“I think Nashville is one of the best places to make money…”
–Ron Ormond

The Ormond family survived a plane crash in 1967.  After the crash, the independent filmmakers knew they must change their show biz ways. At that point in their career, they were raking in cash from showing their exploitation films at drive-in theaters. The plane crash inspired them to make a deal at the crossroads with the Lord.

Writer Jimmy McDonough started working on the Ormond story in 1986. The Ormonds always conducted business meetings at the Shoney’s on Murphy Road in Nashville. McDonough first met June Ormond at her house at 3620 Central Avenue. McDonough hadn’t seen any Ormond films until June and Tim Ormond showed them to him at their Nashville home. Almost forty years later, McDonough has completed the massive project, The Exotic Ones: That Fabulous Film-Making Family from Music City, USA–The Ormonds. 

Dear reader, you must buy The Exotic Ones. It will enrich your artistic inclinations. McDonough nails the brilliant Ormond weirdness: “The Ormonds came from a time when a scrappy, independent family could make and distribute their own movies to theaters, drive-ins and even churches across America. For decades, they held their own in the exploitation movie game, a wild west where cunning outlaws lived by their own rules. They managed to do the same in the equally challenging Christian film world. Their work is a glittery remnant of those halcyon days. The Ormonds may be unknown to many. To me, they were giants. We won’t see their likes again.”

McDonough writes hypnotic biographies. His latest exceeds all the rigid standards of excellence. His other definitive books include The Ghastly One: The 42nd Street Netherworld of Director Andy Milligan, Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography, Big Bosoms and Square Jaws: The Biography of Russ Meyer, Tragic Country Queen: The Tammy Wynette Biography, Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green, and he co-wrote John Fogerty’s Fortunate Son

McDonough’s style and tone render his subjects compelling beyond their medium. He does not romanticize his subjects, while detailing how much weight their Art carries.   McDonough provides glimpses into his subjects that almost leaves the artist untouchable by any other biographer. I read Shakey when it was published in 2002, and sought out McDonough’s other work.  McDonough didn’t conduct many interviews. I admired his style. His bio photograph reminded me of a sharp dressed gangster. 

McDonough wrote in the 400-page The Exotic Ones hardback book about the interruption in this story’s timeline: “I became distracted by undertaking a mammoth biography of a certain rock star [Neil Young], which wound up taking a decade of my life. Yet, I continued to chip away at the Ormond mountain.”

At one point, Neil Young sued McDonough to prevent Shakey’s publication. McDonough fought back and Shakey was released. Hands down, it’s the definitive Neil Young biography. McDonough wrote about filmmakers Andy Milligan (The Ghastly One) and Russ Meyer (Big Bosoms and Square Jaws) in his honest, gritty, humorous and original way. Decay, with a gleam in its eye as he’d say. McDonough’s filmmaking subjects prove more obscure than his musical ones. 

McDonough knew Russ Meyer personally. McDonough worked with Andy Milligan in the 80s and 90s and spent many days with the dying filmmaker towards the end of his life. McDonough wrote in The Ghastly One, as he does in The Exotic Ones how his career took a turn with the Young biography: “Although trivial in comparison to Andy’s situation, I was in a bit of a fix myself at this point. In order to work on the Really Big Celebrity biography, I had walked away from my film-editing career and abandoned everything else.”

McDonough’s Tammy Wynette book (Tragic Country Queen) portrays the singer with an unfiltered, accurate and heart-rending perspective that remains unparalleled. McDonough couldn’t tempt soul legend Al Green to talk to him for Soul Survivor, which is a dark book surrounding the Memphis singer turned preacher told in a way no writer but McDonough could deliver. McDonough wrote, “This is probably not the Al Green you’re expecting…”

McDonough inscribed his 2022 reissued edition of The Ghastly One for me: “To James, one cool cat. Here is a book written in blood”. Indeed. McDonough wrote how The Exotic Ones compares to the eerie tale of Andy Milligan: “Some of you may have read The Ghastly One, my biography of exploitation director Andy Milligan, a grim 42nd Street tale full of mayhem and tragedy. This story stands in contrast. If Andy is midnight at the Grand Guignol, the Ormonds are a sunny afternoon at the carnival.” 

