period costume design – particularly when you hit awards seasons. But costume design is an important aspect of any film. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was not a period film at the time. It would have been regarded as a contemporary film; if very stylised in that way. Clueless was the same (not particularly current I know). Clueless was a contemporary 90s costume designed film. But in a very heightened way. The film was using costume to explore characters but there was also a definite link with fashion. This is also true of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. The credit list at the beginning doesn’t list a costume designer; ‘Fashions by De Graff of California by David Hayes’. That’s one quick way to eschew costumes into fashion territory but, for me, costumes are costumes. They may have been designed by a fashion designer but fashion designers have designed costumes for decades. They are still using clothes to help visually explain a character to the audience. Costumes work for a particular character. Even if they are ‘shared’ by different characters. They would be worn a different way. Have you ever borrowed an item of clothing from a friend? Has it ever been worn in exactly the same way? No. Unless you want to be them, it won’t happen.
But back to Russ Meyer and the costumes used in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. I find the costumes in the film interesting in its separation between performances by The Carrie Nations and the band’s individual clothing outside of that world. It is worth analysing the costumes used within the “music videos” separately from the character and costume arc for each member.
Kelly’s arc is the fairly typical good-girl-conflicted-by-wealth-and-power in ‘big bad’ LA, then realises her errors and is ‘redeemed’. Kelly is first introduced wearing a bright red mini-dress – more overall colour than Casey or Pet. Up until Harris’s fall, Kelly is mostly seen wearing bright colours. It can also be noted that after arriving in Los Angeles Kelly is mostly seen wearing warm colours – lots of orange. Her first appearance at Ronnie’s party is significant for the fact that she wears a dress belonging to Susan – it is noticeably the lightest costume in tone that she wears until later in the film. The iconic scene of Kelly and Harris together in the country shows an extreme change for Kelly’s previous style. The purple is very soft and muted in tone; the shirt is long-sleeved with a high neck; the skirt is floor length gingham (very non-LA style). It’s worth noting that the skirt does have a huge slit in it though – this is a Meyer film after all! Kelly’s final appearance is at her wedding to Harris, wearing a light pink dress and jacket. A mature option that in no way draws attention away from other characters to her.
Casey’s arc is pretty shocking but also less focused than Kelly’s. Kelly is, after all, the ‘star’. Casey is mostly seen wearing light colours when they get to LA. Casey obviously feels like the overlooked member of the group – particularly noticeable when you see her reaction to Ronnie’s ‘praise’ following ‘In the Long Run’. The tones are also cold until she announces to Roxanne that she’s pregnant. In that scene she is seen wearing a beige/khaki military style coat dress. Even though the colour is not particularly cold, it is pale and skin coloured. If she weren’t so tanned she would look particularly washed out. Her first kiss with Roxanne, following the abortion, is in a yellow high-necked knitted dress. The first bright colour she has worn since arriving in LA. That moment marks the happiest that Casey has seemed. However, her next appearance has her returning to light blue. Is this a comment on Casey and Roxanne’s relationship? Maybe she isn’t as happy as we are led to believe? Casey survives longer than Roxanne because she left their bed. Possibly the light blue dress was an indication that Casey hasn’t been ‘redeemed’ to the same extent that Kelly was.
For me, Pet’s is the least interesting arc. She arrives in LA, already more confident than Casey, instantly begins a relationship with Emerson, cheats on him, gets back together with Emerson, and then gets married. She doesn’t seem to have a set colour or tone. Her costumes don’t make any drastic change from pre-LA to LA. However, her colours become much softer in tone following her night with Randy and apology to Emerson. Pet’s costumes even have a range of textures – she is seen wearing lots of satin, lace, polyester. There is no coherent theme to her costumes. If anything, she is the mid-way point between Kelly and Casey and wears things that wouldn’t be out-of-place in one or the other’s wardrobes.
The costumes of The Carrie Nations are very interesting. These costumes are much less individual and more fitting with ‘The Supremes’ style of costumes. ‘In the Long Run’ is the first song that they “record” and their costumes have a mix of style and feel, reflecting various acts of the 60s and 70s, and build up towards the end of the song. They start with jeans and simple blouses. Then the blouses become pussycat bow blouses and waistcoats. Each member has a different colour blouse but matching waistcoats – completion of a group. Almost styled like The Carpenters. Then the costumes take a swing to the 60s with pink sequin mini-dresses. A style of dress never seen on the characters before or after. This isn’t their choice – this is a style chosen by Ronnie to help gain fans. The song ends with long blue glittery Grecian dresses. A swift move from the 60s to the 70s. And another dress style never seen before or since.
The next time we see The Carrie Nations ‘perform’ is for ‘Look On Up from the Bottom’. It’s another case of a carefully styled uniform for the band. It starts with the girls wearing skirt suits accessorised with a pattern either down the front of the jacket (Casey) or as a headscarf (Kelly and Pet). This moves into skirt dresses, different colours for each but all the same style. Finally they are seen (only from the waist up) in jackets with coordinated polka dot neck scarves.
The costumes that the girls wear in these sequences seem to have no sense of order to their use. Particularly noticeable with ‘In the Long Run’ where styles move from late 60s to early 60s then early 70s. There is no real consistency beyond the bond within the group. The costumes all seem to be based on groups of the time. Whether this is mockery or appreciation I guess is up to the audience member. I think that using a similar style for each band member is a clever touch of moving the group away from their first performance in the film at a school dance. This is their big break. They ARE The Carrie Nations.
The costumes need to be viewed outside of the character’s story arcs. Including their television appearances. I specifically noticed Casey’s dress. This scene comes after her night with Harris. She is distraught and has discovered that she’s pregnant, even if no-one has been told yet. But what is she wearing? A long clinging red dress. That’s not a dress you wear to hide away or to recover from a traumatic experience. This is the main reason that I separate the television interview appearances away from character arcs – and also, this appearance is part of their public view. A styled view to co-ordinate with earlier performances. It is all about The Carrie Nations. Not Kelly, Casey and Pet individually.
The costumes of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls may not have as big a connection with the 60s/70s as we think they do but they are used to describe the heightened Los Angeles world that Meyer has created. Costumes shouldn’t necessarily be authentic and realistic. They should be appropriate for the film, the characters and the story. The costumes can tell you a lot about the differences between Kelly, Casey and Pet. Even if you aren’t looking for it.
Sophia Shillito is a London-based Costume Designer and graduate of AUCB. Not content with just designing and making, she also writes for the site Damn That’s Some Fine Tailoring and can be followed on Twitter here.
This is something I had to share with everyone because it made me chuckle. A lovely reader posted the following image in a comment on one of my other posts and the idea just had me in fits. Forget all those rumours and conspiracy theories about Stanley Kubrick having shot the 1969 moon landings, for it was Russ Meyer who shot the infamous footage! This cute cartoon below serves as a good hypothesis and actually make some ‘valid’ points. I feel a future theoretical post in the works…
Next to his second wife Eve Meyer, my second favourite model of Russ Meyer’s is Diane Webber. Another natural beauty, Webber was more than photogenic with a multitude of photographs showing her instinctive ease at which to pose her body and smile towards the camera. Webber was Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month in May 1955 and February 1956 (under the name Marguerite Empey) with the later pictorial being one of the three centrefolds that Meyer shot for the magazine. According to the photographer, the secret to Webber’s voluptuous beauty at the time was the fact that she was secretly a few months pregnant, making everything just that little bit bigger.
There’s no denying that Meyer’s photographs of Webber are among some of the best in his early, if not entire, photographic career. Just as with Eve, Russ struck lucky with the model (also an avid nudist) and developed a good short partnership that delivered the goods. Aside from stills photography, Webber also featured in one of Meyer’s shorts, This Is My Body, which was shot in 1959. This proved to be the last time that Webber and Meyer worked together (he blamed pregnancy for changing her body). The following pictures are some that I’ve managed to attribute as being taken by Meyer himself (although I can be proven wrong, it’s very difficult to establish as online and some published information either incorrectly credit Meyer as photographer or not credit him at all) but I’m sure that among the plethora of images that come up when searching for Webber a few more are his.
HONOURABLE MENTION – June Mack
Unbelievably I can’t find any record of June Mack’s measurements anywhere but it’s safe to say that her enhanced boobs were some of the most unforgettable in all of Russ Meyer’s films. Known for playing Junkyard Sal in Beneath The Valley of the Ultravixens, Mack was murdered shortly after filming finished taking a bullet for a friend.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Alaina Capri
With a 42E bustline, Capri just misses the top ten by making number eleven. She famously had a misunderstanding with the director and refused to work with him again after he showed much more of her flesh on the big screen then he alluded he would.
