Thursday, November 05, 2009

Interview with Samuel M. Sherman

After listening to nearly 30 of his DVD audio commentaries and reading dozens of interviews with him during the past three decades, I stupidly believed that the well had run dry on producer-distributor Samuel M. Sherman and that I’d derive neither knowledge nor pleasure from speaking with him at this late date. Selfish of me then to even waste an hour or two of his time, right? Isn’t this precisely why he recorded those commentary tracks in the first place? So he wouldn’t have to do interviews anymore and explain for the zillionth time how he once transformed a werewolf movie into a Frankenstein movie? How he turned a biker flick called THE BLOOD SEEKERS into a horror movie titled DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN? How he passed off a black-and-white Filipino caveman movie as an “all color” space-mission-to-a-lost-planet picture starring John Carradine?

I was wrong, of course, as I frequently am whenever the know-it-all inside me is allowed to call the shots. I not only learned quite a bit, but had a terrific time talking with the legendary exploitation mini-mogul. After 45+ years in the business, he really is a valuable source of information. Tom Weaver’s exhaustive two-part Q&A in Filmfax (“The Mogul, The Man, The Fan”) remains the definitive article on Sherman and is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of independent film distribution and exhibition in the United States. Part 1 is especially valuable because it concentrates on the period before the formation of Independent-International Pictures in 1968; Sherman talks about being a movie-obsessed 16-year-old enrolled at New York’s City College Film Institute, running Flash Gordon serials and THE MASK OF FU MANCHU in the student film program and eventually producing his own 16mm one-day wonder, THE WEIRD STRANGER. His years working for Jim Warren (Warren Publishing) and Kane Lynn (Hemisphere Pictures) are covered in detail. More importantly, a lot of attention is paid to Sherman’s fateful first trip to California and introduction to silent screen star Victor Adamson (a.k.a. Denver Dixon) and his filmmaker son, Al Adamson. This first meeting in 1962 would eventually lead to the formation of Independent-International Pictures six years later.

Weaver’s two-part piece is the water mark, but there have been several other very strong Sherman features over the years -- Michael Weldon’s article in a 1983 issue of Fangoria was the first Sherman interview I ever read, and Nathan Miner’s in-depth Q&A in the fanzine Bits ‘N’ Pieces is well worth seeking out, to name just two of them -- so I won’t pretend for a second that the following conversation breaks new ground. However, I will say that I purposely avoided questions related to DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN, HORROR OF THE BLOOD MONSTERS and the other films that have been covered to death in print interviews and audio commentaries. If this is looked at as nothing more than an attempt to sweep up some of the scraps, don't worry, I won’t be insulted. Enjoy!

TEMPLE OF SCHLOCK: How long did you work for Jim Warren?

SAMUEL M. SHERMAN: I started with him in 1958 and continued with him until 1965. It was not a full-time job. It was kind of a quasi-freelance thing. Later I did have an office with him over several years. He was originally from Philadelphia. I would just do the work and send it to him and occasionally go down to Philadelphia, but he opened an office at 422 Madison Avenue to create a magazine called Help! which was a humor magazine created by Harvey Kurtzman.

TOS: Who had created Mad.

SHERMAN: That’s right. Jim hoped lightning would strike twice, which it never does. Harvey’s managing editor on Help! was Gloria Steinem and also working on that was Terry Gilliam, who went on to Monty Python fame. Terry was kind of a snob who looked down his nose at the westerns and horror pictures and all the things my friend Bob Price and I were doing [at Warren Publishing], as opposed to what he was doing. So I’ve made it a policy to never watch his programs and never see any of his movies. It wasn’t above him or below him to steal the ending of DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN [for MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL], as it’s been told to me, where I had the monster ripped up by Dracula, and somebody said, “There’s a Templar knight and they do the same thing! They just stole the whole thing out of that picture!” Feel free to print this, by the way. I have no problem with that at all. I haven’t seen him since then, and have no interest in ever seeing him again.

TOS: I love FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS but otherwise I’m not a fan.

SHERMAN: That has nothing to do with it! I just don’t like snobs. I don’t like artificial people. I found out from Jim Warren that the whole group of them at Help!, with the exception of Gloria Steinem, were a bunch of snobs. They had it in for me, they had it in for my friend Bob Price, and anything that we were doing they felt was taking time and money away from their great project. Of course, our projects all made money, their project lost money, and eventually Jim closed it down. Gloria Steinem was a great, great gal -- just a really nice person. Not a snob, just a really first-rate, intelligent person. She had her head screwed on and understood where everything fit. But Harvey Kurtzman? I didn’t realize Harvey was that kind of a person. He had been rather unpleasant to me behind my back, and apparently that’s what led the parade of Terry Gilliam, who was a writer wannabe, and everybody else who had it in for me, Forry, Bob Price and horror monster magazines in general. Eventually it was unprofitable and they closed that office anyway.

TOS: Is that what drove you to leave Warren and head out to Los Angeles for the first time?

