Tag Archives: A Clean Breast

MEYER MONTH – ‘Russ Meyer’s Last Laugh’ by David K. Frasier

1 Apr

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.

safari

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 Teas (the unpublished interview was recently included in the booklet I did for the Arrow Films release, The Russ Meyer Collection—19 Uplifting Classics).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.

tallyrand

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:

rm-dollar_001[1]

Russ always had to have the last word.  R.I.P., old friend.

David K. Frasier 3/21/20013

There She Goes Again – Russ Meyer’s ‘Pandora Peaks’ (2001)

24 May

Russ Meyer’s filmography would have been much better off had he left his filmmaking career at 1979 release Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. However, 2001 saw the release of Pandora Peaks, which featured the titular adult model herself. Whilst it has the hallmarks of a Meyer film, it feels distinctly underwhelming and not quite one of the sexploitation legend’s film’s at all.

Given that most of the openings to Meyer’s films are quite fun, this opens with a rather drab, title card sequence using a stereotypical porno font that is nothing short of boring. And, sadly, boring is a word I’d use to describe the rest of the film. There really is nothing to it. The entire film consists of sequences of Meyer’s famous montage shots, this time re-tracing parts of his history and intertwining it with parts of his female stars. So we have brief run downs of the town where the director was brought up, his school, where he did his industrial films, memories of his time in the War and even passages of him reading from his epic autobiography A Clean Breast. As much as I love the guy, Meyer certainly isn’t much of a narrator. Being the only male voice present in this film, sadly Meyer doesn’t fill his memories with half as much excitement and wonder as the many men who have played narrator parts in his previous films. However, it is nice to hear him run through his career and see him in retirement life enjoying his trout fishing (his second love next to breasts).

Strip this away from the film and all you have left is footage of the eponymous Peaks and another german model called Tunde. Not a lot happens. It’s essentially Tunde bouncing around her bedroom and Peaks taking of her clothes in various locations (one being the ranch featured in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which almost seems a little sacrilegious). Like Meyer, both stars talk about their lives in a track reel played over the top. Except that you don’t really learn an awful lot about them except that they both love their breasts and Peaks absolutely loves the attention. It almost wants to be an updated Mondo Topless, except that Mondo was actually interesting. In that, the models talked about their lives, their hopes and dreams and gave their opinions on a lot of things. The results, when put together with the images, were sometimes hilarious and at other times completely absurd. Here, it all just seems self-indulgent and mundane.


Given that, at this point in his life, Meyer was quite financially well off and well aware that his brand of films wouldn’t pull the audiences into cinemas that they used to, it’s hardly unsurprising that Pandora Peaks had no theatrical release. What does surprise me is that he even bothered to make it at all. Whilst the production values are still very tight and very much of the top quality that the director prized himself on doing in every one of his pictures, the film seems to lack the passion and soul that the rest of his movies have. The whole thing does come across more as a vanity project, as if in his late seventies, Meyer wanted to show everyone he still had it and could still get it. A real shame as it sits like an embarrassing blip on what was an already stellar career. Some people just don’t know when to stop.

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer’s Photographs and Pictorials

26 Mar

I recieved a few emails and messages regarding the short post I did on director Russ Meyer’s early career as a glamour photographer and decided to put up this short post showcasing a few of his photographs. I have only attached pictures on here that I have actually been able to verify that Meyer took. If you search online the internet chucks a whole lot of beautiful images at you but a lot of them are wrongly credited to Meyer. These are just a few and I suggest anyone interested in sourcing any other images look for/physically buy any old mens/girlie magazines that he either contributed to or shot the front cover for, pick up his autobiography A Clean Breast which has a stack of gorgeous stills he took over the years or pick up The Glamour Camera of Russ Meyer which is all about his photography. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these beauties. They just don’t make them like this anymore…

Marguerite Empey pictorial, Playboy, February 1956

June Wilkinson photographed by Russ Meyer, Caper magazine, May 1959

Eve in Red Lingerie by Russ Meyer, 1959

Edy Williams pictorial shot by Meyer, Playboy, March 1973

Gold Lamp and Lorna, Russ Meyer, 1964

Sabrina (Norma Sykes) pictorial photographed by Russ, Cabaret magazine, August 1957

Eve Meyer as photographed by Russ, Frolic magazine, June 1954

Eve Meyer photographed for Playboy, June 1955

Yvette Vickers pictorial, Playboy, June 1959

Eve Meyer photographed by Russ, c. 1950s

June Wilkinson photographed by Russ, Adam magazine, 1950s

Eve Meyer pictorial, Playboy, June 1955

Lorna Maitland photographed by Meyer, Fling magazine, May 1965

Diane Webber pictorial, shot by Russ Meyer for Globe Photos Inc., 1956 

MEYER MONTH – The Final War of Russ Meyer by David K. Frasier

21 Mar

In the July 18-August 1 1985 issue of Rolling Stone director John Waters contributed an article, “Trash Tour of Los Angeles”, which included the address of Russ Meyer’s home, 3121 Arrowhead Drive, in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles.  The “Pope of Trash”,  long an articulate champion of RM’s work, dubbed the director’s two-story chalet the “Russ Meyer Museum” because nearly every inch of available wall, ceiling, and kitchen cabinet space was festooned with posters, photos, and memorabilia chronicling his career, wartime experiences, and serial sexual liaisons.  Meyer never forgave Waters for this transgression even though JW had him on tape saying it was okay to include the address.  Russ reportedly roundly cursed Waters each time a covey of fans dropped by the manse expecting an impromptu tour.  I owe John Waters a personal debt not only because this kind and gracious man has supported my books on murder, entertainment industry suicide, and showbiz homicide, but more importantly without his Rolling Stone article I never would’ve met Russ Meyer.  John’s travelogue led to a close 15 year friendship with “The King of the Nudies” largely spent working on his mammoth three-volume autobiography, A Clean Breast.

I was a librarian at the Kinsey Institute (formerly the Institute for Sex Research) on the campus of Indiana University-Bloomington when I first saw the article.  Ever since seeing a double bill of Good Morning… and Goodbye! and Common-Law Cabin at the Sunset Drive-in in Evansville, Indiana, during the early 1970s I’d been hooked.  Sure the outsized breasts were great, but beyond that it was obvious these movies were the progeny of a one man film factory whose love of life and vital essence energized every frame of film.  Jump cut to August 1985.  Armed with the address from the Waters article I respectfully wrote RM to request that he donate copies of his videotapes for the collections of the Kinsey Institute library.  A few days later, I was stunned when the Institute’s secretary rang my office to say “a Russ Meyer” was on the line.  Long story short – Russ was thrilled to donate videos to the library, and when I told him I wanted to do a book length bibliography on published works about him he informed me that I must come to Los Angeles to incorporate the multi-volumes of material contained in the scrapbooks in his vast home archive.  RM was proud of his work and doggedly sought out every published mention of his name (both good and bad).

Russ cooperated fully in the project, but insisted my book NOT be a biography.  He was engaged in that endeavor and nothing must compete with what he portentously dubbed THE BOOK.  I assured him my effort was solely to collect material about him so fans and researchers could use the book to study his work.  Russ Meyer – The Life and Films was published by a small reference publisher in 1990 and featured a 25 page career essay (“Russ Meyer, American Auteur”), and annotated entries on 1,148 published items, as well as a detailed filmography.  Jimmy McDonough, best-selling author of Shakey:  Neil Young’s Biography (2002), fully realized my vision for the book when he used it to write his definitive 2005 biography of Russ, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws:  The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film.  If you haven’t done so, pick it up.  It’s a hell of a read particularly the tragic final years of “King Leer” filled as they were with equal measure of Shakespearean poignancy and perfidy.

Although John Waters briefly touched on RM’s manse in the Hills above the Lake Hollywood Reservoir it deserves closer scrutiny as a testament to the Great Man’s life.  Few houses, even in the Land of the Ravenous Ego, have ever been converted into a shrine to so fully chronicle the grandeur of its owner.  For a while it was painted a bilious combination of green and orange to mimic the color scheme of his Bosomania videocassette boxes.  Of course, the neighbors hated it (much to RM’s delight), and he was often at odds with them. On one kitchen cabinet, Russ had laminated a letter from a disgruntled neighbor unhappy with the trash (sets from Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens — much of it was shot in the house) strewn across the backyard.  She complained the space looked like “lower Tijuana”, and added that everyone in the neighborhood “would love to work from their homes, but as you know it’s illegal”.  “I had my attorney write a gorilla letter”, RM said, “and she backed off.”

Once while we were floating in the small pool on the side of the house I asked him if he ever had trouble with neighbors peeking in to catch glimpses of female guests like Francesca “Kitten” Natividad, Melissa Mounds, and many others.   Not a problem on Arrowhead (“my next door neighbors are Chinese”), but his second home in Palm Desert was in a neighborhood overrun with horny teen-aged boys.  The munificently endowed Melissa Mounds, his lover during the latter half of the 1990s, often swam nude and kids would either get on the roofs of their homes with binoculars, or, steal peeks over the wall.  Russ loved telling the story about how Mounds stormed after one sexually enflamed teen, knocked on the door of his dwelling, and when his mother answered, she pulled down her top exposing a brace of humongous bazooms and said, “Tell your son here they are if he’s still interested”.

For a Meyer fan the house on Arrowhead was a breast man’s Louvre.  Russ was deeply proud of his work and profoundly sentimental.  Photos of former lovers (one of a seductive Uschi Digard in a swimming pool playing a sousaphone) were everywhere and RM memorialized the fact of his couplings with a gold nameplate bearing the inscription, “To the mutual exchange of wondrous bodily fluids”.  The far wall of the kitchen was covered with priceless memorabilia from the films – Bill Teas’s straw hat from The Immoral Mr. Teas, Tura “Varla” Satana’s glove from Faster, Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!, the ice tongs that spelled the end of Lorna Maitland in Lorna, even the wheel chair Meyer stock player Stuart Lancaster used in FPKK.  For me, however, one item in particular was just the best.  In the kitchen, RM had a framed ad from Daily Variety featuring a shot of Erica Gavin trumpeting both his greatness and the huge financial success of Vixen!.  It was one of those ads that asked a series of questions with only one obvious answer, in this case, “Russ Meyer”.  “Who is the man who gave us Vixen!?”, “Who is the man responsible for making a film that broke box office records in Chicago”, “Who is this visionary director…” etc., etc.  Under the final question, the late Eve Meyer (the beauty and brains behind Eve Productions) had written in bold ink, “Who gives a crap?”  Russ laughed it off remembering his voluptuous ex-wife never tired of “busting balls” especially when she controlled the budgets for the films produced under the Eve banner. What a woman.

Russ always said he never felt really close to someone until he’d been through a war with them.  His best friends remained his World War II army buddies, and Roger Ebert, their lifelong friendship initially forged in the trenches at 20th Century-Fox writing the classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  What follows is a free-form reminiscence of the “war” we shared, the seemingly endless working and re-working of A Clean Breast.  While illness ultimately left Russ unable to see the project through to its conclusion or to celebrate his achievement, THE BOOK stands as a remarkable document if not only for its thousands of photographs.  Readers shouldn’t go there expecting to find any great personal insights into the man.  Russ wasn’t that type of guy, and admitted he wasn’t particularly sensitive although he was strongly sentimental and attached to his friends.  RM once told me his autobiography was infinitely better than director David Lean’s because it was longer.

