Robert L. Lippert

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Robert L. Lippert
Robert L. Lippert.jpg
BornMarch 31, 1909
Alameda, California, United States
DiedNovember 16, 1976(1976-11-16) (aged 67)
Oakland, California, United States
Occupation Film producer, cinema chain owner

Robert Lenard Lippert (March 31, 1909 – November 16, 1976) was an American film producer and cinema chain owner. He was president and chief operating officer of Lippert Theatres, Affiliated Theatres and Transcontinental Theatres, all based in San Francisco, and at his height, he owned a chain of 139 movie theaters. [1]


He helped finance more than 300 films, including the directorial debuts of Sam Fuller, James Clavell, and Burt Kennedy. His films include I Shot Jesse James (1949) and The Fly (1958) and was known as "King of the Bs".

In 1962, Lippert said, "the word around Hollywood is: Lippert makes a lot of cheap pictures but he's never made a stinker". [2]


Born in San Francisco, California and adopted by the owner of a hardware store, Robert Lippert became fascinated by the cinema at an early age. As a youngster, he worked a variety of jobs in local theaters, including projectionist and assistant manager. As a manager of a cinema during the Depression, Lippert encouraged regular attendance with promotions such as "Dish Night" and "Book Night."

Lippert went from cinema manager to owning a chain of cinemas in Alameda, California in 1942, [1] during the peak years of theater attendance. [3] Lippert's theaters in Los Angeles adopted a "grind house" policy, screening older and cheaper films for a continuous 24 hours with an admission price of 25 cents. Not only did his theaters attract shift workers and late-night revelers, but also servicemen on leave who could not find cheap accommodations and would sleep in the chairs. [4]

In May 1948, he merged his theater chain with George Mann's. [5] He also owned a number of drive-ins. [6] The 139 theaters he eventually owned were mostly in Northern California and southern Oregon, as well as some in Southern California and Arizona. [1]

Screen Guild Productions

"Every theater owner thinks he can make pictures better than the ones they sent him," Lippert later said. "So back in 1943, I tried it". [2] Dissatisfied with what he believed to be exorbitant rental fees charged by major studios, Lippert formed Screen Guild Productions in 1945, its first release being a Bob Steele western called Wildfire , filmed in then-unusual Cinecolor. [7] Veteran producer Edward Finney partnered with Lippert in 1946.

For the next few years Screen Guild entered into agreements with independent producers Finney, William Berke, William David, Jack Schwarz, Walter Colmes, and Ron Ormond to guarantee a steady supply of releases. [8] One of the most controversial Screen Guild releases was The Burning Cross (1947), which concerned the Ku Klux Klan. [9]

Lippert Pictures

Screen Guild became Lippert Pictures in 1948, using rental stages and the Corriganville Movie Ranch for the production of its films. 130 Lippert features were made and released between 1948 and 1955.

Lippert's fortunes and reputation improved when he sponsored screenwriter and former newspaper reporter Samuel Fuller. Fuller wanted to become a director, so he agreed to direct the three films he had been contracted to write for Lippert: I Shot Jesse James , The Baron of Arizona and The Steel Helmet , all for no extra money, accepting just the directing credit. [10] The Fuller films received excellent reviews.

A 1949 New York Times profile said Lippert owned 61 theaters. It also reported (erroneously) that he had directed most of the Westerns his company had made. [11]

Lippert tried to add luster to his productions, but only if it could be done economically. His studio became a haven for actors whose careers were interrupted when their studios, no longer making lower-budget pictures, released them from their contracts. Robert Lippert was able to sign major-studio talent for a fraction of the usual rate, giving his productions more marquee value. Among the established names who worked for Lippert were George Raft, Veronica Lake, Zachary Scott, Robert Hutton, Joan Leslie, Cesar Romero, George Reeves, Ralph Byrd, Richard Arlen, Don "Red" Barry, Robert Alda, Gloria Jean, Sabu, Ellen Drew, Preston Foster, Jean Porter, Anne Gwynne, Jack Holt, Hugh Beaumont, Tom Neal, Robert Lowery, and John Howard.

Lippert maintained a small stock company of supporting actors, including Margia Dean, Mara Lynn, Don Castle, and Reed Hadley. Lippert's most ubiquitous actor was probably the diminutive Sid Melton. He appeared as a supporting comedian in many of Lippert's productions and starred in three hour-long comedies.

The "name" cast ensembles were only part of Lippert's successful formula. Other selling angles were realized when certain of Lippert's features could be marketed in a process more elaborate than ordinary black-and-white. Lippert used Cinecolor and sepiatone to dress up his more ambitious features, and embellished others by using tinted film stock for special effects (mint green for Lost Continent , pinkish red-sepia for the Mars sequences in Rocketship X-M ). He even anticipated the 3-D film craze by publicizing a special photographic lens, which he claimed gave a stereoscopic effect without special projection equipment.

