From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Doris Wishman (b. June 1 1912, New York City - d. August 10 2002, Miami) was a Jewish American screenwriter, film director and independent film producer whose paracinematic oeuvre encompasses 30 feature films from 1960 until her death in 2002, aged 90.
She is one of the most prolific women film directors in the history of the cinema and in recent years has become the object of a cult film following. She is best known for Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974) featuring strip-tease performer Chesty Morgan
1960-1964 Nudist period
Wishman's earliest films are exemplary of the nudist film genre.
Wishman completed eight nudist features between 1960 and 1964. Blaze Starr Goes Nudist (1962) featured legendary burlesque queen Blaze Starr. Other titles include Hideout in the Sun (1960), Diary of a Nudist (1961), Gentlemen Prefer Nature Girls (1962), Playgirls International (1963), Behind the Nudist Curtain (1963), and The Prince and the Nature Girl (1964).
By far, the most bizarre of Wishman's nudist features is 1961's Nude on the Moon, an attempt to combine traditional nudist material with a science fiction plot-line. Wishman abandoned the nudist genre once it had lost its commercial viability.
During the mid-1960s, Wishman began working within the sexploitation genre. Several of Wishman's films of this period were directed under the pseudonym "Louis Silverman", the name of her second husband (otherwise uninvolved in the films' production).
Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965) is one of Wishman's best-known films and includes many elements found commonly in sexploitation movies of the period. The main character is a young woman who runs away to the big city (in this case, after accidentally killing a man who tries to rape her). She soon stumbles into a variety of sexually compromising and abusive situations. Though archetypal in its use of genre situations, Wishman's empathy for her female protagonist in Bad Girls Go to Hell has been interpreted by some observers as proto-feminist. Bad Girls Go to Hell was also one of the earliest collaborations between Wishman and cinematographer C. Davis Smith, who worked closely with Wishman on much of her output during the 1960s and '70s, and who would subsequently serve as director of photography on Wishman's final, posthumously completed feature, Each Time I Kill.
Other films from Wishman's sexploitation period include The Sex Perils of Paulette (1965), Another Day, Another Man (1966), My Brother's Wife (1966), A Taste of Her Flesh (1967), Indecent Desires (1967), and Too Much Too Often! (1968). All are shot in black and white. Two subsequent features, Love Toy (1968) and The Amazing Transplant (1970), are shot in color and are closer in substance to the burgeoning soft-core genre.
Wishman is also credited with having dubbed two imported Greek-produced features, The Hot Month of August and Passion Fever, during the late 1960s and is credited with the direction of their American release versions.
During the 1970s, Wishman experimented with a variety of genres and genre mixes. Keyholes Are for Peeping (1972) is a sex comedy featuring comedian Sammy Petrillo. Deadly Weapons (1973) and Double Agent 73 (1974) are thrillers featuring strip-tease performer Chesty Morgan, renowned for her 73-inch bust. Wishman's Chesty Morgan films are among her best known and most popular titles and are celebrated for their camp aesthetic. During the mid-1970s, Wishman also directed at least two explicit hardcore pornographic films. Satan Was a Lady (1975) and Come with Me, My Love (1976), both featuring performance artist and porn star Annie Sprinkle.
Although initiated in 1971, Wishman's 1978 feature, Let Me Die a Woman (1978) is a semi-documentary about transsexuality. In addition to examining the condition of numerous, actual transgendered individuals, the film also features a considerable number of dramatized scenes, including a cameo by future porn legend Harry Reems (as "Tim Long").
Noticing the trend toward slasher movies in the late 1970s, Wishman ventured into the horror genre with a feature entitled A Night to Dismember, completed circa 1983. Noteworthy for its crazy-quilt construction, the film failed commercially, effectively forcing Wishman into retirement.
Rediscovery and swan songs
Due in large part to her increasing cult status during the 1990s, Wishman managed to complete three additional features late in life: a sex comedy entitled Dildo Heaven (2002), a neo-sexploitation feature entitled Satan Was a Lady (not to be confused with her 1975 hardcore film of the same title), and Each Time I Kill, a teen horror thriller shot in the Miami area. Wishman completed principal photography on the previous film only six weeks before succumbing to lymphoma in August 2002 at age 90. The film was later completed by the project's executive producer and has screened at various film festivals.
In 2000, Wishman was featured alongside exploitation icons Roger Corman and David F. Friedman in the documentary SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies, a film about the rise and fall of the American exploitation cinema. Excerpts from her interview for this film also appear on the 2007 DVD issue of Wishman's first film Hideout in the Sun. During her later years, Wishman was also interviewed on National Public Radio's Fresh Air program, was twice a guest on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, and was the subject of retrospectives at the Harvard Film Archive and the New York Underground Film Festival.
Her biographer, Michael Bowen, has been working for several years to gather information about her career.
Better Than Sex: The Story of Doris Wishman
BETTER THAN SEX is a comedy based on the life of Doris Wishman. Doris was a maverick filmmaker, inadvertent feminist, and icon who never really got her due respect (although she did make a living as a woman filmmaker at a time when it was virtually unthinkable).
She made 32 films - most of them "nudies" before the advent of hard-core - and many of them were shot in her home in Queens while her second husband Lou was at the office.
Later in life she was recognized for her distinct visual style, and some of the great genre filmmakers as well as critics like Roger Ebert paid her tribute - but it was too little too late. Her films live on and enjoy a major cult following today on DVD.
Doris's life is the story of a woman with one foot in the 50’s and one foot in the 60’s, really an accidental feminist. What if you want to work and your husband forbids it? The 50’s wife probably said, "Yes, dear". The 60’s wife might have said, "No, dear". But after remarrying, Doris Wishman, caught between eras, answers, "Of course, dear", and proceeds to work in secret, making soft-core sex films in her bedroom while her husband is off at work. We follow her dicey double life as she turns into an X-rated Lucy Ricardo. And like so many women who juggle marriage and career, she drops the ball from time to time, in hilarious and often touching ways.
It was fun while it lasted. But eventually Doris's devotion to her husband fades as her obsession with movie-making grows. One day she looks up and he is gone. And then she looks up and Deep Throat has opened. Hard-core porn was now what the audience wanted. But a woman with one foot in the 50's couldn't go there. So Doris Wishman, always looking for a new gimmick, finds her biggest success when she discovers a Polish stripper with the "biggest breasts in the world" named Chesty Morgan.
Doris stars her in Double Agent 73 (Chesty's actual measurements). "Secret Agent Chesty" has a camera implanted in her breast. Time to photograph a secret document? Out it comes. And sex meets schtick in vintage Wishman style.
Better Than Sex is also the story of Doris's delightfully complicated relationship with her sister Pearl. Pearl was Doris's first investor and her biggest critic. But these two ladies stick together through all the trials and travails of running an independent film business at a time when it was unheard of for women to be making films. The uplifting ending of the movie shows the sisters in their 80's, still going strong. Hanging on to their hard-earned title as the "Thelma and Louise of Soft Core."
- RE/Search No. 10: Incredibly Strange Films RE/Search Publications 1986, ISBN 0-940642-09-3
- "SCHLOCK! The Secret History of American Movies" Protagonist Productions/Pathfinder Pictures Ent 2003, ASIN: B0000DC13D