Children’s matinee recollections
My name is Daniel Griffith. I am an independent filmmaker operating out of Chattanooga, TN. I am currently in production on a feature-length documentary, entitled “The Wonder World of K. Gordon Murray”, which follows the life of Kenneth Gordon Murray, from is youth in Bloomington, Illinois, to his young adult life as a promoter for various circuses. In 1951, following a chance meeting with Cecil B. Demille, his dreams transformed from a humble carnival owner… to a motion picture distributor and producer. But K. Gordon Murray never stopped being a showman. He used the same techniques employed by fellow exploiter, Kroger Babb, to release films into movie houses and drive-in’s across the U.S. from 1956 till his untimely death in 1979.
From 1960, through the mid-1970’s, K. Gordon Murray became famous for releasing his own re-dubbed versions of Mexican fairy tale films in theaters using the gimmick of a “weekends only/matinee only” show time. He gained most of his notoriety by releasing the 1959 Mexican import, “Santa Claus”, in theaters during the 1960 holiday season. Its success spawned the “kiddie” matinee phenomena that lasted into the 1980’s, when conflicts with the major Hollywood studios, along with the birth of the VHS market, muscled the independent producers out of business. But during its zenith, Murray toured these films with accompanying magic shows, costumed characters from the fairy tale films, and an impressive ad campaign. His efforts in the childrens film genre earned him the title, “King of the Kiddie Matinee”.
He also imported many notable Mexican horror films to release them in drive-ins and later, to television through American International pictures. Films like “The Brainiac”, “The Witch’s Mirror”, “Robot Vs. The Aztec Mummy”, “The Vampire (German Robles)”, “The Living Head”, and several Santo and Wrestling Women films. Murray even employed special effects artist and former spook show extraordinaire, Doug Hobart (“Death Curse of Tartu”, “Sting of Death”, etc.), of develop a series of gimmicks to accompany the films at their drive-in engagements. One such gimmick, lovingly titled “The 5th Dimension Show”, even required Hobart to dress up like a vampire and roam the drive-in parking area serving blood cocktails (tomato juice with red food coloring) while the patrons watched a “The Vampire/Curse of the Doll People” double feature.
This documentary is about a time in movie history that is now lost. A time of showman, a time of gimmicks… experiences relating to both movie houses and drive-ins across the nation. I wish to do what I can to preserve these experiences in the film. It is my hope to produce a documentary unlike any seen before. A lot of research and originality is going into the picture. My background is actually in narrative films, so I am discovering unique ways to fuse the two together.
I am looking for photographs of movie houses and drive-ins from the 1950’s and 1960’s that may relate to this subject. Any photos of a childrens matinee in the 1960’s and 1970’s would also be helpful. Stories and recollections regarding the 1960’s children matinee are also needed. I would be happy to credit this site in the film.
Feel free to contact me at any time if you have further questions. Thanks again.
Daniel, you may also want to incorporate Murray’s later ventures into sexploitation (most notably the film “Shanty Tramp”, which became a popular drive-in hit & even played on the bottom half of a double bill with the Elia Kazan film “Baby Doll” when the latter was re-issued in 1969 with Jerry Gross' company Cinemation as distributor). Keep us posted as to when this film gets completed as well as festival screenings & DVD release.
There are very detailed and amusing accounts of typical Saturday “kiddie matinees” in the 1940s here in CT under Rialto Theatre, Lowell MA, and Dorchester Theatre, Boston MA.
The documentary will include Murray’s original productions, as well as his imported fare. Films such as “Eve or the Apple”, “Shanty Tramp”, “Savages from Hell”, “The Daredevil” with Terry Moore and George Montgomery, and “Thunder County” starring Mickey Rooney. I have interviewed most of the individuals associated with these films, including several actors. Considering how obscure Murray’s life and films are… it has taken a lot of detective work to pull this story together. But it’s going to be a blast… in the end.
I remember going to the Strand theater in Taunton fo at least 3 years in a row to watch Santa Clause!! that was our tradition for kids in the early 60’s and have been trying to collect other films from Murray ever since!! Look forward to the DVD release as well as any updates to this!!!