Tag Archives: Vixen

‘Feminism and Male Inadequacy in the Films of Russ Meyer’ by Syvology

10 Nov

A belated post but as part of this years MEYER MONTH I was forwarded this nice little article via twitter. The original post can be found here but I’ve included it below, and you can also follow its author Syvology on twitter here!

 

A dual biopic exploring the friendship between Roger Ebert and Russ Meyer is apparently in the works. Simpsons/SNL writer Christopher Cluess penned the script, which focuses on Meyer and Ebert’s formative collaboration on Fox’s big-budget fiasco Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Though it will be fun to see young Ebert in his humble side-burned glory, the most interesting character in this story is Russ Meyer.

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An ongoing fascination of mine, Russ Meyer is one of the most misunderstood figures in film history. To fans of sleaze and camp, he’s a deity. He invented the sexploitation genre as we know it with The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), a hallucinatory exploration of compulsive voyeurism. According to John Waters, the iconic Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) is “beyond a doubt, the best movie ever made. It is possibly better than any film that will be made in the future.” To other, more genteel audiences however, Meyer is often thought of as a seedy proto-pornographer whose films trade in adolescent prurience, irredeemable violence, and general bad taste. Meyer himself subscribed to the latter characterization, rejecting intellectual interpretations of his work and insisting that he only made movies for two reasons: “lust and profit.” But as any true student of his films can attest, Meyer’s bizarre career encompassed much more than that. To appreciate the thought-provoking complexities inherent in Meyer’s work, one must first confront its most frustrating contradiction: that his films are simultaneously misogynist and feminist.

Meyer’s career unfolded concomitantly with second-wave feminism, but it’s primarily third-wave (or so-called “sex-positive”) feminists that appreciate his aesthetic. B. Ruby Rich famously labeled Meyer “the first feminist American director”, praising his progressive sense of female empowerment in Faster, Pussycat! and his bold rejection of hetero-normativity in Vixen! (1968). Similarly, quasi-feminist cultural critic Camille Paglia laments, “his women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore.” Roger Ebert has always been Meyer’s most high-profile apologist on this point, encouraging critics to appreciate “the quintessential Russ Meyer image: a towering woman with enormous breasts, who dominates all the men around her, demands sexual satisfaction, and casts off men in the same way that, in mainstream sexual fantasies, men cast aside women.” Indeed, Meyer himself credited much of his success to the fact that many women enjoyed his movies just as much as men. But things get tricky once you contrast these progressive interpretations with some of the director’s own words. He described his ideal target audience as “some guy…in the theater with semen seeping out of his dick.” When asked whether his films exploit women, Meyer responded plainly, “I’m prone to say, yes, I do exploit women. I exploit them with zeal and gusto.” On feminist thought itself, Meyer was pretty vile: “I don’t care to comment about what might be inside a lady’s head. Hopefully it’s my dick.” There’s really no question that Meyer was at all times primarily concerned with delivering male sexual gratification, not promoting feminist ideology. But he was the first American filmmaker to consistently depict and celebrate women who were in charge of their own sexuality. So what, then, was the connection?

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Whatever is incidentally pro-feminist in Meyer’s work was likely an accidental, albeit fascinating, side effect of his idiosyncratic sexual appetite. The theoretical disconnect in his treatment of gender may be explained by the extent to which Meyer’s films are exceedingly personal, one might say solipsistic, expressive vehicles for exploring his own masturbatory fantasies. Describing his creative process, he once said, “each film must begin with me. I am the idea. I’ve got to have the hard-on.” The relationship between his sexual personality and the feminist overtones of his work gets clearer once one acknowledges that Meyer’s obsession with female dominance was always complemented by another, perhaps even more continual thematic hallmark of his narratives: male inadequacy. Themes of sexual impotence permeate his entire career. In Lorna (1964), the title character’s husband is a sexually inept wimp that bores her into infidelity and recklessness. In Common Law Cabin (1967), a female character cuckolds and basically murders her husband as ostensible punishment for being, essentially, a pussy. Meyer’s failed attempt at First Amendment proselytizing, The Seven Minutes (1971), features a rape defendant vindicated at trial by the stunning revelation that the crime was physically impossible for him to commit. Charles Napier’s utterly despicable villain in Supervixens (1975) brutally murders a woman after she taunts his inability to perform. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) is a preposterous and anarchic profile of a hopeless idiot who can’t bring himself to have anything but anal sex.