Over the years, ACB grew from one volume to three (as did its price from $70.00 to $350.00) as Russ refused to wrap the project.  RM first got the idea to write his own story after becoming disenchanted with German author Rolf Thissen’s book, Russ Meyer, der Konig des Sexfilms (1987).  Russ was so outraged by what he saw as the tome’s inaccuracies that he successfully sued to block the book’s distribution in America.  What ensued was a period of intense activity lasting years as Russ filled up seemingly inexhaustible reams of yellow legal pads with his story.  He combed his clippings archive and had an assistant obtain Permissions from various entities to reproduce complete articles (most often reviews) in the tomes.  On the strength of my book, Russ brought me in as an “associate editor,” a job that primarily consisted of proofreading, fact checking, and sizing photographs.

Russ, like most people with only a passing acquaintance with the university (his film festivals at Yale and Northwestern), was impressed with academia far beyond anyone who has actually ever had to work within their hallowed halls.  Russ would daily call the I.U. library where I worked (I left the Kinsey Institute in 1986) to ask how to spell certain words, but mostly just to talk.  He always referred to the library as “the Gutenberg” and my colleagues soon recognized his modulated FM radio voice.  After Russ decided only the printing presses of Hong Kong were cutting edge enough to reproduce the thousands of black-and-white duo-tone photos in ACB he compelled me to get a passport.  Never used it.  RM had a falling out with the printer and had all the work shipped to FB Productions, a commercial printer in Chatsworth, California that specialized in producing top quality stand-up movie advertising.  At first, Russ sent printer’s proofs to my home, but later he’d fly me out to Los Angeles annually for a week or so to work shoulder-to-shoulder and bunk with him at his Hollywood digs.  Russ always met me at the Los Angeles International Airport and, with the moxie gained in 40 plus years of navigating the traffic choked streets of Hell A, wended his way along a circuitous route of highways and surface streets.  Most often, he’d be driving his GMC Suburban, a veteran of several motion picture shoots. Once when we were stopped at a light a Mexican street vendor approached the truck and tried to sell Russ a dozen red roses. Without missing a beat, he pointed at me and told the guy, “No thanks, we’re not queer.” Classic Meyer.

A typical working day began with reveille around 5:30 A.M. with Russ eating a bowl of oatmeal seated at the editing machine in his garage in the shadow of shelves of boxed film cuts and a huge vault.  He always appreciated that I didn’t eat breakfast so I could immediately launch into work at a nearby table.  During work on ACB, RM was also cutting down his features for a planned 12 hour compilation film, The Breast of Russ Meyer, and later worked on two direct-to-video (then the format) films – one on then lover, Melissa Mounds, and the other on Pandora Peaks (eventually released on DVD, but finished by RM stalwart Jim “the Handyman” Ryan after his friend of 50 years became too ill to work).

While editing, Russ also fielded phone calls for RM Films and personally took orders for his videos.  After a big sale he’d hold up the completed invoice and exclaim, “Frasier, tonight we eat!”  Often during the day, Russ called me over to the editing machine to show off a particularly groin stirring scene.  “God, what a fucking evil look,” he’d marvel as footage of the hellishly configured Melissa Mounds clad only in a feathered mask coiled into a canvas film bin.  Their tempestuous relationship ended in May 1999 after the stripper attacked the sleeping director with a hammer.  Nothing kills sex quicker than a restraining order.  RM’s long-time film editor Richard Brummer was often at the house on Arrowhead doing sound editing on BRM. Once after Brummer left for the day, RM mused that while his friend and colleague was a superb editor he was incapable of editing a film without the Master’s supervision.  “You have to have this fetish, to adore the bosom vast in order to cut the breast just as it’s at its most perfect.  Brummer is married to a woman who’s built like a broom handle.  What can he know?”.

We’d knock off around 6:00 P.M., have a beer at the house (RM was in a Corona phase for a while), then the best times began.  Russ loved to eat and lived for the camaraderie of “cutting meat” with friends.  RM was a regular at the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard and always entered through the kitchen.  Interestingly, he refused to pay the parking fee behind the restaurant, opting instead to give the Mexican attendant a few bucks (less than the rate) off the books.  Conversation during the dozens of meals we shared was unforgettable.  RM always started off with a stiff drink (“Bombay gin straight up and so cold it’ll hurt your teeth”), ordered, and for the next two hours or more over the meal discussed his movies, friends, women, and THE BOOK (which he considered to be one of the most important things he’d ever attempted).  Russ liked that I only drank beer (“it’s so much cheaper than liquor”) and spoke with contempt of picking up the bloated bar tab of an associate of ecdysiast Pandora Peaks who insisted on quaffing champagne cocktails at $15.00 bucks a throw at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Palm Desert.  Russ also appreciated my insistence on picking up the tab at least once during any visit.  To save me money he’d pronounce, “We’ll eat at the greasy spoon”, Meyerese for the Talleyrand restaurant, his standby eatery located at 1700 W. Olive Avenue in Burbank.

The aforementioned Jim Ryan (the “Handyman” in Eve and the Handyman), a wonderful guy who devoted most of his life to RM, was a frequent companion on these outings.  Booze flowed at a Russ Meyer repast and one drive back from a restaurant near RKO Studios (now part of Paramount) on the corner of Melrose and Gower in Hollywood was memorable.  We were discussing his troubled and checkered relationship with the Hollywood film establishment when he suddenly pulled his truck over next to the studio, walked over to building, unzipped, and pissed on the wall.  “There”, he said peeling away from the curb, “that’s what I think of the whole fucking lot of them.”

