Gravity defying” “Cantilevered” this is how sexploitation auteur Russ Meyer often described the women he would use in his films. Born Russell Albion “Russ” Meyer (March 21, 1922 – September 18, 2004) he was a U.S. motion picture director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer, editor, actor and photographer known primarily for writing and directing a series of successful low-budget sexploitation films that featured campy humor, sly satire and large-breasted women.
Meyer was born in San Leandro, California to William Arthur Meyer, a German-American police officer, and his wife Lydia Lucinda Hauck. His parents divorced shortly after he was born, and Meyer had virtually no contact with his father during his life. When he was fourteen years old, his mother pawned her wedding ring in order to buy him an 8mm film camera. He made a number of amateur films at the age of 15.
In the Army Meyer forged his strongest friendships, and he would later ask many of his fellow combat cameramen to work on his films. Much of Meyer's work during World War II can be seen in newsreels and in the film Patton (1971). On his return to civilian life, he was unable to secure cinematography work in Hollywood due to a dearth of industry connections. He made industrial films, freelanced as a still photographer for mainstream films (he did the still photography for Giant), and became a well known glamor photographer whose work included some of the initial shoots for Hugh Hefner's Playboy magazine. Meyer would go on to shoot three Playboy centerfolds during the magazine's early years, one of his wife Eve Meyer in 1955. He also shot a pictorial of then-wife Edy Williams in March 1973
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 20 movies with a trademark blend of odd humor, huge-breasted starlets and All-American sleaze, including such notable films as 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. Meyer's output can be divided into several eras. The "Gothic" period (as it was termed by Meyer) reached its apex with the commercially underwhelming Faster, Pussycat! Kill! After producing the popular mockumentary Mondo Topless (1966) with the remnants of his production company's assets and two mildly successful color melodramas, Meyer made headlines once again in 1968 with the controversial Vixen!. Although its lesbian overtones are tame by today's standards, the film — designed by Meyer and longtime cohort Jim Ryan as a reaction to provocative European art films — grossed millions on a five-figure budget and captured the zeitgeist just as The Immoral Mr. Teas had a decade earlier. Russ Meyer (left) and Roger Ebert in 1970 (photo from Roger Ebert)
What eventually appeared was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970), scripted by film critic (and Meyer devotee) Roger Ebert and bearing no relation to the novel or film's continuity (necessitated after Jacqueline Susann sued the studio). Many critics perceive the film as perhaps the greatest expression of his intentionally vapid surrealism — Meyer went so far as to refer to it as his definitive work in several interviews. Contractually stipulated to produce an R-rated film, the brutally violent climax (depicting a decapitation) ensured an X rating (Later reclassified to NC-17).
After making his most subdued film, a commercially unsuccessful adaptation of the popular Irving Wallace novel The Seven Minutes (1971) for Fox, Meyer returned to grindhouse-style independent cinema in 1973 with the Blaxploitation period piece Black Snake, which was dismissed by critics and audiences as incoherent.
Meyer's theatrical career ended with the release of the surreal Up! (1976) and 1979's Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens, his most sexually graphic films. Film historians and fans have called these last three films "Bustoons" because Russ Meyer's use of color and mise en scène recalled larger than life pop art settings and cartoonish characters.
In 1977, Malcolm McLaren hired Meyer to direct a film starring The Sex Pistols. Meyer handed the scriptwriting duties over to Ebert, who, in collaboration with McLaren, produced a screenplay entitled Who Killed Bambi? The project ultimately evolved into The Great Rock & Roll Swindle.
Despite the fact that hardcore pornographic films would overtake Meyer's softcore market share, he retired in the late 1970s a very wealthy man.
1925 - Peter Brook (director: Lord of the Flies, King Lear)
1930 - James Coco (actor: The Chair, Ensign Pulver, Man of La Mancha; died Feb 25, 1987)
1934 - Al Freeman Jr. (actor: A Patch of Blue, Roots: The Next Generation, Hot L Baltimore, Malcolm X, Finian’s Rainbow, Ensign Pulver)
1946 - Timothy Dalton (actor: Centennial, Licence to Kill, The Lion in Winter, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Flash Gordon, The Living Daylights, Licence to Kill)
1958 - Gary Oldman (actor: The Scarlet Letter, True Romance, Bram Stoker�s Dracula, Sid and Nancy, JFK)
1962 - Matthew Broderick (Tony Award-winning actor: The Producers ; films: War Games, The Freshman, Family Business, Glory, Ladyhawke, Ferris Bueller�s Day Off)
1962 - Rosie O'Donnell (comedienne, TV host: The Rosie O’Donnell Show, 42nd Annual Grammy Awards; actress: Sleepless in Seattle, The Flintstones, Exit to Eden, A Very Brady Sequel, Will & Grace, The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas)
1965 - Cynthia Geary (actress: Northern Exposure, 8 Seconds)
1968 - Jaye Davidson (actor: )
1974 - Rhys Darby (actor: )
1975 - Justin Pierce (actor: Died July 10, 2000)
1976 - Rachael MacFarlane (actress: )
1986 - Scott Eastwood (actor: )