He Read It Sober.

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by the Seat 

of My Pants 


Samuel Z. 






Read it!



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"On one of my European trips, I flew to Denmark to look at a rough cut of Reptillicus. By that point, AIP had already given Sidney Pink $100,000 to help him make the picture. But after seeing not much more than a reel of the rough cut, I shut off the projector, and leaned back in my seat with a horrified expression on my face -- and not because the prehistoric reptile was so frightening. 

"My God, Sidney, what have you done?!"

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That excerpt taken from Samuel Z. Arkoff's autobiography, Flying Through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants, recounts the author's legendary dust-up with fellow producer, Sidney Pink, over his Danish actors trying to speak English phonetically with disastrous -- albeit hilarious, results in Reptillicus; the only Danish giant-monster movie ever made.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg:

When Annette Funicello slipped into a two-piece bathing suit and had Frankie Avalon chase her around the lifeguard stations in Beach Party, the major studios snickered. But amid all the reactions, no one seemed more "puzzled, irritated -- and, at times, absolutely furious" over the beach movies than Walt Disney, due mostly to the "dirtying" up of his favorite Mouseketeer. True to his word, Arkoff and his partner, Jim Nicholson, never did put Annette in a bikini. And then there was the heated dust-up with star Bette Davis over the use of an F-Bomb at the end of Bunny O'Hare. Or his falling out with actress Shelly Winters when she went on an anti-violence crusade after filming Bloody Mama. Or when the local teamsters held director Martin Scorsese hostage at gunpoint during the filming of Boxcar Bertha over a wage dispute. And his prickly relationship with genre producers like Herman Cohen, Bert I. Gordon and Roger Corman, who all probably trusted the cigar-chomping and self-aggrandizing mini-movie-mogul about as far as they could throw him.

Along with all these anecdotes, Arkoff's book chronicles his beginnings in showbiz from his chance meeting with Nicholson, which led to their formation of American International Pictures, and the rest is gonzoidal filmmaking history. Capitalizing on the largely ignored youth market, each picture was a gamble as the resulting box-office receipts were the only thing guaranteeing the next film's production. Following whatever trend that presented itself, and then milking it dry, Arkoff admits to being right about "51% of the time." The formula worked, though, and worked well enough to keep the independent company going for almost four decades.

While covering AIP's growth in the '50s, and the flak it took for allegedly promoting juvenile delinquency, the book then continues with the golden age of the '60s, with their moderate critical success and all the great future filmmakers and actors that got their big break with AIP, and then the dark times, with the unraveling of the company after Nicholson left, the good cop to Arkoff's bad cop, and it's unfortunate decline in the '70s -- up to Arkoff leaving in the early '80s, where after it slowly died, and then finishes up with what he's been doing since.

Though the book gets more into the guts and financing of the production company than you might expect, fear not, the majority of it is spent on goofy stories like those listed above, all concerning the general insanity that was filmmaking American International style.

Highlighted with several sections of photos and promotional materials, the book also has a nifty guide to all the films American International had a hand in making or distributing that goes on for almost twelve pages: I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Daddy-O, Black Sunday, Beach Blanket Bingo, The Born Losers, Coffy and The Amityville Horror to name but a few. And they were invaluable on the international front, too, bringing in Japanese monster movies, Italian sword and sandal epics, and several Swedish art films. All over the map in scale, shape and quality, the same year they were importing Fellini's La Dolce Vita, Arkoff and Co. were financing Larry Buchanan's Attack of the the Eye-Creatures. Go figure.

As an author, Arkoff is frank with his memoir and makes no bones. He was making crap, and he was well aware that it was crap. But as long as it was profitable crap and kept the business going, then that kinda crap was good enough for him.

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"I love movies, and I think I've made some good ones and nourished some some talent over the years. I'm very proud of what Jim Nicholson and I accomplished. We started with almost no money. We weren't subsidized by popes, princes or governments. We built a company in order to build a future for ourselves. And we gave a lot of people a lot of enjoyable Saturday nights in the process."

-- Sam Arkoff        

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Originally Posted: 06/13/02 :: Rehashed: 05/20/09

Knuckled-out by Chad Plambeck: misspeller of words, butcher of all things grammatical, and king of the run on sentence. Copy and paste at your own legal risk. Questions? Comments? Shoot us an e-mail.
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