Erica Gavin is best known for her work on Russ Meyer's "Vixen" but has rightfully earned her place in cult movie history with her work in other pictures, such as "Caged Heat," "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls" and "Erika's Hot Summer." Erica was kind enough to take some time out of her schedule to talk to us about her career, on screen and off, and about her life in general.
Ian Jane – You started out as a stripper and made the transition to actress. Did your earlier career on the stage prepare you for working in film? What was it like working the pole in sixties era California?
Erica Gavin - My passion to entertain started before I was dancing. My early years prepared me for being on stage and I began acting when I was much younger. When I was 13 I auditioned for and was accepted into the Junior Philharmonic Orchestra as forth cellist and was the youngest member. When I was in junior high and high school, well, you could choose what was called elective classes and I always took drama. We would put on full productions of usually musicals for the student body. The preparation for the production took up the better part of the semester. In the summer when I wasn't stirring up trouble I joined “Gerald Gordon's Los Angeles Youth Theater.” There we did a couple of productions each summer for the community; we did “West Side Story.” I was a Shark girl, of course. I also played Mazie in “The Boyfriend.” After high school graduation I worked at a theater, on Melrose and Poinsettia in Hollywood and did lighting for “Tevye and His Seven Daughters” and understudied the role of one of the daughters. I enjoyed doing anything that lived under the verbal umbrella of “Entertainment.” I could be emptying the trash on a production and get butterflies just because I was part of the whole.
I guess you could say that acting was in my blood. My father was an actor. he had been blacklisted in the 50s during the McCarthy era. I remember two men in suits came to the door and asked me:
“Where is your Daddy? We would like to talk to him.”
My dad came back from work and I told him of the visit he said “If anyone ever asks you questions about me you tell them that your Daddy told you to tell them to come back and talk to him when he is home. Never give any information to anyone.” He was serious. It was the FBI that had come to our door with a summons for him to testify in front of The Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy “Witch-Hunts”. Under contract to Columbia Studios at the time with 20 some films under his belt (best known for the role of Vince Marley ,the pivotal role of the kidnapper in Union Station starring William Holden)He went before The Committee and took the 5 th .He was therefore blacklisted and his contact with Columbia Studios cancelled. True to his art, he continued to exercise and sharpen his skills as an actor by enrolling in classes two or three days a week with actor/friend/drama coach, Jeff Corey who also was on ‘The List' Jeff survived the lean years during the blacklist through coaching and his career picked up again when the blacklist became obsolete. Most likely Jeff did not have a family to support. My Dad did.
I can remember Dad coaching me through my audition scene for this new show that Disney was casting called "The Mickey Mouse Club" and so actually, it was my early acting experiences that prepared me for dancing and what was to follow. I failed my audition for “Mickey Mouse Club” due to a case of stage fright which caused me to forget all my lines that I had practiced over and over again.
As far as the second part of the question... when I was dancing there was no pole.
My dancing career began out of necessity. I needed a job real bad. I answered an ad in the LA Times for Models-A-GoGo Agency. My recollection of entering the office was the smell of the glue that held the plastic paneling on the wall. The person I met with took a Polaroid picture of me, naked of course, and said, “Yeah we can use you.” So, it started off where I was dancing in beer bars up in Oxnard. Dancing to a fucking jukebox. I was only 19. I did that seven hours a day in 4 inch heels, 50 minutes on and 10 minutes off, from 10 am to 5 pm, to a jukebox. I would get home exhausted, feet covered in blisters and just cry.
As it would happen, the agency I was working for had a standing gig on Sundays. They would send four or five girls over to The Losers, a topless dancing club on La Cienega Boulevard also known as Restaurant Row. Sunday was "Amateur Night" when the regular dancers at The Losers had their one night off. So I was sent over to The Losers for “Amateur Night.” That night the owner, Pete Rooney, asked if I wanted to leave Models-A-GoGo and come to work for him full-time (I love the name Models-A-GoGo it sounds like something in a Russ Meyer movie doesn't it?). All I needed was a driver's license showing that I was 21 years old and Social Security card. But what am I going to do? I am only 19 and they serve liquor? Somehow, with a little direction from Mr. Rooney I managed.
So I ended up at The Losers dancing four times a night, 20 minutes on and 40 minutes off, with a 10 minute finale. In comparison to where I was working, I felt that I had arrived in heaven.
IJ - You're best known for your work with Russ Meyer – how did you and Russ Meyer hook up and how did he come to cast you as the lead in “Vixen”? Any favorite memories of him you want to share?