In addition to his original productions, Lippert reissued older films to theaters under his own brand name, including several Hopalong Cassidy westerns and the Laurel and Hardy feature Babes in Toyland (reissued as March of the Wooden Soldiers).

Lippert read a 1949 Life magazine article about a proposed trip to and landing on the Moon. He rushed into production his version called Rocketship X-M, released a year later in 1950; he changed the film's destination to Mars to avoid copying exactly the same idea being utilized by producer George Pal in his large-budget, high-profile Destination Moon . Rocketship X-M succeeded in becoming the first post-war science fiction outer space drama to appear in theaters, but only by 20 days, while capitalizing on all the publicity surrounding the Pal film. More importantly, it became the first feature film drama to warn of the dangers and folly of full-scale atomic war.

Dealings and disputes with trade unions

In 1951, Lippert was anxious to sell his films to television. The American Federation of Musicians became involved, and Lippert had to rescore some of the films and pay an amount to the musicians' music fund. [12] [13]

Also in 1951, he clashed with the Screen Actors Guild when he sold his films to television. [14] He was blackballed by the Guild, as a result. [15] [16] He was going to make films for television with Hal Roach, Jr., but problems with the Screen Actors Guild led to their cancellation. He ended up making only two, Tales of Robin Hood and Present Arms (released as As You Were). [17] |In October 1951, Lippert signed a three-picture deal with the recently blacklisted Carl Foreman. [18] He also signed a two-picture deal with blacklisted Paul Henreid [19] but no films appear to have resulted. In 1951, he entered into an arrangement with Famous Artist Corporation to make features with their talent. [20] By January 1952, however, the SAG dispute had not been resolved and Lippert announced he was leaving film production. [21] [22]

Hammer Films

In 1951, Lippert signed a four-year production and distribution contract with the British company Hammer Films by which Lippert would distribute Hammer movies in America, and Hammer would distribute Lippert's films in the UK. To ensure familiarity with American audiences, Lippert insisted on an American star supplied by him in the Hammer films he was to distribute. The first film produced under the contract was The Last Page , [23] which starred George Brent

20th Century-Fox

Regal Pictures

When Darryl F. Zanuck announced his CinemaScope process, he faced hostility from many theater owners who had gone to great expense to convert their theaters to show 3-D films that Hollywood had stopped making. Zanuck assured them that they could have a large supply of CinemaScope product because Fox would make CinemaScope lenses available to other film companies and start a production unit, led by Lippert, called Regal Pictures in 1956 to produce B pictures in that process.

Lippert's company was contracted to make 20 pictures a year for seven years, each to be shot in seven days for no more than $100,000. Due to Lippert's problems with the film unions over not paying residuals to actors and writers of his films when they were sold to television, Ed Baumgarten was officially appointed the head of Regal, but Lippert had overall control. [24] [25] Regal Pictures filmed its movies with CinemaScope lenses, but due to 20th Century-Fox insisting that only its "A" films would be labelled CinemaScope, Regal's product used the term "Regalscope" in its films' credits. [26]

Beginning with Stagecoach to Fury (1956), Regal produced 25 pictures in its first year. [27] [7]

Maury Dexter, who worked at Regal, later recalled the outfit's productions were all shot at independent sound stages because they could not afford to shoot at 20th Century Fox, due to the high cost of rental and overhead they charged. The films were entirely financed and released by Fox, but Regal was independent. Dexter says "the only stipulation production-wise was that we had to give Bausch and Lomb screen credit on each film for CinemaScope camera lenses, as well as being charged back to Fox, $3,000 of each budget. [28]

Impressed by the unit's profits, Fox extended Regal's contract by a further 16 films with an "exploitation angle" that would be approved by Fox. [29]

In November 1957, Regal announced that they would make ten films in three months. [30]

Regal made a deal with actors and directors to play them a percentage of any money from the sale of films to television. It did not make a deal with writers, and the Screenwriters Guild forbade its writers to work for Lippert. Regal stopped making films.

In 1960, Lippert sold 30 Regal films to television for $1 million. [31]

In October 1958, a new company was formed by Lippert, Regal Films, to make one a month low budget films for Fox, starting with Alaskan Highway . The company was headed by George Warren, a cost controller for MGM, with William Magginetti as production supervisor and Harry Spaulding as story editor. Lippert was described as being "associated" with the company. [32]

"We use hack writers or new writers and beat-up faces or new faces", he said later. "No, I don't direct any of them. I wouldn't be a director for anything. No wonder they all have ulcers." [2]

Associated Producers Incorporated

In 1959, Lippert renamed Regal as Associated Producers Incorporated (API) to make more low-budget films for double features [33] (API having similar initials to exploitation specialist American International Pictures may have been coincidental).

