Roger Corman

Roger Corman

Corman in October 2012
Born Roger William Corman
(1926-04-05) April 5, 1926
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A
Alma mater Stanford University (B.S., Industrial Engineering, 1947)[1]
Occupation Film director, producer, screenwriter, actor
Years active 1954–present
Spouse(s) Julie Corman (m. 1970)
Children 4

Roger William Corman (born April 5, 1926)[2] is an American independent film producer, director, and actor.[3] He has been called "The Pope of Pop Cinema" and is known as a trailblazer in the world of independent film. Much of Corman's work has an established critical reputation, such as his cycle of low budget cult films adapted from the tales of Edgar Allan Poe.[4] Admired by members of the French New Wave and Cahiers du cinéma, in 1964 Corman was the youngest filmmaker to have a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française,[5] as well as the British Film Institute and the Museum of Modern Art. In 2009, he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award.

Corman mentored and gave a start to many young film directors such as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron.[6] He also helped to launch the careers of actors Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.[6]

Corman has occasionally taken minor acting roles in the films of directors who started with him, including The Silence of the Lambs, The Godfather Part II, Apollo 13, The Manchurian Candidate and Philadelphia.

A documentary about Corman's life and career entitled Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, directed by Alex Stapleton, premiered at the Sundance and Cannes Film Festivals in 2011. The film's TV rights were picked up by A&E IndieFilms after a well-received screening at Sundance.[7]

Early life

Corman was born in Detroit, Michigan, the son of Anne (née High) and William Corman, an engineer.[8][9] His younger brother, Eugene Harold "Gene" Corman, has also produced numerous films, sometimes in collaboration with Roger.[9] Corman and his brother were baptized in their mother's Catholic faith.[10] Corman went to Beverly Hills High School and then to Stanford University to study Industrial Engineering. While at Stanford, Corman enlisted in the V-12 Navy College Training Program. After the end of World War II, Corman returned to Stanford and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering in 1947.[1] While at Stanford University, Roger Corman was initiated in the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon. In 1948, he worked briefly at U.S. Electrical Motors on Slauson Avenue in Los Angeles, but his career in engineering lasted only four days; he began work on Monday and quit on Thursday, telling his boss "I've made a terrible mistake."[11]

More interested in film, Corman found work at 20th Century Fox initially in the mail room. He worked his way up to a story reader. The one property that he liked the most and provided ideas for was filmed as The Gunfighter with Gregory Peck. When Corman received no credit at all he left Fox and decided he would work in film by himself. Under the GI Bill, Corman studied English Literature at Oxford University. He then returned to Los Angeles, beginning his film career in 1953 as a producer and screenwriter, then started directing films in 1955.


Corman in 2006

Corman began to direct films in the mid-1950s, including Swamp Women (1955). In his early period, he produced up to nine movies a year. His fastest film was perhaps The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), which was reputedly shot in two days and one night.[12] Supposedly, he had made a bet that he could shoot an entire feature film in less than three days. Another version of the story claims that he had a set rented for a month, and finished using it with three days to spare, thus pushing him to use the set to make a new film. (This is a variation of the story behind 1963's The Terror, much of which was filmed in two leftover days with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson, after The Raven, which featured them both, wrapped with two days to spare.)

In addition to producing and directing films for American International Pictures (AIP), Corman also partially funded other low-budget films released by other film companies. In 1959, Corman founded Filmgroup with his brother Gene, a company producing or releasing low-budget black-and-white films as double features for drive-ins and action houses. Finding that black-and-white double features were not as successful as colour films, Corman returned to AIP,[13] and Filmgroup ceased operation in 1962.

The Edgar Allan Poe adaptations

Corman's greatest acclaim as a director came with his Edgar Allan Poe cycle released between 1959 and 1964. Based on the works of Poe, made through American International Pictures and mostly in collaboration with writer/scenarist Richard Matheson, the series of eight films comprises House of Usher (1960), The Pit and the Pendulum (1961), The Premature Burial (1962), Tales of Terror (1962), The Raven (1963), The Haunted Palace (1963), The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964). All but The Premature Burial starred Vincent Price. Other Poe films were made at AIP in the late 1960s and early 1970s directed by other filmmakers with Price in starring roles.

