There’s a wagon-load of Ws in the Roger Corman world. Think of portly actor Mel Welles (Little Shop of Horrors), rising star-trekker William Shatner (The Intruder), and Oscar-winning cinematographer Haskell Wexler (pseudonymously shooting Stakeout on Dope Street). In my day, there was Concorde studio chief Jonathan Winfrey, and of course Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
But none of them compares to the one and only Jim Wynorski. Elsewhere during this A to Z Challenge there have been tributes to Jim, explaining how he won Roger Corman’s heart through a trailer selling the “fact” that the movie Screamers (actually a tepid Italian import) would feature a man turned inside out. Instead of going back over that well-trod territory, I’ll concentrate here on my own experiences with Jim, in the era when I was Roger’s story editor. Jim was a writer-director, and also Concorde’s resident bad boy, one who often cast scantily-clad lovelies by thumbing through the pages of his little black book.Jim Wynorski -- tall, well-stuffed, and shaggy – is a large teddy-bear of a man, with the tastes of a perennial adolescent. He’s still fourteen years old at heart, which explains how he can make soft-core porn, monster movies, and PG-rated kiddie fare with perfect conviction. Take the case of Munchie, not to be confused with 1987’s far more hectic Munchies. Munchie (1992), shot during Corman’s brief detour into family films, is a gentle comedy about a supernatural critter (voiced by Dom DeLuise) who helps a lonely young boy find happiness. Still, Jim being Jim, it is stocked with gorgeous women. Gage Dobson’s single-parent mom is played by the voluptuous Loni Anderson, and the role of his sympathetic teacher went to a former Wynorski squeeze, Monique Gabriel. When it came time to cast the cute youngster who catches Gage’s eye, Jim found someone he considered suitable eye-candy for the prepubescents out there. Her name: Jennifer Love Hewitt. She was innocence personified, but her smile, in those long-ago days, lit up the set.
That was the era when TV actor Andrew Stevens (best known for Dallas and for being the ex-husband of one of Charlie’s Angels, Kate Jackson) was moving into producing and directing. Along the way, he played a number of roles for Roger Corman, both heroic leads and comic parts like that of the pompous suitor in Munchie. I’ll write more about Andrew some other day, but I’ll focus here on his instant connection with Jim Wynorski, with whom he collaborated on several Concorde projects. I’m thinking specifically of Body Chemistry 3: Point of Seduction, directed by Jim and produced (under Roger’s auspices) by Andrew, at the same time that he played the macho but vulnerable victim of Claire Archer’s sexual wiles. Jim and Andrew look absolutely nothing alike. Andrew back then was still leading-man handsome, while Jim reminded me of an overgrown satyr. (Jim occasionally showed up with his hair and beard dyed blond, which certainly added to that impression). Still, their boyish shenanigans in my office were right in sync, and I took to calling them “twins separated at birth.” Ah, those were the days!
Nor did Jim and Roger Corman seem to be birds of a feather. After all, Roger resembles nothing so much as a hip minister or a college professor, one who’d theoretically look down on Jim’s adolescent style. But they share the same aesthetic -- what Jim calls “a big chase and a big chest.” Joe Dante probably said it best: “Jim Wynorski is the side of Roger that he may have inside, but he never lets anybody see.”