What’s more is that his focus on male inadequacy was no doubt a highly personal topic. In addition to his reputation for being decidedly wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am in the sack (corroborated by multiple former lovers), one particular episode of performance anxiety is instructive. Just as his filmmaking career was getting started, Meyer’s obsession with busty burlesque icon Tempest Storm caused him to abandon his first wife and nearly ruin his own life. But when it came time to go to bed with Ms. Storm, Meyer’s manhood was nowhere to be found. He described it thus: “When I first met Tempest Storm I was so in awe of her great big cans that thoughts like performing badly or ejaculating prematurely ran through my mind –all connected to the dick bone. So when I made my move to hump the buxotic after the last show in her Figueroa Street scatter, I felt inadequate, plain and simple. Fuck, what can I say?”.

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Tempest Storm happens to be the star of Meyer’s first short film (now lost), The French Peep Show (1954), and her breasts make a cameo in his first feature-length film, The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) (As far as I’m aware, this isn’t actually true. It was June Wilkinson’s breasts that had an uncredited cameo, Storm was not involved in the film at all – Lydia). To a significant extent, she was the sex symbol that launched his whole career. So quite literally, feelings of sexual inadequacy were at the very root of his development as an artist.

Meyer’s brand of transgressive femininity may be thought of as the natural result of his own self-loathing, which subliminally translated into deep skepticism for contemporary masculinity at large. It’s likely he viewed female sexuality as something hopelessly out of his personal control, and ultimately out of society’s control as well. That’s why his work exhibits what UC Irvine film professor Kristen Hatch called “an ambivalence toward the traditional authority figures that classical Hollywood had helped to reinforce, showing masculine social authority to be in a state of disarray.” Characters like Varla and Vixen don’t just transgress rules associated with physical gender norms like strength and sex drive; they represent the rejection of all rules that paternalistic society is stupid enough to rely on. At its best, Meyer’s work subverts traditional sexual power dynamics and celebrates the disorienting sexual chaos that results. Female liberation in Meyer’s universe is not the product of paternalistic sympathy or cliché moral epiphany. Rather, he depicts female sexuality as being by its very nature violently irrepressible and self-actualizing. Socio-masculine anxiety about this threat to male sexual hegemony is the principal component of Meyer’s continuing subversive appeal. But as Ebert once put it, that’s only apparent to viewers “if they can see past the heaving bosoms.” Not likely.

MEYER MONTH – Advert Pictorial

9 Nov

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MEYER MONTH – Top Five Costumes

9 Mar

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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.

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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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

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#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.

MEYER MONTH – ‘Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!’ (1968)

7 Mar

Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers isn’t your atypical Russ Meyer film. A picture that feels like a small slump in his career, Finders has none of the sleaziness, fun and venomous swipes of its predecessors Common Law Cabin and Good Morning… and Goodbye!. Nor is it as exciting and charming as its successor, the certificate challenging Vixen!. Sadly, this is a feature that feels like the director switched on autopilot and stopped caring, creating a picture that feels like a dull thriller television movie then a tantalising sexploitation escapade.

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Kelly (Anne Chapman) and Paul (Paul Lockwood) are an unhappily married couple, cheating on each other and generally being miserable in each other’s company (and in typical Meyer fashion, it is the husband’s sexual inadequacy and neglect that has forced the wife into adultery). Paul owns a bar and has a mistress Claire on the side (Lavelle Roby). Anne, unbeknownst to her husband, occasionally dances at said bar when he isn’t there and shows the punters a lot more than she shows him. On this one particular night however, the two of them get caught up in a heist job, headed by a man named Cal (Duncan McLeod) and things get… well, remotely interesting?

