Edy Williams is famous for making waves. She has done it since the mid-'60s, when she was crowned Miss Sherman Oaks, Miss Beverly Hills, Miss San Fernando Valley and Miss California Bikini. She has done it even more relentlessly since 1970, when she made Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for her ex-husband, soft-porn filmmaker Russ Meyer. Mainly she has done it by taking off her clothes in front of cameras. If exhibitionism were a river, she'd be the Mississippi. And she just keeps rolling along, making waves because she wants to make a splash.
Her very persistence—despite dashed hopes, the years, even ridicule—must command, if not respect, then a daffy kind of awe. Williams, who's in her mid-40s, still longs for stardom in the biggest way. "I want to be like the great ones who go on and on and on, forever and ever, the legendary ones," she says in her breathy voice, her eyes actually misting over. With her Jayne Mansfield-era sense of publicity, Williams still shows up at the Oscars every year looking like a Frederick's of Hollywood version of Delacroix's Liberty Leading the People. What Williams wants is exposure, and she figures the best way to get it is to give it—in her see-through gowns, topless bathing suits and string bikinis.
She's a tradition at the Cannes Film Festival, where nearly every May she performs nude romps in the civic fountains and hotel swimming pools. "A lot of people put me down, but in the long run I feel like I've done a good deed, and everytime I've done a good deed I have good luck," she says.
Is luck finally tugging at Williams' bikini strap? This summer she has four—you heard it, four—films due for release. She co-stars in The Mankillers with Edd "Kookie" Byrnes, in Dirty Laundry With Sonny Bono, in Bad Manners with Martin Mull and in Rented Lips with the late Dick Shawn. Okay, these works share a certain quality—they're a cut below Gone With the Wind—but they do represent a significant addition to the Williams oeuvre.
Oddly enough, Edy feels that Rented Lips, in which she plays a porno actress named Heather Darling, will be her major break. "In all my other films I start out as an angel, and they make me a slut," she reasons. "Here I start out as a tramp and end up as a nice, sweet lady. Rented Lips makes me feel like a star, because stars are always up on a pedestal."
Edy awaits her ascension. Her face may not be what once it was, but gravity has not entirely defeated her knockout figure. She owns more than 100 bikinis, ranging from sequins to suede. Today, while bouncing with that aforementioned visitor on her waterbed, she wears a white one made of fuzzy fur. Her silver sandals are studded with rhinestones.
She lives alone in a house that could easily be declared a National Starlet Preserve. The decor is an odd mixture of French provincial and jungle prints. Posters and pictures of herself adorn the walls. "Roger Ebert just wrote something in which he called me an intercontinental starlet," says Williams. "I mean, wow! I think it's because I have this excitable enthusiasm. I'm a whoopee kind of girl. I think it's because I abstain sexually a lot. It builds up inside of me, so in everyday life I have this extra excitement for everything."
That may also come from a life lived always on the cusp. Edwina Beth Williams of Salt Lake City (her grandfather was a leader in the Mormon Church) is one of the last performers bred for stardom by a Hollywood studio. In 1967 20th Century Fox chose her and 22 other neophytes, including Tom Selleck, Sam Elliott and James Brolin, to study in its training school. After a few minor movie parts, Williams' first and (until this summer) only significant role came in 1970's Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, a porno spoof (scripted by Roger Ebert in his salad days) that was a critical and commercial coup. On the set Edy met Meyer, now 65, still her only husband. The marriage, which lasted four years, was in trouble from the very beginning. "He wanted to be the star, and anytime I did anything I got yelled at," she says. "I guess he resented feeling that maybe I was a little more famous. He didn't want me to be in the limelight. He wanted me to stay home. He didn't want any guests in the house for the first year. I felt like I was living with Hitler."
After running off to Rome for a year, Williams returned to Hollywood for the divorce. Her settlement from Meyer was $900 a month for seven months. Her legacy from him, she contends, was an everlasting bad rep. The world has failed to recognize her dramatic talent in subsequent films, and she blames Meyer. "I got typecast as a porn star in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and every role I've played since has been really close to that one. It makes me furious," she says.
The subject switches to romance. Does she have a boyfriend? Her adrenaline stops pumping. "I don't know," she says, growing distant. "I find Hollywood very confusing." Yes, she would like to find another husband, she says, "Someone who'll say, 'Come on, baby, go out there and knock 'em dead.' I always seem to meet jealous, possessive men. I want someone who really wants me to win an Oscar, even if it's just for supporting actress."
Edy Williams gets up from the couch crosses the living room and puts on a pink sweater. Then she presses her face against the glass sliding door. She just stands there, staring at the fogbound and darkening city below. Is she looking for her name in neon? A star on the Walk of Fame? Will she ever see them? As the visitor prepares to make a quiet exit, she turns, feigns a smile and says in that breathy whisper, "Give me a kiss before you go."
- Michael Alexander.
She is Hollywood's perennial starlet, this bikini-clad, peroxided, would-be love goddess who opens the door of her hillside home overlooking West Hollywood. "Let me show you around," she says, taking the visitor into her bedroom, where she commands him to join her on her waterbed while she bounces up and down, making waves.