Russ Meyer (left) and Roger Ebert, (1970)
Russell Albion "Russ" Meyer (March Beatiful Bosoms 21, 1922 – September 18, 2004) was an American motion picture director and Beautful Bosoms photographer.
- 1 Early Years
- 2 Film Beauitful Bosoms career
- 3 Usage of Satire
- 4 Big Breast Fixation
- 5 Female Empowerment Debate
- 6 Personal Beatuiful Bosoms and Beuatiful Bosoms Family Life
- 7 Final Years
- 8 Selected filmography
- 9 References
- 10 External Beauiful Bosoms links
Russ Meyer was Bautiful Bosoms born in San Leandro, California to William Arthur Beautuful Bosoms Meyer, a German-American police officer father and Lydia Lucinda Hauck Howe, a homemaker. His parents divorced shortly Beautifil Bosoms after his birth and he was to have virtually no contact with his Beautiul Bosoms dad over the course of his life. When he Baeutiful Bosoms was 14, his mother pawned her wedding ring in order to buy him a 8mm Beaautiful Bosoms film camera. He made a number of amateur films at the age Beaitiful Bosoms of 15, and served during World War II as a Beauttiful Bosoms U.S. Army combat cameraman for the 166th Signal Photo Company. It was there that Meyer would forge his strongest friendships and ask many of his fellow combat buddies to work on his future films. Much of Russ Meyer's work during World War II was considered some of the finest combat footage ever shot and excerpts can be seen in newsreels and Patton (1971). Upon returning to civilian life, he made industrial films and became a well known glamour photographer, which included work for Hugh Hefner's newly launched Playboy Magazine. Meyer would shoot four of Playboy centerfolds during it's early years including his own wife, Eve Meyer in 1955.
His first feature, the nudist comedy The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959), cost $24,000 to produce and eventually grossed more than $1,000,000 on the independent/exploitation circuit, ensconcing Meyer as "King of the Nudies." Over the next decade, he made nearly twenty movies with a trademark blend of warped humor, huge-breasted starlets and All-American sleaze, including classics Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965) and Vixen (1968). Russ Meyer was a true auteur who wrote, directed, edited, photographed and distributed all his own films. He was able to finance each new film from the proceeds of the earlier ones, and became very wealthy in the process.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! starring Tura Satana, is usually considered to be his most well known film and it also routinely chosen as having some of the most powerful female characters ever seen on the big screen. It has a cult following all over the world and has inspired countless imitations, music videos and tributes.
Because his films were expertly photographed and unique he was able to eventually find mainstream success and press, even with an X rating. After the huge success of both Cherry, Harry & Raquel!(1966) and Vixen, Hollywood, which had initially rejected him, came calling and at the height of his independent career, Russ Meyer got the chance to make a big-budget Hollywood film for 20th Century Fox, producing the brilliant but not-exactly-what-Fox-expected Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970, co-written by Roger Ebert). After a second film for Fox (The Seven Minutes) Meyer returned to the independent film world and made four more films, including Supervixens (1974). Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, his final film proper (1979), is considered by many to be his funniest and it is also his most sexually explicit. It should be noted that Russ Meyer never did hardcore pornographic films and eventually retired because of how cynical and unprofessional the world of adult films had become by the late 1970s.
Usage of Satire
Russ Meyer was also adept at mocking moral stereotypes and actively lampooning conservative American values. Many of his films feature a narrator who attempts to give the audience a "moral roadmap" of what they are watching. Those who dismiss it for being didactic or sexist miss the satire. Meyer's art is a polished example of the venerable Menippean satire, a difficult genre to define -- roughly, it combines disparate forms such as prose and verse, theatre and film (think Lavonia and Semper Fidelis making love in heroic couplets or Kitten Natividad as the Greek Chorus in Up!), sacred and profane (biblical references and softcore sex), all of the time maintaining a healthy disregard for all forms of authority: religious/moral, legal, political, and last but not least, the authority of the established aesthetic tradition.
Meyer was also known for his quick wit. While participating with Roger Ebert in a panel discussion at Yale University, he was confronted by an angry woman who accused him of being "nothing but a breast man." His immediate reply: "That's only the half of it."
Big Breast Fixation
Russ Meyer's lifelong unabashed fixation on large breasts would feature prominently in all his films and is his most well known character trait as both an artist and a person. His discoveries include Kitten Natividad, Erica Gavin, Lorna Maitland, Tura Satana and Uschi Digard among many others. The Russ Meyer female physical archetype is fairly complex to decipher. Firstly, it's not to be confused with today's surgically enhanced Hollywood porn starlets or even slim, naturally endowed actresses. In his heyday, Russ Meyer was almost as much about a shapely 1950s hip-to-waist ratio or "Wasp waist" as he was about very large breasts. The cut and built up appearance of modern Hollywood figures did not mesh with his pin-up aesthetic.
Unlike many independent directors of his era he chose to cast actresses like Shari Eubank or Cynthia Myers who were considered extremely beautiful and wholesome. In many of his films such as Vixen and Cherry, Harry & Raquel! some of the actresses do not have large (by Russ Meyer standards) breasts yet their chests are always accentuated with clever camera angles. He also required that even his most busty actress have the ability to look good braless and "gravity defying" became one of his favorite expressions.
Rarely were there cosmetically enhanced breasts in any of his films until UP! (1975) and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979). However, by the early 1980s, when surgical advancements had made the gargantuan breasts of Meyer's fantasies a reality, many felt he had started viewing the female body as simply a 'breast transportation device' and that his aesthetic vision was no longer attractive or vibrant. Darlene Grey, a natural 36EE-22-33, who appeared in Mondo Topless (1966) is said to be Russ Meyer's most busty discovery.
