Miami’s B-Movie Mogul

Two-thirds of the way into Il momento piu bello (The Most Wonderful Moment), a disconsolate Dr. Valeri (the baby-faced Marcello Mastroianni) bids arrivederci to the final two members of his Lamaze class, the latest setback to befall him in the talky, turgid 1957 Italian soaper that was dubbed into English, provocatively retitled Wasted Lives, and then rolled out in 1960 for consumption in American movie houses and drive-ins by Miami-based film broker K. Gordon Murray. The handsome, well-meaning doctor finds himself chin-deep in a star-crossed romance with Nurse Morelli, sparring good-naturedly with a colleague more obsessed with amassing lira than administering to the sick, and battling a hospital hierarchy less progressive than the Spanish Inquisition.

Cut to a lingering shot of the hospital’s empty Lamaze classroom, once packed with beautiful pregnant women. Fade to black. What next for the beleaguered Dr. V? But before another sudsy crisis erupts, a trumpet fanfare startles the audience as the words “We Interrupt Our Picture to Present Mr. Carlton Howard” appear onscreen. Middle-age and bespectacled, his hair slicked back, Howard sits at a large desk, looking like a district attorney straight out of central casting. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins, standing and briskly walking around the desk to address the audience, “I’m Carlton Howard. We are going to talk about the sexual side of marriage.”

And off he goes, yammering at warp speed about “the eight erotic zones of passion … placed about the woman’s body by her Creator for the husband to find, to love, to fondle, caress, to properly arouse that woman so that she might enjoy the sexual act in the same manner her husband does.” As Mastroianni and Wasted Lives recede from memory, Howard’s rat-a-tat-tat jawboning persists, now effortlessly segueing into an infomercial for two booklets he holds up for the camera: “The Sexual Life of Woman” and “The Sexual Life of Man.” Of the former, Howard notes: “There are two chapters for women who would like to improve an unhappy marriage. Read this information that tells about sex harmony in your marriage and making a success of married life.” About the latter: “Here for the first time in any book is frank, intimate, step-by-step information for that all-important wedding night. Now, gentlemen, you owe it to your bride or bride-to-be to have the correct sex information.”

By now fifteen minutes have passed, and Howard, barely pausing for breath, moves in for the kill: “We sell these books on a 100 percent, money-back guarantee. We couldn’t possibly make an offer of this sort unless we were sure, unless we were positive, that you would find these books to be exactly as I have described them, and as hundreds of thousands of other people are finding them to be.”

Turning up the hard-sell heat, he adds that the books are available, at one dollar each, from a “limited supply” at the refreshment stand “for the next twelve minutes only.” And for the benefit of those watching Wasted Lives at drive-ins, he advises eager customers to “turn on the parking lights of your car right now. To speed the sale along, please have your money ready before the attendant reaches your car.”

Finally relaxing his chokehold on viewers’ wallets and purses, Howard sums up: “Every man should read the woman’s book, and every woman should read the man’s book. If you know your partner physically, you will know your partner sexually. You show me a happy sex life, and I will show you a happy marriage, which can only be obtained through the proper knowledge, and the proper knowledge can only be obtained through books like these. You have everything to gain, nothing to lose, by this very special offer. Thank you very much.”

Abracadabra! The movie rematerializes, and the trials and tribs of Dr. Valeri and Nurse Morelli resume. But wait! As soon as another fifteen minutes pass, immediately after the successful delivery of a baby via the “painless” Lamaze method, moviegoers are whisked away on a second side trip.

Shifting gears, the screen changes from muted black-and-white to garish color, and viewers are greeted with a huge closeup of a woman’s vagina. A six-minute “hygiene film” ensues, depicting first the “normal” birth of a single child, then twins by cesarean section, all of it narrated deliberately and analytically. Scalpels. Gloved hands. Bloody babies. Oozing afterbirth. Real squirm-in-your-seat stuff.

Then wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, back to the main feature for the dash to the Wasted Lives finish line, with Dr. V. and Nurse M. reconciled and facing the future together. Roll the credits.

The man responsible for snagging and retitling Il momento piu bello, for producing Howard’s “sexual-side-of-marriage” featurette, and for procuring (and narrating) the eye-popping childbirth footage — in effect, the Man Behind the Curtain: former Midwestern carnival owner/exploitation film maven/salesman el supremo K. Gordon Murray.

For nearly two decades, from the late 1950s through the mid-1970s, K. Gordon Murray — “Ken” to his family, friends, and colleagues — established an outsized reputation as a one-man churning urn of burning entrepreneurial funk. At the apex of South Florida’s early- to mid-1960s independent filmmaking hurly-burly, with the tag team of director Herschell Gordon Lewis/producer David Friedman cranking out gore-fests and Doris Wishman fashioning naughty nudies, Ken Murray, operating from a modest downtown office on Biscayne Boulevard, enjoyed a highly successful career as a motion-picture alchemist by inexpensively purchasing the U.S. rights to foreign films, meticulously dubbing them into English at a Coral Gables studio, and unleashing the finished products amid a blizzard of hype in American cinemas and on American TV.