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.
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…
#10 – PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (1974)
So not a homage or direct reference but similarity and sort of brotherhood, Phantom of the Paradise and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls have two of the best film soundtracks of the 1970s, if not the entire history of film. Brian De Palma’s 1974 release also features a scene in which a bevy of beautiful ladies (and one man) are are lying on top or around each other on a circular bed, draped in underwear just like the promotional shots for Meyer’s Beyond. Both also happen to have a singer taken under the wing of a big music producer…
#9 – AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON (1987)
Okay, so maybe not a reference so much as a cameo, but this top ten wouldn’t be complete without Meyer’s fifteen seconds in the 80s comedy anthology Amazon Women on the Moon in which he plays a video rental store owner trying to persuade a guy to rent a video date VHS. With a giant Supervixens poster visible in the background, one can only imagine some of the X-rated wonders Meyer would have had in his video store if he’d owned one. Well, we can wonder because we know there wouldn’t be any hardcore and everyone would have big boobs…
#8 – SPICE GIRLS – SAY YOU’LL BE THERE (MUSIC VIDEO)
As much as a lot of us probably don’t want to admit it, the Spice Girls music video for Say You’ll Be There has plenty of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! lashings on its back. The desert, girls chasing boys, leather, fast cars, costume aesthetic, girl power. Whilst I admit that I learnt more about feminism from Meyer than this band of half wits, this has a more deserving place in a top ten than Lady Gaga’s Telephone which owes FAR more to the women in prison genre.
#7 – THE DOUBLE D AVENGER (2001)
If Russ Meyer were to do a superhero movie, it would probably have gone something like The Double D Avenger. The only film which has a ‘reunion’ of-sorts of Meyer stars Kitten Natividad, Raven De La Croix and Haji, the picture see’s an incredibly busty woman fight crime with her breasts. Laced with tonnes of exaggerated cleavage, incredibly bad lines and a scene involving giving a plant/banana a blow job, I have no doubt in my mind that had Meyer been asked to keep doing films in his later years, he would have churned out something like this. In an incredibly polite way, it isn’t worth checking out.
#6 – SLEEPAWAY CAMP (1983)
At the end of the film we find out the killer has gender issues. No Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, no Sleepaway Camp.
#5 – SUPERVIXENS (1975)
It’s well known that Meyer liked to reference his own work and one of the instances of this is his reference in 1975’s Supervixens of the snake bite scene from earlier release Motorpsycho (1965). After being bitten by a rattlesnake out in the desert, the bitten men then shout at their female companions to ‘suck out’ the poison. With lots of emphasis on the ‘sucking’ part. Not that you’d expect anything less from the director of sleaze…
#4 – SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
A small town band of three members find their way into a music scene run by a hot shot producer who drives a wedge between each member and crushes their dreams of stardom, the film’s soundtrack is music by the said fictional band, the band’s biggest fan starts out being their friend before being ostracised and returning for the final battle at the end of the picture, the lead girl gets led astray by the record producer, there are parties and gigs. Yep, its pretty much Beyond the Valley of the Dolls without the murderous ending. Although the producer does die at the end…
#3 – GRINDHOUSE (2007)
Both films in Grindhouse riff off Meyer’s masterpiece Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. Rodriguez’s opening to Planet Terror is an inverted copy of the go-go club opening of FPKK. Instead of hypersexual, gyrating women dancing to salivating, screaming men, Rose McGowan’s character pole dances to a barely packed room and cries tears of unhappiness at the end of her routine. Tarantino’s effort Death Proof is a more obvious love letter to the feature, taking the cars, the women and the attitude and putting them all back on the big screen to kick some sweet butt!
#2 – PERVERT! (2006)
A film which has a stupid amount of Meyer references, so much so that your stick will be snapping after ten minutes of shaking, Pervert! is a perfect example of how to take the grindhouse/sexploitation genre tone/feel and play it out right. Boobs, porn stars, fast cars, desert ranches, hypersexual women, familial bed swapping, dinners filled with innuendo, yes, it’s all there. If you like Meyer, chances are you’ll love this.
