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IN MEMORIAM

Alexander Salkind

Born in Danzig, Germany (now Gdansk, Poland), 2nd June 1921

Died in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, 8th March 1997

In 1998, a major story surfaced on the Internet involving a proposed 20th Anniversary reissue of Superman: The Movie, which would have been known as the Super Edition. This Super Edition would have featured expanded, and, in some cases, deleted sequences, along with a newer, more digitally enhanced John Williams soundtrack. The proposed reissue would have been developed specifically for VHS videocassette, laserdisc and DVD; and would have been presented in a fully-restored, collector's edition widescreen print.

Alas, fans of Superman: The Movie look back on 1998 as a rather bittersweet milestone in the continuing chronicles of the Last Son of Krypton. In terms of Christopher Reeve, you already know the reasons behind this bittersweetness.

Alexander Salkind, however, is another story.

Shortly after Ilya Salkind, executive producer Jane Chaplin and co-producer Robert Simmonds had taken him to court over an apparent series of financial mishandlings that had occured during the filming of Christopher Columbus: The Discovery, a frustrated Alexander told a Los Angeles Times interviewer: "I know that, after this, I'll never make movies again."

It was November, 1993..... and, though Alexander was unaware of it at the time, little did he know how chillingly correct he would be.

Through the years, those who have visited KringleQuest.com 3.0 have wondered exactly who Alexander Salkind was, let alone why the site has been dedicated to his memory. The answers to both those questions now follow:

By nature, the heritage of his forebears was predominantly Russian. Yet Alexander was born in the port of Danzig, in Germany (now known as Gdansk, Poland), on June 2nd, 1921. In his later years, Alexander was to describe himself as having been born "stateless" --- i.e., that he had literally been born as a person without a country. That statement in itself would be something of a contradiction, as his last 20 years of lifetime saw him dividing his residency between London, Paris, and occasionally, Geneva, Switzerland.

Young Alexander grew up in Berlin, where his father, Mikhail Salkind, produced the 1925 silent epic, The Joyless Street, directed by G.W. Pabst --- and notorious for being among the first films to star a then unknown Greta Garbo.

When The Joyless Street completed production, Mikhail moved his family to Paris for the first time before journeying to Havana, Cuba --- and, ultimately, to Mexico City. Once in Mexico, young Alexander was made an assistant to his father, earning credits for various Mikhail Salkind pictures in Europe and North America. By the early 1940s, Alexander had gained enough expertise to style himself as a film 'producer'; indeed, in 1946, U.S. audiences witnessed his first major solo venture in that capacity: A Modern Bluebeard, inexplicably re-edited as a science-fiction comedy starring Buster Keaton, and released theatrically in America as Rocket to the Moon.

The legend of Bluebeard had long fascinated Alexander Salkind; that fascination would have a profound influence on many of his later works...... and even extend into his private life! For it was during the filming of Rocket to the Moon that Alexander first encountered the one woman who would become his greatest love: Mexican-born poet, author and playwright Berta Dominguez D. Shortly after Rocket was released in the States, Alexander and Berta were married in Mexico City.

Two years later, on July 27, 1947, Ilya Juan Salkind Dominguez was born.

With the advent of the 1950s, the Salkinds returned to Europe, where Mikhail often supervised several of his son's next film presentations. Production on each of these films, the majority of them being international co-productions in every sense of the phrase, took the family to such diverse locations as Spain, Italy, Poland and Hungary --- before coming back to France again. During this phase of the life and times of the Salkinds, the Team found itself working with such distinguished directors as Abel (Napoleon) Gance, Julien Duvivier --- and even the great Orson (Citizen Kane) Welles himself!

During this same period, Ilya Salkind had reached his teens, and was anxious to become an actor --- but it soon became apparent that acting was not truly for him. Yet even as he attended college, he'd developed a passion for moviegoing that had him seeing a new picture around a dozen times per week! Noticing the fact that his son and heir was being bitten by the production bug, Alexander decided to put him to work as a production runner on his 1967 biopic, The Life of Cervantes.

Thus did Ilya Salkind find his true calling in life. By 1969, Ilya had convinced his father to sign Kirk Douglas to a major role in the Team's next project, The Light at the Edge of the World, for which the junior Salkind was credited as Associate Producer. Light at the Edge, released in 1971, was followed by Bluebeard in 1972. The Edward Dmytryk-directed thriller, wherein Richard Burton was cast in the title role, marked Ilya Salkind's first credit as Executive Producer; soon after that, Pierre Spengler, a longtime friend of Ilya's, joined the production team.