In The Exotic Ones McDonough details the inspiration that started his Ormond odyssey. “I first met the Ormonds in 1986 or so, all because of a photograph. I had an interest in all things exploitation in those days and had stumbled across an 8×10 still from their early-’60s shocker Please Don’t Touch Me

“This picture stopped my clock. Stacked dame in lingerie hovers over shirtless man with a lit cigarette, smoke wafting above his head, faint ‘Myrtle’ tattoo on his arm. It was an off-kilter composition in spartan black and white, “AND AFTER THIS CIGARETTE, WE’LL…” emblazoned above their feverish heads. This, obviously, was the greatest movie still of all time and it lit a fire in my mind. I had to find out more.”

Now,  we have The Exotic Ones. Published in May 2023, the official promotion tag stabs the essence of this compelling tome on the table: “June. Ron. Tim. together they were the Ormond Organization, a Nashville mother-father-son trio who cranked out a bunch of movies, from Lash LaRue westerns to the stripper-gore-musical outrage The Exotic Ones, then finally…Baptist extravaganzas. The Ormonds plunged into every area of showbiz, from vaudeville to drive-in movies to Christian filmmaking. They did it all on a shoestring–by themselves, with no studio to back them.

“Theirs was a glittery world like no other. Populated by inebriated cowboys…spook-show mentalists…non-acting country stars…UFO testifiers…men in gorilla suits…egocentric magicians…fire-breathing, mud-wrestling ex-strippers…sweaty preachers…rockabilly monsters…pint-sized evangelists. Not to mention a con artist or ten.

“At the height of their frenzied career Ron and June experienced a spiritual awakening after their private plane crashed on the way to a premiere. The Ormonds turned their back on secular show business to make a series of shocking, surreal religious pictures, including an unbelievable trio of films for Baptist preacher Estus Pirkle–such as The Burning Hell, which made millions without ever being shown in an actual movie theater. The inside story on the three Ormond-Pirkle religious pictures has never been told–until now.”

This stunning collection contains thirteen Ormond films, three McDonough books and loads of bonus material. Official promo posters, still shots, personal letters and family photos lace these high-grade pages. The limited Blu-Ray Box Set Special comprises Hollywood To Heaven: The Lost & Saved Films of the Ormond Family that includes restoration of all the Ormond movies as well as McDonough’s commentary with Georgette Dante, Estus Pirkle’s son Greg and Tim Ormond. Lost treasures such as A Tribute To Houdini, Lash LaRue: A Man and His Memories, The Virtual Vaudevillian, Forgotten Memories and theatrical trailers, rare audio recordings, radio spots and New English subtitles make The Exotic Ones worth every dime.

The Ormonds were the first family of exploitation filmmakers. Father Ron directed the films, Mother June distributed them and Son Tim handles all other duties. June’s parents were vaudeville performers. At a young age, June naturally pursued show business. She worked with Milton Berle, Bob Hope and Ginger Rogers at various points in her early career. In the 40s, show business imposed brutal realities on women. June was strong-willed, and her career was sabotaged forcing her to return to the vaudeville circuit to earn money.

In Portland, June met a writer from Louisiana–Ron Ormond. They eventually married and moved to Los Angeles. In 1947, they formed a company called June Carr-Ron Ormond Features Incorporated. The tempestuous couple had son Tim in 1950. Bela Lugosi was Tim Ormond’s godfather, if that’s any indication of the Ormond’s reality. They started filming westerns starring Lash LaRue. They even worked with the Three Stooges.

The Ormonds made twelve movies in the 1940s. In the 50s, they shot thirteen films such as Outlaw Women, On the Mesa of Lost Women (“It’s a zombie’s dream, this picture, a broken-down bus station of tinseltown despair”) and Untamed Mistress. Untamed Mistress (1951) started out as a TV pilot, but it didn’t happen. Jacqueline Fontaine’s sultry visual appeal is the only element that helps the viewer’s willing suspension of disbelief when one character is clearly dressed up in a gorilla suit. 

Their UFO film Edge of Tomorrow was popular at flying saucer conventions out at Giant Rock in the Mojave Desert. McDonough wrote Edge of Tomorrow “never threatens to become actual entertainment, which makes it perversely fascinating for a moment or two.” In 1959, one of McDonough’s favorite Ormond films–Please, Don’t Touch Me, was released. 

This film counts as the first original Ormond exploitation work. “A doozy”, as McDonough would call it. Filmed in Hollywood, Please Don’t Touch Me revolves around hypnotism with a dark secret between a mother and daughter. I agree with McDonough when he wrote: “The picture’s ace of spades was the astounding ‘Viki Caron’, who plays the lead of the same name. With her stacked figure, shock of red hair and a soft voice of strange emotions, Caron makes a feverish impression…”

Mysteriously, the Ormonds would not make another movie for five years. The next Ormond film White Lightning Road revolved around a stock-car racing, moonshine narrative that was filmed in Georgia and starred Nashville musician Earl “Snake” Richards.

