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Sidney Pink, 86; Pioneer of 3-D Genre Produced More Than 50 Movies

October 17, 2002|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Sidney Pink, a movie producer who helped pry filmgoers away from their television sets in the early 1950s with the first 3-D feature-length movie, "Bwana Devil," has died. He was 86.

Pink, who produced more than 50 films, including the science fiction cult movie "The Angry Red Planet" in the years after "Bwana Devil," died Saturday at his home in Pompano Beach, Fla., after a long illness.

"A lion in your lap." "A lover in your arms!" Those were the promotional tag lines for "Bwana Devil," the groundbreaking 1952 film on which Pink served as associate producer with Arch Oboler, the movie's producer, writer and director.

The story of British railway workers in Kenya falling prey to two man-eating lions, "Bwana Devil" starred Robert Stack as Bob Hayward, the head engineer bent on killing the lions before they feast on his entire crew.

"He wasn't very happy with the results of the film itself, but it was not too bad considering, and the story was good," Pink's wife, Marian, told The Times on Wednesday. She said that the box office for the movie, which required audience members to wear cardboard 3-D glasses, "was very good."

"Lions were jumping into your laps, spears were flying and people were coming toward you in hordes," she said.

She said her husband was proud to be connected with the first 3-D movie.

Stack also takes pride in having starred in the pioneer 3-D production, which was shot in Hollywood with two monstrous cameras with polarized lenses, one for the left eye and one for the right.

"There was a line 6 feet from both cameras which you were not supposed to cross," Stack recalled Wednesday. "Otherwise, you'd wind up with that portion of your anatomy projected over the first 10 rows of the audience."

Stack said no one involved with the film knew how audiences would react to the 3-D technique.

"Sidney Pink and Arch Oboler and all of us poor innocents were involved in something that we didn't even know worked or not," Stack said. "It was a very expensive process, and it took a lot of guts to even do it."

Stack recalled that everyone had their fingers crossed at the first preview.

"Over the titles, they had a train that made a long, circling turn and then came directly to the camera," he said. "Well, when it came directly to the camera, people began to scream and jumped out of their seats and ran out of the theater. I remember one of the guys saying, 'Son of a [gun], it really works.' "

Stack said "Bwana Devil" was "enough of an eye catcher" to prompt Jack Warner to come out with his own 3-D production at Warner Bros. in 1953, "The House of Wax," starring Vincent Price.

"He felt this was the coming thing," said Stack. "Of course, he was not exactly a rocket scientist, and it wasn't the coming thing."

Born in Pittsburgh in 1916, Pink graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor's degree in business administration. He began his film career as a projectionist in a theater owned by his wife's family.

Moving to Hollywood in 1937, Pink was hired as production budget manager for Grand National Pictures, where he worked on the Tex Ritter musical western series. He later moved to Columbia and worked as a budget manager on "Lost Horizon" and the Jack Holt action films.

After a disagreement with volatile Columbia chief Harry Cohn, Pink returned to the theater side of the business as the owner of a circuit of theaters in Los Angeles.

During World War II, he served in the Army Transportation Corps and Special Services.

After the war, he imported foreign films and produced burlesque shows in downtown Los Angeles with Lili St. Cyr, Joe De Rita and other performers.

He then linked up with Oboler for the production of two films, "Five" and "The Twonky," before they made movie history with "Bwana Devil."

In 1959, Pink co-wrote and produced "The Angry Red Planet," the tale of the first expedition to Mars. The sci-fi movie was filmed in what was advertised as a "revolutionary" process called "Cinemagic," a printing-process technique that gave the Mars scenes a pink glow.

The same year, Pink moved his operation to Denmark.

"At the time it was very difficult to work in any of the [Hollywood] studios because they had union problems and would not accept an independent producer," Marian Pink said. "At that time, they were called 'the runaway producers.' "

While in Denmark, Pink produced and directed "Reptilicus," a 1962 movie deemed "cliche-ridden" by the critics, about a pre-historic monster that comes back to life.

Pink then moved to Madrid, where he produced films throughout the remainder of the '60s in Spain, Italy, Germany and other countries in English and other languages, including "The Castilian," starring Cesar Romero; and one of the earliest spaghetti westerns, "Finger on the Trigger," starring Rory Calhoun.

Pink, who discovered Dustin Hoffman in an off-Broadway production, cast him in "Madigan's Millions" as a U.S. Treasury agent sent to Italy to recover money that had been stolen by a murdered gangster played by Cesar Romero.

Pink was based in Puerto Rico in the early 1970s and, after returning to the United States in 1974, he owned movie theaters in Puerto Rico and Florida.

In addition to his wife, Pink is survived by a son, Philip, of Niceville, Fla.; a daughter, Helene Desloge of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and four grandchildren.

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