It's hard to imagine modern sleaze thinkers in the "old world."

It's hard to imagine modern sleaze thinkers in the "old world." When everything actually began to change – I'm talking pre-television – large parts of America were still in the Old West that you see in the movies. The film industry was, in a sense, itself in the Old West, yet suddenly planted in the New West of Hollywood, where incredible amounts of money and freedom had unleashed scandal heaped upon scandal – as underground film maker numero uno Kenneth Anger shrieks about in his incredible book, Hollywood Babylon. Sex, drugs, murder, perversion – anything and everything including human life could be bought and sold...and it was!

The first wave of censors – under the guise of actual morality (but really with rotten agendas up the sprocket hole) – felt they had to do something about this moral panic. It wasn't the first time, but it was the worst time. This group had power – and thought it was going to prove a point (while getting paid and praised for doing so). In a nutshell, the film industry agreed to police itself, so the Hays Code was introduced. Will H. Hays was chosen to police the movie business in 1927. Joseph Breen worked for Hays as a troubleshooter starting around 1931, but in 1933 the Roman Catholic National League of Decency was formed and began hassling the industry by rating films independently.

They arranged boycotts of films they didn't approve of ("they," not the public...), and then Breen was appointed by Hays to head the newly formed Production Code Administration. The Production Code censored films – and without their stamp of approval, no film could be exhibited in any theater in America, with a $25,000 fine for those who did! Breen was an admitted and outspoken anti-Semite…but outspoken only after 1934. Funny how these things work, isn't it? Liberty Magazine wrote in 1936 that Breen's appointment gave him "more influence in standardizing world-thinking than Mussolini, Hitler, or Stalin." But – like John Waters has spoken about for years – when the list of forbidden films was announced in Catholic school each time, it was the golden list of what to actually run out and see! And in this sense, the rules being shoved down Hollywood's throat by this anti-Semitic self-righteous creep were the roadmap to exploitation ecstasy!

The first gang of exploitation producers and directors were known as the Forty Thieves. Most were carny hucksters and con men with brains and daring that set out across America with posters, films and a tent in the trunk, and they went from town-to-town like the early "preachermen" or freak-show hustlers, putting posters on poles and in shop windows, suggestive ads in local papers – then threw up their tent “theater,” charged ten cents and reeled 'em in, making incredible amounts of money in the process.

These Forty Thieves had their own ways of dealing with police and other hassles (things like what was known as a "square-up reel," written about elsewhere on this site). Say a film got shut down by the police – after they left, our generous Thieves would just show a reel of "good stuff" hidden under the spare tire: maybe nude hoochie dancers or birth-of-a-baby films (which could only be topped by birth-of-twins films! There's even one with the birth of triplets!!).

One man rose above the rest to become the million-dollar thief.

His name was Kroger Babb.

Babb took all the above, tightened it up, wrapped a bow around it and delivered the goods…but somehow made it seem legit, and even possibly educational. Many films promised nudity – and many delivered a flash of boob or something similar – which was a big deal back then, but Babb showed women's nether regions in the only way permissible to the powers that be: showing one of the previously mentioned "birth of a baby" reels! You can see her vagina, except there was a bloody baby squishing out of it! And audiences, errr...ate it up!

Babb did this in his ultimate film Mom and Dad, which came out in 1945 and somehow played all the way into the seventies, snatching money from suckers the world over! Mom and Dad was the third highest-grossing motion picture of the entire 1940s! Think about this. World War II, films like Yankee Doodle Dandy, Fantasia, Bambi, For Whom the Bell Tolls and squiiiish...Mom and Dad! It is estimated to have made 100 million dollars. Babb, like many others, managed to "artfully" edit these reels into the storyline of the film, making it all the more startling, as it could actually be the pretty actress in the movie giving birth. Couldn't it?

Kroger Babb employed Dave Friedman – the man that brought this history into the modern day (and the first fan of these films and their history), later producing Blood Feast and dozens of sixties and seventies classics – as one of his fast-talking sex-hygiene book pitchers. This was one of the biggest money-making ideas ever. They’d stop the film in the middle, and "Elliot Forbes, America's Eminent Hygiene Commentator" would come out and come on with a fast-talking carny pitch selling “educational” books to men only (Man and Boy), and women only (Woman and Girl), that were written by Babb's wife, and netting him an estimated $31,000 over the years.

