Russ Meyer


Director, Producer

About

Also Known As
B. Callum, Russell Albion Meyer
Birth Place
Oakland, California, USA
Born
March 21, 1922
Died
September 18, 2004
Cause of Death
Died Of Complications Of Pneumonia

Biography

A famed film auteur and master of celluloid erotica, director Russ Meyer revolutionized attitudes toward nudity on film with his debut movie, "The Immortal Mr. Teas" (1959), one of the first films since pre-Code Hollywood to show nudity in an erotic manner. While he may have been written off by some as a smut peddler, Meyer used his films - dubbed sexploitation movies - to tackle issues ...

Photos & Videos

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Movie Posters
Mudhoney - Movie Posters
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Scene Photos

Family & Companions

Eve Meyer
Wife
Model, actor. Married in 1952; divorced in 1970; died in plane crash in 1977.
Edy Williams
Wife
Actor. Married in 1970; divorced.
Kitten Natividad
Companion
Actor. No longer together.
Debra Angela Masson
Companion
Born c. 1960; together since 1985; assaulted Meyer in 1998 when he reportedly refused to give her $50,000; sentenced to three years' probation and told to attend 104 meetings of A.A. as well as undergo one year of counseling for domestic abuse.

Bibliography

"A Clean Breast: The Life & Loves of Russ Meyer"
Adolf Schwartz (1992)
"Russ Meyer--The Life and Films"
David K Frasier, McFarland (1990)

Notes

"He understood that sex was fun. His women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore." --controversial feminist author Camille Paglia on Russ Meyer, quoted in Entertainment Weekly, April 5, 1996.

"I love big-breasted women with wasp waists. I love them with big cleavages. I love the perspiration between their cleavages. . . . " --Russ Meyer quoted in the London Times, May 23, 1999.

Biography

A famed film auteur and master of celluloid erotica, director Russ Meyer revolutionized attitudes toward nudity on film with his debut movie, "The Immortal Mr. Teas" (1959), one of the first films since pre-Code Hollywood to show nudity in an erotic manner. While he may have been written off by some as a smut peddler, Meyer used his films - dubbed sexploitation movies - to tackle issues concerning race, politics and morality. He was also incredibly successful making movies like "Wild Gals of the Naked West" (1962) and "Lorna" (1964) on the cheap, and turning a sizeable profit at the box office. Meyer entered the cult favorite pantheon with his wildly titled "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1966) and had a major commercial hit with the controversial "Vixen!" (1968), which featured taboo subjects like incest and lesbianism. Because of its success, Meyer was able to realize his dream of directing a studio film, resulting in the critically maligned financial hit "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970), written by a then-unknown Roger Ebert. Though he tried to direct straightforward dramas, Meyer returned to the sexploitation genre only to retire before the porn industry boom after his final narrative film, "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens" (1979). Part showman, part filmmaker, the uninhibited Meyer nonetheless ushered in the sexual revolution past Hollywood's repressed gates in the 1960s, establishing sex and nudity as a crucial cinema ingredient while making his mark as one of the most celebrated cult filmmakers of all time.

Born on March 21, 1922 in San Leandro, CA, Meyer was the son of William Meyer, a small-town police officer, and Lydia Meyer, a registered nurse. Shortly after he was born, his parents divorced and Meyer had little contact with his father for the remainder of his life. Fascinated with photography since childhood, legend had it that Meyer's mother pawned her wedding ring to buy her son his first camera. Showing a natural aptitude as a shutterbug, Meyer began making amateur films in his early teens, but it was during World War II that he established his professional credentials while serving in Europe as an army combat cameraman, from which a good deal of Meyer lore originated. In later years, Meyer recalled visiting a French brothel while stationed overseas, where he met none other than Ernest Hemingway. Upon learning that he was a virgin, Hemingway supposedly offered Meyer his choice of prostitutes. In response, he chose the one with the largest breasts - a fateful event which Meyer claimed later ignited his lifelong fascination with buxom women. After the war, Meyer's impressive portfolio led to his first professional assignment as a photographer for Playboy magazine in the early 1950s, where he cut his teeth for several years shooting some of the magazine's earliest centerfolds. Among his subjects were such pioneer pin-up queens as Dolly Read and Eve Turner, whom Meyer married in 1952.

Despite his success as a photographer, however, as the 1960s rolled around, Meyer found himself increasingly drawn to filmmaking. As the 1950s drew to a close, Meyer made his film directorial debut with "The Immoral Mr. Teas" (1959), a ribald, but innocuous sex comedy filmed in Europe about a delivery man (Bill Teas) who awakens from anesthesia at the dentist's office to discover every woman he sees to be naked. Though initially treating his newfound ability as a curse, Mr. Teas eventually learns how to enjoy the scenery. Made on an extreme low budget, "Mr. Teas" was a big hit, earning over $1 million at the box office, while transforming so-called nudie cuties into a viable genre. In fact, Meyer's film was revolutionary in its depiction of nudity on screen, which prior to "Mr. Teas" was reserved for nature documentaries and scare-movies about venereal diseases. Thanks to the success of "Mr. Teas," Meyer found his true calling and never looked back, leading to a string of self-financed sexploitation movies that gradually became more bizarre and over-the-top. He followed up with his second film, "Eve and the Handyman" (1961), which starred wife Eve Turner, and went on to direct some none-too-subtle titles as "Erotica" (1961), "Wild Gals of the Naked West" (1962), "Heavenly Bodies!" (1963), and "Europe in the Raw" (1963).

