“Might as well do this now, I don’t know how much longer I’ve got left,” jokes Sid Pink. Heralded as one of the industry’s most daring, innovative and overlooked writer/director/producers, Sidney Pink sits back in his Florida home not even hinting that the man behind Angry Red Planet (1959), Journey to the Seventh Planet (1962), Bwana Devil (1950) and Reptilicus (1961) is anything but your average retiree. As one of the first truly successful independent film producers in the United States and abroad, Sid Pink is in a league all his own.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 1936 with a degree in business administration, Pink traveled to the starry-eyed land of Hollywood. He eventually landed a job as Production Budget Manager with Phil Krasne’s Grand National Pictures. While there, Pink worked with the great James Cagney and Tex Ritter. His first production for Grand National, and with James Cagney, was Something to Sing About (1937). “I learned a great deal from Jimmy Cagney. He was an “Old Show Business” kind of guyÃ¢Â?Â¦ undefeatable. He taught me things at Grand National that I used up until my last few pictures.” When Cagney resigned from Grand National, the ship was quickly sinking and Pink found work as a Production Manager with Harry Cohn’s Columbia Pictures. Pink created the Production Budget Department at Columbia that would keep track of the production budget on every picture, with a detailed report delivered to Cohn everyday. Cohn, a notorious blow-hard that treated people like dirt, called Pink into his office one day and threw a tantrum concerning the latest budget report (that Pink had not gotten to review yet). “In my own colorful language, I proceeded to tell Cohn off. He shut his mouth and stared at me while I outyelled him. By the time I got to the second floor I was met at my office with my paycheck and my employee pass was pulled.” Pink said goodbye to Columbia Pictures and Harry Cohn over a misplaced decimal point. Pink stayed out of filmmaking until 1950, and then came back with a vengeance. He made Bwana Devil, with Robert Stack, the world’s first 3-D color movie. This would be just the tip of the iceberg for Sid Pink’s role as a “film innovator.”
Always, “Ã¢Â?Â¦fascinated with science-fiction,” Pink penned one of the most highly regarded science fiction epics of the fifties, namely, Angry Red Planet. Using a process called Cinemagic, Pink became the first director in the history of motion pictures to attempt to bring a viewing audience to the surface of a planet.
“It [Angry Red Planet] was written on my kitchen table. My kids were my critics, they’d tell me what was good and what just fell flat!” Eventually, Pink had enough “good” material to go into pre-production. Written, produced, directed and completely financed by Pink, the best that they were hoping for was to break even. He and his production partners were very pleasantly surprised.
“The damn Cinemagic didn’t work like it should. It was supposed to be sort of a 3-D effect. What we came up with was great anyway!” Essentially, the Cinemagic process flipped the positive and negative on the film. What would normally be a black image became a white image and vice versa. This effects process was used every time the astronauts visited the planet of Mars to a startling effect. It makes the planetside visits look completely surreal. Layered with a red tint, the audience could almost expect to be on a different planet. “From the checks I still seem to be getting, the picture is still playing. I read recently that it was on American Movie Classics, on cable.” Angry was released by American International Pictures headed up by the notorious Sam Arkoff.
“Arkoff and I had a working relationship. Neither of us trusted the otherÃ¢Â?Â¦ which worked out well because I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. Jimmy Nicholson was the brains of that operation. With Arkoff, you never got a straight count.” Although Angry Red Planet was a great success by independent standards, Pink never really got the return on the picture that would have been his due with normal, non-Hollywood, accounting.
Pink left sci-fi for a while, but then made a distinct return with Journey to the Seventh Planet. “Journey was a delight for me. For the first time I was able to do exactly what I thought needed be done, without other approvals. As the author, director and producer, my only limitation was my pocketbook and my imagination.” Journey went into production before Pink’s other sci-fi/monster films (Angry and Reptilicus) had begun to make any money. Still in Denmark from a previous production, Pink decided to film there with the $75,000 in his account. The first problem that Journey ran into was the spaceship set. “How do you build a spaceship in a country that scoffs at the very idea of it? That’s where my burlesque stage experience came in very handy.” Pink placed a few grills in the walls, gathered a few sound meters from his sound technician and posted “Starboard” and “Port Atomic Engine” signs in the room. Instant starship.
“The idea for the story [of Journey] came from a theory I had read, that the human brain is so complex and vast in its potential that no human has ever been able to use more than twenty percent of its capacity… I love that story and regret to this day that I didn’t nurture it more and give it the kind of budget and production values it really deserved. To my dying day I shall maintain that Journey was and is a great sci-fi story, and at the considerable risk of being called egotistical, I must assert that the rip-offs of my story only help to prove its universality and fascination. I have seen the Star Trek cycle succeed with less worthy scripts.”
Pink’s, “hobby of science fiction” took him from a little hamlet in Denmark to Mars, Uranus and to the center of the earth with Reptilicus (“a real monster of a picture, no pun intended”).
Pink followed Journey with a score of highly regarded films including The Castilian (1962, with Ceasar Romero), Reptilicus (still playing today on television, and a prestige format screenplay book has just been released with some great never-before-seen pictures), Madigan’s Millions (1968, having the dubious honor of being Dustin Hoffman’s first film work) and The Man from O.R.G.Y. (1970, Sid Pink’s disastrous, and only, “attempt at sex,” on film) among many others. Pink has also written an autobiography, titled So You Want to Make Movies: My Life as an Independent Film Producer, which was published in 1989 by Pineapple Press, Inc. and is still available. Currently Sidney Pink is, “enjoying his retirement,” and, “occasionally makes it out to a couple conventions a year.” And, just to stay on the top of his game, Pink writes weekly and monthly columns for The Brauerd County News, in Florida, and The Senior News.
Sadly, Sidney Pink passed away late in 2002 before the publication of this article. He will be fondly remembered for his contribution to the film industry.