Robert L. Lippert (March 31, 1909 – November 10, 1976) was a prolific film producer and cinema owner who eventually owned a chain of 118 theatres.
Born in Alameda, 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 California in 1942, during the peak years of theatre attendance. Lippert's theatres in Los Angeles often screened older films for a continuous 24 hours with an admission price of 25 cents. Not only did his theatres attract shift workers and late-night revellers, but servicemen on leave who could not find cheap accommodation would sleep in the cinema.
Lippert died on November 16, 1976, and his cremated remains were interred at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.
Screen Guild Productions and Lippert Pictures
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, made in Cinecolor.
Screen Guild became Lippert Pictures, Inc. in 1948, using rental stages and the movie ranch known as Corriganville for its films; 130 features were released between 1948 and 1955.
Lippert tried to add luster to his productions—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 Veronica Lake, Zachary Scott, Robert Hutton, Joan Leslie, George Reeves, Ralph Byrd, Richard Arlen, Don "Red" Barry, Robert Alda, Gloria Jean, Sabu, Ellen Drew, Preston Foster, Jean Porter, Anne Gwynne, Jack Holt, Tom Neal, Robert Lowery, and John Howard.
Additional 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 (green for Lost Continent, red for Rocketship X-M). He even anticipated the 3-D 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.
Lippert read a 1949 Life magazine article about a proposed trip to and landing on the Moon. He rushed into production his film version called Rocketship X-M, released a year later in 1950; he changed the 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 movie theaters, but just barely. More importantly, it became the first film drama to warn of the dangers and folly of full-scale Atomic War.
Ron Ormond produced and directed several films for Lippert, including many westerns with Lash LaRue.
In 1951 Lippert signed a four-year production and distribution contract with the British company Hammer Film Productions by which Lippert would distribute Hammer films 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., which starred George Brent.
Screenwriter and former newspaper reporter Samuel 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 and just the directing credit.
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.
20th Century-Fox, Regal Pictures and API
When Darryl F. Zanuck announced his CinemaScope process, he faced hostility from many theatre owners who had gone to great expense to convert their theatres 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. 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.
Beginning with Stagecoach to Fury (1956), Regal produced 180 pictures. 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. In 1959 Lippert renamed Regal as Associated Producers Incorporated (API) to make more low-budget films for double bills (API having similar initials to exploitation specialist American International Pictures may have been coincidental).
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 the "B" pictures.
Lippert maintained and expanded his chain of 118 theatres until his death. His son, Robert L. Lippert Jr., followed his father into producing.