Russ Meyer doesn’t mince words, especially when it comes to the title of 1963 short Skyscrapers and Brassieres. Made to accompany the feature Heavenly Bodies, at four and a half minutes long, Skyscrapers is one of Meyer’s shortest pieces of work and gets straight to the point from the first second. Intercut footage of the city landscapes (quite literally shots of skyscrapers and office buildings) of California are shown against footage of model Rochelle Kennedy getting a custom-made bra fitted at a shop called Paulette’s. For a nice little touch, the director has a narrator spewing all sorts of architecture, mechanical engineering and physical principles which make a cute analogy to the dynamics of the bra itself and what it does for the breast. Short and sweet, it’s worth seeing just for the wonderment at how the process of making custom fitted bras at Paulette’s (a real shop of which I can find no information) worked. Definitely an experience that differs greatly from your first bra-fitting at Marks and Spencers.
Russ had been famous for travelling the world over to find women with the biggest and best breasts. He was very careful in shooting me and not revealing too much flesh. And, while Anne was not a great actress, she did have a great set of tits! Working with Russ was a great pleasure. He was respectful, hard-working, and had a great sense of humour.
The thing that almost drove me mad was that I wouldn’t let anyone do my makeup, however I gave in and allowed the makeup man to do it. Well, when he was putting on my false lashes he got glue in my eye. As a result, the eye ran the entire day and the eyelash glue wouldn’t stick. When it was time for my closeups, all I could think about was they everyone would be able to see this flapping false eyelash that had come unglued at the edge!
I finally calmed down and explained that they would have to somehow reach the producer (Russ) who I am meeting at the designer’s studio. When they found out I was an actress, they were very accommodating. They did indeed locate the studio through a cross directory and let Russ know that they had arrested me, but it wasn’t serious. It had been a parking ticket that my former boss’s son had received when he had borrowed my car and failed to let me know that he had gotten the ticket. Fortunately, the ticket was only $10, which I paid and then they released me.
You returned to work with Meyer again on 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, what was your experience working on this like compared to Finders Keepers?
Some of the people who worked on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls had previously worked with Russ. Of course, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was with 20th Century Fox and the cast was very large. And orchestrating a large cast of people was very different from the small, intimate sets that he had been used to when he was making a Russ Meyer film. A studio film environment was very different and there were people there looking over his shoulders, publicity people. There were business voyeurs, photographers, extraneous people that wouldn’t have been present on a smaller Russ Meyer set.
I had the fortune to work with Russ on Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, The Seven Minutes and I did the entire voice track for another actress who met the breast requirement, however, her voice was terrible and had to be dubbed. I’ve forgotten the movie title but the character was Junk Yard Sal (the film Roby is referring to is Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, the actress is June Mack – Lydia). Russ called me in to dub the film. It was great fun! I was able to do all the sexual things without actually being seen. When Russ screened the film, as we were walking out of the screening, I overheard the actress talking to one of her friends excitedly, “I had no idea I sounded that good.” She never knew that it wasn’t her voice. I was very proud that I had captured her rhythm well enough that she didn’t even know that it wasn’t her voice! In real life she was an S&M professional (sadomasochist professional). She was murdered not long after the movie was made. I’m not sure if the crime was committed by one of her clients or not (it is well-known, but also apparently proven wrong, that Mack was murdered by one of her clients – Lydia).
The last time the Meyer girls got together was at Russ’s memorial service. We all got together afterwards and shared stories. We said that we would continue to get together. Unfortunately, we didn’t.
The only person that I have remained in touch with is Harrison Page (Vixen!, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). As a matter of fact, Harrison and I are both members of the SGI, a worldwide Buddhist organization. I started practicing Buddhism 40 years ago, and as a new member, I introduced Harrison to the practice.
I found no similarities in Meyers style to Van Peebles. I worked with Van Peebles on Sweetback as a favour. It was my only experience working with him and it was a frustrating experience. I am proud of the role I created, but much of the anger and frustration came out of the moment. There was nothing comfortable about the experience. But perhaps that’s what it was supposed to be. Sweetback was “raw.”
HONOURABLE MENTION – June Mack
Unbelievably I can’t find any record of June Mack’s measurements anywhere but it’s safe to say that her enhanced boobs were some of the most unforgettable in all of Russ Meyer’s films. Known for playing Junkyard Sal in Beneath The Valley of the Ultravixens, Mack was murdered shortly after filming finished taking a bullet for a friend.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Alaina Capri
With a 42E bustline, Capri just misses the top ten by making number eleven. She famously had a misunderstanding with the director and refused to work with him again after he showed much more of her flesh on the big screen then he alluded he would.