And so the stage was set for Team Salkind to make its mark upon the cinematic world in a big way. Joining forces with director Richard Lester, the entire Salkind Family --- Alexander, Ilya and old Grandpa Mikhail, along with Berta Dominguez D. and Pierre Spengler --- took the then-unprecedented step of filming Michael York, Oliver Reed, Raquel Welch, Richard Chamberlain, Faye Dunaway, Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee in two features --- both of them shot back-to-back, simultaneously!

The results of this daring experiment are etched forever on the American moviegoing consciousness: The 3 Musketeers (1973) and The 4 Musketeers (1974). The global phenomenon instigated by both Musketeer movies was, unquestionably, unheard of; as a result, the House of Salkind soon became an entertainment dynasty --- truly, a force to be reckoned with!

Mikhail Salkind died in December 1973, happily secure in the knowledge that his son and grandson would always carry out his legacy. The next step in achieving that aim occured three years later, as production began on the Salkindian rendition of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, which Warner Bros. released in the U.S. as simply Crossed Swords. Oliver Reed, Charlton Heston (portraying a very roguish Henry VIII) and Raquel Welch would now be joined by George C. Scott, Ernest Borgnine and young Mark Lester in the dual role of Edward VI and Master Tom Canty --- all working under the inspired direction of Richard Fleischer. The screenplay for Crossed Swords was the work of several contributors, principally Berta Salkind and George MacDonald Fraser, England's best-known author of satirically historical fiction.

And then came that certain moment on the grounds of a certain sidewalk cafe on those magical Parisian streets. Up to this point, Team Salkind had accomplished plenty of amazing achievements --- but now, Ilya was anxious to launch the next generation of Salkind filmmaking. The young rooster wasted no time in making the pitch to his father:

Who better to help the Salkinds begin their great leap into the 21st Century, Ilya reasoned, than America's first and most beloved of superheroes?

The rest, needless to say, you already know. Once under Richard Donner (1978); then twice (1980-81 and 1983) under Richard Lester, the first three Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve soared to boxoffice heights undreamed of by even Grandpa Mikhail..... becoming, in time, what they remain to this very day: motion picture legends. For that is precisely as it should be.

Then came 1984 --- and Supergirl! Helen Slater, in her first big role; Faye Dunaway, making her first Salkind appearance since the Musketeer days --- and Jeannot Szwarc, director of Jaws 2 and Somewhere in Time, at the controls.

And ultimately, there was the very subject of this website: the Salkinds' Last Great Fantasy, Santa Claus: The Movie. Here, briefly, are the facts:

And here, again in brief, is a timeline of SCTM's long journey into the realm of becoming a Christmas classic:

On Tuesday, November 26th, 1985, in the heart of Manhattan's Times Square, the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel premiered its giant, Kodak-sponsored Marquis Marquee, so to speak. That very first Kodak moment would depict David Huddleston as Santa and Dudley Moore as Patch in the Toy Tunnel of North Pole Headquarters. David Steen was the man responsible for this giant, full-color photograph --- taken, appropriately, during the filming of the scene in which Santa embarks on his history-making First Flight.

The following day, of course --- Wednesday, November 27th --- Santa Claus: The Movie opened in New York, and all across the U.S. and North America!

It should be mentioned, at this point, that the Salkinds produced one other feature around the same time as Santa Claus: The Movie --- Where is Parsifal? This was Alexander and Ilya's only 'vanity project', in that the script had been conceived and written by Berta Salkind for the expressed purpose of casting herself in the lead female role. As both writer and star, she would assume the psuedonym Cassandra Domenica, while her husband would cast Tony Curtis, making one of his last film appearances, in the role of the bizarrely-named central character, one Parsifal Katzenellenbogen, the notorious inventor of the skywriting industry. Also starring Orson Welles, Erik Estrada, Peter Lawford, Donald Pleasance and Ron Moody, Where is Parsifal? takes a light-hearted, comical look --- oddly enough --- at the history of advertising slogans! To date, however, this lively piece of satire has never been released theatrically in the U.S.; for various reasons, it would be one of at least two Salkind pictures from the twilight of his era to bear that distinction, the other being 1990's The Rainbow Thief.