EG - It was somewhat inevitable that I'd end up working for Russ, at least from my perspective. I was already working with Haji and Tura at The Losers and both of them were always saying back and forth "wouldn't Erica be great for Russ?” I was not familiar with Russ' work. I ended up answering an ad in one of the local trades and was interviewed by Russ' right hand man, George Costello.
Russ was out of town at the time doing a location search. George said that he would talk about the auditions with Russ and that they'd give me a call back in the next week or so. Of course, I had no idea that they would ever call back. In Hollywood everybody says they're going to call, or the classic "let's do lunch" and lunch somehow never happens so I did not expect a call back at all.
Well, they called me back. So I met with Russ and George and Russ liked me but just wasn't sure that I was right because my breasts were smaller than the actresses Russ had traditionally hired as the female leads in his films. No, he wasn't sure but stated to George that maybe the women in the audience would be able to relate easier to a woman with smaller breasts.
I was somewhat surprised by Russ's statement as I didn't think I had ever heard the words small breasts and my name used in the same sentence before.
There's a story that I love telling, because it seems everyone gets such a kick out of it and it SOOO describes Russ and how he was. It was during filming on “Vixen”, the day I was shooting the lesbian scene. That scene and that day were in process of becoming a humongous disaster. Russ was ranting, ranting and threatening "I will just have to scratch the most important scene in the whole movie.” Take after take (usually with Russ it was one, two, maybe three takes per scene at most), we probably had done at least ten by now and this day it was HOT to say the least. Summertime, in a tiny bedroom in a tiny cabin with lights full blast as Russ usually had them, and the number of takes steadily climbing...not a good day! Russ barks (whenever Russ got mad at me he would never talk to me he, would talk about me as if I wasn't there but I was!). "George, take her to her room and work with her and don't come out until she has it right." In my defense, I must add here as to why this was happening. I had been traumatized by Russ' earlier description to me of how he thought the scene should go down (no pun intended, again) and once hearing his description of how women make love as told to him by... "A female friend who had been in prison" (I still don't quite get what the prison part had to do with it but who was I to question?)... I was mortified and traumatized. Just fucking frozen in fear of doing this scene the way he had described it being done.
Russ described the act to me like this - he took his left hand and made a scissor with the index and middle finger like two legs and did the same with his right hand and then had the right and the left scissoring each other as he said in his gruff voice, "They do it like two scissors banging into and scissoring each other." You sort of had to be there to know what I am saying... or maybe NOT? Once in my room I realized I had to come up with something different than what Russ had in mind but real enough to make Russ see that my way was a better way. I just decided to do the scene like I was a little whacked. So I emerge after being brought to tears by this gruff, angry, teddy bear of a director and Russ asked "IS SHE READY?" Not are you ready... but... IS SHE READY? So camera rolling I just did what I did and as it was happening I was thinking "He didn't scream "CUT" yet" so I just went deeper into the character and the scene. I hear Russ off to the side and down low "keep the cameras rolling and I am thinking “YES! Girl you did it!” Well after what seemed like 20 minutes easily, Russ is now down flat on the floor pounding it with his fist and shouting "YES! YES! YES!" Finally he gets up off the floor and says "CUT! LUNCH! I GOTTA CHANGE MY SHORTS!"
Now you have the full scoop...truth, all truth. Ya gotta love him.
IJ - The late Peter Carpenter, who starred in Blood Mania and Point Of Terror, also shows up in “Vixen” as The Mountie. Did you interact much with him and have you got any stories? Did he sing on set?
EG - I never heard him sing. I first met Peter Carpenter long before ““Vixen”.” He was living with this girl, “Babydoll”. She was working with me Haji, Tura, and Bebe at the Losers. So, I knew Peter's girlfriend first. One night we went over to her apartment after work and there was Peter (along with his two cousins, one of which, Manny, who over time became my dearest and best friend for over 40 years). I had no idea that Peter was going to end up being in “Vixen” with me. Was it a predestined thing, meeting these people who would come to be involved with Russ Meyer As the years went by I'd be at family get-togethers, birthdays and holidays with Manny and Peter, being Manny's cousin (“Peche” they called him), would be there as well. So Peter remained very much a part of my personal world for many years after the making of “Vixen”.
IJ - How do you feel about the film's enduring legacy and it's ever increasing fan base?
EG - I'm not so sure right now that it is enduring or its fan base increasing. How can a fan base increase if the film is not being seen by audiences including the up-and-coming generation? A quick search Online for “Vixen” screenings shows cancelled screenings worldwide. You just don't see it playing anywhere.