SHERMAN: No, we had a dispute over a film we were making, which was called VAULT OF THRILLS, or SCREEN THRILLS: THE MOVIE. It was a compilation film of 35mm silent, horror, westerns and thrillers. I had an agreement with Jim where I would produce it. I had started it and he was backing it, and then he just went ahead and broke the agreement and turned the film over to Shorty Yeaworth, who had done THE 4D MAN and THE BLOB. I was very upset. Jim and I had a good argument about that.

TOS: The movie was never finished, I gather.

SHERMAN: No. Shorty Yeaworth worked on that for several years, and Jim paid him good money. He wanted this thing, that thing, blah blah blah. Jim even brought Woody Allen in to work on that, when nobody had heard of Woody Allen. I had had a comedian by the name of Will Jordan working on it, and then I had Milt Kamen, who was a comedian I liked. It was a satire of movies using silent footage, and eventually Shorty Yeaworth -- after five years of milking Jim on this thing, and stealing our projector and all of our equipment -- he then said, “Jim, I think it was better the way Sam had it in the beginning. We should go back to that way.” Jim went crazy when he heard that. He took the film away from Shorty Yeaworth and locked it up in storage. It was always a barrier between Jim Warren and myself for many years.

TOS: What happened to the all the footage that was shot?

SHERMAN: Much later on, after I had started Independent-International, I met Jim on the street by accident. He said, “What are you doing? Let’s stop for a drink or a cup of coffee,” or whatever. We did, and we patched up our differences and he sold me that movie. Unfinished as it was, it became a property of Independent-International. It’s still never been finished. Jim wasted a lot of money on that. But anyway, I was highly annoyed. I saw that as my stepping stone to whatever I thought it was going to step to, so I felt I had to go to Hollywood and find fame and fortune because Jim had double-crossed me. I was rather emotional and upset, and I guess it was a kind of fate that led me out to the west coast. Had I made that film with Jim, had it made a little money and propelled me on to other things, I never would’ve gotten out to L.A., you know what I mean?

TOS: You never would’ve met Al Adamson.

SHERMAN: Sometimes it takes one thing to fail to make something else succeed.

TOS: On that first trip to Los Angeles, how long were you out there for?

SHERMAN: About three months. I kind of went there to escape failure on the east coast. I had failed with everything. I couldn’t get anything started. I wanted to go to Hollywood to try and find fame and fortune. My father was impressed with that and kind of cajoled my mother into that, and they both gave me the money to go out there and try to do that. I was mad at Jim and I didn’t want to talk to him, but he tracked me down out there and kind of apologized and asked me to start doing things for the magazine again, which I did. I spent a lot of time with Forry Ackerman, who was a friend I’d met through Jim. I met a lot of people, went a lot of places, went to all the studios and I had friends in different places. I had a friend, Nick Adams, who we had featured in one of the magazines. He was at Republic Studios, where he was filming a series called SAINTS AND SINNERS, and I knew the people who had bought Republic, so I used to go out there every few days and spend time with them. I got to know the geography of Hollywood, the mindset of it, met a lot of people and I took tons of pictures and interviewed a lot of people. I guess you’d call it a watershed event, but who knew that all of this was going to pivot on the last week of the trip, when I was trying to meet Denver Dixon for weeks I met him during the last week of the trip, and through him – by accident – I met his son.

TOS: Al Adamson, who was running a nightclub at that time.

SHERMAN: Yes, in the valley, it was called the Mutiny.

TOS: So you went out to L.A. specifically to meet Denver Dixon?

SHERMAN: Yes, and also Bob Livingston, who was and is my favorite actor. I wanted to go to Los Angeles to meet him and get him back to doing films. He was out of films then. I wanted to get him to shave off his moustache, color his grayish-white hair, and put him back into leading roles, and my mother thought I was crazy. “You’re going to do what? Why don’t you worry about your own career!” “I don’t have a career! I’m going out to find Bob Livingston!” Everybody thought I was nuts. But I’ve had people who are big fans of Bob Livingston tell me that they loved that. A big book was written about Bob and his brother Jack Randall, Brothers of the West. It’s a great book, one of the best ever written about Hollywood.

TOS: When you got back from the west coat, it was 1963 and THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES was a top-rated show. I read somewhere that you approached Kane Lynn and Irwin Pizor of Hemisphere Pictures to see if you could license footage from them that featured the old country-western singing act The Beverly Hill Billies?

SHERMAN: They were in a Tex Ritter western called THE ROLLING PLAINS, so I felt I could secure those rights to get that footage and then I could use other clips that I would get from other companies and do a compilation film about hillbillies on the screen. That was pretty much the tenor of an article I did in Screen Thrills Illustrated #5. It was around the same time. It was about hillbillies on the screen, and it covered basically the same ground as this movie idea I had. I don’t remember which came first, the article or the movie idea.

TOS: But you ended up buying THE SCARLET LETTER (1934) from them instead?

SHERMAN: Well, y’know, sometimes you go to the store and you want to buy a green widget and all they have are blue ones, so you buy a blue one.

