(Note: Shortly after Herschell Gordon Lewis’s passing, AWAI asked me to write an article as a tribute to him. The following is what I originally wrote. The article that AWAI published was cut down (by me) by about 75% to fit into their required word count. I stumbled across this yesterday and thought the unabridged version might be of interest to some.)

“Herschell Gordon Lewis, “The Godfather of Gore.” Dies at 87.”

This was the headline of Variety’s September 26th, 2016 obituary.

After a brief summary of his film career, they tacked on the following two lines…

“In addition to being a filmmaker, Lewis taught college literature, worked in radio, and produced and directed TV commercials. He wrote several books on marketing and copywriting.”

In a 2003 interview conducted by actor/producer Jennifer Rouse on the set of the movie Chainsaw Sally (which Lewis acted in), when asked how it made him feel about impacting so many filmmakers’ lives, Lewis said…

“Originally it was embarrassing. It was embarrassing because I know how little we had put into these movies. But subsequently, when I see how the film industry has either evolved or devolved depending on how you want to interpret it, based on that, I’m delighted to be regarded in that respect. I don’t want it on my tombstone. I don’t want them to say here lies the guy who started the gore movies.”

In a question-and-answer session for his book The Sleaze Merchants: Adventures in Exploitation Filmmaking, author John McCarty asked Lewis what he wanted his epitaph to be. Lewis said…

“He seen somethin’ different. And he done it.”

Today, I will look back on the movie and marketing careers of Herschell Gordon Lewis.

Lewis was born on June 15th, 1926, in Pittsburgh. When he was six, his father died. A few years later, his mother moved the family to Chicago. In his twenties, he taught English and Humanities at Mississippi State. He left after determining that “if you have any ambition to change the course of human history, it’s a dead end.”

After various jobs (radio DJ and ad sales; door-to-door encyclopedia sales; Racine, Wisconsin radio station assistant manager; producer/director at WKY-TY in Oklahoma City) a high school chum, who owned a small Chicago advertising agency, told Lewis he desperately needed a television director as he was about to land a huge account. This was around 1953.

Lewis moved back to Chicago and took the job, but the account never landed. So, he bought a half interest in a small Chicago film studio, and he got a job writing copy for a small advertising agency “to put Kraft dinner on the table.”

How he got into gore films is now part of movie folklore. After making two pictures (The Prime Time (1960), starring a twenty-year-old Karen Black; and The Living Venus (1961) which starred a young Harvey Korman later of Carol Burnett Show fame), his movie distributor went bust.

Shortly afterward he met David Friedman who told him about a Dallas, Texas distributor who, in exchange for $7,000, wanted someone to make them a one-reeler featuring “a bunch of pretty girls in it.” After costs, Lewis and his partner would make $2,500 each.

Then a man by the name of Jack Curtain from the New York Film Laboratory called Lewis up and asked if he’d be willing to turn it into a full-length feature (70 minutes in those days), he would give them 90-day terms on their laboratory cost.

The resulting movie was called The Adventures of Lucky Pierre (1961) which was advertised as being shot in “Cutie Color” and “Skinamascope.”  It was the first film of its kind (nudie cutie) to be shot in color. It brought in over $12,000 from a single theater the first week it opened.  

At this point in his career, Lewis says, “the girls dancing around in the sun thing was becoming overcrowded” and because he had young kids at home, he felt he needed a change in direction.

The idea that changed cinema

He asked himself a question…

“What type of film either won’t or can’t be made by the major studios?”

The answer came to him while watching an old Edward G. Robinson movie. Police had put a barrage of bullets into Robinson’s character but not a speck of blood was shown on the screen.

Between that and using Miami’s Suez Motel with its fake cement sphinx out front, he had his inspiration for the plot of his 1963 movie Blood Feast.

Lewis says, “when we were cutting it, I really had a lot of second thoughts because people wouldn’t watch it and not because of the rotten acting… but because you can’t show it because of the gore.”