Once on the way to a steak joint, Russ said, “I want you to meet the woman who made me a millionaire”.  We drove over to Fred Segal’s, a trendy clothing store in West Hollywood, but Erica (Vixen) Gavin, the shop’s general manager, had already left for the day.  RM owed her big… and knew it.  Best meal ever with Russ?  Easy.  Cactus Jack’s on Highway 111 in Indio, California.  We’d just spent a grueling day on ACB, and Russ felt that it was finally done.  We spent the early evening photocopying the volumes at a local Xerox store then went off to savor the best prime rib in the world washed down with what he called “copious amounts of meaningful grog”. Work on ACB ground on for over a decade with Russ sending printer’s bluelines to my home, me visiting Los Angeles, and my fielding near daily phone calls about THE BOOK.  I probably should’ve noticed RM’s mental deterioration earlier, but when you’re in the middle of something as all-consuming as this project was for Russ it was easy not to see what in retrospect was obvious.  RM was a workaholic and recognizing this essential element in his character I just thought he didn’t want the book to end because he felt it would signal his death.

That said, he kept adding chapters and photos to the volumes like rooms in the Winchester House.  The project ultimately descended into chaos when Russ discovered his typesetter could adjust spaces between letters and words, a process in the printing biz known as kerning.  RM meticulously eyeballed every line to make certain the spaces between the words were exact.  He slept with a dog-eared thesaurus and readily sacrificed the use of an initially well-chosen word in order to use an inferior synonym containing just the right amount of letters to balance out a line.  This went on page after page, draft after draft, until he was unable to keep the corrected drafts in order.  Time and again I was sent the same version of a draft to correct that I had already proofread.  By mid-1999 it was apparent to those in the company that RM was unable to complete the project.  The attorney stepped in and informed the company’s office manager that RM was facing a huge tax bite were the project not completed and published by the end of 2000.  I was brought out in August 1999 for what I knew would be my final meeting with Russ.  I don’t wish to dwell on this unhappy time.  Anyone who has watched a beloved friend or family member fade slowly away fully understands the pain and cosmic injustice of this kind of loss.  It was particularly tough to watch helplessly as a man as vital and independent as Russ went slowly into that Good Night.

Again, Jimmy McDonough graphically chronicles this painful chapter of RM’s life.  With apologies, it’s just too sad to rehash here.  I wrapped the book for Russ and after it was printed in 2000 was sent a signed copy.  I have no reason to believe he even remembered who I was when he was prompted to sign it.  Flashback to August 1999 as I’m leaving the “Russ Meyer Museum” for the final time, the manuscript completed, our war nearly won.  Realizing I’d never see him alive again, I asked the Great Man if he’d be kind enough to sign the book I’d written on him in 1990.  Here’s what he wrote:

–David K. Frasier / 3-2-12

MEYER MONTH – Alaina Capri, M(e)y(er) Kind of Gal.

17 Mar

Out of all the numerous women to have graced Russ Meyer’s filmography, only one stands out miles in front of the others for me. As soon as I clapped my eyes on Alaina Capri I knew that she was my Meyer girl. A figure to die for with curves in all the right places, a perfectly coiffed beehive, bedroom eyes laced with feline eyeliner that I can only dream of being able to do, a mouth that reels off sardonic, acid-tinged one-liners that cut through the air like a knife. Capri, like many of the other Meyer women, was one of a kind but sadly only starred in two of the directors features. Oh, how I wish she’d done more.

Not a great deal is known about Capri. One of eight children, Alaina was born Aelina Tuccinardi on June 13th 1939 and grew up in Inglewood, California. At one point during her teenage years she won a Miss Muscle Beach competition and had her picture published in the local paper. None other than Russ Meyer saw this picture and wound up taking photographs of a then sixteen year old Tuccinardi on a Malibu beach. In volume three of his autobiography A Clean Breast there is a picture of Alaina on a beach. Wearing a swimsuit and clutching a beach ball, she shows signs of becoming the woman in the Meyer films that so many people will remember her for. The photograph is not credited to Meyer, nor does it say that this was the original picture in the newspaper that Meyer first saw so it’s hard to determine its source. Needless to say, she looks adorable and could have quite easily wound up becoming a model with the looks she had.

Eventually Tuccinardi ended up at UCLA studying acting. Whilst there, she fell in with music impresario Oliver Berlinger who renamed her Alaina Capri and put her in a female pop trio called The Loved Ones. There is very little information around about the trio and it would seem that the name ‘The Loved Ones’ was rather popular during the 60s and 70s with bands and singers. The only article I can find that says anything about them is The Spokesman-Review dated June 9th 1966. Capri and her fellow singers, Arleen Starr and Suzanne Covington, all sing and dance ‘modern teen dance steps‘. The rest of the review suggests that they weren’t of much interest… Before flying off to do a gig in Japan, Berlinger saw an advert by Russ Meyer looking for buxom women. He sent in a photo of Capri and Meyer got in touch straight away to say he wanted her to be in his next film.

Capri had no acting experience aside from an uncredited walk on part in the 1957 release The Delicate Delinquent (which you can view here). The year 1967 saw Alaina and Russ Meyer team up twice for the features Common Law Cabin and Good Morning and… Goodbye!. First up was Common Law Cabin aka How Much Loving Does A Normal Couple Need?  which saw Capri play Sheila Ross, the sexually frustrated wife of a Doctor who wants male attention and makes sure she gets it. Incredibly bored with her straight-laced and dour husband, Ross goes after two other men, sleeps with one of them and eventually gets murdered at the end of the film. In Good Morning and… Goodbye! Alaina plays a similar role, that of Angel, the wife of an impotent farmer whose sexual shortcomings force her to be a sexual predator and sleep with other men in town. Luckily in this film, and thanks to a forest nymph, the film ends happily with everyone able to finally have the sex they want.

It goes without saying that Capri is one of the few women to have starred in a Meyer film who has any sort of genuine acting ability and it’s incredibly disappointing that he didn’t use more of her. Alaina has a natural sassiness that allows her to deliver lines with the perfect timing and a fantastic sting. Tura Satana could beat and knock you down with her words. Capri’s delivery is more like a venomous snake; one bite and your ego is slowly infected until you can’t take anymore. That coupled with the fact that she was one of the most naturally beautiful women that Meyer ever found and put in one of his films makes for an unforgettable double whammy. It says a lot when someone who only ever made two films can make such a memorable impact like hers. Interestingly, Meyer originally wanted her for a role in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls but she had just given birth.

Sadly, it was at the hands of Meyer that Capri decided to not do films again. During filming Good Morning and… Goodbye! Capri got the impression that the film would only allude to nudity (this was also apparently written in the script). Once she saw the film and saw that Meyer had included a lot of her, she got really upset and left Hollywood. Despite having fallen out, Meyer always respected her wishes for privacy and never once gave out her information or details. She even hid her film past from her children whom she only told in 2005 after being interviewed by Jimmy McDonough for his biography on Meyer (they’d already worked it out as youngsters). Currently residing in Malibu, Capri has enjoyed a career as a teacher. I would give anything to have lessons in being a woman from her…

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer, The Pin-Up Photographer.

16 Mar

Most of you will know Russ Meyer as the auteur of sleaze, the most successful and iconic filmmaker in the sexploitation genre. His films are love letters to hypersexual, highly empowered and incredibly curvaceous women. Meyer turned his breast fetish into a profitable career and, whether or not it floats your own boat (which becomes more debatable as his subjects get more exaggerated in his later films), he managed to capture on celluloid a bevy of lovelies in their unique beauty. One cannot deny that Meyer’s camera adored the women it was pointed at. Each of his shots were composed and lit with a knowledge and understanding of photographing the female form that many directors now struggle to achieve, even with good cinematographers behind them. Russ Meyer was so successful because of his extensive experience and career in photography which preceded his filmmaking. Not many people know that Meyer started out as a combat photographer during WWII before moving on to the world of glamour photography.

Evelyn ‘Treasure Chest’ West

Like many men returning from the War, Meyer found nothing but rejection when it came to finding work back home in America. After doing the rounds in Hollywood trying to find film work, Meyer eventually bought himself a Speed Graphic camera and set about photographing the women that he desired the most. The future director started out taking photographs of stripper Evelyn ‘Treasure Chest’ West, doing a deal with the Oakland night club she was appearing in which saw him supply them with free stills in exchange for time taking pictures of her. After continuing to photograph various strippers that came into town (developing his stills in the family bathtub, much to Mother Meyer’s delight), a fellow combat buddy of Meyer’s persuaded him to try to take advantage of the recent boom in girlie mags and become a pin-up photographer. Russ signed up with the Globe agency and found himself shooting pictorial’s for Gent, Fling, Frolic and Escapade amongst a number of other publications.

It was an encounter with one particular stripper that would kick-start the ambition in Meyer to become a filmmaker. Through photographing strippers, Russ met Tempest Storm who was performing at the El Rey Burlesk Theatre, owned by Pete DeCenzie. After doing some stills work which the two men would sell at the theatre, Meyer decided to shoot a short reel of film of Tempest doing her stuff. After smuggling the reel into Kodak to be developed, Meyer showed the it to DeCenzie who loved it and invited Russ to film a show at the El Rey. That reel of film became Meyer’s first short film, The French Peep Show (1950), which is now presumed lost.

Although bitten by the filmmaking bug, Meyer’s enthusiasm and talent for glamour photography never died. During the 1950s he shot numerous photographs of his second wife Eve Meyer, including her pictorial when she became June’s Playboy Playmate in 1955. Eve was probably the only woman to have lingered for any significant time in front of Meyer’s camera and his pictures of her are undeniably is best. All the women he shot look beautiful, well poised and immaculate. Eve just looks something else, stellar almost. The chemistry between her and Meyer is evident in every shot he took. It’s an understatement to say that they just don’t make women like that anymore. Alongside Eve’s Playboy gatefold, Meyer only shot another two; Marguerite Empey and Yvette Vickers.

Meyer would go on to shoot many famous models and actresses during the 50s establishing him as one of the prominent pin-up photographers of the decade. Throughout his life, Russ would snap away at his paramour’s, actresses and muses. Some would appear in publications like Playboy, for instance his pictorial of then-wife Edy Williams to publicise the never made Viva Foxy!, whilst others appear on every other page of his autobiography A Clean Breast like a catalogue of conquests. Clearly a huge influence on his filmmaking career, everything Meyer learnt about exposing and exhibiting the female form he learnt from his stills career and for those who haven’t seen much of it, it’s worth checking out. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

MEYER MONTH – Jimmy McDonough interview

9 Mar

Writer Jimmy McDonough is a big deal in the world of Russ Meyer. This is the man who wrote Meyer’s biography, a feat that probably wouldn’t have happened when it did if Meyer hadn’t have been unwell. Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer is an illuminating portrait of the director with some great stories from all of those who were nearest and dearest to him. The book has been a bible for me since it’s release and I’m very grateful to Jimmy for taking some time out to answer some questions and talk about the great man. To say that this is a personal life-greatest-moment for me is an understatement and my sincerest thanks go out to the guy. His latest biography, Tragic Country Queen, on Tammy Wynette is out now and previous biographies include Neil Young and Andy Milligan. The film rights to Big Bosoms were bought last year and a biopic is currently in the works with director David O. Russell linked to the project.

How did you first become aware of Russ Meyer and his career?

At some point I spied an old girlie mag calendar with photos Meyer had snapped of Lorna Maitland and June Wilkinson. Kablam!  His photos were so much better than nearly all the competition.  There was an X factor present–a crazed euphoria, a palpable sense of whoopie…One felt it in the grinch, as RM would say.
 

What was the first thing of his that you saw and what were your first impressions of it?

I think it was Supervixens at an Indiana drive-in when I was a teen.  Seeing Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens during its theatrical run at at a decript old Jersey City movie palace is what really blew the back of my head off, though. The way the camera just locked onto Kitten Natividad and didn’t let go.  The barrage of closeups: lips, eyes, breasts, radios, pinatas, and the wiggling wheel beneath a bedframe.  An insane attention to the details, down  to the garish set painting.  Meyer appears in the end of the film, addressing the audience as he packs up his film equipment.  The guy came at you with the con-man confidence of a car salesman who has you in a bear-hug and won’t let you leave the lot until the deal is sealed.  It felt so personal, so maniacally single-minded. Once the lights came up I felt as if I’d hallucinated the whole thing. Everything about the film was wacko.  Yet it’s strangely heartfelt.  Beneath was a tribute of sorts–a love letter to Kitten.  
 
How have these impressions changed over the years (for better or worse) and did doing the research for the book radically change how you felt about his work (film or photography)?
 
Not that I can think of.  Doing the book only enhanced my appreciation of his work.  And underscored how undeniably cuckoo RM was.  Crazy family + combat photography + big bosoms + industrial photography + fear of insanity…it all made sense, really. 
 
Where did the idea for the biography come from?
 
It was in the back of my mind for years.  I had worked in the exploitation business for that other RM exploitation king on the opposite coast–Radley Metzger–and knew the lay of the land.  My first published book was on Andy Milligan, who was the grimy, gritty low-down opposite of Meyer in every way.  I wanted to go to the glossy end of the exploitation spectrum, say a few more things and get the fuck out.  Plus I knew the book would be a million laughs.
 

Was it something that you’d always had in mind after discovering Meyer?

Yes.  I spend a long time thinking about projects before I do them, because once I jump in I won’t quit until it’s done.
 
What was or is so special about Meyer that made you want to undertake the project?
 
I am attracted to people who are helpless in the face of an obsession. I can relate. Obsessions drove Meyer.  And in the end they did him in. For better or worse, I see certain things in the same way as RM.  Not everything, thank Christ, but…certain things. My wife Natalia could be a Meyer star. All the right curves…long, flaming red hair…the same bad attitude.  She could hold her own with any of the Faster, Pussycat gang, believe me.
 
During the project, did you at any time feel like you may have taken on too much, in terms of trying to contact those closest to him, going through his extensive archives, the fact that he was, at the time, ill?

No, I wish I had found more interviewees, actually.  I never went through RM’s archives, unfortunately.  This was a completely unauthorized project.

 
Did you have any real difficulties along the way, in terms of contacting people or getting permission from his estate?
 
It took a bit of time to convince some people of my sincerity.  A zillion nutcases have chased after these women.  I actually had a number for Uschi and when I left a message I got so carried away I probably sounded like perv #4,567.  I’m not 100% certain it was still her number but when I called back a few days later it was disconnected.  Needless to say I never got to speak to her.  A great loss for the book, unfortunately. I sought no permission from the estate nor was any granted.  
 
Was there anyone in particular who really needed to be persuaded or talked around into contributing? You mention in the book how difficult it was to try and arrange meeting with Erica Gavin and how Alaina Capri had abandoned the business all together and never really talked about her time with Russ.
 

I specialize in difficult characters.  Look at my books. Gavin is the Howard Hughes of the Meyer women, and the most psychedelic. She’s impossible to pin down on anything, even going to the Quickie Mart.  But once gotten Erica was fantastic.  She even flashed her cans at me, albeit in a brassiere.  That chick should write a book–she’s been a lot of weird and wondrous places. Alaina was nervous about talking after all these years.  She didn’t want to be laughed at.  I hope I did her justice. Capri’s tops in my book.

Do you think (without sounding incredibly cruel) that his illness worked in your favor at the time of compiling research? 

I had no idea what kind of shape RM was in when I started the research.  I thought about chucking it once I knew the extent of the situation.  His friends encouraged me to plow ahead, though, which was inspiring.  But I have to say if RM had been in cognizant of my project there is no doubt in my mind that after my third question he would’ve punched me in the nose and unleashed the lawyers.  Believe me, I would’ve loved to have picked that strange brain but Meyer wasn’t an introspective guy.  I think he would’ve find my approach to be an assault on the fantasy.  Needless to say I don’t see it that way.  The women are what interested me, anyway.  They hadn’t talked all that much. RM had ample opportunity to tell his story and spent three self-published volumes doing so–A Clean Breast.  What an achievement–over a thousand pages and nary an insight to be found.  Fantastic photos, though.

On ‘A Clean Breast’, do you think (if he’d completed it) his original idea of doing an autobiographical film would have been somewhat more insightful?

The bit of The Breast of Russ Meyer floating around is just fantastic.  That was the last Meyer project of any interest, in my opinion. Insightful?  I don’t know if Meyer was capable.

Did his illness or seeing him ill change your view or opinion on him in any way?

I felt for RM.  Again, in the end his obsessions were his undoing.  He’d become a feeble mark begging for mammary salvation, a pathetic john who’d empty his wallet to snuggle up to any big tit.  Curiously it was a position not all that far from the weak males he’d mocked in his films.  And then Meyer lost his mind–literally.  The details are in the book, and it really is like something out of one of his mid-period films.  His old screenwriter John Moran couldn’t have penned a more sordid tale. 

Do you have a favourite/s Meyer girl and did your opinion of her change after you met her (if you did)?

Tura and I really hit it off.  I mean really hit it off. Had circumstances been different…Kitten was absolutely fantastic.  I nearly proposed to her after six questions.  Unfortunately I was already married at the time.  Hanging out with Erica Gavin was a mind-bender.  They were all great and it was a thrill of a lifetime meeting them.  Is there a grifter in the bunch?  This is the world of Russ Meyer, what do you think?

What do you think it is about them that have made them so endearing amongst Meyer/film/sexploitation/cult film fans?

Their spirit.  Dare I say they seem almost pure and innocent these days.

Do you think that that’s part of the charm of Meyer’s work, that by today’s standards of explicitness there’s a great deal of innocence in some of his portrayal’s of sexuality and some of his characters themselves?

