Myra Breckinridge

From Academic Kids

Myra Breckinridge (1968) is a satirical novel by Gore Vidal written in the form of a diary. Its major themes are feminism, transsexuality and deviant sexual practices. Set in Hollywood in the 1960s, the novel also contains candid and irreverent glimpses into the machinations within the film industry. Considered pornographic at the time of its first publication, the book immediately became a worldwide bestseller. In 1974 Vidal published a sequel, Myron, in which the story of Myra Breckinridge is continued.

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Welch as Myra

Myra Breckinridge was filmed in 1970 by Michael Sarne, with Raquel Welch in the title role. The movie also starred John Huston, Mae West, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Herren, and Roger C. Carmel. In 1993, looking back upon his career, Vidal wrote that although he had "never seen it, I do know that despite the iconic presences of Raquel Welch and Mae West, the film was so bad that the book stopped selling for a decade."

Myra Breckinridge is an attractive young woman with a mission. A film buff with a special interest in the Golden Age of Hollywood, in particular the 1940s, she comes to her uncle Buck Loner's academy for aspiring young actors and actresses in order to teach -- not just her regular classes (Posture and Empathy), but also, as part of the hidden curriculum, femdom ("I'm Myra Breckinridge whom no man will ever possess"). She selects as her first victim one of the "studs" at the Academy, a straight young man called Rusty Godowski, whose beautiful girlfriend Mary-Ann Pringle (Farrah Fawcett in the movie version) she at the same time sets out to alienate from him.

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Rusty (Roger Herren) is given a thorough examination at the infirmary

In the climactic scene of the novel (Ch.28), Myra has had Rusty come to the infirmary ("a small antiseptic white room with glass cabinets containing all sorts of drugs and wicked-looking instruments") at 10 p.m. under the pretext of having to conduct a medical examination. After tying Rusty face down to the examination table, she at first humiliates him verbally by asking him very personal questions about his sex life and commenting, in rather drastic tones, on the allegedly moderate size of his penis ("I'm afraid, Rusty, that you've been somewhat oversold on the campus. Poor Mary-Ann. That's a boy's equipment."). Finally, she rapes the unsuspecting student anally with a strap-on dildo ("Now remember the secret is to relax entirely. Otherwise you could be seriously hurt."). Afterwards ("There was blood at the end."), she even makes him thank her for the trouble she has taken.

Only towards the end of the novel does the reader learn about Myra's secret: Pretending that she is Myron Breckinridge's widow, she demands from her uncle, who owns the Academy, half of what he has built up, while in fact she was Myron, has had sexual reassignment surgery (she is particularly proud of her silicone breasts) and only poses as his widow. However, when she has a car accident and is hospitalized, Myra Breckinridge appears to be all just a dream. At the beginning of Myron, he lives together with Mary-Ann, whom he tried to seduce already as a woman.

Letitia Van Allen on the lookout for new talent
Letitia Van Allen on the lookout for new talent

The subplot of Myra Breckinridge revolves around the character of Letitia Van Allen (Mae West in the movie), an ageing but always horny talent scout whose office boasts a four-poster bed and whose kinky sexual practices ("Those small attentions a girl like me cherishes … a lighted cigarette stubbed out on my derriere, a complete beating with his great thick heavy leather belt, […]") have landed her in hospital, half paralysed ("Total perfection!"), at the same time as Myra.

The spirit of the times is also well reflected in another, earlier chapter (Ch.14) of Myra Breckinridge where Myra attends an orgy arranged by one of the students. She goes there, intending to be an observer only but, after "mixing gin and marijuana", she eventually gets "stoned out of her head" and passes out in the bathroom.

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Explicit depiction of sexuality in mainstream fiction:

Novels about Hollywood:

Novels about strong women / women warriors:

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