Samuel Z. Arkoff

By the early 1950’s, Samuel Z. Arkoff was a brash 30-ish lawyer scratching out a living by representing his in-laws and the Hollywood fringe, which included many of now-infamous director/angora-clad transvestite Edward D. Wood Jr.‘s social circle. As a shark, Arkoff was physically imposing and capable of scaring the snot out of anyone who opposed him. One of his penny ante clients was Alex Gordon, a screenwriter who had submitted an unsolicited script to Realart Pictures, an outfit that was profitably re-releasing 20-year-old movies, often under new titles conjured up by it’s owner, Jack Broder. One such film, Man Made Monster (1941), had just been re-issued as “The Atomic Monster”, coincidentally the same title of Gordon’s screenplay. Zarkoff, smelling blood in the water, paid Mr. Broder a visit and incredibly, obtained a $500 settlement. Broder’s sales manager, James H. Nicholson was dumbfounded by Zarkoff’s ability to extract a dime out of his congenitally tightfisted boss and proposed a partnership. American Releasing Corporation was founded in 1954 and their first release was a low-budget feature by 29-year old producer, Roger Corman. Made for less than $50,000, it netted $850,000 and Corman was brought into the fold as a silent partner. By 1955, the company was renamed American International Pictures, or simply AIP, within the industry. Initially focusing on westerns on the premise that locations came cheap and, although profitable, Arkoff was unhappy with the returns and solicited theater owners for advice on what types of films filled seats. By the mid-1950’s, thanks to television, the audience numbers had dwindled considerably with the key demographic now teenagers and young adults, who craved horror movies and drive-ins. AIP jumped into the horror genre with both feet and made a fortune. Under the aegis of Nicholson and Arkoff, the company survived in a constricting industry by catering to the whims of the teenage trade and adapting to trends. AIP’s long (350-plus) roster of kitsch classics, running the gamut from horror to rock’n’roll, from juvenile delinquency to Italian muscle-men, and from Edgar Allan Poe to Annette Funicello, have formed their own unique niche in film history. His company became infamous for clever advertising schemes that were often more entertaining than AIP’s movies. Arkoff never tolerated egos and his films were more often than not, profitable, thanks to tight budgets and a sharp understanding of the target market. After Nicholson’s 1972 resignation, Arkoff assumed full control of the company and remained in charge until the 1979 merger with Filmways prompted his own departure. He then became the head of Arkoff International Pictures.