Continued from Part 1

More articles by Phillip López Jiménez

It’s 1957 and Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson are off and running with their new studio American International Pictures and the success with their low budget horror, sci-fi and westerns, often directed by young filmmaker Roger Corman, are keeping them in the game; but a new film would insure their future as moguls. ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’.

James Nicholson came up with the title, I always thought of it as a riff of Mickey Spillane’s ‘I, The Jury’ which had come out ten years earlier but I couldn’t find any verification on it. With titles and poster art always coming first at AIP, they decided to test market the title with people they trusted. Sam’s wife loved it but suggested not to use it. Various theater exhibitors liked it as well but were concerned, there had never been a horror picture with word Teenage in it let alone a horror picture about teenager. If you think about it they were quite right, the Universal Monsters were all adults, Lugosi was 50 when he played Dracula!

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Sam and James decided to go with it anyway. They announced the film in the trades and it instantly got attention. Newspapers and magazines wanted to know what this absurd title was all about. They were already getting millions of free publicity for a low budget horror film that had yet to be cast or written!

Michael Landon and Co-Star Yvonne Lime

Respected film editor Gene Fowler Jr. would make his directorial debut. Fowler cut Fritz Lang’s noir pictures like ‘Hangmen Also Die’, ‘Woman In The Window’ and would later cut ‘It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad World’, Clint Eastwood’s ‘Hang ‘em High’ and 80’s comedy ‘Caveman’.

Casting calls went out a every young and up and coming actor auditioned for it, a very young Jack Nicholson was on the top of the list, but the role of the titular hairy beast would go to former bed wetter and future purveyor of family values, 22 year old, newly married, Eugene Maurice Orowitz aka, Michael Landon for a whopping $1000 bucks!

The picture was lensed in six days, yes, six days, by Oscar winning cinematographer Joseph LaShelle! Winner in 1945 for Best Black & White Cinematography of Otto Preminger’s ‘Laura’. In 1957 the Studio system was at the crux of it’s downfall, and technicians like LaShelle were no longer under contract and were taking anything they could get.

‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’ would be released on June 19, 1957 as part of a double feature with ‘Invasion of The Saucer Men’ and would become one of the biggest hits of the year, ranking in at #11 just behind Hammer’s ‘Curse of Frankenstein’ and Elvis’ ‘Jailhouse Rock’. The top spot went to ‘Bridge on River Kwai’. This really marks the year when the teen audience really began to matter. The picture vastly outgrossed that year such classic films as ‘3:10 To Yuma’, ‘An Affair To Remember’, Fellini’s ‘Nights of Cabiria’, and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Paths of Glory’. The picture’s title became a running gag for comics on TV and became an instant classic. Now, the little Indie upstart was taking business away from the majors. Filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock were upset that audience’s would rather see these rubbery monster films that AIP and Hitchcock’s close friend William Castle were making. He then decided to make his own low budget horror picture for the teen market called none other than ‘Psycho’, but that’s another story.

Like EC Horror Comics, Elvis Presley and ‘Rock N Roll’, AIP’s pictures were now part of the juvenile delinquency problem. Illinois Senator Paul Douglas wrote in a letter to Sam: “The Kind of picture you have made in ‘I Was A Teenage Werewolf’ is of considerable concern to me. At a time of juvenile delinquency, we need the motion picture industry to take a responsible stand in the movies it makes to young audiences, rather than making movies that are scandalous and immoral.” The major studios also joined in on the bashing. At a luncheon for exhibitors sponsored by AIP, 20th Century Fox writer/producer Jerry Wald who was very aware of some of the negative press AIP were getting on juvenile delinquency, started speaking against them. Arkoff, always sure of himself, handed him the mic. Wald continued with his diatribe urging the exhibitors to not show AIP’s pictures. Arkoff’s retort was calling him a hypocrite since the current Fox picture was ‘Peyton Place’ which is filled with rape, murder, incest and more debauchery.

(Left) Playboy’s Miss May 1957 Dawn Richard (Right) Dawn Richard brings out the beast in Michael Landon in I Was A Teenage Werewolf.

Teenage Werewolf has always been a favorite picture of mine. When I was a kid I would always include it in my top ten, now I’d rank it somewhere in my top twenty. It’s a moody piece that speaks to young people about the timeless problems of young people everywhere at a visceral level that most people can relate too and still be entertaining and scary without being preachy. It has great cinematography, a cool jazz soundtrack by Paul Dunlap, beautiful Dawn Richard Playboy’s Miss May 1957 who plays a gymnast in what is perhaps its best scene, and a fun song dance number by actor Kenny Miller.

AIP would continue to exploit their “I was a…” title with pictures like ‘I Was a Teenage Frankenstein’, though it implies that the creation is named Frankenstein but no matter, ‘I Was A Teenage Caveman’, they ended up dropping the “I was” on that one as well as ‘Blood of Dracula’, which could be called ‘I Was A Teenage Dracula’ and finally they brought Wolfy and Franky together with ‘How To Make A Monster’.

Next Roger Corman goes Gothic, and AIP goes to the Beach!

-Phillip López Jiménez

Sources: Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat of My Pants by Samuel Z. Arkoff
How I Made A Hundred Pictures and Never Lost A Dime by Roger Corman
Roger Corman Metaphysics On A Shoe String by Alain Silver and James Ursini