You’d be forgiven for assuming it all sounds a bit drab, because, quite frankly, it is. Now don’t get me wrong, I am under no illusions about Russ Meyer as a filmmaker and certainly do not consider him in some mythical, underrated ‘best filmmaker of all time’ in some semi-quasi Orson Welles kind of way. But Finders is without a doubt one of his weakest films. It’s tiny cast and minimal locations just aren’t enough to pull itself out from the ghastly shadow that is a terrible script. Full of badly written one-liners and dialogue that lacks any kind of emotion, the picture essentially feels like a made-for-television movie, with some added tits. And even then, there isn’t as much breast as you would have thought for a Meyer picture. Everything feels a little, well, lacklustre and probably at the expense of the plot’s restriction to allow much else to happen.

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What doesn’t help the picture is that its cast is one of the most forgettable out of all those used in Meyer’s filmography. Leading lady Anne Chapman, to bluntly put it, has none of the looks or charm of any of the other Meyer girls. Whilst it feels horrible to say she isn’t pretty, it’s just simply that there is nothing about her that makes her memorable; none of the natural good looks of Alaina Capri, the feminine caricature of beauty that Babette Bardot had or attitude that Tura Satana possessed. She certainly attempts to make the most of the main role that she has but is easily upstaged by Lavelle Roby who has a considerably smaller supporting act. Roby manages to ooze confidence, sex appeal and authority in the maximum of ten minutes screen time she is given, giving the role of brothel owner Claire much more of an impact than that of Kelly. When she turns up at the end of the picture in a cream mac and go-go boots touting a gun at the male cast, you almost wish Meyer had taken her character and made another film (Roby was cast two years later in Meyer’s first studio release Beyond the Valley of the Dolls). One can totally imagine the likes of Roby, Capri, Erica Gavin, Haji and Kitten Natividad going up against each other in some gang war-esque melodrama about their character’s sex lives.

The male cast is also just as mixed. Duncan McLeod (another cast member who would also later crop up in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls) is brilliant as the heist mastermind Cal, managing to effectively display his boredom for the job alongside his sadistic attitude to dealing with hostages. Robert Rudelson as his partner Feeny is a different kettle of fish altogether, playing the role of a complete nut job of a maniac with so much cliché that you wish he was written out of the script altogether. Sadly for the other two male cast members, Paul Lockwood and Gordon Wescourt, their fate is very similar to that of Chapman’s. With no personality or good looks and minimal acting ability, they are instantly forgettable. Even the director himself makes more of an impact in a split second cameo at the start of the film, leering over the bar’s topless dancer.

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Not that the film doesn’t have its clichéd Meyer moments, with the major sex scene being a highlight amongst the directors filmography. Underwater shots of bodies bumping and grinding against each other (which I will admit are beautifully lit) during sex are inter-cut with cars smashing each other at a derby. Yes its frenetic, yes it’s fast, but it’s also Meyer adding his ‘social redeeming value’ and moralisation to the story. The sin of the act of adultery is equatable to death. Not only does the editing get Meyer’s moral message across but diminishes the intensity of the characters orgasms, making it less of a target for obscenity persecution by the censors.  It’s worth fast forwarding the film to that one scene alone, probably the most entertaining and humorous part of the whole film which is only beats the ‘chest shaving’ scene to the top spot. In this, Paul gets his chest shaved at Claire’s brothel by one of the prostitutes who recounts her Amish childhood and incestuous relationship with her brother (flashbacks to her dressed in full Amish costume included). Meyer at one of his most random and equally un-arousing moments, it’s a scene that manages to equally appear quite innocent, as if the two were having sex for the first time. Apparently this was one of the directors favourite scenes and he was practically smacking his lips whilst shooting it.

Meyer had noticed the trend at that time of films switching from playing at drive-in theaters to hardtop indoor cinemas, one way of ensuing that those ‘tough’ moral types couldn’t catch a peek at what was screening and kick up a fuss. Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers turned out to be a huge hit and even found itself playing at legitimate cinemas by May 1969. It’s booking into Philadelphia’s first-run Randolph Theatre (replacing the MGM release of The Shoes for the Fisherman which had tanked) is a significant breakthrough for Meyer as a filmmaker as up to this point in his career his films had usually played art-house cinemas. That didn’t stop people trying to get him into trouble, even though they weren’t very successful… There were at least two incidents, one in Louisiana and one in Missouri, were the court ruled in Meyer’s favour after prints of Finders were seized for being obscene, without a prior adversary hearing determining if it actually was.

