Arkoff, Samuel Z.

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Samuel Zachary Arkoff holds an important place in the history of cinema as a leading creator and originator of exploitation, low-budget films. The son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant, Samuel Z. Arkoff was born on June 18, 1918, in Fort Dodge, Iowa, where he spent his youth. Arkoff's father, after deserting the czar's army, had moved to Iowa in 1905, and opened a clothing store in Fort Dodge.

Arkoff graduated from Fort Dodge High School in 1935 and was a year short of graduating from the University of Iowa when World War II began. During World War II he served in the United States Army Air Force as a cryptographer. In 1945, while still serving in the US armed forces, he married Hilda Rusoff in Winnipeg, Canada. Their two children, Louis and Donna, would later work in the motion picture industry themselves.

After the war Arkoff moved to Los Angeles and attended Loyola Law School, from which he graduated in 1948.

Arkoff started his career in the entertainment industry as a legal expert in producer-distributor-exhibitor cases. Arkoff's interest in motion pictures had begun as a youth, after reading a copy of Variety magazine and its depiction of movies, at the 1933 Chicago World's Fair. By 1950, he had become vice-president of Video Associates, for which he produced the Hank McCune Show, one of television's first series.

Arkoff co-founded American Releasing Corporation in 1954 with his partner, a film exhibitor named James H. Nicholson, and a $3,000 loan from Joseph Moritz, Nicholson's former employer. The company started with the intention of distributing films only, but Arkoff and Nicholson found that, because of the film recession of the 1950s, there was little product to distribute. Thus, they decided to produce their own films as well. They changed American Releasing Corp.'s name to American International Pictures (AIP) in 1955 and started to produce B-movies. Nicholson was president of the organization, Arkoff its chairman of the board.

In order to make AIP successful, Arkoff and Nicholson astutely discerned that a youth market existed for action and sensationalistic pictures. The pair consequently directed and marketed their product to teenagers, a successful marketing strategy that earned them hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The company's first release, The Fast and the Furious, was produced by Roger Corman for $66,000 and made a profit of $150,000, drawing audiences with its themes of fast cars and women, and fugitives on the run. The success of AIP was also tied to double bills at the drive-in, with such packages as The Day the World Ended and The Phantom from 10,000 Leagues . This then was the formula for the success of AIP: double-feature films produced on a low budget and built on lurid themes, skillfully illustrated by their titles and craftily marketed. As Arkoff once quipped, "In the morning Jim (Nicholson) would come in and say, What do you think of this title.... The Beast With a Million Eyes ? Ahhh, I could hear the money rolling in." He also noted that "exhibitors would come up to me and say 'Sam, if we could just punch sprocket holes in the campaign and throw the film away'." Between 1954 and 1960, the company did not make one film that lost money, and the trend continued. Regardless of the type of movie, whether horror, biker, beach, or science fiction, AIP never had a year in the red in the decades of the 1950s and the 1960s.

Arkoff helped launch the careers of a number of well known actors and movie makers, such as Roger Corman, the director of his first movie. Others included: Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Woody Allen, Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello (in the beach blanket films), Francis Ford Coppola, Robert DeNiro, Nick Nolte, and Martin Scorsese. Iconic of this trait of AIP and its market was I Was a Teenage Werewolf, released in 1957. Youthful Michael Landon was the teenage werewolf, and the sub-text of teenage alienation, coupled with the movie's horror theme, made the film a hit with teenagers, who flocked to see it. (The film grossed $2000000.) Besides launching new faces, Arkoff also helped the careers of aging stars such as Vincent Price, who starred in AIP's Edgar Allen Poe film series, in the 1960s.

James H. Nicholson left AIP in 1971, and Arkoff took over as the president of the company. By this time, AIP had become an established production company. Arkoff received a number of honors, including recognition as Producer of the Year in 1963 by the Allied States Association of Motion Picture Theater Owners, and the Master Showman of the Decade award from the Theater Owners of America in 1964. In 1970, he was named Commendatore of the Order of Merit by the president of the Republic of Italy in 1970. In 1973 Arkoff was appointed international ambassador of Variety Clubs, the showmen's organization devoted to helping needy children.

