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:

http://www.somethingweird.com/cart.php?target=category&category_id=328

Dave’s carny jargon:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_’carny’_slang

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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I Miss Samuel Z. Arkoff, (1918-2001)

My wife and I first met Sam Arkoff, co-founder of American International Pictures, in the late 1980s at a revival screening of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” at the Strand Theatre in San Francisco. It seemed as though his giant cigar preceded him into the room.  After the showing, he invited us to get a hamburger. On the way, my wife told Arkoff that he made her favorite film at that time.  Sam: I did? She was telling the truth…it was “Love at First Bite”. By the way, when I was a kid the AIP Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, beginning with The Houses of Usher (1960), were absolute movie-bliss for this 12 year old.

Between 1971 and 2001 my firm, Kit Parker Films, distributed films to revival houses, colleges, and so on. After we had eaten our hamburgers, Sam agreed to let me distribute the few films he still owned. By then he had already sold his substantial AIP library to Filmways, which became Orion Pictures, and soon thereafter went kaput.  This broke Sam’s heart.  “The biggest mistake I ever made.” (The library is presently owned by MGM.) Now he had too much time on his hands…especially tough for a creative, hard-charging guy like Sam. FYI: he kept the “AIP” initials, but they now stood for Arkoff International Pictures.

(Trivia: AIP’s biggest hit was “The Amityville Horror” (1979), grossing over $250,000,000 in 2010 dollars)

Sam was a great raconteur and throughout our friendship, I hung onto every word of his many, many great stories. Meanwhile, I arranged retrospectives of his films and he would give a talk and answer questions. Two especially memorable engagements were in Honoluluand New York City, where we both brought our wives. His wife Hilda is a delightful, cultured woman, and accomplished sculptor. I remember having dinner with them and out of nowhere she said, “Sam, thank you for the great times we’ve had together.

Sam was a very creative guy, not just a tough, shrewd businessman, someone with whom you wouldn’t want to lock horns. He recognized talent and was always happy to tell you about his AIP alumni, Roger Corman (of course), Jack Nicholson, Martin Scorsese…too many to list here. I was only able to come up with one he didn’t know, “Little” Stevie Wonder, who sang in both “Muscle Beach Party” and “Bikini Beach” (both 1964).

In his later years, Sam would often call me, usually once, but sometimes 4-5 times a day. His secretary would ask for me and say “Mr. Arkoff is on the line.” Sam always had questions about his forthcoming biography or the retrospectives. He did keep his hand in at least a few films, remakes of early AIP pictures including “Teenage Caveman” (1991) and “Earth vs. the Spider” (1992). I heard his stories so many times, I could give his speech verbatim. My favorite Arkoff one-liner he only said once, “That’s complete unmitigated bullshit!

In the 1950s, AIP decided to cash in on the success of Hercules (1958) and Hercules Unchained (1959).  Sam went to Italy to buy pictures, knowing in advance they couldn’t use the name “Hercules,” as it was registered to another studio.  So “Hercules” became “Goliath”… typical AIP ingenuity. He told me a story I don’t think I’ve ever heard before or since. Sam spent several days screening two gladiator movies on the same screen, side by side, taking notes and conducting business on the phone all at the same time. So, he was not only tough, shrewd and creative, but also a master of multitasking and endurance! He’s been gone 10 years now, and I’d give anything to get one more phone call with one more story…I don’t care if I’ve already heard it 50 times.

There isn’t enough room to go into the history of American International Pictures (AIP) or a biography of Sam Arkoff, so here are a few links that might be of interest:

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Yesterday and Today

YESTERDAY AND TODAY (United Artists/1953)

Two years ago, I purchased the Medallion TV Enterprises film library. There were many interesting films…some prestigious…some schlock…some in between. (More on Medallion later on.) One of them, Yesterday and Today, is an oddity. I kept putting off the DVD release because I didn’t quite know how to package it. The closest I could come was to pair it with the Italian silent spectacle, After Six Days.