“Vixen” was made before “Deep Throat” and "Behind The Green Door.” “Vixen”, in contrast to both those films, was very soft core. Also, it was the first film to get an X rating. There was a newly formed ratings system and “Vixen” was given the first “X” rating by Jack Valenti, then president of the M.P.A.A. (Motion Picture Association Of America). Most all of the nude scenes were shot from the waist up. Russ didn't think that the bottom half of a woman was, really, anything beautiful to look at. So, it was all from the waist-up and any full-on shots, I had underwear on. Well, I think I did. I did!
Another interesting event connected to “Vixen” is that Charles Keating picked Russ Meyer and Russ Meyer's ““Vixen”” to launch his battle against pornography so he took Russ to court regarding “Vixen” many times. Russ could not stand the man. The print, along with the theater owner and projectionists, many times wound up in jail after being seized by the vice squad. The film was banned in the state of Ohio and to this day remains banned.
I just want to add that “Vixen” was made for $68,000 and to date has grossed over $21 million.
IJ - Aside from the Meyer films, your big screen appearances have been few and far between. You pop up in Godmonster Of Indian Flats and a movie called that Something Weird Video offers called Erika's Host Summer. Tell us about your experiences on these pictures.
EG - I have no recollection of making “God Monster.” Hmmmmm… it's weird to see yourself in a film when you don't recall being there or doing it. No fault of the filmmaker it was definitely me holding up the bar in the bar scene oh well that was then and this is now.
As for “Erika's Hot Summer,” I think Models-A-GoGo got me the job to work on a film I think it was one day maybe two days work for $50, may be $100 a day. I can't remember the original working title but it certainly was not “Erika's Hot Summer.” Well the footage shot had been canned and put on the shelf. They most likely ran out of money. After the huge success of “Vixen”, "Hot Summer” was sort of pieced together with the hiring of additional actors and actresses and writing a script to incorporate the footage they had of me, close-up. And VOILA! There it is… "Erica's Hot Summer" starring yours truly. So if the film seems fragmented, it is.
IJ - After “Vixen” hit box office gold, you worked again with Russ on “Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls,” a much larger production for a major studio. What was it like working with Russ on this picture, was it much different than the work you'd done together prior?
EG - It was not as connected. When we did “Vixen,” we were living under the same roof, showering in the same house, eating the same food. The crew slept outside in tents We were away from everything for, I think, about four or five weeks. The other actors would come up and shoot the scenes that they were in and then leave. Vincene and her husband, they came up and shot for a week. But I was there the whole time. Shooting almost every day if I could. If I had a break I would still be on set either feeding lines or working lights, keeping track of reel numbers and scenes that were being shot or were completed, or just be there giving moral support. It was work but it was also a really good time.
I think the part that Russ really loved was the whole sense of family. He liked to hold court, you know. He loved cooking steaks at night for everybody. The dinner conversation would usually drift into Russ sharing his stories about the war and Army days with his Army pals.
But with “BVD,” there were so many people on set! There's the entire crew. The makeup department, wardrobe department and then there were the hairstylists and the transportation department and on and on. I'd come in for a day or two and shoot some scenes and then go home at night. Then I would have a call may be a week later. Also it seemed that you did a lot of waiting. Just waiting around. Sometimes a change of scene would take a couple of hours just to set up - much different than on “Vixen.” I could tell that Russ would get antsy, he'd be like mumbling to himself out loud "Come on let's get this show on the road," wringing his hands and pacing as he would. Or simply by telling some crude story or joke to whoever would listen, you could tell all the time he was thinking, “Okay, let's go let's go, let's go.”
It wasn't like the making of “Vixen” with Russ working the camera and hiking out to the locations, and all of us behind him literally following or rather tromping in his footsteps. The dirtier the hotter the sweatier the conditions were the more Russ loved it. He'd just keep popping salt pills and loving every minute of it.
IJ - Your last appearance was in Jonathan Demme's “Caged Heat,” which has also gone on to legitimate cult classic status over the years. How was Demme, working here as a director for the first time, compared to Meyer?
EG - Jonathan was really easy going. The difference is that he would let me give my ‘take' on the character. He would just help me along. He didn't come at it with a pre-conceived notion of how it was to be, or how to say it, or this has to be the intonation. He had a totally different style. Russ is almost fantasy land meets. Comic Books. It's all so big and there's nothing subtle in a Russ Meyer movie. Nothing.
Jonathan was more naturalistic. He just let you roll with it. He didn't say “That's not how I want it, like, I want you to pause between the third and fourth word.” It wasn't as pre-planned I guess. More impromptu.
