Robert L. Lippert

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, who eventually owned a chain of 139 theatres.[1]

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

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 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 Alameda, California in 1942,[1] during the peak years of theater attendance.[3] Lippert's theaters in Los Angeles often screened older 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 servicemen on leave who could not find cheap accommodation 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 ProductionsEdit

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 color Bob Steele western called Wildfire, shot in Cinecolor.[7]

"Every theater owner thinks he can make pictures better than the ones they sent him", he later said. "So back in 1943 I tried it".[2]

In 1946 Screen Guild signed agreements with Affiliated Productions to make and distribute three films and Golden Gate Productions to make 12.[8] One of their most controversial releases was The Burning Cross (1947), which concerned the Ku Klux Klan.[9]

Lippert PicturesEdit

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 reputation rose with the success of I Shot Jesse James. A 1949 New York Times profile said he owned 61 theaters. It also reported (erroneously) that he had directed most of the Westerns his company had made.[10]

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, 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 (mint green for Lost Continent, pinkish-red 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 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 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 the first contract with the American Federation of Musicians to sell films to television. Lippert had to rescore some of the films and pay an amount to the musicians' music fund.[11][12]

Dispute with Screen Actors GuildEdit

In 1951 he clashed with the Screen Actors Guild when he sold his films to television.[13] He was blackballed by the Guild, as a result.[14][15] 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.[16] |In October 1951 Lippert signed a three-picture deal with the recently blacklisted Carl Foreman.[17] He also signed a two-picture deal with blacklisted Paul Henreid[18] but no films appear to have resulted.|In 1951 he entered into an arrangement with Famous Artist Corporation to make films with their talent.[19] By January 1952, however, the SAG dispute had not been resolved and Lippert announced he was leaving film production.[20][21]

Hammer FilmsEdit

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,[22] which starred George Brent.

Sam FullerEdit

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.[23]

Sid MeltonEdit

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 one hour-long comedies.

20th Century-FoxEdit

Regal PicturesEdit

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.[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 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 IncorporatedEdit

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 criticised Hollywood for the "slow suicide" in movie going, blaming involvement of New York bankers in creative matters, inflated overhead, union featherbedding and obsolete theatres.[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 he had made "about 300 films" including 100 for Fox in five years. "On year I made 26, more than the rest of the studio."[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 theatres 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 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 the "B" pictures.[37]

Later careerEdit

In March 1966 Fox announced 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 theatres from 70 to 139 and managed them until his death.[1]

Personal lifeEdit

He was married to Ruth and had a son, Robert L. Lippert Jr., and a daughter.[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 fifth, at home in Oakland, California on November 16, 1976.[1] His cremated remains were interred at the Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma, California.[41]

Select filmographyEdit

Produced by Action Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

  • Wildfire: The Story of a Horse (1945) – starring Bob Steele, produced by William David, directed by Robert Emmett Tansey
  • Northwest Trail (1945) – starring Bob Steele, produced by William David, directed by Derwin Abrahams
  • God's Country (1946) – starring Bob Steele, produced by William David, directed by Robert Emmett Tansey

Produced by Affiliated Productions, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

Produced by Golden Gate Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

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

Produced by Somerset Pictures, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

Produced by Jack Schwarz Productions, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

Distributed only by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit



  • The Case of the Baby Sitter (1947) – produced by Screen Art Pictures Cor
  • The Hat Box Mystery (1947) – produced by Screen Art Pictures Cor
  • Bandit Island (1953) – in 3-D

Produced by Western Adventures Productions, distributed by Screen Guild ProductionsEdit

Distributed by Screen Guild and produced by Lippert ProductionsEdit

Produced by Lippert Productions, distributed by Lippert ProductionsEdit


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

Produced by Don Barry Productions, released by Lippert PicturesEdit

Produced by Sigmund Neufeld ProductionsEdit

Produced by Deputy CorporationEdit

  • The Baron of Arizona (Mar 1950) – written by Sam Fuller and Homer Croy, produced by Carl Hittleman, and directed by Sam Fuller
  • The Steel Helmet (Feb 1951) – written, produced and directed by Sam Fuller

Produced by R and L ProductionsEdit

International pick-upsEdit

H-N Productions, distributed by Lippert PicturesEdit

Co-productions with Hammer FilmsEdit

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

  • Massacre (June 1956) – written by D.D. Beauchamp, produced by Robert L. Lippert Jr, directed by Louis King

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

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

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

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

Produced by Princess Production, released by FoxEdit

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

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

Produced by Capri Production, distributed by 20th Century FoxEdit

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Troubled Waters (1964) – Parroch-McCallum – starring Tab Hunter, produced by Lippert and Jack Parsons – released by Fox
  • The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (1965) aka Catacombs – written by Daniel Mainwaring, produced by Jack Parsons, directed by Gordon Hessler – released by Warners