TOS: Since you already knew Denver Dixon and he was in distribution, you planned to partner with him and try to get playdates for THE SCARLET LETTER?

SHERMAN: No, putting the two together was not clear to me at the time. Why I wanted THE SCARLET LETTER was probably out of desperation, because I was looking to buy better motion picture equipment to make a full feature on 16mm film. The cost of that equipment was quite expensive. I had less expensive equipment, but once you made the film the cost was very great. It’s funny how the cost didn’t go up. Today you can shoot a film for nothing on digital, but in those days it was expensive because of all the cutting of negatives and the mixing of sound and all that different stuff. It was costly. And so I said, “Well, if I can’t show what a great filmmaker I am, maybe I can buy a finished film and I could use that as my entrée through the distribution world," and I did use it for that. Before I distributed that I went to everybody I could find from majors to minors trying to make a deal. I guess that’s where I learned what dealsmanship was about in the industry, how difficult it was.

TOS: You were in the Army around that time, but got discharged because of an injury. What happened?

SHERMAN: We were going to Vietnam, and we were being trained in commando tactics on how to kill people at night and in the jungle -- not something I thought I was suited for, but it was the era of the draft so everyone was forced into the military and didn’t have a way out -- and I was in a training range and I ended up breaking up my leg in about four or five pieces. I was very fortunate that I had a good surgeon who put it back together and enabled me to get on with my life. After that point, they were sending our people over to Vietnam. My mother always said had I not been injured I probably would’ve been killed in Vietnam. So that’s another example of something bad leading to something good.

TOS: When you got out of the military, you and Denver Dixon started distributing THE SCARLET LETTER?

SHERMAN: It was during that period. Denver Dixon had come to the east coast in 1964 to see me out at the post where I was injured, and he induced me to be more aggressive and seek a furlough out of the hospital. By that time we had talked about distributing THE SCARLET LETTER together, the two of us, because there was no possibility of me licensing it to somebody. He wanted to get this started, he was impatient. And so we did that. It’s as if he planned the whole thing of Al’s making the pictures and me distributing them, and us starting with THE SCARLET LETTER. He knew the industry -- he had been in it since 1910 or something like that, and I guess he just saw that was the way to go. Al said someplace, either on the E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY or in Chad Sisneros’ documentary [AL ADAMSON: DRIVE-IN MONSTER], that Independent-International was a concept of his father’s, Denver Dixon, and that’s true.

TOS: How successful was your release of THE SCARLET LETTER?

SHERMAN: It wasn’t successful, but it wasn’t a complete failure either. I dealt with the exhibitors in the south myself over the phone and I traveled in the northeast. We sort of broke up the country.

TOS: You also started working with Kane Lynn and Irwin Pizor at Hemisphere Pictures around this time.

SHERMAN: At Hemisphere their concept was to make war films in the Philippines and distribute them in the international market. They made their money outside of the United States. Whatever they picked up in the United States was gravy, but they couldn’t make any money. Their big picture at that time was called RAIDERS OF LEYTE GULF and they were getting $35 a date. It was called flat booking, not a percentage of the gross. I said, “That’s crazy!” Denver Dixon had a black-and-white picture called HALFWAY TO HELL that he and Al had made and they were getting three, four, five hundred dollars a date! And with THE SCARLET LETTER which I had gotten from Irwin and he thought was nothing I was getting up to a thousand dollars a date! So that’s how I won their respect.

TOS: You did publicity for Hemisphere?

SHERMAN: I started doing promotions, pressbooks, trailers, everything in the way of post-production and marketing, and then I got involved in pre-production -- some of the scripts that Eddie Romero had of the pictures they were going to make -- and I guess the furthest I went was when Al and myself made BRAIN OF BLOOD for Kane, after Irwin left Hemisphere and he was stuck without a film. We did that to kind of help him out.

TOS: What type of publicity gimmicks was Hemisphere coming up with on their own before you started working for them?

SHERMAN: Well, one thing that was done, because Kane Lynn was kind of zany in his own right -- he had this woman from the Bronx Zoo, kind of a tough woman with glasses, and he had her made up in a leopard skin outfit, and this snake handler put snakes in a glass covered tank in the lobby of the theater. And this was for MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, which has nothing to do with snakes! It was insane! I think there’s one scene where they open a crypt and a snake comes out. I said, “That’s not a campaign!” So I came up with that silly “Oath of Green Blood” thing and I was told people did take that oath. That’s about as silly as you can get. Then there was my ring trailer for BRIDES OF BLOOD, where they gave out the free wedding rings -- did you ever see that one?

TOS: Sure. It's on the DVD.

SHERMAN: The idea was -- well, I don’t know what the idea was. Kane went for these cheap imitation wedding rings and engagement rings that… [He starts laughing]…they gave out when you went to see BRIDES OF BLOOD. I made the trailer and put these phony rings on bright red crushed velvet and shot it on an animation stand, and I had some type of double talk like “Genuine imitation wedding and engagement rings free!” [Laughs] I forget the exact wording but I had something like “genuine” and “imitation” in the same sentence. It was really funny.

