Revisiting Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge

 

Clockwise from top left: The indestructible Mae West; Raquel Welch shows her assets; Welch in the classic Myra pose, adapted from a Sunset Boulevard cowgirl advertisement; Welch “instructing” Roger Herren; Farrah Fawcett and Herren; John Huston, Welch, director Michael Sarne, West and Rex Reed; the original novel.

A blistering satire and celebration of Hollywood, Myra Breckinridge is perhaps Gore Vidal’s most wildly provocative novel. Myron, a mild-mannered film scholar, obtains a sex change to become Myra, a champion feminist who overpowers an outdated and misogynistic industry. (The opening line: “I am Myra Breckinridge, whom no man will ever possess.”) It’s truly decades ahead of its time.

Dive into the novel when you can, but for a camp overload, also see Michael Sarne’s beautifully disastrous film adaptation of 1970. Raquel Welch and Rex Reed (in his film debut) double up as the titular couple, alongside John Huston, Farrah Fawcett and the astonishing Mae West, who at 73 was returning to the cinema after 27 years and who performs a yowling rendition of “Hard to Handle.” And when you see how Sarne incorporates a potpourri of ancient Hollywood clips, you’ll understand why Shirley Temple voiced her extreme displeasure at being included.

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