Tag Archives: Anthony James Ryan

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.

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 Teas (the unpublished interview was recently included in the booklet I did for the Arrow Films release, The Russ Meyer Collection—19 Uplifting Classics).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

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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:

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

David K. Frasier 3/21/20013

MEYER MONTH – ‘Erotica’ (1961)

15 Mar

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.

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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.

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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.

Todd Rosken’s ‘Up The Valley and Beyond’ (2012)

6 Mar

There’s a beautiful little film that’s spent the last year doing the festival rounds and if you’re a Russ Meyer or sexploitation film fan, it’s well worth seeking out. In fact, it’s well worth seeking out if you’re a film fan in general as this cinematic gem is well shot, well acted, well written and utterly full of charm. Up The Valley and Beyond is a short film, based on the book Russ Meyer, The Life and Films by David K. Frasier (itself one of the best books about the director), dramatically exploring the early stages of the marriage between the legendary filmmaker Russ Meyer and his model wife Eve Turner. Beginning with a great montage of black and white World War II footage highlighting where Meyer had come from (a great minute of editing in which editor Nickolas Perry really creates a sense of how the War was seen by the cameramen who filmed it), the film then bursts into gloriously bright 1950s pop colours and prints and shows how Meyer and Turner first met when he was looking for the ‘right built’ woman, eventually becoming a couple. Director Todd Rosken has struck casting gold with his two leads, Jim Parrack (True Blood, Sal, Battle Los Angeles) and Sarah Jones (Alcatraz, Big Love, Sons of Anarchy) who both pull off the real-life big characters. Parrack in particular is delightful as a younger Meyer, nailing the mannerisms and enthusiasm of the man himself and is a worthy candidate for the lead role in any future Meyer biopic. Equally good is Jones in the role of Eve, a tough woman to imitate and who Jones doesn’t quite nail completely in looks but certainly manages to bring across in fiery character.

The film has played at many major film festivals over the last year including the BFI London Film Festival, New York Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and the Palm Springs International Shortfest. What makes it stand out is the way in which Rosken and his crew have interpreted Meyer’s sense of  style and substance, creating a playful fifteen minute dramatic homage that lives up to the infamous directors reputation without being too cliché. The one glaring out-of-place moment is the need for Meyer to validate his heterosexuality which no-one really need ever or have ever questioned. Aside from that, the pace of the piece flows extremely well, even if it does feel more like a promo for a feature than a short film.  Director Rosken kindly took some time out to answer a few questions about the film and his inspiration.

Have you always been a Meyer fan?
I remember watching a documentary on Stanley Kubrick and Woody Allen said that the first time he saw 2001: A Space Odyssey, it looked great but he didn’t really get it and didn’t give much thought to it.  Then a friend of his wanted to see it so he decided to see it again and after the second viewing, Mr. Allen realized how far ahead of everyone else Kubrick was and how it changed his perception of what can be done with film.  This is sort of the same thing that happen to me.  The difference being that it was the first time I saw Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. It was a moment of pure shock that jolted my perceptions of what the art of cinema was.  It was a giant leap forward!  From that point on I was a fan for life. It was after that that I did further research on his films and life.

Where did the original idea for the short come from?
The short film is just a snapshot from one of the many themes further explored in the feature length screenplay. The feature screenplay is based on more than twenty hours of video taped interviews with Russ’ closest friends, cast and crew members including Kitten Natividad, Tura Satana, Erica Gavin, Hugh Hefner and Roger Ebert. The screenplay is also based on a prodigious amount of periodical research (articles from the 1950’s-current) and a book titled Russ Meyer – The Life and Films by David K. Frasier. Making a short film can be just as complex as a feature film. There are no rules… but we wanted to have some type of conflict and resolution. So we decided to focus on the early part of russ’ life as a glamour photographer.

What was it about the period in time of his life that you chose for the shorts subject that interested you?
Being in the army during WWII was Meyer’s favourite time.  The late forties and early fifties was also a time of discovery and invention in America.  Disneyland opens, colour TV was introduced, first atomic submarine launched and the first Playboy magazine published.  It was the time when Russ Meyer met Eve Turner and decided to transition from glamour photographer to filmmaker. It was the beginning of love and his life as a filmmaker.