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Not one of the directors best but worth a watch for his unconscious attempt at doing somewhat of a serious film, the noir feel of Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers is one that could have been capitalised more on with a different cast and the final result eclipsed by the rest of his filmography.

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

9 Aug

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Eve Meyer, one of a kind.

MEYER MONTH – Russ Meyer Fan Art

24 Mar

Whilst trawling the internet for images for this month’s Russ Meyer dedicated month, I’ve stumbled across a lot of Russ Meyer related fan art and posters, some of which are beautiful. I’ve collected a majority of my favourites here for a pictorial post but there are plenty more out there. I will say one thing, if any one of the artists who did any of these ever come across this page or blog, please get in touch! I would pay for some of the originals of these…

The girls of Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Becca’s Art

artwork by the Pizz

Supervixens character sketch by Jeremy Polgar

Tura Satana by Nathan Fox

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Scott C

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Jeff Victor

Vixen! by WacomZombie

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill!  by kirbynasty

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by SHAG

Supervixens by Arbito

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! inspired painting by Sandra Equihua

minimalist Russ Meyer film posters by roosterization

Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! by Ghoulish Gary Pullin

The Lust of Flesh by Sam Gambino

MEYER MONTH – The Final War of Russ Meyer by David K. Frasier

21 Mar

In the July 18-August 1 1985 issue of Rolling Stone director John Waters contributed an article, “Trash Tour of Los Angeles”, which included the address of Russ Meyer’s home, 3121 Arrowhead Drive, in the Hollywood Hills section of Los Angeles.  The “Pope of Trash”,  long an articulate champion of RM’s work, dubbed the director’s two-story chalet the “Russ Meyer Museum” because nearly every inch of available wall, ceiling, and kitchen cabinet space was festooned with posters, photos, and memorabilia chronicling his career, wartime experiences, and serial sexual liaisons.  Meyer never forgave Waters for this transgression even though JW had him on tape saying it was okay to include the address.  Russ reportedly roundly cursed Waters each time a covey of fans dropped by the manse expecting an impromptu tour.  I owe John Waters a personal debt not only because this kind and gracious man has supported my books on murder, entertainment industry suicide, and showbiz homicide, but more importantly without his Rolling Stone article I never would’ve met Russ Meyer.  John’s travelogue led to a close 15 year friendship with “The King of the Nudies” largely spent working on his mammoth three-volume autobiography, A Clean Breast.

I was a librarian at the Kinsey Institute (formerly the Institute for Sex Research) on the campus of Indiana University-Bloomington when I first saw the article.  Ever since seeing a double bill of Good Morning… and Goodbye! and Common-Law Cabin at the Sunset Drive-in in Evansville, Indiana, during the early 1970s I’d been hooked.  Sure the outsized breasts were great, but beyond that it was obvious these movies were the progeny of a one man film factory whose love of life and vital essence energized every frame of film.  Jump cut to August 1985.  Armed with the address from the Waters article I respectfully wrote RM to request that he donate copies of his videotapes for the collections of the Kinsey Institute library.  A few days later, I was stunned when the Institute’s secretary rang my office to say “a Russ Meyer” was on the line.  Long story short – Russ was thrilled to donate videos to the library, and when I told him I wanted to do a book length bibliography on published works about him he informed me that I must come to Los Angeles to incorporate the multi-volumes of material contained in the scrapbooks in his vast home archive.  RM was proud of his work and doggedly sought out every published mention of his name (both good and bad).

Russ cooperated fully in the project, but insisted my book NOT be a biography.  He was engaged in that endeavor and nothing must compete with what he portentously dubbed THE BOOK.  I assured him my effort was solely to collect material about him so fans and researchers could use the book to study his work.  Russ Meyer – The Life and Films was published by a small reference publisher in 1990 and featured a 25 page career essay (“Russ Meyer, American Auteur”), and annotated entries on 1,148 published items, as well as a detailed filmography.  Jimmy McDonough, best-selling author of Shakey:  Neil Young’s Biography (2002), fully realized my vision for the book when he used it to write his definitive 2005 biography of Russ, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws:  The Biography of Russ Meyer, King of the Sex Film.  If you haven’t done so, pick it up.  It’s a hell of a read particularly the tragic final years of “King Leer” filled as they were with equal measure of Shakespearean poignancy and perfidy.

