Producer Zalman King dead at 69: Best-known for risqué dramas
Actor-director-producer-screenwriter Zalman King, among whose credits are “scandalous” sex dramas such as 9½ Weeks, Two Moon Junction, and Wild Orchid, died of cancer earlier today. King reportedly was 69 years old.
Born Zalman Lefkovitz in Trenton, New Jersey, King began his show business career as an actor, appearing in small roles and bit parts in about 20 television shows during the 1960s, including Gunsmoke, The Man from the U.N.C.L.E., Bonanza, and The Munsters. In the ’70s and early ’80s, he had supporting roles and a handful of leads in about a dozen movies, among them James B. Harris’ provocative variation on the Sleeping Beauty theme, Some Call It Loving (1973), with Carol White; Jeff Lieberman’s horror thriller Blue Sunshine (1975), as an innocent man accused of murdering several women; and Lee Grant’s family drama Tell Me a Riddle (1980), starring Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova.
In the early ’80s, King kickstarted his career as film producer. Starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke, Adrian Lyne’s 9½ Weeks (1986) was King’s first feature as a full-fledged producer. The erotic drama became a cause de scandale at the time because of S&M sex scenes considered much too daring (or what passes for “daring” in American movies).
Roger Ebert, for one, prefaced his review of 9½ Weeks by remarking that the movie “arrives in a shroud of mystery and scandal, already notorious as the most explicitly sexual big-budget film since Last Tango in Paris.” But “mystery and scandal” or no, 9½ Weeks, made for a reported $17 million (I couldn’t find confirmation for this figure), was received coolly by critics and bombed at the domestic box office, taking in a mere $6.7 million (approx. $14 million today).
More sex and scandalized buzz followed with the 1988 release of King’s Two Moon Junction, his directorial debut. Set in the American South, the film starred Sherilyn Fenn as a bourgeois young woman who ventures into a sexually charged relationship with a carnival drifter (Richard Tyson).
Though much of the media coverage on the film focused on the Sherilyn Fenn-Richard Tyson sex scenes and a full-frontal nude shot of Fenn, the most interesting aspect of Two Moon Junction was its highly eclectic cast, which included Oscar winners Louise Fletcher (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and Burl Ives (The Big Country), Oscar nominee Juanita Moore (Imitation of Life), plus Little Darlings’ Kristy McNichol, The Diary of Anne Frank‘s Millie Perkins, Fantasy Island‘s Hervé Villechaize, Endless Love‘s Martin Hewitt, TV star Don Galloway, and Milla Jovovich of the future Resident Alien movies. But despite the cast and the sex, Two Moon Junction bombed domestically, earning a paltry $1.54 million.
Compared to Two Moon Junction, the $7 million-budgeted Wild Orchid (1990) was a megahit. Directed and co-written by King, and starring 9½ Weeks leading man Mickey Rourke opposite Jacqueline Bisset and Carré Otis, the widely panned erotic drama pulled in $11 million (approx. $21 million today) in North America, perhaps because people were interested in seeing for themselves if Rourke and Otis really went all out during their sex scenes – at least one of which was cut to appease the MPAA censors. Set in Rio de Janeiro, Wild Orchid depicted the erotic awakening of a naive young woman at the hands of kinky millionaire.
Based on Anaïs Nin’s novel, Delta of Venus (1995) was another erotic drama that failed to find much favor with either critics or the public. Audie England and Costas Mandylor starred as two Americans who fall in both love and lust in France on the eve of World War II. The movie grossed a minuscule $63,174 in the United States.
As per the IMDb, King’s last feature film as director (and screenwriter) was Kamikaze Love, which is listed as being in “post-production.” The film’s brief IMDb synopsis reads: “A wealthy real estate developer takes a young woman from an everyday mundane life and shows her a world of decadence and debauchery that pushes her sexual limits to the brink.” Malena Morgan and Christos Vasilopoulos star.
Last month, Vasilopoulos told the Greek Reporter that “Kamikaze Love is expected to be ready in four months, and it will be released on international DVD, as well as in theatres in Greece.” Vasilopoulos added that working with King, “‘the Maestro of erotic cinema,’ was a tremendous experience for me, considering the fact that I auditioned for a small part, and Zalman gave me the lead role in his film. … We worked for a little bit more than a month in Malibu, and I can assure you that this erotic thriller will look great!”
Box office figures: Boxofficemojo.com.
Zalman King photo via zalmanking.com.