Roger Corman

Active - 1954 - 2021  |   Born - Apr 5, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, United States  |   Genres - Horror, Drama, Action, Science Fiction, Crime

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Biography by Bruce Eder

A former engineering student, Roger Corman entered the picture business as a messenger and ended up a producer/director after a stint as a story analyst and a brief detour to Oxford University. After returning to Hollywood, he saw an opportunity to make money and gain experience by making low-budget films to feed the drive-in and neighborhood theater circuits, which had been abandoned in large part by the major studios. Working from budgets of as little as 50,000 dollars, he quickly learned the art of creating bargain-basement entertainment and making money at it, producing and directing pictures for American International Pictures and Allied Artists. Five Guns West, Apache Woman, The Day the World Ended, It Conquered the World, Not of This Earth, The Undead, Attack of the Crab Monsters, Teenage Doll, Machine Gun Kelly, The Wasp Woman, and Sorority Girl were only a few of the titles, and they were indicative of their subjects. These films were short (some as little as 62 minutes) and threadbare in production values. (Reportedly, distributor Samuel Z. Arkoff used to look at the film footage at the end of each day of shooting and call Corman, telling him, "Roger, for chrissake, hire a couple more extras and put a little more furniture on the set!") But his films were also extremely entertaining, and endeared Corman to at least two generations of young filmgoers.

During the early '60s, Corman became more ambitious, and made the serious school desegregation drama The Intruder. Adapted for the screen by his brother Gene Corman from Charles Beaumont's novel, it was the only one of his movies to lose money -- because few theaters would book it -- although it was one of the finest B-movies ever made. Corman also began working in color, most notably on a series of adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe stories starring Vincent Price that won the respect of younger critics and aspiring filmmakers alike. Corman also employed many young film students and writers during this period, including Francis Ford Coppola, Curtis Harrington, and author Robert Towne. His output decreased as his budgets went up, and Corman moved away from directing and into producing. In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, Corman was still producing exploitation films (such as Humanoids From the Deep), but his New World Pictures also distributed several important foreign movies, including Ingmar Bergman's Cries and Whispers and the groundbreaking Jamaican crime drama The Harder They Come.

Movie Highlights

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  • Broke into the film business as a cowriter of the low-budget crime drama Highway Dragnet (1954).
  • After moving into directing, frequently helmed several movies a year, including nine in 1957 alone.
  • Provided early career boosts for a number of future Hollywood legends, including Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Fonda, Jack Nicholson and Martin Scorsese.
  • Mostly retired from directing in the early '70s to focus on producing.
  • Released an autobiography, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime, in 1990.
  • Known as the "king of the B's" or the "king of schlock" for the numerous low-budget genre movies he's produced.