As Santa Claus: The Movie was completing principal photography, Ilya Salkind slowly began turning his attention to the Team's next big project. By October 1985, Jane Chaplin, daughter of Geraldine and grandniece of Charlie (yes, THAT Charlie Chaplin!), had come into Ilya's life; eventually, she bore the junior Salkind 5 children. Meanwhile, Pierre Spengler had decided to strike out on his own as a producer. Pierre's first solo project without Alexander and Ilya Salkind, The Return of the Musketeers (which, ironically, re-teamed Pierre with director Richard Lester), was acquired by Universal Pictures for theatrical distribution, subsequently premiering in the States on cable's USA Network. It was during Return's filming that an on-camera equestrian accident claimed the life of co-star Roy Kinnear (one of London's best comedic character actors). The tragic circumstances devastated Richard Lester; he directed one last feature, the music documentary Paul McCartney's Get Back! (1993), before retiring from the movies for good.

But back to Ilya Salkind. It had suddenly occured to him that he and Alexander now had a major opportunity to be a part of an incredible global milestone: the 500th Anniversary of Christopher Columbus' Discovery of America! Indeed, as Ilya was to tell the tale in a Warner Bros. press release: "The idea of making an epic adventure picture about Christopher Columbus first came to us in 1985. At that time, Alexander and I realized that 1992 would not only mark the Quincentennial of the Discovery, but also that certain major geopolitical events involving Spain would culminate in that year. For example, you had the Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the World's Fair in Seville. Madrid has long been recognized as a major European cultural center; and certain frontiers involving the Common Market appeared headed toward abolishment. Everything pointed toward 1992 being a truly colossal year for Spain --- and so, we wanted very much to contribute to the celebration by creating an historically accurate film which could chronicle the genesis of Christopher's dream, and its realization against nearly insurmountable odds."

In retrospect, however, the idea of a film about the Discovery of America might have been the type of film that lesser producers would wisely ignore. How, then, did it occur that the entire controversy over two Columbus movies would ultimately amount to little more than events of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

Perhaps the problem rested not with that 'other' Columbus movie, Ridley Scott's 1492: Conquest of Paradise. Perhaps the problem rested not with the fact that the debate over the identity of the real discoverer of America was pretty much an irrelevant issue in the minds of most U.S. moviegoers. Maybe it had more to do with the distrust of old friends, or the arrogance of old wishes, or just simply the overwhelming desire (or was it, perchance, an obsession?) to make the Superman magic happen all over again for the 1990s.

Either way, both Conquest of Paradise and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery simply cancelled each other out at the U.S. boxoffice. Indeed, the only things we remember about either film these days are their respective killer music scores: The Discovery's spectacular Cliff Eidelman score, performed under the composer's baton by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra (their only major filmscore album); Conquest's themes by the immortal Vangelis (his best score since Chariots of Fire, and it's got one ultra-cool hum, too!).

Presenting matters entirely from the Salkinds' perspective, here is an abbreviated timeline of Christopher Columbus' road to cinematic destruction:

On November 17th, 1993, Ilya Salkind, Jane Chaplin and Bob Simmonds filed suit against Alexander Salkind, 8 other individuals, and some 27 companies, in a Los Angeles County Superior Court. Ilya accused his father of failure to pay him $10,000 per month during The Discovery's production phase, as the senior Salkind had originally promised; as a result, Ilya would now be owed over $300,000. As the mother of Alexander's grandchildren, Jane Chaplin sued to get back the $6.7 million that she had personally had loaned Alexander in order to keep The Discovery financially solvent. As for Bob Simmonds, his claim was that he was owed $1.5 million for services rendered as the project's co-producer.

For his part, Alexander maintained that he could not be sued in a California court of law because, officially, he lived in Paris at the time; moreover, the majority of his holdings were all offshore entities!

It made not a world of difference to the L.A. County Superior Court Justice assigned to this case. The lawsuit ultimately stood. In the end, this and assorted other financial difficulties resulted in an emotional falling-out between both Alexander and Ilya Salkind.

***

Two years later, with Santa Claus: The Movie celebrating its 10th Anniversary, it was revealed that Alexander had been diagnosed with leukemia. He and Ilya were thus forced to publicly reconcile their differences, if only to see Alexander through the intense physical hardships he knew he'd have to undergo. Nevertheless, by then, the damage had already been done: the father and son would never again function together as a producing team.

***

On March 18th, 1997, Ilya Salkind sadly broke the news to the world: the man who had made us believe that a planet could fly had begun his own flight into that Greater World Beyond. Alexander had passed away a few days earlier, on March 8th, in his room at the American Hospital in the nearby Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. It was neither disclosed or revealed how Alexander had contracted leukemia, nor did Ilya identify the specific form of the disease that had claimed the life of his father.

