Charles William Rotsler (1926–1997) was an award-winning artist and science fiction author.
Bill was also involved in the burgeoning adult film industry starting in the late 1950s, first as a stills photographer on the set of adult films, and later when he wrote, directed, or acted in over 20 adult films during his career with Boxoffice International Pictures,
In 1966, he created Adam Film Quarterly, later called Adam Film World, one of the earliest magazines to provide commentary on pornographic films. He wrote hundreds of articles using a plethora of pseudonyms including ‘Shannon Carse’, ‘Cord Heller’, ‘Clay McCord’, and ‘Merrill Dakota’ – sometimes even interviewing himself. He also wrote the seminal book, Contemporary Erotic Cinema in 1973.
But this series of articles is not about Bill Rotsler. It’s about a group of friends of his. Four friends. Four women, to be more specific, who at various times lived with him, and featured in his films, photographs, and magazines. Their lives intersected in his house, as they played their parts in helping establish the adult film industry in Los Angeles.
He called this group, ‘The Gruesome Foursome.’
The Rialto Report tracked down each of the four to hear about their lives. This is the second part: the story of Malta. Malta stood out in the late 1960s: a smart, beautiful presence in magazine after magazine. And she appeared in films too, working with Ed Wood, Chris Warfield, and many others. And then in 1972, she left Los Angeles overnight and never returned to modeling or films again. This is her story.
What was your reaction when I first got in touch with you?
Shocked! I had no idea that our little films had achieved minor cult status. I never would have thought that anyone would be interested in the bits of cinematic fluff that we had so much fun making in the late ’60’s and the ’70s. They were called ‘sexploitation’ movies back then, or sometimes ‘soft core.’
I haven’t thought of those days in years. What a trip! (Can you tell I was a ’60’s hippie?!)
Where do you hail from?
I’m from Northport, Long Island, NY.
I moved out to California to go to college – and escape my family.
What was your relationship like with your parents?
It was inconsistent. My father was typically right wing for his generation, so I didn’t speak to them sometimes for a couple of years at a time. My mother was a Smith College graduate.
What did you do when you arrived in California?
I drove out from New York in my ’66 Mustang. I went to Pomona College, which is a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California. I was a theater major – I did some directing, especially theater in the round, as well as scene design. In fact, I did stage plays through to the 1970s. I still have the press notices, photos, resumes.
Did you graduate?
I dropped out after freshman year, though I returned to UCLA in 1968-69.
What were the late 1960s like in Southern California?
It was a wonderful period. We were experimenting and it was fun. The culture, the art – it was all stimulating.
I went to ‘love-ins’ – which were gatherings where people meditated, tripped on acid, or had sex. In fact, I met my first husband at a ‘love-in’. It was the first ‘be-in’. He was a college professor from Pomona who taught philosophy. I was 18 or 19 at the time – and innocent, while he was twelve years older with a family. But we were both hippies and we got along.
My father forced us to get married because I was under 21. In fact, my husband wasn’t legally divorced at the time, but records weren’t computerized in those days, so they couldn’t check!
We pretended we weren’t married anyway because it wasn’t fashionable to admit that in those days.
What did you do for work when you weren’t at college?
I worked as a sales girl in the JW Robinson department store earning minimum wage which was $1.65 an hour. That was about $50 per week. It was difficult being on your feet all day. We weren’t allowed to sit down, or even lean against a wall.
My husband and I were living in an apartment in Venice for $85 per month. I began looking for work – though it wasn’t because we were poor, as my husband made a decent living. I guess I was looking for something to do.
How did the modeling work come about?
I met Hal Guthu through a girlfriend who lived next door. She only worked with him for a short time: she wasn’t notable as a model – except for her large chest! – but she connected me with Hal.
Hal was my first agent, a total sweetheart of a man and quite the opposite of what you might think an agent would be like. He was like an uncle, and took care of his girls.
What kind of modeling did you do?
It was topless or nude, though there was no pubic hair display. It went one step further than Playboy at the time. Sometimes I would pose with guys for men’s magazines – the main ones were Knight and Adam.
What did your husband think of the modeling?
He was against it. But I earned $50 a day so it was much more than I earned as a sales girl.
How long were you married?
We were married for 3½ years and then we drifted apart. We settled on an amicable divorce, with our new partners being our witnesses.
By this stage, you were living in Los Angeles?
Yes, I’d met Bill Rotsler through modelling jobs that Hal Guthu got for me. Bill was a photographer, writer, artist, and much more. He’d started out as a cameraman shooting loops and stags.