#10 – JUNE WILKINSON – 43E
Naturally busty Wilkinson was shot numerous times by Meyer in the 1950s with many of his photographs gracing the front covers of pin up magazines. Meyer called Wilkinson and asked her to be in his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas and she accepted, appearing uncredited in a brief cameo in which only her breasts appear.
#9 – TEMPEST STORM – 44E
Tempest Storm’s naturally conical breasts instantly captivated a young Meyer who took numerous pictorials of the star in the 50s. This eventually led to Meyer shooting her in his first foray into filmmaking, French Peep Show.
#8 – CYNTHIA MYERS – 39F
One of the best known Playboy playmates of the 1960s, it comes as no surprise that Russ had his eye on Cynthia long before he cast her as Casey in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. During her modelling career she featured on the now infamous front cover of Playboy’s December 1968 issue where she was dressed as a Christmas tree.
#7 – LORNA MAITLAND – 42F
Lorna Maitland wasn’t the original choice for the lead role in Meyer’s gothic picture Lorna. In fact, Meyer fired the actress originally cast for having too small a bust after he saw photographs of Lorna on the first day of shooting. Maitland was promptly hired.
#6 – USCHI DIGARD – 44F
Naturally busty Digard found her large boobs attracted a lot of attention and subsequently starred in numerous exploitation films before moving into porn.
#5 – CANDY SAMPLES – 46F
A prolific pornography star of the 70s and 80s, Samples had cameos in both Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.
#4 – KITTEN NATIVIDAD – 34G
Meyer’s paramour for a long time, Natividad first had implant surgery when she was 21 to aid her Go-Go dancing career. Sadly for Kitten, she had a double mastectomy in 1999 after developing breast cancer. It transpired that the silicone used in her implants was of industrial grade and she has since has corrective surgery.
#3 – ANNE MARIE – 67 inch bustline
Whilst her exact measurements elude me, there’s no denying that Ann Marie’s eye-popping 67 inch bust is a sight for sore eyes, made all the more impressive by her minuscule waist.
#2 – DARLENE GREY – 36H
Arguably the most voluptuous girl to have ever appeared in one of Meyer’s films (and yes, they are natural), British Darlene Grey also has the distinction of being rejected by Playboy for being, er… Too big.
#1 – PANDORA PEAKS – 42J
The older Meyer got, the bigger in size his breast fetish got culminating in his last film and leading lady, Pandora Peaks.
Thanks to the Russ Meyer Trust another one of the infamous sexploitation directors early films has finally seen the light of day after being out of circulation since its original theatrical release. The 1961 picture Erotica sits alongside a few of Meyer’s other early films in the Vintage Bodies Set which came out towards the end of last year. Shot after Meyer’s second feature Eve and the Handyman, Erotica consists of six small nudie cutie segments, another of Meyer’s films that plays out as a cinematic pin-up photography pictorial.
Meyer and his producer Pete DeCenzie fell out making Eve and the Handyman when he bailed out on the picture just before production had started. However, DeCenzie returned for Erotica, and later again on its follow-up Wild Gals of the Naked West, which was shot on a four grand budget. Also returning on the production was editor Charles G. Schelling who had helped Russ shoot French Peep Show (and would later go on to become sound recordist on the movies made during Meyer’s gothic period) and then-wife Eve with the role of financial co-ordination (something she ended up doing a lot of during her husbands career). Long-time friend and general all-rounder Anthony James Ryan also briefly cameos in the last vignette as the Handyman, his lead role in the directors previous picture, alongside another gentleman dressed in Mr. Teas’ lurid orange jumpsuit (never one to miss out on self promotion, Meyer had two one-sheets for both The Immoral Mr. Teas and Eve and the Handyman on prominent display at one point). This was a, as the films narration points out, ‘film made by adults for adults… It is truly Erotica!’.
