He Was a B-Movie Giant, Launched A-Level Stars

Roger Corman is dead at 98
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 12, 2024 6:10 AM CDT
B-Movie Icon Roger Corman Is Dead at 98
Producer Roger Corman poses in his Los Angeles office in 2013.   (AP Photo/Reed Saxon, File)

Roger Corman, the "King of the Bs" who helped turn out such low-budget classics as Little Shop of Horrors and Attack of the Crab Monsters and gave many of Hollywood's most famous actors and directors early breaks, has died at age 98. Corman died Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, California, according to a statement from his wife and daughters. "When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, 'I was a filmmaker, just that.'"

  • Eye for talent: Starting in 1955, Corman helped create hundreds of B-movies as a producer and director, among them Black Scorpion, Bucket of Blood, and Bloody Mama. A remarkable judge of talent, he hired such aspiring filmmakers as Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, James Cameron, and Martin Scorsese. In 2009, Corman received an honorary Academy Award.
  • Penny-pinching strategy: "There are many constraints connected with working on a low budget, but at the same time there are certain opportunities," Corman said in 2007. "You can gamble a little bit more. You can experiment. You have to find a more creative way to solve a problem or to present a concept."

  • Nicholson, others: The roots of Hollywood's golden age in the 1970s can be found in Corman's films. Jack Nicholson made his film debut as the title character in a 1958 Corman quickie, The Cry Baby Killer, and stayed with the company for biker, horror, and action films. Other actors whose careers began in Corman movies included Robert De Niro, Bruce Dern, and Ellen Burstyn. Peter Fonda's appearance in The Wild Angels was a precursor to his own landmark biker movie, Easy Rider, co-starring Nicholson and fellow Corman alumnus Dennis Hopper. Boxcar Bertha, starring Barbara Hershey and David Carradine, was an early Corman film by Scorsese.
  • Great line: Corman's B-movie directors were given minuscule budgets and often told to finish their films in as little as five days. When Howard, who would go on to win a best director Oscar for A Beautiful Mind, pleaded for an extra half day to reshoot a scene in 1977 for Grand Theft Auto, Corman told him, "Ron, you can come back if you want, but nobody else will be there."
  • An exception: Most of Corman's movies were quickly forgotten by all but die-hard fans. A rare exception was 1960's Little Shop of Horrors, which starred a bloodthirsty plant that feasted on humans and featured Nicholson in a small but memorable role as a pain-loving dental patient. It inspired a long-lasting stage musical and a 1986 musical adaptation starring Steve Martin, Bill Murray, and John Candy.
  • Early days: Roger William Corman was born in Detroit and raised in Beverly Hills, but "not in the affluent section," he once said. He attended Stanford, earning a degree in engineering, and arrived in Hollywood after three years in the Navy. Corman got his start as a messenger boy for Twentieth Century-Fox, eventually graduating to story analyst. After quitting the business briefly to study English literature for a term at Oxford University, he returned to Hollywood and launched his career as a movie producer and director.

(More obituary stories.)

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