Paul Turner was Bill’s photography assistant, and one of his best friends, and they were roommates.
Paul and I started seeing each other, so I moved in with Bill and Paul in their place in the Hollywood Hills on Hollyridge Drive.
What was Paul’s background?
Paul had been an aerospace engineer for Rockwell. He got divorced, dropped out, and moved to Hollywood. There he grew his hair, wore purple bell bottoms, and moved in with Bill. He and Bill were best friends for a while. Then he became Bill’s assistant, and a good photographer too!
Paul and I hit it off immediately. It was easy in those days, it was like shaking hands: “You’re cute, let’s go to bed!”
Bill and Paul invited me to live with them – frankly I think they needed a cook and a housekeeper, which was ok with me. I was good at that stuff. I became their live-in model, which was perfect for two photographers.
Did you continue to do a lot of modeling with them?
Yes, a lot. I did so much work with them that I soon became over-exposed as a model! But my connection with Bill meant that I could stretch my career longer. I changed my model name several times so that I could keep working.
What name did you use at that time?
Malta. After all these years, I can’t remember why I chose that name.
I also used the name ‘Olivia’ a few times because my middle name is ‘Oliver.’
You seemed to find a lot of work as a model.
Yes. After a while I went to work with Pretty Girl International which was run by Dick James.
My all-time favorite photos were a series that Bill, Paul and I did in Big Sur on one of our road trips up the coast to San Francisco – probably going to a science fiction convention. There was a whole series of them that Bill took from a cliff. I had the whole series, which was very artsy.
You look statuesque in the pictures on the beach.
Statuesque? I was only 5’2” then, and now I’m 5’1” – so I’m not nearly as statuesque as I might appear!
What was it like living with Bill and Paul?
Bill’s extended circle of friends became my off-screen ‘family’. He also had a daughter, a young teenager. He was an accomplished science fiction writer, and he and Paul were active in that community. We probably hung out more with that group more with than the magazine/model/film world. We went to all the Sci-Fi conventions together.
Who was in the group of friends from the film world?
My closest and dearest friends were Uschi and Marie (Arnold/Aronoff). Uschi was around the house a lot. She was an intelligent, educated woman, who spoke many languages. She was half-Swiss, half Swedish, and had worked as a teacher and translator. She had an English husband who was a jazz drummer. She’d come over to the U.S. on a visa based on her education, but it was difficult for them to stay so they hatched plots with Bill. One of the schemes they considered was getting Bill to marry Uschi so that she could stay.
Bill adored Uschi. He always said that Uschi was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.
Uschi was a superstar of the films at the time, a really big star. Uschi once told me that she was recognized by a customs official in Hong Kong, despite the fact that the name on her passport is completely different.
Another friend was Kathie Hilton. Kathy was tall, slim, and looked like Cher. I remember going to a party at their house near ours, on Ridpath in Laurel Canyon. It was winter, rather chilly, and they had a huge inflatable dome over the heated pool, with red lights. There were about 50 naked people of every description – and steam everywhere! It was like a scene out of Dante… and it wasn’t even a movie set!
Years later, there was a scandal when Kathie was shot in the head by a boyfriend. She recovered but it affected her for years. I’m sorry I lost touch with her after I left L.A.
Bill called us ‘The Gruesome Foursome’.
Who else do you remember from that scene?
Earl Marshall was a set designer, very talented.
Chris Warfield, aka Billy Thornberg, was producer, director, and screenwriter for a number of films. He was a good friend. He produced films like Pinocchio. He was a sweet guy, a lovely person.
I remember Earl talking to Chris one day as he was preoccupied about the scenery for a movie we were making. Chris reassured him, saying, “Relax, if the audience is looking at the scenery, we’re all in trouble.”
I also remember working with John Holmes when he was just starting out. I did a loop with him. He’d just arrived from the mid-west, and wore tight shorts. He didn’t have a clue. He was like a cowboy, innocent, and a complete rookie.
I don’t recall much about Rene Bond.
Vincene Wallace was a sweet person. She dated Bill. He had a thing for redheads, and she was a natural redhead.
At what stage did you switch to making films?
In 1970. Bill had started moving on to bigger budget films which were shot over several days. These films were all softcore.
What movies stood out for you?
The Godson was the best film I did. I liked to act, even if I took my clothes off.
What do you remember about ‘The Godson’?
I remember Marie’s excellent acting job. I think it was the first time any of us realized what a good actress she was.
