The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa on July 27, 1969 · Page 3
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July 27, 1969

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The Des Moines Register from Des Moines, Iowa · Page 3

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Des Moines, Iowa
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Sunday, July 27, 1969
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r To Snag the Kids-No Parents Are Allowed De$ Moines Sunday Register '•>"'' "•,"» .. 3- General Section ARKHOFF- Continued from Page On* . Graduate," then put it in the bank and waited for Hoffman to become box office. Despite success, Arkoff and Nicholson have remained relatively unknown, by Hollywood's publicity standards. The reason, partly, is that both men are as out of step with the hoopla of the movie industry as they are on target with what the American public is apparently willing to spend millions to see. ""' Bored by Cocktail Parties "I detest cocktail parties and am bored as hell by most of the people who attend them," said Arkoff. "Do you know what most of the, so-called 'creative' people in this town are? "They're people who read book reviews and talk about books they haven't read; people who read movie reviews and talk about movies they haven't seen; people who read play reviews and talk about plays they haven't seen. "God, what a phony town." 'One thing ! remember is that there wasn't any anti-Jewish pressure on me as a kid. 9 A RKOPF, who chuckles at the mention of the "film as an art form," explains American International's success this way: "Jim and I are reasonably normal people in.,a completely abnormal town. We're reasonably competent in a business that is completely incompetent. We're reasonably thrifty in a business loaded with waste." When Arkoff was told those are about the same reasons an Iowa farmer might give after a financially successful bout with the federal government, he put his head back and laughed, laughed hard. "You know, you're right," he said. "Let me tell you something. You probably don't know this, but, around this town, I'm known, or was known, as that dumb Iowa farm boy." Was? "Yeah, well, I don't think people say that now as much as they used to." Arkoff does live in Hollywood style. His home sits cocooned in foliage near the Santa Monica Mountains. The road, although paved, is like a cozy, little-used country path, narrow enough for tree limbs to tangle overhead and occasionally blot out the sun. It is a typical Arkoff Saturday morning. He is sitting by his swimming pool reading film trade magazines. There is a foot-long cigar in one hand and a tall glass of dark liquid near the other. Chlorinated water cascades down a three-foot-high sculpture in the pool's shallow end. The sliding glass doors of the Arkoff house reflect the pool on three sides. Each door leads to a separate living room, one of which hides a Cinemascope screen and projection room. Have a Root Beer Looking up, he bounded from his lounge chair and extended a big, tough hand: "Sam Arkoff," he said simply. "Sit down and take your coat off. Too damned hot out here not to be comfortable. Want a drink? "Hilda," he called toward the house to his Canadian-born wife, "bring us a root beer, please, if there's any left." Samuel Zachary Arkoff was born in Fort Dodge June 12, 1918, first child of one of the town's "15 or 20" Jewish families. His father, a Russian immigrant, "ran a no-profit clothing store (Louis Clothing Co.) at First Avenue South and Seventh Street, a block off Central. "Every one of us kids — there were four brothers and a sister — had to put in our time at that store," he said. "There were a lot of days,- especially during the Depression, when my Dad took in maybe only flO." Arkoff's memories of Fort Dodge are not of lessons 'Hi 'v*^-iiV ' < 'x/xn&t '<. J xT * ' '•J-4><,si V?* ^ *> VI,' * ift>' "^ ^ The 5-foot 9-inch, 190-pound Arkoff after a three-month diet that shed 60 pounds. learned or philosophies found, but of things he did. Like watching Catholics on Sunday mornings. "I'd sit in our squeaky swing on the front porch at 308 N. Eighth Street watching them go to mass half a block away. "One thing I remember is that there wasn't any anti- Jewish pressure on me as a kid. There was so little of that kind of stuff in Iowa, for example, that the Jews used -to hold their high holiday services in the Knights of Columbus hall." Uncle Still There Arkoff delights in telling strangers that his uncle, David Lurle is still, at 75, a successful businessman in Fort Dodge. "Dave's been running Model Clothing Co. there since I can remember," Arkoff said. "I'll bet if you go there on any Saturday, the old man will be in the back room going over the books." (Arkoff's father died in 1948, his mother two years ago.) The Iowa boyhood Sam Arkoff remembers best was winning a five-minute ride in an Autogiro at age 13 (he'd sold the most Des Moines Sunday Register subscriptions in a contest) and placing third in a state speech contest as a junior at Fort Dodge High. "I wrote a hellishly florid oration