In reality it is what it is, which for me is sadly one of the weaker entries in Meyer’s filmography and is, at times, really rather boring. Whilst it has two Meyer film staples, pretty topless women and bizarre indifferent narration, you can’t help but feel that other similar pictures like Europe In The Raw and Eve and the Handyman did it better and got away with a little more charm. The are some cute moments; the opening in particular is quite sweet, showing a very basic but behind the scenes look none the less at the process a film goes through with symbolic images to represent each part (someone cigarette smoking is the actor, a huge money bag the producer, disembodied hands cutting film being the editor, director chair for the director etc). Segment two ‘Beauties, Bubbles and H20′, an ode to the traditions and history of bathing (aka a trio of topless beauties washing themselves with very bubbly soap) also has some nice cinematography and photographic set ups, one can imagine that if the director had actually shot stills for this segment alone, they would have probably been quite stunning. The shots of one girl having a bubble bath in a kiddies blow up pool are particular favourites. This second vignette also featured popular model Althea Currier who already had an ucredited role in The Immoral Mr. Teas and would go on to appear in Heavenly Bodies and Lorna.
The rest of the picture feels very much the same with so much narration it makes you lose interest in anything the film has to offer (there’s even a soundtrack reel gag in one of the segments where off-screen voices argue that the narrator is reading the wrong ‘informative’ script, how very meta). Segment one, ‘Naked Innocence’, is essentially a re-tread of Meyer’s 1959 short This Is My Body starring Diane Webber, only This Is My Body is a lot better. Middle pieces ‘Nudists on the High Seas’ and ‘The Nymphs’ suffer from far too much narration and not enough going on visually to really make an impact whilst the last chapter, ‘The Bikini Busters’, is a bloated, unrealised comedic take on the history of the bikini; ‘and so it went, down through the years with more and more clothes being added, until the women got so much to looking like the men that the men stopped looking’.
The only other highlight in the feature is the short segment ‘The Bare and The Bear’ in which Meyer shoots an impressively endowed woman rolling around on a Malibu beach wearing only a bear skin to accompany narration that informs how durable and soft bear fur really is. This lucky lady was Sherri Knight, a model with a fifty-five inch bust that Meyer had shot for skin magazines before in the past. According to Jimmy McDonough’s biography, producer DeCenzie saw pictures of Knight and insisted that Meyer include her in the film. They shot for one day, wrapped and Meyer never saw her again. Not that it matters. Once you see her wearing the fur stole, you’ll never forget her.
Once viewed, Babette Bardot is never forgotten. Tall, curvaceous, well stacked, a perfect red pout and inches of voluminous platinum blonde hair. Think of your typical hourglass-figured caricature and you’ve got Bardot, thick fluttering black eyelashes and all. She only starred in two of Russ Meyers films, Mondo Topless and Common Law Cabin, but she made one hell of an impression. And yet, I know very little about her, so tried to piece together as much as I could find to create some sort of rounded profile on the girl.
Swedish-French Babette Bardot was born in Goteborg, Sweden in 1940. She’s quoted by Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough in his book Big Bosoms and Square Jaws as being ‘the fourth cousin of Brigette Bardot‘ although there seems to be some contention online as to whether or not this is actually true. Another fact up for questioning is whether or not she really did model for artist Pablo Picasso in her teens which she exclaims she did. At some point in the early 1960s she became a cheesecake model and was a regular in glamour and pin-up magazines, appearing in Fling, Adam and Escapade to name a few. Judging from earlier pictures of her she has at some point had a fair amount of cosmetic surgery. I didn’t know whether her breasts were real or not, and had yet to read anything that said either way, until it was confirmed for me by Diana Hart in her book Under The Mat that she’d had a boob job. Looking at early pictures and comparing them to her later look in Russ Meyers films, it’s also clear that she had some sort of nose surgery and maybe even lip fillers. You wonder whether her caricature look was one that she had intended to construct for a long time.
In the early 1960s she apparently worked on two Swedish films but I have found nothing to establish whether or not this is actually true or, if it is, what the titles were. Sexploitation director extroadinaire Russ Meyer found Bardot at the infamous Pink Pussycat on Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, where she at one point had a headlining strip show (she previously used to dance before the legendary Tura Satana did her routine). Meyer asked her to appear in his mockumentary Mondo Topless and Bardot agreed, bringing some of her fellow co-workers along with her. There is no denying that Babette steals the show in Mondo, with Meyer even giving her assets pompous exaggeration; ‘French and Swedish, fifty-fifty where it counts!’. Once you see the images of her driving around San Francisco, topless, bouncing at every turn and bump, you’ll never be able to erase it from your memory. Even more so when you see her dancing and stripping off next to a train track, an oncoming locomotive in the distance and then roaring past. Only statuesque Babette would be discussing the intricacy of portraying a sexually mature woman with childlike innocence in her routines. Except that she manages to do it pretty easily, peeling off her stockings whilst sucking her thumb. My personal highlight is spotting the bruises up her thighs. Sign of a true pro, Bardot wasn’t once the highest paid stripper in the entire US for any old reason, reportedly earning a regular $2,500 a week.
