Actor and photographer Garth Pillsbury talks about working on the infamous 1968 film VIXEN! with Russ Meyer and Erica Gavin. Pillsbury also chats about appearing in the fan favorite episode of Star Trek: The Original Series 'Mirror, Mirror' and also his career as a crime scene photographer in the Los Angeles Police Department...
PILLSBURY: Well, when I first came to Hollywood I did a play at what is now the Fountain Theater called The Golden Boy. In that production, there was a fellow by the name of George Costello. He eventually became Russ Meyer's Assistant Director and worked with him on several films. So when it came time to shoot VIXEN!, George suggested me to Russ. I went in and auditioned for Russ and he said, "You know Garth, you're very good. You can play any one of these parts. You decide what you want to do." Obviously, I wasn't going to play the role that Harrison Page played, so I went over the script and I saw that the biggest role in the film was the role of "Tom Palmer" and that's who I chose to play.
TV STORE ONLINE: Where was VIXEN! actually shot at?
TV STORE ONLINE: What was Russ like on the set of VIXEN!?
PILLSBURY: Russ could be very volatile. One day during the shoot Russ and George got into an argument and it got pretty tense so some of us actors wandered up into the hills and while we were up there we heard a couple gun shots. We thought that Russ had shot George! So we all went back down the hill and there was Russ sitting on the porch of the cabin that we were shooting VIXEN! in with a handgun sitting in his lap. When I asked Russ what had happened he said, "I thought I saw two no good robber types lurking around the back of the cabin." So that was supposedly why he had fired his gun, because he was trying to scare them off. Whether that was the truth, we'll never know now, but I think he had just gotten so pissed off at George that he had to let off some steam. I heard later, Russ also had put his hand through a glass cabinet after a fight with George, but I wasn't around to see that happen. VIXEN! really ruined the relationship that he had had with George Costello.
TV STORE ONLINE: Russ Meyer was very much an auteur...
TV STORE ONLINE: What was your experience working with Erica Gavin?
PILLSBURY: Well, Erica...At least I thought, at the beginning...During the very first scene that we shot together, she wasn't very good. She wasn't very believable. She was very sing-songy. Not that I'm a very good actor, but I took her aside and said to her, "Don't try to act. Just say the lines and it will work." And that seemed to make it work. We were just actors working together. I never got very close to her. I was married at the time and my wife was coming up and visiting during the weekends.
PILLSBURY: Not really. If I felt any awkwardness in the love scenes with Erica, it was just that I've always felt that making love is something that should be done in private between two adults.
TV STORE ONLINE: What are you memories of shooting the infamous scene with Erica dancing on the table with the fish?
PILLSBURY: Laughing...Well, I couldn't get into that. That wasn't me, I realize that some men and women can be attracted to sexually suggestive things, but for me I just thought it was really weird. VIXEN! was the very first film I ever did, so I didn't really consider stuff like this at the time or think about it too much while we were doing it because I was just really happy to be working.
PILLSBURY: Right, 'Mirror, Mirror'. At the time it really didn't mean anything to me. Star Trek was just another television series to me that I was working on. The thing that stands out in my mind today about working on that episode was when we shot that scene where William Shatner comes out of the elevator and my character punches him. It was supposed to take place right before the commercial break, and in the scene you just see this hand come into frame and punch Shatner. I knew how to throw a punch on camera, but when it came time to shoot it, Shatner wouldn't allow me to throw that punch at him. Obviously, I never would have hit him. I would've thrown it and missed him as I had been taught to do, but he was insistent that a stunt man do it. Thinking about it now, of course, Shatner was right in having the stunt man do that for the scene because the stunt man made it look the best that it possibly could've looked on camera.
PILLSBURY: OK, well growing up...As a teenager I had been interested in photography. When I first came out to Hollywood to get into acting...The problem is that you rely on someone to give you a part in something so you can work. Sometimes you work once a month, sometimes you work once a year. So I used photography to make ends meet, and it became a very creative outlet for me. Over the years as I was acting, my career started to plateau out and I realized that I couldn't live on social security alone so I took a job job as a crime scene photographer with the Los Angeles police department. I did that for a few years before I took another job with the city as a photographer before retiring. I think, and I'm being completely honest here, by the time that I started working for the city I had become pretty disillusioned with acting. I'm still involved today with several actors groups and I enjoy it but I'm still working in photography today because I enjoy it so much. I never wanted to be a movie star. I never cared about that, I really just wanted to make a living as a working actor.
TV STORE ONLINE: When did you get into the crime scene photography and what was that whole experience like for you?
The morale was very bad in the department that I worked in too and I worked as a civilian, so you were never considered a police officer and because of that you felt alienated because you weren't really technically one of them, even though they appreciated what you were there for. Eventually, I did train to become a reserve police officer and I go out and work a couple times a month and it gives you an entirely different perspective on things that you see out there.
Interview Conducted By: Justin Bozung
For more with Garth Pillsbury please check out his official website HERE: