Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Sidney's last movies and Margaret Lee's arrest

My Life As An Independent Film Producer
by Sidney Pink

[Away from Westinghouse, Sidney prepared his next project. He had a script by John Melson called IF THE SHROUD FITS with which he sought to interest singer Tony Bennett in making his motion picture acting debut. Bennett eventually passed on the project. Sidney then offered the female lead in SHROUD to Anita Ekberg, with whom Sidney almost made a film called GOLD LOVERS with Barry Sullivan and Broderick Crawford before the Westinghouse deal. Anita accepted.]

The package I was selling was the Melson script and Anita Ekberg plus two other name actors. I needed financing for the picture, but I did not go to Larry Meyers or Sol Jeffe for help. I owed them enough on the Westinghouse deal to keep them busy collecting receipts for a long while. Peter Gettinger introduced me to Stanley Abrams, the son of the founder of Emerson Electronics, who had the itch to be a producer. We negotiated a deal to form a new company that would produce SHROUD as an American-Italian coproduction in Spain, and Stanley lent the company the money to finance the production. He and his wife joined us in Madrid and the picture was shot in Torremolinos...
Anita's co-stars in our film were John Richardson, an English actor who was a popular star of Italian pictures, and Margaret Lee, an English girl who achieved Italian nationality by marrying an Italian politician. Margaret, a petit blonde, gained box-office stardom in two Italian pictures. We rounded out the cast with Fernando Rey playing the effeminate villain in a most astounding performance.
I made my last directorial effort on this picture. We changed the title to CANDIDATE FOR A KILLING, and it was a well-made picture that suffered the same fate as the others of its ilk. There was no longer any room in the movie world for this type of picture, and it founds its niche on TV on the late-late show. But Margaret Lee made history for us by being arrested by Spanish customs officials, and she was in jail for five days before we found her.
It's a story worth telling. Margaret was a hashish user, and when she ran out of it, she journeyed to Tangier on a Sunday to replenish her supply. Margaret was such a beautiful, innocent-looking girl she could get away with anything, but her cupidity betrayed her. She was almost through customs when an inspector noticed she had two cartons of Winstons under her arm. Cigarettes were the one thing the Spanish were meticulous about in collecting duty - it was actually the only import they looked for. The Spanish tobacco industry was heavily protected by government tariffs, and I think diamonds would have been more easily overlooked. Margaret knew that by simply paying the five dollars duty she would have no problem, but she wanted to save herself the five dollars by walking through with the cigarettes unconcealed. If she were caught, she could always say she forgot, and by not concealing them she would not get in trouble.
The scheme worked almost as she planned except for an overly polite customs officer who took the cigarettes to help her to the duty office. He noticed the two cartons were inordinately light for cigarettes, and upon opening the package and checking the hard-pack boxes he found twenty packets filled with enough hashish to keep the city of Rome high for two weeks. Margaret was immediately taken into custody, thrown into the Algeciras pokey, and left there until the busy magistrates could get around to trying her.
When Margaret didn't show up for work on Monday, we began looking for her. It took two days and 5,000 pesetas in bribes to find her. A report that a blond American had been arrested and a sketchy description that could fit Margaret prompted us to call Madrid. Juice applied in the right places brought us to the judge who would hear her case. With the exchange of some under-the-table Spanish green, we were able to get Margaret released without her passports but with permission to finish her work in our picture.
I will never forget the women's cell in that Algeciras gaol. The so-called beds were of straw covered with burlap. The roof leaked and the toilet facilities consisted of a ditch dug in the center of the room. The smell of human excrement and the lack of water and washing facilities made us sick. The sight of Margaret in that cell was the most pathetic thing I have ever seen. We got her out of there as fast as we could and she finished the picture.
How she managed it I never learned, but the day after she shot her last scene, she appeared in Rome without her passport or the 150,000 peseta bond put up to guarantee her reappearance. Appartently, she never learned from this experience; she was arrested two years later for a similar offense. Margaret never achieved more than a fleeting recognition in the world of film.
We finished CANDIDATE FOR A KILLING on time and below budget and turned it over to Stanley. That was my last directorial effort, and, for that matter, my last conventional film. I returned to the States determined to try something I thought I never would, making a sex picture. I realized that the old saying "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em" had to hold some truth, so I decided to join 'em. The vehicle I chose was the paperback series of tongue-in-cheek sex spoofs, THE MAN FROM O.R.G.Y.

[Sidney ended up making his one-and-only X-rated film in Puerto Rico. Settling there, he created Commonwealth Commercial Productions, which made TV and radio commercials as well as documentaries. After six years, he closed that company and built 16 movie theaters in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas. Eventually he retired and wrote SO YOU WANT TO MAKE MOVIES.]

I guess I really have had it all, for now that I think of it, in my efforts to make a great picture, I ahve had the good fortune to succeed by proxy. The man to whom I taught the principles of movie production, the man I regard almost as a second son, proved that if nothing else I was a good teacher. I am referring to my friend and student Arnold Kopelson, who in producing the movie PLATOON, presented the world with a truly great achievement in moviemaking. His peers agreed, and he was awarded an Oscar for that film.

[Sidney Pink died on October 12, 2002 in Pompano Beach, Florida after a long illness. A short interview with him can be found on the Troma DVD for PYRO, during which he again commented about how much he disliked working with Westinghouse.]

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