The following year in 1967 Bardot returned to play a character named after herself in Meyer’s Common Law Cabin. It’s here where Babette really shines, albeit in a glow of european campness. Every line is drooled in her thick French-Swedish accent making some words have an unintentional hilarious different meaning when in conversational context (‘rich’ ends up sounding more like ‘retch’). Having said that she does have some great scenes. I am a big fan of Common Law Cabin but if you’re not convinced, give it a watch just to see her in a tiny, push up bikini chopping fire wood with a machete. Then there’s her exotic fire dance atop a mountain, complete with wailing screams… Bardot plays off against her fellow leading lady Alaina Capri really well creating a memorable performance that stands out amongst those of other Meyer leading ladies. Capri herself said working with Bardot was ‘kind of wild’ which is hardly unsurprising. Accounts give the impression that this woman had a lot of energy, which director Russ would know all about. He claimed to have enjoyed a dalliance with Babette on set, with her frequently staying in his on-set accommodation. In true Meyer fashion, he blamed the films lack of success on the fact that there was too much extra-curricular action on set…
In 1967 she also appeared in I, Marquis de Sade in a minor role as one of de Sade’s girls. I can find very little about her brief role in this but it would again appear that she was hired based on her background of stripping and dancing. This and the two films she did with Russ Meyer appear to be her only film credits.
On the back of her appearances in Meyer’s films and under the guidance of her husband Bob Baker (her manager and leader of the small band that accompanied her act), she toured the US as a burlesque dancer in 1968, having shows at the Gayety Theatre in New York City, the Town Theatre in Chicago (of which I managed to find a photo essay of one of her routines in which she looks gorgeous) and the Colony Club in Dallas. Bardot toured the burlesque circuit internationally until she set up a residence at the Majestic Inn in Calgary, Alberta. The liberal laws in Alberta allowed her to strip completely nude, although she would maintain her thong during performances. She performed there nightly for six months before heading to Las Vegas where she not only danced but also sung. She also managed time to fit in another night with Meyer… and none other than Uschi Digard. One can only imagine the amount of breast on show that night (Tura Satana once said she was knocked out when she bumped into Bardot in Vegas in the 70s having not seen her since her early Pink Pussycat days, her words ‘silicone does wonders’ pretty much sums up the interaction).
Whilst in Calgary she became friends with the legendary wrestling family The Harts through wrestler Andre The Giant, a regular at her shows. In the early 1970s Bardot and her family, which by this point included two children Bobby and Bianca, would travel to Calgary yearly to perform at the Majestic Inn where she would perform a lunchtime show and an evening show. During this month they would stay with the Hart’s in the big family home. In 1973 Stu Hart billed her as Miss Stampede Wrestling (the wrestling promotion he ran) after spotting her popularity with other wrestlers he worked with (she was also friends with Terry Funk and Dan Kroffat) but it was always Andre at every one of her shows sitting in the front show. Apparently he was reluctant to miss any of her performances and would sometimes turn up late to bookings that Stu had arranged for him because he’d been to see her. Word on the street was that he secretly held more than a flame for her. Bardot appeared at many of the Stampede parades, regularly riding with the wrestling clan on their float. One summer, the horse she was riding on buckled after the float in front of it stopped and Babette was thrown into the road. Apparently in tears in a heap on the floor, she still managed to let her bulging cleavage show to the crowds supposedly embarrassing a young Owen Hart. As Miss Stampede Wrestling Babette also had frequent appearances on the Stampede Wrestling TV show, handing out awards, title belts at wins and greeting big name stars to the ring.
The last known appearance I can find that she did was in 1981, where she headlined the Babette Bardot Review at the Kings Inn Motel in Daytona Beach. It would appear that she passed away at some point in the early 00s. Tura Satana herself suggests on one online forum that Bardot remarried at some point but that her new surname wasn’t known to many people, including her, which renders much information seeking redundant. It’s a real shame because I would have loved to know where this enigmatic woman found herself after 1981 and what she was up to at the time. By all reports she was a lovely lady and left an impression on all those she met, as well as all of us Russ Meyer fans.