Three Film Friends I Miss: Samuel Z. Arkoff (1918-2001)
Posted April 25, 2011on:
His cigar preceded him into the room.
There isn’t enough room to go into the history of American International Pictures (AIP), or a biography of Sam Arkoff. Here’s where to go for that: Capsule history of AIP:
Book on AIP: Fast and Furious: The Story of American International Pictures by Mark Thomas McGee (McFarland & Company, 1995) Interview with Arkoff , Interviews with B Science Fiction and Horror Movie Makers: Writers, Producers, Directors, Actors, Moguls and Makeup” Tom Weaver (McFarland, 1988). BTW, In my opinion, Tom Weaver is far and away the best of the interviewers. Must-read autobiography: “Flying Through Hollywood By the Seat of My Pants” By Sam Arkoff, with Richard Tubo (Carol Publishing, 1992).
My wife and I first met Sam Arkoff, co-founder of American International Pictures in the in the late 1980s at a revival screening of “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” at the Strand Theatre in San Francisco where it seemed as though his giant cigar preceded him into the room. After the showing he invited us to walk over to get a hamburger. On the way there my wife told him that he made her favorite film at that time. Sam: I did? She was telling the truth…it was “Love at First Bite.” BTW 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 ate our hamburgers Sam agreed to let me distribute the few films he still owned. By then he had 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. BTW, 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, 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 engagement were in Honolulu and New York City, where we both brought our wives. His wife, Hilda, a delightful, cultured woman, an 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 you wouldn’t want to lock horns with. 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 get 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 that soon I could give his speech verbatim. My favorite Arkoff one-liner he only said once, “That’s complete unmitigated bullshit!” In the 1959s AIP decided to cash in on the success of Hercules (1958), and Hercules Unchained (1959), so 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. Anyway, he told me a story I don’t think I’ve ever heard before or since. Sam spent several days screening two gladiator movies simultaneously 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 multi-tasking 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 heard it 50 times.