Although John Waters briefly touched on RM’s manse in the Hills above the Lake Hollywood Reservoir it deserves closer scrutiny as a testament to the Great Man’s life.  Few houses, even in the Land of the Ravenous Ego, have ever been converted into a shrine to so fully chronicle the grandeur of its owner.  For a while it was painted a bilious combination of green and orange to mimic the color scheme of his Bosomania videocassette boxes.  Of course, the neighbors hated it (much to RM’s delight), and he was often at odds with them. On one kitchen cabinet, Russ had laminated a letter from a disgruntled neighbor unhappy with the trash (sets from Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens — much of it was shot in the house) strewn across the backyard.  She complained the space looked like “lower Tijuana”, and added that everyone in the neighborhood “would love to work from their homes, but as you know it’s illegal”.  “I had my attorney write a gorilla letter”, RM said, “and she backed off.”

Once while we were floating in the small pool on the side of the house I asked him if he ever had trouble with neighbors peeking in to catch glimpses of female guests like Francesca “Kitten” Natividad, Melissa Mounds, and many others.   Not a problem on Arrowhead (“my next door neighbors are Chinese”), but his second home in Palm Desert was in a neighborhood overrun with horny teen-aged boys.  The munificently endowed Melissa Mounds, his lover during the latter half of the 1990s, often swam nude and kids would either get on the roofs of their homes with binoculars, or, steal peeks over the wall.  Russ loved telling the story about how Mounds stormed after one sexually enflamed teen, knocked on the door of his dwelling, and when his mother answered, she pulled down her top exposing a brace of humongous bazooms and said, “Tell your son here they are if he’s still interested”.

For a Meyer fan the house on Arrowhead was a breast man’s Louvre.  Russ was deeply proud of his work and profoundly sentimental.  Photos of former lovers (one of a seductive Uschi Digard in a swimming pool playing a sousaphone) were everywhere and RM memorialized the fact of his couplings with a gold nameplate bearing the inscription, “To the mutual exchange of wondrous bodily fluids”.  The far wall of the kitchen was covered with priceless memorabilia from the films – Bill Teas’s straw hat from The Immoral Mr. Teas, Tura “Varla” Satana’s glove from Faster, Pussycat!  Kill!  Kill!, the ice tongs that spelled the end of Lorna Maitland in Lorna, even the wheel chair Meyer stock player Stuart Lancaster used in FPKK.  For me, however, one item in particular was just the best.  In the kitchen, RM had a framed ad from Daily Variety featuring a shot of Erica Gavin trumpeting both his greatness and the huge financial success of Vixen!.  It was one of those ads that asked a series of questions with only one obvious answer, in this case, “Russ Meyer”.  “Who is the man who gave us Vixen!?”, “Who is the man responsible for making a film that broke box office records in Chicago”, “Who is this visionary director…” etc., etc.  Under the final question, the late Eve Meyer (the beauty and brains behind Eve Productions) had written in bold ink, “Who gives a crap?”  Russ laughed it off remembering his voluptuous ex-wife never tired of “busting balls” especially when she controlled the budgets for the films produced under the Eve banner. What a woman.

Russ always said he never felt really close to someone until he’d been through a war with them.  His best friends remained his World War II army buddies, and Roger Ebert, their lifelong friendship initially forged in the trenches at 20th Century-Fox writing the classic Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.  What follows is a free-form reminiscence of the “war” we shared, the seemingly endless working and re-working of A Clean Breast.  While illness ultimately left Russ unable to see the project through to its conclusion or to celebrate his achievement, THE BOOK stands as a remarkable document if not only for its thousands of photographs.  Readers shouldn’t go there expecting to find any great personal insights into the man.  Russ wasn’t that type of guy, and admitted he wasn’t particularly sensitive although he was strongly sentimental and attached to his friends.  RM once told me his autobiography was infinitely better than director David Lean’s because it was longer.

