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Sam Rubin's son looks back at 50 years of Classic Images

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Posted: Saturday, June 30, 2012 12:11 pm

    Editor Bob King called the other day inquiring whether I would like to write a story for the June 2012 issue commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Classic Images, formerly 8mm Collector and Classic Film Collector.  Has it really been fifty years?  What could I write that hasn’t been written before?  Bob suggested that I consider the impact the magazine had on me during these past several years.

    As many readers know, I am the son of Sam.  (No, not that “son of Sam.”)  My father was Samuel K. Rubin, the original founder, owner, and publisher of Classic Images.  I was born in the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, which also by mere coincidence is the same town in which James Stewart was born.  (Yes, that James Stewart.)  Of course, Jimmy was born a few years before me, but as this narrative progresses, we two Indiana natives will eventually be brought together by Classic Images.

    Growing up, I knew I had a special father.  After all, who else had a father who collected old silent movies and also made his own movies using his children for the cast?  Actually, I was the star, but I have always remained humble about my talents and achievements   Although, who could forget such classics as “Jay of the Jungle” and “Space Pioneers.”

    It wasn’t until Dad got his third print of “The Lost World”, and he was so disappointed the he decided to communicate about it.  That is when I discovered my father, the writer.  He had other literary efforts in his resume, but nothing that put the family on notice that this was going to be a major engagement.  It started slowly, a small publication once every three months.  He didn’t need much help then, as the circulation was quite small.  What I did notice was that the film collection began to grow, as Dad took in prints for advertising.

    The first impact that I recall the magazine having on my life came when an 8mm print of the silent version of Ben Hur arrived.  I got to show it to my Latin class, and I became the class hero for the day.  I am not certain whether it was because the students got out of reciting Latin verbs or whether they loved the scene with the impaled heads.  I realized then the power of film.

    The magazine sometimes called “the paper”, grew in size.  Dad moved his publishing empire into the game room, and my mother, the ceramics teacher, matched him foot by foot.  So much for the ping pong table.  Now we spent evenings every three months folding and addressing the paper for the post office.  It was the only time that my father got to invade mom’s studio space.  Everyone was too busy to celebrate the victory.

    Along came Cinecon.   Cinecon was the idea of a few of he subscribers along with my father to have a gathering of collectors where they could share their collections, do some trading, and acquaint themselves personally with people with whom they had corresponded, but never met in person.  Imagine, if you can, the lobby of the Indiana, Pennsylvania Holiday Inn filled with posters like the 1925 Ben Hur, the Fairbanks Man in the Iron Mask, and many more equally scarce posters without security.  That was in 1965.  I had just begun my college career, and so my involvement in that first exciting weekend was to pick up some attendees from the Pittsburgh Airport.  An easy task to be sure.  Except I went the wrong way on the turnpike, got lost and embarrassed, but before long found my way, and the day was saved.


    I couldn’t tell you one film that was shown that weekend, but everyone had a great time, because they wanted to do it again the following year.  Could you imagine a Cinecon today where the idea was for collectors to get together to share their collections with each other, do a little trading, and the tables were free?  And no celebrities, auctions, special screenings or banquets?

    Back to the impact that CI had on my life.  I was attending law school when one of my cousins, an undergraduate at the same university, told me about a film course in which she was enrolled, and she asked if I would like to sit in for a session.  I did, and to my astonishment, I felt that I could do a better job than the current instructor, though I really knew very little.  My scholarship was terminating that semester, so I had the great idea to propose to the theater department that I could teach a film course about the history and enjoyment of the classic silent film.  With the help of “pater” I put together a prospectus for teaching this course, along with a lengthy list of classic films that I could show.  

    I made an appointment to meet with the Assistant Department Chairman and presented my prospectus.  He was delighted with the idea, and informed me that if the University could get the films, he would love to present the course.  “Well sir”, said I, “I have the films" (at least my father did).  “Wonderful.”  “What expertise do you have to teach this course?”  I showed him a few copies of  Classic Film Collector, and informed him that I worked very closely with the editor, publisher, and owner.  I did not tell him that I helped to address and fold the paper.   I was offered the position, and I was left to teach my very first class of 120 students.  It was great, and I prepared from materials that had been acquired by my father for use in the publication of Classic Film Collector.  I took the course on the road and taught it again at another university in the Washington, D.C. area after I graduated law school, and Dad continued teaching it at the university where it was first introduced.

    It was during my last year in law school when I did my first interview for the paper.  For those of you who are familiar with the early years of the magazine, I interviewed several old stars, which interviews ran with some regularity.  My first interviewee was Lillian Gish.  I went to see her as she presented a program on D.W. Griffith and her.  She was most accommodating.  We sat on the stage of Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh following the presentation.  The interview went well, until I asked the wrong question, or as one would say in my profession, phrased it incorrectly.

    I was privy to the fact that Miss Gish had been approached about receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cinephiles (the name given to the organization that created Cinecon).  She had informed the organization that she would do so, if she received an honorarium.  The organization declined.  Now, back to the interview.  After asking several stimulating questions, I hit her with, “Why would she expect to be paid for receiving an award?” (It wasn’t quite that crass.)  To my surprise, the interview ended.  I definitely had to work on my interview technique, if I wanted to do more in the future.

    After two years in Washington, I moved back to the old homestead with my father.  Mom had passed on, and there was an opportunity to practice law in my hometown.  By this time, I had started to collect films, and my father and I had a lot in common.  I began reviewing books for the paper, and I assisted with the editing.  I never knew just how much went into putting the paper out.  Dad tried to accept every article written, and some of them required major rewrites.  However, it was a great way to learn to construct proper sentences – or not.

    Eventually, Dad realized that I wasn’t going to leave home, so he found a bride, sold the paper, and went off to Iowa to be its editor.  I continued to write and do interviews, and more importantly, I got the opportunity to go to film conventions such as Cinecon, Cinevent, and Cinefest, to visit with my father, as well as to watch and to obtain films for the collection.

    Along came 1983, and Indiana, Pennsylvania wanted to throw a 75th birthday party for its favorite son, Jimmy Stewart.  I was considered the town’s most knowledgeable film buff, so I was called on to help with the festival.  Using my father’s advice, I put together two different booklets on James Stewart, which got the attention of the great star.  We had a few moments to chat, which laid the foundation for future meetings.

    Following the success of the Stewart Birthday celebration, approaches by different people were made to Stewart to open a museum, which he chose to decline.  In 1992, I was going to Cinecon in Hollywood, which has become the permanent residence of the festival.  I made an approach to James Stewart through his publicist whom I met in 1983, and although I could not see Stewart on that visit, it got me an invitation a couple of months later to visit in his home and speak of the project that eventually resulted in the creation of The Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

    Today, I am writing this story surrounded by volumes of 8mm Collectors, Classic Film Collectors, and Classic Images.  It’s hard to believe that fifty years have passed since the inception of this magazine.  I have no idea how my life would have evolved if it wasn’t for my father and the magazine.  Because of the opportunities offered to me, I have been published, credited, a speaker, and an entertainer.  I have had a lifelong love of film, and a collection to prove it. Most importantly, I have formed many friendships around the world.  Thanks, Dad, and Happy 50th Birthday Classic Images.

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