Upon its release the film was virtually universally condemned by reviewers. Most critics didn't just criticize the film but actually savaged it, with many reviews crossing the line into outright moral indignation. The review in the July 6, 1970, edition of "Time Magazine" was entitled "Some Sort of Nadir" (referring to the scene where Myra anally rapes Rusty with a strap-on dildo). The review became famous for its opening line: "Myra Breckinridge is about as funny as a child molester."
Rex Reed originally refused to say the line, "Where are my tits? Where are my tits?". However, the producers informed him that if he didn't say the line, they would use an establishing shot with a voice impressionist yelling "WHERE ARE MY TITS? WHERE ARE MY TITS?". He reluctantly agreed to say the line.
According to the 1978 book "Flesh and Fantasy", Mae West had stipulated in her contract that only she would be allowed to dress in black and white in the film. Co-star Raquel Welch showed up to shoot their first scene together in a black dress with an enormous white ruffle, and West threw a fit. When the film's producers sided with West, Welch had the ruffle on the dress dyed a very, very pale blue . . . which photographed as white.
Mae West would never work until after 5:00 pm. She also had full approval on all wardrobe decisions for not just her but for Raquel Welch, too. For their one scene together, Welch was supposed to have been wearing a black dress with white trim to counterpoint West's own white dress. On the day of filming Welch arrived on set, eager to wear her sumptuous Theadora Van Runkle creation, only to be informed that West had insisted that it be confiscated. Welch was so outraged she stormed off set and would only return when the dress had been given back.
In a book about the making of the film, producer David Giler said that he came to the set one day to find out why filming was so far behind schedule and discovered that the entire cast and crew had been kept sitting around most of the day (on full salary) while director Michael Sarne photographed a cake . . . for eight hours. He was also told by cast and crew members that Sarne would go off in a corner and "think" for six to seven hours at a stretch, during which time shooting would come to a standstill. According to Giler, such antics were one of the reasons the film went so far over budget, and he and the other producers demanded that the studio fire him, but it was in Sarne's contract that he could not be fired until he turned in the first cut.
It was not so much the box-office failure as the complete and utter critical savaging of the movie--a reception that could only be termed as "disastrous"--that wrecked the careers of director Michael Sarne and actor Roger Herren. The critical and financial flop also seriously hurt Raquel Welch, who never achieved the true star status that had been predicted for her.
After the film's first previews, the White House insisted that the footage inserted in the film from Heidi (1937) be immediately withdrawn. The star of Heidi (1937) was Shirley Temple who at the time was a United States ambassador.
Raquel Welch was extremely welcoming to Rex Reed on the set. The columnist was new to filmmaking and said it was remarkable how helpful she was. Welch even appeared with Reed when they shot his screen-test, which most A-list actors decline to do.
The statue of the twirling Las Vegas showgirl outside of the Chateau Marmont Hotel where Myra Breckinridge stayed (and which was the model for Raquel Welch's publicity shots) was pulled out of storage for the movie; the actual statue during its heyday can be seen in The Stripper (1963) and The Savage Eye (1960).
Michael Sarne was hired as writer-director because 20th Century-Fox wanted to tap into the youth market. Sarne didn't want the assignment but felt he had little choice, as he desperately needed the money after several failed years in Hollywood (he was not a fan of the book and even less of a fan of Gore Vidal, who he felt sided with Rex Reed in an attempt to play up the film's "gay agenda").
Michael Sarne repeatedly insulted and belittled the cast, in particular calling Raquel Welch "old raccoon" and constantly telling her to her face that she was so ugly he could barely stand to look at her. He also called John Huston a "decrepit old hack" among other things, and slammed his entire career in a magazine interview conducted during filming.
This film originally included at least one fast-cut montage, using archival footage from past 20th Century-Fox films and featuring such recognizable Fox stars as Shirley Temple, Betty Grable and Loretta Young. The montage was intended to depict images going through a character's head while being raped. Young and some of the other stars, whose faces were used without their permission, successfully sued the studio to have footage of themselves cut from release prints of this film.
In the 1970s Gore Vidal wrote in Esquire Magazine that when he found out the film's director Michael Sarne was working as a waiter in a pizza restaurant, he said it "proves that God exists and there is such a thing as Divine Symmetry."
Trailers include many alternate takes, and one additional snippet of dialogue; In the hospital at the end, Myron asks the doctor if he's a boy or a girl, and the doctor says that he can't tell from where he's standing.
When Raquel Welch was hired for the movie, she was under the impression that she would be playing both Myra AND Myron. She was disappointed that she didn't have the opportunity to undertake the acting challenge of playing both parts.
Shortly after the film's release, Loretta Young threatened to sue the studio if a clip from one of her old movies (The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)) was not excised because she objected to its use in a new sexual context. The clip was promptly removed from all prints in circulation.
Although Gore Vidal spent 40 years taking potshots at the film, he still maintains that he has never even seen it--an allegation he makes at least twice in his 2009 photo memoir 'Snapshots in History's Glare'.
Film debut of Farrah Fawcett. NOTE: It was Lee Majors who got then-girlfriend Fawcett involved in the film. He was sought for the role of Rusty but turned it down; however, he did introduce the producers to Fawcett, who had done several TV commercials by that time, and she was hired to play Mary Ann. She later told Rona Barrett, "It was a terrible picture. But it taught me a lot about egos and star-trips. Everyone was on that!"
Perhaps because he was passed over in favor of John Huston for role of Buck Loner, Mickey Rooney repeatedly lambasted the film in interviews upon its release, claiming it was a disgrace to the motion picture industry.
Michael Sarne quickly went over budget due to his unorthodox techniques, which included spending up to seven hours at a time by himself, "thinking," leaving the cast to wait around on set for him to return so that filming could commence.
Mae West came out of retirement after 27 years to play Leticia. Intended as a comeback role, it flopped and was bashed by the critics. It was instead her last film for eight years until Sextette (1978), which was her final film.