Babb is best known for his presentation of exploitation films, a term many in the business would embrace. According to The Hollywood Reporter, his success came from picking topics that would be easily sensationalized, such as religion and sex. His expenses were estimated at 5% for selling, and his distribution overhead near 7%, resulting in some of the largest per-dollar returns in the film industry.
Babb's biggest success was Mom and Dad, which he conceived and produced and which William Beaudine directed in six days. Babb headed the promotion of this film following its premiere in early 1945, often going on the road with it himself. The film, a morality tale about a young girl who becomes pregnant and struggles to find someone to turn to, cost $62,000 and was presented via over 300 prints, and the presenter would stir up his own controversy in the weeks preceding the film's arrival by writing protest letters to local churches and newspapers and fabricating letters from the mayors of nearby cities about young women encouraged by it to discuss similar predicaments.
The third highest grossing film of its decade, Mom and Dad was claimed by Babb to have made $63,000 for every $1,000 the original investors contributed, and the Los Angeles Times estimated that it grossed anywhere between $40 million and $100 million. Its success spawned a number of imitations, such as Street Corner and The Story of Bob and Sally, that eventually flooded the market, but it was still being shown around the world decades later and ultimately was added to the National Film Registry in 2005.
Poster for Babb's production of Mom and Dad, showing some of the rhetorical devices Babb would use to stir up controversyThe success of Mom and Dad was mostly due to Babb's marketing strategy of overwhelming a small town with ads and generating controversy. Eric Schaefer explains:
Acknowledging that his films were unknown quantities, Babb advocated a "100% saturation campaign." In his sample situation — The Deadwood Theater in Movie-hater, Missouri, with a potential audience base of twenty-four thousand — Babb suggested sending tabloid heralds to all seven thousand homes in the area at a cost of $196, spending $65 for newspaper ads, $50 on radio, plus an additional $65 for three hundred window cards, hand-out teaser cards, pennants, and posters. The total came to almost $400, or the same amount the theater owner would normally spend on advertising in the course of an entire month. Babb always claimed that with his formula the profit would outweigh the investment...
The film became so ubiquitous that Time said its presentation "left only the livestock unaware of the chance to learn the facts of life." Babb also made sure that each showing of the film followed a similar format: adults-only screenings segregated by gender, and live lectures by "Fearless Hygiene Commentator Elliot Forbes" during an intermission. At any one time, hundreds of Elliot Forbeses would be giving a lecture at the same time in a variety of locations. (In some predominantly African-American areas, Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens appeared instead, a trend he'd continue with films like "She Shoulda Said 'No'!" According to entertainer Card Mondor, an Elliot Forbes in the 1940s who later purchased the Australian and New Zealand rights for Mom and Dad, the Forbeses were "mostly local men (from Wilmington, Ohio) who were trained to give the lecture...[I]t was a cross-section of the male population, mostly clean-cut young guys. ...The whole concept would have never worked with a trashy look."
During the intermission and after the showing, books relevant to the subject of the film were sold. Mom and Dad's distributor Modern Film Distributors sold over forty-five thousand copies of Man and Boy and Woman and Girl, written by Babb's wife, netting an estimated $31,000. According to Babb, these cost about eight cents to produce, and were sold for $1 apiece. While Modern Film was able to sell forty-five thousand on its own, Babb estimates sales of 40 million, citing "IRS figures." This sort of companion selling would become common practice for Babb: with the religious film The Prince of Peace, he would sell Bibles and other spiritual literature; and with his fidelity film Why Men Leave Home, books featuring beauty tips.
With other films, Babb would try different approaches. For "She Shoulda Said 'No'!", an anti-marijuana film of the 1950s, he highlighted the sexual scenes and arranged "one-time-only" midnight showings, claiming that his company was working with the United States Treasury Department to release the film "in as many towns and cities as possible in the shortest possible length of time" as a public service. David F. Friedman, another successful exploitation filmmaker of the era, has attributed the "one-time-only" distribution to a quality so low that Babb wanted to cash in and move to his next stop as fast as possible. At each showing of a film, a singing of "The Star Spangled Banner" was also required.
As well as being at the forefront of the battles over censorship and the motion picture censorship system, the exploitation genre faced numerous challenges during the 1940s and 1950s. It was estimated that Babb was sued over 400 times just for Mom and Dad (Babb himself claimed 428). He would often use the supposed educational value of the films as a defense, also recommending it to theater owners; in his pressbook for Karamoja, he wrote, "When a stupid jerk tries to outsmart proven facts, he should be in an asylum, not a theater."
Despite the criticism that Babb drew for Mom and Dad, in 1951 he received the first annual Sid Grauman Showmanship Award, presented by the Hollywood Rotary Club in honor of his accomplishments over the years.
Babb worked in various areas of the entertainment industry, in both traditional and exploitation genres. He claimed to have made twenty films, and produced for television, radio, and even the stage. This is an incomplete collection of works owing to the nature of the exploitation genre. The titles are as they were finally presented by Babb, with earlier titles noted in parentheses.
As film producer:
Dust to Dust (previously Child Bride) (1938)
Mom and Dad (previously A Family Story) (1945)
The Prince of Peace (previously The Lawton Story) (1949)
One Too Many (previously Mixed-Up Women, Killer With a Label, The Important Story of Alcoholism) (1950)
Why Men Leave Home (previously Secrets of Beauty) (1951)
Halfway to Hell (1954)
Walk the Walk (1970)
As film writer:
One Too Many
As film distributor:
"She Shoulda Said 'No'!" (previously Marijuana, the Devil's Weed, The Devil's Weed, Wild Weed, The Story of Lila Leeds and Her Exposé of the Marijuana Racket) (1949)
Monika, the Story of a Bad Girl (previously Sommaren med Monika) (1949)
Delinquent Angels (1951)
The Best is Yet to Come (1951)
Halfway to Hell (1954)
Kipling's Women (1961)
Five Minutes to Love (previously The Rotten Apple, It Only Takes Five Minutes) (1963)
Uncle Tom's Cabin (1970)
Redheads vs. Blondes (undated)