EDY WILLIAMS: SHE’LL STRAP YOU ON!
One of my favorite starlet movies of all-time is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Bosom-king Russ Meyer aimed the quasi-sequel in name only to Valley of the Dolls, to be “the first rock, horror, exploitation film musical.” He expertly directed his cast of Playboy Playmates and actors to treat it as a serious drama and not a comedy knowing full well he was aiming for camp, which he achieved. And none of the female characters was campier then Ashley St. Ives as portrayed by Edy Williams who undoubtedly got some of the films’ best and most memorable lines. Standing 5-foot-7 with dark brown hair and brown-green eyes, Williams had a curvaceous body measuring 39-26-37, breathy voice, and captivating personality that made men drool over. Loving the camera, Edy posed bikini-clad for numerous cheesecake and pin-up photos leading up to her most infamous role.
Edy Williams was born Edwina Beth Williams in Salt Lake City, Utah but grew up in California’s San Fernando Valleywhere her next door neighbor was Johnny Carson. After graduating from Van Nuys High School, she attended Valley State College for three semesters. As a teenager she worked as a model and became a local beauty queen being crowned “Miss California Bikini,” “Miss Tarzana,” “Miss San Fernando Valley,” and “Miss Sherman Oaks” in 1964 the year she began acting. Her acting career began with small roles on TV and in a few movies including For Love or Money (1963) before getting noticed playing call girls in A House Is Not a Home (1964) and more memorably in Sam Fuller’s film noir The Naked Kiss (1964) as one of Madam Candy’s “Bon-Bons” nicknamed “Hatrack.” The ravishing beauty then signed a contract with 20th Century-Fox, ala Raquel Welch, but wherein Raquel landed big movie roles Edy toiled on television making appearances on a number of highly popular series such as Batman and Lost in Space. Despite being named a Hollywood Deb Star for 1965, Williams was still only able to scrounge up small movie roles in Nevada Smith (1965), Red Line 7000 (1965), and Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966).
Her first film role of note was as one of playboy James Farentino’s delectable girlfriends in The Pad (and How to Use It) (1966) produced by Ross Hunter (“I walked into his office and his eyes popped out.”) before going blonde to play the “dumb but well-stacked” suburban neighbor of Anne Jackson who imagines Edy as this sexy siren who can seduce any man in The Secret Life of an American Wife (1968). Williams told the Los Angeles Times that what helped her land these roles was the publicity she generated attending premieres and parties in outrageously sexy outfits that were designed by her mother. “I’m am exhibitionist. I dig reading that my micro-mini stopped traffic on Wilshire. I dig walking into a place in a sheer see-through and shocking the old ladies. I mean, if I didn’t look the way I do, they wouldn’t be looking at me, would they?”
In 1969, 20th Century-Fox took a chance and hired exploitation film king Russ Meyer to direct Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, the studio’s follow-up to the enormously popular Valley of the Dolls (1967), which was based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Jacqueline Susann. A sequel in name only, none of the characters from the original movie appeared, due to a lawsuit filed by Susann, though “Susan Lake” was a veiled disguise of Barbara Parkins’ Anne Welles and “Baxter Wolfe” was supposed to be Anne’s love interest Lyon Burke played by Paul Burke.
From an original screenplay by Meyer and film critic Roger Ebert, the over-the-top Beyond the Valley of the Dolls was the story of All-American girl rock trio who travel across country to Hollywood where they are re-named the Carrie Nations by music industry impresario Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell (John Lazar) and experience fame, fortune, and heartache. Keeping with his casting of big bosomed actresses in lead roles such as Lorna Maitland in Mudhoney, Tura Satana in Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!, and Erica Gavin in Vixen, it is not surprising that Meyer cast two former Playboy Playmates as the girl rockers. British Dolly Reade, Miss May 1966, played Kelly MacNamara the lead singer and long-lost niece of her dead mother’s sister SusanLake (Phyllis Davis). Success goes straight to Kelly’s pretty head as she dumps naive Harris Alsworth (David Gurian) her loyal high school sweetheart and the band’s unofficial manager, falls in with the pot-smoking Hollywood in-crowd, and begins a romance with actor/gigolo Lance Rocke (Michael Blodgett) who cajoles her to go after a bigger share of her grandfather’s inheritance held by rich Aunt Susan.
Cynthia Myers, Miss December 1968, clinched the role of Casey the guitar-playing lost soul of the group due to her 39DD cup, which bosom master Russ Meyer flipped over. A powerful senator’s daughter who has been used and abused by men, Casey falls in love with Lesbian clothes designer Roxanne (Erica Gavin). However, when her jealous lover learns that she is pregnant by Harris after a drunken one night stand, she demands that Casey have an abortion. She goes through with it but pays for her wanton ways when at the film’s climax as she and Roxanne have their pretty little heads blown off by the crazed Z-Man who reveals a set of knockers to rival any Playboy Playmate as he goes off the deep end as Super Woman also beheading a bound Lance clad only in leopard bikini briefs.
The third member of the group is African-American actress and former high fashion model Marcia McBroom who played drummer Petronella Danforth. Her adventures in Hollywood were less tawdry as she marries struggling law student Emerson (Harrison Page) but cheats on him with stud boxing champ Randy Black (James Inglehart).
