This week’s welcome to the insta-hood is on Marty Sokol (@clubcobra)!
- Tell me a little about yourself:
“Thanks for reaching out ! you know I am your number one Fan, so this is a BIG deal for me!
I wanted to take a moment to tell you why.
I have been collecting since I was a kid — anything and everything that interests me. Over the years I have dragged along a varied and eclectic range of insanity including a substantial old vacuum cleaner collection, old time clocks, Horror comics, toys, lunch boxes, electric fans, old radios, microphones, super 8 reels, B movie memorabilia, 70’s & 80’s Pop Culture, old weight loss/health & beauty equipment, thousands of VHS tapes, old clocks, penny toys, old tins, mechanical banks, a pretzel machine and most anything else you can imagine
I was also a magician as a kid and had an amazing collection of illusions and sad looking spring rabbits culled from Tannen’s in NY — only to learn my Mother had sold the entire collection along with anything and everything ever advertised from the back of a comic, my Micronauts and three garbage bags of Bazooka Joe wrappers — in one fell swoop — at a yard sale when I was at camp — which only seems cruel because it was!
Over the years I loved living with and about my stuff — making each new place I lived in seem comfortable — familiar.
However, years ago I was lucky enough to purchase a house that Curly from The Three Stooges lived in with his niece — a white, airy, 1920’s Mediterranean dream in the hills of Hollywood and decided to leave it free of my nonsense — the collections went into storage along with over 20 years of Beta Masters and all the junk and memorabilia that comes from producing and distributing TV and movies. I did get rid of a Theater Of Magic pinball machine, a stand up Pac Man and a Pachinko collection…
Flash forward — — Much to the consternation and annoyance of my friends, I was never on social media — just wasn’t for me — so I paid it no mind — but this past November I needed to step in and take over the Instagram account for one of my Clubs and this opened a whole new world for me. For the first time in a very long time I was connecting with like minded and fascinating collectors like you who show me amazing items every day — and here is the coolest part and I am so thankful for it — it’s like I’m collecting all over again, only now my collection is always with me — it’s better really — although, I still want an Evil Knievel Scramble Van and a complete Bionic Woman Fembot collection. Um.. Yes, I turned 50 last month…”
- Your first job was on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – what was that like?…
“That was actually my second job in Hollywood — third if you count my movie theater days as a 17 year old at the Sack Paris — a single screen theater on Boylston Street in Boston while at Emerson College — sadly, I think it’s a Walgreens now. I served the wonderful Rita Moreno popcorn at the opening of White Knights — she complimented me on my three layer butter effect and against the glass swirl to keep the popcorn packed in and laughed when I told her to call me if she needed an In to Show Biz… The Sack Paris would hold movies forever and I can recite every line of dialogue of King Solomon’s Mines, Hannah & Her Sisters and of course White Knights.
At Emerson I was producing the comedy groups Emerson Comedy Workshop & This Is Pathetic and having an amazing time with great friends, but was in a rush to keep it movin’ and graduated early — My first job in LA was at 20 on the Warner Brothers lot as a casting assistant for the Cosby spin-off A Different World, CBS’s Beauty & The Beast and a bunch of pilots — it was a horrible job working for what appeared to be a coven of Witches but I loved being a kid on the lot. I would eat lunch on the NY Street set every day and hop from stage to stage.
We were casting a pilot called Mulberry Street and every day someone cool would come in to read and I met many of my childhood favorites like Ceaser Romero, Tina Louise, Yvonne De Carlo, Rose Marie, Vic Tayback, Bonnie Franklin — one day Bob Kane, Creator of Batman, came storming in hot-headed yelling after weeks of daily phone calls introducing himself each time as — ‘Bob Kane Creator of Batman’ — insisting this casting agent meet his new actress wife — he was determined — my boss apathetic — it was clear this was one of the most desperate and unpleasant sides of the business. I was thankful when it ended.
Of course in 1988 there was no internet, cell phones or fax, so I would sit at the counter around the corner from my apartment at the long gone ‘Rock ’n Roll Denny’s’ on Sunset at 6am every morning and circle help wanted ads in the back of Variety and The Hollywood Reporter.