Anyway, it’s a silent movie compilation covering the period 1900 – 1910. The films are really interesting, but the identification of the films in the commentary (by George Jessell) are a mess. Virtually every film is incorrectly identified! It’s not a problem as you’ll read later…particularly if you love mysteries!

It all started with two 1951 British compilations, Return Fare to Laughter, produced by Henry E. Fisher and compiled by James M. Anderson, and Those Were the Days, produced by Bishu Sen Butcher, and edited by Philip Wrestler, for Butcher Film Service Ltd. Y&T is a cut-down coupling of these two pictures.

The British producers had access to an excellent library of early silent films, but wherever they came from the cans were mislabeled, or perhaps not labeled at all. If a can of film came from a French archive, it became “French,” regardless of its actual origin. No title at all? They made them up! You get the idea. Y&T perpetuates these errors. Fortunately, the sequences are sharp (from 35mm) and long enough to enjoy… and most of the films I’ve never seen before.

This is the part I really enjoyed:


When it comes to identifying the most obscure silent films, there is Richard M. Roberts, and then all others. However, these movies are so obscure that even he had to call in his fellow film detectives. They eventually identified just about every title, sometimes starting with the absolute thinnest of clues. The fruits of their efforts are contained in the supplemental commentary track. Roberts does it himself in his usual light-hearted, unpretentious way. I hope you enjoy listening to the mystery-solving as much as I did.

BTW, the posters, lobby cards, etc. are lackluster, sporting images of major stars of the silent era, most of which appear only in short clips or stills.

Trivia: The producer of the picture was the late theatrical agent Abner J. (“Abby”) Greschler, who dabbled in the importation of some minor British pictures, specifically, Emergency Call(US: The Hundred Hour Hunt) (1952), Bombay Waterfront, (1952), and Life’s a Luxury (US: Caretaker’s Daughter) (1952.) Why did a powerful and extremely wealthy agent, who represented Martin and Lewis, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Benny Goodman, Eddie Cantor and Milton Berle (later, Vince Edwards, Marcel Marceau, The Monkees, Jayne Mansfield, and others) bother with some grade B English movies, and a specialized audience picture such as Yesterday and Today, with a hard to book 57 minute running time?  Tax shelter? I have no idea.

David M. Ryder British noirs.

Interesting People

Arkoff


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MIRANDA set to make a splash on DVD.

Before the blockbuster SPLASH (1984), there was MIRANDA (1948), an enchanting mermaid played by legendary British actress Glynis Johns.

MIRANDA is about a mermaid who saves the life of Dr. Paul Martin (Griffith Jones), who is on a fishing holiday trip, and intends to keep the young doctor a prisoner. Apparently there is a shortage of mermen. She then offers to release him if he will take her to see London, which leads to a number of humorous and romantic entanglements. While in London, Miranda’s alluring nature has an effect on the men she meets; including a chauffeur name Charles (David Tomlinson) and an artist named Nigel (John McCallum). Charles and Nigel are so blind with affection for Miranda (overlooking her raw fish and salt water diet), that they are ready to break up with their girlfriends. Meanwhile, Paul’s wife Clare (Googie Withers) starts to figure out Miranda’s secret, especially when she realizes fish are disappearing from the fish bowl.

Miranda’s tail looks remarkably believable in the film, (receiving a screen credit as ‘Tail by Dunlop’), and Johns uses it as if she were a real mermaid. She plays Miranda with just the perfect combination of humor and innocence. It is entertaining for viewers to watch the chemistry between David Tomlinson and Glynis Johns, long before they appeared as “Mr. and Mrs. Banks” in MARY POPPINS (1964).

It appears that 1948 was “the year for mermaids”. While Britain was releasing MIRANDA, across the ocean (pun intended), Ann Blyth played a mermaid named Lenore, in Universal’s MR. PEABODY AND THE MERMAID (1948).

