Cinefear: We who love exploitation cinema are all familiar with your grandfather William Mishkin, would you care to give us a short family history?
Adrienne Mishkin: My great-grandparents came to this country from Russia. My great-grandmother was a descendant of the Vilna Gaon, a celebrated eighteenth century East European scholar. Their son, William Mishkin, was born in New York on December 6, 1908. He was the youngest in his family, with 5 older sisters. His father, a jeweler, died when he was 12, while his mother lived about another 25 years. Will attended Columbia University; his first major employment was running a business of buying and distributing boxes, for things like jewelry and hats. He married my grandmother, Elaine, in 1940. Their sons, Lewis and Neil, my uncle and father respectively, each produced two grandchildren.
My grandfather was a very creative man. In addition to his genius at marketing and titling, he wrote a murder mystery, "Agatha Christie, You Kill Me", (which I actually recorded for him on tape when I was in high school), sold some of his own paintings, and invented a shorthand system that he called Abbreviatrix, from which royalties flowed to the family for a number of years.
Elaine was stricken with MS in the late 1960s and, from that time until her death in 1996, was paralyzed from the waist down. My grandfather was entirely devoted to her; her care became the central concern of his life for his remaining years. He died on April 13, 1997, when I was a sophomore in high school.
Would you please tell us just how your grandfather entered the motion picture arena?
All we know is that because of his general interest in movies, he started working for another film distributor and that, after a while, decided he could do a better job operating on his own. This is probably the least interesting response possible considering his line of work, but it's the truth.
Your Uncle Lew, who is a lawyer, was also in the family business, why did your father choose to stay out?
My father's interests and skills were not well matched to being in the motion picture business. He recently retired after about 30 years in various financial positions, working for a major bank.
Your grandfather's main claim to fame is producing the films of Andy Milligan. What do you know of their relationship, as well as the relationship between Milligan and your Uncle Lew?
All we know about the relationship between Andy Milligan and my family is what we read in the papers (or on-line). There's no evidence of a mutual admiration society's having been formed, but we have no personal knowledge to add to the record.
How did your grandfather feel about the films he produced and distributed? Did he like cinema or was it the financial reward he appreciated?
My grandfather loved watching and reading about movies long before he got into the business, and was something of a film expert. But he didn't confuse his segment of the industry with mainstream films. In his own niche, he never thought he was marketing real works of art, but he probably did consider his work to call for real marketing artistry. In brief, he enjoyed working in the industry, developing marketing campaigns and the financial rewards.
With respect to such benefits, it might be worth noting that, as we understand it, his greatest success by far, "The Orgy at Lil's Place", grossed more than any other film in New York City the week it opened, with the sole exception of the show at Radio City Music Hall.
What kind of relationship did you have with your grandfather, and did he offer you insight to his film empire, or did he steer your attention away from it?
I was really too young while my grandfather was alive to be given much information about his business. I was always vaguely aware of the type of work he had done, but not of his exploitation films. He did, however, as I mentioned, send me a copy of "Agatha Christie, You Kill Me," which I recorded on audio tape for him. I saw a lot of my grandparents when I was young; we had dinner with them as much as twice a week. There was definitely never anything about my grandfather and the way he acted in front of me that could have helped me guess at his one-time profession.
Your grandfather had a tough reputation amongst filmmakers and other film distributors/ producers. Why is this? Is it deserved? Is it jealousy? Do you feel your grandfather was a tough guy to work for or do business with?
Frankly, this question is the first we've ever heard anything about my grandfather's "tough reputation" in any way. Certainly with friends and family, he was a rather soft-spoken and gentle person. From what we've read, it seems he probably had many disagreements with Andy Milligan. We would speculate that since Will was laying out the money for these endeavors, he might have had reason to insist on having his way if he thought it would affect the financial viability of a film. What kind of reputation he may have had, however, is not something in which we are well educated.
The only objective information we have on his reputation in the film business was his winning an award from (we think the acronym is) IFIDA, an industry organization, for a documentary we believe was about Mt. Vesuvius (probably the only documentary he ever distributed). As his connection to this movie was minor at best, the award was really a form of recognition from his peers in the industry, which might have been harder to bestow on one of his more typical films.
Do you have any interest in the film world, and would you like to carry on the family business in any way, shape or form?
I am currently a premedical student at the University of Pennsylvania, so I am definitely not planning to go into film in a professional way. However, there is no question in my mind that there are a lot of traits that have been passed down to me from my grandfather; he, my father and I are all people who have strong creative tendencies. In my spare time I write poetry, and I have done a lot of acting, especially in high school, which I think parallels Will's hobbies. Overall, I would say I am more of a live theater enthusiast than a movie buff.
Do you have a complete number on the amount of films your grandfather produced and distributed in his illustrious career?
Sorry, we have no information on this.
More than anything, how would you like your grandfather's and uncle's legacy of exploitation cinema to be remembered, and how do you feel looking back on their past work?
I unfortunately have not been able to see very much of my grandfather's work, and I am currently trying to re-amass his films in order that I might know better what he was doing (This girl is in for a shock- ed.). But regardless of the particular films, or the nature of the films, I am nothing but proud to be descended from a man who worked hard to support his family and whose success was driven by his creativity. I also think that his line of work was very cool. That said, I must admit that when I think about my grandfather now, film distribution never really comes to mind. I think of a sweet, old man whose devotion to his family eclipsed all else.
Note From The Webmistress: It is customary to include photos with interviews, both on the web and in print publishing. It's how the reader establishes who is speaking. However, Miss Mishkin would not/could not accomodate Cinefear's esteemed webmistress with a photo of herself or of her grandfather William Mishkin to include with this interview. One reason cited involved not wanting the family name to be associated with pornography (remember: we're talking about a guy who put out a flick titled Penetration). Another less insane yet still wholly silly reason for not providing photos was that Milligan fans might feel antagonistic towards Adrienne. Considering that Keith himself is widely regarded as Andy's most devoted and passionate fan, this paranoia is completely unfounded. It's not as if Andy's films have spawned a Jim Jones-styled cult that prays for the destruction of the Mishkin name. There are no bands of rogue Milligan groupies waiting to spirit off young, nubile Mishkins as they sleep. Sheesh.
Moreover, the lack of a photo totally threw off my interview design style. That makes me grumpy. Since I live a hop skip and a jump away from U of P in Philly, I hereby offer to drive to University of Pennsylvania and photograph Miss Mishkin myself.
Postscript: Well, Adrienne didn't take me up on my offer, but she did say, "Thanks for dealing with the page and making it so pretty :) and stuff. I like it, and my friends love it..."