The core of API was Harry Spalding and Maury Dexter. All API's productions were done in-house.

In October 1959, Lippert said making "little Bs" for $100,000 was no longer as lucrative because "it is now in the same category as the short TV feature which people can see for free." [34] He persuaded Fox to start financing his films up to $300,000 and a shooting schedule of around 15 days starting with The Sad Horse . [34]

"I have an angle on everything", he said in 1960, adding that he found it profitable to focus on small towns and country areas. "There's a lot of money in sticks." [35]

In 1962, Lippert criticized Hollywood for the "slow suicide" in movie going, blaming involvement of New York bankers in creative matters, inflated overhead, union featherbedding and obsolete theaters. [36]

"The economics of this business have gone cock-eyed", he added. "The total gross of pictures has dropped from 20-30% and the costs have doubled. It's nuts." [2] By this stage, he estimated that he had made "about 300 films" including 100 for Fox in five years. "One year, I made 26, more than the rest of the studios." [2]

"Most Bs cost $100,000 or $200,000", he said. "We shoot them in six or seven days. There's hardly any re-shooting. Unless something is glaringly wrong, we let 'em go. What the hell, people don't care. They want to be entertained. I've heard people coming out of my theaters after seeing a double bill that featured a big production, 'Everybody died' or 'How that girl suffered. Thank God for the little picture'." [2]

Lippert said that he wanted to make more Westerns "because they're cheap" but did not because "television had saturated the market." [2]

Faced with increasing production costs in Hollywood, Lippert announced in 1962 that he would be making films in England, Italy ( The Last Man on Earth ), and the Philippines. Fox ended Regal/API when its own production schedule had declined and it didn't have enough "A" features to support its "B" pictures. [37]

Later career

In March 1966, Fox announced that Lippert would return to film production with Country Music. [38]

Lippert's association with Fox ended after 250 films with The Last Shot You Hear that began filming in 1967 but was not released until 1969. [39]

After stopping producing, Lippert doubled his chain of theaters from 70 to 139 and managed them until his death. [1]

Personal life

In 1926, he married Ruth Robinson and they remained married until his death. He has a son, Robert L. Lippert Jr., and a daughter, Judith Ann. [1] His son followed his father into producing and also helping manage the theater chain. [1] Maury Dexter says Lippert had a mistress, Margia Dean, who he would insist appear in Lippert films. [40]


Lippert died of a heart attack, his second, at home in Alameda, California on November 16, 1976. [1] His cremated remains were interred at the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Colma, California.

Select filmography

Produced by Action Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Produced by Affiliated Productions, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Produced by Golden Gate Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Produced by Edward F. Finney Productions, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Produced by Somerset Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Produced by Jack Schwarz Productions, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Distributed only by Screen Guild Productions


'Hopalong Cassidy Westerns'

King of the Turf (1939) (in 1948)


Produced by Ron Ormond for Western Adventure Productions, distributed by Screen Guild Productions

Distributed by Screen Guild and produced by Lippert Productions

Produced by Lippert Productions, distributed by Lippert Productions


Produced by Earle Lyon and Richard Bartlett's L&B Productions, released by Lippert Pictures

Produced by Don Barry Productions, released by Lippert Pictures

Produced by Sigmund Neufeld Productions

Produced by Deputy Corporation

Produced by R and L Productions (Hal Roach, Jr. and Lippert)

International pick-ups

H-N Productions, distributed by Lippert Pictures

Co-productions with Hammer Films

Produced by Associated Film Releasing Corp., Intercontinental Pictures, Inc., distributed by Fox

Produced by Lippert's Regal Films, distributed by 20th Century Fox

Co-productions between Regal Films & Emirau Productions, distributed by Fox

Distributed by 20th Century-Fox, produced as Regal but released as 20th Century-Fox

Produced by Lippert's Associated Producers, distributed by 20th Century Fox

Produced by Princess Production, released by Fox

Produced by Associated Producers but released as a 20th Century-Fox production, released by Fox

Produced by Associated Producers, released in US by American International Pictures

Produced by Capri Production, distributed by 20th Century-Fox

Produced by Lippert Films, distributed by 20th Century-Fox (in England)

Produced by Lippert Films, distributed by Feature Film Corp, made in Philippines

Produced by Lippert Films, distributed by 20th Century-Fox (made in US)

Produced by Jack Parsons-Neil McCallum Productions, filmed in England, released by Paramount

Produced by Jack Parsons-Neil McCallum Productions, filmed in England, released by Fox

Produced by Parroch-McCallum with API, distributed by Paramount, filmed in England

Other Lippert movies distributed by 20th Century-Fox

See also

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