TOS: When you started Independent-International Pictures in 1968, you already had a backlog of earlier Al Adamson movies you could tinker with and prepare for release after the success of SATAN’S SADISTS.

SHERMAN: Al saw Independent-International as a means of unloading the pictures that he would be making. I saw it as being a real company, like AIP (American International Pictures), where the production end was not the main thing. I didn’t want the tail to wag the dog. I felt the corporation was the bigger part and we could pick up movies, we could buy the rights to movies we could distribute for other people, but the advantage we had with Al was that we could move on a popular theme quickly, inexpensively, and have a picture out on the marketplace very quickly…sometimes. Sometimes these things dragged, but sometimes we could do that. It gave us the ability to make a stewardess picture where very few had been made but it was still a popular theme. We ended up making two of them [THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES, BLAZING STEWARDESSES] and turning another picture we had into that type of film [BEDROOM STEWARDESSES], and we had a lot of income out of these various stewardess incarnations. We’re still making money on those.

TOS: Skipping ahead a couple of years, what was your relationship with Hampton International? I know you ended up getting a few movies from them.

SHERMAN: I was friendly with the Gordon Brothers, Alex and Richard. Alex was a producer in Los Angeles who had been a publicist for Gene Autry and a producer for AIP, and his brother Richard Gordon was in New York. Both of them were from England, by the way, and were fans of old movies. We liked old horrors and B pictures. I met them through William K. Everson, the famous film professor, author and film historian. So I knew them very well. In fact, Richard’s company, Gordon Films, still represents our export rights, so I’m still very close to him. Alex has since passed away. But Alex got involved with Richard in importing some German pictures, put up some of his own money, got involved with [Hampton International Pictures president] Bob Saxton who I knew from North Carolina. Bob went broke and he had these pictures and he couldn’t get any money back from them, so Alex asked me if I would take them over and distribute them. I really didn’t want to, but it was more a question of helping a friend than needing these pictures. Alex had put up a lot of money for a picture called THE BLONDE CONNECTION and he was in trouble with that.

It was an awful film that had some transvestites who were killed, or whatever the story was. It was a German mystery, originally called INSPECTOR PERRACK, and it was just impossible to sell. If I had money, I didn’t mind helping a friend out. So I advanced money back to him, and then I was stuck with this awful picture. So we changed the title of it to HARD WOMEN.

It never made much money for us, but we recouped the money that we gave to Alex that he had given to Saxton. It was just what I call an exercise in recouping rather than good business sense. If I were a tough businessman I never would’ve done it.

But God has a way of looking down, and sometimes he helps you out. One of those awful pictures had Barbi Benton in it and was called HOW DID A NICE GIRL LIKE YOU [GET INTO THIS BUSINESS]. It was an awful picture. I had been offered it before Bob Saxton took it and I had turned it down, as did everybody else. So we were stuck with it and we were playing it as a third feature, for $25 or $35 flat. We couldn’t give it away. One day, a friend of mine wanted some pictures for television. We had a 35mm screening room, and so we screened a bunch of films. I started running HOW DID A NICE GIRL LIKE YOU and the thing began with [Benton] as a cheerleader alone in a stadium and then she got on a motorcycle and started having sex with some guy while riding on the motorcycle. My friend looked at me like I was crazy. “How can you screen that for us?! We can’t run stuff like that on television!” I said, “Oh, my apology!” Well, my real apology was not that -- my real apology was my thanks, as in “Thank you for making me look at this awful thing! I know what to do with it now, and it’s not giving it to you for television!” [Laughs] I immediately came up with the campaign THE NAUGHTY CHEERLEADER.

The prints of it had run until they were falling apart. As I said, we were getting $25 dates on them. So I called Richard Gordon and I said, “I want to reissue this picture, put some money behind it and really do something with it, but I’m tired of paying off the Germans” -- the money was going to them, not to Alex on that one. I said, “Why don’t you ask them if they would just sell me the theatrical rights outright for five years.” So we made a deal for a few grand to buy that picture outright for theatrical in the United States for five years. We fixed up the worn prints as best we could, Gray Morrow did a fancy piece of artwork for me, we put this thing out and it went through the roof. Instead of making $25, it was making $5,000! So, all the money we gave Alex and all the time we wasted on those pictures came back out of THE NAUGHTY CHEERLEADER.

And then we had some of the others -- I don’t know if there was just one, or two -- that we bought the TV rights for and we put those on television. THE GORILLA GANG became THE APE CREATURE for TV. Richard’s picture NAKED EVIL was another one. It was black-and-white with tinting and we went ahead and re-shot that picture as EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT. We made some money off that, too. So later the rights went back to Richard, he sold it to someone else, I sold them my piece of EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT and I did a commentary for that.

TOS: You mentioned on one of your commentary tracks that 1976 was Independent-International’s busiest year.

