HONOURABLE MENTION – Z-Man’s Superwoman costume (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
One of the sharpest dressed characters of 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it’s Z-Man’s final outfit that stands out the most; his Superwoman outfit. Forget a costume akin to something Wonder Woman might wear, this is a regal ensemble that makes as much impact as the declaration he makes; that he is in fact a she. With a colour scheme that tries to add some legitimacy to his claims (purple as a colour has often been related to monarchy and money as if he can buy his gender through money or respect), he tops the outfit off with a simple gold crown which says he/she’s in charge. For those that stand in his way he has the answer of a sword, one of the ultimate phallic symbols which also represents his willingness to castrate his male identity.
HONOURABLE MENTION – Vixen’s yellow bikini (Vixen!)
An instance where costume reflects the character’s personality, Vixen’s bright yellow bikini is as fun-loving, outgoing and confident as she is. Standing out against the natural colours of the forest, the bikini ensures that she is the one that stands out amongst the small community in which she lives making her all the more desirable.
#5 – Ashley St Ives crochet dress (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
Ash St. Ives (Edy Williams) is a superficial porn star out to sleep with whoever she wants, whenever she wants. So it’s hardly surprising that one of the most memorable costumes from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is Ives’ beige crotchet dress, which leaves very little to the imagination. Consisting of pants and a dress that comprises a bikini top with a panelled body piece, the dress is the perfect visual representation of Edy Williams’ character; superficial, vapid and attention seeking.
#4 – Varla’s black jumpsuit (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!)
Second only to Supervixens in terms of iconography (see below), Tura Satana’s black get-up in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is one of Meyer’s most recognised and imitated visuals. The all black, skin-tight catsuit combined with her lethal moves effectively shows her off as the sleek killing machine that she is, as well as representing the dichotomy of gender stereotypes that she represents. The boots and leather gloves she wears are masculine traits to identify with whilst the fact that she doesn’t mind getting her clothes sweaty and dirty shows she isn’t afraid to be involved in some rough and tumble. Whilst the catsuit is certainly figure hugging, Satana as Varla is pretty much covered up in comfortable racing gear that wouldn’t be out-of-place on a man. The plunging neckline and exposed cleavage (Satana wore a custom-made bra to make sure she stayed in) are the only indication of her female sexuality which she always uses to her advantage. Meyer took a similar approach with Charles Napier’s serial killer character Harry Sledge in Supervixens, kitting him out in all black and gloves to be a male counterpoint to Varla.
#3 – Mr. Teas’ jumpsuit and straw hat (The Immoral Mr. Teas)
Inspired by Jacques Tati’s character Mr Hulot, Mr Teas’ brightly coloured jumpsuits and straw hat make him visually all the more detached from the world he is already emotionally scared of. Whilst the scantily clad and nude women he stumbles upon seem relaxed in their environments and at one with nature, Mr Teas in his absurdly loud orange jumpsuit looks more like an astronaut stranded in a world that he doesn’t really understand which links him in some way to his viewing audience who would have been viewing the film as new territory themselves.
#2 – Casey and Roxanne’s fancy dress costumes (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls)
He may have had a few issues but Z-Man’s choice of costume for lesbian lovers Casey (Cynthia Myers) and Roxanne (Erica Gavin) to wear at his costume party in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the perfect visual metaphor for their relationship. Roxanne was very much the Batman figure to Casey; rescuing her, taking her under her wing and clearly being the dominant figure in the relationship. In return Casey was the perfect Robin, happy to always be by Roxanne’s side. Whilst Gavin stays in her Batman gear for a while, Myers only wears her Robin outfit briefly but it makes an impression. This is one of the best instances in Meyer’s work where costume really reflects the characters wearing them. Making it even more fun, the outfit Myers wears is one that Burt Ward wore himself in the 1960s Batman television series.
#1 – SuperLorna’s red shirt (Supervixens)
Christy Hartburg only ever starred in one Russ Meyer film and it wasn’t a long appearance either but when it comes to the iconography of Meyer’s cinematic career, it’s Hartburg’s costume from Supervixens that tops the list. Tiny white shorts, hair in bunches and a pinky-red shirt tied at the waist, exposing a massive cleavage that one can’t help but notice in all its glory. Whilst Satana’s costume is visually just as iconic, it’s the above picture of Hartburg that is regularly used to advertise Meyer’s work (from DVD box sets to t-shirts, mugs to book covers and usually to accompany articles in magazines and film books) and was the main image used in the Supervixens publicity campaign. The perfect image to sum up the women that Meyer liked to portray in his features; outgoing, fun and provocative. Oh, and very top-heavy.