Is any of the footage during the War montage at the beginning attributed to Meyer at all?
I would love to be able to say that the archival war footage used in the opening montage was footage that Meyer shot, but due to time and budgetary constraints, we had to choose other WWII footage. Creating the opening montage was a huge task! Nazi music, narration and wintage titles… It was like making a movie within a movie. My editor Nickolas Perry, who is also a brilliant director, was able to construct the one minute montage from hours of archival footage that I selected from various sources. There are a couple of shots that bear an uncanny resemblance to Meyer himself. Maybe it’s him?

Love is certainly the word that springs to mind when discussing Russ and Eve specifically. How did you go about tackling their relationship to condense it down for the general feel of the short?
Based on interviews that me and my writing partner, Bobby D. Lux, conducted and periodical research, we were able to see that this was a true and meaningful love that was shared between Russ and Eve.  In the short film we show their love just starting to blossom.

What is it about the filmmaker for you personally that makes him so captivating?
Russ created his own cinematic language.  I think the highest level of achievement for any artist is to create their own aesthetic and Russ did so masterfully . Although he had brilliant and amazing people working with him such as Anthony-James Ryan and Richard Brummer, Russ directed, wrote, produced, shot, and edited all of his films.  He was the personification of what it is to be an auteur (the author of his own work).  In an industry where decision by committee is the norm, Russ was the lightning rod for true independent film making.  Russ Meyer challenged perceptions, broke boundaries, and never failed to entertain!

After doing a bit of research, how did your impressions of him change?
After scouring over everything that has ever been written about the man, my impressions of him didn’t change.  I was able to perhaps understand how he developed his obsession (anyone familiar with Russ knows what that is!) and his style as a filmmaker. Russ’ film making technique was an amalgam of his prior experiences as a  cinematographer in WWII and as an industrial filmmaker. Russ was able to incorporate his experiences flawlessly which gave his films their unique style.

How did you get Parrack and Jones on board?
My casting agent sent the script to their agent who repped both of them at the time. He loved it and gave the script to Jim and Sarah. I met with each of them to discuss the film.  After we did a screen test there was no one else I wanted to audition.  They nailed it! They both brought so much to the filming process and inspired me the whole time. I wouldn’t have been able to make the film without them.

Did you give them any research materials or let them do their own interpretations?
I did give them research materials such as pictures and interviews. I think their performances were original and organic. 

Are you interested in further exploring a feature?
Yes.

How is progress with that coming along?
We have been focusing our attention on the festival circuit but will start contacting producers soon. You can see the trailer for the short film below and on the website www.upthevalleyandbeyond.com.

The Marvelous Mrs. Meyer – Eve Turner (1928-1977)

9 Aug

Behind every successful man, there is a woman. Director Russ Meyer had three wives in his lifetime but it was his second wife, Eve Meyer (nee Turner), who really stands out from the crowd. Russ and Eve were a hardworking team, one that knew how to work with and bring out the best in each other. Even after they divorced, Eve remained a formidable force in his life. She was his original pin-up queen, the star of one of his films, the producer of countless others and a savvy business woman who knew how to deal with the sexploitation film market as much as her husband did. Eve Meyer, one of a kind.

Evelyn Eugene Turner was born into the world on December 13th 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. After working a while for Western Union she was eventually transferred to San Francisco where she became a legal secretary for Pepsi.  Turner always knew she could handle men and match them as an equal, being a great poker player and having a keen interest in fishing. She also has a vivacious sexual appetite, once even throwing Russ Meyer out of her house after a date when he (of all people!) suggested that they wait until their wedding night! A woman ahead of her time, her friend once said of her, ‘Eve was the first person that I ever saw wear pants and heels’.