entitled, 'I Am a Jew,' " he recalled, getting up from his lawn chair. Arkoff's mongrel dog, Nudgie, looked up from her shady place as Arkoff. now well back in the thoughts of another time and place, paced by his swimming pool reciting the opening lines of his oration: "/ am a Jew. 1 was born a Jew. 1 was raised a Jew. And 1 hope to die a Jew." Then, he stopped abruptly and sat down. "Told you it was florid as hell." he said with a sheepish grin. "But, I wrote it back in the days when Hitler was around and, at the time, it was considered a pretty far-out recitation." Hilda Arkoff appeared from the coolness of their home and gently interrupted her husband, who was explaining how his fir's! boyhood hero was "Roosevelt, a man who gave my generation something to believe in. . . ." "Sam," she told the movie producer, "don't you think it's time you go inside and put a shirt on? You've been talking so much, you're burned to a crisp." 'First, we'd think up a title^Our only concern was whether the title could be profitably exploited by advertising. Then, we'd hire someone to write a script for us.' From "Three in the Attic" M UMBLING, Arkoff trudged off toward the houso with Nudgie ambling at his heels. Somehow, the friendly man in his rumpled white patio shorts didn't look at all like a Hollywood big-butter-and-egg-man. Instead, he looked like the grown up version of the kid at Fort Dodge High who liked speech class and secretly bought Variety every week for 15 cents at Hogan's newsstand. Asked to Leave After high school, Arkoff. Commuted" between the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of Iowa. After several semesters at Iowa, he "was asked to leave" because of poor class attendance. After a stint in the Air Force "as a codes and ciphers man who couldn't decode ciphers," he came to southern California and, despite the fact that he didn't have a bachelor's degree, entered law school at Loyola University at Los Angeles. His subsequent law degree was his "avenue" into the The Register's Autogiro movie business because, as an attorney, he could "pet in on the fringes of motion picture production and learn." A good sense of business and a growing awareness of how pictures are produced quickly landed Arkoff the untitled position of "producer" using someone else's money to make 30-minute situation comedy films for the then infant television networks. He and Nicholson (a one-time, usher and projectionist) began American International as a film distribution company 7 (American Releasing Corp.) in 1354 and turned to producing their own films a year later "when we discovered there weren't many independent pictures available to distribute," Arkoff explained. First Flick. "Apache Woman" The first AIP flick, "Apache Woman," was a Lloyd Bridges color western that copied hundreds of other shoot-'em-ups made by Republic Pictures (which, incidentally, had folded the previous year). "Apache Woman" took 10 years to break even; colossal dud. However, Arkoff and Nicholson had learned two things. "Apache Woman," because it ended up playing most houses as a second feature, didn't lend itself to exploitative advertising. And, because it was in color, it cost more than twice what it does to make a black-and-white film. Their problem: How do you make an inexpensive picture using no big-name stars while still keeping it from becoming a leftover on a double bill? As Arkoff says now: "Who's going to want to see a movie called 'John," starring Gordon Nobody?" Arkoff credits Nicholson with reaching the AIP solution: Make two Cheapie, black-and-white films with a common, mass-interest theme, then — after "advertising the hell out of them" — require the movie houses to exhibit the two films as a "package." The first package off the AIP assembly line was "The Day the World Ended" (written by Arkoff's brother-in-law) and "Phantom from 10.000 Leagues" (purchased from another independent film maker). The Third Ingredient The science-fiction combo made money, and Arkoff and Nicholson were off and running. AH that was needed was the third ingredient, which has since become the AIP mainstay: Make pictures which will draw teen - agers and young adults because the majority of the ticket buyers in the United States were, and still are, between 16 and 24, a fact, Arkoff says, the major studios had not taken seriously. To snag the kids, Arkoff and Nicholson made one rule: No parents or other "authority figures" were to be seen. "When we did show an adult, it was usually a bumbling Keenan Wynn, who kept carping at the kids to get off his property, or something just as inane," Arkoff said. Titles like "I Was a Teen-age Werewolf," "Pajama Party" and "Beach Party" became regular AIP fare. At about the same time, the studio was releasing "Brain Eaters," "Bucket 7 Blood" and "Attack of the Giant Leeches." AIP was also involved in releasing a-smattering of/Edgar Allan Poe shockers that habitually featured Vincent Prjt-e ("not a 'name' star, but, in the horror field, an actor with a definite following," Arkoff says). Overt Rebellion As the country's youth matured and overt signs of rebellion began to