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Biography

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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 15 June 1929Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
Nickname Godfather Of Gore
Height 6' 1" (1.85 m)

Mini Bio (1)

Herschell Gordon Lewis was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1929. At age six, Lewis' father died from a short illness and a few years later his mother re-married and settled with her new husband and children in Chicago, Illinois where Lewis spent the rest of his teenage adolescent years. After attending grade school, Lewis received a Master's degree in Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. A few years later, he became a professor of English literature at Mississippi State College. He was lured from his teaching career to be manager of WRAC Radio in Racine, Wisconsin, then to become a studio director at WKY-TV in Oklahoma City. In 1953, he settled in Chicago and began working for a friend's advertising agency while teaching graduate advertising courses at night at Roosevelt University. In the meantime, he began directing commercial advertisements for a production company called Alexander and Associates. Lewis later bought out half of the company with business associate Martin Schmidhofer and renamed it Lewis and Martin Films. In 1960 he decided to go into the filmmaking business and produced The Prime Time (1960), which he made with his own money. It was profitable, so he next came out with Living Venus (1961), which he directed and he and his new business partner, David F. Friedman, produced. This was an early exploitation film, and its nude scenes, although soft core, were the type not seen in "mainstream" Holllywood pictures because of the censorship imposed by the Production Code issued by the Hays Office.

For three years, Friedman and Lewis worked mostly as mercenary filmmakers for a string of exhibitor/financiers, looking to make their mark on the exploitation field. According to Friedman, they may have made up to 30 'nudie cutie' shorts, loops, and feature-length movies. Of these, only seven feature movies remain in existence today which are known as Friedman/Lewis productions. They include The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) as well as three nudist camp films -- Daughter of the Sun (1962), Nature's Playmates (1962), Goldilocks and the Three Bares (1963) -- and the soft-core exploitation dramas Boin-n-g (1963), Scum of the Earth (1963) and Bell, Bare and Beautiful (1963). Most of the Lewis/Friedman films were shot in Florida.

Looking for a different angle than the soft core sex and nude films they had been making, they came up with the idea of making a film that emphasized blood and gore, a market that neither they nor virtually any other producer had exploited. They wrote a 15-page script, named it Blood Feast (1963), began shooting it -- with a budget of less than $25,000 -- the day after "Bell, Bare and Beautiful" was shot and finished it seven days later. It was first exhibited in July 1963 and, despite the low production values, slow pace and a variety of technical problems, audiences flocked to the drive-in theaters and local movie houses it was being shown in that catered to exploitation films. It was banned in various parts of the country for its frightening (for the day) murder/gore scenes, an action that increased interest in -- and attendance at -- the film.

With profits from that film, Lewis and Friedman went back to Florida to shoot another gore film, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964), which was inspired by "Brigadoon", the legend about a magical town that appears every 100 years. In the Lewis/Friedman version, the town is in the Deep South. It is called Pleasant Valley and appears every 100 years to lure Northern tourists to their deaths in order to avenge murders committed by Union troops during the Civil War. Filmed in two weeks in the autumn of 1963 on location in St. Cloud, Florida, with a budget nearly triple to that of Blood Feast (1963), on a 70-page script and bigger production values, Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) was first released in March 1964 at theaters and drive-ins in and around the Deep South, it also elicited the same reactions of fascination with the story and revulsion at the grisly murders shown in graphic detail, but it raked in the cash and is considered by fans and critics alike as Lewis' best work. He also ranks it as his personal favorite.

During the winter of 1964, Lewis and Friedman made Color Me Blood Red (1965) -- their final film together -- about a painter who kills in order to use his victims' blood for paint for his canvases. Soon after the completion of this film, Friedman terminated his business partnership with Lewis, citing such reasons as problems with profit compensation, editing, and production conflicts. Friedman moved to Hollywood shortly thereafter to continue his production work there, leaving Lewis as a producer, director and writer all on his own.

Lewis continued to produce and direct, and in 1964 turned out Moonshine Mountain (1964), a semi-musical drama-thriller about moonshiners which was shot in North Carolina. After this film, however, his career went into a slump. Using funds from his successful advertising company in Chicago, Lewis aimed his film making skills at other markets. He shot two low-budget children's films during this time: Jimmy, the Boy Wonder (1966) which is about the adventures of a young boy who inadvertently stops time with a wish, and The Magic Land of Mother Goose (1967), a filmed stage-play involving characters from a children's book, which both film prints became lost, and only were recently re-discovered and partly restored. By all reports, the former is painful to watch, and the later is completely unwatchable.