#1 – THE PIPETTES – PULL SHAPES (MUSIC VIDEO)
One of the best homages to Meyer’s work, the music video for The Pipettes single Pull Shapes riffs Z-Man’s party scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Introduced exactly like The Carrie Nations, the band have got all the points in the scene down to a T, starting off with a backing group that are wearing similar clothes to The Strawberry Alarm Clock in Meyer’s feature. All the major characters are there; The Pipettes playing The Carrie Nations role, the Harris-esque boyfriend/manager, a Z-Man type party host, the Emerson Thorne bartender, the attention seeking Ashleigh St. Ives. Even the minor characters and bit players are referenced such as the dancing hippy, Princess Livingston’s Matron, the Nazi bar man, Z-Man’s assistant Natalie (wearing what looks like a total knock off of the gold dress actually worn in the film), Porter Hall, the girl who’s dancing naked. Top it off with a 60s sound and some great dance moves and even Meyer would be proud. Well, maybe with a little more tit action…
Michael Ewins remembers the first time he caught one of Russ Meyer’s films…
Not to be confused with Pixar’s 2009 family adventure, Russ Meyer’s Up! (1976) is one of the most brazenly excessive (s)exploitation flicks of the 1970’s – a raunch-stuffed smorgasbord of fairytale tropes and volcanic cleavage, featuring B-movie starlets Raven De La Croix (dubbed a “doe-eyed fucking machine“) and Kitten Natividad.
My first Meyer experience, Up! captured me in its opening moments with an unforgettable ménage à quad (yes, that’s a thing) which involves, well… a homo-sado-orient tryst with ze Führer himself, Adolf Hitler (“that fag“). My eyes expanded – exploded, even – upon the sight of the world’s evilest moustache/combover combo being deep throated by a hunk in a gimp mask, but that’s not even the weirdest thing about this sequence. Shortly afterward Hitler (cannily re-named Schwartz) slinks out of his purple robe and dips into a warm bubble bath, only to be snuffed out by a voluptuous assassin who launches a piranha into his nether-regions. Cinema was never the same again. Heck, neither was life.
What really struck me about the film, and still strikes me on re-watches, is Meyer’s complete sense of anarchy, fusing rock’n’roll, pop art, cockamamie plotting and softcore pornography to create one awesome sensory experience. One scene finds dopey Sheriff Homer (Monty Bane), who pronounces karate cur-a-tee, electrocuting Pocohontas (Foxy Lae) mid-romp, and later Hitler’s killer is exposed in a buck-naked, cross-country dildo duel. Yeah, I actually typed that. Moreover, somebody put it on film.
There’s plenty of risqué material – rape, incest, Nazi’s – but what really encouraged me to watch more Meyer was his wit, invention and complete disregard for authority. I mean, the guy even manages to work a Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) reference in here! Up! was one of those films which really changed the way I looked at films. For most people that’s Citizen Kane (Welles, 1941) – and sure, it’s brilliant – but I just figured that if somebody can make this, and get away with it, then film as a storytelling medium is endless in its possibilities. It’s certainly the most fun you can have without taking your clothes off…
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.
Director Russ Meyer was defined by the female form, building a successful and profitable career on his personal breast fetish. The first thing you remember about Meyer’s filmography, after the initial reminisce of the pictures in their own right, are the beautiful and glorious women who have graced his celluloid. However, it wasn’t just those who starred in his films that had an impact and influence on the man himself and here I present the Top 10 Women in Russ Meyer’s life and career…
#10 – LORI WILLIAMS
My second favourite Pussycat next to Tura Satana in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Williams is memorable for being the most girl next door dancer out of the bunch. Whilst Satana has the classic stinging one-liners, Williams has lines that are dripping in innuendo and lust as she tries her best to seduce The Vegetable and even got royally drunk whilst filming the dinner scene. Those drunken slurs are real folks!
#9 – USCHI DIGARD
Undoubtedly the star of Meyer’s 1970 menage a trois Cherry, Harry & Raquel!, Digard was the last minute savior for the film when the lead actress left the shoot early and Meyer had twenty minutes of footage left to film. Digard appears in intercut scenes memorable for having nothing to do with the plot and only wearing an Apache headdress. An actress loyal to Meyer until the very end, Digard appeared in cameos in his later films whilst having a career on pornography.