Jonathan was a good guy, so young. It was his first film.
IJ - What was it like working on a Roger Corman production, which tend to be known for their low budgets and bizarre production schedules?
EG - I didn't know that they were known for that. I found the Demme production more extravagant. Everything was like, take your time, it's not a big rush. You would arrive on set at 5 in the morning for call and then you'd go to make-up. On “Vixen” I was my own makeup person, wardrobe person, hair person. On “Caged” they had a makeup department, wardrobe department as well as hair stylists. It was a true Hollywood Production. On “Vixen”, I did my own makeup obviously or maybe not so, my own hair, kind of crazy, and my clothing or lack of… again by me. Very different worlds... 20th Century Fox and New World Productions were.
IJ – After “Caged Heat,” you disappeared for a while. What lead to your decision to quit the film industry when your star was obviously still very much on the rise?
EG - I was just then in a relationship with Paul Fitzgerald, Los Angeles Public Defender who represented Patricia Krenwrinkel at the Manson trail, and I wanted to be a good partner and I attended the trial almost every day. It was probably my only real stab at being a wife. No pun intended. Also, the social demands of being a so-called starlet were putting a strain on my relationship. Just a lot of Hollywood shit, to be general. My last attempt to break into the "mainstream was when I went to an interview at Warner Bros. to interview for the part of “Wonder Woman.” Let's just say that I had an impolite experience. I just said," Okay see ya."
IJ – Further, what were you doing all those years you weren't thrilling audiences?
EG - Oh Ian you are soooo sweet, thank you for that. I hope they were thrilled!
Well, I became afflicted with an eating disorder and during its reign of terror over me, my weight went from 135 pounds to 76 pounds. To this disease, I almost lost my life. I guess you might say I did lose my life as I had come to know it. I think it started when I went to the premiere of “Vixen” and saw myself on screen. I was so big just so big in every way I think I just wanted to have my being disappear and so I went to work at it and accomplished it… almost. I wanted to be invisible.
I went into retail clothing! I was in fashion for just about 25 years. I was the personal shopper for Barney's New York, and general manager for Fred Segal Melrose. Fashion for me was an exercise in shape, colors and textures combining and mixing to create a unique mood, feeling, and result. My clients that I worked with started out as a blank canvas. My goal being that the completed image would have a little bit of me and my style, along with my interpretation of what the client wanted the finished product to say about them and their personality. Having been in film and entertainment myself, I felt comfortable working with people that were in the entertainment business. I had some very high profile clients.
When I was a personal shopper, my clients had no idea who I was, that I had ever made movies or anything like that.
The last few years I was taking care of my parents and am presently struggling with the recent death of my father. He was my one constant and now there's this big void. My parents were married for 64 years. My mother has Alzheimer's and to this day does not know that my father had passed away. This is something I don't think you are ever ready for and have no idea what it will be like until it happens. I've been devastated, it seems the losses keep coming as we get older and the circle keeps getting smaller. I just can't wrap my head around the concept that this person, parent, partner, lover, or friend is no longer here and we will not have any more conversations, phone calls, arguments or sharing your day's experience with. It seems so surreal.
IJ - In 2008 you took a role in a short film called “3 Stories About Evil,” getting in front of the camera for the first time in a few decades. What made you choose this film as a comeback vehicle and how was it acting again for the first time after such a long break?
EG - I think it was actually in 2006. The reason I did “3 Stories,” is I fell in love with the guy who asked me to do it. Michael Frost was so real. I could really feel that he wanted me. And it was the same feeling that I got from Jonathan Demme when he called and said he had a part for me. It was basically for me. Demme had already cast me and wanted to know if I'd be willing do it. That's how it was with Michael. It was his sincerity that I liked. He didn't want to use me in any other way than as an actress, what my job was. He didn't want me to take my clothes off or to be in “Vixen” make-up or anything like that. It was a different kind of part. And, it was Art, you know?
When I was going through Michael's footage and learned what kind of technique would be used to film it, through still imagery, I was intrigued. That first album I saw with all the pictures was so great. I had never seen this kind of approach to filmmaking before. I thought, you mean it's not a moving picture, but it is. It's a very interesting approach since it's composed of stills. And the images are so vivid and crisp and so weird. The characters are really out of this world.