Yes. The humor, which doesn’t always work, is another big part.  Sex can be such a heavy, oppressive topic. Meyer lets you laugh at it.  

Did any of them disappoint you in any way in reality?

No.  If anything they were even more impressive.  Life hasn’t been easy for them and they’re not easy dames to live with. Forget the physical attributes, these women vibrate with an energy that could charge 1000 Teslas. There’s a blinding light behind the eyes. Never a dull moment!

What do you think it is about Meyer himself that has kept the girls so loyal and proud of their work and association with him?

However much an asshole Meyer could be, he immortalized these women.  How flattering is that?  Last time I checked nobody’s building me a shrine.

There are a number of instances documented where he has fallen out with his actresses or treated them badly at some point. Is there anyone you think he was particularly harsher on?

Oh, I don’t know, everybody got the short end of the stick sooner or later.  Meyer’s right-hand man George Costello was banished forever when Meyer discovered he’d been consoling Erica Gavin behind his back during the making of Vixen.  During the shoot RM had a secret stash of Treesweet orange juice and Costello was brazen enough to filch one can and slip it to Gavin behind the boss’s back.  RM took this as a great betrayal and never spoke to Costello again. Meyer made little plaques commemorating each film.  And what was on the Vixen plaque?  A can of Treesweet orange juice.  A symbol of Costello’s treasonous behavior.

Did any girl surprise you in any way in reality?

Tura was ultra-right wing, which didn’t exactly surprise me, but it did crack me up.  Very patriotic, loved Reagan and Bush, torture and kill the terrorists, etc. She was very loyal, very sweet and had a way of getting to you. She signed her letters “Always” and she meant it. Tura was just too big for the movies. Too bad.

Out of all the girls featured in his films, who you do think is or are the most memorable/most typically Meyer/most overrated or underrated? Are there any that you think he should have worked with more or less? 

I just wish there was more of all of ’em.  More Tura, more Lorna, more Uschi, more Kitten, more Alaina, more, more, more…I’m not a big Edy Williams fan but she certainly clawed out her place in the Meyer oeuvre.  RM wasn’t interested in helping his stars build a career.  He was always lusting after next year’s Cadillac. I really, really wish Eve had done more film work.  And I wished somebody had properly interviewed her.  What a dame.  

I’m sure some will consider this heresy, but Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t my favorite, either.  I admire the achievement but it’s a little too chilly, a little too arch for me.  Give me Mondo Topless/Common Law Cabin/Faster, Pussycat…

RM’s last couple of films are just an embarrassment.  His taste was of course vulgar, but exuberantly so.  At the end it turned grotesque, tired, creepy.  The women seem factory-made, joyless. You feel embarrassed for the guy, cringe at his pathetic fetish.  This wasn’t the case previously, at least not for me.  He made it all seem fun.  And funny.

At what point do you think his career really peaked?

In 1968 Vixen made a pile of dough, so much so that a desperate 20th Century Fox came knocking on Meyer’s door to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  A Hollywood studio INVITED an exploitation filmmaker into the kingdom and let him run amok.  Unheard of!  The joke was definitely on them for once.  And the moolah was in the Bank of Meyer!  Fantastic.

Mentioning Eve Meyer, how important do you think she was in relation to Meyer’s early career? She seems to have played a big part on the finacial side of business, helping Russ out on a few occassions…

From what his friends told me, Eve really understood Russ.  And could stand up to him.  Eve was a very sharp dame and a fantastic businesswoman–she distributed his films.  I think RM’s life can be split into BE and AE.  Russ seemed increasingly rudderless After Eve.  But nobody was going to tell RM what to do.  Look where it got him.  Heaven.  And hell.  Had he been a little more humble…but who wants a humble Meyer anyway? His life was like his movies.  Absolutely nuts from beginning to end.

Women are the obvious topic to discuss when it comes to Meyer but he also had a lot of male friends and actors around him from his service during WW2 and the films he made. Which of them stand out as being the most memorable and loyal towards him?

Undoubtedly the most loyal was Anthony James Ryan AKA The Handyman.  He helped create the movies, appeared in them, and cleaned up many a Meyer mess.  He was loyal until the end.  He knew how crazy Russ but was loyal until the end.  A hell of a guy, Ryan.  I loved visiting his dusty old photography store to shoot the shit. Little bits of Meyeribilia were everywhere, like shots of Kitten Natividad appearing in a local parade.  I’d rather have a colonoscopy than attend such an event, but a parade with Kitten.  Now that’s exciting.  I hope she threw candy to the kids from the back of the Caddy.

How much of an impact do you feel Meyer had on cinema in terms of depicting sex and sexuality on screen?

He kicked down the door and did it with panache and wit.  However crude and bizarre the point of view may be, RM was there first.  He fought many an expensive battle in court defending his films.  Everybody who came after benefited from his ballsy and brazen approach.  To what end, one may ask.  Nowadays anything goes and how dull is that?

As an independent filmmaker, do you think he is successful in what he did?

Are you kidding me?!?  The guy saw his demented fantasies come to life on the silver screen, had incredible broads throwing themselves at his feet and he made a shitload of dough–the kind of loot that allows you to tell the world to take a fucking hike.  He circled the globe attending tributes to himself.  And outside of the films for 20th Century Fox RM owned everything he created and controlled how it was presented down to the minute details.  He got away with everything,  answered to nobody.  I don’t know about you but I’d trade places in a second.

The bulk of sexploitation is really tedious unwatchable crap.  Dave Friedman was a hell of a guy, but his posters and trailers were far better than most of actual movies. And that’s in keeping with the exploitation con.  Moviemaking was no laughing matter to Meyer.  He gave it his all.  Experiencing Meyer’s work is akin to listening to Little Richard belt out “Keep A-Knockin’.” A runaway train–you either get on board or get the hell out of the way! 

