RETROCRUSH INTERVIEWS ERICA GAVIN, STAR OF
RUSS MEYER'S VIXEN! AND BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS
Erica Gavin is gorgeous to watch as the outspoken and sexually
charged Vixen! who loves sex so much she makes it with men, women, and even her
own brother. With the release of the 2 disc DVD Special Edition of Beyond the
Valley of the Dolls which Erica also starred in and an upcoming Q&A road tour we
spoke with Erica about the ins and outs of life and what it was like working
with the late great Russ Meyer.
Both of your parents were actors?
dad was. My mother met my dad at the Actorís Studio in New York. My dad was the
one who went on to do acting. He was actually under contract to Columbia. He was
blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The FBI was coming around. Iíd come home
from school and my parents would be working. They always told me if anybody
comes to the door you donít know anything and tell them to wait till your mommy
and daddy comes home.
Did you have any idea what you wanted to be when you were
I wanted to be an artist or a
dancer. All those kinds of things, but you know what I never thought about that.
I always thought my life was going to be over at 25. Isnít that weird?
My sister used to think that.
Then I was like here I am at 30
and Iím still here.
My sister is still here and sheís 5 years older than me.
How old are you now?
Oh, I love young boys. I do.
You werenít originally called Erica Gavin?
I graduated from high school at
17. I left home and from that moment on I was on the streets. I had a boyfriend
that I was living with his name was Bob Gavin. They called him the Hash King in
LA. We decided that if we got married I would not have to testify against him.
He got busted and I needed to
work. I had to change my name. I went to work at The Losers. I had to get
a fake ID. Erica was my motherís best friendís daughterís name and Gavin was my
last name because I married.
You were working with Tura Satana, Haji, and Bebe Louie?
Thatís where I met Tura and Haji.
What were they like back then?
For me they were Gods. They were
like pros and I was like this little baby who had never done this before. The
only reason I ended up there was because I was with this agency called, "Models
a Go-Go". The Losers had amateur night once a week on Sunday. They would
call the agency and have them send girls over. That was the night Haji and all
the other girls were off. So, they sent me over and the owner liked me and asked
me if Iíd be interested in working there. I said, "Sure" this was uptown.
liked the dancing with a cape and eye makeup?
I had a cape and I was a dancer.
Basically, Haji was always like, "Oh, Tura donít you think Russ would like
Erica?" They kept mentioning him. I get confused because everyone has a
different story of how I met Russ. I remember that I was in the dentist office
waiting for my appointment. There was a Variety and a Reporter
which there is in every office in Hollywood. Iím picking it up and I see this
little ad which I still have. It says, "Casting Russ Meyerís Vixen. Wanted: One
cinematically, attractive white female and one black Negro male." I went over
for an interview and met George Costello. He liked me and he said he would tell
Russ. A week or so later I met Russ, and then he hired me.
When you worked the club did anybody famous come in?
I donít know what youíd call them,
a lot of wise guys and a lot of tourists. Because you were in the county you had
to wear pasties so you werenít really totally topless and you were not
bottomless. There was the Body Shop where Kitten Navidad Worked on
Sunset. There was the Phone Booth on Santa Monica and The Losers
on La Cienega. They were all in a line going south. I was topless dancing in
1967 or 1968. I know I was underage.
Where there people that kept the guys from you?
There wasnít any one that had to
keep them. It was a very civilized crowd. There were women there. It wasnít one
of those places where they stick the dollar in your crotch and there was no lap
dances. We had a stage and a band behind us. You only danced for like 10
minutes. It was 3 times a night and then we had the finale.
they pay to get in?
There was a cover and then drinks.
It was a very intimate, classy place. It had a nice bar around the back. It was
a very comfortable club. You have to understand I was being sent out to Oxnard
where I would be there at 10 in the morning to some beer bar where I would dance
on the bar, 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off for 8 hours straight.
Iíd work from 10 in the morning
until 5 at night. Then Iíd drive all the way back to Hollywood from Oxnard. My
feet hurt because I had to wear these 5 inch heels. It was so humiliating. These
guys were just like gross. The Losers was upscale. It was a step up. BeBe
ended up being my girlfriend for awhile. Weíre still close.