I was anxious about making this film at first. The usual chatter going on in my head..."I'm not good enough,” “now everyone is going to find out I really can't act," "I look like shit," “I'm too old and too skinny," the usual incessant low self esteem chatter. But once I was next to Billy Drago, he is so fine and so cool! A really good actor. He just took my fear and self doubt, waved a magic wand and poof – gone! Gone the chatter, gone the little girl who no matter what was never quite good enough, and gone the actress that couldn't fool everyone any more. Billy made me feel comfortable enough to say to my ego... "ego, just take a break, take a hike, get lost" which in turn allowed the unguarded child in me along with the actor in me to say, “Hello you neurotic, rich, brow beating wife and fuck of a mother...now you can emerge and let's play dress up for the rest of the day.”
A really good actor is not only good when it comes to his acting but also brings out the talent and creativity of the other actors that are working with him.
Billy was cool!
We worked a full day for those scenes. Time on the set with Michael was so short and fleeting and I really wanted it last longer.
IJ – You've also mentioned, and rightfully so, that screenings of “Vixen” tend to be far more infrequent than those of Russ' other films over the years. Why do you think this is?
EG - Who has seen “Vixen” anywhere? And I mean anywhere? I had been asked to do a series of personal appearances for midnight screenings, triple bill screening of “Vixen”, Caged Heat and Three Stories. An “Erica Gavin Night of Films.” Once I had accepted the offer the theatre management went about their business of booking and securing the rentals. Upon contacting RM Films to rent “Vixen” they were told by Ms. Janice Cowart that she “was not interested in promoting “Vixen” in any way, at all” therefore her answer was “NO” in regards to the theatre's request to rent “Vixen”. Of course the request for my appearances was withdrawn. No movie ... No appearance... and so it goes.
In my opinion the reason for all the cancelled screenings and the fact that it has not been screened anywhere since the takeover is this: that Janice thinks by keeping “Vixen” out of the American cinema marketplace and out of public view that its legacy and importance in the history of film will disappear. Along with the disappearance of the “Vixen,” I too will disappear which in turn will make the truth of what she has done disappear. IT WON'T! She is very aware of how much Russ cared for me and my involvement and participation in initiating investigations... trying to get Russ some badly needed help for Russ's situation and help to Russ himself. It was too late. Janice already had things locked up or the ball had already started to roll and it was not only myself that got locked out but everyone who was realizing the travesty that was taking place including Russ's dearest and closest friend who saved Russ's life in the army, Charlie.
In one of many phone conversations I had with Charlie's wife before Russ passed away, she tearfully explained to me that Janice would not let her or Charlie speak with Russ. The caregivers had also been instructed not to allow calls. Whenever anyone would call there was always a reason that he could not take a phone call...he's sleeping (which was often maybe a bit too much in the meds department?) or he's eating right now, or he's being bathed right now. Charlie's wife also told me of the time that Russ had brought with him, on one of his annual visits to their home (where he would stay for a month out of every year), a copy of his will to show them how he had left them a large inheritance and wanted Charlie to also be on the board of R.M. Films which Charlie politely turned down. He had been having some health problems along with the geographical location being a conflict as well and did not feel that he would be able to fill that seat and hold to the standard and R.M.'s expectations or wishes for the future of R. M. Films. Well, Charlie and his lovely wife never saw anything from the estate. Funny how that works...NOT!
Everyone saw it coming and could not get in to do anything. There was, in fact, one person who did not see it coming and if he had possibly could have done something, anything to stop it. That was James Ryan. He was still on the inside.
At my last dinner with RM and James Ryan, at “Pinot on Sunset” (Jimmy was co-star with Eve Meyer in “Eve and the Handyman”, army buddy, beneficiary, camera assistant to Russ and worked from start to finish with Russ on every single film Russ made and was by Russ' side until his passing), Russ asked for help from me to convince Jimmy of what was going on with Janice and warned of what was and has come to pass in regards to the future of R. M. Films. Right in front of Jaime (my nick name for James and his for me was Slavkah), “Jimmy doesn't believe me... Janice has him whipped. She just lifts her skirt up and Jim turns to mush.” I looked over to Jamie and he just looked down as his dinner plate. The same look we see him display in “Handyman.”
James Ryan was the only other living person besides Ms. Cowart and Dottavio who knew where all the posters, hundreds of feet of film (outtakes etc.), RM's black and white army stills, plaques, and other memorabilia had been stored.
James Ryan sadly left us April 15, 2006.
RM's home, office and ‘World' has since been sold to Janice. It would not surprise me that Janice took the many boxes of film outtakes, etc., for trash and tossed them.
IJ – There's been no small amount of controversy regarding how Meyer's estate and film library have been handled over the years since his passing. How do you feel about the current state of RM Films?