Starting in 1964, Meyer entered his so-called gothic period with a quartet of black-and-white films that titillated and entertained as no other films had before. Starting with "Lorna" (1964), Meyer employed stronger storyline while delving into more theatrical violence, sexually-obsessed women and weaker male characters at the mercy of domineering females. The period continued with "Mudhoney" (1965), "Motor Psycho" (1965) and "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" (1966), initially unsuccessful at the box office, but which later became a cult classic. "Pussycat" was also notable for not featuring any nudity - though there was plenty of campy sexuality - which might have explained in part its failure in theaters. Following "Pussycat," Meyer returned to making color films with the pseudo-documentary, "Mondo Topless" (1966), which focused on the lives of strippers in San Francisco during the mid-1960s. Meanwhile, after years of trying to breakthrough to mainstream success, Meyer finally scored a big hit with the controversial "Vixen!" (1968), which followed a bored, but hypersexual woman (Erica Gavin) who unleashes her pent-up repression by leaving her husband (Garth Pillsbury) and seducing anyone she comes across - men, women and even her own brother. Despite featuring taboo subjects like incest, lesbianism and racism, "Vixen!" took in millions at the box office and finally opened the doors for Meyer to fulfill his dream of making a Hollywood studio movie. Hired by 20th Century Fox to direct his first mainstream studio picture, Meyer made his debut with "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls" (1970), a satirical quasi-sequel to 1967's high camp drama, "Valley of the Dolls (1969). Penned by novice screenwriter and Meyer devotee Roger Ebert, the film received a critical drubbing, though it became a box office hit and a cult mainstay.

Unfortunately, Meyer received another lukewarm reception with the release of his next film, the uncharacteristically somber drama, "The Seven Minutes" (1971), which focuses on the trials and tribulations of a teenager accused of rape after buying an erotic book. Stung by the criticism, Meyer returned to the sex-and-violence films that made him famous, starting with the financial flop "Blacksnake" (1973). He followed up with "SuperVixens" (1975), which once again put on fine display his obsession with large-breasted women, and went on a frenzy of nudity and gore in the spoof "Up!" (1976). He wrapped his sexploitation career with the borderline graphic "Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens" (1979), which dispensed of narrative and his signature bawdy humor in exchange for more titillating close-ups thanks to a rapidly growing porn market. Meyer retired from filmmaking a wealthy man, thanks to owning the rights for his movies, and spent the better part of a decade writing his autobiography, A Clean Breast (2000). But as time wore on, Meyer's health deteriorated and he began showing signs of memory loss in the mid-1990s, which was later diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease in 2000. Meanwhile, his longtime companion, Debra Angela Masson, was arrested for assaulting Meyer in 1998 after he refused to give her a large sum of money. But with no wife or children, Meyer had few financial obligations and eventually died on Sept. 18, 2004 from complications of pneumonia. He was 82 years old and left behind a legacy as the "King of the Nudies."

By Shawn Dwyer

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Director
Up (1976)
Director
Super Vixens (1974)
Director
Sweet Suzy (1973)
Director
The Seven Minutes (1971)
Director
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Director
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Director
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968)
Director
Good Morning, and Goodbye! (1968)
Director
Vixen (1968)
Director
How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)
Director
Mondo Topless (1966)
Director
Mudhoney (1965)
Director
Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (1965)
Director
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Director
Motor Psycho (1965)
Director
Kiss Me Quick! (1964)
Director
Lorna (1964)
Director
Heavenly Bodies (1963)
Director
Steam Heat (1963)
Director
Europe in the Raw (1963)
Director
The Immoral West--And How It Was Lost (1962)
Director
Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Director
Erotica (1961)
Director
Eroticon, Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Director
The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)
Director
French Peep Show (1952)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

The Story of X (1998)
Amazon Women On The Moon (1987)
Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Himself
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Heavenly Bodies (1963)
The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)
Man in burlesque audience
Roogie's Bump (1954)

Cinematography (Feature Film)

Up (1976)
Cinematographer
Super Vixens (1974)
Cinematographer
Sweet Suzy (1973)
Camera Operator
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Cinematographer
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968)
Director of Photography
Vixen (1968)
Director of Photography
Good Morning, and Goodbye! (1968)
Director of Photography
Motor Psycho (1965)
Director of Photography
Lorna (1964)
Director of Photography
Heavenly Bodies (1963)
Director of Photography
Europe in the Raw (1963)
Director of Photography
The Immoral West--And How It Was Lost (1962)
Director of Photography
Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Director of Photography
The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)
Cinematographer
The Desperate Women (1954)
Photography
French Peep Show (1952)
Photography

