Blockbuster film producer, showman and one of the progenitors of the Cannes film market Alexander Salkind died March 8 of leukemia at the age of 76 at the American Hospital in Paris, his son Ilya revealed Mon-day.
Best known for his “Superman” series, Salkind was the son of Mikhail Salkind, a Russian lawyer who fled the Bolshevik revolution in 1922 and became a film producer in Berlin. Mikhail Salkind’s first picture was “Joyless Street,” directed by G.W. Pabst and featuring two little-known actresses, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich.
Born in Leningrad, Alexander Salkind assisted his father in the filmmaking business from an early age. The family fled Paris and the Nazis in 1942, landing first in Cuba, where the elder Salkind purchased the distribution rights to a series of films starring Mexican comedian Cantinflas and went on to produce 20 pictures for the Latin market.
Settling with his family in Mexico City, Alexander Salkind met his wife, Berta Dominguez D., a popular poet and writer. Their only child, Ilya, was born there; he became a third-generation film producer at 23, with “Rocket to the Moon,” a Buster Keaton comedy.
Alexander Salkind was one the early independent film producers, raising money to make motion pictures outside the Hollywood studio system. A pioneer of foreign sales, he saw the Cannes Film Festival as an opportunity to raise money from international distributors for future productions. From the festival’s inception, Salkind’s customary perch was either on a yacht docked in the harbor or on the terrace of the Martinez Hotel.
‘Every banker in Europe’
“He knew every banker in Europe and they invested in his films,” one longtime associate said.
Alexander Salkind partnered with Mikhail in 1959 on Abel Ganz’ “Austerlitz,” a $3 million-plus French-German-English financed epic with an international cast including Orson Welles. Leslie Caron, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Claudia Cardinale.
The father-son team followed with Welles’ “The Trial,” based on Kafka’s novel and starring Anthony Perkins.
Mikhail Salkind died in 1974, but Alexander and Ilya Salkind continued the tradition, joining forces on “The Light at the Edge of the World” starring Yul Brynner and “Bluebeard” toplining Richard Burton.
Many of the early films they made lagged at the U.S. box office but reaped money overseas.
The Salkinds made a fortune as well as motion picture history, however, with “The Three Musketeers,” when they took extra footage shot by helmer Richard Lester and made a sequel, “The Four Musketeers,” paying cast and crew for only one film. The Salkinds agreed to a financial settlement, but the “Salkind Clause” now is part of guild con-tract boilerplate, specifying that the performer’s services are “for one film only.”
The Salkinds initiated the “Superman” franchise with Cannes ballyhoo, using planes trailing banners advertising the movie to fly over the Croisette for five years before actually going into production with producer Pierre Spengler.
Starring Christopher Reeve, “Superman” was released by Warner Bros. in 1978, followed by “Superman II” in 1981 and “Superman III” in 1983. The Man of Steel’s three pics grossed more than $300 million domestically and hundreds of millions more overseas.
$3 million cameo
The blockbusters cost a total of $155 million to make, including a landmark $3 million payday for Marlon Brando’s cameo in the third edition.
The Salkinds followed with “Supergirl” and 100 episodes of “Superboy,” a syndie TV series. They also produced “Santa Claus: The Movie,” with Dudley Moore.
The high-rolling Salkinds were always dogged by lawsuits and debts. “Everybody made money except us,” the Swiss-based mogul told Daily Variety in 1984, claiming at the time to be $15 million in the hole.
With their $50 million epic “Christopher Columbus,” however, the Salkinds really stumbled. The 1992 Warner Bros. film was enveloped in controversy even before it left the dock, when original helmer Ridley Scott jumped ship to direct a rival Columbus pic. In the end, the Salkinds were pursued by a number of creditors and narrowly escaped involuntary bankruptcy through a financial settlement.
Salkind and son suffered a falling out as a result of the numerous disputes over finances and never functioned again as a producing team .
Salkind, who never visited Hollywood due to a fear of flying, was made a Commander of the Arts and Letters by French government. He lived in Paris and Switzerland. In addition to his son, he leaves behind his wife of 50 years, five grandchildren and his companion, Pauline Coutelenq. He will be buried in a ceremony at Bagneux cemetery in Paris March 21.