Roger Corman, Hollywood mentor and ‘King of the Bs,’ dies at 98


Roger Corman, the “King of Bs” who helped produce low-budget classics like “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and gave first breaks to many of the world’s most successful actors and directors. most famous in Hollywood, has died. He was 98 years old.

Corman died Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, California, according to a statement released Saturday by his wife and daughters.

“He was generous, open-minded and kind to everyone who knew him,” the statement said. “When asked how he would like to be remembered, he replied: ‘I was a filmmaker, no less.'”

Beginning in 1955, Corman helped create hundreds of films as a producer and director, including “Black Scorpion,” “Bucket of Blood” and “Bloody Mama.” A remarkable judge of talent, he hired aspiring filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron and Martin Scorsese. In 2009, Corman received an honorary Academy Award.

“There are a lot of constraints that come with working on a small budget, but at the same time there are some opportunities,” Corman said in a 2007 documentary about Val Lewton, the 1940s director of “Cat People.” and other underground classics.

“You can play a little more. You can experiment. You have to find a more creative way to solve a problem or present a concept.

The roots of Hollywood’s golden age in the 1970s can be found in Corman’s films. Jack Nicholson made his film debut as the title character in a 1958 Corman quickie, “The Cry Baby Killer,” and remained with the company for biker, horror and action films, writing and producing some of them. Other actors whose careers began in Corman’s films included Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern and Ellen Burstyn. Peter Fonda’s appearance in “The Wild Angels” was a precursor to his own historical biker film “Easy Rider,” starring Nicholson and Corman’s former student Dennis Hopper. “Boxcar Bertha,” starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, was one of Scorsese’s first films.

Corman’s directors had tiny budgets and were often asked to complete their films in just five days. When Howard, who would go on to win the best director Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind,” pleaded for an extra half day to shoot a 1977 scene for “Grand Theft Auto,” Corman told him, “Ron, can you to come back. if you want, but no one else will be there.

Initially, only drive-ins and specialty theaters offered Corman films, but as teens began to show up, the national chains relented. Corman’s films were open for their time about sex and drugs, such as his 1967 film “The Trip,” an explicit story. about LSD written by Nicholson and starring Fonda and Hopper.

At the same time, he discovered a lucrative sideline by releasing prestigious foreign films in the United States, including “Cries and Murmurs” by Ingmar Bergman, “Amarcord” by Federico Fellini and “The Drum” by Volker Schlondorff. The latter two won the Oscar for best foreign language film.

Corman got his start as a messenger for Twentieth Century-Fox, before graduating as a story analyst. After briefly leaving the industry to study English literature for a term at Oxford, he returned to Hollywood and launched his career as a film producer and director.

Despite his money-saving ways, Corman maintained good relations with his directors, boasting that he never fired a single one because “I wouldn’t want to inflict that humiliation.”

Some of his former subordinates returned his kindness years later. Coppola cast him in “The Godfather Part II,” Jonathan Demme included him in “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Philadelphia” and Howard gave him a role in “Apollo 13.”

Most of Corman’s films were quickly forgotten except by die-hard fans. A rare exception was 1960’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” which featured a bloodthirsty plant that feasted on humans and featured Nicholson in a small but memorable role as a pain-loving dental patient. It inspired a long-running musical and a 1986 musical adaptation starring Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy.

In 1963, Corman launched a series of films based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Most notable was “The Raven,” which paired Nicholson with veteran horror stars Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. Directed by Corman on a rare three-week schedule, the horror spoof earned good reviews, a rarity for his films. Another Poe adaptation, “House of Usher,” was deemed worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress.

Toward the end of his life, Karloff starred in another Corman-backed effort, the 1968 thriller “Targets,” which marked Peter Bogdanovich’s directorial debut.

Corman’s success led to offers from major studios, and he made “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre” and “Von Richthofen and Brown” on normal budgets. However, both were disappointments and he blamed their failure on front office interference.

Roger William Corman was born in Detroit and raised in Beverly Hills, but “not in the affluent area,” he once said. He attended Stanford University, where he earned an engineering degree, and came to Hollywood after three years in the Navy.

After his time at Oxford, he worked as a television stagehand and literary agent before finding his life’s work.

In 1964 he married Julie Halloran, a UCLA graduate who also became a producer.

He is survived by his wife Julie and his children Catherine, Roger, Brian and Mary.


This obituary was written by the late Associated Press reporter Bob Thomas, who died in 2014.

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