Monday, September 1, 2014

Who Ya Gonna Call?: A Labor Day Salute to Saul Saladow

Everybody knows George Clooney. And nearly everyone recognizes the name and face of Steven Spielberg. But Hollywood is also full of worker bees who get little glory. They’re not in it for the golden statuettes or fat paychecks, but rather for the excitement of making movies. On Labor Day, I salute them.

Actor Van Heflin once said, “If you really love the business, you can find a way to survive in it. You may not be an actor, but you can do something.” That’s exactly what happened with Saul Saladow. Saul, a buddy of mine at L.A.’s Hamilton High School, found a home in the school’s drama department. He later earned a theatre degree at Cal State Northridge, but it was clear he wasn’t cut out to be an actor. (As a one-time scene partner of Saul’s, I can vouch for that!) Post-graduation, he got a gig at Warner Bros. as a bicycle delivery boy. One day there was an opening in the editorial department for someone able to file trims: claiming more experience than he actually had, he went to work, learning film editing on the job.

Saul’s talent for organizing stood him in good stead, as did his firm dedication to his craft. Eventually he was hired by producer-director Ivan Reitman, with whom – over a period of three decades -- he made such films as Ghostbusterswhich is now enjoying its 30th anniversary re-release. While in production he often worked fourteen-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. He’s also had the odd experience of flying films to New York, in order to screen them for individual big-name critics. Studio brass demanded that the precious film canisters to be accompanied at all times. So they’d pay for two first-class seats: one for Saul, one for the movie. (No, he didn’t have to lug it into the aircraft’s lavatory when nature called.)

Though his job left little time for an active social life, Saul wasn’t about to complain: “I was very well paid, and I loved what I was doing.”  Why did he never rise above the ranks of assistant editor? He feels he simply lacked the drive and the self-confidence to interact with directors, who often turn into General Patton in the editing room. If you’re the top editor on a big project, you can’t allow yourself to be intimidated. Furthermore, Saul notes that as someone who’s “not very musical” (I can vouch for that too!), he would have found it hard to work on editing a film’s musical score.

At about age sixty, Saul retired with a comfortable pension. His very last project was Reitman’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006). He would like to have stayed for five or six more years, but the industry was changing so rapidly that it seemed time to leave. The directors for whom he had worked (including Sydney Pollack as well as Reitman) were starting to slow down. And this was the era of the changeover from linear to digital editing: the transition would have required of him massive retraining and a whole new way of thinking about film.

Now that he’s retired, Saul can make time for his many friends. But he’s also managed to hold onto his love of drama. He’s a dedicated play-goer, and for decades he’s been active with a community group in Santa Monica, the Morgan-Wixson Theatre. Though he’s long since stopped trying to be an actor, Saul now produces individual shows and serves on the board as executive vice-president. When I caught his recent production of Avenue Q, he was happily taking tickets and selling candy. Yes, he’s home.

A belated postscript:  Saul would like it to be known that he does far more than sell candy. Though he sometimes does help out behind the Morgan-Wixson Theatre's concessions counter, he's officially Vice President of Front of House, and along with the other five executives he administers a non-profit organization with an annual quarter-million-dollar budget. He also notes that in the movie Dave it is HIS voice you hear saying, "Mr. President, slip your arms in here and the machine will do everything your arms do," when Kevin Kline visits an automotive plant. Adds Saul, "I would much rather be remembered for this then selling candy."  


  1. I don't blame him! As one of those former small cogs - I salute Mr. Saladow - love stories where people feign experience to get the job - but then learn the job and do the job. I wish he'd gotten at least another year in - just so his last film worked on wasn't the mediocre My Super Ex-Girlfriend.

    1. See below, Mr. Craig, for more details about Saul's career -- he was too modest to tell me some of this.

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  3. Having known Saul for the last 48 years, I can vouch for the verity of most of this story. Beverly left out a very important detail: Saul Saladow is the most loyal and the best friend anyone could ever dream of. We met in college. He was an usher at my first wedding and a few years later beat my mother to the hospital when my son was born. Cameron and his two girls have always known him as uncle Saul. A bachelor, Saul is dedicated to his two nieces, Kirsten and Samantha., as well as all his friends children, who also refer to him as "uncle Saul." His generosity is embarrassing. He was best man at my second wedding. We danced at weddings and Bar-mitzvas and cried at funerals together. He has always been there when I needed someone to talk to and has very seldom been judgmental. By the way: I don't think Saul ever pretended to know something he didn't. Over forty years ago, the then head of personnel at Warner-Brothers loved him at first sight and hired him. Soon after, despite working as a "gofer", Saul earned the respect of many in the studio, who then gave him a chance. Ivan Reitman was just ONE of the many editors Saul worked with. He was favored by Sheldon Kahn, including work on "Out of Africa", which earned Mr. Kahn an Academy Award Nomination, and he also worked with Wendy Bricmont and did some work for Steven Spielberg.
    Saul has done well; but he would be no different if he "only sold candy at a concession stand."

  4. Many thanks, Veronica, for adding to my portrait of Saul. I'm so glad to be back in touch with him after so many years, and I appreciate your filling in some of the details I missed.

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