#10 – JUNE WILKINSON – 43E
Naturally busty Wilkinson was shot numerous times by Meyer in the 1950s with many of his photographs gracing the front covers of pin up magazines. Meyer called Wilkinson and asked her to be in his first feature The Immoral Mr. Teas and she accepted, appearing uncredited in a brief cameo in which only her breasts appear.
#9 – TEMPEST STORM – 44E
Tempest Storm’s naturally conical breasts instantly captivated a young Meyer who took numerous pictorials of the star in the 50s. This eventually led to Meyer shooting her in his first foray into filmmaking, French Peep Show.
#8 – CYNTHIA MYERS – 39F
One of the best known Playboy playmates of the 1960s, it comes as no surprise that Russ had his eye on Cynthia long before he cast her as Casey in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. During her modelling career she featured on the now infamous front cover of Playboy’s December 1968 issue where she was dressed as a Christmas tree.
#7 – LORNA MAITLAND – 42F
Lorna Maitland wasn’t the original choice for the lead role in Meyer’s gothic picture Lorna. In fact, Meyer fired the actress originally cast for having too small a bust after he saw photographs of Lorna on the first day of shooting. Maitland was promptly hired.
#6 – USCHI DIGARD – 44F
Naturally busty Digard found her large boobs attracted a lot of attention and subsequently starred in numerous exploitation films before moving into porn.
#5 – CANDY SAMPLES – 46F
A prolific pornography star of the 70s and 80s, Samples had cameos in both Up! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens.
#4 – KITTEN NATIVIDAD – 34G
Meyer’s paramour for a long time, Natividad first had implant surgery when she was 21 to aid her Go-Go dancing career. Sadly for Kitten, she had a double mastectomy in 1999 after developing breast cancer. It transpired that the silicone used in her implants was of industrial grade and she has since has corrective surgery.
#3 – ANNE MARIE – 67 inch bustline
Whilst her exact measurements elude me, there’s no denying that Ann Marie’s eye-popping 67 inch bust is a sight for sore eyes, made all the more impressive by her minuscule waist.
#2 – DARLENE GREY – 36H
Arguably the most voluptuous girl to have ever appeared in one of Meyer’s films (and yes, they are natural), British Darlene Grey also has the distinction of being rejected by Playboy for being, er… Too big.
#1 – PANDORA PEAKS – 42J
The older Meyer got, the bigger in size his breast fetish got culminating in his last film and leading lady, Pandora Peaks.
Anyone interested in Russ Meyer, or more specifically his glamour photography, needs to check out this site which will be posting photographs, pictorials and spreads only attributed to the man himself. If you’re a fan it’ll be well worth keeping an eye out to see images being slowly updated and if you have any of your own that you know were taken by Meyer, please get in touch!
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.
As you know, I not only write my own blog here but also contribute to a great site called Videotape Swapshop. I’m very lucky to have the guy that runs the site, Michael Commane, write this great piece on Russ Meyer and soviet montage in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. Enjoy guys!
As an underfed film student many moons ago (far too many to care for nowadays) I took a course in early Soviet Cinema. In it, we were told about the theory of montage, the juxtaposition of images to create emotional engagement and how Soviet filmmakers had created a new cinematic language in their commitment to the fast, rhythmic editing of politically charged symbolism. We duly watched screenings of the key examples. Eisenstein’s October, Strike and Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera were all wheeled out in front of us. One day, after a boozy lunch, we were shepherded into the lecture hall to watch The Battleship Potemkin – without the accompaniment of a score. Needless to say, the gentle tick-ticking of the flapping projection reels acted like a metronome and sent the students gathered in the back rows, myself included, into a drunken snooze. To this day, I can only really recall the Odessa Steps sequence as a weird half dream. Oh wait, that’s The Untouchables.
Now the reason I mention this is because, that same evening, after a session at the Union drinking cheap beer and smoking cheaper pot, my fellow underfed student pals and I went back to our digs and chucked Russ Meyer’s Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens into the trusty VCR.