You filmed your first film for Russ Vixen in Miranda, CA?
After work I would always go for a
walk. Russ called it the Redwoods. To me it almost reminded me of the high
desert because of the rivers, the rocks, and stuff like that. I had my portable
record player, Sergio Mendezís "The Look of Love", and a little smoke.
Russ Meyer liked rough conditions.
He wanted to be grimy and dirty.
He would always eat salt pills because heíd be sweating. There was one scene
that I did and I will never forget it. I had to be leaning up against the cabin.
Iím leaning there and I open my shirt while I go, "Wow, baby brother." It was so
hot. I was dying. The more I was dying the more Russ loved it. He said, "Smile!
Donít blink! Donít blink!" You notice how nobody ever blinks in his movies? He
wonít let you blink.
He wanted the pacing to be fast.
He thought that blinking would
break the concentration. So you had to hold your eyes open even though youíre
sweating and its 120 degrees. Heís like smile and keep your eyes open. Heís got
a reflector on me and my eyes are tearing because the sun is shining in them.
The worse off it was the better. He loved that and I love that about him though.
Thereís an interesting scene where youíre running through the
know how much that hurt? He made me do it barefoot. My feet were so torn up.
Finally, he let me put on some sneakers. He was all irritated. He didnít want
anybody to see the sneakers. Iím supposed to be bare, just this nature girl.
You werenít comfortable in your lesbian scene.
What he told me freaked me out.
How Russ wanted the scene to be physically.
He said he wanted the scissors.
He told me that he had this friend
who was a big dyke in jail and what she told him. It was that two girls and then
he made his fingers like scissors. Heís like banging. Now itís funny. Then I was
scared. I was like you want me to grind crotch with this girl on film?
Had you been with another woman before?
Yea, I had always been bisexual.
It was more about who it was. It didnít matter to me as long as it was young
boys. Just kidding. What happened was we had a difficult time with that scene
and Russ was so hell-bent on that being the most important scene in the whole
movie. He had me so nervous about it and he was nervous or excited. So when it
came time to do it whatever I was doing was not right. He didnít like it. He
started yelling at me, "This is the key to the whole movie. This is not right!"
He would send me to my room to think about it.
He was gruff.
I think I always knew it in my heart of hearts. He was so gruff, but it was to
cover up his sensitivity because heís really kind of mushy. The whole thing of
making the elements so difficult was because it reminded him so much of the
army. He was a big army man.
My grandpa who had been in World War II talked like it was the
best years of his life.
Oh yea, the same with Russ. Those
are the years that he formed all of his relationships. James Ryan who passed
away last month was one of his best friends. He was the guy who played the
handyman in Eve and the Handyman. He played in The Immoral Mr. Teas
that was James Ryan who was on every film with Russ.
Vixen was one of the first American films to get an X and it was
banned or seized in many cities.
Russ went to battle with Charles
Keating who was the head of the American League against Obscenity. Charles
Keating got Vixen banned in Ohio. To this day it is still banned. There
were all these court hearings Russ spent thousands of dollars on to fight
Charles Keating. He was such a good American that he ripped off all these old
people in the S&L scandals. Now heís in jail or whatever. Thatís what a good
American he was. Itís not okay to fuck, but itís okay to rip people off of their
whole life savings.
Where you surprised at how well Vixen did?
I had no idea whatsoever. It
wasnít as big as say Faster Pussycat, even though Vixen got Russ
into 20th Century Fox. It got him his contract. Hereís a film that
was made for $60,000 dollars and it grossed over $20 million. What does this guy
know that we donít? They tried to change him when he got there.
Where there huge differences
between the making of Vixen and Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?
In a way it was the one thing that
Russ wanted. Russ wanted to be recognized by the big boys, but I think once he
got there he realized that heís not. Heís too talented. Iím sure he didnít think
in those terms. Basically, they werenít ready for him. He also enjoyed having
all those things at his disposal: photographers, and beds that moved around.
He became the big Army sergeant at that point.
Yea, but it also removed him a lot
because on Vixen we all did everything. I wrote out the clapboard. I
would clap my own scenes. I would be holding the reflector when I wasnít acting.