As soon as Meyer set his eyes on Turner he knew she was the one for him. With a bust described as ‘conically maddening’ (a good thing for our breast loving director), Russ admitted that he knew he’d marry her the minute they’d met and he’d even go on to name his filmmaking company Eve Productions. She was the secretary of a lawyer, he was a divorce client of the said lawyer. He was given her number and the rest is history. After a tempestuous engagement, the two were married on August 2nd 1952 in San Francisco.

Eve was an incredibly beautiful woman and it wouldn’t take long for her to become a pin-up superstar in front of Russ’s camera. Her looks photographed well and her personality shone through in all her pictures; a woman that was able to be a girl-next-door one minute and a sultry vamp the next, Monroe crossed with Turner and then some. She already had some modelling experience behind her when she first met Russ, but it would take him months of persuasion to try to get her to pose for him. It’s not surprising that she eventually became one of the most popular pin-up models of the 1950s, constantly appearing in magazines like Adam, Fling, Modern Man and Frolic. Mr. Meyer even told stories that actress Ava Gardner had the hots for Eve (Mrs. Meyer accompanied her husband on one of his early jobs as a studio stills photographer and Gardner was his first assignment). In 1955, Eve appeared in Playboy as Miss June, in a fantastic spread photographed by her husband. The pictorial is electric and the gatefold in particular is more arousing then any porno picture I’ve seen that’s been shot in the last twenty years or so. The spread featured Eve by the fireplace, wearing a sheer gown that shows just about the right amount, with a look on her face that screams ‘Well, are you gonna come get it or not?’. I have always maintained that she was and is one of the most beautiful creatures to have ever graced this Earth, this spread being proof (a nice selection of some more gorgeous photographs from across her career can be found here).

Not content with being just a model, Eve also did some film work, predominantly working again for Russ in front of the camera. In 1954 or 1955 (dates vary according to sources) Eve starred in Russ’s first involvement within the exploitation movie business, an expose on abortion entitled The Desperate Women. Circling around innocent women and a shady backstreet abortionist (a clichéd character that Meyer revived for his studio picture Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970), the posters showed an angst ridden Eve under the tagline ‘Shall I Take The ‘Easy’ Way Out?’. An uncredited role followed in 1955 as a model in Artists And Models and four years later Eve landed a lead role in war drama Operation Dames aka Girls In Action (1959). Difficult to find on home video format, the only video I’ve seen (posted below) shows that she is just as good in this as she was in her later picture with her husband, her natural good looks standing out and her enviable figure making more than an impression.


It would be Russ Meyer’s 1960 release Eve and The Handyman which saw Eve finally become her husband’s moving-image muse. Eve had been upset that Russ had ignored her whilst filming The Immoral Mr. Teas. Used to working as a team, Eve wasn’t the star in his first feature and was upset that some of the interiors were filmed inside the couples actual home. Russ made up for it by writing his second feature for his wife and, wow, does she shine in it. Using the scenes like Playboy photo shoot set-ups, Eve looks beautiful as she marches around in a trench coat and underwear following the Handyman, played by long-term Meyer friend Anthony James Ryan. By this point already used to Russ’s way of directing and shooting, Eve is one of the few women most comfortable in front of the directors camera throughout his entire filmography. The two could really work well together and it shows. He knows all the right angles to film her at and she knows just what the camera, and audience, are after. It’s just a shame that Handyman would be her last acting role. God knows where she would have gone had Meyer used her as an actress over and over.

It wasn’t just in front of the camera that Eve felt comfortable but behind it too. When Russ Meyer ran into trouble with Bill Teas over the distribution of sexploitation classic The Immoral Mr. Teas (the distribution of which Eve oversaw), it was his wife who came to the rescue, buying Teas out of his 2% share in the film. She also accompanied him to Europe in 1963 to help him shoot the footage that would comprise Europe In The Raw and eventually show up in a recycled form in Mondo Topless. She put up half of the bankroll for the production of Mudhoney. It’s no secret that she hated Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and had to be talked into co-financing it, only for it to bomb on release and drain Eve Productions dry. Eve even bailed out Russ during the production of Vixen! after he ran out of money, a bail out which saw very hefty returns in profit. Basically put, no Eve, no sexploitation/cult film classics from the 1960s. In total she produced fourteen of her husbands films, both his independent and studio releases. What do you expect from the girl who learnt to develop photographs so she could develop her husbands own pictures of her!

Once things started heating up for Russ in the mid-sixties, things in his marriage began to cool down. Eve reportedly didn’t like the direction his career was going in and was terrified of him getting involved with other women. Eve also began to drink, and by drink I mean really drink, which Russ detested. The two eventually divorced in 1968. An amicable separation (apparently even using the same attorney), the two still remained friends up until Eve’s tragic death in 1977. She was the distributer of all Russ’s films and produced a significant number of them after their divorce, including the studio pictures made under 20th Century Fox. Ever the savvy businesswoman, in 1970 she sold the entire catalogue of Meyer’s films to Optronics Laboratories for home video viewing. In 1971 she produced her only non-Meyer feature, The Jesus Trip, a drug/religion drama that involved motorbikes concealing heroin and a nun that doesn’t know whether she wants love or the Church. In 1975 there was a rumour that Eve was planning to write a book about her years collaborating with Russ that was to be titled This Doll Was Not X-Rated. Sadly the book never materialised but one wonders that it might have been full of juicy stories about the pair.

Eve Meyer died on March 27th 1977 in one of the deadliest aviation accidents in history. Arriving in the Canary Islands from Los Angeles for a holiday, Meyer’s plane was hit by another Boeing aircraft. Due to dense fog along the runway, neither plane nor Air Traffic Control could see that two planes were about to collide. In total, 583 people died with one plane being wiped out in its entirety. Despite their divorce, Russ was reportedly beside himself.

There is no doubting that Russ and Eve were meant for each other and loved one another very much. Not that their marriage was an easy one, with a fair few infidelities on Mr. Meyer’s part and a few alleged lesbian dalliances on Mrs. Meyer’s side. She also wanted children, whilst he was adamant that a family would only get in the way of his career. During the shoot for Lorna, Eve checked herself into a hospital for an unknown infection. Her words to Russ when he finally visited her were apparently ‘I can never have a baby, now. I hope you’re satisfied’. God knows how Eve would have felt if she found out that Russ actually had an illegitimate son with one of his starring ladies. No doubt their explosive marriage would have been far shorter. Differences aside, the two were a force to be reckoned with. Each knew the best in each other, what the audience wanted and how to deal with the business side of things. It’s hardly surprising that Russ Meyer’s most successful years were those with Eve at his side, whether it be as his muse, producer, wife or business partner. Whilst the world of sexploitation owes a lot to Russ, it seems that he couldn’t have done it without Eve.

Eve Meyer, one of a kind.

A Real Hero – Russ Meyer’s ‘Eve and The Handyman’ (1960)

3 Jul

Eve and The Handyman isn’t the most exceptional film in Russ Meyer’s catalogue but it stars one of his all time greatest finds; his second wife Eve Meyer. Eve had the looks and the attitude to hold her own and it’s an undeniable shame that Handyman is the only film that Mr Meyer made with his wife in an acting role. But let us rejoice that this fun little romp was made at all, the tale of a hard-working handyman being followed by a mysterious woman on a mission.

In 1959, Russ Meyer had already broken new ground in film with his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas, the film which invented and kickstarted the sexploitation genre. Teas proved popular and was a big success, showing the world that whatever experience Meyer had gained behind the camera during his photography career was experience that transcended well onto moving image. Not just a successful pin-up photographer, Meyer knew he could become a successful filmmaker (indeed one of the most successful independent American filmmakers of all time), only there was one problem. He’d upset his wife Eve by neglecting her during the production of Teas. As a duo, they were a formidable force in the cheesecake photography business, Mr. Meyer the talented photographer and Mrs. Meyer the beautiful Playboy centrefold. Meyer’s answer? Eve and The Handyman, with his wife in the lead role.

Eve, as beautiful as she always was, plays a woman spying on a hapless handyman as he tries to get on with his days work. Kitted out in a trench coat and beret, Eve follows the handyman, taking notes and trying to get his attention (stripping to hitch a lift being a good attention seeking attempt). Similarly to Teas,  comedic encounters ensue (lets not forget that although Russ Meyer may have had his own unique brand of humour, he certainly knew how to milk it and use it to his advantage, with this film sowing the seeds that would eventually grow into the humour of 1962’s Wild Gals of the Naked West) until we reach the revealing, if not slightly underwhelming, closing climax. Just like other filmmakers at the time, Meyer was copying the format he had previously created with Teas, and for the first time introduces his idea of women as being sexually active as opposed to the passive model that had been widely portrayed. In this instance, roles are reversed and Eve becomes the voyeur with the handyman in the objectified role.

The film is all about Eve and she owns the screen time she is given. Yes, there are other voluptuous women (briefly) in the feature but they don’t have the sassy attitude that Eve possessed. An incredibly bright woman, Eve knew how to wrap people around her finger, using all her charms to her full advantage and every time she appears on-screen she lights up the shot. By this point in time a professional photographer, Eve’s composure in her different roles is something few other of Russ Meyer’s leading ladies managed to possess. Simply put, Russ knew how to photograph Eve and Eve knew how to move for the camera. As a moving image pictorial, this is one of the best examples of Eve’s work. It is such a shame that after the film was completed and distributed she decided to stay behind the camera for the rest of her working relationship with Russ. Not that that was a bad thing, a natural business woman, Eve became an important producer on a number of Russ’s features and financially pulled some of them from the brink of being no more. Aside from a war picture, Operation Dames, filmed the year before (Eve and The Handyman was shot in 1960 and released in 1961), Eve Meyer only made two films in a leading role, a number that should be a little higher.

And let’s not forget the Handyman himself, Anthony James Ryan. Ryan was another combat photographer that Meyer had met during the War and the two became very good friends in the years after, a loyal friendship that lasted right up until Meyer’s death. Russ was very fond of the Handyman character, one might argue a step up from the somewhat female-phobic Mr. Teas (the two characters are essentially the ying and yang of each other), and one that Meyer liked to resurrect now and then, even cropping up (sadly) in his last feature Pandora Peaks. The handyman was ironically a role that Ryan would end up playing throughout the directors life, looking after him throughout the years, producing and funding some of his projects and even finishing Pandora Peaks when Meyer became too ill to complete it himself.

Premiering at the Paris Theater in Los Angeles on May 5th 1961, Eve and The Handyman was another success for Russ Meyer. Playing on the handyman role, the first ten thousand customers were promised a free plunger and members of the plumbers’ union got in for free. What was an incredibly small production for Meyer reunited him with his previous producer Pete DeCenzie, who had left Russ and Eve to go it alone. With DeCenzie back on board, that year Meyer went on to shoot and release Erotica (out of circulation since release and now presumed lost) whilst Eve began to take a behind the scenes role. Sadly in 1977, Eve was involved in one of the worst disasters in aviation history, the Tenerife Airport disaster in which two airplanes crashed, and died. Eve and The Handyman is, and remains, a testament to their relationship and working partnership.

Top 10 Russ Meyer Men

6 May

It would be an understatement to say that director Russ Meyer’s world was dominated by women, but it would also be a misconception to think that this was entirely the case. Just as much as there are women that shaped and characterised parts of Meyer’s life, in equal measure are the men that also coloured various points in his career. So, for once, lets forget about the big bosoms and celebrate those with the square jaws!

#10) German men
A big generalisation to start this countdown with but it’s well-known that Russ Meyer disliked Germans, probably as a reaction to his time spent in Europe during WWII. The director hated the Nazi regime that swept over Germany during the 1930s and 40s and frequently derided Adolf Hitler (yes, I know he was Austrian…) and Martin Bormann in his later pictures. Meyer’s long-absent father was also German, leaving his mother to raise him alone. Go figure.