McDonough wrote of White Lightnin’ Road: “I’d rather drink a jug of tainted ‘shine than explore White Lightnin’ Road’s plot. Cars, moonshine, hussy, catfight, happy ending on the racetrack. Got that?” However, the racing footage with vintage Ford Galaxies, Pontiac Catalinas and Buick Skylarks speeding through the hills near Cumming, Georgia, as well as local speedway footage is easy to watch. The film’s star, Arlene Hunter, who resembled Marilyn Monroe once modeled for Playboy magazine. 

There’s a shot of the now abandoned Hill Top Motel in one scene from White Lightnin’ Road. Located in Gainesville, Georgia, the Hill Top Motel was demolished in 2008. Paul Newman, Barbara Mandrell and Kenny Rogers reserved rooms at the Hill Top Motel on different occasions. The Ormonds spent a lot of time in Atlanta during this film. June and Ron almost divorced, and June returned to Nashville. From that point on, the Ormond Family’s home base remained in Music City, USA.  

In a rare interview, Ron Ormond told Variety Magazine: “I think Nashville is one of the best places to make money, both in filming and distribution of movies.” 

When the Ormonds moved to Nashville they kept company with country music stars Kitty Wells,  Loretta Lynn, George Jones, and Minnie Pearl. This was years before the inception of the popular TV show Hee Haw. Dolly Parton even auditioned for the Ormonds when she was 16, but she didn’t make the cut. Judy Reddit revealed, “Personally, I think June was the one that didn’t go for her. Dolly was just precious, beautiful and blonde, and I think June was a little jealous of her.”

The Ormonds filmmaking mojo became more potent. Music production for Forty Acre Feud (1965) starring Ferlin Husky, Minnie Pearl, Loretta Lynn, Skeeter Davis, Bill Anderson, Ray Price, Roy Drusky and Del Reeves transpired at Owen Bradley’s famous Bradley’s Barn in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. The all-star soundtrack carries the film based on a flimsy Hatfield-McCoy-type love story. George Jones and Johnny Paycheck steal the show. Forty Acre Feud appeared at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater on September 8, 1965. In December of that year it played in eighteen theaters in Georgia alone. Forty Acre Feud generated piles of cash by playing on a double-bill with the Elvis Presley movie Tickle Me

The Ormonds persuaded drive-ins to invest directly in productions. Girl From Tobacco Row– a “minor-key hillbilly drama”–filmed in Old Hickory Lake, Tennessee, featuring Tex Ritter as a preacher, and starlet Rita Faye, earned a lot of money at southern drive-ins. The country DJ Ralph Emery was cast as “Blinkie the Hit Man”. At this stage, the Ormonds didn’t need Hollywood.  The Ormonds stood against sex and violence in film, but they operated on the bare-all edge. Girl From Tobacco Row is based on tobacco farming and it’s the first time the Old Testament is quoted in an Ormond film. Something drastic loomed.

In 1967, the Ormond family was traveling to Kentucky for the premiere of Girl From Tobacco Row when their plane crashed. The family survived, but June and Ron suffered severe injuries. McDonough wrote: “It would take a few years, but the Ormonds would start making films in the service of the Lord. First, though, they would end their career in secular filmmaking with a screaming exclamation point making a picture so totally outrageous nothing else in the world compares to it.” 

The Ormonds met carny extraordinaire Georgette Dante at a nightclub in Atlanta. Dante would star alongside rockabilly singer Sleepy LaBeef who played “the monster” in the Ormond masterpiece The Exotic Ones. The Ormonds recruited Nashville musicians such as Luther Perkins (Johnny Cash’s guitarist), Cecil Scaife, Gordon Terry, Chuck Howard, Billy Smith and Red Lane to participate in the movie. Lane wrote songs that George Jones and Merle Haggard covered.

Included in this Ormond anthology is McDonough’s 100-page book titled The Most Exotic One: The Hard, Wonderful, Fun Life of Georgette Dante–not sold separately from this collection. Dante fit in perfectly with the Ormonds. She knew Charley Pride, Fats Domino, Joey Bishop, Bob Hope, Chubby Checker and eventually mob boss John Gotti. At one point, Georgette was engaged to Al Lewis who played Grandpa in The Munsters. Dante told McDonough: “I’m really a carnival person more than anything. I love the burlesque world, I love music and bands, I love the gangster world, the wrestling world, the boxing world, the nightclubs…but carnival people are my people.”

The Exotic Ones was filmed in the Okefenokee Swamp near Waycross, Georgia, as well as in New Orleans and Nashville. It’s the only Ormond film where all three Ormond family members appear on screen. The film opens in the Crescent City during Mardi Gras. Images of the Pink Pussycat, 500 Back Door Club, Gunga Den and PaPa Joe’s flash across the screen, but soon shift to the swamp. Then we see a headline: “Swamp Monster Strikes Again Claims Another Victim”. Next scene, Georgette Dante, grinds almost naked and displays her tassels like some chimeric temptation. Then another attractive New Orleans stripper dances onstage, and another, but no nudity.

It’s a visual parade. Georgette personifies female power. McDonough provided the social backdrop where The Exotic Ones existed. “Thus The Exotic Ones became a kind of vaudevillian manifesto against hippies, yippes, Russ Meyer, and Herschell Gordon Lewis, a singing dancing gore comedy that combines ecdysiasts, pop vocalists, Ormond regulars, plus a couple of new wild cards…” 

Trouble erupted when their film lab changed hands and the new owners foreclosed on The Exotic Ones by way of the Ormonds’ lab debt. Basically, the Ormonds lost their film. Georgette Dante would not appear in any other movies, and now lives in Las Vegas. McDonough maintains The Exotic Ones should’ve been a monster hit for the Ormonds. The family found themselves at a spiritual crossroads. They refused to look the devil in the eye. All the scantily clad women must have reminded the Ormonds of their last fair deal gone down after the plane crash. 

The Ormonds met a Baptist preacher named Estus Pirkle, who lived in New Albany, Mississippi, during 1970. Born in Vienna, Georgia, on March 12, 1930, Pirkle preached in Georgia, Louisiana and Texas by the time he was 16. Pirkle didn’t like TV, radio or popular music. Pirkle believed show business was evil. Before he met the Ormonds, Pirkle illustrated and published his own books as well as recorded his sermons on Moffitt Records owned by a preacher in Memphis. The unlikely Ormond/Pirkle partnership would earn both parties piles of money.

Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle first collaborated on If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? The Ormonds dedicated their work to serve the Lord, or did they? Was it a con? Remember, a definition of “exploitation” could be interpreted as “intended to attract an audience by means of controversial content.” The Ormond/Pirkle intent was to scare the viewer into examining their own sinful ways and follow the gospel. They weren’t kidding.

McDonough wrote about Footmen: ”What a movie! Sadistic communists! Dead, bloody children! One crazed preacher! Make no mistake: Pirkle is the auteur of this infernal vision, as well as the two that follow–The Burning Hell and The Believer’s Heaven.” Pirkle preaches throughout Footmen staring directly into the camera.

Their next collaborations, The Burning Hell (1974), The Grim Reaper (1976) and Believer’s Heaven (1977) were shown in churches across the country. These films were not meant to be shown in theaters. Tim Ormond told McDonough: “The Burning Hell had all the elements of exploitation. It was partly shock value–’You scared me to Heaven! Back then, the expression was, ‘I’d rather be Hell scared than Hell burnt.’” The Burning Hell’s popularity soared so high it was translated into Spanish for showings in Mexico City.

By the mid-70s, the Ormonds rode a high wave. They traveled to the Holy Land. Scenes from Mount Sinai appeared in The Burning Hell. In 1976, The Grim Reaper was released and featured “The World’s Smallest Evangelist”, Dr. Bobby Brindle. The film’s teaser was “An Explosive Motion Picture of Satan’s Demonic Forces”. Ron Ormond wrote and directed The Grim Reaper. It premiered in Jacksonville, Florida, at the Trinity Baptist Church. A Jerry Falwell sermon can be viewed in the film as well as those by evangelists Dr. Jack Van Impe, Dr. Bob Gray and Dr. E.J. Daniels. 

In 1977, the last Ormond/Pirkle collaboration, The Believer’s Heaven earned millions. Soon, Pirkle turned on the Ormonds. A lawsuit ensued. By 1979, the Ormonds filmed Surrender at Navajo Canyon and 39 Stripes. The Ormond’s publicity campaign for 39 Stripes was their best. 39 Stripes debuted at Jerry Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Tennessee. 

