Vixen became the first American film officially to be given an “X” by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Local law enforcement officials in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Utah attempted to stop the film from showing. Ohio courts approved a permanent ban against Vixen as obscene because it depicted ‘purported acts of sexual intercourse’ — in a case brought by future bank-fraud felon Charles Keating. It was also withdrawn from some theaters in Wisconsin. Says Erica, “Would you believe that today, more than 30 years later, it’s still banned in parts of Ohio?” With a mischievous gleam in her eye, she suggests, I would absolutely love to go to Ohio now and try to show Vixen at a theater, and let them arrest me if they dared. That’d be so cool!”
Nevertheless — and perhaps in part helped by publicity over the censorship battles — Vixen was a popular phenomenon unlike any previous film of its kind. The picture’s official premiere was on October 15, 1968, but really began to generate a head of steam at the year’s end. It hit big in such key markets as Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Denver. The film cracked the Variety national box office Top Ten on January 20, 1969. Eventually, it would earn more than $6 million in the U.S. on a budget of only $76,000. Meyer’s previous films always had a core audience, but he had never experienced anything like this before.
“I had no idea what to expect,” Erica admits. “I felt that if I’m going to have a chance, I’d better grab the chance while it’s still in front of me.” So she designed and paid for her own full-page ad in Variety quoting Ebert’s review and noting the film’s box office breakthrough.
One dramatic event that brought home to Erica how Vixen was perceived in certain quarters was her appearance opposite feminist Betty Friedan on the local ABC talk show Chicago in early 1969. “I was totally traumatized because she came out and started telling me that I was a disgrace to women. That took me by surprise. I’d never thought once about that before, but after the show, and after seeing the marchers protesting Vixen, part of me felt that maybe I should be standing up for women. Part of it was because I felt like I never fit in, and wanting to so badly.
“The women’s movement was so big at that time—women were burning bras, and here I was taking mine off! I didn’t want to be seen as dogging my own sisters. So for several years after that, I was critical of Vixen.” But now, “I really don’t feel that what I was doing was putting women down. Vixen was totally on top. I think it’s great when you can feel that control in a sexual way.”
–by Steve Sullivan
excerpted with kind permission from Glamour Girls
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