Lydia and I have often had conversations broaching the idea of recasting movies we adore on a strictly ‘if you had to’ basis, and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is one that’s come up often due to the large ensemble cast. Made in 1970, BtVotD’s (as it shall be referred to from here out) tells the story of an all female rock group and their misadventures in being ‘discovered’ in Hollywood at the tail end of the ‘free-love’ era. The film was auteur Russ Meyer’s first studio production in a two-picture deal with 20th Century Fox. Originally planned as a sequel to Fox’s 1967 hit Valley of the Dolls, the film was forced to distance itself from Mark Robson’s picture after author Jacqueline Susann was appalled by the prospect of a ‘soft-core porn’ director making a sequel to her original story. This, and an X-Rating courtesy of the MPAA, did not stop the film’s pulling power at the box office, however, grossing nearly ten-times it’s $900,000 budget upon it’s release. To this day, according to screenwriter Roger Ebert, BtVotD has grossed over $40 million in theatrical and video sales to date.
I learned a long time ago that nothing in Hollywood is sacred. If there is money to be made with a remake, then you bet it will get made. When I think of BtVotD however, I can’t imagine it ever being remade. The original was so completely outrageous that I think even if it didn’t exist, it wouldn’t be made today. That itself made the ‘fictional’ task of re-casting the movie for a modern remake problematic for me. Not only do I hold the film very dear to me, but also I just can’t see it ever happening. For me this is like being asked to re-cast Twin Peaks. You just couldn’t do it. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not citing BtVotD as Citizen Kane here; far from it. The performances are very hit and miss at best and I’ve never been a huge fan of Russ Meyer’s editing technique. However, I don’t think it is unreasonable to suggest that no other movie exists that can compare to BtVotD. As a motion picture it is a wholly unique experience – which is something I can only say of maybe a half-dozen movies. It’s a musical, comedy, horror, drama, thriller! All it needs is some aliens and an animated sequence and you’ve nearly got all bases covered. How many movies can you name that tick as many boxes? Above and beyond all of this, the film is remarkably entertaining. Despite the pitfalls and dangers that come with fame and excess lifestyle the characters soon become entangled in, I still gaze upon the ‘fantasy’ Hollywood and almost cartoon-like characters as created by Russ Meyer and Roger Ebert with envious eyes.
All that said, it has still been my task to cast a fictional remake of the film. So with a gun to my head, here are my casting choices, were I to direct Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
Kelly Mac Namara (Dolly Reed) – Isla Fisher
Isla Fisher has that perfect blend of girl next door with a dash of firecracker to make Kelly work in a modern remake. Plus, I can easily see her as the lead vocalist of the Carrie Nations. It wouldn’t be her voice of course, for that I’d hire Florence Welch.
Casey Anderson (Cynthia Myers) – Jennifer Lawrence
Like Cynthia Myers, Lawrence oozes sex appeal without having to do or say very much at all – this is pretty much the essence of Casey. Her failure to adapt to the excess lifestyle makes her the ‘tortured soul’ of the group – something I think Jennifer Lawrence would own, given her God-given acting ability.
Petronella Danforth (Marcia McBroom) – Rosario Dawson
I’m a huge Rosario Dawson fan and loved her in everything I’ve seen her in. She has the looks, the attitude and the style to bring Pet to the 21st century. She would be my Russ Meyer/Quentin Tarantino nod for the film.
Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar) – Cillian Murphy
This was a bit of a no brainer for me, and perhaps the easiest to cast. Now, I don’t take John LaZar’s performance as Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell lightly, as he’s without a doubt my favourite character, but I just can’t see ANYONE else in today’s talent pool delivering the line “You will drink the black sperm of my vengeance!” better than Cillian Murphy. Plus, I think he’d really enjoy calling someone a ‘buggery knave’.
Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) – Dolph Ziggler
Here is my wild card casting for the film. For those unfamiliar, Dolph Ziggler (real name Nick Nemeth) is a professional wrestler for World Wrestling Entertainment. Those who ARE familiar will get exactly why I’ve cast him. The character of Lance Rocke is pretty much the character of Dolph Ziggler. He not only has the looks and the body to carry out the role, but the calibre of performances Ziggler delivers on Monday Night Raw every week are no further a stretch than that played by Michael Blodgett in original movie. Except for the gold digging part. Not much of that in pro-wrestling.