McDonough wrote: “39 Stripes has the feel of one of those seventies albums by some square pop group where the cover photo is printed in sepia to suggest old-timey but fails to convince. Yet, I find 39 Stripes compelling in some strange way.” 39 Stripes essentially tells a tale of a prisoner struggling to keep his faith. It’s one of the Ormonds’ most straight-laced movies with no brassieres, gore or outlandish scenes. Filmed in Virginia and Tennessee, 39 Stripes was Ron Ormond’s last film. He died of cancer in May 1981.

Tim and June shot It’s About The Second Coming (1982) after Ron’s death. Tim Ormond told McDonough the film “wasn’t a full scale production”. McDonough wrote, “(It’s About) The Second Coming is the most epic Ormond film, possessing an ‘In the year 2525’ futuristic edge the others lack. A melange of Biblical scenes, preachers, disco dancers and science fiction, the movie is quietly outrageous, almost zen-like in its approach and might be the most peculiar Ormond movie of all. The strangeness sneaks up on you.” True enough.

The Ormonds made one last religious film, The Sacred Symbol, in 1984. McDonough wrote of the film: “The Sacred Symbol is a favorite of mine. Perhaps too arcane and esoteric for the general public (church audiences included), the picture is a bonanza for Ormaniacs.”  

By now, the family money evaporated. Tim left the church. In 1997, Tim wrote and produced a murder mystery Blood, Friends and Money. The Ormonds hoped to sell A Tribute to Houdini to cable TV. It was eventually sold as a VHS tape. Tim worked for the TBS cable TV series America’s Music: The Roots of Country. Tim also did lighting for TV commercials. June made The Virtual Vaudevillian–a 30-minute video where she recounts her early days. June also earned air-time with Forgotten Memories, which played in Nashville festivals during 1998. June filed for bankruptcy the same year.

In 2002, the Nashville Film Festival showed The Exotic Ones. A week later, June Ormond celebrated her 90th birthday. In 2005, her health declined. June Ormond died at 94 on July 14, 2006. McDonough wrote: “I didn’t see June in the last years of her life, nor did I attend her memorial service, confessions that pain me greatly.”

The lone Ormond–Tim–suffered hard times. In May 2010, the Cumberland River flooded Tim’s house and destroyed all the Ormond movie negatives. He found himself homeless. Jimmy McDonough called Tim on September 13, 2013. They made a plan. McDonough also describes how he met byNWR–founder Nicholas Winding Refn, a Danish film director, who spearheaded The Exotic Ones. McDonough explains how all these rare films were tracked down, restored, paid for, and finding the Pirkle family to request their father’s films for this timeless anthology. McDonough revealed the devil in the details:

“I am a collector,” Nicholas would repeatedly state to me, a hint of malevolence attached. You got the feeling not only did he want your material but he wanted you, drained of blood and hung up on a hook in his basement. If Nicholas was after something he usually got it, and it was a brutal dealmaker–for instance, in order to do both the reissue of my Andy Milligan book and this one on the Ormonds, I had to hand over the collection of one-of-a-kind memorabilia I had been gathering on both since the mid-’80s. Deal with the devil? Perhaps.”

Tim Ormond developed eyesight problems, McDonough revealed he and Tim were both diagnosed with cancer. On October 30, 2021, McDonough carried June Ormond’s ashes to her gravesite and scattered them. On the final page of The Exotic Ones, McDonough wrote: “These days Tim Ormond sits alone in his basement, scheming and dreaming. If it were up to me he’d be enjoying retirement on a yacht somewhere, surrounded by a flotilla of dames, counting his loot. I consider him entertainment royalty, just about the last of a dying breed. But America is rarely kind to its outlaws.”

On August 6, I asked McDonough if he felt a little more sentimental writing about the Ormond Family compared to his other subjects. He responded, “Sentimental, hmm, I’m not sure. There was a certain yearning for the past–theirs and mine.” Then I asked him to sum the Ormond family up in one song. He said: “‘Panic Button’, a fabulous instrumental by Edgar Alan and the Po Boys”.

McDonough informed me he’s in the home stretch on completing his Gary Stewart biography.  When I inquired about the next The Exotic Ones outing McDonough told me: “The next and last tour date for The Exotic Ones will be at the Belcourt Theater on September 21. In Nashville, the home of the Ormonds! Tim Ormond will be joining me for this event, as will that fiery Big Apple chanteuse known as Tammy Faye Starlite! Ka-BLAMMO! Out in a blaze of glory!”

I’m sure Ron and June Ormond would be proud of McDonough’s redemptive mission. He revived their glorious work for all the world to see. With The Exotic Ones Jimmy McDonough wrote his own ticket–whether he believes it or not–to enter the Pearly Gates.


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Jimmy McDonough Official Site