Through ingenuity, boundless energy and a deep love of movies, Roger Corman has made more of them than just about anyone. His legendary ability to stretch a dollar allowed him to swiftly conceive and create period films and sci-fi epics on budgets that wouldn’t cover the food costs on a modern studio shoot. When he had more to work with, however, Corman made the most of it: The string of Edgar Allan Poe-inspired horror films he produced at American International Pictures (AIP) in the early 1960s featuring Vincent Price have been hailed as artistic gems.
A true collaborator by nature with a keen eye for talent, Corman mentored many of the film industry’s best-known talents. Among the graduates of what James Cameron (“Battle beyond the Stars”) called “The Roger Corman Film School” are Martin Scorsese (“Boxcar Bertha”), Francis Ford Coppola (“Dementia 13”), Ron Howard (“Grand Theft Auto”), Jack Nicholson (“Little Shop of Horrors” among others), Robert De Niro (“Bloody Mama”) and Jonathan Demme (“Fighting Mad”).
Born in Detroit with no ties to the film industry, Corman had to make his own way in Hollywood. Beginning as a messenger at 20th Century-Fox, he became a story analyst and later a screenwriter. He received a story credit for “Highway Dragnet” (1954), which he also co-produced, and got his first producer credit on “The Fast and the Furious” (1955). Over the next five decades, virtually every type of genre film arrived in theaters and drive-ins with the name Roger Corman attached as producer—and often director as well. His colorful titles, often set before a script was written, promised much to youthful audiences seeking chills, thrills and spills, and the films themselves delivered without pretention.
After many commercial successes, Corman was able to expand his operations as an independent distributor and his New World Pictures released significant films by Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and others. Corman continued producing, however, and among the cult classics fondly remembered from this period are “Death Race 2000” (1975), “Piranha” (1978) and “Rock ’n’ Roll High School” (1979). Filmmakers who received early opportunities on New World productions include, director Joe Dante (“Piranha”), composer James Horner (“The Lady in Red”), film editor Mark Goldblatt (“Humanoids from the Deep”), producers Jon Davison (“Hollywood Boulevard”) and Gale Anne Hurd (“Smokey Bites the Dust”), and writer John Sayles (“The Lady in Red”).
The Academy’s Board of Governors voted Corman the Honorary Oscar for his unparalleled ability to nurture aspiring filmmakers by providing an environment that no film school could match.
Did You Know?
Corman has produced more than 300 films and has directing credits on 50 titles.
In a 10-year period, his independent production and distribution company New World Pictures released three Academy Award winners in the Foreign Language Film category: “Amarcord,” “Dersu Uzala” and “The Tin Drum.”
He directed the acclaimed 1962 drama “The Intruder,” starring William Shatner, the first film to tell the story of the integration of schools in the South.
Corman played a key role in the early careers of Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Diane Ladd, Talia Shire, Peter Bogdanovich, Jonathan Demme, Robert Towne, John Sayles and Gale Anne Hurd.
He studied industrial engineering at Stanford, graduating with a bachelor of science degree.
He served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946.
In 1967, Corman produced and directed “The Trip,” written by Jack Nicholson and starring Peter Fonda, which began the “psychedelic” film craze of the late 1960s.
He set the acknowledged record for fastest professional 35mm feature film shoot with the original version of “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960), which took two days and one night to wrap. He made several other films that took less than a week to shoot.
When shooting on location, Corman would often film scenes for two movies at the same time to make the most of the location.
A longstanding joke in Hollywood was that Corman could negotiate the production of a film on a pay phone, finance it with the money left in the change slot and then shoot the whole film in the phone booth.
Frankenstein Unbound (1990, Director, Producer)
Galaxy of Terror (1981, Producer)
Death Race 2000 (1975, Producer)
Big Bad Mama (1974, Producer)
Boxcar Bertha (1972, Producer)
The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967, Director, Producer)
The Trip (1967, Director, Producer)
The Wild Angels (1966, Director, Producer)
The Masque of the Red Death (1964, Director, Producer)
The Tomb of Ligeia (1965, Director, Producer)
Dementia 13 (1963, Producer)
X (1963, Director, Producer)
The Haunted Palace (1963, Director, Producer)
The Terror (1963, Director, Producer)
The Raven (1963, Director, Producer)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961, Director, Producer)
The Little Shop of Horrors (1960, Director, Producer)
The Wasp Woman (1959, Director, Producer)
Teenage Cave Man (1958, Director, Producer)
The Fast and the Furious (1955, Producer)