At that time, a girl I knew from Emerson, writer Melissa Clark, would have me over her parents house in Brentwood to swim and for parties — her father is writer Ron Clark who wrote High Anxiety, Silent Movie, Revenge Of The Pink Panther and a ton of TV. Attend a party at her parents house and you were transported — Mel Brooks, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Cloris Leachman, Jack Riley — they were all there — got to meet so many of the Greats and my childhood heroes in that house! — Back when Burbank had diners like the Copper Penny and the one that’s horribly now a Rite Aide on Magnolia & Hollywood Way, I would see Mel Brooks holding court and he would always make a big deal of seeing me like I was the most important person in the room.
After a lot of phone calls on the Rock n Roll Denny’s pay phone, I got a hired as a production assistant on something new — The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — no one had heard of it yet and when I would tell people they would just laugh. I loved it. I met so many cool people and within only a few months we were the zeitgeist in the country and the IT thing in town.
Importantly, I learned from the greatest in the game how to not only make and syndicate a show, but the licensing, merchandising and branding that goes with it. This would help me a lot through the years.
In those days the Avid and computer editing didn’t exist and we still cut film on Moviolas with strips of 35mm hanging from bins and would carry large cans of sensitive negatives to the negative cutter at Television City on Santa Monica. I once locked three cans of TMNT negatives in my car on a hot LA day while grabbing tacos at Poquito Mas and had to break the window to save the negatives from melting.
The great Fred Wolf (The Point, 2,000 Motels) promoted me to Production Manager and I did a few other shows for him — Barnyard Commandoes, Shadow Strikers, Pretty Piggies, The California Raisins (an all night telecine of ‘Dancing In The Streets’ and ‘Heard It Through The Grapevine’ would kill much of my beloved MoTown for me forever) — and then, most notably, The Toxic Crusaders… “
- How did you get involved with Troma Entertainment?
“It was the craziest thing, I think I willed it to be — I remember just a year or so before — at Emerson, reading an issue of Newsweek in the bathroom and there was a one page article on Troma. I had seen Stuck On You at the drive-in on a double bill with Valley Girl the summer before 10th grade and had seen the Toxic Avenger on video — I just remember thinking to myself — I need to work for those guys — but I moved to LA and they were in NY, and then one day, they walked in with the Toxic Avenger — the deal had already been made — and it was the same team as the Turtles — same syndicator — toy company — animator — all the same and now we were a well oiled machine looking for the next Turtles.
When the show wrapped — six or seven months before release — I pitched Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz that Troma should have an LA office and I should run it. Not sure where my 22 year old balls came from. — Lloyd later told me they hired me because no one had ever asked for as much money as I did — and although they didn’t give it to me, they were sure I would hustle. I traded my new little Honda Civic for a black, slightly used land yacht, Chrysler New Yorker, 5th Avenue with white walls, wire wheels and a Landau roof and was in business. Incidentally, the great actor Ricardo Montalban, who famously was the spokesman for the car and it’s fine ‘Corinthian leather’, once blessed me and that car, which I meticulously cared for, when he gave me a thumbs up in the parking lot of Le Dome on Sunset.”
- What was working there like? What was your weirdest experience there?…
“Oh that is tough! There are so many experiences… Working there was great —demanding — it was a very exciting time. The Toxic Crusaders was set to be the next Turtles and deals, movies & shows were flooding in. I set up Class Of Nuke’m High at Fox as a live action kid’s series — SGT Kabukiman NYPD as an animated kids show with DIC and New Line was making the live action Toxic Crusaders movie. Lloyd and Michael were being flown out by studios on the regular on MGM Grand and things were moving fast.
