Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Z is for Samuel Z. Arkoff, Who Gave Roger Corman’s Early Films a Home

[On this, the last day of the A to Z Challenge, I’d like to thank everyone who visited Movieland. A special tip of the hat to birthday boy Craig Edwards, blogger extraordinaire, who started me on this alphabetical journey. If you’re craving more insider Roger Corman stories, I’m announcing that today’s the start of a five-day sale of my thoroughly updated and unexpurgated “Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers” Kindle ebook. And if you’d like to be notified when the new paperback is available, do drop me a line at beverly@beverlygray.com 
       Cormanically yours, Beverly]

Years ago, someone was telling me she’d seen Roger Corman in person at a film festival. What surprised her the most is that, on stage in a crowded auditorium, Roger kept nonchalantly puffing away on a big cigar. To me, this made no sense. I’ve never seen Roger smoke, and public rudeness of this sort is not his style. It suddenly dawned on me that she had the wrong man. She’d been in the presence of Sam Arkoff, co-founder of American International Pictures.

Like Roger Corman, Sam Arkoff inspired stories, and I’ve heard many. One of the nicest: he was a total family man, who bragged about shutting the door to the business world when he went home to his family each evening. The house he went home to, though, created a few hard feelings. It was an up-to-the-minute ranch house, built by Arkoff and his wife Slim on a Studio City hillside. One evening when the house was new the Arkoffs invited a longtime employee, Charles Clement, and his wife Shirley to come visit. They gave the Clements a full tour, showing off closets full of clothes and many state-of-the-art design features. Then Arkoff let Charles know that his salary was being trimmed. After all, new houses are expensive.

Another great story involving Arkoff was told to me by Barbara Boyle, who became Roger’s attorney and then his CFO before entering the ranks of Hollywood producers. When she graduated from UCLA Law School, the dean in charge of placement was hard-pressed to find a suitable spot for someone who was female and extremely feisty. One day he informed her of a last-minute interview with a motion picture company looking for a labor negotiator. She was in jeans and sandals with long loose hair, and there was no time to change clothes. At the old Chaplin studio, big gates swung open to admit her. In the waiting room sat three beautiful young women, dressed to the nines, whom she assumed were from east coast law schools. She was very impressed that this company was seeking out a female attorney: “I thought, this is real affirmative action!”

Then she was summoned into the presence of a man with a big cigar, an open shirt, and his feet up on his desk. First thing he said: “Take off your jeans.” Barbara recalls, “I completely flipped out. I’m talkative now. You can imagine how I was when I was twenty-four.” When Arkoff got a word in edgewise, he asked, “Do you ever think you’re wrong about anything? I’m actually auditioning for a beach party picture, and you’re supposed to have a bathing suit on. Who are you supposed to see?”

Somehow she ended up with Arkoff’s respect—and a job that introduced her to the motion picture business and Roger Corman. Roger had Sam Arkoff’s respect too, though not always his friendship. No room here to detail their testy relationship over the years, but at a tribute event, Arkoff praised Roger as “a cautious man with a buck—which made him very good for us because we didn’t have many bucks in those days.” Arkoff then added, “But sometimes he was too cheap, even for AIP.”


  1. fabulous post... that darn theme is ringing in my head and with all the voices it is like a quartet. you have had some fantastic items and stories on your site. i am truly grateful to have found you, i will be that guest that never leaves or turns off the lights from room to room.

    hey what is for dinner?

    Jeremy [Retro]
    AtoZ Challenge Co-Host
    Oh No, Let's Go... Crazy

  2. Be my guest, Jeremy! (I hope you continue to enjoy my posts when I stray from my Roger Corman roots and talk about other aspects of Movieland.)

    For dinner? Hmmmm -- I think it's got to be popcorn.

  3. Thank you so much for the shout out (all of them across the challenge)! You posted a spectacular series this month Ms. G - gained a goodly number of new followers - and made us Cormanies blissfully happy - is Disneyland in your future? ;)

    I've always enjoyed stories of Sam Arkoff - almost the prototype for the cigar chomping movie producer - the kind of guy who watches a rough cut of his new softcore T_A flick, then mutters around his stogie "Needs more t**s in it!" I love someone mistaking Mr. Corman for Mr. Arkoff - as they couldn't be much more different physically (at least I think they couldn't) - I've always pictured Mr. A as relatively short and blocky - compared to Mr. C's lanky and tall build...

    In any case - congratulations on completing the April 2013 A-Z Blogging Challenge! I hope you enjoyed it - and that you're already thinking about 2014's?

  4. Unfortunately, yes! Though this has been somewhat grueling, I can't stop myself from thinking ahead to next year's challenge!

  5. Hi Pamela! So glad you dropped by. This first Arkoff encounter obviously meant a good deal to Barbara, because she described it to me on three separate occasions. Who could blame her? Personally, I'll never forget my first meeting with Roger Corman, which ended up as the introductory anecdote in my Corman biography. Then there was my LAST meeting with Roger . . . but that's another story . . .

  6. The Zarkoff/lawyer story is hilarious. The AIP movies have a certain quality about them that when you watch them, you get the feeling you're watching an AIP movie without having seen the logo at the beginning. Ditto for the New World Pictures. Lovely stories as always, and a nice balance of the personalities of the individual subjects.

  7. Thanks so much, Brian. And welcome back to Movieland!

  8. You're very welcome, Beverly. I have quite a journey to make it to the letter 'A'. But no doubt an informative, and enlightening one. :)

  9. Well, I do hope you enjoy your journey.