Over the years, ACB grew from one volume to three (as did its price from $70.00 to $350.00) as Russ refused to wrap the project.  RM first got the idea to write his own story after becoming disenchanted with German author Rolf Thissen’s book, Russ Meyer, der Konig des Sexfilms (1987).  Russ was so outraged by what he saw as the tome’s inaccuracies that he successfully sued to block the book’s distribution in America.  What ensued was a period of intense activity lasting years as Russ filled up seemingly inexhaustible reams of yellow legal pads with his story.  He combed his clippings archive and had an assistant obtain Permissions from various entities to reproduce complete articles (most often reviews) in the tomes.  On the strength of my book, Russ brought me in as an “associate editor,” a job that primarily consisted of proofreading, fact checking, and sizing photographs.

Russ, like most people with only a passing acquaintance with the university (his film festivals at Yale and Northwestern), was impressed with academia far beyond anyone who has actually ever had to work within their hallowed halls.  Russ would daily call the I.U. library where I worked (I left the Kinsey Institute in 1986) to ask how to spell certain words, but mostly just to talk.  He always referred to the library as “the Gutenberg” and my colleagues soon recognized his modulated FM radio voice.  After Russ decided only the printing presses of Hong Kong were cutting edge enough to reproduce the thousands of black-and-white duo-tone photos in ACB he compelled me to get a passport.  Never used it.  RM had a falling out with the printer and had all the work shipped to FB Productions, a commercial printer in Chatsworth, California that specialized in producing top quality stand-up movie advertising.  At first, Russ sent printer’s proofs to my home, but later he’d fly me out to Los Angeles annually for a week or so to work shoulder-to-shoulder and bunk with him at his Hollywood digs.  Russ always met me at the Los Angeles International Airport and, with the moxie gained in 40 plus years of navigating the traffic choked streets of Hell A, wended his way along a circuitous route of highways and surface streets.  Most often, he’d be driving his GMC Suburban, a veteran of several motion picture shoots. Once when we were stopped at a light a Mexican street vendor approached the truck and tried to sell Russ a dozen red roses. Without missing a beat, he pointed at me and told the guy, “No thanks, we’re not queer.” Classic Meyer.

A typical working day began with reveille around 5:30 A.M. with Russ eating a bowl of oatmeal seated at the editing machine in his garage in the shadow of shelves of boxed film cuts and a huge vault.  He always appreciated that I didn’t eat breakfast so I could immediately launch into work at a nearby table.  During work on ACB, RM was also cutting down his features for a planned 12 hour compilation film, The Breast of Russ Meyer, and later worked on two direct-to-video (then the format) films – one on then lover, Melissa Mounds, and the other on Pandora Peaks (eventually released on DVD, but finished by RM stalwart Jim “the Handyman” Ryan after his friend of 50 years became too ill to work).

While editing, Russ also fielded phone calls for RM Films and personally took orders for his videos.  After a big sale he’d hold up the completed invoice and exclaim, “Frasier, tonight we eat!”  Often during the day, Russ called me over to the editing machine to show off a particularly groin stirring scene.  “God, what a fucking evil look,” he’d marvel as footage of the hellishly configured Melissa Mounds clad only in a feathered mask coiled into a canvas film bin.  Their tempestuous relationship ended in May 1999 after the stripper attacked the sleeping director with a hammer.  Nothing kills sex quicker than a restraining order.  RM’s long-time film editor Richard Brummer was often at the house on Arrowhead doing sound editing on BRM. Once after Brummer left for the day, RM mused that while his friend and colleague was a superb editor he was incapable of editing a film without the Master’s supervision.  “You have to have this fetish, to adore the bosom vast in order to cut the breast just as it’s at its most perfect.  Brummer is married to a woman who’s built like a broom handle.  What can he know?”.

