Purient, low-budget, and adults-only, the films of Doris Wishman may provide the
missing link between the worlds of Ed Wood and Russ Meyer. A soft-core sexploitation
filmmaker who between the years 1960 and 1983 made about 25 films, Wishman is the
complete auteur. Not only did Wishman write, direct, produce, cast, and edit all
her films, she was probably the only woman at the time whose work managed to be so
prolific and groundbreaking. Doris Wishman's career began during the heyday of the
early Sixties "nudie" films that featured minimal plots (if any) and wholesome
folks playing volleyball or engaging in other in-the-buff good times. However, with
her second film, the sublimely goofy Nudes on the Moon, Wishman created a
hybrid of Fifties style sci-fi and the "uncensored from Copenhagen" genre
in which cheapjack astronauts land on the moon and discover a community of nekkid
lunar babes with pipe-cleaner antennae sprouting from their bouffant hairdos! The
fairly guileless nudies flourished for several years in the Sixties until they got
pushed aside by the "nudie-roughie," which usually included more violence
and phony sex along with the nudity. In keeping with the times, Wishman made the
jump to the new genre. By the early Seventies, grindhouse screens showed more explicit
porn, a field which Wishman and her contemporaries like Russ Meyer, David Friedman,
and Radley Metzger never ventured into. Her work has been compared to those directors,
but the comparison doesn't quite hold water; Wishman's films were written, produced,
directed, and edited solely by her, no small feat for someone with no formal training
in moviemaking. The different names she often uses in the production credits can
be chalked up to Wishman's embarrassment to list solely her own name for those various
positions. It's an accomplishment even more remarkable when you consider that she
was the only female working in the field at the time (a fact that she dismisses as
Wishman never let her lack of training get in the way of her moviemaking career,
though; she directed a prolific 28 movies between l960 and l978. Her seat-of-the-pants
style often features a hand-held camera prowling the room, focusing on a clock, shoes,
or table legs while the dialogue continues; other times the camera shakes and jerks
around violently during action segments. Her stories often have moral overtones as
wayward, naïve females fall victim to predatory males in vice-ridden journeys
through the sexual revolution of the Sixties. However, her themes also frown on the
swinging bachelor lifestyle of the time as well. Her movies are distinct from those
of her contemporaries due to their direction and plots (Wishman often employed the
country-songwriter ploy of coming up with a title and then writing the film's story
around it). The wildly improbable plots and the trashy look of her films has since
made her a favorite with sleaze connoisseurs (the sharp-eyed viewer will even see
a tribute to Double Agent 73 in John Waters' Serial Mom).
Now living in Coral Gables, Florida, Wishman was rediscovered by Bostonian Michael
Bowen a few years ago. Bowen is now working on the filmmaker's biography and has
been touring the United States with Wishman, showing restored prints of her classics
Bad Girls Go to Hell and Double Agent 73 (named for the freakishly
endowed 73"-bosomed Chesty Morgan). Double Agent 73 features Morgan as
a secret agent with a miniature camera implanted in her left breast (hell, there's
room for a 35mm Panaflex in there). Of course, every time she takes a picture, her
shirt has to come off, and just to make things more interesting, the camera is programmed
to explode in a certain number of hours! Is that exploitation, thriller, spy movie,
or ... what the hell do you call it, anyway? Bad Girls (1965) and Double
Agent 73 (1974) are notable for their bizarre plot inventions and, of course
(in the case of the latter), the near-autistic acting of the rather grotesque Chesty.
(In Deadly Weapons, the film's premise has Chesty Morgan beating men to death
with her fatal attractions.)
Bowen and Wishman's travels bring them to Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, where they
will attend screenings of Bad Girls Go to Hell and Double Agent 73
on the evening of Thursday, July 16.
Austin Chronicle: Let me start by asking you what got you started
Doris Wishman: I think that I was a frustrated actress, and production
was the next best thing. It was a challenge, it was a lot of fun, and I really loved
it, and still do of course.