Writer (Feature Film)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
From Story
Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Screenplay
Up (1976)
From Story
Super Vixens (1974)
Screenwriter
Sweet Suzy (1973)
Screenplay
Sweet Suzy (1973)
From Story
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Story
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Screenwriter
Good Morning, and Goodbye! (1968)
Screenwriter
Vixen (1968)
Additional Dialogue
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968)
Original Story
Vixen (1968)
Story
Motor Psycho (1965)
Screenwriter
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Original Story
Motor Psycho (1965)
Story
Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Screenwriter
The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959)
Writer

Producer (Feature Film)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Producer
Up (1976)
Producer
Super Vixens (1974)
Producer
Sweet Suzy (1973)
Producer
The Seven Minutes (1971)
Producer
Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)
Producer
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Producer
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968)
Producer
Vixen (1968)
Producer
Good Morning, and Goodbye! (1968)
Producer
How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)
Producer
Mondo Topless (1966)
Producer
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Producer
Motor Psycho (1965)
Producer
Mudhoney (1965)
Producer
Lorna (1964)
Producer
Steam Heat (1963)
Producer
Heavenly Bodies (1963)
Producer
Europe in the Raw (1963)
Producer
The Immoral West--And How It Was Lost (1962)
Producer
Erotica (1961)
Producer
Eve and the Handyman (1961)
Producer

Editing (Feature Film)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Editor
Up (1976)
Editor
Cherry, Harry & Raquel (1969)
Film Editor
Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers (1968)
Film Editor
Good Morning, and Goodbye! (1968)
Film Editor
Vixen (1968)
Film Editor
How Much Loving Does a Normal Couple Need? (1967)
Film Editor
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)
Film Editor
Lorna (1964)
Film Editor
Heavenly Bodies (1963)
Film Editor
The Immoral West--And How It Was Lost (1962)
Film Editor

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens (1979)
Photography

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Dogfight (1991)
Other

Cast (Special)

Russ Meyer: The E! True Hollywood Story (1999)
Interviewee

Cinematography (Special)

Shooting War (2000)
Camera
Straight Shooter: The Story of The Mamas and the Papas (1999)
Camera Operator

Life Events

1955

Was a still photographer for "Guys and Dolls"

1956

Worked as a still photographer on "Giant"

1959

Directed first feature, "The Immortal Mr. Teas"; the film cost $24,000 and grossed $1 million

1961

Helmed "Eve and the Handyman", starring then-wife Eve Meyer; also directed the erotic anthology "Eroticon"

1963

Directed the erotic feature "Heavenly Bodies"

1965

Helmed the cult classic "Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!" starring Tura Satana as one of a trio of buxom brutes wreaking havoc on a desert road trip

1967

Had producer, director, editor, director of photography and story credits for the erotic melodrama "Good Morning, and Goodbye!", a story about a wealthy farmer and his dissatisfied young wife

1969

Was director, producer, screenwriter and editor of the menage a trois feature "Cherry, Harry and Raquel"

1970

Directed the psychedelic sex romp "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls", scripted by Roger Ebert

1973

Was producer, director, screenwriter and second unit camera operator for the campy adventure "Blacksnake!"

1974

Produced, directed, wrote and was cinematographer of "Super Vixens"

1976

Directed, produced and edited the erotic comedy "Up!"

1979

Helmed his last feature to date, "Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens"; was also producer, screenwriter and featured in a cameo role

1987

Had a cameo as a video salesman in a Jon Landis-directed segment of the 1987 comedy anthology "Amazon Women on the Moon"

Photo Collections

Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Movie Posters
Here are a few original movie posters from Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965), including a German 1-Sheet.
Mudhoney - Movie Posters
Here are some original American movie posters from Russ Meyer's Mudhoney (1965), including a 1-Sheet and a few lobby cards.
Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! - Scene Photos
Here are several scene stills from Russ Meyer's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).
Mudhoney - Scene Photos
Here are several scene stills from Russ Meyer's Mudhoney (1965).

Companions

Eve Meyer
Wife
Model, actor. Married in 1952; divorced in 1970; died in plane crash in 1977.
Edy Williams
Wife
Actor. Married in 1970; divorced.
Kitten Natividad
Companion
Actor. No longer together.
Debra Angela Masson
Companion
Born c. 1960; together since 1985; assaulted Meyer in 1998 when he reportedly refused to give her $50,000; sentenced to three years' probation and told to attend 104 meetings of A.A. as well as undergo one year of counseling for domestic abuse.

Bibliography

"A Clean Breast: The Life & Loves of Russ Meyer"
Adolf Schwartz (1992)
"Russ Meyer--The Life and Films"
David K Frasier, McFarland (1990)

Notes

"He understood that sex was fun. His women had an exuberance and vitality you rarely see in film anymore." --controversial feminist author Camille Paglia on Russ Meyer, quoted in Entertainment Weekly, April 5, 1996.

"I love big-breasted women with wasp waists. I love them with big cleavages. I love the perspiration between their cleavages. . . . " --Russ Meyer quoted in the London Times, May 23, 1999.