Distributor-producer-director Jerry Gross, known for his colorful promotions of exploitation films in the 1960s and ’70s but also for distributing landmark art fare, was found dead Nov. 20 in L.A., apparently of natural causes, although toxicology results weren’t completed. Investigators believe he had died four days earlier. He was 62.
Known for outrageous film promotions and advertising, he lured auds in to such fare as “Sting of the Dragon Master,” “Africa Blood and Guts,” “The Boogeyman,” “Blood Beach,” “I Drink Your Blood” (also produced and foreign distribbed), “Son of Dracula” (with Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr), plus “Teenage Mother,” “Female Animal” and “Girl on a Chain Gang,” all three of which he wrote, produced, directed, distributed and had a cameo in. In addition, he distributed “Mondo Cane,” Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz the Cat” (also claimed a producer credit), Jamaa Fanaka’s “Penitentiary” and Melvin Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Baad Asssss Song.”
As well he distributing such pics as the original adaptation of Erskine Caldwell’s “God’s Little Acre,” Elia Kazan’s “Baby Doll,” Dalton Trumbo’s “Johnny Got His Gun,” Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits,” Academy Award nominee “Turkish Delight,” New York Film Critics award winner “Stavisky” with John Paul Belmondo, and a version of “Madame Butterfly.”
Additionally he produced 1974’s “All the Kind Strangers,” one of the highest-rated TV movies-of-the-week that season for ABC.
NYC native attended New York City College and made his first film there. Eventually he distributed and created the U.S. marketing strategy and advertising campaigns for 56 films during a 25-year career.
A friend recalled, “When he couldn’t find a commercial movie to distribute, he’d write and direct his own.” He was also known to photograph, edit and cameo on occasion.
At one point or another he was a speaker at the National Assn. of Theater Owners confab, was featured in a Variety spread on his role in the importing of films from overseas, was chairman and president of publicly held Cinemation Industries and was chairman and prexy of the Jerry Gross Organization Inc., which grew from a two-employee operation to 60 employees in 10 company offices before it folded.
His wife Mary Kirnan died of a brain tumor in 1983. He is survived by longtime friend Arlene Farber and her family. Funeral arrangements are pending; For info, call (323) 930-1152.