Screen Queen

The director who gave the world Nude on the Moon and Bad Girls Go to Hell enjoys a critical revival

Before Wishman completed her acting curriculum at a small private school in Manhattan -- commuting from her native Forest Hills -- her cousin, a motion- picture distributor who was partners with Joseph E. Levine ("You remember him?" she queries), offered her a job. She accepted, wanting to become part of the movie business in any capacity.

While she was working in film distribution she married Jack Abrams. After about seven years together they moved down to Miami, in the Fifties, by which time several of Wishman's relatives had also relocated to South Florida. The Abramses had been in Florida for some five months when Jack died of a heart attack. Though she steadfastly refuses to disclose her age, Wishman has said that she was in her late twenties at the time of Abrams's death. She returned to New York to be near her family.

"One minute we were together, and the next he was dead," Wishman says flatly. "And really, I just wanted to do something that would take my mind off this tragedy. At that time, Walter Bibo had produced a nudist picture called Garden of Eden, the first nudist picture. I thought, well, I know distribution, I'm going to produce a film."

With a $10,000 stake borrowed from her sister, Wishman wrote a nudist-film script, Hideout in the Sun, and began shooting. "When I saw what I had -- oh brother, it was horrible," Wishman recalls. "I'd just go to bed at night saying, well, if I spend the rest of my life paying my sister back ten dollars a week ... but that was healthy thinking, because I used to go to bed pretending I had a date with Jack, which is sick thinking."

Doris stuck with the project, though. Her second round of shooting produced better footage, and with a little extra financing from a New York film company, Hideout in the Sun was completed. And then: "What they did was sell their company to a man who turned out to be an embezzler," Wishman says. "He went to jail, died in jail, and the negative of Hideout in the Sun was missing, just missing. I searched and searched and searched. What could I do? The picture had about five play dates, and that was it."

"Let me just tell you this. About six months ago I went back to my storage unit looking for a script, and lo and behold, I found a dupe negative of Hideout in the Sun, which is now a classic and a collector's item. Naturally, I'm trying to sell it, and I am selling it."

Her subsequent nudist-camp efforts met with somewhat less bizarre ends. After Bibo's Garden of Eden led to a landmark court ruling that the naked human form was not inherently obscene, nudist films proliferated. Wishman's were some of the most fanciful of the bunch. Nude on the Moon, released in 1962, was a good example of her ability to introduce a fun "hook" for the kinds of films most others turned into perfunctory voyeuristic exercises. This one depicts two scientists building a rocket, flying to the moon, and discovering South Dade's Coral Castle, full of sunbathing beauties in bikini bottoms and sporting pipe-cleaner antennae. The obligatory "cavorting" scenes, where the half-naked men and women dance and toss the ol' ball around, are intercut with shots of the spacesuited scientists diligently taking notes about this strange libertine civilization.

"After a while, nudist pictures were passe," Wishman relates. "So there was calm sex, you know, very slight sex, not too hot. I went along with that. And then sex became ... hotter, shall we say? But I couldn't bring myself to do hard core, not that it's anybody's business if people want to see it, but I couldn't do it. So I just kept making films."

The process was always the same -- a loan from her family to pay the cast and crew, with all the film and processing being done on credit. Wishman prides herself on having always repaid those who worked for her or spotted money for her projects, most of which, she estimates, had budgets in the $50,000 to $70,000 range (slightly higher for her later films).

As the novelty of nudists wore off, Doris sagely changed her tack. "Roughies" -- gritty black-and-white films crammed with nudity and violence against women -- were in. With Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Wishman seized on this trend and made it uniquely her own. Her penchant for cutaways was more pronounced, as was her trademark -- born of the problems inherent in dubbing dialogue -- of not showing a character's moving lips while delivering her lines. Meg, the main character, is sexual prey on the hoof. Her building's maintenance man tries to rape her in the stairwell, then slips a note under her door demanding that she come to his room or he'll tell her husband she was a consenting partner. In the

ensuing scuffle in his garret, she brains him with a bowl, then flees to New York City in shame. "No one will ever believe I didn't go his room willingly," Meg's voice-over says. Her continuing misadventures include a whipping with a belt, the world's shortest-ever lesbian sex scene, another attempted rape, and a twist on the "it-was-all-a-dream" conceit.

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