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Roger Corman (1926 - )
Date of Birth: 5 April 1926
BIOGRAPHY: The 1950s
Though Roger Corman was born in Detroit, when his engineer father retired, the Corman clan relocated to the warmer climes of Beverly Hills where he and his brother Gene attended the famous Beverly Hills High School. The school was full of offspring of Hollywood's finest and it's hardly surprising that the brothers developed a passion for drama and acting and also developed their love of cinema. Corman also discovered Edgar Allan Poe and read voraciously.
But the arts were far from Corman's mind when he graduated in 1943. Throughout his time at Beverly Hills High, he'd concentrated his academic studies on maths, physics and chemistry, planning to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming an engineer. To this end, he opted to attend Stanford University, though he later admitted to writer Alan Frank that "I think I probably chose the wrong major." He persevered with his studies however and graduated in 1947 after an academic career that saw him contributing articles to Popular mechanics and Science and Mechanics magazines.
With only part of his Bachelor of Science degree in his pocket and with the USA now in the war, Corman enlisted in the Navy, serving three years before returning to Stanford to complete his degree in Industrial Engineering. But life as a peace-time engineer held no real interest for Corman when he returned to Los Angeles - his passion for film had overtaken him and he quit his new job at US Electrical Motors after just three days and found a new job as a messenger at Twentieth Century Fox. Within six months, the bright, hard working young Corman had been promoted to story analyst.
His first minor success in the industry came when he heard that Fox were lining Gregory Peck up for what they hoped would be an offbeat western. Corman had just read and annotated a script called The Big Gun which he thought might fit the bill. He passed the script up the ladder and it was given to Peck and director Henry King who agreed that it was what they were looking for. The film was released in 1950 as The Gunfighter.
But Corman realised that the film's success meant nothing to either his standing or his bank balance and decided to quit the movie industry and return to academia. He spent a term at Oxford University in England under the GI bill, then bummed around Europe for a year, smuggling cameras across the Swiss border for resale in other parts of Europe.
Eventually, the money ran out and Corman was forced back to the States where he got a job at the Jules Goldin Agency. He also did time as a grip at a local TV station before getting the break he needed while working at the Dick Highland Agency. Corman had been dabbling with script writing and one of his efforts, The House Under the Sea, was sold to Allied Artists on the strength of its simple but intriguing central conceit of a gangland shootout in a flooded house. Nathan Juran directed Richard Conte and Joan Bennett in the film, retitled Highway Dragnet to cash in on the popular TV series.
Corman was less than impressed with the finished film and feared that it might nip his career in the bud. But it was a moderate hit and with $3,500 from the sale of his script in his pocket, Corman decided to set out on his own. Renting the reception of an office over the Cock 'n' Bull Restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, he set up Palo Alto Productions and used the money to start financing his first film as a producer. Selling shares to friends, he raised almost all of the money he needed for Monster from the Ocean Floor, a low budget science fiction monster romp but was still $2,000 shy of the $12,000 he needed.
Then he met acting student Wyatt Ordung, who had appeared in Fixed Bayonets (1951) and Dragon's Gold (1954) and written Combat Squad (1953) and Phil Tucker's notorious Robot Monster (1953) and who was now hankering to get into direction. Corman made him a deal - stump up the missing $2,000 and Ordung could direct Monster from the Ocean Floor. Ordung sank the two grand he earned from Robot Monster into the project and the project was saved.
Serving triple duty as producer, grip and driver, Corman managed to make the film on a budget that would have left many Hollywood moguls aghast and it launched his career as one of the thriftiest and most cost-conscious producers in town. It was also a success, easily earning back its $12,000 budget and eventually taking in excess of $117,000.
Gene Corman, who had also been bitten by the movie bug, brokered a deal with Lippert Releasing Company that would give Corman an advance on the film's success. It was a modest sum, just $60,000, but it was enough for Corman to launch another project. It taught him that getting an advance virtually ensured the next film would be started, a valuable lesson that was to inform his entire production ethos over the coming decades.
$50,000 of the advances went into The Fast and the Furious (1954), a quickie drag racing epic, the first of Corman's youth oriented dramas and the first to make play of one of his favourite themes, that of the the outsider at the edges of mainstream society. Again the film was a huge success, particularly on the drive-in circuit and Corman was now well and truly established as a player in Hollywood, albeit a minor one.
His work on The Fast and the Furious gave him a taste for directing and he decided that he could save even more money if he directed the films himself. The Fast and the Furious had been sold to the distributors American Releasing Corporation, headed by James Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, who would later change the company name to American International Pictures (AIP). They helped to finance Corman's first films as director, a quartet of westerns. Five Guns West (1954) looks now like a dry run for The Dirty Dozen (1967) with its tale of convicted murderers recruited by the Confederate army in the Civil War to recapture the traitorous Jethro and his stolen horde of gold.
It was followed by Apache Woman (1955) (which introduced Corman to one of his most frequent collaborators, actor Dick Miller who appeared in the film as a renegade Indian and one of the cowboys chasing him!). The Oklahoma Woman (1955) and Gunslinger (1955). Ever eager to jump whatever bandwagon happened to be passing at the time, Corman quickly switched over to science fiction with Day the World Ended (1956), It Conquered the World (1956) and Not of This Earth (1957). He also made exotic action movies (She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) and Naked Paradise (1958), rock and roll / teen movies (Carnival Rock, Rock All Night, Sorority Girl and Teenage Doll (all 1957)) and eventually horror, first with The Undead (1957) and eventually with the classic horror comedies A Bucket of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
* = television
the World Ended (producer, director, performer (Nelson
Conquered the World (producer, director)
of This Earth (producer, director)
Saga of the Viking Women and Their Voyage to the Waters of the Great
Sea Serpent (producer, director)
Cave Man (producer, director)
of the Blood Beast (executive producer)
of the Satellites (producer, director, performer (ground
The Brain Eaters
of Blood (producer, director)
Five Guns West (producer, director)
Swamp Women (director)
The Oklahoma Woman (producer, director)
Rock All Night (producer, director)
Sorority Girl (producer, director)
Teenage Doll (producer, director)
Naked Paradise (producer, director; performer (office
Hot Car Girl (executive producer, performer (cop - uncredited))
I Mobster... The Life of a Gangster (co-producer,
Machine-Gun Kelly (producer, director)
Stakeout on Dope Street (producer – uncredited)
T-Bird Gang (producer)
Last Updated: 1 January, 2009
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