He and his partner opened the film in Peoria, Illinois. When he was driving to the premiere, he got stuck in a big traffic jam. “That’s all we need is an accident,” Lewis thought. He soon realized “we were the accident.”  

Word of mouth had gotten out about the movie. “There were two kinds of word of mouth.  1) Total outrage. “How dare you!” 2) Oh my God, did you see that? And both worked in our favor,” Lewis said.

Blood Feast became his watershed movie. It was the first movie to display gore on the screen which sent the censors into a tizzy because they had no idea how to classify it.

“No one cared that the acting was primitive, that we were using department store mannequins as body parts. Theatres who originally said they would never play a picture like that came clamoring to get it,” Lewis said.

He continued to make movies until about 1972. After a string of bad investments, he said “goodbye” to the movie business and found work as a marketer. Of his exit from the movie business he says the “unkindest cut of all” came when “after everything went belly-up, I was sitting on the sidelines looking at what used to be my businesses and the fellow who was manager of one of my theaters refused to honor passes for that theater which I had given some friends.”

“Do you want to take a shot at the piece of copy?”

After getting back on his feet again, Lewis opened an advertising agency in the Wrigley Building in Chicago. His biggest account, a heavy television advertiser, went bust, stiffing him for 90 days’ worth of billing and forcing him to move into a little office in Chicago’s Highland Park area.

While he was moaning, he received a call from an agency, “We have a client we can’t satisfy. Do you want to take a shot at the piece of copy?”

Upon being reassured that he would get paid for his work, Lewis took the job. The client was the Bradford Exchange who soon became a regular client. In an interview with marketer Michael Senoff from 2008, Lewis says flatly that “I’ve sold more plates than anybody.”

He then started doing work for a company called Calhoun’s Collectors’ Society which sold “strange things such as gold foil stamps” but Lewis soon persuaded them to get into the plate-selling business.

When Lewis was about sixty, he and his wife “to get away from the fur coat syndrome” moved to Plantation, Florida, a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Upon hearing this Calhoun’s canceled their contract so Lewis found work selling plates for Calhoun’s competitors.

On the Art of Copywriting

Throughout his post-movie career, besides writing sales copy, he was writing articles and books about marketing. His best-known book is On the Art of Copywriting, which many in the industry consider a must-own book. Other titles include Direct Marketing that Sells; Sales Letters That Sizzle; and Effective Email Marketing.

In addition, in the copywriting and marketing world, he built up a stellar reputation as a public speaker.

If you’ve ever been to AWAI Bootcamp or purchased AWAI’s Bootcamp on Demand Home Study Program, there’s a good chance you’ve seen Herschell Gordon Lewis give a marketing presentation.

As he grew older, powered by the Internet, his movie reputation grew to where he revived his movie career in 2002 with a sequel to Blood Feast called Blood Feast 2: All You Can Eat.

On stage in front of marketers, he was still the wise elderly grandfather person who could help give you the knowledge you needed to set yourself apart from casual writers and marketers.

Here are a few marketing tips and strategies he shared over the years…

  • The Emotion-over-Intellect Rule – When emotion and intellect come into conflict, emotion always wins. Example: “Ready to dump that ugly flab?” will bring more response than “Are you overweight?”

  • “Verisimilitude” – Which means “projecting an image of truth.” Example: “Our company has been in business for many years” is inferior to “My grandfather, Perry Johnson, founded this company in 1937, and we have been at this same location ever since.”

  • The Clarity Commandment – When you choose words and phrases for force-communication, clarity is paramount. Don’t let any other component of the communications mix interfere with it. A simple litmus test: If the typical reader or online message-recipient can’t determine what you’re pitching… within ten seconds… you’ve violated The Clarity Commandment.

  • E2 = 0 – Which means “when you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.”  An example is a direct marketing piece that uses the wording “33 reasons you should buy now.” The writer, Lewis says is “unable to isolate a key selling argument and subordinate the rest or that writer just doesn’t know enough to be in a selling position.” Giving lesser reasons equal treatment is a dilution, not an addition, he writes.

