Fans of the original Little Shop of Horrors, that funny-creepy black-&-white gem from 1960, of course remember Jackie Joseph. As Audrey, the love interest of the hapless Seymour, she’s the rose in a garden full of poison ivy. Fittingly, Jackie herself loves to garden. We had lunch recently in her comfortable Sherman Oaks home, slurping down gazpacho made from tomatoes, peppers, and onions she grew herself. Fortunately, no man-eating plants were on the menu.
Our chat quickly turned to Roger Corman’s two-day movie. He had the use of someone else’s leftover set, and shooting had to finish before 1959 ended, because the new 1960 SAG contract would guarantee actors residuals. To save time, Roger had several cameras running at once, and didn’t sweat the small stuff: “If by chance there was a shadow on you . . . too bad! You had to go on to the next shot. But, for the most part, he got it done.”
Such was the need for speed that Jackie found herself changing her clothes onstage in a carpenter’s booth. All those perky little Fifties outfits came from her own closet. Though her clothing was clingy, she played Audrey totally without a sexual edge, just “a very nice girl wearing a tight dress.” As Roger Corman doubtless intuited, the innocence of the character was not far from that of the young actress: “I just thought anybody who was in a movie had to be amazing, and how lucky I was to have a job.” Her faith in her co-workers, though, wavered when she sat in the makeup chair. At first she was thrilled to be in the hands of a veteran Corman makeup artist . . . until she noticed her eyebrows starting to look disturbingly bushy. Finally she politely asked, “Have you made up a lot of women before?” His reply: “No. Only monsters.” Which was her cue to sneak off to the ladies’ room and repair the damage.
As a director, Roger was not one to discuss interpretations or line-readings. He believed the key was to cast the right actors, those who had the essence of what he was looking for. Jackie now says, “Since he never used me again, I wondered if he was disappointed in me.” She and I agree, though, that there wasn’t much room for her brand of innocence in the Corman world. When they’ve chanced to meet, he has always been cordial, and Jackie clings to an image of him as a country squire, suave and slightly aloof.
Still, she’s long been bothered that when Menken and Ashman’s hit musical rendition of Little Shop debuted off-Broadway in 1982, the original cast was not notified. When a touring company put down roots at the Westwood Playhouse, publicity reps didn’t even seem aware of the movie’s existence. Jackie calls this “our adventure in being insignificant.” For that, Roger Corman apparently bears part of the blame. Screenwriter Chuck Griffith once told me how the musical’s Audrey, Ellen Greene, opened his eyes to Corman’s tactic of swearing that such key original players as Jonathan Haze, Mel Welles, and Griffith himself were all deceased, “and therefore there was no point in inviting us to N.Y. for the opening or for offering us anything.”
Still, her role in Little Shop has led to many good things for Jackie Joseph. I’ll get to those another day, but will let her have the final word about Roger Corman’s amazing impact on her career: “Even though he beat us out of getting residuals on our contracts, there was a residual effect that will never go away.”
For more insider stories about Little Shop of Horrors and other Corman accomplishments, I’m pleased to recommend the new edition of my critically acclaimed biography. It brings Roger Corman into the present day, detailing his recent success with monster mash-ups, his acceptance of an Honorary Oscar at a star-studded ceremony in 2009, and the lawsuit that has rocked his family to its foundations. Previously suppressed material has been restored, and this 3rd editionof Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers is enhanced by an all-new photo section as well as a cover that gives Audrey Jr. pride of place.