Posts Tagged ‘Spyros Skouras


Ronnie James, one of the great unsung movie and television researchers felt that the Filmography would be more useful and telling, if it was in chronological order.  It started out that way, but I found too much conflicting information among my various research publications…but he’s right…it should be.

Film editor and film historian Rick Mitchell has great credentials when it comes to wide screen cinematography. He asked several excellent questions that I’m sure others have wondered about as well.

RICK MITCHELL: I believe there are some errors in the Lippert piece. I don’t believe Sam Fuller’s CHINA GATE and FORTY GUNS were made for Lippert but under a separate deal Fuller’s Globe Productions made with Fox, like Edward L. Alperson’s. THE FLY is not considered a Lippert production but an official Fox one.

THE FLY is definitely a Lippert production. Director Kurt Neumann came to Bob Lippert with the story, and Lippert felt it would be a big hit so, according to Dexter, authorized a $700 – $750K budget…astronomical for a Lippert production, but small by Fox standards. Most of the money went into special effects and, of course, it was filmed (in Canada) in color.  Lippert showed it to Fox president, Spyros Skouras, and he decided to make it a Fox “A” release.

KIT: Sam Fuller was the producer of both CHINA GATE and FORTY GUNS, released in 1957. 

 These were Lippert RegalScope productions that so impressed the Fox brass that they were released as Fox/CinemaScope pictures. Head of production was Bill Magianetti, and his assistant was Maury Dexter.  I spoke to Dexter and he confirmed this and also went into detail about the filming. Maury also told me some great Fuller stories connected with those two pictures which I’ll reveal in a future blog!

RICK: Are you sure THE FLY was filmed in Canada? I’d seen THE GIFT OF LOVE a few weeks before I first saw THE FLY and was shocked to see the same interiors of the house in both films. Fox did recycle standing sets: the schoolroom build for PEYTON PLACE appears in THE YOUNG LIONS and THE LONG HOT SUMMER with no changes, for example.

KIT:  Rick was mostly right…only some scenes were filmed in Montreal, the rest at Fox studios.

In one of my blogs I wrote that Lippert couldn’t put his name on any of his Fox productions because he totally alienated the unions by insisting on releasing his earlier productions to television and refusing to pay residuals.

RICK: Lippert takes executive producer credit on THE YELLOW CANARY (1963).

KIT: Yes, by 1963 the union problems were behind him.

RICK: The first Regal film credited on the film as being in CinemaScope; I haven’t seen any ads or trailers, so I don’t know what’s on them.

KIT:  I do know they used CinemaScope lenses on all of the Regal’s, but Fox didn’t want to use that name on low budget, black and white second features. One thing that continues to stump me is some of the Regal prints have the Fox logo, and other prints of the same picture say Regal Films! Maury Dexter didn’t know, either, so it is a probably a question that will never be answered.


RICK:  See attached frame blowup from a friend’s 16mm print of STAGECOACH TO FURY; I now have one of my own. It has the Regal Films logo at the head. I have not seen any of the other RegalScope films released in 1956 and don’t know how they were credited but all Regal films I’ve seen after that were credited in being in RegalScope, including British made THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN OF THE HIMALAYAS, which was actually shot in what’s now called Super 35; [a film collector] e-mailed me that his 35mm print credits Megascope, the term Hammer used for the films it shot in Super 35 and Columbia used on spherical films it released in Europe with anamorphic prints.

RICK: Incidentally, re your Lippert Pictures filmography, THE BIG CHASE was expanded from what was to be 3-D short, I believe BANDIT ISLAND.


KIT:  True; producer Robert L. Lippert, Jr. made both the 3D short and incorporated the footage (in 2D) into his feature film, THE BIG CHASE (1954).  The 3D short itself is not known to survive.

RICK:  I believe the color films Lippert did before the formation of Associated Producers were released as official Fox films because they were in color.

KIT: The only two color films that came out of Regal Films were THE FLY (1958) and THE DEERSLAYER (1957), which were released as Fox pictures, but produced by Lippert. When the Fox-Regal deal expired, a new one was set up under the name Associated Producers. Many of those were in color.

RICK: Were CATTLE EMPIRE, VILLA! (both1958) and THE OREGON TRAIL (1959) not part of the Lippert deal? They are credited as being produced by Richard Einfield, the son of a former Fox exhibition executive. I’d gotten the impression that all the obvious color B’s Fox released during the Skouras years went through the Lippert Unit. [condensed for clarity]

KIT: CATTLE EMPIRE, VILLA! And THE OREGON TRAIL are Lippert (API) productions.  I know IMDb isn’t the be-all-end-all of credits, but it doesn’t list CATTLE EMPIRE or VILLA! as Einfield films. Maury thinks Einfield “may” have produced CATTLE EMPIRE, and he did produce OREGON TRAIL.

Both Dexter, and VILLA! star, Margia Dean, confirm that Spyros Skouras’ son, Plato Skouras, produced VILLA!  Dexter says that Plato wanted to be a movie producer so his father assigned him to “produce” some Lippert’s, a way to get him off his back and still allow his son to call himself a producer, although his involvement usually wasn’t much more than as a figurehead.  Dexter adds it was a similar situation with Richard Einfield, whose father was indeed an exhibitor, and therefore a customer of Fox.  He added that Einfield did not have much to do with the actual producing, but did more so than Plato Skouras given Einfield had a background in film editing and directing.

Dexter has given me more details on THE FLY.  He says Lippert read the “The Fly” short story in a 1957 Playboy Magazine, at the suggestion of director Kurt Neumann.  He immediately dispatched someone to Paris to buy the movie rights from its author, George Langelaan.  Langelaan was paid $2,500, a little over $19,000 in 2010 dollars.

I’m thankful for Rick’s questions and comments, and hope he will contribute more.

GREAT NEWS!  Maury Dexter wrote an unpublished autobiography which I found to be a page-turner.  He has asked me to make it available at no charge.  I’ll get to work on the project as soon as I can figure out how to upload the book from a floppy disc!


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“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)


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