We met in his favorite Pasadena steakhouse, where Russ announced he was ordering for me, the young sprat who was barely of drinking age.
Between Makers Mark and mouthfuls of raw steak, I scrawled increasingly incoherent notes on our evening-long conversation. Meyer was no better than me, frequently tearing up and snapping at me, “This stops here!”— only before galloping off again in another indiscreet direction.
I met Meyer when I contacted him by mail in the 1980s, as I was researching lesbian sexuality on screen for my “How to Read a Dirty Movie” clips show.
But back in the day, I was all a-twitter because I discovered that Meyer’s “Vixen,” from 1968, was the first American film to show two women in torrid embrace. It’s still one of the best, frankly. And you haven't seen anything since you've seen the dildo harness he invented for one of his other Nazi-hunter epics, Up!.
Russ appreciated my serious interest, and we began to be pen-pals, until his death in 2004. These are my notes from our one face-to-face Pasadena date, September 9, 1992:
Russ starts in as soon as he has his drink in front of him, as if reciting a diary: “I was born and raised in Oakland, California, in 1922. My father was a cop who left my mom before me and my sister were born. It was my mother, Lydia Haywood, who brought us up.”
He shows off his mother’s ring to me, which he wears on his right hand, a bloodstone for both their birthdays in March. Meyers’ fingers tell a lot of stories. He wears one large initial ring from his leading lady, Kitten Natividad, whom he says taught him “more about carnality than anyone, and really loved me more than anyone.”
His third initial ring is from a old army buddy. He won’t tell me his name, and he never takes any of them off.
“My mother Lydia taught me thrift, integrity, working hard… Presbyterian. Never spoke ill of my father even though she was very bitter about it.
“My sister has been in loony bin for past fifty years from schizophrenia— that happened to another girlfriend of mine, too.
“I joined the service at age twenty-two, landed in Normandy. I was one of those people who loved the war; I never wanted it to end.”
“What did you do, exactly?” I asked.
“Combat photographer; I was in the Signal Corps. You’ll find a lot of us in this business.”
“Didn't you get overwhelmed from all the death around you?”
“No, after a while, you get immune, the dead body becomes a good prop.”
“I don’t believe you; you have tears in your eyes.”
“Well, somewhere, something has been written about it, about that secret you share with a man who dies in front of you. It’s just you and him; you are his witness. His family doesn’t know, they won’t know for days, only you know… I can’t say more than that.”
After the army, Meyer tells me he made industrial films. But he doesn't want to talk about that, he wants to change the subject to politics, where we were on opposite ends of the spectrum. It was the middle of the 1992 U.S. Presidential campaign.
“I hate that cone-head, Clinton. He’s a draft evader.”
“So is Dan Quayle! (on the GOP Vice presidential ticket). What’s the difference?”
“It’s not the same. George Bush is our man, he’s the one.”
“Are you trying to convince me? It’s not working. Tell me one good thing that would impress me about George H. Bush. “
“He’s a great fuck.”
“WHAT? Is this your personal experience?”
“Don’t be smart. You’re disrespectful. George Bush is a good fuck. Don’t ask me why I know, I know. Where there’s tits or wheels, there's trouble— I always told him that...”
Interview Continues HERE
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