All of this would come crashing down in a very unexpected way before the show ever aired and the toys hit the bin with a mighty thud. The Turtles had in fact begun to dip, but instead of plummeting it plateaued and Toxie, once seen as the replacement, was now in the way. So sad — so much care and excitement went into producing the show — Chuck Lorre who had just created Roseanne wrote the pilot and the toys by Playmates were exceptional — I still have tons! The buzz was high — the TV clearance incredible — there was a big lawsuit that worked in Troma’s favor, but that is not my story to tell…
Before any of that would come down, I remember early on taking a young actor to San Diego for the 1991 Comic Con in the Toxic Crusaders suit that was made by Playmates Toy Company. I picked it up at the design studio in La Mirada who also made the suits for Disney. It was expensive – $12,000 and the only one in existence. I remember Karl the rep from Playmates instructing me over and over to be careful. Now at Comic Con, the actor inside was complaining it was hot. We were heading for the exit when Toxie — on cue, fell forward, face flat on the floor in the middle of the convention and a team of paramedics sliced open the suit — shredding it unrecognizable just as Lloyd Kaufman, my new boss, arrived from the airport to witness this horrific scene unfold — the actor was fine but the $12,000 suit was in ruins…
I learned so much from Lloyd and Michael and we wore many hats. We negotiated and wrote our own deal memos and contracts before passing them through Michael. We were shooting and releasing movies theatrically and video was still king. On any given day, I was filming, pitching the studios, doing domestic & foreign sales, publicity, throwing events and parties, and everything and anything that an army of people would normally do.
I remember the first movie I distributed was a take on the Blaxploitation Vampire movie called Def By Temptation with Kadeem Hardison, Samuel Jackson, Melba Moore, Bill Nunn, Freddie Jackson and with Ernest Dickerson as cinematographer. Def was written and directed by James Bond III who had been a late 70’s and early 80’s child actor and had been in The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh! The movie was screening great all over town and a special screening was set up for the NAACP Image Awards. I was presenting and I was nervous — showed up to the screening room two hours early — said hi to the Projectionist — asked if everything was alright, checked the room and made it across the street to grab a quick bite to calm my nerves. When I returned to the theater, I see it’s a full house — I say to the projectionist — OK, I guess it’s showtime and I wipe my hands on my pants and head for the theater — the projectionist looks at me and says ‘Great, where’s the movie?’… So many lessons learned.
Around this time I lived in the Hollywood Tower — the landmark Hollywood building the Disney ride Tower of Terror is based on and during the LA riots I sat on the roof with my neighbors, actor Robert Patrick who had just shot Terminator but it hadn’t come out yet and the great soap actor Ian Buchanan — the three of us watched tanks roll through the streets and Hollywood burn all around us. Ian joked that Robert would get the movie and he would get the Movie Of The Week…
Early on at Troma I became friends with the great Sam Arkoff of the old AIP Studios who took a liking to me — I would sit in his office for hours — pelt him with questions and listen to his stories of all the Hollywood Greats and Not So Greats — he would take me across the street to the Smokehouse for lunch and laugh with everyone he passed. Every once in awhile he would call me and invite me to his home screening room — unchanged from the 1950’s — to watch movies with his family — I remember watching The Two Jakes and falling asleep in My Blue Heaven — his new son-in-law was Joe Roth who was about to take over Disney would sometimes be there — I don’t know why Sam was so nice to me but it always makes me want to cry when I think of him. If you can find it, read his book which he wrote late in life — ‘Flying Through Hollywood By The Seat Of My Pants’ – it’s wonderful just like Sam.
I acquired for Troma Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Cannibal The Musical along with
Phillip R. Ford’s Vegas In Space (The First All Drag Sci Fi Musical Extravaganza) and distributed others like Chopper Chicks From ZombieTown with Billy Bob Thorton, Don Calfa and Catherine Carlen for New Line.
We also distributed Bride Of Reanimator — the sequel to Reanimator — and enjoyed working with director Brian Yuzna and star Jeffrey Combs – both gentleman. I worked with Karen Black & Horror Queens Brinke Stevens, Linnea Quigley and Troma’s Lisas’ — Lisa Star, Lisa Rawlins and Lisa Gaye and appeared a few times as myself with Rhonda Sheer — who I love — on USA Up All Night .
Interestingly, we released the brilliant anime director Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ theatrically under the banner 50th Street Films. The Japanese media giant Namco was footing the bill. I was excited — the movie got outstanding reviews and a nice media buy but truthfully I couldn’t get arrested with it — timing is everything and people were not getting it — theaters hard to book — it would be, to put it kindly, an unspectacular opening weekend in a few cities and plans were then scrapped to release Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service and Castle In The Sky — a decade later Disney would buy and release these movies to huge success and I still do a double take when I see a kid with a Totoro doll.
I remember almost getting Peter Jackson’s infamously crude Meet The Feebles, the US release of Godzilla vs. Biollante, The Gwar Movie and creating a martial arts slate of movies with Cytnhia Rothrock— but alas not meant to be…
I once had dinner with Lloyd Kaufman and Roger Corman alone in a tiny quiet French restaurant on Ventura Blvd — and Andre The Giant was alone dwarfing a ridiculously tiny bar in the corner —and Roger said to Lloyd “…we are making buggy whips and the studios are making race cars!” — I thought life can’t be much better than this!
Lloyd and Stan Lee are good friends and I was able to spend a lot of time with Stan, first on The Toxic Avenger and then the Toxic Crusaders comics and even interviewed him for The Troma Times – he is exactly the person you think he is – wonderful, funny and genuine – all Stan Lee!
I joined the Friars Club, and at 24 was the youngest member on The Board Of Directors and knew Milton Berle,Red Skelton, Jack Carter, the great director Don Siegel, Chuck McCann, Rodney Dangerfield, Monte Hall, writer/actor Stanley Ralph Ross who wrote Batman, Wonder Woman, Love American Style and everything I watched growing up, Dick Clark, who later I would work with on Sugar Shack, a Retro Saturday Morning TV send-up for adults — and so many others — I loved them all and spent many an afternoon tightly wrapped up in sheets in the sleeping room with them after a schvitz. We would have private boxing matches with steak dinners which were popular and I got the writers from Seinfeld to join in an attempt to keep the joint relevant — but like all of the Greats who were there — the West Coast Chapter of The Friars Club on Little Santa Monica in Beverly Hills is long since gone.
Working for Troma was akin to getting my Film, MBA and Law degree all at once and I continue to use the lessons learned there every day. I still see Lloyd often for dinner with Pat his wife and Michael when I am in NY. My nephew was a PA on Return To Return To Nuke’m High Vol 2 a couple summers ago and is working on Shakespeare’s Shit Storm for Troma right now – so proud!
I left Troma because I had sold a show I created to CBS Late Night in ’94 — but the head of late night, Rod Perth, went on to become President of USA Network and the show ended up there — it was Reel Wild Cinema with Sandra Bernhard and showcased the great exploitation films I loved.
A year earlier I had produced ‘She Devils On Wheels The Musical’ on stage in LA — an all Drag Musical based on the Herschel Gordon Lewis female biker movie I had been obsessed with since high school and had secured the rights from Jimmy Maslon who owned all of the HGL movies. He introduced me to Mike Vraney of Something Weird Video and between the two of them, Reel Wild Cinema had access to some of the best exploitation cinema available and the talented exploitation director Frank Henenlotter (Basketcase, Frankenhooker) was curating and cutting the films.
For months, I had literally begged and then stalked the great Paul Reubens to host the show but these were different times — he was still being unfairly targeted by the media & society at large and simply could not consider it. I still think it would have been great for him and definitely would have made a better show, but these were different times. In today’s world of daily scandals & ‘owning it’ and moving on — it would have worked!
We ran a few seasons and had great guests like Russ Myers, David Friedman, Herschel Gordon Lewis, Roger Corman, Paul Bartel, Mamie Van Doren, Tura Santana, Vampira, Connie Mason, Adrianne Barbeau and so many more — of course I had Lloyd on. I was a huge fan of Sandra Bernhard and campaigned hard for her — the original pilot was set in a penthouse in the future city of MondoAGoGo — had Korla Pandit as her band leader and a near crazed David Caradine was the guest — Network hated it — and by the time the series went to air it was just Sandy on a couch but we still had great movies and amazing guests and the cool opening credits my friend Joe Horne from the Turtles directed remained . I know for a fact, I have the only copy of the original unaired pilot with Korla Padit in existence — the plug on the pilot was pulled before the sound & post was even finished!
Again, timing is everything, and by the time the show moved from CBS to USA, a new show, Mystery Science Theater 3K had become a national sensation and much of the air had been sucked out of the room. Amazing we lasted as many seasons as we did.
Funny, when you think about the way the TV landscape has changed — we use to average a 1.1 rating at midnight on USA and much higher when we ran the Betty Page Nudie Cuties episodes — now people would kill for that! I was able to format the show in other countries and later teamed with Rhino Video and did a version called Exploitica in the UK for Network 5 — the company producing my show had a hit show on in the UK called Robot Wars and I brought it back to the States for MTV who sat on it for a complete summer even though they had dozens of episodes to air and we got trumped by a copy cat — Battle Bots — which became a huge hit. Ha, In this game we all have war stories…”
- Can you talk a bit about your two nightclubs? I have seen a lot of your pictures from your feed and I like the theme nights they are super creative!!
“Ha thanks! The nightclubs came about as a way to have something outside the uncertainties of the Business — I just never imagined it would be two decades! I always loved bars and clubs ever since I was a kid watching old movies, and my friend Julio had always worked in one. He was managing a club downtown and we were drinking — I had been creating programming for Lorne Michael’s Broadway Video in NY who was launching a new network for college kids called Burly Bear and was depressed over some stupid show of mine over at MTV which had derailed while I was gone — I had just turned thirty and after a decade I was beat— I said to Julio maybe we should just open our own spot — Julio looked at me without missing a beat and said I know the place — the next day we went to a run down shit kicker bar in East LA — within days bought it, and within weeks we were open and CHICO was a hit —— this is only something you do when you’re young — you can’t think about it haha…
We were the first and remain the only Gay Nightclub in East LA — then we opened Club Cobra in North Hollywood over a decade ago and both spots have never been more fresh and packed with energy and people. We rank high in the top 50 Gay Nightclubs in the country based on attendance through Google tracking.
We have a monthly Vogue Ball with some of the best dancers and choreographers in the business! We are next to the best dance studios in LA where all the great dancers for all the great music pop stars train before touring, TV and videos — so we have many fantastic dancers lighting up the club every night and often major Pop Stars hanging out with them! Of course we are known for the Club Cobra & CHICO Go-Go’s but our parties are so much more… A lot of the Rupaul Drag Race girls perform at both clubs with some of the best performers in the biz — there is always a big show! There is a night we host called SCUM that is getting a lot of media attention which is a group of young artists bridging old world punk with new world drag that blows the mind. We have the best weekly Transgendered night in Southern California called Transfix — No matter what party is being thrown our philosophy is simple — customer service and a great safe party. We have an amazing Team that work both clubs — most have been with us more than a decade — very rare in this business. So much of how we operate the clubs, conduct business and even my 20 year business partnership with Julio is based on what I learned from Lloyd and Michael at Troma. “
6. I noticed you are work on a lot of current project and all sounds really interesting —Which ones are you currently working on? Can you talk a little bit about the projects?
“I just completed a documentary short I did with my good friend screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez (Rob The Mob) called ‘Just Giselle’ centered on a fascinating transgendered woman. I have known Jonathan since we were kids in Hollywood and he worked for Roger Corman — we have been close friends for near thirty years… we love this documentary.
Mostly the clubs afford me the luxury of being a writer only now — allowing me the ability to set up scripts to languish in development hell until a miracle happens.
I have a script about a young street kid and a faded TV star on a Hollywood crime spree — Christopher Lloyd is attached — also a Robert Altman inspired ensemble set at The World’s Largest Slot Machine Jackpot Championship in South Florida that I love and a TV series in development called ‘The Deities’ that is Homeland meets Ancient Aliens.
I am inspired by the changing distribution landscape and filmmakers like Sean Baker (Florida Project, Starlet) — also by the many studios and independent filmmakers who shoot their movies and TV shows in our clubs — Last week Steven Soderbergh and Greg Araki filmed their new series for Starz at Club Cobra — — it makes me want to set my next script in our clubs, use my old school Troma training and just shoot the damn thing myself…”
If you like to know more about Marty or have any questions for him his contact information is : firstname.lastname@example.org
THANK YOU MARTY FOR THIS AWESOME INTERVIEW!!!!
Until next time!!!