On September 18th 2004, I received the long-expected, but nevertheless painful, call from Jim “the HandyMan” Ryan. “Dave, Russ just passed and we’re having the memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood on Friday. I know you wanna be there.” Ryan, RM’s most stalwart crony and factotum, had sacrificed more than half a century of his existence to the director and now summoned the faithful. On the flight out to Los Angeles I reflected on Russ and how lucky I was to have been able to number him as a cherished friend. I’d met “King Leer” in late 1985, published a reference book on him in 1990, and for many years worked shoulder-to-shoulder with The Master on his 3 volume autobiography A Clean Breast (2000), ultimately completing it when dementia made it impossible for him to continue. Upon arrival, I installed myself at the Safari Inn in Burbank, a motel Russ always pointed out as having been a popular trysting place for him. It was also memorably featured in the 1993 Tony Scott film True Romance scripted by Quentin Tarantino.
More importantly (for a mourner seeking to immerse himself in memories of Russ) the motel was a couple of blocks from the Talleyrand Restaurant at 1700 W. Olive Avenue. Anyone who spent time with Russ ultimately ended up at what he affectionately called “the greasy spoon.” A short 15 minute drive from his home in the Hollywood Hills, the Talleyrand fulfilled most of the criterion Russ demanded in an eatery—comparatively cheap prices, studded leather horseshoe booths, warm bread slathered with butter, and Bombay gin served so cold it hurt your teeth to drink it. The first time Russ took me there for dinner in the mid-1980s we sat in a booth where in between bites of meat loaf I interviewed him about the making of The Immoral Mr. Teas (the unpublished interview was recently included in the booklet I did for the Arrow Films release, The Russ Meyer Collection—19 Uplifting Classics). For years afterward, often in the company of Jim Ryan, we’d consume massive amounts of food washed down with what Russ called “meaningful amounts of grog” as he waxed poetic about past sexual and filmic exploits as well as ambitious future plans. Nothing compared to sharing RM’s friendship at a groaning table of plenty after a grueling 12 hour workday.
I’ll save the account of the viewing of the Great Man’s body and his memorial service at Forest Lawn-Hollywood for another “Meyer Month.” Jimmy McDonough covers the service in vivid detail in Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film (2005), required reading for anyone interested in “King Leer.” I arose early on the morning of the service, September 24th, with the intention of eating one last time at the place Russ and I had shared so many memorable meals and memories together. A short walk brought me to the Talleyrand at the height of their breakfast rush. The place was hopping and I waited 15 minutes before a harried waitress led me to a booth where, remarkably, Russ and I had sat the first time he ever took me there. The table was scattered with dirty dishes and as I waited for it to be bussed I thought back over the time I was privileged to have shared with Russ. Sure, he had his share of faults (he could make a dollar bill scream, was serially unfaithful, and was blindingly egotistical), but he was also capable of great kindness, generosity, and supreme loyalty. He was the Great American Success Story–a rugged individual who through sheer perseverance, talent, and relentless hard work in the service of an all-compassing cockeyed fetish had produced a body of work destined to make him an enduring part of world cinematic history. Though I hadn’t seen or spoken to Russ for several years (his court-appointed caregivers thought best to limit nearly all his outside contact with friends, see McDonough), his loss still hurt like hell. Lost in such thoughts, my eyes rested on the stack of ones left as a tip by the last diner. The top bill was signed:
Russ always had to have the last word. R.I.P., old friend.
David K. Frasier 3/21/20013