The border guard was Bill’s dear friend Mitch Evans (RR: aka James Brand.) Mitch was Rita Hayworth’s nephew. He’d been around Hollywood for all his life and had many great stories to tell. He went by different names, but his legal name was Evan Hayworth.
Mitch was an excellent actor and showed up in a lot of Bill’s films – usually with his clothes on. I never understood why he didn’t make it big. He was a Jack of all trades too – he did lights, camera… he even took his clothes off for modeling if needed.
Mitch was on the Sci-Fi scene as well and he came to live with us when he was between homes.
Keith Erickson played Don Rocco, the godfather. He was a really fine performer, and another old friend of Bill’s. He was a SAG actor, and so never appeared using his real name.
Uschi had no lines in the film – because she was a member of SAG and it was a non-union movie, that was the way around the rules.
Did the Bill’s dual worlds of science fiction and adult film cross over much?
Harlan Ellison was a famous science fiction writer – and another of Bill’s old friends. Bill used Harlan’s house for most of the interior shots for ‘The Godson’. That’s Harlan behind a faceful of breasts in the scene that cuts back and forth among three or four couples. I think that was his payment for using the house!
Bill is also one of those couples: he’s the one with the gorgeous black girl, Debbie McGuire, with his face buried in another pair. I recognized the blue ruffled shirt he used to wear.
What was your impression of ‘The Godson’, and the other films I sent you recently, when you re-watched them?
I hadn’t seen any of these movies since the openings!
Other than the ridiculous sex scenes, I was impressed by the quality of the camera work, editing, and writing. Bill was responsible for the editing and writing, and I recall that ‘The Godson’ was his attempt at a more ‘serious’ film, closer to the mainstream. He had just started to get serious about writing science fiction at the time.
What did you think of yourself in ‘The Godson’?
I didn’t even realize I was in it! Suddenly there I was! I really don’t remember doing that scene – but what else is new? And God – was I ever really that thin?!
I wasn’t given a screen credit, and that was probably for the same reason that Uschi couldn’t speak in the films – I was also a member of SAG by then. It was one of the last sexploitation films that I did, before I started doing only ‘straight’ films and stage work.
By the way, I noticed the car in the border scene with Mitch – it was my ’66 Mustang, that I’d driven out to California from New York!
Which films did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed the ones that were shot entirely on a soundstage. No grungy, hot or cold outdoor locations. And beautiful costumes like in ‘Casanova.’ Also, our whole merry crew was involved in these films, either in front or behind the camera – Bill, Paul, Earl Marshall, Uschi, Marie, Kathy, which was always fun.
What do you remember about ‘Casanova’?
I remembered it as a costume piece, sort of like “Pinocchio,” and was totally surprised to realize that the whole thing seems to revolve around a party. I have no recollection of making that movie at all, I’m afraid. I was able to identify the ubiquitous Mitch Evans (or whatever name he was using then) as the gay cowboy in the pink mask.
How about ‘Pinocchio’?
That was truly a joyous romp for everyone involved – I think you can see it in the performances. What surprised me was the almost total lack of sex scenes, with two exceptions (one of them with a wooden statue!). All of Pinocchio’s encounters are comic and don’t really show anything. I don’t see how an adult movie like that ever made any money – all production value, no sex!
What do you remember about the film’s star, Alex Roman?
Seeing Alex Roman again was really sad: shortly after we wrapped, he died in a freak accident while on a boat off Catalina. He dove down to check on a snagged anchor and never surfaced – I don’t remember what the cause was, but it was a tragedy. He wasn’t that different from his character – truly innocent and nice, as well as being a pretty good actor, and, of course, drop-dead gorgeous. Everyone was saying that he had a future in Hollywood.
Everyone who worked on ‘Pinocchio’ was at the funeral. And his parents, who were Greek, invited everyone to their small house for a Greek feast afterwards. Such a tragedy – that was the only film he ever made, to my knowledge.
I’m intrigued by the fact that many of the films were so costume-heavy!
Those negligees we’re wearing in ‘Pinocchio’ were so tacky. I could have designed something so much better for all three of us. My ‘costume’ was my own red bra and bikini with eyelet edging sewn on it. I caught a half-second glimpse of the purple velvet gown I made for the orgy scene, but couldn’t see that much of the green velvet I made for Vincene Wallace. I made one for Debbie, too, but don’t remember what color it was. That was a total waste of the costume budget!