EG - Sucks! It is a damn shame All you have to do is look at the cover art on the “Vixen” DVD. It is disgusting and embarrassing. All they had to do was use the poster art. But OHHHH NO ...Mr. Dott needed to exercise his inflated ego and he used Russ Meyer's historic work to spread his excrement over…and that's what they (Janice and Julio) call ART??? Annnnd he even signs his name to it as if that is of any value... to who??? The cover art on the DVD of “Vixen” is an embarrassing preview of the quality of the DVD that lives inside the cover. It's just so tacky and cheap. If you hold the cover art on “Erika's Hot Summer” DVD and the cover art on “The “Vixen” DVD, side by side they look almost identical...TRASH! Did Julio DOTTavio do the art work for "Hot Summer" also? I will have to look for his signature on my copy....TRASH!!!
The whole thing was a rip-off and it's so frustrating not being able to do anything about it to make sure that Russ's real wishes and original will be honored. As I said in my post to your AVManiacs the "Definitive Russ Meyer Thread,” when I received my, what Janice referred to as my charity, along with it I received a letter saying that my gift had been modified three times. If my "charity" had been modified three times let me tell you the rest of the will had probably been obliterated. Even David Frasier who had written the amazingly accurate book... the definitive Russ Meyer book ‘The Life And Films of Russ Meyer,' was named in the original will by Russ to sit as one of the board members of RM productions. He was physically and spiritually beside Russ throughout the writing and editing of "The Breast of Russ Meyer.”
David fought Janice and Julio, Even though there had been a clause added into Russ's will that if anyone were to question any portion of the document and lost in arbitration they would lose their inheritance. David, along with Kitten and myself, were the only three friends of Russ to receive anything from the estate. David did take up the good fight for Russ, to protect and see that his true wishes were honored, knowing full well he could lose whatever amount his inheritance was or had become after the numerous modifications. He went on to hire lawyers and tried to fight for months from his home in Indiana until his money just about ran out. David is a college professor, he was using his personal savings (teachers' salaries are certainly not a fortune) to fight for Russ's wishes. I find that extremely brave and honorable. We all know what legal fees coupled with long distance communication between lawyers can do to a person's personal finances.
David said he was sure Janice knew that by stalling and making it difficult, sooner or later he would have to fold. In withdrawing the lawsuit he would have had to forfeit his seat on the board which was what his lawsuit was all about. One of the ‘modifications' made by Janice to R.M.'s will was getting rid of The R. M. appointed board members that he named in the event of his absence. I will tell you Ms. Cowart was absolutely, unequivocally, positively NOT one.
David told me how many lawyers he'd been through and the runaround he was getting, not only from Janice and her lawyers but from the lawyers he had hired as well. He was heartbroken that in the end he just couldn't protect the legacy or the films of Russ Meyer. While speaking about David Frasier I will share an interesting event that took place when David came in town for R.M.'s funeral. He and Jimmy McDonough spent that evening at my home. He told me of an incident that happened that day, the morning of his arrival in Los Angeles for the sad event. He decided to go for breakfast to the restaurant that he and R.M. had their first meeting at, "The Talleyrand.” R.M. always had favorite places or haunts that he would frequent and as time went on and places closed he would find another to replace it. He would cycle through them usually about a handful, so if you hung with Russ you for sure had been to them all many times over.
Tallyrand and Pinot, Musso and Franks .The Bistro and Nickodell before they respectfully closed their doors, places to hold court or be one on one which was a rarity only when a meal was a serious one.
David entered the Tallyrand and looked to see R.M.'s table.( R.M. would have a table that he preferred in each restaurant and most always would wait for it to free up if occupied.) David was escorted over to Russ's table, sat down to look at the menu and a dollar bill was on the table( presumably a tip for the waitress from the previous diner (I hope they only had pie and coffee). He picked up the dollar bill and stared at it in disbelief at which point tucked it into his breast pocket and replaced it with one of his own. Readers…are you sitting down? Here is a copy of that dollar bill.
OKAY??!! I had to have a copy of that one, which David sent me upon his return home and to a copy machine. In writing to me he mentioned it again saying "it still freaks me out."
As I see it, our only hope is an eventual rollover in the administration or sale of RM Films. Maybe, just maybe, the new administrators will see the value, not only monetarily but ethically as well, of holding true to the standard set by RM, to restore that standard to whatever is salvageable.
The current state of RM Films and how it has affected me... here is one incident among the many. Upon inquiring to purchase some copies of “Vixen” so that I might offer them for sale on my website, she refused to sell them to me. I HAD NOT ASKED HER TO GIVE THEM TO ME BUT TO SELL THEM TO ME. What a business woman she is???!
