Film Producer Richard Gordon Dies At 85

Richard Gordon – December 31, 1925 – November 1, 2011

Film producer Richard Gordon died on November 1st at New York Presbyterian Hospital after suffering from heart problems over the last six months. He was 85.

Born in London on December 31st, 1925, Richard, “Dick” to all who knew him, shared a life-long love of films with his elder brother, and fellow producer, Alex, who died aged 80 in 2003. While schoolboys, the brothers started fan clubs for their favourite stars, Gene Autry and Buster Crabbe. During World War II, Dick joined the Royal Navy. His knowledge of German, acquired at school, led to him heading a translation and interrogation unit. During his war service, he was still able to indulge his passion by organising film programmes for enlisted men. His particular affection for horror films earned him the nickname “Dracula.”

Dick, Bela and Alex

Courtesy of http://www.moviemonstermuseum.com/

After being demobbed in 1946, the brothers pursued careers in the film industry. While Alex handled publicity at Renown Pictures, a small film distributor which would later move into film production, Dick worked in the publicity department of Pathe Pictures, the distribution arm of Associated British. They supplemented their earnings by writing film reviews and articles, but their opportunities were hampered due to post-war paper shortages, which limited print runs of the fan magazines they were targeting. Realising that their ambition to become film producers were unlikely to be realised in their homeland, they pooled their savings and emigrated to America in November, 1947. Setting up in New York, Dick found work as an assistant sales manager for Jack Hoffberg’s distribution company and freelanced as a representative for several British film outlets, while Alex became a booker for Walter Reade theatres.

Richard Gordon and Bela

Bela and Dick on the set of Mother Riley Meets The Vampire (1951)

They also interviewed film stars for British film magazines. When they learned that Bela Lugosi would appear in a summer stock production of Arsenic and Old Lace in Sea Cliff, twenty miles outside of New York, in August, 1948, they determined to meet and interview him. Lugosi not only consented to the interview, but also invited the brothers to dine with him and his wife at a local restaurant, where he regaled them with stories of his glory days and confided his current career woes. 

Bela, intrigued by the brothers’ talk of his continued popularity in Britain and their contacts within the British film industry, contacted them several months later and asked them to try find him film and theatre work in Britain. He also offered them the opportunity to take over management of his affairs. Alex, having recently started working for his childhood hero, Gene Autry, was too busy to devote his energies to helping Bela, so Dick set to trying to generate interest in Bela in a production of Dracula among West End producers. Despite his growing network of contacts within both the film and theatre industries, Dick found selling Bela and Dracula to British producers to be an almost impossible task. It would not be until 1951 that he was able to negotiate a British revival tour of Dracula and Bela’s appearance in Mother Riley Meets The Vampire. Much to Dick’s consternation, the production of Dracula proved to be fraught with difficulties and failed to secure a planned run in the West End. Whenever he recalled the tour in later life, he would lament his lack of experience at the time and express his frustration at getting Bela involved in what Dick viewed as a disastrous venture.

Dick’s two films with Boris Karloff

Dick had more success with his other enterprises. In 1949 he set up Gordon Films Inc., which imported and distributed British and other foreign films. After moving into setting up co-production deals, Dick decided that “If I was going to do it for somebody else, I could do it myself!” From 1958 he produced a string of films now regarded as cult classics, including Boris Karloff’s The Haunted Strangler and Corridors of Blood, both made in 1958. In the same year he produced Fiend Without a Face, followed in 1959 by First Man Into Space. His last credit as a producer was for Inseminoid in 1981. He continued to run Gordon Films until his death. Dick always remained at heart a film fan who, as his friend, the writer Tom Weaver said, “lived and breathed movies.” In his later years, he became a popular guest at film conventions in America and Britain.

Tom Weaver’s book-length interview with Dick (BearManor Media, 2011)

Despite his feelings about the British tour of Dracula, when Frank Dello Stritto and I wrote the story of 1951 in “Vampire Over London – Bela Lugosi in Britain,” almost 50 years later, he was an enthusiastic collaborator. His memories and his insights were invaluable to our research. Without him, the book would have been much different. Frank last met him in June at this year’s Monster Bash. “He’d had some recent health issues and was using a cane, but he was as alert and witty as ever. It never occurred to me that it would be the last time that I would see him. I wish that I had spent more time with him then.” Summing up his personal feelings, Frank said, “Dick could be mercurial and opinionated, but also caring and funny and generous. All were part of his charm. ‘Charm’ is a carefully chosen word; I saw it in many ways as I came to know him. I was always captivated by him, and I shall miss him.” (Andi Brooks)

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Related articles

My Favorite Vampire by Alex Gordon

1951 British Dracula Tour – Newspaper Articles And Memorabilia

1951 British Dracula Tour – Exclusive Interviews With The Cast & Company

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