Ironically, Alexander Salkind was himself afraid of flying, choosing instead to make his travels by boat (specifically, the QE2). Indeed, those same fears of heights were the major reason why he rarely, if ever, set foot on American soil throughout his career! Still, one cannot blame this man for possessing an extraordinary gift of boldness and daring..... a gift that made him always commit to bringing life to as many of his films as possible.

The very notion that he had to risk countersuing his own son over what would prove to be their last movie together might have been enough to break Alexander's courage and resolve; so much so, perhaps, that it may have triggered that leukemia which, in the end, brought his life to its close. Who's to say?

By all accounts, this much is certain: every time the opening credits began with the words "Alexander Salkind presents.......", that was nothing less than a guarantee that this man would always go out of his way to make you remember exactly what it was that he was presenting.

Here, in chronological order, are all of the Alexander Salkind Presentations:

THEATRICAL FEATURES

1945 Marina
1945 Soltera y con Gemelos
1946 The Symphony of Life
1946 A Modern Bluebeard (Il Moderno Barba Azul)/Rocket to the Moon
1950 Black Jack/Captain Black Jack
1953 The Daughter of the Regiment
1958 My Darned Father!/Mon Coquin de Pere!
1959 Austerlitz!/The Battle of Austerlitz
1961 Romulus and the Sabines
1962 The Trial (Le Proces)
1965 Ballad in Blue/Blues for Lovers
1967 The Life of Cervantes/Young Rebel
1971 The Light at the Edge of the World
1971 Kill!/Kill, Kill, Kill!
1972 Bluebeard
1973 The 3 Musketeers/The Queen's Diamonds
1974 The 4 Musketeers/Milady's Revenge!
1976 The Twist/Le Folies Bourgeoises
1977 Crossed Swords/The Prince and the Pauper
1978 Superman: The Movie
1980 Superman II
1983 Superman III
1984 Supergirl
1985 Where is Parsifal?
1985 Santa Claus: The Movie
1990 The Rainbow Thief
1992 Christopher Columbus: The Discovery
TELEVISION

1981 The Making of Superman: The Movie (documentary)*
1982 The Making of Superman II (documentary)
1983 The Making of Superman III (documentary)
1986 Supergirl: The Making of the Movie (documentary)
1987 Santa Claus: The Making of The Movie (documentary)
1988-91 Superboy/The Adventures of Superboy (series) [syndicated]
*All Salkind 'making-of' documentaries were originally aired over the ABC Television Network.

***

Of the 11 theatrically released Alexander Salkind Presentations supervised by him over a 20-year period, beginning in 1972, five of those films represent his biggest, most spectacular attempts at film fantasy --- movies fueled primarily by the power of the human imagination. How appropriate and fitting, therefore, that the last of these Five Great Fantasy Films should cast its focus upon that most magical and eternal of icons, Santa Claus.

To give his Christmas epic a high degree of sensibility, thereby providing his audience with an awesome sense of wonder at all that we were about to witness, the Presenter made probably one of the best decisions he'd ever made: namely, that while the film would be officially known (and eventually trademarked) as Santa Claus: The Movie, its Main Title sequence would open with the following simple designation:

"Alexander Salkind presents........ SANTA CLAUS."

Needless to say, he wanted us to remember what the heart and soul of this dazzling motion picture truly represented: the hope and wonder one will always associate with heroes. That same hope and wonder, obviously, lies at the heart of his four previous Great Fantasies --- forever wrapping us within the unshakable resolve of the El Dynasty, late of the planet Krypton.

In the final analysis, the ultimate legacy of Alexander Salkind has its roots in one inescapable truth:

HE MADE US BELIEVE.

And where Santa Claus is concerned, isn't believing the real measure of the imagination? Regardless of whether or not, as John Lithgow would later comment, he knew how to make 'children's films,' this incredible man took a chance by recalling that other famous film featuring Santa Claus --- and its own undying words of wisdom:

"Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to."

In the end, Alexander Salkind made us lose whatever concepts we might have had regarding "common sense." Result: we believed that men, women and reindeer could fly.

And so, we the creators of KringleQuest.com 3.0 would like to take this opportunity to say: Thank you, Alexander. You waged a constant, sometimes stormy, but ultimately triumphant battle to preserve and defend the world's right to believe. By your victory in that battle, we have won as well. It goes without saying that we will always be grateful to you for having made possible the fruits of that victory.

In tribute to those fruits, then, we dedicate this website.

Click here for a Brief Footnote; or here for some new thoughts on the Rest of the Story; or here for reflections on Alexander's passing.....