Corman also worked with set designer Daniel Haller and cinematographer Floyd Crosby on the series. Others who joined him include cinematographer Nicolas Roeg (on Masque), writers Robert Towne and Charles Beaumont, and actors Ray Milland, Basil Rathbone, Hazel Court, Barbara Steele, Debra Paget, and Peter Lorre. After The Raven was completed, Corman reportedly realized that he still had some shooting days left before the sets were torn down and so made another film, The Terror (1963), on the spot with the remaining cast, crew and sets.

Other work

He also directed one of William Shatner's earliest appearances in a lead role with The Intruder (a.k.a. The Stranger, 1962). Based on a novel by Charles Beaumont, the film, made for approximately US$80,000,[14] is known for its treatment of segregation and civil rights.[15]

The late 1960s saw Corman and his films give a voice to the counter culture of the era. In 1966, Corman made the first biker movie with The Wild Angels. It starred Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra and opened the 1966 Venice Film Festival. In 1967, The Trip, written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, began the psychedelic film craze of the late 1960s, and was the American entry at Cannes that year. Joan Didion said she went to see The Wild Angels because "there on the screen was some news I was not getting from the New York Times. I began to think I was seeing ideograms of the future."[16]

The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) was one of the few films that Roger Corman directed from a major Hollywood studio (Twentieth Century Fox) with a generous budget and an open-ended schedule. While most directors would love such an assignment, Corman was disgusted with the incredible waste of time and money involved with "typical" movie production techniques. He was given a $2.5 million budget and made it for $400,000 less.[17] Corman, an independent director, was most comfortable in his own style: shoestring budgets, and shooting schedules measured in days, rather than weeks. Nonetheless, it is generally considered one of his best films as a director.

In 1970, Corman founded New World Pictures which became a small independently-owned production/distribution studio,[18] making many cult films such as Women in Cages (1971), Death Race 2000 (1975), Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), Galaxy of Terror (1981), Children of the Corn (1984), and the Joe Dante film Piranha (1978).[19] Corman's distribution side of New World brought many foreign films to mass audiences in the US for the first time, including the works of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, and Akira Kurosawa. In a ten-year period, New World Pictures won more Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film than all other studios combined. Corman eventually sold New World to an investment group in 1983 and later formed Concorde Pictures and New Horizons.[20] Corman's penultimate film as director was Von Richthofen and Brown (1971). Corman had always wanted to make an aviation movie, having piloted model planes as a lad. He returned to directing once more with Frankenstein Unbound (1990). In total, Roger Corman has produced over 300 movies and directed 55.

In 2009, Corman produced and directed alongside director Joe Dante the web series "Splatter" for Netflix.[21] The protagonist of the film is portrayed by Corey Feldman,[22] and the story talks of the haunting tale of rock-and-roll legend Johnny Splatter.[23] He also started contributing trailer commentaries to Dante's web series Trailers from Hell.[24]

Corman produced the 2010 films Dinoshark and Dinocroc vs. Supergator for the Syfy cable television channel.[25] Dinoshark premiered on March 13, 2010.[26] Sharktopus, a Syfy production, premiered in September 2010.[27]

Personal life

Corman married Julie Halloran on December 26, 1970.[28] They have four children.[29]

Remembrances and awards

His autobiography, titled How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime (ISBN 0-306-80874-9), documents his experiences in the film industry.

In 1964, Corman was the youngest producer/director to be given a retrospective at the Cinémathèque Française, as well as retrospectives at the British Film Institute and the Museum of Modern Art.

Corman won the Lifetime Achievement Award at Stockholm International Film Festival in 1990.

Corman was the subject of the 1978 documentary Roger Corman: Hollywood's Wild Angel, produced and directed by Christian Blackwood.[30] Portions of the film reappeared in 2011's Corman's World.