We’d knock off around 6:00 P.M., have a beer at the house (RM was in a Corona phase for a while), then the best times began.  Russ loved to eat and lived for the camaraderie of “cutting meat” with friends.  RM was a regular at the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard and always entered through the kitchen.  Interestingly, he refused to pay the parking fee behind the restaurant, opting instead to give the Mexican attendant a few bucks (less than the rate) off the books.  Conversation during the dozens of meals we shared was unforgettable.  RM always started off with a stiff drink (“Bombay gin straight up and so cold it’ll hurt your teeth”), ordered, and for the next two hours or more over the meal discussed his movies, friends, women, and THE BOOK (which he considered to be one of the most important things he’d ever attempted).  Russ liked that I only drank beer (“it’s so much cheaper than liquor”) and spoke with contempt of picking up the bloated bar tab of an associate of ecdysiast Pandora Peaks who insisted on quaffing champagne cocktails at $15.00 bucks a throw at a Wolfgang Puck restaurant in Palm Desert.  Russ also appreciated my insistence on picking up the tab at least once during any visit.  To save me money he’d pronounce, “We’ll eat at the greasy spoon”, Meyerese for the Talleyrand restaurant, his standby eatery located at 1700 W. Olive Avenue in Burbank.

The aforementioned Jim Ryan (the “Handyman” in Eve and the Handyman), a wonderful guy who devoted most of his life to RM, was a frequent companion on these outings.  Booze flowed at a Russ Meyer repast and one drive back from a restaurant near RKO Studios (now part of Paramount) on the corner of Melrose and Gower in Hollywood was memorable.  We were discussing his troubled and checkered relationship with the Hollywood film establishment when he suddenly pulled his truck over next to the studio, walked over to building, unzipped, and pissed on the wall.  “There”, he said peeling away from the curb, “that’s what I think of the whole fucking lot of them.”

Once on the way to a steak joint, Russ said, “I want you to meet the woman who made me a millionaire”.  We drove over to Fred Segal’s, a trendy clothing store in West Hollywood, but Erica (Vixen) Gavin, the shop’s general manager, had already left for the day.  RM owed her big… and knew it.  Best meal ever with Russ?  Easy.  Cactus Jack’s on Highway 111 in Indio, California.  We’d just spent a grueling day on ACB, and Russ felt that it was finally done.  We spent the early evening photocopying the volumes at a local Xerox store then went off to savor the best prime rib in the world washed down with what he called “copious amounts of meaningful grog”. Work on ACB ground on for over a decade with Russ sending printer’s bluelines to my home, me visiting Los Angeles, and my fielding near daily phone calls about THE BOOK.  I probably should’ve noticed RM’s mental deterioration earlier, but when you’re in the middle of something as all-consuming as this project was for Russ it was easy not to see what in retrospect was obvious.  RM was a workaholic and recognizing this essential element in his character I just thought he didn’t want the book to end because he felt it would signal his death.

That said, he kept adding chapters and photos to the volumes like rooms in the Winchester House.  The project ultimately descended into chaos when Russ discovered his typesetter could adjust spaces between letters and words, a process in the printing biz known as kerning.  RM meticulously eyeballed every line to make certain the spaces between the words were exact.  He slept with a dog-eared thesaurus and readily sacrificed the use of an initially well-chosen word in order to use an inferior synonym containing just the right amount of letters to balance out a line.  This went on page after page, draft after draft, until he was unable to keep the corrected drafts in order.  Time and again I was sent the same version of a draft to correct that I had already proofread.  By mid-1999 it was apparent to those in the company that RM was unable to complete the project.  The attorney stepped in and informed the company’s office manager that RM was facing a huge tax bite were the project not completed and published by the end of 2000.  I was brought out in August 1999 for what I knew would be my final meeting with Russ.  I don’t wish to dwell on this unhappy time.  Anyone who has watched a beloved friend or family member fade slowly away fully understands the pain and cosmic injustice of this kind of loss.  It was particularly tough to watch helplessly as a man as vital and independent as Russ went slowly into that Good Night.

Again, Jimmy McDonough graphically chronicles this painful chapter of RM’s life.  With apologies, it’s just too sad to rehash here.  I wrapped the book for Russ and after it was printed in 2000 was sent a signed copy.  I have no reason to believe he even remembered who I was when he was prompted to sign it.  Flashback to August 1999 as I’m leaving the “Russ Meyer Museum” for the final time, the manuscript completed, our war nearly won.  Realizing I’d never see him alive again, I asked the Great Man if he’d be kind enough to sign the book I’d written on him in 1990.  Here’s what he wrote:

–David K. Frasier / 3-2-12