My Life as a Zucchini
A graceful and inspiring picture.
Anthony James Ryan, who met the director Russ Meyer in a World War II training camp and was his right-hand man for some 60 years, died last week at 85.
Ryan did a little of everything for the “King of the Nudies.” He was an actor, producer, writer, production manager and cameraman, but those titles hardly describe his overall role, as Sancho Panza to Meyer’s Don Quixote. When Meyer set off on a new adventure, Ryan followed along, shaking his head, expressing doubt and caution, wondering what Russ would dream up next – but always loyal.
The credits for Meyer’s 27 films as a director are peppered with men he met in the U. S. Army Signal Corps during the war. They remained lifelong friends, largely because of Meyer’s own role as organizer of frequent reunions (he would send air tickets to those who couldn’t afford them).
“In a way, Russ is still fighting the war,” Ryan told me once. “He gets us all together, we go off to some god-forsaken location, and we work our butts off, bunk down in some motel that reminds him of a barracks, and chow down together. He’s never happier than when he’s waking everybody up in the morning.”
In Meyer’s final years, when the director suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, Ryan was a steadfast friend and visitor.
As Anthony James Ryan, A. James Ryan, Anthony-James Ryan and plain Jim Ryan (Meyer’s credits were whimsical), Ryan played the handyman in “Eve and the Handyman” (1961), which followed Meyer’s huge hit “The Immoral Mr. Teas” and starred Meyer’s wife Eve Meyer, one of the first dozen Playboy Playmates. He also acted in “Wild Gals of the Naked West” (1962) and “Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!” (1968).
He was a producer, writer and camera operator on “Vixen” (1968), the producer and production manager of “Cherry, Harry & Raquel!” (1970), a writer on “Up!” (1976), an associate producer and writer on “Black Snake” (1973) and “Vixen,” and the executive producer of “Supervixens” (1975).
Ryan was born June 17, 1921 in Washington, and moved with his family to Los Angeles, where he attended high school and college and worked at the old Hal Roach Studios. Enlisting in the Army, he trained as a combat photographer and met Meyer at Camp Crowder. They were assigned to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, and as Signal Corps cameramen they shot footage still in use by military historians and the Library of Congress (some of their work appeared in the movie “Patton”).
Ryan spoke French, Spanish, German and Portuguese and his greatest wartime adventure was posing as a Frenchman to liaison with the French Resistance and obtain a German map that he was able to bring back through enemy lines. He was twice decorated, including the Bronze Star.
Ryan corroborated Meyer’s story that the young director lost his virginity when Ernest Hemingway took him to a bordello outside Paris, but declined to say whether he went along.
In peacetime, Ryan operated photography studios, since 1957 the Modern Studio of Photography in Highland Park, Ca., where he shot weddings, graduations, banquets, portraits, and so forth. But he was always ready to turn the business over to assistants or even lock the doors when Meyer called with another mission.
I remember him in the middle of the Arizona desert on “Supervixens!,” supervising a post-hole being dug by a USC film student. “You know what he said?” Ryan asked me. “He said, ‘I’m a student of the cinema and all I’m learning to do is dig post-holes’!” The post-hole was for the base of a telephone. But the telephone was designed to bolt to concrete. It sat too low in the ground, so the intern had to refill the hole. “Now you’re really learning about the cinema,” Ryan told him.
His funeral and burial were Saturday, April 22, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City. He was preceded in death by his wife, Jackie.
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