Samuel Gelfman, Producer of Roger Corman Films in the 1970s, Dies at 88

Courtesy Peter Gelfman
Samuel Gelfman

He worked on 'Caged Heat,' 'Cockfighter' and 'Cannonball!' and later promoted Australian films like 'Mad Max' in the U.S.

Samuel Gelfman, who produced the low-budget films Caged Heat, Cockfighter and Cannonball! for Roger Corman's New World Pictures in the 1970s, has died. He was 88.

Gelfman died Thursday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles of complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman, a New York-based property master, told The Hollywood Reporter.

After serving as a vice president at United Artists and a film buyer for one of the first videocassette companies, Cartrivision, Gelfman joined ranks with Corman and produced Jonathan Demme's directorial debut, Caged Heat (1974), about women in prison; Cockfighter (1974), helmed by Monte Hellman and starring Warren Oates, Harry Dean Stanton and Troy Donahue; and the road-race movie Cannonball! (1976), starring David Carradine and written and directed by Paul Bartel.

Later, Gelfman established the Australian Film Office in Los Angeles and promoted such movies as The Last Wave (1977), Newsfront (1978), My Brilliant Career (1979), Mad Max (1979) — released in the U.S. with subtitles despite his objections — and Gallipoli (1981).

Gelfman then partnered with former auto import executive James G. Robinson in the creation of a new production company. He "worked tirelessly but fruitlessly" with Robinson for a few years before semi-retiring in the late '80s, his son said.

Samuel William Gelfman was born in Brooklyn on May 30, 1931, the youngest of two boys. Raised in Caldwell, New Jersey, he graduated with a degree in architecture from Princeton University in 1953 after a two-year stint in the U.S. Army.

After college, Gelfman moved to New York and landed a job with Candida Donadio's talent agency, which represented such writers such as Philip Roth and Bernard Malamud. He then parlayed a job as a gofer for Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin's company into working as a producer with Ted Flicker at The Premise, a pioneering improvisational theater in Greenwich Village.

Gelfman was hired by UA to be its vice president in charge of New York production, and the rise of Sidney Lumet and Woody Allen in the early 1970s gave his office a big boost.

Survivors include his ex-wife, literary agent Jane Rosenberg Gelfman; children Peter, Polly and Andrew Gelfman, an editor and cameraman at NASA TV in Washington; and grandchildren Juliet, Elijah and Max.