  • The Phony Importance Rule – Calling something “important” when your best readers will know it isn’t important will cost you some business you otherwise might have had. Save “important” information you know the message recipient will regard as important.

  • The Unidentified Authority Rule – Specifics out pull generalizations. And while Lewis warns his reader to never lie, he provides you with some guidance on what to do if no specifics exist. You use the Unidentified Authority Rule. Here are a few examples he says you can use: 1) Research tells us that… 2) It is estimated that… 3) It has been established… 4) For a great many reasons… 5) A great man once said… 5) Many agree that… 6) Certain factors make it imperative that… 7) It is important to remember that…
Because of the dysfunction, nephropathy will not generate urine, which will lead to the accumulation of waste products in the see for more info cheapest viagra price blood vessels affects the overall blood flow. Once you are sure of your product finding the right place where the branded sex pills for men and women because emotional factors affect sex life. cialis cheap Such online cialis you can try these out has become the craze for these types of people. A lowest cost viagra proper flow of blood is very essential for a man to have a proper erection which can be maintained for long period.

Mary Had A Little Lamb

One highlight of any Herschell Gordon Lewis presentation is when he would recite a different version of the famous nursery rhyme Mary Had A Little Lamb. He did so to highlight the point that using highfalutin language was not something smart marketers did:

“Mary Had a Little Lamb regarding whose cuticular, 
the fluff exterior was white and kinked in each particular.

On each occasion when the lass would go a-gallivanting,
the little quadruped was there likewise perambulating.”
And so on.  

It never failed to generate loud applause. Sometimes he’d also offer the short version:

“Mary had a little lamb,
The obstetrician fainted.”

I was lucky enough to, on several occasions, see a Lewis marketing presentation. I approached him after his talk one year and experienced firsthand how open and receptive he was to people. People, to him, were never an inconvenience. He was appreciative of the attention you showed him and had time for anyone who approached him.

“Brutal… Evil… Ghastly… Beyond Belief?”

In his 2003 interview with Jennifer Rouse, Lewis said the following…

“I never did quit the world of marketing. I’ve written 27 books on marketing. I’m well thought of in that business. In the movie business, I’m regarded as somewhat of a freak who happened by accident to stumble on a formula that has now become standardized, but in the world of marketing, I say this with some ego, I command a little more respect. I write books, I write articles, I’m on a consulting basis with major marketers and, until the Internet, exposed me, the two worlds didn’t collide at all.

I’m sure Lewis would agree that the two worlds did, at the very least, intersect prior to the Internet. After all, you don’t drive people to the theater with bad marketing. Who wouldn’t want to see a movie (Two Thousand Maniacs) that promised “An Entire Town Bathed in Pulsing Human Blood! Madmen Crazed for Carnage! Brutal… Evil… Ghastly… Beyond Belief?”

In the YouTube video of a November 21st, 2014 interview by James Saito, Lewis’s co-writer of the soon-to-be-released film Herschell Gordon Lewis’ BloodMania, they initially experienced audio problems (Saito was getting an echo in his headset).

Saito asks Lewis if there was anything he’d like to say while they were dealing with Saito’s audio difficulties. His response takes full advantage of his skill as a marketer…

“One point I would make relative to BloodMania is what we’re doing in this movie is making a step in a direction that might bring into our orbit, people who normally say, “Oh I don’t watch that kind of movie.” They will not say that about this one because this movie has it all. It’s got lots of gore, of course. That’s our claim to fame and nobody can touch us on that level, but it also has a sense of humor and what that does in a motion picture of this type is lift it above “the standard scream in which some girl is sitting watching TV and a hand comes in through a window and grabs her.” Not in this movie. This movie really rocks.  We have in this movie four separate episodes which are loosely tied together but each one of which stands independently as a communicative device and, more importantly, not from our viewpoint but from yours, an entertainment you will not see anywhere else any place. Not on TV. Not in theaters. Not on DVD. You’ll see it here or you’ll say “Hey, I missed the first movie that ever combined all these.”

Thanks for the tip, Herschell. That sounds like one heck of a movie. 

May you rest in peace.