Harris Allsworth (David Gurian) – James McAvoy
James McEvoy has an annoying quality of being instantly likeable in whatever role he’s in. What’s interesting about the idea of him playing Harris is that his character seesaws throughout the story – we like him, we hate him and then BAM! He can miraculously walk again and we all cheer. I’d love to see McEvoy handle this type of character.
Ashley St. Ives (Edy Williams) – Christina Hendricks
Christina Hendricks is THE quintessential ‘Meyer girl’ for the movie and who better than her to fill the crocheted dress of Ashley St. Ives? Who wouldn’t pay good money to see Hendricks as a hyper-sexed porn star? Mad men, I tell you. MAD MEN! *Sorry!
Roxanne (Erica Gavin) – Liv Tyler
This casting was based solely on who I could see paired up with Jennifer Lawrence in the more intimate scenes between Roxanne and Casey. After a couple of Empire Records flashbacks, I settled on Liv Tyler. She has a very sultry and almost tender nature that would be key to the seduction of Casey. I think the chemistry between her and Lawrence would be off the chart.
Susan Lake (Phyllis Davis) – Sherylin Fenn
Who didn’t fall in love with Audrey Horne in Twin Peaks? Raise your hands… I see no raised hands. Point proven. This one is a bit of indulgence casting. I was on a bit of a Peaks revival while writing this and well… Fenn could do this role with her eyes closed. Although I wouldn’t ask her to do the role with her eyes closed. That’d just be weird.
Emerson Thorne (Harrison Page) – Columbus Short
Naturally if I was doing this in the mid-90s, the role would have gone to Alfonso Ribero, but now that he’s older, I just picked someone I figured could A) tame a rock n’ roll Rosario Dawson and B) convincingly not stand a fucking chance of winning a fight against Randy Black – although when you see who I cast as him, that pretty much could have been anyone…
Porter Hall (Duncan McLeod – Bill Murray
It’s Bill fucking Murray. End of discussion.
Randy Black (James Iglehart) – Terry Crews
At first I considered another wrestler for this role –even changing the character to a professional wrestler rather than a heavyweight boxer (Randy Black being based on Mohammed Ali). Then it dawned on me that this guy, in this day and age would be a cage fighter and the body that Terry Crews is rocking, hell, you’d believe he could beat up the Moon! Not really a difficult decision here. With Crews’ dynamic personality to boot, he’d own the role of Randy Black.
Baxter Wolfe (Charles Napier) – Kurt Russell
Despite the fact that I love Kurt Russell and want to see him in more stuff, I’m going with the Meyer ‘square-jaw’ trait on this one. Kurt Russell is a man’s man. And if anyone was going to step into the boots of Charles Napier, it’d be Snake Plissken… Or R.J. MacReady… Or Jack Burton… Or Stuntman Mike… Or Dean Proffitt.
Otto (Henry Rowland) – Udo Kier
Seriously, who the fuck else?
Paul Davis is a writer and filmmaker from London. His short film Him Indoors starring Reece Shearsmith and Pollyanna McIntosh is finally available to watch online and his next short The Body is currently in production.
I recieved a few emails and messages regarding the short post I did on director Russ Meyer’s early career as a glamour photographer and decided to put up this short post showcasing a few of his photographs. I have only attached pictures on here that I have actually been able to verify that Meyer took. If you search online the internet chucks a whole lot of beautiful images at you but a lot of them are wrongly credited to Meyer. These are just a few and I suggest anyone interested in sourcing any other images look for/physically buy any old mens/girlie magazines that he either contributed to or shot the front cover for, pick up his autobiography A Clean Breast which has a stack of gorgeous stills he took over the years or pick up The Glamour Camera of Russ Meyer which is all about his photography. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these beauties. They just don’t make them like this anymore…
Marguerite Empey pictorial, Playboy, February 1956
June Wilkinson photographed by Russ Meyer, Caper magazine, May 1959
Eve in Red Lingerie by Russ Meyer, 1959
Edy Williams pictorial shot by Meyer, Playboy, March 1973
Gold Lamp and Lorna, Russ Meyer, 1964
Sabrina (Norma Sykes) pictorial photographed by Russ, Cabaret magazine, August 1957
Eve Meyer as photographed by Russ, Frolic magazine, June 1954
Eve Meyer photographed for Playboy, June 1955
Yvette Vickers pictorial, Playboy, June 1959
Eve Meyer photographed by Russ, c. 1950s
June Wilkinson photographed by Russ, Adam magazine, 1950s
Eve Meyer pictorial, Playboy, June 1955
Lorna Maitland photographed by Meyer, Fling magazine, May 1965
Diane Webber pictorial, shot by Russ Meyer for Globe Photos Inc., 1956
Most of you will know Russ Meyer as the auteur of sleaze, the most successful and iconic filmmaker in the sexploitation genre. His films are love letters to hypersexual, highly empowered and incredibly curvaceous women. Meyer turned his breast fetish into a profitable career and, whether or not it floats your own boat (which becomes more debatable as his subjects get more exaggerated in his later films), he managed to capture on celluloid a bevy of lovelies in their unique beauty. One cannot deny that Meyer’s camera adored the women it was pointed at. Each of his shots were composed and lit with a knowledge and understanding of photographing the female form that many directors now struggle to achieve, even with good cinematographers behind them. Russ Meyer was so successful because of his extensive experience and career in photography which preceded his filmmaking. Not many people know that Meyer started out as a combat photographer during WWII before moving on to the world of glamour photography.
