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ruth and Sam Hersh

Sam Hersh founded Family Films in 1947.

Meet Sam Hersh

Samuel Hersh was born November 20, 1906 in New York, the second child of Hungarian Jewish parents who had recently emigrated to the U.S. Little is known about his early years. As a boy he was athletic, enjoying competition in games such as American handball. As a young man, Hersh was considered ambitious and charismatic. In 1927 he married Ruth Mond, and in 1928 their first child, Melvin, was born. In 1933 the family welcomed a second child, Stanley.

During the Depression years in New York, Hersh, who never attended college, held various jobs in the restaurant and entertainment fields. He was quite social and always on the lookout for new ways to make a dollar. Hersh traveled to Los Angeles periodically in search of career opportunities. He had friends who relocated there to work in the entertainment industry and felt he could make a place for himself and his family in that world.

An expanding list of social and professional contacts was key to his destiny. Around 1940, he agreed to accept ownership of a series of 13 short films on songwriter Stephen Foster as payment for a debt. That decision led Hersh to enter the film business as he sought distribution for the Foster films.

Hersh and his family moved from New York to Hollywood in 1941. He subsequently established himself as a bookmaker, serving clients at some of the major studios. He also set about distributing the the Foster films to school and civic groups. While bookmaking introduced him to film industry creatives and production crew technicians, his work as a distributor exposed him to markets that were underserved by 16mm educational films.

It was in the mid-1940s that he recognized a need for more films based on stories from the Bible and the gospel of Christ. While still operating as a bookmaker and selling the Foster film series, Sam Hersh founded Family Films. The new company’s first productions included A Boy and His Prayer (1948) and The Guiding Star (1949). They were created and distributed in collaboration with The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod. Producer Hersh’s screen credit during that period was S.M. Hershey.

In due course, Family Films produced many more titles for church and Sunday school audiences. They included The Living Bible, a series of short films released from 1952-55. A half-hour television series, The Fisher Family, was also launched. It was eventually replaced by This Is the Life, a series produced by Family Films and broadcast in North America on Sunday mornings for 20 years. The Our Children educational series was released by Family Films from 1955-58. This was followed by Old Testament Scriptures, released in 1958 and 1959. In 1960, a teenage film series dealing with contemporary issues was developed by Family Films. In 1963, a group of animated short subject titles on bible themes was released for young children.

Over the years, Family Films also produced many titles for the Baptist church in collaboration with Broadman Films of Nashville, Tennessee. In 1958, Hersh sold Family Films to Concordia Publishing of St. Louis, Missouri.

Sam Hersh and Family Films were known for providing audiences with well written, well acted motion pictures on biblical and contemporary themes. Typical of many independent film studios of the time, all productions were completed with modest budgets that valued message over imagery or star power. The company saw its greatest success in the 1950s and 1960s, when output was at its peak. During those years, Hersh produced more than 80 titles.

Sam Hersh died of heart failure in 1969. His sons Melvin and Stanley succeeded him as producers at Family Films until 1973 and 1978, respectively.