SHERMAN: We had more films out than any other studio, major or minor. Twenty-nine films in release, from all sources. Too much! We created another company to handle part of it, called Constellation Films. THE BOOB TUBE was a big hit for Constellation.

TOS: Will we ever see some of those German films that Al Adamson shot news scenes for, like NURSES FOR SALE and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, come out on DVD?

SHERMAN: UNCLE TOM’S CABIN is going to come out, but it’ll be the full, long, European two-and-a-half hour version. They didn’t want the stuff that we shot, so forget that.


SHERMAN: We have the footage, but we lost the rights to the movies themselves. What happened with a lot of those pictures, they were made by small producers, they were sold by independent sales agents, we knew all those people and they made reasonable deals. But all those companies went out of business and major international conglomerates bought those negatives. I could never go back and make deals with them. I could never offer them enough money.

BEDROOM STEWARDESSES will never be seen. It wasn’t bad either. The picture was called SIDEWALK DOCTOR with Curt Jurgens, a great favorite of mine. He played a doctor who tended to the prostitutes in the Reeperbahn, the red light district of Hamburg, Germany. It was quite a good film but unsellable, so to turn it into a stewardess thing we shot some framing material to use in all the prints we had unwisely made.

TOS: You first released it as FEMALES FOR HIRE, right?

SHERMAN: Right. Someone else had it and they died with it. We got it from the Germans who were desperate to get rid of it, so we tried FEMALES FOR HIRE -- kind of a WOMEN FOR SALE idea which we were promoting for a while, but that didn’t work. Some of these things never worked.

TOS: TEAM-MATES is one of the few movies you produced yourself that Al Adamson had nothing to do with.

SHERMAN: That was an interesting project because I gave it to Steve Jacobson to do as a reward for the hard work he had done for us slaving away with editing, lab, post-production and everything else he did. He directed the new footage for EXORCISM AT MIDNIGHT, the added footage we shot on the east coast for NURSE SHERRI and he worked on the re-cutting of that movie. He did a lot of work on NURSE SHERRI. He was a very dedicated guy. I liked him a lot. He wanted to direct something, so I said, “Let’s do a cheap picture here.” The basic idea was that it was about the first girl to play on a high school football team. It didn’t work. It really wasn’t good, and yet it had some fine qualities about it. But it was really mishandled, and I didn’t spend much time on it. I guess I blame myself for not being a good producer on it. I kind of let the young people working on that picture kind of run it and they just ran off with it. I had to stop it, rewrite it, and then go ahead and reshoot it, months of editing to make any sense out of it. The big deal of the picture was the discovery of James Spader and Estelle Getty, the first picture they ever made.

TOS: I remember when it played New York in 1983 as YOUNG GANGS FROM WILDWOOD HIGH, to cash in on FAST TIMES AT RIDGMONT HIGH.

SHERMAN: We put it out as TEAM-MATES first [in 1978] and it died. We sold it to foreign territories as YOUNG GANGS, and then as YOUNG GANGS OF WILDWOOD HIGH it made a couple of bucks. It played the USA Network, surprise surprise, but I could never license it to home video. The person who wrote it, Jennifer Lawson, became one of the heads of CBS in Washington, D.C. All the kids were nice on that one. It was not an unpleasant shoot, like some of these things can be, but Steve really didn’t have it together. He later apologized to me.

TOS: I never realized that NURSE SHERRI had such an interesting production history until I listened to your commentary. I had no idea there were two different version of that movie!

SHERMAN: I wanted to do a nurse picture, Al had kind of a pedestrian plot and then I decided to switch it to a horror picture more like CARRIE and we took it off in that direction and we wrote it, the two of us, over the phone. We brought in Michael Bockman and Greg Tittinger and they rewrote the script, and we kept adding to it. When we first screened the work print in New York for Dan Kennis and our general sales manager, Joel Deitch, they went crazy. “What a piece of crap!” It was like seeing THE BLOOD SEEKERS all over again. I realized I’m not screening any work prints for amateurs anymore. If you don’t understand what a work print is, forget about it. So then I set to work to disprove everybody else and this picture went out a year late. I had it booked, and I was always kind of standing in the way of distributing things. If I felt instinctively that the picture didn’t have it, I’d say “I’m not going to release it.” It had dates all over the country! People all over the country were really going nuts. I said no, I don’t like it, I want to change it. I had done the same thing with UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. It drove them crazy. We changed NURSE SHERRI and we changed UNCLE TOM’S CABIN several times too. When NURSE SHERRI went out -- it opened in I think it was Cleveland in four or five indoor theaters -- it just started making money and it never looked back. Anywhere it played, that picture was very successful.

TOS: You picked up four or five of Jerry Gross’ pictures when his company Cinemation went bankrupt in the mid ‘70s. What happened there?