In 1973 Samuel's son, Louis S. Arkoff, joined AIP as a legal administrator. He would go on to be appointed to the company's executive staff and, in 1976, became vice-president of American International Pictures.

1978 saw AIP's first financial loss, which forced the company to merge with Filmways, Inc. in 1979 as a subsidiary. Even with this status, Arkoff still ran. The same year as the merger, AIP made and distributed The Amityville Horror, which was the largest grossing independent film of its time. Love at First Bite and Dressed to Kill were also made during this time.

1979 also saw AIP's 25th anniversary. Arkoff was invited to take part in a number of celebrations, the most notable being at New York's Museum of Modern Art, where an American International Pictures retrospective screened over 30 of AIP's most popular films. Arkoff received this honor with the comment that "time can dignify anything."

Arkoff left American International Pictures in 1980, citing an inability to work within the confines of a corporate structure. By that time, he had produced and/or distributed more than 500 films. Upon his departure, Arkoff formed the Samuel Z. Arkoff Company in 1980, and, in 1981, his own independent production company, Arkoff International Pictures (also abbreviated AIP), where he worked as a film producer and executive. The company never matched the overall success of his early career.

In 1992, Arkoff published his memoirs, Flying through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants, an account of his career as an independent film producer and distributor.

Samuel Z. Arkoff died in 2001, only months after the death of his wife Hilda.


  • 1918: Samuel Zachary Arkoff is born on June 18 in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
  • 1933: Realizes his love for movies after reading a copy of Variety Magazine at the Chicago World's Fair.
  • 1935: Graduates from Fort Dodge High School.
  • 1945: Marries Hilda Rusoff while serving as a cryptographer in the US Air Force during World War II.
  • 1948: Graduates from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, California.
  • 1950: Becomes vice president of Video Associates, where he produces the Hank McCune Show, one of television's first series programs.
  • 1954: Founds American Releasing Corporation with James H. Nicholson.
  • 1955: American Releasing Corp. becomes American International Pictures (AIP), a company dedicated to the distribution and production of low budget films. AIP produces its first release, Roger Corman's Fast and Furious, budgeted at $66,000.00.
  • 1957: AIP releases I was a Teenage Werewolf, which launches Michael Landon's career.
  • 1960: AIP starts its Edgar Allen Poe series with House of Usher starring Vincent Price.
  • 1962: AIP starts producing high budget films.
  • 1963: Is named Producer of the Year by Allied States Association of Motion Picture Theater Owners.
  • 1964: Receives the Master Showman of the Decade award from the Theater Owners of America.
  • 1966: AIP releases Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily?
  • 1970: Is named Commendatore of the Order of Merit by the president of the Republic of Italy.
  • 1971: James H. Nicholson resigns from AIP; Arkoff takes over as the company's president.
  • 1972: James H. Nicholson dies from a brain tumor.
  • 1979: Is honored at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City for AIP's 25th anniversary. AIP becomes a subsidiary of Filmways, Inc. and loses its independence.
  • 1980: Quits AIP and starts the Samuel Z. Arkoff Company.
  • 1981: Founds Arkoff International Pictures.
  • 1992: Releases his memoirs, Flying through Hollywood by the Seat of My Pants.
  • 2001: Dies of natural causes.

From the guide to the Samuel Z. Arkoff papers, 1921-2008, 1965-1999, (Loyola Marymount University. Library. Department of Archives and Special Collections.)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Samuel Z. Arkoff papers, 1921-2008, 1965-1999 Loyola Marymount University. Library. Department of Archives and Special Collections.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith American International Pictures. corporateBody
associatedWith Nicholson, James H. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
American International Pictures (Firm)




Ark ID: w6z733nt

SNAC ID: 1982023