The audiences were strategically seated apart from each other, line down the middle – men on the right, women on the left. Some roadshows were shown to men only at, say, 7 and 10 PM, with women only at the 5 and 8:30 shows. David F. Friedman was “Elliot Forbes” – as were hundreds of others, sometimes all in different cities all at the same time. They even hired African-American Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens to do the "talk" in black neighborhoods instead of an actor/Forbes. The book sales alone brought in so much money that it became a gimmick used by many, if not most, of the Forty Thieves.

Babb picked up all kinds of wild films to exploit over the years. She Shoulda Said No (originally title: Wild Weed) was about the terrors of drug abuse, and starred Lila Leeds, who famously got arrested with Robert Mitchum for marijuana possession – which shelved her career (and did nothing to even make a scratch in his). Babb also presented one of the first Mondo movies, Karamoja, an incredibly disgusting gross-out film with more blood and poop than you could shake a vomit bag at.

If you think about it, it's incredible– Babb and his cohorts basically created a new form of grift by peddling "hygiene"! And in order to inform the public about this health crisis, the evils needed to be shown (wink, wink). Ironically, as noted before, the actual roadmap of the evils the Forty Thieves plundered so successfully was found right in the censorship rulebook of the Production Code itself.

Any notion of what the exploitation film experience is (and how it started), or the low-down concepts that endless books, magazines, websites and documentaries now drool over in wonder (as they should), started with Babb and his sleazy opportunist peers. Using well-worked out scams and trickery that had been lifted directly from the world of the carnival (girly shows, freak shows, etc.), this became the basis of all film advertising, and outlasted the production code itself. Amazingly enough, Kroger Babb received the first annual Sid Grauman Showmanship Award, presented by the Hollywood Rotary Club in 1951, in honor of his "accomplishments” (translation: $$$).

As late as 1970, Babb's name was still strong enough that he was coaxed out of retirement to put his name and exploitation techniques on a then-new production – the great, thought-to-be-lost film Walk the Walk. A modern take on teaching "the big lesson," it’s about an African-American priest's struggles with heroin addiction, and his fall from grace into the world of trippy, drugged-out sleaze mongers, featuring an "All-Star Sunset Strip Cast!" It's a doozy, and worth the long wait due to its "lost film" status.

Here are some campaigns for some of Kroger Babb's biggest, most outrageous hits!

WALK THE WALK (1970)

WALK THE WALK (1970)

KWAHERI (1964)

KWAHERI (1964)

KARAMOJA (1954)

KARAMOJA (1954)

MONIKA, STORY OF A BAD GIRL (1953)

MONIKA, STORY OF A BAD GIRL (1953)

PRINCE OF PEACE (1949)

PRINCE OF PEACE (1949)

SHE SHOULDA SAID NO (1949)

SHE SHOULDA SAID NO (1949)

BECAUSE OF EVE (1948)

BECAUSE OF EVE (1948)

MOM AND DAD (1945)

MOM AND DAD (1945)


Howie Pyro has been collecting records since his parents started taking him to garage sales as a kid. His love of monsters and weirdness drew him to buy records that are just being discovered today as obscure gems. Pyro spins primitive 50's and 60's rhythms found on 45s from the deep underbelly of the original rock n’ roll era. Pyro has traveled the world as a musician – he has played, recorded and written with such diverse artists as Johnny Thunders, Ronnie Spector, Joey Ramone, Rancid, Genesis P-Orridge, Danzig, D Generation, Debbie Harry, Jayne County, Alan Vega, Kid Congo Powers (Cramps, Gun Club, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and others. Howie has also done a lot of music supervision work for films and TV and is a well-known disc jockey - he’s deejayed for everyone from the Cramps to Christina Aguilera, and did the Hollywood premiere party for the TV series Mad Men, and does the annual Johnny Ramone/Ramones event at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. He also co-wrote Ed “Big Daddy” Roth’s autobiography, Confessions of a Rat Fink. Howie’s celebrated radio show Intoxica in now in its thirteenth year and can be found at www.luxuriamusic.com