Posts Tagged ‘Tom Weaver’
“Today we are engaged in a great Civil ‘Wah’”
— Maury Dexter, from the 3 Stooges short, “Uncivil Warriors” (1946)
Maury Dexter(1)(2) is one of the most interesting individuals I’ve ever seen in the motion picture industry, and he’s put his amazing rags to riches life into words in a well-written, page-turning, autobiography, “Road to Hollywood – the hard way.”
Maury was born into dirt-poor poverty during the Depression in Paris, Arkansas. Early on, he developed a love of acting, which he parlayed into a successful career as an actor, producer, director of feature films and television programs and, of particular interest to me, head of production for Robert L. Lippert’s Associated Producers, Inc.
Without the thought of having it published, Maury Dexter wrote his life story to fulfill a personal goal of putting his life story on paper. Tom Weaver, who interviewed Maury in his book, “I Talked With a Zombie” (McFarland, 2008)(3), couldn’t persuade the usual movie book publishers to take it because they felt their readers might find fault with the first part of the book which covers Maury’s life before becoming involved in the motion picture business. I suggested to Maury that he release it as an ebook, and after explaining what “email,” “Internet,” and “downloads” meant (He’s just fine with knowing absolutely nothing about computers), he agreed, but didn’t want to make money on it.
Hat’s off to one of my favorite movie bloggers, Toby Roan, who produced the ebook, and Jim Briggs for designing it. Here’s the link to Toby’s terrific blog, which includes the link to Maury’s autobiography.
P.S. As I write this I’m laughing to myself about Maury’s challenges of producing movies on the meager budgets demanded by his penurious boss, Robert L. Lippert…and especially about how he once achieved the goal of producing two low budget westerns for the price of one. Then there’s the story about how Samuel Fuller who shot the windows out of….
The Fiend Without a Face…
…became Richard Gordon’s most well known movie, but most film fans do not know his name because he generally didn’t take a screen credit. On the other hand, classic horror movie fans know him well as the producer of “The First Man Into Space,” “The Haunted Strangler,” “Corridors of Blood,” and many others.
I first met Richard Gordon over 30 years ago when he sold rights to one of my movies. He began Gordon Films, Inc. in 1949 as an international sales agent importing and exporting films to the United States, and was still going strong over 60 years later. He was the consummate film fan, particularly of movies from the 1930s, who knew every bit player as if they were family members. During that time he produced two dozen, mostly horror movies, and was the last person living who had worked with both Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi. Dick was working on a deal to sell a few of my movies to England when he was stricken a few months ago.
Dick was born in England in 1925, and was a textbook example of an English gentleman; reserved, articulate, private, well spoken, respectful, cultured (he had an amazing art collection,) mannerly (the type who would stand up when a lady got up from the table), and a canny businessman. He upheld a custom, from an era of long ago, of hanging up pictures of his clients on the wall behind his desk. But there was a lot more to Richard Gordon.
Dick and his friend Joe Cattuti, were devoted to each other, and the two of them travelled around the world for half a century. Dick and Joe, and my wife, Donna, and I, had dinners with them which always lasted over 3 hours. Joe and Donna would talk about all kinds of things, but it always started out about fashions. Dick and I focused on movies: How it was going to the movies as a child in England; how he and his brother, Alex*, asked strangers to accompany them into horror movies (there was an “H,” for horror, rating which excluded youngsters from attending without an adult,) his time in the British Navy in WWII where he learned German (and how it helped him in business), how his father, whose favorite movie was “The Thief of Bagdad” (1924), hated his own job and encouraged his sons to go to America and give a shot at their passion.
I asked him what he thought about the fact that each of his movies entertained millions. He looked bemused and responded, “Well, not quite millions.” I defended my math: First there were movie theatres, then countless airings on TV, and later cable, satellite, VHS, DVD, and now video on demand…all around the world. He paused for a few seconds and the look on his face told me he had never actually thought of it that way before. (Tens of millions would be more like it.)
One year I met him in Pittsburg at a horror convention where lots of old movies are shown, and old stars would sit in a room and autograph stills for a fee. On the flight there I thought to myself that it would be completely out of character for Dick to charge for an autograph; that he’d find it undignified, as well as disrespectful to his fans. When I got there he was signing autographs, and not only didn’t charge for them, he provided the stills.
Richard Gordon, a class act.
If you can only read one book over the next year, let it be “The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon”
Richard Gordon’s producer-brother, Alex, also had an interesting life in the movies:
“’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).
“Bombproof,” in equestrian jargon, is a horse that can be put into any situation, remain calm, and persevere until the job is done perfectly.
Author Tom Weaver is just that way with interviews. The ones he’s conducted with horror movie stars, directors and producers, throughout a couple of dozen books…are all winners. He bats a thousand.
His latest, “The Horror Films of Richard Gordon” (BearManor Media, 2011), just came out, and I can’t wait to get my copy. A Weaver/Gordon combo is guaranteed to be a page-turner.
Out of many interviews, there have been occasions when the interviewees are problems…want to give only “yes and no” answers, are boring, senile, or even drunk! Even if all four, and the house is on fire, Tom somehow perseveres. He prepares in advance, and works harder conducting interviews than anyone I’ve known. He just makes it look so eeeeasy.
I first met Tom a few years ago when he agreed to come from his home in Sleepy Hollow,New York, toLos Angeles, and conduct interview/commentary tracks for one of my “Positively No Refunds” DVD double-features. I’ve met him a couple of times since, and he’s always comes across as a warm, thoughtful, teddy-bearish sort of guy…quick-witted, a master of plays on words…with a radio voice. He loves to wear comfortable clothes (I’ve never seen him in anything other than well-worn shorts and t-shirts,) and eat comfort food (packs more cholesterol in a day than most people do in a week, maybe two).
Now that I’ve introduced the Tom I know, the movies on the “No Refunds” DVD are “Bride and the Beast” (1958) and “White Gorilla” (1945). Charlotte Austin, star of “Bride” was one of the participants, along with beloved science fiction movie icon, Bob Burns. Both movies had “gorillas” in them, and for those who don’t know, Bob is the expert on movie gorillas. “Bride” bit-player Slick Slavin (Trustin Howard) also joined them. Tom didn’t need to worry about bomb-proofing with this group…just wind them up and let ‘em roll. The funniest commentary tracks I’ve produced so far!
People ask me how I come up with those witty descriptions of my movies on the back of DVD covers. The answer is easy…I don’t write them – Tom Weaver does.
The Horror Hits of Richard Gordon:
Other Tom Weaver interview books:
Charlotte Austin’s Filmography:
Bob Burns’ web site:
“Bride and the Beast” Trailer:
“White Gorilla” Trailer:
Bride and the Beast/White Gorilla “Positively No Refunds” DVD: