Roger Corman – OBITUARY

Roger Corman 1926 - 2024

Although he had directed 50+ films it was as a producer that Roger Corman was best known and better known still as the man who gave Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Ron Howard, Joe Dante  and Martin Scorsese a start as feature film directors.

Born 5th April 1926 in Detroit his father was an engineer and the family were of Russian –Jewish heritage with his mother having some German ancestry too. The family had moved to California where he started High school and followed his fathers footsteps into engineering taking a degree in such though it was interrupted by WWII and he finally graduated in 1947. But it was a path he did not follow instead working in the mail room at 20th Century Fox but then took off to Oxford University for six months to study English Literature with a further six months studying in Paris.

From 1951 – 1953 he did odd jobs for cash in hand and worked as a script reader and believing he could do better he began writing scripts on his return  and sold his first in 1954 for $4000 but hated the result and thought he could do better scraping together $12k to make a monster movie in the same year. It made $100K at the box office and the low budget, quick shoot, schlocky film became something of a template for him. The same year he would shoot The Fast and the Furious (not that one but the modern days franchise producer Meal Mortiz did strike a deal to buy the title)  in 10 days for a company which became AIP (American International Pictures) and would become the company’s director. The 1960s saw Roger Corman make his Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Vincent Price and were garish shock fests. Shot in 15 days the sets were the same throughout and did well on the midnight circuit and his films were a regular fixture at Drive-Ins

But he soon moved from camp horror to social drama.  1961’s ‘The Intruder’  with William Shatner was his only ‘message movie – it was about racism. But he made biker movies The Wild Angels (1966) with real Hells Angels and psychedelic movie The Trip (1967)  and even gangster movies with The St Valentines Day Massacre and also Bloody Mama with Robert De Niro. 1970 saw him marry Julie Halloran and they had four children over the following years.

1972 saw him give Scorsese a break with Boxcar Bertha after Corman had ended his own directing career in 1971 after the failure of The Red Baron which bombed. But he had directed 26 films in ten years and was tired. By now he had set up his own production company New Word Pictures under the ethos “make ’em quick, make ’em cheap and make ’em popular and they nearly all were taking in genres that included exploitation and horror, and he continued to produce and had 493 producer credits to his name having made 1960s The Little Shop of Horrors in just two and a half days – something of a record even for him.

But despite this he loved art house films and reinvented their marketing and distribution in far larger US cinemas and these deals would contribute 20% to his companies income that amounted to around $11m by 1980

His protoge had gone to bigger and better films with much success both critical and commercial those directors often cast him in cameo roles in their own films. So he pops up in Coppola’s The Godfather Part II and Johnathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs & Philadelphia as well as  Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 and Swing Shift

He returned to directing 1990 with Frankenstein Unbound starring John Hurt which would be his last film as director. Bu by 1998 he received the first Producers Award ever presented by the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2006 Corman received the David O. Selznick Award from the Producers Guild of America. The same year, his film “Fall of the House of Usher” was among the 25 pics selected for the National Film Registry, a compilation of significant films to be preserved by the Library of Congress and by 2009 he was given a Lifetime achievement Oscar

Roger Corman was hugely influential and a pioneer in the industry for fledgling directors once joking with Ron Howard when he directed his first film, “Eat My Dust,” who complained to Corman about the low budget and the sparse extras for a crowd scene only to be told, “If you do a good job on this film, you won’t ever have to work for me again!”

He died on 9th May 2024 aged 98 years old

related feature ; Jonathan Demme obituary

related feature : ‘Boy Kills World’ director Moritz Mohr talks Bill Skarsgard, Sam Raimi & mad stunts !


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here