Let's not forget, Janice was originally hired, begrudgingly, by Russ as a temporary office clerk to answer phones and empty trash “and nothing more.” An unfortunate decision made by Russ at a time when all the work had become just too much for one person. She was hired after the tragedy that took the life of his business partner, wife, and star of “Eve and the Handyman,” Eve Meyer.
Eve died in the Pan Am flight # 1736 plane crash on Sunday, March 27, 1977, in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. I had met Eve on occasion, stopping by the office before and after we filmed “Vixen.” A very polite yet strong and knowledgeable woman that Russ held in extremely high regard. He treated her with the utmost respect. It was obvious to me that he cared very much for her. He treated her differently . Eve, before her death, had been running the entire office and business side of RM Films while Russ wrote, directed, edited, photographed and distributed the films.
To summarize - Now we have Dottavio (a.k.a. George DiSalvo a.k.a. Richard Dick Largo) who was Russ's ex-gardener and had been thrown off the property personally by R.M. and told never to return and Janice Cowart, temporary office clerk.
So, bottom line: we have an office clerk and unemployed gardener running R.M. Films, a multimillion dollar business.
IJ - You also recently got your own website up and running – fill us in on what readers can expect to see there and what makes it interesting!
EG - In a few months, I am going to expand the Gallery section with some neat stuff. For instance I have some pictures and correspondence from a trip that Russ and I had taken to Chicago to promote the opening of “Vixen” at the Loop Theater. One of the pictures is of me and Betty Friedan on the Chicago talk show with the host Ronnie Barrett. Betty Friedan was the first real feminist/bra burner and president of N.O.W. (The National Organization for Women). She wanted to debate the subject of nudity by women in film and how it affects women and their position in society. It was a challenge. To be supportive of women in our society as a minority as well as defend my position on freedom of choice... or just FREEDOM period.
Also in the gallery we will exhibit letters sent to me after meeting with the one distributor that Russ ever let help him with distribution of any of his films. Jack Gilbreth was his name. I have letters from him giving me the weekly figures that “Vixen” was bringing in, they were monumental. I have so many pictures, letters, and mementos from, not just my career but from my entire life, and I want to share them with whoever is interested. What good are they sitting in a file box until I am no longer here… then someone can find them and sell them whereby the emotion and meaning that is attached to that photo/letter/painting… what gave it life… never gets to be expressed, or shared by me. It's value to any one or to my life therefore becomes measured in dollars and cents and nothing more... what a waste. I feel the same about my life experiences ...that by sharing them however... through a website, through a book, or through the film media... a sort of documentary of my life experiences... by recording those experiences, they being a part of me, become a PART OF YOU, WE (THE EXPERIENCES YOU AND ME) are given an eternal life and so on.
If, by sharing, someone can draw upon my experience and find similarities in whatever they are going through, and thereby find strength and hope, that for me, will make my time here, however long, all the experience, good and bad worthwhile. I have had way more than a lifetime's worth of experience. Michael Frost and I have from time to time kicked the idea around of Michael directing and filming the documentary. That would be my payoff, to share experience without being afraid of who is going to steal my pictures off the internet or whatever or hold some negative opinion of me because of the way my life has gone, the twists and turns it has taken and choices I have made, or threaten to sue me for speaking the truth. Fear, it is so ingrained in us. It prevents and stumps growth, it's a killer.
With the gutting of the old and creation of the new site my goal is that it will continue to be an expression of me, not just some web designer's artsy design work that is advertising themselves, putting their signature ALL over it and not allowing any input from the person or thing that 'The Site' is supposed to represent. I have been able to work hands on with my web designer, Charles Wright, who is fucking genius, a gem and a gift. My site, when complete, will be solid, as far as the ideas that work will remain and the rest will go. Whatever goes will be something that just, well, didn't speak to us or my fans and be replaced with something new to see if it is more likely to get the point across. The words... refine, define, and redefine best describe the movement and development concerning the future of ericagavin.com. I'd like to think of my site as a place where I can connect.
