David F. Friedman the “Trash-Film King”

“No one ever asked for their money back.” 

David F. Friedman was a carnival pitch man at heart.  His passion was to “turn a tip” (to attract an audience with the promise of something that isn’t quite delivered), and he did it with movies.

When Dave died earlier this year, I was among many of his friends who were surprised by all of the press. Not that he didn’t deserve it; we just thought he operated under the radar. There were long obituaries in major papers calling him the “Trash-Film King.” I call him the “King of the Raconteurs.” He never repeated a story unless you asked…which I often did.

In 1987, I met Dave, along with his fellow film exploitation-partner, Dan Sonney. I was producing a documentary on the early era of exploitation films, hosted by Ned Beatty, ultimately released as, “Sex and Buttered Popcorn” (1988).  Dave and Dan were the true stars of the picture, and with those two together for an interview meant you had to fight to hold back your laughter.  Fortunately, their banter is captured in the finished film. By the way, Dan was a one-of-a-kind  character in his own right; he fractured the English language so much he made Sam Goldwyn seem like Ernest Hemingway.

VCI Entertainment distributes this documentary on their website: http://vcientertainment.com/buttered-popcorn-p-475.html

As a young man, Dave hawked facts of life books, while appearing as “Elliot Forbes, eminent hygienist” during the entr’acte in the road-show exploitation film classic “Mom and Dad” (1945).  There are scenes of that movie within my documentary, and even 40 years later he could reenact the sex book pitch from memory, “I’m here to peel away the veils of sexual ignorance…”  He still knew how to work a crowd.

Dave had a successful career producing and exhibiting exploitation films. “Blood Feast” (1963), considered the first “gore” movie, was his “Citizen Kane” and “Two Thousand Maniacs” his “Casablanca,” both directed by Herschel Gordon Lewis.   He loved fooling the suckers (oops, I mean “audience”) with a unique brand of what he called “ballyhoo”. I think his favorite thing was coming up with double entendre titles like “Trader Hornee” (1970),  “The Ramrodder” (1968), and “The Big Snatch” (1971), or catch-lines like “Nothing so appalling in the annals of horror!”    Dave always had problems with censors and newspapers objecting to the words used in his advertising.  He came up with a word that sounded naughty, but really wasn’t…“nubile.” When the inevitable objections came forth, he simply asked his adversaries to “look it up” in the dictionary.

During his early years there were censor boards, along with cops who wanted to, and did, shut him down for showing something that would now appear on prime time cable TV.  He relished pulling one over on the authorities even more than the ticket-buying public.  One time the Knights of Columbus picketed a theatre showing one of his films.  They drew a crowd, even in the rain which increased ticket sales, so Dave went under cover, got them coffee and doughnuts, and encouraged them to stay in the rain and continue their “assault on public morals.

He was a very intelligent (got a degree in electrical engineering atCornellUniversity), creative individual, who never took himself seriously and lived life to the fullest.  When he wasn’t smoking a cigar the size of a Titan Missile, he was eating enormous meals and drinking whiskey. One year I bronzed one of his stogies and gave it to him for Christmas.

After he retired to Alabama my wife and I visited him and his wife, Carol. She was a very refined and cultured woman who was a well-known bird watcher.  She would call him an “Old Goat”  and warned him “if you eat one more bite, you’ll burst.”  (She declined prestigious positions in cultural organizations inLos Angelesfor fear Dave’s occupation might come to light.) They were so different, yet perfect for each other.

One year we all took a train trip toNew Orleans.  Dave and I sat in the bar for hours while I encouraged him to tell stories.   Finally there came a time when even I was exhausted, and thought he was, too, so I retired to my sleeper to take a nap. I realized I’d forgotten my glasses and went back. And there he was, wide awake, performing card tricks for a group of kids – Classic David F. Friedman.

In his later years he bought a small carnival and he was in hog heaven.  I asked him how he was able to show human oddities long after laws prohibited it.  “You mean ‘freaks’?  I don’t have any; I simply show examples of the ravages of drug addiction!”

After “Deep Throat” (1972) was released, and hard-core pornography became readily available, Dave retired.  He made a couple of those films, too, but soon became bored; it wasn’t fun anymore.  There no longer was a need for a pitchman, and a con, because by that time everything was shown on the screen.

Dave often told me he never cared about making money.  He used the old cliché that it was just a way to keep score.  He had a long career hustling bad movies, but he swore that no one ever asked for their money back.

I never thought he’d live to be 87.

David F. Friedman DVDs:


Dave’s carny jargon:


See his obituary at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/movies/15friedman.html

Overview of his life and films: http://www.grindhousedatabase.com/index.php/David_F._Friedman

His autobiography is very, very funny: A Youth in Babylon, Confessions of a Trash-Film King (Prometheus Books, 1998)

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One Response to David F. Friedman the “Trash-Film King”

  1. kgmonster12 says:

    One of the most fascinating and intimidating mornings I ever spent was the seren-
    dipitous breakfast with Dave Friedman and Russ “King Leer” Meyer. Although
    apparently no one suspected it, Russ was already in the early grip of Alzheimer’s.
    I came across the two of them seated in a coffee shop corner booth at the start of
    what would prove to be a looong saturday at Chiller con in NJ. Later in the after-
    noon, I would find myself in thrall to home video legend Mike Vraney, but NOW–
    well, now I was awestruck by the presence of two living legends. I had to
    step up and thank them both. Russ immediately responded with something like:
    “This guy’s way too polite…siddown here!” For the next fifteen minutes(or what
    happily seemed like hours), I was treated to Russ’ audio track of the passing
    scene(largely as it related to the abundant charms of females gliding by).
    I won’t quote him verbatim, as the dialogue could have been lifted from any
    one of his X/R rated classics….but suffice to say,Russ’ viewpoint of the world
    didn’t seem to differ in either tone OR substance,from,say, his audio commentary
    on VIXEN(which,if you have not yet heard,should be absolutely required
    listening for any self-respecting student of the exploitation scene).
    Russ was pleasantly, in-your-face, while Dave was…well,circumspect,thoughtful
    and polite,but not above button-holing you to share a tidbit or two of trivia.
    In later years, largely due to that breakfast morn, I was able to have longer
    and more fruitful talks with Dave about far ranging topics,not least of which
    would be “poor Russ” and his “situation”. All of these meetings took place during
    subsequent Chiller weekends, a milieu characterized by it’s own particular
    brand of ballyhoo,making his presence seem integral to the weekend.
    Dave Friedman, one of the original “40 thieves” of American exploiteers,
    was his own brand. His contribution to the history of movies cannot be just
    a footnote. Hopefully someone,somewhere is pounding out a labor of love
    that will be his story…until then, I have the breakfast.

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