Born to a Jewish family, Katzman went to work as a stage laborer at the age of 13 in the fledgling East Coast film industry and moved from prop boy to assistant director at Fox Films. He would learn all aspects of filmmaking and was a Hollywood producer for more than 40 years.
After working as a producer of Bob Steele westerns at A. W. Hackel's Supreme Pictures, Katzman started his own studios, Victory Pictures and Puritan Pictures, in 1935. From 1935–40 Victory produced two serials and 30 features, including Western film series starring Tom Tyler and Tim McCoy. Puritan ceased production in 1937.
In 1940 Katzman moved to Monogram Pictures and produced, under the names Banner Productions, Clover Productions and Four Leaf Productions, the East Side Kids features of the 1940s and several films starring Bela Lugosi.
In 1945 he moved to Columbia Pictures, where he made Superman serial of 1948, the Jungle Jim series of the late 1940s to mid-1950s—acquiring the nickname "Jungle Sam"—a variety of second features, including many filmed in 3D, and a string of rock-'n'-roll musicals in the 1950s. His best known films are probably Earth vs. the Flying Saucers and The Werewolf (1956).
In 1947 he signed a $4-million contract to make six films and four features through his Esskay Pictures. He specialised in making musicals shot over nine days with a budget around $140,000 per film. For Prince of Thieves, however, he secured a budget of $400,000.
In 1948 Katzman signed a seven-year contract to make four films a year through his Kay Pictures corporation, four serials a year via his Eskay Productions, as well as the Jungle Jim series.
In 1953 he was to make at least 15 films a year.
In 1955 it was announced that Clover Productions would make 15 films for Columbia.
At MGM in the 1960s, Katzman produced several Elvis Presley films, as well as the Herman's Hermits film Hold On! and singer Roy Orbison's only film, The Fastest Guitar Alive.
In 1967 he signed a new contract with MGM to make at least two films a year.
He was the uncle of television producer Leonard Katzman, and, in turn, a relative of Ethan Klein of the Israeli-American YouTube comedy channel h3h3Productions.
He was married to Hortense Katzman. They married on the set of the film The Diplomats in 1928.
She sued for divorce in 1955 but the two reconciled.
Sam Katzman died on August 4, 1973, in Hollywood. He is interred in the Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California.
NME – February 1962
As producer unless otherwise mentioned.film version of Terry and the Pirates after buying film rights from Douglas Fairbanks Jnr (1951)
biopic of Pretty Boy Floyd (1959) – stopped by a lawsuit from Kroger Babb
Lucky based on story by Lillie Hayward (1959)
Don Quixote, USA starring Robert Morse (1967)