Billy Silver Dollar’s Last Wish

Notorious press agent and movie producer Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter leaves a legacy of film classics in his wake
 
 
Love Stalker Love and Anarchy double bill
Love Stalker Love and Anarchy double bill
 
Feb. 6, 2012 - PRLog -- “Sure you want to do this?” said Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter.

“Absolutely,” said Matt Glasson. “I love Love & Anarchy, Billy. And I want people to see it. If we can put it on a double bill with Love Stalker in Chicago around Valentine’s Day, I think we’d have something special.”

“Alright, let’s do it,” Billy said. “Make sure my name’s on the top of both pictures at all times, Matt… ‘Billy Baxter presents.’ Capice?”

“Absolutely.”

Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter won’t make it to the Chicago screening of Love Stalker and Love & Anarchy. On January 20, three weeks shy of his 86th birthday, Billy went to sleep and never woke up. He leaves behind family, friends, an extensive collection of showbiz memorabilia, and the iconic foreign and independent films that he promoted, produced and presented to US audiences.

A year prior, Matt Glasson had met with Billy Baxter to discuss his new independent film Love Stalker. For Glasson, a first-time filmmaker, it was a time of uncertainty and trepidation, but fortunately Billy was a fan of his film and had a few ideas up his sleeve.

“First, you’ve got to take Love Stalker to the Cannes Film Festival,” Billy said without hesitation. “That’s where me and my partner Herbert Steinmann met Lina Wertmüller and Giancarlo Giannini and bought the North American rights for Love & Anarchy - in perpetuity. It’s where we met George Romero and got involved with Dawn of the Dead. Anybody who’s anybody in the movie business is in Cannes. Take it over there and see what interest you get and make some noise at the Marché. Make Love Stalker important.”

"That's what we're planning on doing, Billy," said Matt.

“And remember, do not fall in love with the picture. At the end of the day, it’s only a movie. Art-schmart. When you’re in show business, the idea is to make money.”

Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter was born to work in showbiz. At twelve, he was the featured model in a Saturday Evening Post story about the need for stronger child labor laws. On his seventeenth birthday, he enlisted in the Navy and served aboard the USS New Jersey battleship in World War II. Back home in Manhattan, he eventually became a press agent for foreign and American independent “art house” films: Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and Juliet of the Spirits, Jacques Remy’s The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and Sydney Lumet’s The Pawnbroker, to name a few.

“Those were some pretty good films.” said Baxter, “When I was working for Ely Landau, I became good friends with his partner, Herbert R. Steinmann, who eventually became my partner.”

It was Baxter’s partnership with Steinmann that took the duo to the Cannes Film Festival in 1973 in search of a good film to bring back to the States. They ended up striking cinematic gold with Lina Wertmüller’s Love and Anarchy, starring a young, freckled-face Giancarlo Giannini as a simple peasant who plans to assassinate Mussolini at the dictator’s height of power in the early 1930’s. Giannini received the “Best Actor” award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance. Wertmüller directed Giannini again in Swept Away (1975) and Seven Beauties (1977) for which she became the first woman director ever nominated for an Academy Award.

“It was pretty obvious that Love & Anarchy was a great movie,” Baxter recalled, “even though I couldn’t understand what the hell they were talking about since it was in Italian with French subtitles. All I knew was Giannini fell in love with a hooker while hiding out in a Rome whorehouse. So, we had to put quite a bit of money up for the subtitles and get the story straight. We had our editor, Fima Noveck, work the opening to set up the movie a little more for American audiences and give it some historical context. Fima added some shots of Mussolini along with a written prologue before the film picks up with Lina’s original Italian film. Herbert and I brought both Lina and Giancarlo to New York for the premiere in April of 1974. And they both loved what Fima did with Love & Anarchy.”

Baxter and Steinmann would continue to acquire and release films that served an under-catered audience such as Outrageous! (1977). The LGBT-ahead-of-its-time cult movie classic turned out to be a big hit in New York and San Francisco.

But their biggest success was to come at the 1978 Cannes Film Festival when Baxter met a young producer named Richard P. Rubenstein while playing Black Jack. Billy covered a double-down bet for Rubenstein, who was finishing production on a new independent horror film and needed some extra capital. Steinmann and Baxter, always the gambling man, stepped up to the plate to cover the investment and Dawn of the Dead went on to become one of the highest grossing independent movies of all time.

“Before the movie even came out, we got all our money back. Then over the next few decades, I got a days pay on top of it.” Baxter said with more than a hint of pride, “And I have to be honest, kid, I have yet to see the whole movie, because zombies are not my cup of tea.”

Baxter would take himself out of the movie scene in the 1980’s as he entered into “semi-retirement” but his love of film and the medium could not keep him out of the spotlight. In 2009, he hired Matt Glasson to assist with the DVD release of his 1980 documentary Diary of the Cannes Film Festival with Rex Reed. So impressed was Baxter by Glasson’s technical skill that when Matt told him about a film he was making called Love Stalker, Billy told him, “Keep me in the loop with this thing and let me see it when you finish up.”

Six months later, Glasson gave a rough cut of the film to Baxter, who was taken by its acting and storyline. “Forget about the romantic comedy angle, this movie is a mystery,” Baxter said, “The acting is so good, it leads you to believe one thing but then something entirely different happens. I didn’t think I could be thrown, but it threw me.”

After discussing the idea with Matt, Billy decided to lend his name to the project as a means to help Love Stalker garner interest at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and elsewhere. “When you get over there,” Billy advised, “take a bunch of these silver dollars and hand them out as tips and tell them they’re from me, Billy ‘Silver Dollar’ Baxter.”

Following his lead, Glasson, along with his co-producer David P. Ohliger and their lead actress Rachel Chapman headed over to Cannes to screen the film in the Marché and to work the festival with their silver dollars in tow. They managed to pack the Love Stalker screening and get some notice from press such as GQ and Variety, while they also helped to keep the legacy of Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter alive.

In the months that followed, “Silver Dollar” Baxter began to show signs of slowing down, but he still wanted to see Love Stalker become a success and maintained contact with Glasson and Ohliger as they prepared the film for its official festival premiere in St. Louis and, finally, in Chicago where Baxter had intended to showcase his Love & Anarchy as a double-feature to help promote the event.

The last time Glasson saw Billy Baxter, it was to pick up the film print of Love & Anarchy for the Chicago screening. The door was open to his apartment as Matt entered and he saw Billy eating a bowl of cereal. He pointed to the film and instructed Matt what to do with it. “Now if anything is wrong with the print, let me know and I’ll see if I have another one lying around here somewhere,” Baxter said, his voice sounding tired. “Do you have enough silver dollars for Chicago?”

“Sure do, Billy.”

“Good boy.” Billy said. “Matt, I wish you all the success in the world. Now get outta here. I got a game coming on Channel 2.”

Billy “Silver Dollar” Baxter presents an UNromantic Double-Feature…
February 17, 2012
Love Stalker @ 8 PM*
Love & Anarchy @ 10 PM
The Portage Theater
4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60641
*Directors in attendance for Q&A following the film

Love Stalker - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1754156/

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Tags:Chicago, Movie, Premiere, Roger Ebert, Billy Baxter, Love, Comedy, Cannes, Hollywood, Valentine S Day, CINEMA
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Page Updated Last on: Feb 07, 2012
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