Producer Paul Pompian
I met producer Paul Pompian at his Crusader Entertainment office June 11, 2002.
Paul: "I grew up in Chicago. My dad (George) was in the hardware industrial supply business. He started out with a small store. I worked with him through grammar school and high school. Then he expanded to a wholesale business on the South side of Chicago. His parents were from Italy and Russia. My mother's parents were from Germany.
"My mother (Lillian) was a well known writer. She wrote for the Chicago Tribune for many years. She was the first woman allowed in the Kinsey Institute. She wrote about sex and sexual research when women were not allowed to do that. She wrote difficult pieces about air and noise pollution. She wrote about women's rights. She once wrote a satirical piece for the Chicago American called 'The Little Woman in the Kitchen.' She suggested that men swap roles with women. And the American got 25,000 pieces of hate mail demanding that she be fired, not realizing that the piece was largely tongue in cheek."
Luke: "You raised yourself because you had two busy parents."
Paul: "I was a latchkey kid. I participated in athletics in highschool but I still managed to go to work for my dad at the end of the day. After a year of college, I was tired of it. I got drafted and went into the Army and that sobered me up. I was discharged in 1964. My Army experience was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I went back to school on the GI bill. I went to Loyola University. I became a serious student. I graduated with a degree in Political Science. Then I went to New College School of Law in San Francisco. I moved to Los Angeles in 1971.
"I got a grant to do a documentary on crime. We didn't know what we were doing but it turned out well and won awards. I was working for the Chicago Committee on Criminal Justice.
"I then went to work for some guys who didn't do porn, but it was one step above porn. Bob Cresse (6/19/36 - 4/6/98) had a company called Olympic International."
In their book 'Grindhouse: The Forbidden World of "Adults Only" Cinema,' Eddie Muller and Daniel Faris write:
Most of [Lee] Frost's films were produced by Robert Cresse, another alumnus of the carnival midway. Cresse came to Los Angeles from Sarasota, Florida, by way of the University of Miami. He looked like a less-cuddly Jonathan Winters, and had a gift for the gabby hustle that worked just fine in Tinsel Town - after he'd paid his dues as a bike messenger at MGM. He worked himself up the production ranks, but decided to go independent when he realized there was no job security at a major studio. While Dan Sonney and Dave Friedman ran Entertainment Ventures Incorporated, the "Capitol of the Exploitation Film Industry," out of their Cordova Street complex, Cresse set up his own shop, Olympic International Films, on tonier Sunset Boulevard. Where as MGM pompously used as its credo "Art for the Sake of Art," Olympic's banner declared "Art for the Sake of Money."
Cresse produced one of the first nudie documentaries, Hollywood's World of Flesh, a Shocking! All True! production in the grand exploitation tradition. All the scenes, filmed "on location as they actually happened," were staged over one weekend, with Cresse and Frost using unpaid friends as actors.
Cresse soon carved out quite a reputation. He had that me-against-the-world attitude required of an independent film producer, but his predilection for weaponry and Nazi regalia put an unnerving edge on it. He also kept two full-time bodyguards on the payroll, as a warning to people that it wasn't wise to steal from Bob Cresse. He told interviewer Mike Vraney, in the magazine Cult Movies, about the time he had to collect his rental fees from a unforthcoming exhibitor by jamming a .38 into the guy's mouth and threatening to blow his head off.
Cresse fancied himself in the macho mold of Sam Peckinpah, and toward the end of the sixties he took the roughie genre in a Western direction. Hot Spur was the archetypal Cresse production: filled with cruel, sadistic men abusing attractive women.
Cresse left the Adults Only business after an unfortunate encounter on Hollywood Boulevard. Heeding cries for help, he confronted two men beating a woman outside a store. Cresse ordered them to stop, and punctuated the command by brandishing the handgun he liked to tote with him. One of the men promptly shot him in the stomach, then shot Cresse's dog, then informed him they were the police.