SHERMAN: Jerry allowed his company to run out of control. He wasn’t in charge anymore. Other people were running it, and he was just losing control of himself. Cinemation was a public company, it was worth mega millions of dollars, and Jerry went and took out a bank loan for like $90,000, which was nothing, and didn’t pay it. When the executive of the bank called him up he refused to take the man’s call, and this guy from the bank, Manufacturers Hanover, was maniacal! He told this all to me! He said, “Because that little son of a bitch wouldn’t take my calls, I decided ‘OK, you bastard! I’m putting you out of business now!’” And he did! He sold off the pictures for next to nothing, the bank realized next to nothing. If the bank didn’t have a man who was so emotional, but somebody clever, they could’ve (a) gotten their money back, and (b) resuscitated the company, a customer. Emotion is a very dangerous thing to have. It’s not good.

TOS: So you got those pictures at public auction?

SHERMAN: We went to the auction to get back our picture THE DYNAMITE BROTHERS, which Jerry had put out. I didn’t want somebody buying it and thinking they owned it. While we were there we said, “Let’s bid on some other things.” We picked up I DRINK YOUR BLOOD and I EAT YOUR SKIN. We reissued those for a while, milked those quite a bit before we sold them off to Allan Shackleton at Monarch. We bought TEENAGE-something -- it wasn’t TEENAGE MOTHER but some other thing -- and the owner of it cried bitter tears. He turned out not to be a nice person, but he cried bitter tears and I said, “OK, for a thousand or two thousand dollars you can take your picture back.” That’s what happened with that. We got FEMALE ANIMAL, which I liked because Jerry had made it, which I still have. We got back THE DYNAMITE BROTHERS. We got a picture called THE MAGIC BIRD, which was really us getting the bird because we got nothing. We never found the negative, we never found the film. It was what they call in the computer business “vaporware.” You know what that is? It’s software that doesn’t exist. We had an ad from Variety and that’s all we had to show for THE MAGIC BIRD. We also did get the black-and-white INGA and we made some money with that.

We kind of felt bad for Jerry. We weren’t there to rape his company. He shot himself in the foot, and Dan Kennis and I knew he was going to L.A. with his tail between his legs. We took him out for lunch. Here’s the guy at his lowest point and we’re celebrating his life. We took him out to lunch, told him how much we liked him, we wished him well and we handed him $500 in cash. Over the years, the pictures we bought at the auction certainly paid back that $500, y’know what I’m saying?

TOS: Did you keep in touch with him?

SHERMAN: I remained friendly with Jerry over the years, but I couldn’t find him towards the end. And all of a sudden I heard he had died in obscurity. So when I did the commentary for THE FEMALE ANIMAL, I thought I should tell a little about Jerry. I always thought Jerry was much more important than I was. He did much bigger things. He did MOW’s for the networks. He was really up there, making mega mega millions of dollars. I’m remembered, Al’s remembered, but Jerry is forgotten.

TOS: What kind of person was he?

SHERMAN: I think Jerry’s big problem was he was a little too stiff. I’d see him and instead of saying “Hi Sam” or hugging me or shaking my hand, he’d say, “Samuel M. Sherman! Wildest Westerns Digest! Screen Thrills Illustrated! THE NAUGHTY STEWARDESSES!” and he’d stand there mechanically like a robot reciting my credits! He lacked a certain people touch. I had Dan Kennis with me, who was a great people skills person. He was funny, a tennis player, got along with everybody, and I learned from him how to be loose and good with people. I think that’s what worked against Jerry. I liked him. He was basically a nice guy once you got past his robot stage. He just wasn’t personable. My wife and I went to the Show-A-Rama exhibitors convention in Kansas City in the early ‘70s, and we did some minimal promotion. We had Regina there, and who knows what else we did. Jerry ran a big luncheon, had big banners hanging up – “Cinemation is the newest, we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do that…” Well, the exhibitors just want to be sucking up to the majors with the big prestige movies. They don’t want to play black movies, they don’t want to play horror movies, they don’t want to play nudie movies. Oh, they’ll play them -- because they’re greedy -- but they don’t want to play them, and they certainly don’t want to be buddy-buddy with the kind of person who’s selling that stuff. So Jerry’s got that kind of product, he’s talking and talking, and there’s a room filled with exhibitors who weren’t interested in making money with Jerry Gross. They had only one wish: that he would stop talking, go out of business and disappear.

TOS: Gross originally had a partner at Cinemation, Nicholas Demetroules.

SHERMAN: Who was everything Jerry wasn’t. He was a good marketing guy who had been with Fox, had beautiful people skills -- just a real sweetheart. So I guess Jerry’s mechanical nature and he didn’t get along, and they broke up. Nick ran NMD for a while and then moved out to City Island. He had divorced his first wife and married this young schoolteacher. They were a beautiful couple. We saw them at a party, and then all of a sudden we heard Nick had died. Nick was a terrible chain-smoker. That had to be what killed him. He always had tobacco stains on his fingers, never without a cigarette in his mouth.

