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An outrageous producer and promoter of cheesy films, Kroger Babb was a direct throwback to the Old West snake oil salesmen and adhered to P.T. Barnum's credo about a sucker being born every minute. Starting his professional life as a sportswriter, he went to work at Warner Brothers in 1934 to promote attendance at their theater chains. Among Babb's Depression-era ballyhoo was a man buried alive and such attractions as the give-aways Grocery Night and Dish Night.
Babb also distributed the cheapie film "Dust to Dust" (1943), actually the re-titled 1935 "High School Girl" with childbirth footage added for "educational value", taking it from town to town and advertising that nurses would be in attendance at the theater. In 1944, he raised the money to shoot his tour de force, "Mom and Dad" (which, amazingly, did not reach New York until 1957). Shot by former heavyweight helmer William Beaudine for $62,000 in one week and starring has-been juvenile Hardie Albright, "Mom and Dad" was a blood-and-thunder unwed mother warning, spiced up with that same stock childbirth footage. Babb sent out some 300 road shows of the film, peddling booklets between shows, courting local ire and earning a small fortune. "Mom and Dad" played around the country for years, until television usurped its shock value.
Babb never had as big a hit, though not for lack of trying. In 1948, he produced the religious epic "The Prince of Peace/The Lawton Story" (which finally hit New York in 1951). The film was part docudrama about an Oklahoma Passion Play, and was bookended with trailers for Babb's upcoming epics "The Best is Yet to Come" ("all there is to know about cancer!") and "One Too Many" ("the screen's only true story of alcoholism!"). The latter featured Ruth Warrick, Victor Killian and Lyle Talbot in a slick but campy look at the ill effects of booze.
Among his other films were the anti-drug drama "She Shoulda Said No/Wild Weed/The Devil's Weed" (1949), featuring Lila Leeds (who had been arrested for drug possession with Robert Mitchum) in a story of the evils of marijuana; "Secrets of Beauty", and a 1928 version of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" with a new soundtrack (which was, in 1969, surely the country's last traveling "Tom Show"). Babb also heavily promoted--but never produced--the anti-Catholic drama "Father Bingo", just to annoy the Catholic censorship boards. Two of his more ill-advised productions were "Karamoja", featuring a blood and urine drinking African tribe, and "Halfway to Hell", consisting of Nazi atrocity footage.
Many of Babb's films changed title from town to town, and he helped pioneer the Midnight Movie, along with segregated-sex audiences. Babb helped introduce Ingmar Bergman to the USA in 1955 when he showed the early "Sommaren Med Monika" as "Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl". He even toured a live horror show memorably titled "Dr. Hassam's Chasm of Spasms". By the time Babb retired in the 1970s, his career had inspired Ed Wood Jr., Russ Meyer and his own protege David F. Friedman to produce their own no-budget epics, as well as William Castle, who surpassed Babb with such gimmicks as Emergo and Percepto and theater lobbies filled with nurses and monsters.
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