Tags: Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Black Snake, Cherry Harry & Raquel, Common Law Cabin, Europe In The Raw!, Faster Pussycat Kill Kill, Finders Keepers Lovers Weepers, Mondo Topless, Mudhoney, Russ Meyer, Supervixens, The Immoral Mr Teas, Up!, Vixen
This was a post that narrowly missed this year’s MEYER MONTH that I did back in March. A couple of months late but better late than never! Enjoy…
In searching for a little more information on Mondo Topless star Babette Bardot, I came across a lot of pin-up pictures of her during her modelling career that I hadn’t seen before. It seemed only right that as part of this year’s MEYER MONTH I include a pictorial of her alongside the one I’ve done on fellow Meyer girl Eve Meyer and the upcoming ones I have for the rest of this month. As far as I know, Russ didn’t shoot any pictures of Babette as part of his photographic career and only worked with her in relation to the films Mondo Topless and Common Law Cabin. Bardot knew how to pose for a great picture so one can only imagine the results if she had teamed up with Meyer for a series of pictures…
Once viewed, Babette Bardot is never forgotten. Tall, curvaceous, well stacked, a perfect red pout and inches of voluminous platinum blonde hair. Think of your typical hourglass-figured caricature and you’ve got Bardot, thick fluttering black eyelashes and all. She only starred in two of Russ Meyers films, Mondo Topless and Common Law Cabin, but she made one hell of an impression. And yet, I know very little about her, so tried to piece together as much as I could find to create some sort of rounded profile on the girl.
Swedish-French Babette Bardot was born in Goteborg, Sweden in 1940. She’s quoted by Meyer biographer Jimmy McDonough in his book Big Bosoms and Square Jaws as being ‘the fourth cousin of Brigette Bardot‘ although there seems to be some contention online as to whether or not this is actually true. Another fact up for questioning is whether or not she really did model for artist Pablo Picasso in her teens which she exclaims she did. At some point in the early 1960s she became a cheesecake model and was a regular in glamour and pin-up magazines, appearing in Fling, Adam and Escapade to name a few. Judging from earlier pictures of her she has at some point had a fair amount of cosmetic surgery. I didn’t know whether her breasts were real or not, and had yet to read anything that said either way, until it was confirmed for me by Diana Hart in her book Under The Mat that she’d had a boob job. Looking at early pictures and comparing them to her later look in Russ Meyers films, it’s also clear that she had some sort of nose surgery and maybe even lip fillers. You wonder whether her caricature look was one that she had intended to construct for a long time.
In the early 1960s she apparently worked on two Swedish films but I have found nothing to establish whether or not this is actually true or, if it is, what the titles were. Sexploitation director extroadinaire Russ Meyer found Bardot at the infamous Pink Pussycat on Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, where she at one point had a headlining strip show (she previously used to dance before the legendary Tura Satana did her routine). Meyer asked her to appear in his mockumentary Mondo Topless and Bardot agreed, bringing some of her fellow co-workers along with her. There is no denying that Babette steals the show in Mondo, with Meyer even giving her assets pompous exaggeration; ‘French and Swedish, fifty-fifty where it counts!’. Once you see the images of her driving around San Francisco, topless, bouncing at every turn and bump, you’ll never be able to erase it from your memory. Even more so when you see her dancing and stripping off next to a train track, an oncoming locomotive in the distance and then roaring past. Only statuesque Babette would be discussing the intricacy of portraying a sexually mature woman with childlike innocence in her routines. Except that she manages to do it pretty easily, peeling off her stockings whilst sucking her thumb. My personal highlight is spotting the bruises up her thighs. Sign of a true pro, Bardot wasn’t once the highest paid stripper in the entire US for any old reason, reportedly earning a regular $2,500 a week.