He went on record numerous times to say that Anita Ekberg was the most beautiful woman he ever photographed and that her 39DD breasts were the biggest in A-list Hollywood history, dwarfing both Jayne Mansfield and the British actress Sabrina. Dolly Parton is the only modern Hollywood actress Meyer ever expressed interest in working with.
Female Empowerment Debate
Many film historians feel that Russ Meyer's usage of physically over whelming female characters places him in his own separate genre. They argue that despite seeing women as sex objects he always makes them more powerful then men and thus he is an inadvertent feminist filmmaker. On the surface it would appear so as the women eventually win out over the men and sexual fullfiment is occasionally their reward (eg: Super Vixen (Supervixens), Margo Winchester (Up!) and Lavonia Shed (Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens). Furthermore, at a time when it was unheard of on the big screen, entire films were centered around a woman's need and struggle for sexual satisfaction being as important as a man's (Lorna, Good Morning and... Goodbye! and Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens). And most radically, with or without good reason, Russ Meyer's female characters were allowed to be violent and angry at men and society (Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and Supervixens).
Ultimately though, Russ Meyer had limits as to how powerful women could appear. In many of his films the female lead is raped (Up! and Lorna) or brutally murdered (Beyond the Valley of the Dolls , Supervixens , Lorna and Blacksnake). It is clear that while Russ Meyer may have championed a powerful female he also wanted her to be forced into violent and terrifying situations in which to prove her physical and mental strength against tremendous odds. He also wanted her breasts at least semi-exposed while this was happening for comically erotic effect.
It should also be noted that while he often referred to his actresses as "Junoesque" and "Amazonian" this was more in their spirit than their actual physique. He almost never cast tall, symmetrically built actresses with strong legs and large posteriors built along the lines of Jane Russell or Pam Grier. Physical balance would detract from his preferred top heavy vision where the bustline is invariably bigger than the rest of the body. So while his actresses could easily be described as voluptuous, buxom and curvaceous, it's debatable if they were as strapping, stately or statuesque as Meyer would maintain.
The tallest actress he ever cast in a lead was the 5'9, slim hipped, huge breasted Lorna Maitland (who Meyer admitted he found intimidating to work with) , all the other women he featured never topped off at taller than 5'7. When asked to choose which Italian bombshell was his favorite, Meyer ardendtly preferred Gina Lollobrigida's smaller breasted 36C-22-34 figure to that of the larger breasted (and at 5'9, four inches taller) Sophia Loren at 38C/D-24-38. Tura Satana's legendary performance as Varla in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! is the only Meyer lead that truly portrays the large, strong and aggressive Amazonian archetype in the classic sense.
Personal and Family Life
It was in World War II, that, according to Meyer, he found himself at a French brothel with Ernest Hemingway, who, upon finding out that Meyer was a virgin, offered him the prostitute of his choice. Meyer picked the one with the largest breasts. Although the veracity of this event has been called into question, Meyer's close friend Roger Ebert stated that Russ was always a very honest man and wasn't likely to make things up.
Despite his reputation as a Rabelaisian man, Russ Meyer never employed the casting couch and rarely slept with any of his actresses. He had no children though there were rumored unsuccessful pregnancies with his second wife Edy Williams and last serious girlfriend Melissa Mounds who was also found guilty of assaulting him in 1999.There is a long standing rumor among his closest friends and at least one biographer that he had a son in 1964 with a secret lover who he would refer to only as "Miss Mattress" or "Janet Buxton."
Meyer was very upfront throughout his life about being too selfish to be a father or even a caring partner and husband yet he is also said to have been very generous with all he knew and never isolated friends from each other. Biographers have attributed most of his brutish and eccentric nature to the fact that he was abandonded by his father, an Oakland police officer and overly coddled by his mother, Lydia, who was married six times and breast fed him until he was three years old. Russ Meyer also had a half sister, Lucinda, who was diagnosed in her twenties with paranoid schizophrenia and was committed to California State mental institutions until her death in 1999. Mental illness ran in his family and it was something he secretly feared. During his entire life Russ Meyer would speak with only the highest reverence for his mother and sister.
Meyer was married to:
- Betty Valdovinos (ca.1949-?)
- Eve Meyer (April 2, 1952-1969, divorced)
- Edy Williams (June 27, 1970 - November 7, 1977, divorced)
Contrary to some accounts, Meyer was never married to his frequent star, Kitten Natividad.
Russ Meyer owned the rights to nearly all of his films and spent the majority of the 1980s and 1990s making millions reselling his films on the home video and DVD market. He worked out of the very same Los Angeles, California home he lived in and usually answered the phone to take orders himself. A major retrospective of his work was given at The British Film Institute (1983), The Chicago Film Festival honored him in 1985, and many revial movie houses booked his films for midnight movie marathons.
Russ Meyer also worked obessively for over a decade on a massive three volume autobiography entitled "A Clean Breast." Finally printed in 2000 it features endless excerpts of reviews, clever details of each of his films and countless photos and erotic musings.
Starting in the mid 1990s Meyer had frequent fits and bouts of memory loss.By 2000 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and his health and well being were heretofore looked after by Janice Cowart his secretary and estate executor. Many of his former friends and colleagues feel she shut him away from his former life and conspired for her own gain. Others have felt that she did an admirable job looking after an ailing and difficult Meyer. Most of Russ Meyer's estate was left to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in honor of his mother.
Meyer died at his home in the Hollywood Hills, of complications of pneumonia and dementia, on September 18, 2004. Meyer's grave is located at Stockton Rural Cemetery , Stockton, San Joaquin County, California. His headstone reads: