SLEAZOID EXPRESS recently learned of the passing of Lew Mishkin on September 25, 2001 at age 60 of brain cancer. Lew was the son of Bill Mishkin, one of the Deuce’s first exploitation distributors. Mishkin Sr. started out in the 1950s by giving imported movies risqué titles and successfully made the transition into the nudie-cutie era in the early 1960s with hits like The Orgy at Lil’s Place. He then became well known as Andy Milligan’s primary producer and distributor. The Mishkins also made such Deuce staples as the race hate classic Fight For Your Life (see SLEAZOID #2).
Lew was a lawyer who worked father-son garment district style with his dad. Mishkin Sr. liked exploitation and lined his pockets handsomely with the profits from his shoestring productions and acquisitions. Lew, however, had contempt for exploitation movies, filmmakers and audience members. One of Lew’s tennis mates says that all he ever talked about was Hollywood films. Actor William Sanderson, who played the marauding racist hick Jesse Lee Cain in Fight For Your Life, remembered the elder Mishkin as a gentleman, but “it was kind of foreign to me to be in an office where father and son shouted at each other.”
Mr. Sleazoid initially became aware of Lew Mishkin’s presence after interviewing Andy Milligan for Fangoria magazine in 1981. Andy called Lew “Bill Mishkin’s idiot son” and claimed that the profits from his movies had put Lew through law school. Lew immediately began harassing Fangoria’s editor with lawsuit threats, though nothing ever went to court. For the next two decades this would be a pattern with Lew. Whenever Mr. Sleazoid would write about Mishkin releases or hold film festivals presenting them, Lew would attack any and all involved and attempt to point to Mr. Sleazoid as the cause of the trouble.
More than quick cash from a lawsuit threat, the real motive behind Lew’s actions was the renewed focus on Andy Milligan. Until Mr. Sleazoid brought him back into the public eye, Andy had been forgotten for years and inactive in films. Lew regarded Andy as a nasty queen with a small play theater, a figment of his past that he did not want to be reminded of. Andy’s comments about him in the Fangoria interview were gasoline on the fire, reducing Lew to one of the imbeciles in his movies that would have been played by Hal Borske.
Two years later, in 1983, Mr. Sleazoid contacted Lew Mishkin about booking Fight For Your Life. SLEAZOID was having its first major film festival, a month long affair at New York’s much missed 8th Street Playhouse. Lew believed that the film’s commercial value had run its course, and Fight For Your Life was rented for the low cost of $150. Also slated for the festival were Guttertrash and Kiss Me Kiss Me, two of Andy Milligan’s most notorious sexploitation hits. However, Lew failed to deliver the prints at the last minute, claiming that he couldn’t get them out of storage.
In 1989, Mr. Sleazoid was investigating the maltreatment of exploitation movies by the Hollywood censor board, the MPAA. After learning that Lew Mishkin had once been its “independent film” consultant, Mr. Sleazoid took an audience with him. Like many attorneys, Lew wanted to meet his adversary. The meeting was polite, frank and to the point. Mr. Sleazoid was startled to discover that such a low end distributor occupied a position of any importance in connection with the major studios. Lew told how MPAA administrator Richard Heffner “worked very closely” with him in getting The Filthiest Show in Town an R rating. The film was shot as a hardcore spoof, and the Mishkins wanted to get it into that profitable R-rated drive-in market that could not show porn. After this precedent, the Mishkins developed their formula of having three versions of the same film: one R-rated, one a soft X, and one a hardcore XXX. Another three version Mishkin release popular on the Deuce was The Slasher, a giallo with Farley Granger that also had a hardcore version called Penetration.
Like all bottom feeders, Lew Mishkin was very proud of his tenuous link to Hollywood. He attempted to reinforce it by saying that Jim McBride, who directed the flop remake of Breathless, had once worked for him. McBride’s film, Hot Tomorrows, about a gawky kid who finally gets laid New Year’s Eve in Times Square, also got the triple version treatment. It was heated up with hardcore inserts and retitled My Erotic Fantasies.
The subject of Andy Milligan and his films naturally came up. Mr. Sleazoid agreed with Lew about the technically ragged quality of Andy’s movies, but said he felt Andy had talent and that aficionados still enjoyed his films. He also complimented the Mishkins on their campaigns for Andy’s films. Both Lew and Mr. Sleazoid agreed that Mishkin Sr. had a special talent in merchandising exploitation. Lew, however, seemed genuinely miffed, even annoyed why anyone would enjoy Andy’s movies. He felt they were terrible, and Andy was a personal sore point with him. However, Lew had just produced one of Andy’s last films, Weirdo, for pennies, and claimed the film was probably Andy’s best work.
As soon as his father died, Mishkin Junior left the film business. He had a private law practice in New Jersey, and worked for utility companies, aiding them in rate changes. Lew’s hatred of the exploitation movie business and his animosity towards Andy Milligan grew even greater. In 1999, when SLEAZOID #1 was being assembled, Mr. Sleazoid again contacted Lew Mishkin. Lew dyspeptically got on the phone and stated that he had rid himself of any reminders of Andy Milligan. He had trashed all the incredibly lurid ad campaigns his father designed for Andy’s movies. Lew also melted down the prints of the “lost” Andy Milligan sexploitation features like Guttertrash, Tricks of the Trade and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me for their silver content. Lew said that these films became unmarketable after the advent of hardcore, and that their technical quality was even worse than Andy’s horror movies. “You couldn’t hear the dialogue. It was everyone talking into one tiny mike.” As in the past, the direct communication between Mr. Sleazoid and Lew Mishkin was cordial. Mr. Sleazoid did comment that Andy could be cranky and cantankerous, and Lew said, “that’s about the most polite thing that you could say about him.”
Shortly thereafter in 1999, Lew Mishkin once again attempted to stir trouble for a SLEAZOID EXPRESS function. At the SLEAZOID film festival at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, a private collectors’ print of Fight For Your Life was shown. The film’s long ago scriptwriter, Straw Weissman, a showbiz loser, wanted a piece of the action. Weissman pleaded to Joel Shepard, the museum’s Film and Video Coordinator, to appear at the festival, but was ignored by Mr. and Mrs. Sleazoid. This prompted Weissman to inform Mishkin of the showing, and that “they” should make an attempt to cash in.
What resulted was a series of harassing intent to sue letters directed at the Yerba Buena Center. Using tactics common among slip and fall lawyers, Mishkin knew the museum had money and seemed determined to shake them down for a cut. He asked for outrageous amounts like $3,000 for the showing, conveniently forgetting that he had rented the film over a decade before for $150 and that the movie only cost $35,000 to make. Lew’s letters became a six month shower of shit rain on the Yerba Buena Center. He had to add that, “I understand that Bill Landis had something to do with this festival, and he has an unhealthy interest in Andy Milligan’s films,” perhaps confusing Mr. Sleazoid with some other Milligan fan.
The cancer must have already been eating away at Lew’s brain, because he absentmindedly sent faxes to Yerba Buena of letters written to Straw Weissman admitting that Fight For Your Life had exhausted its commercial value and that the film was worthless in today’s market.
Yerba Buena graciously offered Lew Mishkin $500 as a rental fee to get rid of his troublemaking tantrum. In a strange twist, Lew refused to accept this amount. Most slip and fall artists take the cash when offered. Lew instead threatened to instigate suit using a California lawyer; he couldn’t act as his own attorney because he wasn’t admitted to practice in that state. Easy to send threats all day from a fax machine, but a lawsuit would have cost Lew money in terms of filing fees and court costs, even if he had free legal help on the West Coast. The Center abruptly stopped hearing from Lew, and ultimately never paid him a dime.
What Lew was really trying to do was re-write history. He didn’t want any connection with these films any more. He wanted to act like they never existed, down to destroying the prints and ad campaigns, and trying to disrupt and discourage screenings of them. True to lawyer style, Lew tried his hardest to make trouble.
Mr. Sleazoid and Yerba Buena were later apprised after the fact that Lew hadn’t even renewed the copyrights of many of his father’s old movies. But that never stopped him from greedily trying to shake people down and or intimidate them. Lew had also made a practice of sending demand letters to any video company that had released Andy Milligan films or old Mishkin prints, films that he no longer had rights to.
Lew Mishkin dedicated his life to epitomizing the worst traits of exploitation distributors and attorneys at the same time, two of the lowest, pushiest, pimpiest professions known to mankind. His family asked that memorial contributions be made to the Brain Tumor Society, the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey or to Temple Emanu-El in Westfield, New Jersey. Don’t expect any donations from SLEAZOID EXPRESS or from anyone who loves exploitation movies. Andy Milligan would have spat on Lew’s grave.