Still trying to rekindle his film making career, Lewis purchased two unfinished films and re-edited them for release. One was the notorious Monster a-Go Go (1965), a film whose reputation is so bad that it ranks Lewis on the same level as infamous schlockmeister Edward D. Wood Jr. in some minds. The second film, Sin, Suffer and Repent (1965), was straight out of the early exploitation handbook. Originally filmed as an infomercial reel about venereal disease, it soon became a torrid story of an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, complete with actual footage of childbirth, which all prints remain lost. One of Lewis' better movies during the late 1960s was A Taste of Blood (1967), a vampire movie in the vein of the classic British Hammer horror films. By far the longest of his horror films (with a running time of nearly two hours), it is notable for fans because it has the biggest budget of his films of the 1960s, as well as very high production values, and some very impressive cinematography, but unfortunately is very slow-paced and devoid of verve and soul. The same treatment was given to his next film, Something Weird (1967), a sci-fi action flick about a man who develops psychic powers after receiving an electric shock from a fallen power line. Lewis also directed a few soft-core exploitation dramas which centered around the topic of sex which included The Alley Tramp (1968) involving teenage nymphomania; The Girl, the Body, and the Pill (1967) which had the topic of sex education and birth control; and Suburban Roulette (1968) another exploitation drama detailing the lives of swinging couples who swap sexual partners.

Lewis briefly returned to the gore field with The Gruesome Twosome (1967), and then turned out a rock-and-roll flick, Blast-Off Girls (1967). He also directed two punk action flicks, She-Devils on Wheels (1968) and Just for the Hell of It (1968). He then made Linda and Abilene (1969) and The Ecstasies of Women (1969) as a throwback to the soft core exploitation flicks from the early 1960s, both prints which remain lost. By 1969 he was becoming less and less able to compete with the newer independent filmmakers as well as mainstream Hollywood, which abolished the Hays Code and began making its own action, drama and violent horror films without any censorship restrictions.

After 1969, Lewis made Miss Nymphet's Zap-In (1970), a film of sex encounters in various brief segments modeled after the comic TV show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (1967). He also did The Wizard of Gore (1970), another exploitation gore flick, and then two hillbilly movies: This Stuff'll Kill Ya! (1971) a crime-drama about moonshiners in the Deep South; and The Year of the Yahoo! (1972) a political drama about a country-western singer recruited to run for a seat in the U.S. Senate, both of which were considered lost and were only recently discovered and restored by the Seattle-based video company 'Something Weird Video' which caters to and restores unseen and lost exploitation movies, and whose name was clearly inspired by Lewis' previously mentioned film of the same name. Lewis even produced and directed a practically unseen blaxploitation film, Black Love (1971), an all-black-cast nu-die flick that was made as a personal favor for an African-American friend of his in Chicago, but remains lost to this day. Lewis' final movie was another gore exploitation flick titled The Gore Gore Girls (1972). Aware that the day of exploitation movies was over, Lewis quietly and gracefully left the filmmaking business and settled into his advertising career full time.

His film directing career over, Lewis's long business career in advertising began. He wrote and published over 20 books during his long career in advertising, including "The Businessman's Guide to Advertising and Sales Promotion" (1974), followed by "How to Handle Your Own Public Relations" (1977). A slow but steady stream of books followed, which seemed to turn into a torrent in the 1990s. Lewis settled in Florida and founded his own advertising company, Communicomp, a full-service direct marketing agency with clients throughout the world.

Despite leaving his film directing career behind, Lewis always wanted to make a sequel to the extraordinarily successful "Blood Feast". After a long process, dream was finally realized when he reunited with David F. Friedman for the making of Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat (2002), which he directed. Residing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Lewis now heads Lewis Enterprises, a direct-mail advertising company through which he writes and consults individually. He is arguably the best-known direct response writer and consultant in the United States.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: matt-282

Trivia (5)

For more than twenty years, he taught graduate-level courses in mass communications; currently he lectures at professional seminars worldwide.
Did most of the voice-overs in his films, including the theatrical trailers, because he did not want to pay any more actors to speak the lines.
Father of Robert Lewis.
Heads his own advertising and consulting firm, Communicomp, based in Plantation Florida. Writes a regular series of articles, "Copy That Sells", for Direct Marketing magazine, and is the copywriting columnist for Catalog Age.
On Holidays in New York City with his daughter Erica Lewis and ex-wife and friend Yvonne Gilbert. [December 2002]

Personal Quotes (6)

[asked what his epitaph should read] He seen somethin' different. And he done it.
I see filmmaking as a business and pity anyone who regards it as an art form.
[about Connie Mason during an interview with John Waters] She never knew a line. Not ever. Nor could she ever be on the set on time. What we did in Two Thousand Maniacs! (1964) was to pull about two-thirds of her lines in order to finish on time. I often felt if one took the key out of Connie's back, she'd simply stand in place.
I've often compared Blood Feast (1963) to a Walt Whitman poem--it's no good but it's the first.
[Joking about the making of Blood Feast (1963)] It took me about 12 times longer to score that picture than to shoot it.
Way, way back in prehistoric times I saw the original Dracula (1931). Bela Lugosi's watermark on the pages of cinematic history. I recall only a few scenes, plus my insistence that the lights in my bedroom be left on all night long. The motivator had to be purely cosmetic, the way he glowered, plus the strange accent atop brutal word delivery. Some years later I saw this film again and laughed at the characterization. That's how sophistication spoils pseudoreality.

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