TOS: After the success of SWINGIN’ STEWARDESSES, Hemisphere released a lot of softcore European movies of the Erwin Dietrich and SCHOOLGIRL REPORT variety that are almost impossible to identify today because of the bogus credits on the posters and ads.

SHERMAN: That was a very common practice. I did that all the time. People didn’t want to see foreign pictures with a lot of foreign names, so I tried to make them sound more American. I guess they were doing the same thing.

TOS: A lot of those later Hemisphere pickups were reissued by SRC Films. In fact, the last film released by Hemisphere, BABY FACE (1977), became the very first film released by SRC.

SHERMAN: That was S. Roger Cahn, who had worked for Hemisphere. He’s a very nice person. I met him when he was a kid working for them, lugging packages to the post office on a little dolly -- that’s how Roger got started. He’s a stockbroker now. Anyway, when Kane died, Roger had the contacts to take the films and he started his own little company and made some money with those things. SRC stands for S. Roger Cahn.

TOS: I remember in the late 1970s up until the mid ‘80s all of the SRC releases would constantly turn up in the drive-ins around Syracuse, New York.

SHERMAN: I’m guessing Roger went through Frontier Amusements out of Buffalo. We all used them because they had access to that upstate market.

TOS: Some friends were over visiting me last week and one of them saw The Edwards Air Force Base Encounter on my bookshelf and asked to hear some of it.

SHERMAN: How’d you like it?

TOS: We ended up listening to the whole thing straight through. It’s very well done, very interesting.

SHERMAN: Well, thank you. I got into that when I started making BEYOND THIS EARTH, which has still not been finished, a documentary about the possible existence of extraterrestrial beings on and above this planet. Through making that film I ended up getting materials from government agencies and that’s how I got tapes that were all chopped up out of sequence. I spent eight months finding the story, clarifying the story and getting Chuck Sorrels, who was there, and putting this thing together. It was more to amuse myself. Then I decided it would be a project, a segment on film, and when I finished that I sent it to Al, but Al was gone. He had disappeared. I decided to separate it [from BEYOND THIS EARTH] and let it be its own project. I was on a segment of SIGHTINGS for Paramount television, and that started the ball rolling. I was on 70 or 80 national radio and TV shows, and it seems to have brought me greater media attention than anything I ever did in the motion picture industry. It was quite a success. I’m still playing with the idea of doing it on an audio CD, with somebody else distributing it, not me.

TOS: As a big fan of TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, I thought getting Jackson Beck as the narrator for The Edwards Air Force Base Encounter was a stroke of genius.

SHERMAN: He did so much to give that thing credibility, don’t you think? I called him up cold through a mutual contact who had his number and he said [imitating Jackson Beck] “What is it that you want?” I said “Well, I’m doing an audio documentary..." “Oh, I don’t know if I can do that, I’m busy… What’s this thing about?” “Audio tapes of an extraterrestrial sighting over Edward Air Force Base…” “What did you say? Repeat that!” “It’s about…” “Is this about UFO’s?!” “Yes it is.” “What are you doing tomorrow? I can’t talk to you right now on the phone.” “Oh, I don’t know, nothing specific…” “I want you to meet me at one o’clock at 19th street and Broadway. I want to take you to lunch, we’ll talk then.” Very bizarre! [Laughs] Well, he was a lifelong student of that subject. He had a lot of real information that nobody else had. We became instant buddies.

TOS: And this was when you could turn on the TV at any time of day and hear him doing commercials for Little Caesars pizza.

SHERMAN: We stopped after one of the segments, I got up from where I was and went up to him and said, “Jack, I’m just enjoying this so much! I can’t tell you the kick I’m getting out of this, your doing my narration for this project! It’s so exciting!” And he said, “Is it? Oh?” It didn’t get to him at all! “OK, can we continue?” [Laughs] We remained good friends, but then he got sick and eventually passed on. But I felt I gave him good billing on the box, really played him up.

TOS: I saw something you posted on the Internet about this tape making it all the way to the U.S. Congress?

SHERMAN: Steven Greer, this doctor who’s part of a group that wants the government to come forward and tell the truth about this, went and pitched to members of Congress that they should bring this information out. I found out that he took my tape and he made about 80 duplicates and gave it out to everyone. I said, “Steve, what are you doing? That’s a copyrighted program that I made!” He said, “I’m sorry! I thought this was some narrated thing the government had done!” It was so professionally done, like an old military film or something that he couldn’t believe I had made that whole thing! Isn’t that funny? The government stole it to tell the public about it! What a joke! Everyone from the President down, every member of Congress… He sent it everywhere. After a while I didn’t care. I figured what am I gonna do?

TOS: Except for Crown International, I can’t think of another independent company that’s been around as long as Independent-International.

