I was recently explaining to Jim about a funny late-night UHF television commercial that I used to see all the time in the late 80’s which featured famous actress Nancy Kwan, explaining the benefits of a product called Pearl Cream and showing clips from her film The World of Suzie Wong. My friends and I used to love it, and quoted her heavily-accented line readings about “pewl cweem” all the time. We recently looked for the old commercial on the web and unfortunately couldn’t find it (if anybody can, please let me know!), although we found that the product is still in production, and Kwan is amazingly still their spokesperson.
But this entry has nothing to do with Nancy Kwan, because suddenly Jim shouted “Look for Santo Gold!” Having no idea what that was, I punched it into Google and a zillion hits came back. I grew up in the south, and at first I thought the way-infamous infomercial “Santo Gold” was perhaps only a north-eastern thing (it wasn’t). Anyway, Santo Gold (click link to watch infomercial) was the mid-80’s creation of a man named Santo Rigatuso, who was kind of a cross between John Waters and Crazy Eddie. The product? Fake gold chains. Sometimes sold as necklaces and sometimes sold in spools by the yard. Oh, and the commercial also taunted a movie called Blood Circus that Rigatuso had produced and directed. The inexplicable film was about aliens who came to earth and got involved with wrestlers and battled cannibals - and also featured Rigatuso himself as a “real rock star” in a long concert segment singing “The Santo Gold Theme Song” (which he penned) in front of a dubbed screaming audience. The infomercial, in all it’s 80’s low-budget video editing-deck glory, obviously touts the chains and film and Rigatuso himself as the most amazing, earth shattering products and events ever, who’s availability will no doubt result in planet domination of historic proportions. The goal? All the products tied together to help promote one another, of course. Rigatuso knew a lot about the concept of marketing “synergy” long before Oprah and Martha Stewart. The chains actually did sell a bit thanks to the infomercial, but the film (which cost Rigatuso $2 million to produce) didn’t find any distributors or audience. Rigatuso rented out several theaters in the Baltimore area to show it, and reportedly only three people came to it’s premier; two critics and an extra from the film. “The film won’t make sense. It will just make dollars,” Santo told a reporter.
After Rigatuso failed to become the next Orsen Wells, he participated in even more brazen business ventures; a credit card for people with bad credit for only $49.95 (which turned out to be a paper card that was only redeemable for Santo Gold merchandise), and a very real radio spot touting a very fake offer to sell off $2000 blocks of a millionaire’s estate at $52 a piece. The law eventually tracked Rigatuso down and he ended up spending ten months in jail for mail fraud (the court proceedings were reportedly memorable - his lawyer quite seriously screened Blood Circus for the jury to try and prove that he was of ‘unsound mind.’)
Today, Rigatuso is a bit of a recluse. But the legend lives on! Here is a YouTube clip of the commercial, here is the Wikipedia entry for Santo Gold, here is the IMDB.com entry (!) for Blood Circus, here is the USPS complaint file on Rigatuso. There are quite a few web pages devoted to the Santo Gold phenomenon here and here (include sound clips and video, and the latest reports on the lost whereabout of the film).
Sadly, all reports indicate that the film Blood Circus has been lost forever. Witnesses described it as “un-redeemably bad.” The only stored copies apparently got lost or trashed during the chaos of Rigatuso’s fleeing, capture, sentencing and prison time. But, us connoisseurs of such stuff can always hold out hope. Perhaps one day there will be a discovery, hidden somewhere deep in a massive warehouse on the other side of the earth, a hidden copy of Blood Circus sealed in a wooden crate (a la Raiders of the Lost Ark) that is locked tight, with heavily wrapped Santo Gold chains all around it (I’m sure they won’t be hard to break).