Camp David


By • Apr 1st, 2006 • Pages: 1 2 3

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Russ Meyer inspects John Chambers handiwork on John Lazar as

Having focused on MYRA BRECKINRIDGE last month I thought it appropriate to discuss the other film being shot simultaneously on the 20th Century Fox lot that year: Russ Meyer’s BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.

One can only imagine what it must have been like to wander away from Mike Sarne’s druggy laid-back sound stage over to Russ Meyer’s set – brimming over with size double D breasted ingénues decorating the director’s vision of Hollywood. After all, any film that would cause Jacqueline Susanne to tell the press it would damage her “reputation” as a writer must be allowed to unspool nationwide! Russ Meyer, an artist of such independence that he photographed directed and distributed his own films for years {possibly Hollywood’s only true auteur} was given a budget of $1.5 million to create his masterpiece, one of three films to be made at Fox under his new contract.. Like MYRA, BVD had a movie critic in tow – namely Roger Ebert – only this critic actually wrote the screenplay, and what a ripe screenplay it was!! I don’t think a week goes by that someone doesn’t bring that fact up to Ebert, or at least I hope they do! Never was there a more vanilla film critic in America than good old Roger Ebert, yet for Russ Meyer he let alcohol take over long enough to pen some of the most quotably outrageous dialog ever!

What took the Fox front office by surprise was that the film-going youth of America, who wouldn’t be caught dead at a screening of Susanne’s VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, rushed to make Meyer’s epic a financial success, something MYRA BRECKINRIDGE failed to do at the time.

Russ would appear on my Sinister Image cable program years later to discuss his films on two half hour segments. He told a great story about Miriam Hopkins who worked on his FANNY HILL in Germany: he liked her a lot and laughed about her getting on a train with a famous director like Fritz Lang who convinced her they were going to get married and even had a minister perform the ceremony on the train. After a “honeymoon” the director revealed that the minister was an actor and the whole thing was a joke! Russ also recalled driving Hopkins around Berlin looking for women for Her!!

After we shot the first half my crew, which consisted of two overweight girls from the AFI, refused to tape the second half which would have been all about BVD, for fear of “Gods Wrath” I kid you not….Russ thought it was very funny especially since we were in Santa Monica of all places. Russ explained that ‘Jesus freaks” had been the bane of his existence ever since he started making films back in the late fifties.

John Lazar takes direction during the beheading sequence of Beyond the valley....

The night before our taping Russ took me out for dinner and regaled me with stories about his life in show business.. He was what they call “A man’s man,” a combat veteran of the Second World War where he began using his camera to take photographs and later newsreel footage of what was happening in Europe not to mention as many busty women as he could get in front of his lens! Russ would take responsibility for coining both the phrases “soft-core” and “hardcore” to describe the kinds of films he liked to make. I remember at dinner he ordered tonic water and as soon as the waiter left he fished two small bottles of Gin (from a recent plane trip no doubt) out of his pocket and made a good old Gin and Tonic! “Waste not, want not”! Is my motto” said the director of MUD HONEY under his breath. One thing you realized in talking with this man was his total knowledge of the film-making process, yet he was so down to earth about Hollywood… a charming guy this Russ Meyer was!

After dinner Russ drove me by his house up in the hills which was a virtual museum of Meyer memorabilia! He had bronzed and mounted on the wall some of the giant bras worn by his “leading ladies”; there were awards, photographs, posters and props from his entire oeuvre proudly displayed for all to see. Over a brandy in his living room, Russ waxed nostalgic about his success: “At my age I have nothing to complain about. There’s a forty year old gal from Finland who is built like a brick shit-house who comes over once a week and kicks the shit out of me, so I’m not what you would call frustrated.” Russ was very proud of his connection to young filmmakers, telling them not to give up on their dreams. “I’ve made films all my life whether the money was there or not; don’t let anyone get in your way.” Russ always signed autographs “I was glad to do it!” Believe me he was!

Russ Meyer passed away recently at the age of eighty two and had not enjoyed good health in the years since we taped my show. His aesthetic is admired and copied by directors like John Waters and Quentin Tarantino. His films will continue to inspire the young Turks of Hollywood and perhaps in time his place in film history will be properly recognized beyond the valley of the dolls…..

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