And you wore a wig too…
That God-awful short wig was a major bone of contention between Corey Allen, the director, and me. He insisted that I wear it (it wasn’t even a good one), even though I had waist-length hair the same color – and it made my nose look as big as Pinocchio’s! He also put Debbie Osborne in that hideous black wig, even though she had lovely red hair. Vincene was the only one who escaped a wig, maybe because she had gorgeous red hair, although I think that’s a hairpiece on top.
Some of the scenes were quite athletic…
The scene where the three of us are left in the wake of Pinocchio’s initial erotic rampage was one of the most physically challenging scenes I ever did. In order to have me supposedly hanging from the chandelier (how the hell could anyone have sex in that position?!), I had to hang from an off-camera trapeze-type bar. Between takes, a grip was assigned to hold my head up, or I would have passed out. As I recall, it was more than a few takes.
In the big orgy scene, Pinocchio’s famous organ was actually a 4×4, as it had to support several people, and filming was something of a technical challenge to maneuver around it. Both party scenes took days to film.
Do you remember about any of the other people involved in ‘Pinocchio’?
It was a welcome change to work with professionals such as Karen Smith, and the actor who played Jojo, who stole the movie without ever taking his clothes off.
Chris Warfield is one of the party guests – he’s wearing a military uniform, and there were several other cameos by behind-the-scenes people. Earl Marshall’s set was the best thing he ever did – it took up half a large soundstage – and I remember Paul working until 2am with him many nights to get it finished.
And you worked with Ed Wood too?
I worked with Ed Wood on one movie that I remember. I can’t remember the name of it. Ed was sweet, but strange.
The film was short. It was about witchcraft which was very popular back then. In the last scene, he has a coven of witches in a circle. Just before we started the sequence, Ed came out from behind the camera, put on a dress, and he got in the circle with us! He had someone else shoot the scene. He was a God-awful woman.
We had no idea who he was at the time. We just thought he was a strange man. It was only later when he became a cult figure that I realized that was him.
4. After Films
When did you leave the modeling and film scene?
In 1972, I was cast to appear in a political satire in Honolulu called ‘The Dirtiest Show in Town.’ It was a low budget version of ‘Oh Calcutta’.
I’d loved Hawaii since a childhood vacation there.The venue for the play was The Forbidden City, which was owned by Jack Cione. Jack was known as the ‘Sin King of Honolulu’, which made him sound like a gangster. The truth couldn’t have been more different as Jack was a sweet and innocent guy, and his wife came in to take care of all the girls.
When the play finished its run, Jack offered dancing jobs to the girls. He owned a nightclub called The Dunes. I worked the lunchtime shift there. It came to end eventually because you couldn’t dance there forever: clients wanted new girls eventually.
I returned to L.A. with my new boyfriend, Ron. Paul and I split up amicably, and he started seeing someone else. In fact, all four of us tried living together, but I didn’t get along with Paul’s new girlfriend so that didn’t last.
I was a trained dancer, and I did some nude dancing in clubs – not stripping or go-go dancing, I dislike those terms – but dancing without clothes. Ron and I returned to Hawaii together, where I traveled to Oahu to dance when we lived on Maui (there were no clubs there).
I also danced in Anchorage and Japan too – with mixed results. Anchorage was a God-awful experience as a dancer. Then I was in Japan on a two-week tour as an exotic dancer. When I was in Japan, I realized that the locals had difficulty pronouncing the name ‘Malta’ – so I chose ‘Misty’ to make it easier. But they ended up pronouncing it ‘Mizzi’. You can’t win!
I enjoyed it because I liked dancing and I liked the costumes. I was a seamstress and I always traveled with my sewing machine. I was still making money for taking my clothes off though.
Did you return to Los Angeles much after that?
Actually, I moved back to Los Angeles, and got back together with Paul. We got married, and I became a successful jewelry appraiser in Los Angeles – one of the highest rated ones in the city. Eventually Paul and I got divorced again. He passed away in 2019.
How does it feel looking back on your time modeling and making films?
It is such an ego trip – probably putting my spiritual development back several steps! Oh well… I can deal with that in the next lifetime.
All of it was a lot of fun, and I’ve never done anything of which I was ashamed. You’re right about the ‘innocence’ of that time. I’ve often thought the same thing, when seeing what has become the norm in the media since.
And to think that all this took place in the space of 2-3 years. Looking back, it seems like 10 at least.
I still have dreams about Bill Rotsler from time to time. He was the most unforgettable character.
It was an interesting and happy time in my life. I was never bored. I’ve been happily single for many years now, and I have no regrets.