If I asked you to guess the most prolific Hollywood director, who has made the largest number of films that have turned a profit, who would you pick?
Ron Howard? James Cameron? Francis Ford Coppola? Martin Scorsese?
If any of these men were your choice, you’d be incorrect. But, each of these men once worked for the man who is the correct answer: Roger Corman.
Yes, Roger Corman.
Roger has produced, directed, written, acted in (or all of the above) many films you’ve likely seen. And many you likely haven’t. Most of them you probably saw at the matinee or the drive-in theater.
Corman has made over 400 films.
Comparably, Steven Spielberg has made around 130.
So, how is it that most of us have never heard of a guy who has made so many profitable films, while also mentoring the likes of the aforementioned directors and some now-famous actors?
Corman gave career breaks to Jack Nicholson, Diane Ladd, Robert DeNiro, William Shatner, Talia Hire, Dennis Hopper, David Carradine, and Sandra Bullock.
Probably because Corman’s films are almost all low, or very-low budget, and honestly, when you make movies titled, Boxcar Bertha, Stripped To Kill, and Voyage To The Planet of Prehistoric Women, you probably don’t expect to get a lot of positive press.
I’ve always been a movie buff and had heard of Roger Corman, but knew little about him until a recent search of YouTube. I stumbled across his story while looking for information on something else.
I do that a lot with YouTube. I liken my video channel meanderings to trying to clean a specific room in the house, and the next thing I know I’ve distracted myself with projects all over the house, and didn’t finish what I originally started.
On a rare free day, my wife and I were looking for a movie to watch and came across Apollo 13 in our collection. Wanting to know more about the film, I looked it up. Ron Howard directed it, and that connection led to other suggested YouTube searches, which led to a lot of videos about Corman’s movies, which as a kid, I had seen many of and liked.
I was pretty amazed by the number of his films I had watched, but I was even more amazed that I barely knew who he is, or how much of an impact he’s had as a filmmaker.
A lot of his films from the 50s, such as Monster From The Ocean Floor, Five Guns West, or Attack of The Crab Monsters, used to air on the KTBS 3:30 Movie, which ran every weekday in the 70s, just as we got home from school.
But it was Corman’s 1974 film, Big Bad Mama, starring Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, and Tom Skerritt, that is the first Roger Corman film that really caught my eye at the theater.
Big Bad Mama was a movie that no 12-year-old boy should see. But thanks to a lack of enforcement of the Motion Picture Association of America film rating system by Williams’ Theater in my hometown, I did.
My mom would have never approved.
Big Bad Mama was typical of many of Corman’s films in the 1960s and 70s. They were considered “exploitation” films, with a lot of gratuitous skin and language. No real redeeming qualities, and pretty weak scripts and acting, but they sold tickets and turned a profit.
In 1975, I saw Corman’s Death Race 2000, with a then-unknown Sylvester Stallone.
But as “out there” as any of his film titles or movie plots are, they don’t hold a candle to his own real life.
Corman graduated from college in the 1940s with a degree in engineering. An interest in film caused him to veer from engineering and take small jobs with a movie studio, delivering messages and performing other minor tasks.
After rewriting a movie script, and doing such a good job that the script was green lighted to be made into a movie, he was excited. That is, until one of his bosses got the credit and a bonus.
Corman then struck out on his own and single-handedly invented independent filmmaking.
His model of making films was cheap and fast (his 1960 version of The Little Shop of Horrors, starring a very young Jack Nicholson, was shot in two days and a night). The success of his films caused a demand for the writers, actors, and directors needed to make them.
Many in Hollywood owe at least some of their success to Corman.
I watched an interview on YouTube with Jack Nicholson. When he was asked about Roger Corman, Nicholson began to cry. Obviously, Jack gets shaken up by handling the truth.
During his 60-plus year career, Corman has been rich, won an Oscar, been sued, and lost his fortune to a Ponzi-type scheme. The latter has caused he and his wife to be at odds with their children, and lawyers are involved all around.
But, through it all, Roger Corman is still making movies. At age 92. His latest release this year is Death Race: Beyond Anarchy.
Considering all that he’s done to give a break to some of the greatest actors and filmmakers of the last several generations, I may have to fire up the popcorn popper and put on his latest movie.
After that, I’ll put on Big Bad Mama. Just don’t tell my mom.
©2018 John Moore
John’s book, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now s available on Amazon.
Email John at John@TheCountryWriter.com.