AC: In your acting days, you were friends with Shelley Winters,
DW: Well, we weren't pals, but we went to the same dramatic school and
we were friendly, you know. She went on to bigger and better things, I guess, and
I went on to production.
Filmmaker Doris Wishman's Deadly Weapons stars Chesty Morgan, who beat men
to death with her 73-inch bust.
AC: Nude on the Moon  was your first feature, is that right?
DW: No, Hideout in the Sun  was my first feature, but the
negative to that was lost, lost for 38 years, and I didn't find it again until a
few months ago. It was my pride and joy, my first film, and when I started working
on the film, I really didn't know what I was doing. The first time I shot, the footage
was very bad, but I learned from my mistakes and when I shot again it was satisfactory.
And of course, it was my first film, so I can see a lot of errors, but then again,
it was my first attempt, my first endeavor, so it was pretty good.
AC: Any chance of that one seeing the light of day?
DW: Well, I don't know, I made some videos and advertised in Psychotronic
and sold a number of them. I only found the negative about six or seven months ago
and surprisingly the negative is in pretty good condition. But yes, I plan to get
hold of distributors. It's just a matter of time. I imagine I'll still be able to
show it. It's the first film that was shot in its entirety in Miami, which is a selling
point, I think.
AC: How did you evolve from the simple sun and volleyball, nudist-camp
type stuff to the so-called exploitation stuff of the later Sixties?
DW: It's difficult to say, you know, when the trend turned. After a while,
those films just weren't acceptable anymore, they weren't commercial, and so I had
to go on to other things, and I started making regular features, which of course
was more fun, more challenging, and more costly. But every time I made a film, the
budget was a little higher, which is just the way it goes.
AC: What was it like to be the only woman director in a field that
was traditionally dominated by males? Did you encounter any problems along those
DW: No, none whatsoever, on the contrary. I never thought of it like that,
but I must say I was always treated very fairly and it never became ... I mean, it
just didn't matter. You know, these days it's completely different, but then it was
a bit of a novelty, but the other producers and directors and so on were extremely
nice and really tried to be cooperative. I had no problems, and I never thought of
myself as the only woman director. I just didn't think about it; I just wanted
to work and make movies.
AC: In the years since, your stuff has been labeled "proto-feminist."
How did that make you feel?
DW: It just doesn't matter. I don't care what people say. I just do my
very best, I make my films with love and care, and as I always say, "Not Eastman
Color but Wishman Blood," and that's all that matters. I never think like that.
AC: I understand that Chesty Morgan was not a whole lot of fun
to work with.
DW: No! I worked with many, many, many people and she was the only one
who was uncooperative. But, I have to count myself as fortunate on that, since she
was the only one who was uncooperative and everyone else was wonderful. Of course
I paid them well, and that always helps. [Note: in her unofficial biography, Wishman
confides bluntly, "Chesty Morgan was a monster!"]
AC: Do you have any idea where Chesty might be today?
DW: I haven't the vaguest idea. I have no idea whatsoever what might have
become of her. I know she used to live in Brooklyn, and she might still be there.
AC: She was Eastern European, is that right?
DW: I think she came from Poland.
AC: And you had to dub in all her lines?
DW: I had to. I had to, because you couldn't understand what she was saying.
And a lot of the people that I worked with, they couldn't speak properly, so I had
to go back and dub in their lines, which was more costly but at least it was professional
and you could understand what they were saying.
AC: What was your favorite part of the filmmaking process?
DW: I think editing, cutting it, making something out of nothing, and of
course you can also make nothing out of something. But editing really is a challenge,
because you're really creating. You can have the most fantastic footage and if you
don't know what you're doing, if you don't have imagination, you have nothing.
AC: Of the movies that you did, what would you say was your favorite
out of the bunch?
