Alex Gordon

Film buff turned producer
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Alex Gordon, film producer: born London 8 September 1922; married 1957 Ruth Alexander; died Los Angeles 24 June 2003.

A specialist in producing low-budget exploitation films, Alex Gordon supplied many to a company noted for such fare, American International Pictures (AIP). His films in the 1950s and 1960s included such titles as Dragstrip Girl, Motorcycle Gang, Shake, Rattle and Rock and Voodoo Woman.

His own film idol was the western star Gene Autry, to whom he devoted much of his professional life. He was vice-president of Autry's Flying A Pictures for many years, and director of licensing for the Gene Autry Music Group. Gordon used to claim that the greatest pleasure he got from producing films was the opportunity to hire the great character actors of the days when he was "just a movie fan".

Born in London in 1922 and educated at Canford School in Dorset, Gordon was hooked on movies from the moment he saw his first film in 1928. He claimed in 1958 that he had seen 20,072 films, including serials and earlier silent films he had caught up with - an average of around 700 films a year. As teenagers, he and his younger brother Richard (who became a successful producer of horror and science-fiction films in England) wrote articles for British fan magazines. In the late Thirties he founded the British Gene Autry Fan Club and, besides being president, he published a club magazine, The Westerner. He was to meet his idol briefly for the first time when Autry toured Britain in 1939.

After serving in the Army from 1942 to 1945, Gordon became head of advertising and publicity for Renown Pictures Corporation. In 1947 he and his brother emigrated to the United States, where he took a job as an agent for the Walter Reade theatre circuit. In 1948 Autry hired him to handle press and publicity and during the following years he travelled with Autry throughout the US, Canada and Britain, publicising the star's personal appearance tours.

In 1954 Alex Gordon executive-produced his first film, The Lawless Rider. Starring Johnny Carpenter, it was a low-budget "B" movie given distinction by its director Yakima Cunutt's vigorous staging of the action sequences. Gordon's first film for release by American Releasing Corporation (which was shortly to become AIP) was Apache Woman (1955), directed by Roger Corman and sold with the slogan, "Call Her Half-Breed and All Hell Breaks Loose!" In most respects an average western, the film is notable for its anti-racist theme and a finale which promises a union between the hero (Lloyd Bridges) and the "apache woman" (Joan Taylor).

Corman also directed The Day the World Ended (1956), the story of seven survivors of a nuclear holocaust whose differences are forgotten when they find themselves threated by three-eyed mutants. The film, the first science-fiction story for both Gordon and Corman, launched AIP successfully. One of its stars was "Touch" Connors (later to find fame as Mike Connors) and he was to star in several other Gordon productions, though today he laughingly acknowledges that he rarely lists them on his CV.

Connors was also in the Gordon productions Shake, Rattle and Rock (1957), a musical pitting youngsters against their parents who condemn rock music, Voodoo Woman (1957), and a western, Flesh and the Spur (1957). Flesh and the Spur benefited from Gordon's affection for older stars, and numbered such western veterans as Kermit Maynard, Raymond Hatton and Keene Duncan in its cast.

Other favourites whose fading careers were boosted by Gordon included Margaret Dumont, Carl "Alfalfa" Switzer, Tom Conway, Chester Morris, Adele Jergens and Bob Steele, though he sometimes met opposition from AIP's co-founder Samuel Z. Arkoff. "I wasn't against them," said Arkoff:

I was just against building a picture around them. When he brought Anna Sten around and used her in Runaway Daughters (1956), he thought that was a great coup. I thought it was a coup de grâce. Nobody in the audience had the slightest idea who she was. She had never been successful, though Sam Goldwyn tried to build her up. She was a nice lady and I had nothing against her, but when Alex wanted to give her top billing . . .

Among other titles Gordon produced for AIP were The She-Creature (1956), in which a hypnotist puts a young woman into a trance, then calls up her prehistoric self from the bottom of the sea, Dragstrip Girl (1957), which exploited the craze for racing "hot-rods" (supercharged cars), and Motorcycle Gang (1957). The last two starred John Ashley, who recalled that when he was signed by AIP, it consisted of three outfits: "Alex Gordon and the writer Lou Rusoff, who was Sam Arkoff's brother-in-law, had a little entity; Herman Cohen had another; and then there was Roger Corman, who had his little company."

Dragstrip Girl and Motorcycle Gang were both remade as television movies in 1994, an example of the cult status the AIP movies have acquired in the last decade. Gordon, though, was becoming increasingly unhappy and left AIP in 1959. "I just wanted out," he said later.

I wasn't getting any money on my percentages on my AIP pictures, and I realised it would go on just like that. Also they expected me to come up with some of the financing for my pictures. I didn't think that I should be responsible for that, because AIP was putting the money that my past AIP pictures had made into pictures that I was not involved with.

There was to be acrimony later when, in 1964, Gordon tried to get an injunction to stop the release of Corman's The Masque of the Red Death, starring Vincent Price. In 1959 he had co-written a script based on the story, long before anyone had shown interest in Edgar Allan Poe films. According to Gordon, Price had agreed to star and, after the script had been offered to other studios, it was left with AIP. The issue was settled out of court by Arkoff, and Gordon later remarked, "I don't blame Roger. I don't think he ever saw my script."

Gordon's later films included Atomic Submarine (1959), inspired by news of the US Navy's first nuclear-powered submarine Nautilus making its historic journey from Alaska to the Greenland Sea. In Gordon's engaging fantasy, his crew has to cope with an underwater flying saucer controlled by a one-eyed tentacled stalk.

His last two films as an independent producer boasted a host of nostalgic names. The Bounty Killer and Requiem for a Gunfighter (both 1965), between them featured Johnny Mack Brown, Buster Crabbe, Tim McCoy, Rand Brooks, Dick Jones, Bob Steele and Fuzzy Knight. The Bounty Killer even had a cameo by "Bronco Billy" Anderson, the silent cowboy star who began his acting career in The Great Train Robbery (1903).

In 1968 Gordon worked in the television section of 20th Century-Fox, where he instituted a film-restoration programme, locating and restoring more than 30 of the studio's early movies that had been considered lost. When he became vice-president of Flying A Pictures for Gene Autry in 1984, he tracked down source material for the preservation and restoration of Autry's 91 feature films, and assembled facts and historical material for inclusion on their DVD releases. He stayed with the organisation until Autry's death in 1998.

Tom Vallance

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