My Year with Uber-Boob Filmmaker Russ Meyer
“Pinch me, look at the guernsies on you!” was the first thing legendary B-movie maker Russ Meyer said to me when I met him in the airport terminal that torcher of a Palm Springs day in 1992. I was just coming off a week’s photo shoot for Score and a bunch of other men’s mags and hadn’t had time to get my game face on. I was hungry, tired, and over it, so when I saw that he already had a camera around his neck, I thought to myself, Oh, fuck.
He proceeded to follow me around with the camera, dropping things and then leering as I bent over to pick them up. “Quick shot,” he said. “Bend lower … a little lower …” Snapsnapsnap. “Beavertown, baby. Glossy fur, no teeth in that one, no-sirree. Now, let’s get one of the mams.”
Thus was launched my personal Armageddon in the form of a square-jawed, caterpillar-eyebrowed Hollywood relic who hated women just as much as he needed their over-inflated bazumbas to whack off to. Real, fake, it didn’t matter — the bigger, the better.
His last girlfriend, a stripper and men’s mag model named Melissa Mounds (whom he actually referred to not as Melissa, but as “Mounds”) had been told by Meyer himself to get the heaviest pair of implants they’d stuff in her chest. “I banged her for years,” he bragged. “She knew what was expected of her. When I came home, she was to be on the bed, freshly douched, legs spread. The one time she forgot to obey me, I made her regret it.”
Guernsies, jerseys, mams, milkmaids, fuckbuckets, and the “one-armed readers” who loved looking at them — I heard it all that week as we shot a Playboy layout at this starkly-beautiful hillbilly dumping ground called The Salton Sea. Sweating my “drool catchers” off in the desert sun, I grew to despise Meyer’s rampant sexism and impatience, but mostly I despised myself for putting up with it.
Several months later at a packed Meyer retrospective at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, I, as the reigning “Russ Meyer girl,” actually stood beside the old Nazi and defended his movies to people who asked me how I could reconcile my feminism with working for him. I’m pretty sure I gave everybody the old trope about sex positive feminism and how it’s about choices, blahblahblah.
Even as I spoke the words, I knew they were bullshit. I just couldn’t help myself.
Why I didn’t punch the old bastard haunted me for years after. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t shout at him on one of the thousand occasions he stepped over the line.
I tend to think it stemmed from a curious sense of detachment that happens to people who are in the public eye. Nothing Meyer said ever insulted me because it never got through. Who I really was lay beneath the boobs and the hair and the fake bake, and it couldn’t be touched by men like him, or by any one of the slavering idiots who tried to woo-and-screw this thing I had created, this Jungian projection screen that walked and talked and sounded like me but never was.
Being wanted meant I was okay. It never occurred to me to question the value systems of the ones doing the wanting. Being perfect meant I wouldn’t be discarded. If someone I cared for failed to care back, it wouldn’t be for reasons of my own deficiency. I wasn’t deficient! See? All these men wanted me. All this attention meant I was special.
Who I really was hid and watched. It watched the jaws hit the ground as I walked by. It watched the posturing and grunting. It looked for someone, anyone, to fill the narcissistic wound left by schoolyard taunts, a wayward father, and a horrid suspicion of my own insignificance.
No part of me understood at that time how tragically misguided I was to think that being wanted could show me my worth. I just didn’t have the psychological resources to see it was them and not me.
The young search for mirrors. The middle-aged avoid them.
And so it was that I did not tell Meyer to go fuck himself. I needed the exposure. He needed my boobs. “They shoulda left off your mouth, Tits,” he’d say when I ventured an opinion on any subject that didn’t dovetail with him own. Clearly, tits were to be seen but not heard.
In the end, we are all whores. Just whores with different currency.