We didn’t do this to be clever or ‘owt – we just wanted to see some tits, but that evening did have a long-lasting affect on me. In a stoned, drunken haze, I realized Meyer had pilfered the Soviet style of montage and used it to meet his own ends. It gave me comfort (and still does) to realize that Film as Art (as our stuffy Bordwell and Thompson text dictated) was just as applicable in the lowest common denominators of film and film appreciation. Not that I consider Russ Meyer to be the lowest common denominator of anything, you understand – though I challenge anyone who claims to have approached his films for the first time to, er, “stroke” their chin; only that it occurred to me that film technique and film theory inhabit the public domain and, as such, are made equally available to, say, Patrick G. Donahue as they are to Orson, fucking, Welles.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, like a lot of Russ Meyer movies, is book-ended by the rich moral commentary of John Furlong who, as the voice of God, describes the small town American milieu of sexual peccadillo. The space in-between, the saucy parable if you will, concerns itself with the fraught relationship between Levonia and Lamar, and specifically, “rear window redneck” Lamar’s libido – fuelled almost exclusively by “back yard” love-making. Naturally, this immoral habit puts stress on the couple’s love life and poor nympho wife Levonia (the vivacious Kitten Natividad) is left with no option but to screw a multitude of grotesque characters – a bug-eyed traveling salesman, a horny teenager, a sweaty brute of a bin man, in a bid to get her conventional rocks off. Along the way, there’s a trip to a gay dentist marriage counselor, some tomfoolery with the fleshy Junkyard Sal (June Mack) and, most bizarrely, a baptism sequence played out on air at the Rio Dio Radio station courtesy of the morbidly endowed disc-jockey Sister Eufaula Roo.
It should go without saying that Meyer throws in an obligatory reference to his “other” favourite subject – the perverted Nazi, and in this instance, Henry Rowland as the Martin Boorman type, gets his kicks in a coffin while buxom beau Ann Marie wiggles about above him. But only when she’s not chewing bubblegum and playing Pong.
Now, if narrative in Russ Meyer movies required a job description, it would be pretty basic at the best of times. It’s all pretty perfunctory and the director’s previous career as a war photographer betrays his predilection for the visual emphasis in filmmaking. Where we might say the narrative function is undermined, it’s probably more appropriate in the case of Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens to describe it as being whole-heartedly, even aggressively, suppressed by a visual bombardment, an artillery barrage of cinematic methods that borrow from the Soviet arsenal. These include, but are not limited to, incredibly quick cutting, attention to detail in the mise en scene and, best of all, a stubbornly static camera.
With the exception of some location photography, the camera never seems to move in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and the effect is something close to being faced with a stills projector strung out on amphetamines. This stylistic approach is not uncommon in Meyer’s films. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls played with sound synchronicity to the image and extreme bursts of static repetition, and before that Mondo Topless had enjoyed immobile depth in frame – all close-ups on swinging breasts one moment and long shots of the go-go girls they belonged to, gyrating in the distant landscape, the next.
Composition is Meyer’s art and for my money, he’s better at it than the Russians any day of the week. Well placed furniture, like the standing lamp which Levonia uses to burn the garbage guy’s balls are theatrical props that litter the micro stages. The fact that Meyer’s camera refuses to glide around these items gives them new meaning. They become either 2-dimensional articles that define the space or symbolic, often phallic, things that work in the absence of movement elsewhere.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens further celebrates the faux Kinetic approach by indulging in lurid swathes of shocking primary colour. In fact it is the film’s most distinctive attribute. Bed springs are painted bright red to stand out in the low-level photography of a sex scene, blood is colour coded to characterise those who bleed it and every conceivable surface and backdrop is given a lurid feature colour treatment- likely to sake the thirst of the most enthusiastic interior designer.
By using montage and defining it with violent colour, Russ Meyer positions himself left of the straight forward and functional exploitation filmmaking principle, getting closer to a psycho-saucy Art House style instead. You could even say the leaning towards Formalism in Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens makes Meyer the cinematic equivalent of a Mondrian or Rothko. Though there is more pubic hair and mammary action to sift through here than you’d typically find in the Louvre or the Tate.
Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens is not Russ Meyer’s best film. Though it is my favourite. It is filled with visual quirks and lovingly crafted with attention to detail. The story is a load of old tosh, but it is told in such an incredibly inventive and comic book fashion, that it is hard to dislike. And in any case, it’s a hell of a lot more entertaining than watching a bunch of miserable Russian sailors running around in silence for over an hour…
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