appear, American International was first into the' movie houses with its "protest" films, usually a sexy saga of motorcycle hoods — "The Wild Angels," "Devils Angels," "High School Hell Cats," and, completing the revolutionary cycle, "Wild in the Streets" in 1968. "The Wild Angels" achieved some critical acclaim abroad, but it raised more eyebrows than praise domestically. An orgy scene in a church disgusted some moviegoers, Arkoff chuckles, but was probably the x one thing that drew the sellout crowds. However, "Wild in the Streets," which made a star of Christopher Jones, a talented leftover from television's "Jesse James" series, represented a real departure for AIP. Notably, "Wild in the Streets" was a good film. Not only did it draw sizable critical acclaim, it honestly frightened many adults who saw it. And, in so doing, it brought AIP its biggest single-picture gross, up to that year. The picture traced the rise of a pot-smoking rock 'n 1 roll singer (Jones) through a tumultuous path to the White House. The United States had a 25-year-old President and kids were finally in control. Discussing his success in films, Arkoff disclosed a working formula that has been basic at AIP: "We always worked backward," he said. "First, we'd think up a title. Our only concern was whether the title could be profitably exploited by advertising. Then, we'd hire someone to write a script for us. "That's why Jim's 'I Was a Teen-age Werewolf was so brilliant. The picture itself was a gentle little film, so bland that it was boring. But that title . . ." Annette Funlccllo strrs because I spend a lot of timf and money trying to know what they're thinking." hr said. One of the ways ho keeps in touch is to invite neighborhood teen-agers to his house so he ran watch them watching motion pictures. Then. toil, he is probably one of the few business executives who seriously listen's to what his children, Louis, li). and Donna. 17. have to say Arkoff, though he dismisses most of his critics with a wave of his cigar and an archingly Hrittsh pronunciation of his pet name for them - "Hie pseudo-intellectual arty-fartys" -maintained that American International has done its hit for creative movie making. This Is Creativity'.' "What short of 'creativity' does it take," he demanded, with his own answer ready, "to bring 'Hello, Dolly' to the screen'.' Or to make an 'important' motion picture out of a pre- sold soapbox sex pap like 'The Love Machine'? "The intriguing thing about this town is that thr producers who engage in this sort of thing are so ego-laden that they've got to convince themselves, and the public, that they're engaged in 'a search Tor art for art's sake." His next word is unprintable. "So. because they can't stand the idea that they're, just businessmen out to make a buck, they create several facades of hypocrisy to make their egos feel better. "Hell, they know what THEY'RE selling just like we know what WE'RE selling. The only question that they, or we, really ever ask is. 'What kind of pigs shall I- raise because what kind of pigs will sell In the marketplace?' " Arkoff and Nicholson will make 16 pictures this year and/ will distribute several others. It will be Sam Arkoff's instincts that, will help decide where and how many millions will be spent, and why. "Hey." he says, squaring (iff at his visitor UKe a man getting ready for a long session of cracker-barrel checkers, "did you ever deliver newspapers in winter'. 1 / Tough Job / "Let me tell you. that's » damned Imlgh job. 1 can remember lugging those heavy Sunday Registers around in my wagon on mornings it was so cold the milk/was frozen on the porches." He. pauses and rubs more sunburn goo into his pudgy arms. *'/ haven't thmtyltt about fhnsr r/a;;.s in n \nn<\ tune. Those were some rlays. .Vol tbv be';t, but snrt' as hell nnt the ir/or.sf either . . . ." / '/ can tell whether a script will go over with the youngsters because I spend a lot of time 'and money trying to know what they're thinking.' Peter Fonda in "The Wild Angels" Uustin Hoffman James Nicholson N OW 20 years removed from his Iowa upbringing, Arkoff tries to be honest about the possible influences his home state might have had upon him: "I've never really known whether it's a question of geogra- ^ phy, or genes, that makes a man what he is." However, if Arkoff had to bet on the question, he said he'd probably "lay a few bucks on the genes." They're All Brilliant Back in Fort Dodge, David Lurie, his uncle, puts it this way: "All I know is that the whole family was brilliant — the one brother is a psychologist at the University of Hawaii, another has a big printing business in Los Angeles, the younger one is a doctor in Los Angeles and the sister is married to an engineer. "Ojie thing about Sam: He picks up and goes to Europe quicker Jhan I pick up and go to Des Moines." Arkoff says his secret is good merchandising and knowing |._g. what the public wants. Vincent Pric« Beach Scene from "Pajama Party" "I can .win warns. tell whether a script will eo over with the young- A typical Arkoff film scene

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