God forbid you even go near a light on a union job. You just donít do that. Russ
was used to having the light, hearing the sound, doing the editing, and he
wasnít doing that.
Maybe itís hard to figure out the type of guy Russ is.
A lot of how he acted was who he
was. Only because of his I donít want to use the word ignorance, but his not
being savvy to the whole 21st century with the feelings. Like
Lifespring, that thing that changes your life where you go hug everybody and
cry. He wasnít into therapy-ising himself either. He just was and nobody needed
to know why.
His movies were quick and fast.
his style of editing. Everything is very slick, quick, and fast. For instance,
when Casey is going for the abortion in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
the doctor comes in with his bifocals. Heís like okay put your legs up in here
then Russ cuts to the eggs frying in the pan. Everything is quick and bright
which I think is brilliant. It catches your attention.
The montages in Dolls
He didnít have that kind of stuff
in his regular movies. There were no montages. He wasnít doing it. On Vixen
for instance not only was he the director, photographer, and editor. He also was
the distributor and the seller. He would carry his film under his arm and peddle
it across the country.
Did you like Edy Williams who
was also in Dolls?
There wasnít anything to like or
not like. We shared trailers. Thatís pretty much all I should say.
She did marry Russ right after Dolls.
I have a picture of Edy, Russ, and
me at their wedding. It looks more like Russ & I are the couple. Sheís just
doing her pose. Sheís something else. I guess she sort of went downhill.
Sheís quite a presence in
loved women that are showy. I remember on my birthday Russ took me, Kitten, and
James Ryan to Chasenís for my birthday. Kitten was his date. She walks in with
this nude Chiffon pant outfit, but it was shear with not a stitch on underneath
it. She walks in front of Russ. Russ was laughing and he said, "Did you see that
guyís dentures that just fell out?" He got the biggest kick out of that, but
having the girl do it.
She used to get up at those
football games and open her jacket and sheíd have nothing on or a bathing suit
just to get film on her. Russ liked that until he married her. He just couldnít
stand her. Once it wasnít the movies anymore. She was kind of weird.
What about your scene with the gun in your mouth?
That was tough. For one thing it
really hurt my mouth. See, thatís the kind of things that Russ loved. The more
uncomfortable you were the more Russ loved it.
There wasnít as much of the camaraderie in Dolls compared
to his earlier movies.
You hit it on the head. I donít
know if he realized it, but I will tell you thatís what he missed. It was more
than not doing the editing, not having it under his arm. I think he missed that
camaraderie. He would love with Vixen when we all sat around at dinner
time and he would make steaks. He would take everyone to dinner in Hollywood.
His family became who he was working with. It was sort of the same for me.
You became close with Russ during Vixen?
I really respected him. I
respected him mostly because he never made a pass at me. He protected me and
didnít want anyone else to make a pass at me either. Thatís so un-Hollywood for
the director not to hit you up for at least a blowjob. Come on?
Russ pleasured himself while watching you through a window
during the filming of Vixen?
know what I never knew that. I wasnít going to bring that up. I only recently
found that out. Iím shocked. Iím surprised if thatís true. The person who told
me was the person who caught him doing it. Itís hard for me to think that he
would lie. Itís also kind of exciting knowing I turned Russ on that much. Itís
exciting for me to think that he was excited just watching me.
He did become secluded and people took over his world. Those are
the same people in charge of most of his films.
In my last dinner with him he
begged me to help him get back control. He knew it was slipping. He knew where
it was going and he didnít like it. The thing is he was too sick to hold onto a
thought and see it through to the end. Itís hell.
Alzheimerís is terrible.
Everything he despised and didnít
want to happen happened. The people who he despised and so wanted out of his
life now are in total control. If he was at all aware he would be mortified to
say the least.
I read he liked to have his possessions on a wall, but they took
He had all of his posters not only
on a wall. It covered all the walls and the ceilings. Every film he would make a
plaque with a trophy on it. Mine was a Grapefruit can because I was constantly
on a diet. George was always going into town to get me Grapefruit. His trophy
for Vixen was a Grapefruit can on a plague and it said Vixen.
Nobody knows where it all went. All gone, gone, gone. What about all the film,
the cuttings? We donít know, but someone has it. I think from what I understand
about Alzheimerís is not to remove the things that are familiar.
Thatís exactly what they had done.
It was like torture.
A sad ending to a talented man.
Itís so tragic. Why does that
happen? I donít understand. I donít get that part. I mean if there is a God
unless he was really angry. I canít imagine anything worse.
Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls is one of my favorite movies.
Russ always took whatever was
timely. In Vixen it was the Communists and with Dolls it was
definitely a knock off of the Manson murders. He always sort of went for
whatever was current. If he had been doing a movie around the time of OJ he
would have had that whole scenario too. You know the Arthur Lee song I think
itís Seven and Seven goes "The News today will be the movies of tomorrow" and
itís so true.
Youíve said Russ had a sixth sense about casting people.
Yea, after I hadnít spoken to Russ
in a long time because of a personal thing I felt bad. His friend George they
sort of split up over me. I felt bad for both of them. I called up Russ and I
said, "Russ, how did you know I would be a Dyke in the end?"
At that time I had been living
with a girl and it was the first time I wasnít interested in men. Not only that,
but I worked in clothing and Russ had me as a clothing designer in Beyond the
Valley of the Dolls. Then I ended up working in clothing all those years as
a stylist. Itís just weird, then the whole Communism thing where my dad had been
blacklisted. He had this intuitive edge that he felt things from people. I
guarantee you he never gave it this much thought. It wasnít a conscious thing. I
think he had this intuitive gift to almost see and bring alive in a person that
was something yet to be and a lot of times would follow later. He sort of sensed
it in you.
That was part of his gift. After Dolls his career tapered
He sort of started losing it and
he got into writing his book. He wasnít doing well mentally. Life is so odd in
that when I was growing up in Silverlake and my junior high school was on
Fountain Avenue right near Sunset Blvd. At that time I was 13 years old and
right up from my school was this theater called the Vista Theater. We used to
call it the nudie theater. It was showing at that time Eve and the Handyman
and Immoral Mr. Teas. It was odd going on that interview with Russ and
all of a sudden I flashed that this is the guy who had the movies when I was in
junior high at the one nudie theater right up the street from my house.
Who would ever think youíd end up in one of his nudie movies?
Who would? I guarantee you not my
mother, father or me. Never, ever, ever, but yet there was something about it
that I remembered and my fascination with that theater before I knew of Russ.
Did you have a favorite band that you listened to or had a
retroCRUSH on while growing up?
My favorite was Love.
You got to meet them?
Oh yea and I got to fuck and suck
them. The other person that Iím totally enamored of is Patti Smith. She moves me
like no other artist has. When I watch Arthur Lee or Patti Smith I get chills on
my arms or my face. They are two of the most incredible people and I got to meet
them. I got to travel with them too. Cynthia Myers is another girl I fell in
love with. I had a huge crush on her during and after Dolls. I was so
jealous of Michael Blodgett and he was such a jerk to her.
there anything advice you'd offer a young actress getting into the business?
Turn around and run. Basically, in my last interview I went up for the part
of Wonder Woman. I was sent in to read for the Director. The Director's
assistant came into the waiting room and said, "Just so you know so we don't
waste each others time. If you're even going to think about getting this part
you're going to have to sleep with the Director." I said, "I'm in the wrong
place." I got up and I walked out. I guess we know what Lynda Carter did. She
married him. That didn't come easy because there were other times I made a lot
of mistakes. You never believe that is going to happen and you're so thrown off.
It was a tough place to be in because of being typecast. Everybody believed that
I was the girl. Even though that was really me.
Maybe you loved sex?
Yea, you know Russ knew it was really me more than I knew it at that time.
What new projects are you working on?
I just did a film with Michael
Frost called 3 Stories of Evil. I have a small role, but it was such an
exciting script. It was so great, intense, and dark. I loved playing the part. I
play this evil mother.
Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls was Russís biggest production ever.
It wasnít that familial thing that
Russ and I loved. I think thatís where his greatness excelled when he felt
comfortable and with his family. He held court. We all get our 15 minutes and
Russ gave me mine.