Cresse had no insurance, and his seven-month hospital stay depleted most of the money he'd carefully funneled into a Swiss bank account.
Paul Pompian: "He was extraordinarily nice to me. They were doing a picture every two weeks. They had titles like House on Bare Mountain. He was a showman. He did a lot of pictures with Dave Friedman. I knew Dave well. He's a raconteur. He lives in Alabama. He made a lot of incredible pictures with titles like Southern White Trash.
"I did a bunch of pictures for Olympic. I worked with Roger Corman."
Pompian's first credit on Imdb.com is for the 1974 film Street Girls. According to Imdb.com: "When a middle-aged father searches for his dropout daughter, Angel, his quest takes him into the underworld of prostitutes, pimps, drug addicts and thieves. Angel has become a dancer in a topless bar, and her dealer boyfriend is turning her on to heroin."
Paul: "It's a forerunner of the George C. Scott film Hardcore. It's almost as though they lifted our story to suit their movie. I did a few of those."
Luke: "A studio executive told a producer, 'I'm determined to wipe out child prostitution and I don't care how many movies I have to make to do it.'"
Paul: "In the late 1970s, I worked on a bunch of projects that were failed studio movies. I developed a lot of docu-dramas. I went to work at the Begelman-Fields company [founded by Freddie Fields and David Begelman]. Then David moved over to MGM and I went with him. I was there from 1979-84. I produced the 1981 TV movie, 'Death of a Centerfold: The Dorothy Stratten Story.'
From Imdb.com: "TV version of the life and death of "Playboy" magazine centerfold Dorothy Stratten (1960-1980), a starry-eyed Canadian teenager who moved to Hollywood in the late 1970's seeking stardom and found it with her seedy promoter Paul Snider who promised Dorothy a career both as a star and his wife."
Paul: "The New York Times was lavish with praise of our movie. We spent $1.7 million and Star 80 [also about Dorothy Stratten] spent $14 million. Don Stewart, who later won the Academy award for Missing, wrote the script. Don was a former Reuters newsman and a fine crusty writer.
"I acquired this supposed expertise for doing docu-dramas, which are a different animal from fiction. You have different constraints. Some of these were not worthy of being made. They reflected the mood of the networks at the time. Frankly, a lot of it was crap. I always lobbied hard to elevate the tastes of the audience. That falls on deaf ears.
"With docu-dramas, sometimes you have to protect the innocent. People that don't want to be brought into something, or be portrayed in a bad light. Sometimes you have to create a composite figure yet adhere to the truth. There are all these tripwires along the way that you have to watch out for. This "inspired by" is a politic way of saying the movie is loosely based on truth.
"People are always concerned about how they are going to be portrayed. Sometimes they don't acquit themselves well. Someone might appear disingenuous, duplicitous or dumb, the three Ds."
Luke: "Aside from legal concerns, why should you care how someone comes across?"
Paul: "You have to be sensitive because you are vulnerable to criticism if they have any kind of a forum to denigrate the movie. If they are a principle character, you have to make sure they serve the interests of the film. You have to be fearless also. You can't deviate from the truth without destroying the integrity of what you are doing. I haven't done any picture where we've had a lawsuit that somebody's won.
"I'm proud of The Preppie Murder (1989). Everybody felt that it set a new standard for television movies. My close friend John Herzfeld directed. He took a script that needed a lot of work and recrafted it. He worked closely with the major figures in the case - the lawyer for Robert Chambers, the head of the Manhattan DA's rape squad who has gone on to a big career... Jennifer Levin's parents were too distraught to cooperate.
"We had a tremendous number of new talent that John discovered - Sandra Bullock, William Baldwin, Lara Flynn Boyle."
From Imdb.com: "This is the story of a young woman who was found dead. Now the police investigate, and evidence points to a man she was seen leaving a party with. Now when questioned, he claims that her death was accidental, as a result of rough sex. Now her family doesn't believe this, so they press the district attorney's office to try him for murder, but he has a good lawyer who plays his defense right down to putting the dead girl on trial."