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Back in the saddle again — Rick Jason
in The Saracen Blade

Part Three: 1949 – 1959, Hollywood Studios
The Saracen Blade at Columbia Pictures:
staring Ricardo Montalban, Michael Ansara, Carolyn Jones

Walking into Harry Friedman’s office was like entering a mini-museum of fine arts: old paintings on the walls, everything just a little nicer than the offices of those agents junior to him.

"We have an appointment to see Sam Katzman," Harry said.

"Sam Katzman!? He makes those nine- and eleven-day wonders for Columbia Pictures, doesn’t he?"

"I need some film on you that I can show around town. Now MGM has just dropped Ricardo Montalban after fourteen years. He’s starring—"

"For Sam Katzman?!"

"The business is changing. There’s a great part for you as the heavy. It’s a period piece about the Crusades. The Saracen Blade, from a novel by Frank Yerby."

image50.jpg (269513 bytes)"Jesus, I’m gonna wear chain mail and a tin suit."

"Plus beautiful costumes. Just the opposite of what you did in Sombrero. He got up. "Let’s go." And we went.

On the way, as he drove his Cadillac, I asked, "I guess it’s secondary at this point, but do you mind if I ask how much this nine-day picture is going to pay?"

"First, it’s a fourteen-day picture…"

"Katzman is coming up in the world."

"…and the picture gives you first feature billing and $750 a week on a two-week guarantee."

"Are you sure my career is going forward? I got a thou a week from MGM."

"I need the film. At this point, Rick, that’s the most important consideration." So I shut my big mouth. He was right.

Sam Katzman and Columbia Pictures

Sam Katzman, whose production unit made bread-and-butter films for Columbia, had a reputation as a solid money earner who paid very little of it to actors. A big salary to him was about $250 a week. If he had to pay an actor $500 it was already the big time. Ricardo was getting forty thousand for the picture, a gigantic sum to Sam, but then he had one of MGM’s biggest stars in his first film away from the diamond-studded studio.

His lot, consisting of several sound stages, was located near downtown Los Angeles where it had originally been a silent film lot. Often he visited the Columbia lot or the Columbia ranch while they were filming a high budget feature to examine the sets. Whatever the historical period, he’d have a script written for it and tell the studio not to tear down the sets. He’d shoot part of his film using those sets, which meant that Columbia was getting twice the use for the same money. Katzman’s movies, made on tight budgets, never lost money. He may not have been known as an auteur film maker but, what the hell did he care, he’d become very, very wealthy.

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Michael Ansara, Carolyn Jones, Rick Jones, and Betta St. John.
The Saracen Blade, Columbia Pictures.

Also see:

He was about as tall as Harry and about seventy pounds heavier, little mustache, no pretensions, pleasant and often smiling around a big cigar that almost never left his mouth. He could have been in the junk car business, there was really no difference to him; he just happened to be making movies. How could you not like a man like that?

We talked in his office for a whiled. He told me how much he’d enjoyed Sombrero (he was, after all, a movie buff) and how nice it was to have me in his picture.

As he walked us off the lot, me between the two of them like a tall "Jeff" between two short "Mutts," Sam reached up and put an arm on my shoulder. I smiled down at him. A nice man.

image49.jpg (199289 bytes)"Rick," he said, "I know the only reason you’re working here is because of the money."

The Saracen Blade came in on time and on budget. Ricardo and I were pleased to work together again.

Also see:

Ricaro Montalban books and DVDs


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