Other Lippert movies distributed by 20th Century FoxEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Robert Lippert Dead at 67". Variety. November 24, 1976. p. 6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ryon, A. (September 23, 1962). "Third-run film king tells industry's woes. Los Angeles Times". ProQuest 168195832.
  3. ^
  4. ^ p. 110 Maury Dexter Interview by Tom Weaver I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-Fi McFarland
  5. ^ "Mustering-out pay dead line changed". Los Angeles Times. May 21, 1948. ProQuest 165862356.
  6. ^ TAYLOR, JOSEPH W (July 9, 1948). "Outdoor movies". The Wall Street Journal. ProQuest 131773107.
  7. ^ a b Fernett, Gene (1973). Hollywood's Poverty Row 1930–1950. Coral Reef Publications.
  8. ^ "LAURENCE OLIVIER IN NEW FILM ROLE. New York Times". July 15, 1946. ProQuest 107681668.
  9. ^ T. F. (June 1, 1947). "Big temblor staged for 'green dolphin, street' -- KKK expose -- addenda". New York Times. ProQuest 107926088.
  10. ^ A. H. W. (January 30, 1949). "BY WAY OF REPORT". New York Times. ProQuest 105774114.
  11. ^ "First contract signed to allow sale of movies to television". Wall Street Journal. April 25, 1951. ProQuest 131935912.
  12. ^ THOMAS F BRADY (April 24, 1951). "LIPPERT, PETRILLO IN ACCORD ON VIDEO". New York Times. ProQuest 112005830.
  13. ^ J.D. SPIRO. (July 1, 1951). "HOLLYWOOD AND TV". New York Times. ProQuest 112205023.
  14. ^ T. M. (September 9, 1951). "HOLLYWOOD SCENES". New York Times. ProQuest 111891734.
  15. ^ "AUTRY SUES STUDIO OVER FILMS FOR TV". New York Times. October 31, 1951. ProQuest 111965601.
  16. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (July 13, 1951). "LIPPERT CANCELS MOVIES FOR VIDEO". New York Times. ProQuest 111961190.
  17. ^ "FOREMAN SETS UP OWN FILM CONCERN. New York Times". October 25, 1951. ProQuest 112125295.
  18. ^ "BISCHOFF LEAVING R.K.O. FOR WARNERS". New York Times. October 27, 1951. ProQuest 112067407.
  19. ^ T. M. (December 9, 1951). "HOLLYWOOD MEMOS". New York Times. ProQuest 111903138.
  20. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (January 6, 1954). "MUSICAL TO STAR ESTHER WILLIAMS". New York Times. ProQuest 113167652.
  21. ^ T. M. (January 13, 1952). "HOLLYWOOD'S MILITANT STAND". New York Times. ProQuest 112340751.
  22. ^ Lyons, Arthur (2000). Death on the Cheap: The Lost B Movies of Film Noir!. Da Capo Press. p. 115. ISBN 978-0-306-80996-5.
  23. ^ Fuller, Samuel A Third Face Alfred A Knopf (2002)
  24. ^ p.94 Maury Dexter Interview by Tom Weaver I Talked with a Zombie: Interviews with 23 Veterans of Horror and Sci-fi McFarland
  25. ^ Dexter p 89
  26. ^
  27. ^ T. M. (September 15, 1957). "BUSY HOLLYWOOD". New York Times. ProQuest 114153989.
  28. ^ Dexter p 88
  29. ^ p.103 Dombrowski, Lisa The Films of Samuel Fuller: If You Die, I'll Kill You! Wesleyan University Press
  30. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (November 19, 1957). "REGAL TO START TEN FILMS SOON". New York Times. ProQuest 114300436.
  31. ^ "National telefilm concern buys 30 films from regal". Wall Street Journal. January 21, 1960. ProQuest 132610753.
  32. ^ THOMAS M PRYOR (October 8, 1958). "12 MOVIES ADDED TO FOX SCHEDULE". New York Times. ProQuest 114531347.
  33. ^ p.105 Heffernan, Kevin Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold: Horror Films and the American Movie Business 2004 Duke University Press
  34. ^ a b Scheuer, P. K. (October 26, 1959). "Lippert hails era of $300,000 hits". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 167507684.
  35. ^ Scheuer, P. K. (September 5, 1960). "Showman divulges first-aid program". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 167764425.
  36. ^ "MOTION PICTURES". Los Angeles Times. August 5, 1963. ProQuest 168380478.
  37. ^ p.117 Dexter
  38. ^ Martin, B (March 31, 1966). "'Impossible' script ready". Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 155374450.
  39. ^ "'Last' to end Lippert association with 20th". Los Angeles Times. February 23, 1968. ProQuest 155851742.
  40. ^ Dexter p 99
  41. ^ Robert Lenard Lippert, Sr at Find a Grave
  42. ^ "Screen guild's slate revealed". Los Angeles Times. May 1, 1948. ProQuest 165873939.

External linksEdit