Sam Katzman

Active - 1934 - 2010  |   Born - Jul 4, 1901   |   Died - Jan 1, 1973   |   Genres - Adventure, Action, Crime, Western, Drama

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American producer/"schlockmeister" Sam Katzman loved the movies -- though not always good movies. From age thirteen onward, Katzman was picking up best-boy and propman jobs in Hollywood, working his way up into the executive end of the business. By 1935, Katzman had accrued enough capital to create his own production firm, Victory Pictures. Using rented facilities and inexpensive casts and crews, Katzman churned out western, crime melodramas and several serials. Victory's top "names" included action star Herman Brix (later known as Bruce Bennett) and cowboy headliners Tom Tyler and Tim McCoy. When the budget got so tight that no provision could be made for a director, Katzman grabbed the megaphone and called the shots himself. After Victory folded in 1937, Katzman moved to Monogram Studios and set up his own production unit, which at various junctures was called Four-Bell Productions and Banner Films. It was at Monogram that Katzman created the East Side Kids in 1940, and one year later signed waning star Bela Lugosi for a tacky but lucrative series of horror pictures. In 1948 he moved his base of operations to Columbia, where he produced the Jungle Jim series and also turned out a regular schedule of cheap Technicolor westerns, Arabian Nights escapades and seafaring swashbucklers (most of them built around stock footage from earlier, more elaborate features). Pinchpenny though he was with production values, Katzman always posted a profit for Columbia; eventually his output became more ambitious, including the first of special-effects maven Ray Harryhausen's sci-fi films. One of the secrets of Katzman's success was his uncanny ability to latch onto trends before those trends had even gotten under way. Sam was always one step ahead of the next pop-music craze, as indicated by Rock Around the Clock (1956), Calypso Heat Wave (1957) and Twist Around the Clock (1962). He always kept both eyes on breaking headlines, as witness Escape from San Quentin (1957) and Riot and Sunset Strip (1965). At one point, Katzman even launched a trend by coining the word "beatnik." Moving to MGM in 1964, Katzman churned out so many youth-oriented quickies that he earned the nickname "Psychedelic Sam." The '60s found Katzman alternating his bread and butter product with some better-than-average efforts, notably a handful of Presley films and the Hank Williams Sr. biopic Your Cheatin' Heart. Before turning the family business over to his sons, Sam Katzman hopped on the sexploitation bandwagon of the late '60s with The Young Runaways (1968), Angel Angel Down We Go (1969) and How to Succeed with Sex (1972).

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