More articles by Phillip López Jiménez

In 1954 Lawyer Samuel Z. Arkoff met with filmmaker Edward D. Wood Jr. who was in dire need of funds to complete his picture ‘Bride of The Atom’. Arkoff would cough up money to struggling Indie filmmakers in exchange for the rights to their films. These deals worked out financially well for Arkoff but not the filmmakers. As always it didn’t work out too well for Ed Wood Jr. Not only did he lose financial interest in the picture, he lost something else, a dream. Ed Wood had a vision. But unlike his visions for films, this idea was actually a good one. His vision was to start a production studio that would cater to the then-burgeoning new movie audience…the teenager. That meant Horror and sci-fi pictures. He shared this idea with Arkoff who listened and then put it in the back of his mind.

The title for Ed’s picture was changed from ‘Bride of the Atom’ to ‘Bride of The Monster’ and contrary to the 1994 Tim Burton film based on the life of Ed Wood, ‘Bride of The Monster’ actually made quite a bit of money…for Arkoff. Arkoff noticed that much of the money came from teenagers at the Drive-ins, hmmm.

1951 Realart re-release poster

One day Arkoff paid a visit Realart Pictures Inc. because they had owed him money. Realart Pictures at the time would re-release The Universal Monster films to great success. The arguing was heard outside the office by James H. Nicholson a one-time theater exhibitor and now Creative Director for Realart Pictures. After Arkoff left, with the monies owed him, Nicholson chased him down saying, “I don’t know how you pried the money out of the old man, but I want to be in business with you! With my knowledge of exhibition and your lawyer’s skills, we should do well”.

(In 1948 the Supreme Court’s Paramount Consent decree broke the stranglehold the studios had on distribution and exhibition, some theaters would keep the names such as The Fox or Warner’s etc but they were no longer controlled by them.)

The two then met for dinner and exchanged ideas. I imagine it went something like this…

Arkoff: “I have this wonderful idea of starting a studio that caters to the teen market. Now that the studios no longer have a monopoly on movie theaters we can make a killing on these pictures.”

Nicholson replied “Are you kidding? Realart made a ton of money with these horror re-releases and it’s all in the marketing. If we can produce beautiful posters we could sell the movie and book the theater before one frame of film is even shot!”

Arkoff: “I just made a lot of dough on this little horror picture ‘Bride of The Monster’, we can use those funds to start our company!”

Of course Ed was left out of that conversation. But then again, Ed Wood is now a household name and he did have a big budget Tim Burton picture made about him starring Johnny Depp! So until Sam Arkoff has Brad Pitt playing him in a film, I think ol’ Ed did alright!

Arkoff and Nicholson would start out distributing films first, but ultimately they really needed to produce their own. Enter a young man from Los Angeles. Stanford educated on the GI Bill with an Industrial Engineering degree who also had a budding interest in cinema, Roger Corman.


Corman got his start as a messenger, script reader, and eventually story analyst for Fox, but decided to strike out on his own. Starting out as a producer he raised money and produced ‘Highway Dragnet’ and ‘Monster From The Ocean Floor’. With ‘Five Guns West’ he would add Director to his resume. His next picture would be ‘The Fast and The Furious’ with John Ireland, who only agreed to star if he could also co-direct. It also starred Dorothy Malone and would mark a turning point for Corman. Happy with how it turned out he shopped it around town to Columbia, United Artists, and others until he met two unassuming guys who were trying to start a studio.

James Nicholson, who was just about to leave his gig at Realart, and Sam Arkoff liked what they saw. They agreed to pay Corman the negative cost on his picture. Nicholson and Arkoff also agreed to distribute the film and give Corman funds for his other pictures. They signed a three picture deal with Corman and ‘The Fast and The Furious’ would be American Releasing Corporation’s first picture!

One year later in 1956 the name would change to ‘American International Pictures’

Now that Corman no longer need to worry about raising funds he could concentrate on producing and directing, and that is just what he did. In five years he banged out 26 pictures most of which were distributed through AIP!

Pictures like ‘It Conquered The World’, ‘The Little Shop Of Horrors’ featuring a young Jack Nicholson, ‘The Oklahoma Woman’, ‘Attack of The Crab Monsters’, ‘Not Of This Earth’, ‘Rock All Night’ just to name a few.

One of the things that really set AIP apart from the big studios was their marketing campaigns! Most studios in the 50s turned to big time ad agencies to produce their movie posters, lobby cards, and other ephemera. AIP did things differently. James Nicholson, with a suggestion by Roger Corman, choose Albert Kallis to be art director and worked on their poster campaigns and even designed their logo. (Kallis later helped co-found the Restaurant IHOP). Other artists included Reynold Brown who was well known for his iconic poster of ‘Attack of the 50 foot Woman’.

Often Nicholson would throw out titles to Arkoff, one title in particular was so ridiculous Arkoff thought Nicholson completely lost it, but they went with it anyway. The picture was ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’. This is the picture that would really get them noticed.

-Phillip López Jiménez

Continued in Part 2

Sources: Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat of My Pants by Samuel Z. Arkoff
Nightmare of Ecstasy: The Life of Ed D Wood Jr.
How I Made Over A Hundred Movies and Never Lost A Dime.

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