Evelyn ‘Treasure Chest’ West
Like many men returning from the War, Meyer found nothing but rejection when it came to finding work back home in America. After doing the rounds in Hollywood trying to find film work, Meyer eventually bought himself a Speed Graphic camera and set about photographing the women that he desired the most. The future director started out taking photographs of stripper Evelyn ‘Treasure Chest’ West, doing a deal with the Oakland night club she was appearing in which saw him supply them with free stills in exchange for time taking pictures of her. After continuing to photograph various strippers that came into town (developing his stills in the family bathtub, much to Mother Meyer’s delight), a fellow combat buddy of Meyer’s persuaded him to try to take advantage of the recent boom in girlie mags and become a pin-up photographer. Russ signed up with the Globe agency and found himself shooting pictorial’s for Gent, Fling, Frolic and Escapade amongst a number of other publications.
It was an encounter with one particular stripper that would kick-start the ambition in Meyer to become a filmmaker. Through photographing strippers, Russ met Tempest Storm who was performing at the El Rey Burlesk Theatre, owned by Pete DeCenzie. After doing some stills work which the two men would sell at the theatre, Meyer decided to shoot a short reel of film of Tempest doing her stuff. After smuggling the reel into Kodak to be developed, Meyer showed the it to DeCenzie who loved it and invited Russ to film a show at the El Rey. That reel of film became Meyer’s first short film, The French Peep Show (1950), which is now presumed lost.
Although bitten by the filmmaking bug, Meyer’s enthusiasm and talent for glamour photography never died. During the 1950s he shot numerous photographs of his second wife Eve Meyer, including her pictorial when she became June’s Playboy Playmate in 1955. Eve was probably the only woman to have lingered for any significant time in front of Meyer’s camera and his pictures of her are undeniably is best. All the women he shot look beautiful, well poised and immaculate. Eve just looks something else, stellar almost. The chemistry between her and Meyer is evident in every shot he took. It’s an understatement to say that they just don’t make women like that anymore. Alongside Eve’s Playboy gatefold, Meyer only shot another two; Marguerite Empey and Yvette Vickers.
Meyer would go on to shoot many famous models and actresses during the 50s establishing him as one of the prominent pin-up photographers of the decade. Throughout his life, Russ would snap away at his paramour’s, actresses and muses. Some would appear in publications like Playboy, for instance his pictorial of then-wife Edy Williams to publicise the never made Viva Foxy!, whilst others appear on every other page of his autobiography A Clean Breast like a catalogue of conquests. Clearly a huge influence on his filmmaking career, everything Meyer learnt about exposing and exhibiting the female form he learnt from his stills career and for those who haven’t seen much of it, it’s worth checking out. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
Viva Foxy! a Russ Meyer film? No, you’re not wrong, he didn’t make it but it was one of the few film ideas that Meyer toyed with before eventually abandoning in the mid 70s. With a screenplay written by Roger Ebert, the picture was meant to star Meyer’s then-wife Edy Williams, whom he’d married after meeting on the set of 1970 release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (Edy played hypersexual porn star Ashley St. Ives), and was set to start shooting in Hollywood on December 6th 1972. Except that it never did.
So what could we have expected from Meyer? Viva Foxy! aka Foxy (the film’s title was changed to incorporate the setting) was to be centred around the early 1920’s border war between two South American banana republics. Williams was to play the titular character of Foxy McHugh, an orphan of missionary parents who had grown up on the streets and was the power behind the two thrones. One dictator was to be modeled on Che Guevara, the other on Peter Ustinov’s Nero from Quo Vadis (one can only imagine how Meyer would have done this visually in his sometimes garish style). Williams saw McHugh as her version of Erica Gavin’s Vixen character; ‘She used men and abused them and had a ball. That’s what Foxy’s gonna be about. She’s gonna do all the things that men have done. I’ll be a female guerilla’. Meyer did photograph Edy for a Playboy pictorial which was featured in the March 1973 issue. He briefly describes his latest film Foxy which, according to Russ, will be about ‘a sexy record-company executive who gets mixed up with a number of men in outrageous situations’. Whatever the outcome would have been one can only imagine that the notoriously fame-hungry Williams would have taken the lead and run with it if her portrayal of Ashley St. Ives is anything to go by.
Russ Meyer and Edy Williams on their wedding day
Whilst the film never got made, Meyer and Williams did shoot some footage to advertise the film before any plans really took off. Russ shot the film’s trailer, which had Williams water skiing in the nude, and tagged it on to the end of his feature Black Snake which was released in 1973. One of the first directors to use this concept, there are conflicting reports as to whether the trailer was actually attached to the film or not during its original theatrical run (I’ve tried a lot of online research and not come up with a definite answer, if anyone can help…). Unfortunately this ending is not on the Arrow DVD release of Black Snake and the Arrow DVD’s are currently the most comprehensive packages of Meyer’s filmography.
What is known is that the project eventually fell through. One reason was due to difficulties in putting a deal together, despite Penthouse apparently being interested at one point and Russ stating to Hollywood Reporter in April 1973 that the trailer alone had resulted in three separate offers to completely finance the budget. This issue surprises me as Meyer was already a rich man by this time in his career. The film was conceived as a $400,000 vehicle for Williams and one of Meyer’s many talents was his ability to make a film on a budget (granted, there are a few blips in his career where he has had to be bailed out). How they couldn’t raise the money is beyond me, as is why Russ didn’t just self finance the project to begin with. It’s well-known that he liked to be in control of his entire empire and works. Another reported reason is that Meyer cancelled the film’s production amid fears that investors money would be lost on a film that could be challenged by local communities when a new ruling on obscenity was drawn up by the Supreme Court allowing local communities to self-determine what they considered to be ‘obscene’.
That said, the other reason it fell through was due to a temporary breakup between Meyer and Williams. The marriage between the two of them was a tempestuous one with many questioning at the time how the relationship had even gotten to that point. By 1973, tensions were already running high between the two with Williams angry that Meyer hadn’t given her the part of Lady Susan in Black Snake which she had assumed she was getting. Her Playboy pictorial was meant to be an attempt to pacify the situation. Their arguing continued until the day that Edy decided to leave Meyer’s house and file for divorce. It was a very messy battle and Williams is not generally looked upon by the Meyer community in a positive light.
There’s no denying that Viva Foxy! would have been an interesting film had Meyer continued with his plans and made it. Edy Williams is extremely memorable in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls and it would have been nothing short of an experience to see her take on a female lead in one of Russ’s many sexploitation entries. Sometimes, the imagine dreams up ideas far more exciting than those ever given to us on a plate and this is one project where dreaming is just going to have to do.
Writer Jimmy McDonough is a big deal in the world of Russ Meyer. This is the man who wrote Meyer’s biography, a feat that probably wouldn’t have happened when it did if Meyer hadn’t have been unwell. Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer is an illuminating portrait of the director with some great stories from all of those who were nearest and dearest to him. The book has been a bible for me since it’s release and I’m very grateful to Jimmy for taking some time out to answer some questions and talk about the great man. To say that this is a personal life-greatest-moment for me is an understatement and my sincerest thanks go out to the guy. His latest biography, Tragic Country Queen, on Tammy Wynette is out now and previous biographies include Neil Young and Andy Milligan. The film rights to Big Bosoms were bought last year and a biopic is currently in the works with director David O. Russell linked to the project.
How did you first become aware of Russ Meyer and his career?
What was the first thing of his that you saw and what were your first impressions of it?
It was in the back of my mind for years. I had worked in the exploitation business for that other RM exploitation king on the opposite coast–Radley Metzger–and knew the lay of the land. My first published book was on Andy Milligan, who was the grimy, gritty low-down opposite of Meyer in every way. I wanted to go to the glossy end of the exploitation spectrum, say a few more things and get the fuck out. Plus I knew the book would be a million laughs.
Was it something that you’d always had in mind after discovering Meyer?
