THREE YEARS AGO ANYBODY in the business could describe a Texas movie producer for you: loud talking, fast moving (white Eldorado), Frye boots, and a rodeo shirt to match his California girl friend’s; born in Brooklyn (where else?), with two quickies to his credit—one that four-walled Waco, Temple, and died, the other still playing some outdoor circuit in Alabama.
Joseph Shelton Camp, Jr., scriptwriter, director, producer, president, and man-in-the-saddle for Mulberry Square Productions of Dallas, changed that image with a G-rated dog picture named Benji. This Texas product did the thing a movie must do first to be taken seriously. It made lots … and lots … of money. In fact, earlier this year when Variety, the show-biz Bible, listed the box office winners for 1975, Benji was in slot #3 behind that mechanical shark and that blazing skyscraper, with a gross of $30,000,000. Camp and his advertising chief Ken Roznoy protested that Variety must have its figures skewed; Benji ought to be somewhere like twelfth or thirteenth, but the protests did no good. The film world wanted the Texas movie mutt to be a hero. Benji, the film, became an industry legend, and Benji, the mutt, achieved some kind of screen immortality, not to mention international identification.
Whether #3 or #13, Benji was unquestionably a box-office bonanza. Mulberry Square became overnight the major movie producer outside Hollywood and New York and a rival for the world of Disney. The Benji story is no more amazing from its box-office figures than from other angles: not only was it shot in Texas (at McKinney, 40 miles north of Dallas), it was filmed by a Texas cinematographer (Don Reddy), scored by Texas musicians (Euel and Betty Box), written, directed, and produced by a Texan—his first feature film, on top of that—and when the chips got down, released and distributed from Dallas. All on a budget of $550,000, Texas money. The dog, alas, came from California.
Camp switched from dogs to dromedaries with his second picture, Hawmps!