Riding head-and-shoulders over all three of them was Edy Williams. Roger Ebert claimed the he introduced Edy to Russ Meyer at the Fox commissary though others contend that Fox studio head Richard Zanuck insisted that his contract player be given a role in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. It was first announced in the trades that Williams, now with chestnut brown hair with blonde highlights, would be playing Ashley Famous a writer of pornography, but when the original script was jettisoned the character morphed into the voracious porn star Ashley St. Ives. Edy felt that Meyer wanted her all along to play Ashley and promised that she would be the star of the movie. Williams remarked in Interview, “Russ is really a schemer. He was telling me, “Oh—you’re going to be the star. You’ve got the greatest role in the whole film. Well, he was telling the same story to all the other girls too.” Be that as it may, Edy does have the most memorable role and makes it even better with her excellent performance.
We meet wild-haired Ashley St. Ives dancing furiously with an African-American dude to “Incense and Peppermints” sung by the Strawberry Alarm Clock at a wild happening at producer Ronnie Barzell’s. He points out a gyrating Ashley to his new friend Kelly and says, “Look there—the infamous Ashley St. Ives famous indeed for her portrayals in pornographic pictures. See how she gives her body to the ritual—delicious.” When the innocent goofy-looking Harris Allsworth shows up, the amorous vixen, clad in what looks like a crocheted brown micro mini-dress with matching bikini bottoms, immediately sets her sights on him and is a like a Black Widow spider honing in on her defenseless prey. As he makes his way through the throng looking for his girlfriend Kelly, Ashley puts her arm out blocking his way and seductively asks, “You don’t drink?” He responds, “Later” as he pushes her arm down and moves on his way. Ashley watches and says assuredly, “Yeah, later.”
Soon after as Ashley is describing the plot of her new porno movie (or as she later describes them, “my controversial box office block busters”) to two party guests, Harris sits next to her putting his drink down on a coffee table. Ashley slides it over with her foot while he is looking the other way. When he goes to retrieve it, he grabs her ankle instead and she says, “Well now Harris we meet again. Come into my den said the spider etcetera.” After exchanging some barbs back and forth, Ashley finally gets to the point and says, “You’re a groovy boy—I’d like to strap you on sometime.” Edy Williams is deliciously wicked in this scene as she sticks her tongue in the guy’s ear and lasciviously licks her lips as he walks away.
Ronnie Barzall decides to manage Kelly’s group and after changing their name to The Carrie Nations they soon become superstars. After a successful live concert performance, Kelly rejects Harris’ plea to be with him and goes off to Ronnie’s with matinee idol Lance Rock for another wild party. Waiting in her Rolls Royce, “the princess of carnality” pulls up to the dejected boy and offers him a ride. It’s a ride he’ll never forget. After parking in his driveway, Ashley climbs into the backseat and removes her panties while seductively licking her forefinger. She says, “Now it’s your move” as the horny youngster joins her and remarks, “It’s my first time in a Rolls.” The sex is wild and Harris has the porn star squealing in delight, “There’s nothing like a Rolls…nothing…not even a Bentley!” as the song “In the Long Run” plays in the background.
The more famous Kelly and her band become, the more Harris turns to booze and pills to ease his misery. Ashley takes him to the beach where she does her best to arouse him, but he is not interested in having sex on the sand. After Harris won’t get it up, a frustrated bikini-clad Ashley standing above him (Russ Meyer filmed with the camera at a low angle facing up giving her an Amazonian look like he did with the gals from Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!) mocks him and declares, “Harris you’re drunk and you’re stoned. And the worst of it is you’re a lousy lay. You’re never get into one of my films sweetheart—unless as a hairdresser.” She tells him to find “a nice tender boy” and salutes in farewell before finding another boy-toy right there on the sand to take his place and disappointingly disappears from the rest of the movie. It is surprising that Ashley doesn’t turn up at the ill-fated party at Z-Man’s since all the “sinning” characters get their comeuppance.
There was only one scene Edy admitted that she had a problem shooting and that was the seduction of Harris in the back of the Rolls Royce since she had to remove her panties and “was scared shitless” as she told Interview. Trying to accommodate his star, Russ Meyer agreed to set up the camera and have everybody, including him, leave the set and for Edy to yell “Cut!” when it was completed. She didn’t mind if Meyer stayed but did not want actor David Gurian to and would pretend like he was there. Even though she was shaking, the scene went excellently and Edy cried after it was completed. “I felt like I’d been disgraced…But, yet, on screen you couldn’t see anything, so I don’t know why I got so shook up.”
Actually, Russ Meyer wasn’t lying when he told Edy Williams that Ashley St. Ives is the standout female role. She goes all out stealing the film with a truly entertaining performance and gets most of the big laughs. While all the other actors followed the instructions of Russ Meyer to play it straight as if it was a serious drama, you can tell Edy knew it was high camp and went over-the-top but not to the point of ridiculousness (i.e. John Lazar as Z-Man).
Unfortunately, Edy, once dubbed the eternal starlet, never got an opportunity like this again and continued for years trying to drum up publicity with her outrageous public appearances. It began when she went to the Cannes Film Festival with Russ Meyer to promote Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. She then became a fixture there year after year removing her bikini top and sometimes even more posing on top of cars, in fountains, and even in the middle of traffic for whatever photographer aimed his camera her way.
Back in Hollywood, she’d appear at openings and award shows in shockingly skimpy outfits. As she told the Los Angeles Times, “This sex thing it’s all a put-on, you know. It’s what I have to do to get where I want to go. And believe me, I’ll get there if I have to walk nude downHollywood Boulevard.” She almost did.
At about the 8 minute mark you can see Edy talk about making the movie. This was from a screening back in 1990. Sadly, a number of the people on the panel are no longer with us.