DW: You know, as I finished each picture it became my favorite one. They
were all my favorites, because I gave them all my love and care, so it'd be hard
to say. As I finished it, edited it, and got my master print, that was my favorite,
until I made my next film. Don't you see, I didn't look at it the way the audience
looked at it, I saw it a completely different way. It was my creation, I wrote the
script, I edited, I directed, I did everything but use the camera, so this was me,
really, and I couldn't have any particular favorite.
AC: If you were gonna go to the video store and rent a couple of
movies to watch for the night, what do you think you might get?
DW: Oh, I don't know, Titanic, something like that. I'm not much
of a moviegoer because I'm too critical, I find too many errors. No one wants to
go to the movies with me because I'm constantly saying, "This should have been
done, that wasn't done." I tend to be very critical because I feel that when
people are making movies for millions, there shouldn't be any boners, there shouldn't
be any errors. It's different when I made movies, because I didn't have any errors,
and my budgets were very low; we couldn't even afford to go back and reshoot. But
I just think that with these major companies, there shouldn't be any mistakes. I
don't find it forgivable.
AC: I'd have to go along with you. What I find so exasperating is
to see a movie with big stars, a big budget, and a high profile and find that there's
so little substance to it.
DW: Yes, and what I really resent is the fact that you don't know what
they're talking about half the time anyway. Do you find that too?
AC: Yes, or that the story and dialogue are just so inane.
DW: Yes, definitely. I don't really enjoy movies, I don't really go. I
can't remember the last time I actually saw a film. Honestly, it must be 10 years,
and I don't own a VCR either. I think I must be the only person in America who doesn't.
Especially the movies these days; they don't make anything that means anything! But
I shouldn't be too critical. It's like a woman who's really ugly and she smiles a
certain way and she's gorgeous, or a man who arches his eyebrows and you think he
looks fantastic while everyone else thinks he's ugly.
AC: How did you and Mike Bowen hook
DW: I was speaking at Harvard and Mike was in the audience. He didn't approach
me in the autograph line, but a number of weeks later he called me and said that
he wanted to write a book. I told him he was crazy, and then he came with his girlfriend
to Miami, and I said, "I don't know why you want to write a book, because no
one will buy it." He said, "I don't agree with you, I wanna write a book
about you." And so we started corresponding, and Mike called me almost every
night, and things just happened from there, and now we're, of course, fast friends.
Incidentally, I did a piece on HBO a couple of weeks ago, did Michael tell you?
AC: No, uh-uh!
DW: Yeah, a spoof on Cinderella, it's very cute. HBO filmed me directing
a film, so there were two crews working. I was directing a film and HBO filmed me
while I was directing. That was kind of cute. The producer wants to do a film on
my life, but that's in the offing, I don't have a contract or anything.
AC: Since Andrea Juno's article on you for ReSearch magazine 10
or so years ago, did you ever expect the kind of notoriety that you've achieved?
DW: Absolutely not, I never expected any notoriety, and if not for Michael,
nothing would have happened. As a matter of fact, when I was still making films and
anyone approached me, I just wouldn't speak to them. When I came down to Florida,
Ted Koppel's daughter, what's her name, Adrian Koppel, called and wanted to interview
me. She must have called a dozen times, and I just turned her down, then Michael
turned all that around. And then I was on the Conan O'Brien show.
AC: Yeah, I wish I'd have known in advance so I could have seen
DW: Oh, it was dopey. You didn't miss anything, but then after the show
the producer called me and said it was just fantastic, and sent me a letter that
was just wonderful, wonderful, wonderful! It started with, "Dear Doris: You
are amazing." Then there was the underground film festival, which was interesting,
and then I spoke at NYU, and I was there for about a week, so that was fun except
that it was snowing and I was wearing open-toed shoes à la Miami.
Other Films by Doris Wishman
Bad Girls Go to Hell
Film Vault Suggested Links
The City of Lost Children
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