SHERMAN: The major studios defied all laws of anti-trust and came to control everything. Television stations, cable networks, every damn thing, and the government just let them do it. And that’s what drove all the small companies out of business. It was very hard for them to compete. Look at home video companies today. I’m so glad I’m not doing that. We had a home video company, Super Video, and for a short time it was very successful. Today what these guys go through -- some are successful, but not many of them. Most of them don’t last too long. And they certainly don’t make the money per film that we made theatrically. We made a lot of money, tremendous money. People don’t believe this at all. They look at some of our films -- “Ha, that silly thing! Where did it play?” Well, how about 6,000 theaters in the United States alone? Do you believe that? Plus television, plus foreign, plus video, plus this, plus that… They can’t believe it.

TOS: What was your secret to staying in business at a time when so many others were failing?

SHERMAN: I kept on top of the exhibitors and sub-distributors and just pushed every day. I was in the office working hard every day. With each picture I’d say, “Where have we not played?” and I’d look at the charts -- I learned that from Jerry Gross very early on, keeping charts showing every key city -- “Why have we not played Des Moines?”

TOS: When I interviewed you for the MEAN MOTHER liner notes a few years back, you quoted Irving Thalberg at MGM: “Good movies aren’t made, they’re remade.”

SHERMAN: I’ve always been of the opinion “waste not, want not” and through our good marketing and my tough, never-say-die attitude, I would never let a loser movie not play. Most guys would just say “forget about it,” but there are cases where I took some things that were failures, turned them around and forced them to play. There were things like WOMEN FOR SALE, a German picture that had no value under the title THE YOUNG TIGERS OF HONG KONG. Dan Kennis’ friend Jack Trop, the producer of the original HOPALONG CASSIDY show, worked with me to re-edit that picture, and we made it into WOMEN FOR SALE. Well, that was an instant success! It just went out and started making money and making money and making money. That kind of started a franchise for us -- GIRLS FOR RENT, FEMALES FOR HIRE, this-for-that.

TOS: Back in 1969, that radio interview with Regina Carrol that’s on the DVD of SATAN’S SADISTS must’ve been a disappointment for listeners expecting to hear from someone known as “The Freak-Out Girl,” because she’s so not the type!

SHERMAN: On the [Al Adamson episode of] E! TRUE HOLLYWOOD STORY they say “There was only one woman that he ever loved -- ‘The Freak-Out Girl!’” That was a marketing concept I came up with so many years ago, and nobody will let the damn thing drop! It’s completely phony! At the time, “freak out” was a popular expression and I was trying to build her up as something like in the old days, Clara Bow in the silent era was “The It Girl” and in the 1930s Ann Sheridan was “The Oomph Girl.” It was a silly Hollywood tradition that implied sexiness or something, and so I made that up and played that up as if [Regina Carrol] had been selected as that! It was for the newspaper ads and the trailer, something I invented in 1968 -- that E! was in 2000 or 2001. Thirty-two, thirty-three years later that stupid “Freak-Out Girl” is still rearing her ugly head! Can you believe that?! It’s like what P.T. Barnum said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” We didn’t want to deceive people, but what did the name Regina Carrol mean when Al put her in SATAN’S SADISTS? It meant nothing! She was a total unknown -- she had a few small parts, VIVA LAS VEGAS and a couple of other pictures. Well, I had to build her up. I never called her “The Freak-Out Girl” again, but once I started that silly thing, the name stuck and we couldn’t get it off of her!

TOS: And she wasn’t like that at all.

SHERMAN: Nah. She had the blonde hair and was rather buxom, so of course people thought she was hot stuff but she was a quiet, shy girl -- very sweet, very nice. She was a lot of fun. She had a good sense of humor. She liked my silly jokes. [Laughs] She used to call me ‘Sambo.’ There used to be a breakfast place in Palm Springs called Sambo’s -- it was a chain, like Denny’s, and we were always having breakfast at Sambo’s so she started calling me Sambo. She’d ask Al, “Where do you want to go for breakfast, Denny’s or Sambo’s?” Al would say, “Sambo’s” and she’d say, “Well I want Sambo to come with us to Sambo’s.” And because they were heavily into dogs, somehow I went from Sambo to Sambone! [Laughs] Are you getting that?

TOS: Was that your dog I just heard barking in the background?

SHERMAN: Yes. I never had dogs, now I’ve got two Scottish Terriers. I hope Al and Regina are looking down and seeing this, because they’d love our dogs, they’d just love them.


Anonymous said...

Absolutely smashing interview, Chris. Proud to be part of our new modern TOS; you've breathed some serious life into it once again! Paul D.

Tim Mayer said...

Amazing bit. I credit Sherman's commentaries for the reason my own company is still around; they're the best business advice imaginable!
Here's an article I did about James Warren speaking at a local library:

The Flying Maciste Brothers said...

It's interviews like this that provokes the urge in us to continuously kiss your clean, shiny pate.

Booksteve said...

Astonishingly entertaining! Moreso really than any of his films;) Thanks for this!

Ian Miller said...

Really great job, Chris! Sam's one of the very last of his era, and you provoked answers to questions no one else has thought to ask.

Marty McKee said...

I use Google Reader for blogs, so I don't usually have access to leave comments. I apologize for that. I do want to say this is perhaps the best thing you've ever blogged. Great stuff.