Archive for June 2011
“’The Black Pirates’ (1954) was shit, and ‘Massacre’ was no good either.” — Producer, Robert L. Lippert, Jr.
By 1959 the Lippert/Fox/Regal Films contract was finished. However, Fox still needed B movies, and Lippert was always the man for that job. A new 7-year deal was struck.
The new production entity became known as “Associated Producers, Inc.” (API). Bill Magginetti continued running the company and, of course, Bob Lippert called the shots. When the API deal ended, “Lippert Pictures” was reactivated and produced another 10 films for Fox release.
Producer/director Maury Dexter was a pivotal figure during the Lippert-Fox years. Dexter told me he was born into poverty during Depression-era Arkansas. He became interested in acting, came to Los Angeles, and had a few bit parts in films, including the 3 Stooges short “Uncivil War Birds (1946), and became involved in TV and stage. He served in Korea, and soon after was hired by Regal Films head of production, Bill Magginetti, as his assistant. When Lippert fired Magginetti, Dexter took over. It was a good decision as Dexter was a natural organizer, could do many things at the same time, quickly and under pressure…the prerequisites for success at Lippert! In addition to overseeing the company, he personally produced and directed 16 feature films!
After almost two decades in production, Robert L. Lippert returned to Alameda where he died of a heart attack at the age of 67 on November 16, 1976 in Alameda, California.
Samuel Fuller was set to write and direct a Lippert production of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” in CineColor as announced in exhibitor publications in 1949. Walt Disney bought the project from Lippert Pictures, either because it inspired him to make his own version, which he eventually did 5 years later, or he had planned making it all along and didn’t want another version to compete against.
Robert L. Lippert entered into negotiations with the Estate of author L. Frank Baum for rights to produce a series of “Wizard of Oz” movies. The reason he abandoned the project is lost to history.
The shortest shooting schedule of any Lippert production was one day, “Hollywood Varieties” (1950).
The runner up at 58 hours is “Highway 13” (1948). Coincidentally, it was a 58 minute movie, so it literally took only one hour to produce one minute of screen time!
Lippert productions had a minimum of 50 daily camera set-ups.
Just to prove he could do it, producer Robert L. Lippert decided to direct a movie, “The Last of the Wild Horses” (1948.) When production fell behind he fired himself and Paul Landres completed the film. After that Lippert stuck to producing. BTW, Lippert accorded himself something he never allowed other directors…an extravagant (for a Lippert production) running time of 84 minutes.
After a day of filming “Massacre” (1956) in Guatemala Producer Robert L. Lippert, Jr. was relaxing in his hotel room and heard gun shots in the room next to him. Recalling that a General was staying there, he immediately calculated it was an assassination (it was.) Lippert didn’t want to be shot as an eye witness, so he jumped out the window and ran on foot all the way to Mexico, and the cast and crew, who were staying in another hotel, departed by plane.
Again during the filming of “Massacre,” Lippert, Jr. said he was on location in a rural town where he found the electrical power was at best unreliable. Of course power was essential. To proceed with filming he went to the local airport, such as it was, which was powered by a generator. He paid off government officials to obtain the airport generator during the daytime hours. Daytime air operations ceased, and each night the generator was returned to the airport thus enabling planes to once again take off and land.
There wasn’t enough money in the production budget to afford a pirate ship in “The Black Pirates” (1954), so the movie begins with the “pirates” arriving on shore in a row boat. They never leave land for the entire movie.
Beloved character actor, Sid Melton, made 20 appearances in the early Lippert productions before becoming a TV mainstay. I asked him why he was in so many, and he replied, “Mr. Lippert had faith in me.” The fact Melton was willing to work for $140 a week may have helped. (2)
Between 1955 and 1965, Lippert co-financed and/or co-produced four European productions not released by Fox: “The Quartermass Xperiment” U.S. title, “The Creeping Unknown” (U.K./1955), a Hammer Films production released through United Artists; “The Last Man on Earth” (Italy/1964), filmed in Rome and released by American International Pictures; “Walk a Tightrope” (U.K./1965), released through Paramount; and “The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die” (U.K./1965), released through Warner Bros.
Margia Dean, Actress and Producer
Several years ago I met Margia Dean, still charming and beautiful, who appeared in 39 Lippert productions.
She revealed a story about Clint Eastwood who appeared with her in “Ambush at Cimarron Pass” (1958). Years later at a Hollywood function, she ran into the by-then renowned actor-director and couldn’t resist chiding him, “Just remember, I got top billing over you!”
Here are some more fun bits she told me on June 17, 2011: “I was executive producer of ‘The Long Rope’  starring Hugh Marlowe. That was the only one for Fox. I was associate producer on a couple of others. It came in on time and made money. I remember that I had difficulty getting respect because I was a woman [producer] and that was very rare in those days.”
“There was a scene in a little Mexican town and it was too bare, so I suggested that they have a few chickens and a stray dog for some atmosphere. Someone said “the producer wants chickens” and when I came on the set it was swarming with chickens! The writer [Robert Hamner] told me I was the best producer he ever worked for and he worked for several big producers. I remember one was Aaron Spelling.”
I remember that the star wanted some aspirin so I asked the driver to go to the drug store and get some and he replied that according to the union he couldn’t go, he could only drive, so I went along, and got the aspirin. Then, in a cantina scene I asked the prop man to put some serapes on the wall and he said he couldn’t, I would have to hire a drapery man, so I hung them! I hired the director [for “The Long Rope”, William Witney] whom I worked for in another film (Secret of the Purple Reef)  and I sensed he didn’t like taking any suggestions from me!”