In 1998, he won the first Producer's Award ever given by the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2006, Corman received the David O. Selznick Award from the Producers Guild of America. Also in 2006, his film Fall of the House of Usher was among the twenty-five movies selected for the National Film Registry, a compilation of significant films being preserved by the Library of Congress.

In 2010, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Corman with an Academy Honorary Award at the inaugural Governors Awards,[31] on November 14, 2009.[32]

In 2010, writer and actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Corman for his BBC documentary series A History of Horror, of which the second half of the second episode focuses on Corman.[33]

In 2010, Corman was inducted into the Beverly Hills High School Hall of Fame.

In 2012, Corman was honored with the Filmmaker on the Edge Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival.

"The Corman Film School"

A number of noted film directors and producers worked with Corman, usually early in their careers, including Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, Armondo Linus Acosta, Paul Bartel, Jonathan Demme, Donald G. Jackson, Gale Anne Hurd, Carl Colpaert, Joe Dante, James Cameron, John Sayles, Monte Hellman, Carl Franklin,[34] George Armitage, Jonathan Kaplan, George Hickenlooper, Curtis Hanson, Jack Hill, Robert Towne, Menahem Golan, Michael Venzor and Timur Bekmambetov. Many have said that Corman's influence taught them some of the ins and outs of filmmaking.[35] In the extras for the DVD of The Terminator, director James Cameron asserts, "I trained at the Roger Corman Film School." The British director Nicolas Roeg served as the cinematographer on The Masque of the Red Death.[36] Cameron, Coppola, Demme, Hanson, Howard and Scorsese have all gone on to win Academy Awards. Howard was reportedly told by Corman, "If you do a good job on this film, you'll never have to work for me again."

Actors who obtained their career breaks working for Corman include Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Charles Bronson, Todd Field[37] Michael McDonald, Dennis Hopper, Talia Shire, Sandra Bullock, Robert De Niro, and David Carradine, who received one of his first starring film roles in the Corman-produced Boxcar Bertha (1972) and went on to star in Death Race 2000 (along with Sylvester Stallone).

Many of Corman's protegés have paid their mentor homage by awarding him cameos in films, such as in The Godfather Part II,[38] The Silence of the Lambs,[39] Apollo 13,[35] and as recently as Demme's 2008 film Rachel Getting Married.[40]

Name First Corman film Year Credited as
George Armitage Gas-s-s-s 1970 writer, associate producer, cast member
Paul Bartel Death Race 2000 1975 director
Timur Bekmambetov The Arena 2001 director
Peter Bogdanovich Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women 1968 director, cast member
James Cameron Battle Beyond the Stars 1980 art direction, visual effects
Francis Ford Coppola Battle Beyond the Sun 1962 director (scenes in American version)
Joe Dante Hollywood Boulevard 1976 co-director, editor
Jonathan Demme Angels Hard as They Come 1971 writer, producer
Curtis Hanson The Dunwich Horror 1970 co-writer
Monte Hellman Beast from Haunted Cave 1959 director
Jack Hill The Terror 1963 writer
Ron Howard Grand Theft Auto 1977 director, co-writer
Gale Anne Hurd Humanoids from the Deep 1980 production assistant
Jonathan Kaplan Night Call Nurses 1972 director, editor
Nicolas Roeg The Masque of the Red Death 1964 cinematographer
John Sayles Piranha 1978 writer
Martin Scorsese Boxcar Bertha 1972 director
Robert Towne Last Woman on Earth 1960 writer, cast member


The IMDB credits Corman with 55 directed films and some 385 produced films from 1954 through 2008, many as un-credited producer or executive producer (consistent with his role as head of his own New World Pictures from 1970 through 1983). Corman also has significant credits as writer and actor.[41]

Cult Classics

In 2010, Roger Corman teamed up with Shout! Factory to release new DVD and Blu-ray editions of Corman productions under the name Roger Corman's Cult Classics. The releases have concentrated on 1970–1980s films he produced through New World rather than directed. These titles include Rock 'n' Roll High School, Death Race 2000, Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World and Piranha, with additional titles continuing to be released.[42]