The following year in 1967 Bardot returned to play a character named after herself in Meyer’s Common Law Cabin. It’s here where Babette really shines, albeit in a glow of european campness. Every line is drooled in her thick French-Swedish accent making some words have an unintentional hilarious different meaning when in conversational context (‘rich’ ends up sounding more like ‘retch’). Having said that she does have some great scenes. I am a big fan of Common Law Cabin but if you’re not convinced, give it a watch just to see her in a tiny, push up bikini chopping fire wood with a machete. Then there’s her exotic fire dance atop a mountain, complete with wailing screams… Bardot plays off against her fellow leading lady Alaina Capri really well creating a memorable performance that stands out amongst those of other Meyer leading ladies. Capri herself said working with Bardot was ‘kind of wild’ which is hardly unsurprising. Accounts give the impression that this woman had a lot of energy, which director Russ would know all about. He claimed to have enjoyed a dalliance with Babette on set, with her frequently staying in his on-set accommodation. In true Meyer fashion, he blamed the films lack of success on the fact that there was too much extra-curricular action on set…
In 1967 she also appeared in I, Marquis de Sade in a minor role as one of de Sade’s girls. I can find very little about her brief role in this but it would again appear that she was hired based on her background of stripping and dancing. This and the two films she did with Russ Meyer appear to be her only film credits.
On the back of her appearances in Meyer’s films and under the guidance of her husband Bob Baker (her manager and leader of the small band that accompanied her act), she toured the US as a burlesque dancer in 1968, having shows at the Gayety Theatre in New York City, the Town Theatre in Chicago (of which I managed to find a photo essay of one of her routines in which she looks gorgeous) and the Colony Club in Dallas. Bardot toured the burlesque circuit internationally until she set up a residence at the Majestic Inn in Calgary, Alberta. The liberal laws in Alberta allowed her to strip completely nude, although she would maintain her thong during performances. She performed there nightly for six months before heading to Las Vegas where she not only danced but also sung. She also managed time to fit in another night with Meyer… and none other than Uschi Digard. One can only imagine the amount of breast on show that night (Tura Satana once said she was knocked out when she bumped into Bardot in Vegas in the 70s having not seen her since her early Pink Pussycat days, her words ‘silicone does wonders’ pretty much sums up the interaction).
Whilst in Calgary she became friends with the legendary wrestling family The Harts through wrestler Andre The Giant, a regular at her shows. In the early 1970s Bardot and her family, which by this point included two children Bobby and Bianca, would travel to Calgary yearly to perform at the Majestic Inn where she would perform a lunchtime show and an evening show. During this month they would stay with the Hart’s in the big family home. In 1973 Stu Hart billed her as Miss Stampede Wrestling (the wrestling promotion he ran) after spotting her popularity with other wrestlers he worked with (she was also friends with Terry Funk and Dan Kroffat) but it was always Andre at every one of her shows sitting in the front show. Apparently he was reluctant to miss any of her performances and would sometimes turn up late to bookings that Stu had arranged for him because he’d been to see her. Word on the street was that he secretly held more than a flame for her. Bardot appeared at many of the Stampede parades, regularly riding with the wrestling clan on their float. One summer, the horse she was riding on buckled after the float in front of it stopped and Babette was thrown into the road. Apparently in tears in a heap on the floor, she still managed to let her bulging cleavage show to the crowds supposedly embarrassing a young Owen Hart. As Miss Stampede Wrestling Babette also had frequent appearances on the Stampede Wrestling TV show, handing out awards, title belts at wins and greeting big name stars to the ring.
The last known appearance I can find that she did was in 1981, where she headlined the Babette Bardot Review at the Kings Inn Motel in Daytona Beach. It would appear that she passed away at some point in the early 00s. Tura Satana herself suggests on one online forum that Bardot remarried at some point but that her new surname wasn’t known to many people, including her, which renders much information seeking redundant. It’s a real shame because I would have loved to know where this enigmatic woman found herself after 1981 and what she was up to at the time. By all reports she was a lovely lady and left an impression on all those she met, as well as all of us Russ Meyer fans.
#10 – LADY GAGA – TELEPHONE (MUSIC VIDEO)
Whilst Gagaliscious’s video owes more to women in prison films than the sexploitation genre per se, there’s no denying the visual influence of Tura Satana’s Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! character Varla on Beyonce’s attitude and costume design.
#9 – SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010)
Putting all other references aside, director Edgar Wright includes one nice little reference to Meyer’s Beyond the Valley of the Dolls in his 2010 feature. When Lucas Lee (Chris Evans) cracks his neck we hear the musical signature of Universal Pictures, the studio that made his picture, just like when Z-Man beheads Lance Rock and we hear the Fox Studio fanfare, the studio that made Meyer’s first studio release.
#8 – NRA – SHE’S DRIVING (MUSIC VIDEO)
This cool little song not only visually pays respect to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! but lyrically too.