#8 – LORNA MAITLAND
The star of Lorna (1964) and Mudhoney (1965), Maitland entered Meyer’s filmmaking world at the time when he started to move from shorts, scenario films and burlesque movies to pictures that had more of a structured plot. Alongside Satana, Maitland ranks as one of the most iconic women from his gothic period, with Meyer using the only colour stock footage of her in his mondo documentary Mondo Topless (1966).
#7 – ALAINA CAPRI
One of the few actresses to appear in Meyer’s film who was not only genuinely beautiful but actually had some acting ability. Capri only starred in two of the director’s films which were both released in 1967, Common Law Cabin and Good Morning… and Goodbye!. With hips that shook perfectly when she walked and a mouth that could give off acid tongued attacks, Capri is only second to Tura Satana in her sassy attitude and deadly looks.
#6 – TEMPEST STORM
The burlesque queen captivated Meyer with her voluptuous form which led to the two working together on numerous photo shoots, pictures of which were distributed and published in girlie magazines. Storm was the subject of Meyer’s first film, The French Peep Show (1952), for which the director got his first credit as Director/Cinematographer. Produced by Pete DeCenzie, the film is presumed lost having been out of circulation since its theatrical release.
#5 – ERICA GAVIN
Star of the first couples-porno Vixen! (1968), Erica Gavin is the reason Meyer wound up at 20th Century Fox making Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in 1970. Gavin’s incredibly good looks and ability to appeal to both men and women made Vixen! one of Meyer’s most successful films of all time, arousing the interest of the major studio. Gavin is brilliant as the ‘sexual healer’ Vixen and was given a memorable role in Beyond… as lesbian fashion designer Roxanne, whose on-screen relationship with Cynthia Myers just sizzles with eroticism.
#4 – KITTEN NATIVIDAD
With a cleavage that rivaled Tura Satana’s, the narrator of Up! (1976) and star of Beneath the Valley of the UltraVixens (1979), Natividad went on to become Meyer’s on-off partner for the fifteen years. Probably one of the only women Meyer really did love, second to wife Eve, Kitten and Russ had some serious chemistry. Incredibly loyal to Meyer until the end, she nursed and looked after him at times when his dementia became worse and even visited and cared for his mother Lydia in the final years of her life.
#3 – EVE MEYER
Meyer’s second wife and pin-up beauty queen, Eve was an important factor in Meyer’s early filmmaking career. An intelligent business woman, Eve helped cut film deals as early as Meyer’s first picture The Immoral Mr Teas (1959), co-financed Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and helped to bail Russ out of financial trouble to ensure that the successful Vixen! got made. The producer of thirteen of Russ’s pictures (under the banner of Eve Productions) both during and after their marriage, Eve was the lead in his 1961 feature Eve and the Handyman in which she is truly mesmerizing. A gorgeous Playboy Playmate (June 1955), Eve sadly passed away in 1977.
#2 – TURA SATANA
Arguably Meyer’s most iconic actress, Tura Satana epitomised the director’s vision of a glamorous Amazonian statuesque woman. Whilst she only ever starred in one of his films, Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, Satana is without a doubt the most iconic of all the women to ever be cast in one of his films. She is on fire playing the murderous, highly sexually charged and venomous Varla in the film that is usually one of the first seen by Meyer virgins. If you’ve never seen the film, chances are you’ve seen Satana as Varla whose influence can be felt in Tarantino’s Death Proof (2007), Lady Gaga’s music video for Telephone and the countless female leads with attitude across the film world.
#1 – LYDIA MEYER HAYWOOD
As much as I love Mother Monster, it really is all about Mother Meyer. This is the woman who, as legend goes, pawned her own wedding ring so that Russ could go and buy his first camera, the UniveX Cine 8, starting an obsession with film that lasted the rest of his life. Lydia was very supportive of Russ’s ambitions and endeavours, letting him develop his pin-up photography in the family bathtub, but none of the women Russ ended up with were ever any good for him in her eyes. Upon her death, Russ would visit her gravesite every Christmas. A fiercely independent woman, this was the one girl who Russ never got over.
Whilst more a personal Top 10 then a definitive list, notable exceptions include Meyer regular Haji, Cynthia Myers, June Wilkinson, Phyllis Davis, Candy Samples, Edy Williams, Marcia McBroom, Raven De La Croix, Shari Eubank, Babette Bardot and Dolly Read amongst a plethora of others!