Further reading


  1. 1 2 "The Award of a Lifetime for Roger Corman", Stanford Alumni Magazine, January/February 2010
  2. "New Horizons Pictures – Roger Corman Official Website". Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  3. "Roger Corman". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved May 25, 2010.
  4. Olsen, Eric B. "Roger Corman". History of Horror. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  5. "The Melbourne Cinémathèque | ROGER CORMAN – FAST, CHEAP & UNDER CONTROL". Retrieved August 1, 2013.
  6. 1 2 Maslin, Janet. "Roger Corman: Hollywood's Wild Angel (1978)". The New York Times. Among the Corman associates and protegees interviewed are David Carradine, Peter Fonda, Ron Howard, Paul Bartel, Martin Scorcese, Joe Dante and Peter Bogdanovich.
  8. "Roger Corman Biography (1926–)". Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  9. 1 2 H.W. Wilson Company (1984). Current Biography Yearbook. New York.
  10. How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, by Roger Corman, 1998, p. 4
  11. Holte, Michael Ned. "Value Engineering: Roger Corman with his own Context". East of Borneo. Retrieved May 24, 2012.
  12. Simpson, MJ (September 23, 1995). "Interview with Roger Corman" Retrieved 2007-10-24. "I shot Little Shop of Horrors in two days and a night for about $30,000, and the picture has lasted all these years."
  13. pp. 22–41 Ray, Fred Olen Filmgroup in The New Poverty Row: Independent Filmmakers as Distributors McFarland, 1991
  14. "Box office / business for The Intruder". IMDb. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  15. "The Intruder". DVD Beaver. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  16. Didion, Joan; The White Album; (1979) pg.100
  17. Mark McGee, Faster and Furiouser: The Revised and Fattened Fable of American International Pictures, McFarland, 1996 p266
  18. Morris, Gary (January 2000). "Roger Corman's New World Pictures". Bright Lights Film Journal. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  19. "New World Picture: Production Company – filmography". IMDb. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  20. "Shout If You Want Roger Corman Creatures and Classic Gamera DVDs!".
  21. "Roger Corman and Joe Dante SPLATTER Netflix".
  22. "Full Info on Feldman, Corman and Dante's 'Splatter'".
  23. "See a Gruesome Advance Clip from Splatter". DreadCentral.
  24. "Roger Corman". Trailers From Hell. Retrieved April 19, 2013.
  25. "Sharktopus Plot Details and Dinoshark Image Revealed!".
  26. "SyFy Offers a Sneak Peek at Dinoshark in Action!".
  27. "Sharktopus (2010) (TV)". Retrieved August 9, 2010.
  28. "Roger Corman's Flicks May Be 'B' Shlock, but No One in Hollywood Has Nurtured More 'A' Talent".
  29. Roger M Corman
  30. Roger Corman: Hollywood's Wild Angel
  31. "See Roger Corman Receive His Honorary Oscar".
  32. Allen, Nick (November 15, 2009). "Lauren Bacall receives Oscar". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved November 15, 2009.
  33. "A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss – Q&A with Mark Gatiss". BBC. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  34. "Escaping the curse of Corman".
  35. 1 2 Nashawaty, Chris "Roger Corman: Scorsese, Stallone, Sayles, and other A-listers talk about the B-movie King" Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved February 19, 2010
  36. "MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH: The Apex of Roger Corman's Poe Films".
  37. "Turner Classic Movies". Todd Field Biography. 29 November 2015.
  38. "Roger Corman on The Blair Witch Project and why Mean Streets would have made a great blaxploitation film. Interview by Andrew J. Rausch.". Retrieved June 14, 2013.
  39. "Roger Corman: Legendary AIP Director Monsterizes AMC".
  40. "Rachel Getting Married full cast list". imdb. Retrieved August 8, 2010.
  41. "Roger Corman". Retrieved September 16, 2012.
  42. "Shout! Factory website". Shout! Factory. Retrieved October 6, 2010.
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