Even with another mermaid movie that year, MIRANDA was a unique film, due to the surprise ending which possibly raised more questions than answers. On a humorous note, the credits read “FIN” when Miranda’s tail disappears into the waves. But don’t be sad, Glynis reprises her role in the sequel, MAD ABOUT MEN (1954).

Pay attention to the movie and you will see some distinct similarities between MIRANDA and SPLASH. You have to wonder how many girls were given the name “Miranda” after the film released, since a slew of girls were named “Madison” after SPLASH came out.

MIRANDA surfaces on DVD, July 5th.

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“Silent Discoveries – Double Feature”

VCI’s upcoming SILENT DISCOVERIES is comprised of two feature films, “After Six Days” and “Yesterday and Today”:

AFTER SIX DAYS” was first released in the USA in 1922 as 11-reels.  It was later reissued in a 7-reel version with added sound (music, effects, narration).  Both versions were released by Weiss Bros.-Artclass Pictures.  The original source material was the 52 (not a typo!)- reel Italian spectacle known as La bibbia”/“La sacra bibbia.”  The VCI release is of the 7 reel version as only miscellaneous footage survives from the 1922 version.

The Weiss Bros. were prolific and penurious (some would say “cheap”) producer/distributors who were active from the early 1920s through the middle 30s. The excerpt below is from the New York Times (5/14/1924) and was referencing a lawsuit brought by Famous Players-Lasky who sought to restrain Artclass from mentioning “Moses and the Ten Commandments” in its advertising, so as not to confuse audiences with FP-L “The Ten Commandments.”

“It is set forth that the Weiss brothers in 1922 bought a picture of fifty-three reels, produced in Italy, bearing the title, ‘The Holy Bible in Motion Pictures.’  This, through an agreement with the National Non-Theatrical Pictures, Inc., was shown serially in schools, one reel each week. Eventually, it is alleged, the Weiss brothers cut down their production to dramatic length, renaming it ‘After Six Days, Featuring Moses and the Ten Commandments’  The National Vigilance Committee, it is alleged, has issued a warning to the Artclass Picture Corporation regarding the advertising of their production, alleging that the second part of the title confuses the public. It is further stated by the defendants that reference to ‘The Ten Commandments‘ was not made until after the presentation of the Famous Players Picture.”

FP-L prevailed!

This DVD will available for purchase on Tuesday 03 May, 2011

Add to Cart

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About Kit Parker Films

In 1971 I founded Kit Parker Films as a 16mm non-theatrical motion picture distributor. In the 1980s we expanded into theatrical distribution, and soon represented the classic libraries of major studios and independent producers.

In 2000 the film distribution part of our business was phased out as the growing accessibility of DVDs made film distribution technologically outmoded.

Today I concentrate fully on my passion, locating and restoring former “orphan films.” Throughout the years I noticed that there were films that never appeared on TV, cable or home video. Most hadn’t been seen for decades since their theatrical release. In the best tradition of a B-movie detective, I embarked on a mission to search for the owners of these “orphans.” Then came the time consuming effort to clear two major hurdles: clearing the copyrights, not easily accomplished when the producers had died many years before, and the needle in a haystack job of locating and restoring the master film elements.

Making former orphan films available for DVD, TV/Cable/Satellite, Video on Demand, the Internet and for remakes has been a time consuming effort, with no guarantee of success. This web site is comprised of the titles in our win column. The feature films, TV episodes, short subjects and serials span eight decades. We have cleared the chain of title to 100% of the library. The majority of titles are available in 35mm negative and/or master positive formats which means they can be HD formatted.

In addition to motion pictures, the KPF collection also contains the rights to many literary properties including books, short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, plus the copyrights to an extensive collection of graphic arts. Most items are annotated in this web site, so please look it over and contact me with any specific questions you may have.

All the best,
Kit Parker

For more information about Kit visit www.kitparker.com

Posted in Kit Parker Films

Another “don’t miss” web site

This one is really cool:

www.trailersfromhell.com

Posted in Kit Parker Films