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Saul J. Turell

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  • Birthday: Jan 20, 1921
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  • Saul J. Turell succeeded at enough different aspects of the movie business for any three careers: as a distributor and producer of documentary films, a pioneer in the field of cable television, a distributor of classic feature films from the 1920s through the 1960s, and as an Oscar-winning filmmaker. Turell was a key figure in facilitating the revival of interest in classic cinema during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Saul Turell was born in the Bronx, NY, in 1921, and became a filmgoer at an early age thanks to his grandmother, whom he accompanied to the movies regularly when he was still a boy. He served in the United States Army in the South Pacific during World War II, and intended to go into the movie business as a producer at the end of the war. He discovered, however, that there were too many people who were already in or entering the business on the technical side, especially in the field of editing, which he knew something about and through which he'd intended to begin his career. Instead, he became a distributor, founding a company called Sterling Films in 1946. Over the next decade, Turell assembled and directed numerous short documentary films built around easy-to-sell titles and themes, such as Carnival and Sports Around the World; in a manner anticipating the business model of American International Pictures and its co-founders Samuel Z. Arkoff and James H. Nicholson, Turell would often come up with the title and then put the movie together from any newsreel footage that he could gather, with whatever extra features he could draw on, which was how one of his big early successes, Death In the Arena, came about. Dealing with the demise of the matador Manolete, the title of the film came first, then footage of men in the bullring, and all of it enhanced with stills of the late Manolete that had been given to Turell by the man's mother, with whom he had a previous acquaintance. Sterling Films prospered from the late '40s onward; along with Castle Films and Official Films, it was one of the three major suppliers of such vest-pocket documentaries, and when the theatrical market for such short films began drying up, Turell moved into the newly robust, largely untapped non-theatrical market, distributing 16mm prints of his releases to schools and other institutions. He also created School News Digest, a series of newsreel-type documentary shorts aimed specifically at junior high school and high school audiences. At the end of the 1950s, Turell moved into other areas, most notably television; in 1960, he created the anthology series Silents Please, the first (and only) vehicle for the presentation of silent movies on network television. Although hardly ideal in format or presentation, as the material in question was cut into 30-minute segments, the series did allow a new generation of viewers to discover (and older audiences to rediscover) works such as Raoul Walsh's The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and F.W. Murnau's Nosferatu (1922). Hosted by Ernie Kovacs and shown on ABC, the show was a critical and commercial success. Turell was also one of those responsible for Legend of Valentino, the groundbreaking 1960 documentary that profiled the life and career of Rudolph Valentino. For NBC, he made Hollywood: The Golden Years, a series hosted by Gene Kelly that took a look back at the early years of the talkies. In 1963, Turell also co-wrote The Great Chase, a classic documentary about silent films built around chase sequences, that went further toward restoring that filmmaking era to the consciousness of modern viewers. During the early '60s, Sterling Films merged with the Walter Reade Organization, a huge distribution company, to become Reade-Sterling, with Turell serving as its president. He later founded Sterling Communications in partnership with Chuck Dolan, which became Sterling Cable, a fledgling cable television outfit in New York during the mid-'60s that subsequently evolved into Manhattan Cable, which would be absorbed into








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