RM nearly killed himself getting shots as a combat photographer in WWII; he nearly killed his cast and crew making these films.  Nobody told me making these films was fun.  Raven De La Croix tore up her feet running like a maniac barefoot and naked through the woods.  You think Meyer cared?  Naaah. RM demanded take after take.  He just wanted it to look good.  So somebody dies, so what?  Filmmaking is war!

My one wish is that Meyer would’ve made a 3D movie.  But the medium wasn’t technically ready for somebody like Meyer.  Could you imagine if he were still around?  Scorsese made Hugo.  Meyer could’ve done Huge-O.

Do you think the content of his films has stopped him from being celebrated or his achievements in independent filmmaking from being recognised at all?

Not really. Love him or hate him, Meyer was recognized as his own genre.  Sure he was vilified by the conservative and the humorless, but RM demanded and got different consideration than most smut peddlers.  Meyer was also lucky–powerful critics like Roger Ebert (it must be said, a fellow tit man) championed him in the mainstream press.  And being hilarious and endlessly quotable made RM great copy and earned him endless ink. He was great at playing all the angles and knew controversy only enhanced box office.  He’s been fully absorbed into our culture–these days you can buy Faster Pussycat t-shirts and lunch boxes at the mall.  Unfortunately the films themselves have become harder and harder to show theatrically or buy in a store and that, I think, has been the worst thing for his longevity.  Nobody’s really promoting or taking care of his work, except for draining the last easy dollar to be made.  Go look at the website for RM Films.  Is it still 1982?

Is there anything about him personally and professionally that you think he isn’t but should be remembered for?

I just think he should be remembered, period.  Everybody agrees that the estate has missed the boat.  No Blu-Rays containing state-of-the-art transfers of his films?  Meyer would’ve been on top of that from the get-go.  Rumors that the negatives are rotting away?  It’s a disgrace.  I think RM would be appalled at the state of his archive.  This is a guy who turned his own home into a museum to himself–where are all his treasures?  Why can’t the world experience them?  There should be a Russ Meyer Museum.  How great would that be? You think people wouldn’t visit, write about it, put it on TV?

It does seem a real shame that for someone who embraced the VHS market so early on, his films haven’t been transferred to BD yet. Who is in charge of his estate? I know that Arrow had some difficulties when they released his films on DVD which seem to be the best and most definitive way of getting hold of them.

Meyer’s secretary and contractor joined forces to become the, ahem, finely-tuned machine that runs the empire.  Everything I have to say about the estate is in the book, specifically the “Janice and the Handyman” chapter.  I’d rather not give them any more attention, they’re a bit internet-excitable when it comes to me.

In regards to his house, the descriptions of it in the book are incredible. What was it like being in that environment where Meyer is literally coming at you from all directions?

I was never in the house, unfortunately.  All my knowledge comes from those who had been there.
 
What do you think of the homages and imitations of Meyer’s work that are raising his profile? Have you seen films like ‘Pervert!’ and ‘Bitch Slap!’? What, if you’ve seen them, do you think of Tarantino and Rodriguez’s references to his work in ‘Death Proof’ and ‘Planet Terror’?
 
Haven’t seen any of these and don’t feel compelled to catch up.  That whole referencing-films-past has become a little cliche, don’t you think?  The TV set on in the background showing Kiss of Death?  You’ve seen a few movies, we get it.  Go teach a class. If I need a jolt of Meyer I just turn on Mondo Topless for ten minutes. What’s that line from The In Crowd–“The original is still the greatest.”
 
In terms of his treatment of women (both on screen and off screen in his personal relationships and friendships), how much do you think he cared for/respected the opposite sex?
 
As great and fun a guy as RM was, he treated everybody like crap sooner or later. There was always suspicion, a plot, a betrayal. Women were certainly no exception.   And yet despite himself he recorded a certain greatness about them, however absurdly specific it is.  I think this talent was beyond his control.  Obviously he never got over dear old mother Lydia.  Interesting that a frequent Meyer POV is a low-angle, I’m-way-down-here-looking-way-up-there at these towering femme infernos.  A child’s eye view, perhaps? It should come as no surprise Meyer came from a demented family.  He was surrounded by a couple of crazy women; enemas were involved.  Need I say more? 

What do you think his honest opinions on male/female sexuality were? 

As Jane Hower–one his last paramours–told me RM was “very straightforward–hug, kiss, touch put it in.”  There’s a picture in the book of Meyer’s spartan bedroom  that says it all. Box of Kleenex on the nightstand, no-frills bed…It might as well be army barracks.  Sex to Meyer was like backing up a Mack truck, dumping a load and  heading straight back to headquarters to hang out with the fellas.  A very old-fashioned guy.  To him oral sex was a commie plot.  Just the word “sexuality” would’ve been met with derision from RM. He couldn’t have cared less about anybody’s needs except his own. “Making love”? “Sensuality”? That was for sissies, Yes-Dear men.  Meyer approached sex the way he tore into a steak: not a lot of finesse and blood dripping off the knife.

How do you think Meyer will be remembered in 50 years time? What do you think people will see as his legacy by that point?

He was a complete original.  How many filmmakers are?  Not many, if you ask me.  A minute or two of Meyer and you know you’ve fallen through a hole in the universe.  A little more interesting than another Spike Lee retrospective or the complete oeuvre of Jonathan Demme.

Lastly, I don’t know whether you can or can’t talk about the film? Not in terms of where it is in production or who is being considered for casting but your view on it. Did you ever think that this would be an opportunity that would happen to you and how deserving do you think Meyer is of a film biopic?

I can tell you that the actress attached to play Eve Meyer was my first choice–she’s a dead ringer for Eve and can convey the mountain of moxie required. Some very talented people are connected to the project.  But it’s Hollywood.  I’ve been through this before.  Of course I wish them the best.  How will they recreate those women, anyway?  CGI, or your dread porn cyborg types?  I hope not.  These were one-of-a kind women.  Hard cups to fill.