Erica Gavin: Vixen

Having done posts on several of Russ Meyer’s key stars, our mania for completion, along with genuine interest, compels this shout out to Erica Gavin (Donna Graff, b. 1947)

Gavin was a Hollywood brat. Her father was a bit player named Fred Graff, who appeared in major Hollywood films from 1944 through 1951. Towards the end, Graff’s career was just starting to improve — he played named characters in the western Union Station (1950) and in Bob Hope’s The Lemon Drop Kid (1951). But then he was blacklisted for leftist associations and had to drop out of the business.

Erica’s youth seems to have been appropriately wild. She was a topless dancer at a club that also employed Tura Satana and Haji; she was a rock groupie and had liaisons with musicians like Arthur Lee of Love; and she had several associations with the larger cast of characters in the Manson Family/ Tate-LaBianca murders. Much of this by her own account on her racy personal website.

In 1968, she was cast as the title character in Russ Meyers’ breakthrough picture Vixen!, a satire about a nymphomaniac who engages in threesomes, lesbian sex, and incest. It was the first movie to receive an X movie for sexual content. But it was also Meyers’ biggest hit to date in terms of box office, fame, and notoriety.

This led to his Hollywood deal at Fox, and the making of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Gavin had a smaller role in this ensemble picture, playing a lesbian clothes designer named Roxanne, but she is at the center of what may be the film’s most famous shot — the one where she has her head blown off while giving fellatio to a handgun.

At this stage, Gavin dropped out of Meyer’s orbit. She starred in her own artistic porn film Erika’s Hot Summer in 1971. In 1973, she had a small role in the horror film, Godmonster of Indian Flats, probably the closest she got to the sort of roles her dad used to get.

In 1974 she was third billed in the early Jonathan Demme women’s prison picture Caged Heat. 

After this came drug problems and eating disorders and she worked for 17 years at a fashionable Hollywood clothing boutique. In more recent years there has been a new cycle of attention for her film work and she makes appearances at fan conventions and screenings. And there is this documentary which seems to have been in production for many years.