I am attracted to people who are helpless in the face of an obsession. I can relate. Obsessions drove Meyer. And in the end they did him in. For better or worse, I see certain things in the same way as RM. Not everything, thank Christ, but…certain things. My wife Natalia could be a Meyer star. All the right curves…long, flaming red hair…the same bad attitude. She could hold her own with any of the Faster, Pussycat gang, believe me.
I specialize in difficult characters. Look at my books. Gavin is the Howard Hughes of the Meyer women, and the most psychedelic. She’s impossible to pin down on anything, even going to the Quickie Mart. But once gotten Erica was fantastic. She even flashed her cans at me, albeit in a brassiere. That chick should write a book–she’s been a lot of weird and wondrous places. Alaina was nervous about talking after all these years. She didn’t want to be laughed at. I hope I did her justice. Capri’s tops in my book.
Do you think (without sounding incredibly cruel) that his illness worked in your favor at the time of compiling research?
I had no idea what kind of shape RM was in when I started the research. I thought about chucking it once I knew the extent of the situation. His friends encouraged me to plow ahead, though, which was inspiring. But I have to say if RM had been in cognizant of my project there is no doubt in my mind that after my third question he would’ve punched me in the nose and unleashed the lawyers. Believe me, I would’ve loved to have picked that strange brain but Meyer wasn’t an introspective guy. I think he would’ve find my approach to be an assault on the fantasy. Needless to say I don’t see it that way. The women are what interested me, anyway. They hadn’t talked all that much. RM had ample opportunity to tell his story and spent three self-published volumes doing so–A Clean Breast. What an achievement–over a thousand pages and nary an insight to be found. Fantastic photos, though.
On ‘A Clean Breast’, do you think (if he’d completed it) his original idea of doing an autobiographical film would have been somewhat more insightful?
The bit of The Breast of Russ Meyer floating around is just fantastic. That was the last Meyer project of any interest, in my opinion. Insightful? I don’t know if Meyer was capable.
Did his illness or seeing him ill change your view or opinion on him in any way?
I felt for RM. Again, in the end his obsessions were his undoing. He’d become a feeble mark begging for mammary salvation, a pathetic john who’d empty his wallet to snuggle up to any big tit. Curiously it was a position not all that far from the weak males he’d mocked in his films. And then Meyer lost his mind–literally. The details are in the book, and it really is like something out of one of his mid-period films. His old screenwriter John Moran couldn’t have penned a more sordid tale.
Do you have a favourite/s Meyer girl and did your opinion of her change after you met her (if you did)?
Tura and I really hit it off. I mean really hit it off. Had circumstances been different…Kitten was absolutely fantastic. I nearly proposed to her after six questions. Unfortunately I was already married at the time. Hanging out with Erica Gavin was a mind-bender. They were all great and it was a thrill of a lifetime meeting them. Is there a grifter in the bunch? This is the world of Russ Meyer, what do you think?
What do you think it is about them that have made them so endearing amongst Meyer/film/sexploitation/cult film fans?
Their spirit. Dare I say they seem almost pure and innocent these days.
Do you think that that’s part of the charm of Meyer’s work, that by today’s standards of explicitness there’s a great deal of innocence in some of his portrayal’s of sexuality and some of his characters themselves?
Yes. The humor, which doesn’t always work, is another big part. Sex can be such a heavy, oppressive topic. Meyer lets you laugh at it.
Did any of them disappoint you in any way in reality?
No. If anything they were even more impressive. Life hasn’t been easy for them and they’re not easy dames to live with. Forget the physical attributes, these women vibrate with an energy that could charge 1000 Teslas. There’s a blinding light behind the eyes. Never a dull moment!
What do you think it is about Meyer himself that has kept the girls so loyal and proud of their work and association with him?
However much an asshole Meyer could be, he immortalized these women. How flattering is that? Last time I checked nobody’s building me a shrine.
There are a number of instances documented where he has fallen out with his actresses or treated them badly at some point. Is there anyone you think he was particularly harsher on?
Oh, I don’t know, everybody got the short end of the stick sooner or later. Meyer’s right-hand man George Costello was banished forever when Meyer discovered he’d been consoling Erica Gavin behind his back during the making of Vixen. During the shoot RM had a secret stash of Treesweet orange juice and Costello was brazen enough to filch one can and slip it to Gavin behind the boss’s back. RM took this as a great betrayal and never spoke to Costello again. Meyer made little plaques commemorating each film. And what was on the Vixen plaque? A can of Treesweet orange juice. A symbol of Costello’s treasonous behavior.
Did any girl surprise you in any way in reality?
Tura was ultra-right wing, which didn’t exactly surprise me, but it did crack me up. Very patriotic, loved Reagan and Bush, torture and kill the terrorists, etc. She was very loyal, very sweet and had a way of getting to you. She signed her letters “Always” and she meant it. Tura was just too big for the movies. Too bad.
Out of all the girls featured in his films, who you do think is or are the most memorable/most typically Meyer/most overrated or underrated? Are there any that you think he should have worked with more or less?
I just wish there was more of all of ’em. More Tura, more Lorna, more Uschi, more Kitten, more Alaina, more, more, more…I’m not a big Edy Williams fan but she certainly clawed out her place in the Meyer oeuvre. RM wasn’t interested in helping his stars build a career. He was always lusting after next year’s Cadillac. I really, really wish Eve had done more film work. And I wished somebody had properly interviewed her. What a dame.
I’m sure some will consider this heresy, but Beyond the Valley of the Dolls isn’t my favorite, either. I admire the achievement but it’s a little too chilly, a little too arch for me. Give me Mondo Topless/Common Law Cabin/Faster, Pussycat…
RM’s last couple of films are just an embarrassment. His taste was of course vulgar, but exuberantly so. At the end it turned grotesque, tired, creepy. The women seem factory-made, joyless. You feel embarrassed for the guy, cringe at his pathetic fetish. This wasn’t the case previously, at least not for me. He made it all seem fun. And funny.
At what point do you think his career really peaked?
In 1968 Vixen made a pile of dough, so much so that a desperate 20th Century Fox came knocking on Meyer’s door to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. A Hollywood studio INVITED an exploitation filmmaker into the kingdom and let him run amok. Unheard of! The joke was definitely on them for once. And the moolah was in the Bank of Meyer! Fantastic.
Mentioning Eve Meyer, how important do you think she was in relation to Meyer’s early career? She seems to have played a big part on the finacial side of business, helping Russ out on a few occassions…
From what his friends told me, Eve really understood Russ. And could stand up to him. Eve was a very sharp dame and a fantastic businesswoman–she distributed his films. I think RM’s life can be split into BE and AE. Russ seemed increasingly rudderless After Eve. But nobody was going to tell RM what to do. Look where it got him. Heaven. And hell. Had he been a little more humble…but who wants a humble Meyer anyway? His life was like his movies. Absolutely nuts from beginning to end.
Women are the obvious topic to discuss when it comes to Meyer but he also had a lot of male friends and actors around him from his service during WW2 and the films he made. Which of them stand out as being the most memorable and loyal towards him?
Undoubtedly the most loyal was Anthony James Ryan AKA The Handyman. He helped create the movies, appeared in them, and cleaned up many a Meyer mess. He was loyal until the end. He knew how crazy Russ but was loyal until the end. A hell of a guy, Ryan. I loved visiting his dusty old photography store to shoot the shit. Little bits of Meyeribilia were everywhere, like shots of Kitten Natividad appearing in a local parade. I’d rather have a colonoscopy than attend such an event, but a parade with Kitten. Now that’s exciting. I hope she threw candy to the kids from the back of the Caddy.
How much of an impact do you feel Meyer had on cinema in terms of depicting sex and sexuality on screen?
He kicked down the door and did it with panache and wit. However crude and bizarre the point of view may be, RM was there first. He fought many an expensive battle in court defending his films. Everybody who came after benefited from his ballsy and brazen approach. To what end, one may ask. Nowadays anything goes and how dull is that?
As an independent filmmaker, do you think he is successful in what he did?
Are you kidding me?!? The guy saw his demented fantasies come to life on the silver screen, had incredible broads throwing themselves at his feet and he made a shitload of dough–the kind of loot that allows you to tell the world to take a fucking hike. He circled the globe attending tributes to himself. And outside of the films for 20th Century Fox RM owned everything he created and controlled how it was presented down to the minute details. He got away with everything, answered to nobody. I don’t know about you but I’d trade places in a second.
The bulk of sexploitation is really tedious unwatchable crap. Dave Friedman was a hell of a guy, but his posters and trailers were far better than most of actual movies. And that’s in keeping with the exploitation con. Moviemaking was no laughing matter to Meyer. He gave it his all. Experiencing Meyer’s work is akin to listening to Little Richard belt out “Keep A-Knockin’.” A runaway train–you either get on board or get the hell out of the way!
RM nearly killed himself getting shots as a combat photographer in WWII; he nearly killed his cast and crew making these films. Nobody told me making these films was fun. Raven De La Croix tore up her feet running like a maniac barefoot and naked through the woods. You think Meyer cared? Naaah. RM demanded take after take. He just wanted it to look good. So somebody dies, so what? Filmmaking is war!