Fans can write to me, communicate, and see what I am up to as well as what kind of music and which artists I'm listening to. This is an example of Charles' intuitiveness and genius. He inserted a box into my site; Ericagavin.com called “pop it out" like a cassette player or disc player where we put up music for the fans to listen to. When you click on it you can share the music that I'm listening on that or any particular day. I love to make mixes from my music collection and we will be playing them as well. If my fans can listen and be a part of my music they are truly a part of me because music saved my life. I love it, and live for it, the louder the better. My ears are probably damaged from standing in front of speakers all those years, right up front at concerts, clubs and acid tests. Just the fact that Charles knew how much music was a part of my world without me telling him said a lot about him and who he was. He incorporated it into my site without asking me or telling me, but to surprise me and see how I would react to it. That makes him special. He's not afraid to take chances, or of input. He takes it as learning and is so open to hear someone else's ideas or how something different might better get a point across. He wants to be critiqued to improve, wants to see his work through the eyes of someone else that is not quite as close. A rare trait in people today. Fear immobilizes us and keeps us from growing. Fear that we will lose some material thing or some part of our distorted ego. He is not afraid which speaks volumes to me of who he is. He also worked my Facebook page and forwards the correspondence to me. When the site first went up he asked my fans for input.
We have also revamped the online store where you can find some very cool things. We offer autographed and/or personalized or not (up to the buyer), items including a copy of my personal script from “Vixen” containing my personal notes on dialogue changes, scene directions that had come to be during impromptu rehearsals with Russ on set and off, production stills , lobby cards, autographed DVDs of my films, posters, as well as T-shirts that we have designed with tricked out images from my movies. We also have for purchase (only a few copies left) Steve Sullivan's magazine "Glamour Girls Then and Now #16" that boasts my image on the cover and is titled " Erica" “Vixen” "Gavin To Hell And Back.” I believe it's out of print and can no longer be purchased new. In ordering it through ERICAGAVIN.COM you will receive a new copy autographed by me and personalized if so desired. For Glamour Girl issue #16 Steve did an interview with me over a three day block of time. He went home with some hundred tapes of me trying to reconstruct my life as it was until then by dates and events. When completed I believe it was some 40 pages long with over 60 personal pictures that I had provided Steve from my personal collection for use in his article.
My life has been and continues to be quite a life. I do need to write a book. It will read like "the Definitive Book on “Being Born, Raised, Living Your Life and Surviving under the Hollywood Sign.” Since Steve's article came out a few years ago I have even remembered more events as if there could be any more? For instance, I was a counselor at a Camp Fire Girls summer camp in the mountain's for three months. At the camp I had an involvement with a young Hopi Indian boy who was one of the groundskeepers. We would hang out at night after the kids were asleep and do things like slice our arms open and put them together so as to be connected through blood forever. After the camp ended I went to the Hopi reservation with him and stayed there for three weeks. A definite cultural enlightenment. No toilets, no running water or electricity. Washing your hair was a real ordeal not to mention showering or anything else like that. How about light at night (none!) when you needed to go to the bathroom and just did it in a can outside the hut and finding your way to it without falling or tripping over it was the task at hand. It was so dark, pitch black, all but the stars... they were brilliant.
IJ – So with the new website going and a new movie having been made, what else is on the horizon?
EG - At the same time that I was writing about Jonathan Demme I was contacted by Mr. Reed Kaplan who is producing The Shout Factory DVD release of my 1974 film, Caged Heat. Part of the special features on the disc is an audio commentary by the principals in the making of the movie. The commentary is scheduled to include Jonathan Demme (writer/director), Roger Corman (producer), Tak Fujimoto (cinematographer), John Cale (music composer), Barbara Steele (co-star) and myself. The session is scheduled for later this month. I am very excited about the project and look forward to the reunion. (Editors Note: At the time of this writing, the commentary was not yet recorded - it wound up being Erica, Demme and Fujimoto).
I'm also currently developing another film project with Michael Frost. It's very exciting because this role is completely unexpected and over-the-top. Real meat, something an actor can really sink her teeth into, you know? After a few months of collaborative pre-production, we're ready to start shooting in a few more weeks. Also, I've also had some offers to work on a photographic memoir of sorts, more like an art book really, with photographs of the music and cultural scene of Los Angeles during the 70s. Getting back to work with Charles Wright on ERICAGAVIN.COM is also a priority we'll just have to wait and see what comes about. So there's quite a lot to keep a girl occupied. It's just wonderful to be working creatively with real friends. It's a blessing. For that I am grateful and forever grateful to Russ Meyer for giving me my fifteen minutes. He is greatly missed.
Thanks for letting me share.
And thank you for sharing, Erica.
We'd also like to thank Alison Jane for help with graphics, Todd Jordan and Ian Miller for inspiration, and especially Erica herself, a truly gracious interviewee, for taking the time to open up and give as much as she's given here. Interested parties are wholly encourated to check out her website at ERICAGAVIN.COM. Images that appear here from that website are used with permission.