#9) Harry Sledge
Mean. Ruthless. Vile. Murderous. Chilling. Impotent. Harry Sledge is the nastiest guy in the history of Russ Meyer’s career and the instigator of the most violent scene in the whole of the directors career, the infamous bath scene in the 1975 release Supervixens.

#8) Anthony James Ryan
Many of Meyer’s female stars stayed loyal to him until the very end but if there was ever a male counterpart to all of those combined it would be Anthony James Ryan. A friend since he toured with the sexploitation director in WWII, Ryan was the titular male star of Eve and the Handyman (1961), a producer and writer on several other Meyer projects and looked after the legend during his illness in his last years.

#7) The Old Man
Sleazy, creepy, deceitful and a family man?! Stuart Lancaster’s portrayal of The Old Man in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! ensured his infamy in Meyer-verse by creating one of the most popular villains in his filmography. Confined to a wheelchair, the bitter and twisted man looks after his two sons on an isolated ranch in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Traumatized by his wife’s death, hiding all his wealth in his chair and raising a disturbed and mute son into a muscular vegetable drive this man to eventual insanity and death at the hands of some dangerous and beautiful women. Camp, hilarious and vile. Perfect.

#6) David K. Frasier
Another personal friend of the director, Frasier helped Meyer archive his library for his autobiography A Clean Breast and again for Frasier’s reference book Russ Meyer: The Life and Films. Frasier’s opening chapter ‘Russ Meyer: American Auteur’ remains one of the most comprehensive and informative accounts of the directors career and filmography and Frasier recently wrote an excellent booklet to accompany Arrow Films re-release of their Russ Meyer box set. More must read literature for serous Meyer/sexploitation film fans and scholars.

#5) Charles Napier
The one and only square-jawed actor, Napier was to men what actress Tura Satana was to women in Meyer’s films. Napier was the epitome of the male, Meyer’s archetype for the sex and most loved character actor. Friends since they met on the set of 1970 release Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, Napier went on to star in a further three of Meyer’s pictures; Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes and Supervixens.

#4) Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell
One of Russ Meyer’s greatest male (or should that be female…?) creations, Z-Man is a legendary character within the world of cult film. Loosely based on music producer Phil Spector, Z-Man is the villainous producer at the heart of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; host of the best partes, full of theatrical antics and spouting some of the best quotes cinema has to offer with Shakespearean deftness.

#3) Jimmy McDonough
Succeeding where many failed, McDonough is the author of Meyer biography Big Bosoms and Square Jaws, currently being adapted for screen. Prior to becoming ill, Meyer had already stopped one writer from publishing a biography on him and no doubt had Meyer not been ill, he would have stopped Jimmy too. Big Bosoms is an honest and interesting account of the directors life, amplifying his legacy and illuminating light onto the mans character. A must have for fans.

#2) Roger Ebert
Life-long friend of the sexploitation director, legendary film critic Roger Ebert wrote the screenplay for Meyer’s studio masterpiece Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Not that the collaboration stopped there. Ebert, under a pseudonym, also went on to write a further two screenplays for the filmmaker, Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, whilst also writing the script for the ill fated Sex Pistols film Who Killed Bambi?. Script-writing aside, Ebert was also important for being one of the first film critics to publicly praise Meyer’s work, draw attention to it and describe him as an auteur, championing the director until hs death.

#1) Mr. Teas
The man who started it all, Mr. Teas was the titular character from Meyer’s feature debut The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). A simple man who starts seeing women in various stages of undress after an anaesthetic, Mr. Teas was the voyeur that Meyer knew existed in most men and who Meyer decided to make films aimed at. Rather innocent in nature compared to later male Meyer specimens, Teas was almost scared, if not terrified, by the beautiful creatures he kept seeing before him, his surprise echoing the shock of the male audience who had never seen nude women in anything other than nudist documentaries or in illegal pornography. Certainly one of the most important male characters in the history of sexual depiction in Western film, without Teas there would have been no sexploitation genre and the later pornography market probably wouldn’t have flourished as quickly as it had.

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