My one wish is that Meyer would’ve made a 3D movie. But the medium wasn’t technically ready for somebody like Meyer. Could you imagine if he were still around? Scorsese made Hugo. Meyer could’ve done Huge-O.
Do you think the content of his films has stopped him from being celebrated or his achievements in independent filmmaking from being recognised at all?
Not really. Love him or hate him, Meyer was recognized as his own genre. Sure he was vilified by the conservative and the humorless, but RM demanded and got different consideration than most smut peddlers. Meyer was also lucky–powerful critics like Roger Ebert (it must be said, a fellow tit man) championed him in the mainstream press. And being hilarious and endlessly quotable made RM great copy and earned him endless ink. He was great at playing all the angles and knew controversy only enhanced box office. He’s been fully absorbed into our culture–these days you can buy Faster Pussycat t-shirts and lunch boxes at the mall. Unfortunately the films themselves have become harder and harder to show theatrically or buy in a store and that, I think, has been the worst thing for his longevity. Nobody’s really promoting or taking care of his work, except for draining the last easy dollar to be made. Go look at the website for RM Films. Is it still 1982?
Is there anything about him personally and professionally that you think he isn’t but should be remembered for?
I just think he should be remembered, period. Everybody agrees that the estate has missed the boat. No Blu-Rays containing state-of-the-art transfers of his films? Meyer would’ve been on top of that from the get-go. Rumors that the negatives are rotting away? It’s a disgrace. I think RM would be appalled at the state of his archive. This is a guy who turned his own home into a museum to himself–where are all his treasures? Why can’t the world experience them? There should be a Russ Meyer Museum. How great would that be? You think people wouldn’t visit, write about it, put it on TV?
It does seem a real shame that for someone who embraced the VHS market so early on, his films haven’t been transferred to BD yet. Who is in charge of his estate? I know that Arrow had some difficulties when they released his films on DVD which seem to be the best and most definitive way of getting hold of them.
Meyer’s secretary and contractor joined forces to become the, ahem, finely-tuned machine that runs the empire. Everything I have to say about the estate is in the book, specifically the “Janice and the Handyman” chapter. I’d rather not give them any more attention, they’re a bit internet-excitable when it comes to me.
In regards to his house, the descriptions of it in the book are incredible. What was it like being in that environment where Meyer is literally coming at you from all directions?
Haven’t seen any of these and don’t feel compelled to catch up. That whole referencing-films-past has become a little cliche, don’t you think? The TV set on in the background showing Kiss of Death? You’ve seen a few movies, we get it. Go teach a class. If I need a jolt of Meyer I just turn on Mondo Topless for ten minutes. What’s that line from The In Crowd–“The original is still the greatest.”
What do you think his honest opinions on male/female sexuality were?
As Jane Hower–one his last paramours–told me RM was “very straightforward–hug, kiss, touch put it in.” There’s a picture in the book of Meyer’s spartan bedroom that says it all. Box of Kleenex on the nightstand, no-frills bed…It might as well be army barracks. Sex to Meyer was like backing up a Mack truck, dumping a load and heading straight back to headquarters to hang out with the fellas. A very old-fashioned guy. To him oral sex was a commie plot. Just the word “sexuality” would’ve been met with derision from RM. He couldn’t have cared less about anybody’s needs except his own. “Making love”? “Sensuality”? That was for sissies, Yes-Dear men. Meyer approached sex the way he tore into a steak: not a lot of finesse and blood dripping off the knife.
How do you think Meyer will be remembered in 50 years time? What do you think people will see as his legacy by that point?
He was a complete original. How many filmmakers are? Not many, if you ask me. A minute or two of Meyer and you know you’ve fallen through a hole in the universe. A little more interesting than another Spike Lee retrospective or the complete oeuvre of Jonathan Demme.
Lastly, I don’t know whether you can or can’t talk about the film? Not in terms of where it is in production or who is being considered for casting but your view on it. Did you ever think that this would be an opportunity that would happen to you and how deserving do you think Meyer is of a film biopic?
I can tell you that the actress attached to play Eve Meyer was my first choice–she’s a dead ringer for Eve and can convey the mountain of moxie required. Some very talented people are connected to the project. But it’s Hollywood. I’ve been through this before. Of course I wish them the best. How will they recreate those women, anyway? CGI, or your dread porn cyborg types? I hope not. These were one-of-a kind women. Hard cups to fill.