#7 – THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW (1975)
Not quite an homage but Rocky Horror shares a very similar dinner table scene to Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! Both scenes include a dimwitted muscular blonde who continues to eat meat at an awkward dinner party after a revelation has disturbed all else at the table.
#6 – SCOOBY-DOO! MYSTERY INCORPORATED – IN FEAR OF THE PHANTOM (2010)
The recent episode of this popular television show includes the manager of a band who looks a lot like Z-Man, the manager of the girl band The Carrie Nations, in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.
#5 – FROM DUSK TIL DAWN (1996)
So vampires never appeared in a Russ Meyer film but From Dusk til Dawn features a similar bar, stripper and ensuing madness to the one shown in Up!
#4 – NORAH JONES – LITTLE BROKEN HEARTS
In a visual homage to the poster for Mudhoney, the album cover for Norah Jones’ Little Broken Hearts is almost a replica.
#3 – BENNY BENASSI – SATISFACTION (MUSIC VIDEO)
Girls with big boobs and lots of cleavage? Check. Power tools that clearly stand in for sex? Check. Monotonous narration full of double entendre? Check. It’s as if Russ Meyer took his core elements of Mondo Topless and made a music video.
#2 – WHITE OF THE EYE (1987)
White of the Eye shares a fair amount with Supervixens. Aside from the beautiful lush locations of both, you have a girl unknowingly bedding a serial killer, a serial killer targeting women, an attempt to kill someone at the top of a rocky area and lovers being chased in an attempt to murder them.
#1 – STAR AND DAGGER – YOUR MAMA WAS A GRIFTER (MUSIC VIDEO)
The music video for Your Mama Was A Grifter by Star and Dagger has Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! written all over it. Three girls, sound waves at the start of the video, black and white photography, a Go-Go bar location, near identical costumes, a fast car, a ride out in the desert, a desert ranch… You do the maths.
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.
Russ Meyer’s filmography would have been much better off had he left his filmmaking career at 1979 release Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens. However, 2001 saw the release of Pandora Peaks, which featured the titular adult model herself. Whilst it has the hallmarks of a Meyer film, it feels distinctly underwhelming and not quite one of the sexploitation legend’s film’s at all.
Given that most of the openings to Meyer’s films are quite fun, this opens with a rather drab, title card sequence using a stereotypical porno font that is nothing short of boring. And, sadly, boring is a word I’d use to describe the rest of the film. There really is nothing to it. The entire film consists of sequences of Meyer’s famous montage shots, this time re-tracing parts of his history and intertwining it with parts of his female stars. So we have brief run downs of the town where the director was brought up, his school, where he did his industrial films, memories of his time in the War and even passages of him reading from his epic autobiography A Clean Breast. As much as I love the guy, Meyer certainly isn’t much of a narrator. Being the only male voice present in this film, sadly Meyer doesn’t fill his memories with half as much excitement and wonder as the many men who have played narrator parts in his previous films. However, it is nice to hear him run through his career and see him in retirement life enjoying his trout fishing (his second love next to breasts).
Strip this away from the film and all you have left is footage of the eponymous Peaks and another german model called Tunde. Not a lot happens. It’s essentially Tunde bouncing around her bedroom and Peaks taking of her clothes in various locations (one being the ranch featured in Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! which almost seems a little sacrilegious). Like Meyer, both stars talk about their lives in a track reel played over the top. Except that you don’t really learn an awful lot about them except that they both love their breasts and Peaks absolutely loves the attention. It almost wants to be an updated Mondo Topless, except that Mondo was actually interesting. In that, the models talked about their lives, their hopes and dreams and gave their opinions on a lot of things. The results, when put together with the images, were sometimes hilarious and at other times completely absurd. Here, it all just seems self-indulgent and mundane.
Given that, at this point in his life, Meyer was quite financially well off and well aware that his brand of films wouldn’t pull the audiences into cinemas that they used to, it’s hardly unsurprising that Pandora Peaks had no theatrical release. What does surprise me is that he even bothered to make it at all. Whilst the production values are still very tight and very much of the top quality that the director prized himself on doing in every one of his pictures, the film seems to lack the passion and soul that the rest of his movies have. The whole thing does come across more as a vanity project, as if in his late seventies, Meyer wanted to show everyone he still had it and could still get it. A real shame as it sits like an embarrassing blip on what was an already stellar career. Some people just don’t know when to stop.