* Mr. Lippert did produce, direct and or edit some good films!
The Robert L. Lippert Foundation. Good overview with biography and filmography, the latter of which I am in the process of revising.
Maury Dexter interviewed by Tom Weaver in “I Talked With a Zombie”
Interview with Margia Dean (special feature on the “Savage Drums” DVD)
Sources: Conversations between Kit Parker and Robert L. Lippert, Jr., Maury Dexter, Margia Dean and Sid Melton; issues of Motion Picture Herald and Film Daily Yearbook; the Kit Parker-Lippert Collection at the Margaret Herrick Library, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; interviews with Maury Dexter and Sid Melton by Tom Weaver in “I Talked With a Zombie” (BearManor Media, 2011).
“That Thanksgiving we had two turkeys”
The early days of television were a boon to independent producers like Lippert because they could now license their movies to television. The big studios could too, but were afraid to alienate exhibitors they were dependant on to show their new releases. Although Lippert had problems with exhibitors as well, his first major hurdle were the music composer and musician unions. He had previously paid them when his movies were first made. He had the right to show them anywhere, but the unions wanted additional compensation for TV, and threatened television stations if they dared to air them. At first he replaced the original compositions with monophonic organ scores. Eventually the original music was restored, but his problems were just beginning.
The Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) told him that unless he gave their members residuals for television airings, he couldn’t use SAG actors in future productions. Lippert’s position was the same, but he couldn’t make movies without actors, so he closed “Lippert Pictures.”
Lippert still wanted to produce movies, and 20th Century-Fox needed to get out from an edict it handed down to exhibitors.
The Fox problem began after it notified exhibitors that all of their forthcoming productions would be in color, CinemaScope, and stereophonic sound. But Fox still needed “B” movies as second features to its “A” product. Also, drive-ins were coupling two B’s together as double features. In any case, Fox couldn’t afford to make them in color.
Lippert and Fox head, Spyros Skouras, came together and created Regal Films, solving both of their problems with one name change. Ed Baumgarten, former chief loan officer for the motion picture division of the Bank of America, and Vice-President of Lippert Pictures, became the straw man “president” of the company. Lippert called all the shots, but with his name appearing nowhere in the credits, he was free to sell his movies without fear of union reprisal.
Concurrently, Fox got out of its ill-conceived “color, CinemaScope, stereo sound only” policy by informing exhibitors that the Regal films were independent productions, merely distributed” by Fox…technically true, even though Fox provided the funding.
All of the releases* were black and white and “RegalScope,” which allowed Fox to keep its prestigious “CinemaScope” name off low budget, black and white movies. Earle Lyon, producer of three Regal films, told me that RegalScope was strictly a name change, and that the lenses used in the RegalScope productions were the same CinemaScope ones used for the regular Fox “A” titles.
Maury Dexter, who started out as Lippert’s assistant in 1956, and later became one of Lippert’s most prolific director and/or producers during the Lippert-Fox era, told me the budgets were only $100,000 (just under $800,000 in 2010 dollars), which is incredibly low considering the production values, such as they were. I’m told Lippert got an additional $25,000 as a producer’s fee. “The Fly,” which was in color, cost $700,00 – $750,000 (Approx. $5.5 million in 2010 dollars) according to Maury Dexter who was in charge of production at Lippert.
The only Regal color productions were “The Deerslayer” (1957), and “The Fly” (1958), which along with Samuel Fuller’s black and white, “China Gate” (1957), were released under the Fox/CinemaScope banner. When I used to distribute those pictures through Kit Parker Films, there was an occasional instance where one print had a Regal logo, and another a 20th Century-Fox one…I have no idea why.
I asked former exhibitor Shan Sayles, if he played any RegalScope movies. He told me “Yes, a western double feature that ran on Thanksgiving of 1957,” continuing, “that Thanksgiving we had two turkeys!”
One of the unfortunate hallmarks of many of the Regal titles is too much talk, too little action. According to his son, Robert L. Lippert, Jr., the elder Lippert knew it was cheaper to film dialogue than action.
Producer Earle Lyon told mes a story about Lippert’s penuriousness while in Montana producing “Stagecoach to Fury” (1956), Lippert’s only Oscar nominee – for best black and white cinematography, when he got a call from the boss asking him to get to Las Vegas right away for an urgent meeting. The “meeting,” according to Lyon, lasted about three minutes, long enough for Lippert to tell Lyon the movie was not to go one cent over budget. “Do you understand, not one cent. Now go back and go to work!” Why Lippert spent money on a plane ticket to tell Lyon something that he and everyone else knew was an iron-clad rule, remains a mystery!
In 1959 Regal Films was abandoned altogether, but Lippert continued to produce low budget movies for Fox for another ten years. It puzzles me that Fox didn’t release those films to television. Instead, Lippert somehow gained control of the Regal library, and in the early 1960s sold them outright to National Telefilm Associates (NTA.) Paramount is the current owner.
But there’s more to Lippert’s producing career…to be continued…
* At the time of the Regal deal Lippert had one unreleased picture, “Massacre” (1956), a USA-Mexico co-production Lippert and Intercontinental Pictures, Inc. Fox’s involvement was only as distributor.
(References: Robert L. Lippert, Jr., Maury Dexter, Earle Lyon and Sam Sherman)