Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Roger Corman at 88: Approaching the King Lear Years

On April 5, 2014, Roger Corman celebrated his eighty-eighth birthday. At this stage of his long career, he’s enjoying plenty of respect, even veneration. (On my Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers Facebook site, one of his loyal fans recently referred to him as “The God Who Walks Among Us.”) 

As author of the definitive Corman biography, which was updated last fall with a brand-new epilogue, I’m often asked what my former boss is doing now. As a matter of fact, Roger has done rather well since he turned eighty. His tongue-in-cheek monster mash-ups for the Sci Fi Channel, which now calls itself Syfy, have made him popular with a whole new audience. And, in the course of promoting such made-for-TV schlockfests as Dinocroc vs. Supergator, he’s become something of an Internet celebrity as well.

Here’s how I kick off “The Epilogue Strikes Back”: 

            Fade in on a pristine stretch of tropical shore, where we spot an old codger with his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest. Though sloppy and unshaven, he looks a lot like Roger Corman. Sauntering along, he ogles a bikini-clad lovely who has just bent down to dig up a rare coin. When a tentacled sea-beast unexpectedly looms, dragging the shrieking beauty into the surf, he reacts with mild surprise. Then, shrugging off the carnage, he makes a beeline for the coin she’s dropped in the sand. The scene ends on his self-satisfied grin.

            In February 2011, Roger and Julie Corman visited the set of theflickcast.com to promote their latest made-for-TV movie, Sharktopus. On the webcast, a genial Corman explained that it was director Declan O’Brien who had proposed this out-of-character cameo appearance. Roger readily went along with the gag, because “I’ve played so many governors and senators—I said I’d be delighted to play a beach bum.” Host Matt Raub underscored for viewers the scene’s sly allusion to Corman’s “well-known aversion for letting good money go to waste,” and Roger agreed with a twinkle, “Exactly!”

            Roger was having fun here spoofing his cheapskate image. But he has also been enjoying his new reputation as one of Hollywood’s elder statesmen, with all the glory that entails. In November 2009, he was chosen by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences to receive an honorary Oscar for his contributions to the film industry. At the Academy’s newly inaugurated Governors Awards banquet, such Corman alumni as Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme hailed their former boss, while longtime admirer Quentin Tarantino waxed poetic: “Roger, for everything that you have done for cinema, the Academy thanks you, Hollywood thanks you, independent filmmaking thanks you, but most importantly—for all the wild, weird, cool, crazy moments you’ve put on the drive-in screens—the movie-lovers of the planet Earth thank you!”

            In the years since 2009, Roger has been the star of at least one documentary (Alex Stapleton’s Corman’s World), has made countless personal appearances, and (though he doesn’t personally do email or own a cellphone) encouraged his staff to come up with clever ways of using Twitter and social media to promote the Corman brand. Getting older, though, hasn’t always been easy for him. A recent staffer described to me his short attention span, his frequent bursts of anger, and occasional threats to shutter the company. He and his wife Julie have also been rocked by a nasty lawsuit served against them by their two adult sons, who claim more of the Corman loot for themselves. It’s sad that Roger, at eighty-eighty, is now facing what a Corman veteran calls “the King Lear years.” 

Low-key commercial message: Yes, I really am an expert on all things Roger Corman. My newly updated biography, Roger Corman:Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers, has won praise in such varied publications as Variety, the New York Times, Video Watchdog, and the Wall Street Journal,. It has also been hailed by several generations of Corman alumni as an accurate and insightful look at a very complex man. Click here to find out more.


  1. I'm sorry to hear about the Shakespearean turn of events in The King Lear of Pop Cinema's life. This year marks his 60th anniversary in filmmaking - another celebration! Here's a left field question - have you ever noticed how much Mr. Corman and Star Trek's George Takei sound like each other? (More now as they're older - and Takei speaks faster, while Mr. C is more deliberate - but to me they could each do a heck of an impression of each other!)

  2. I've never thought about that, though it's certainly true that George Takei speaks slowly and distinctly, and with a lower voice than you'd expect. (From spending a lot of time around Japanese and Japanese-Americans, I know that deep voices like Takei's aren't particularly prized in that culture, outside the realm of Kabuki.) A fascinating observation, Mr. C. I'm always theorized that Roger, as a young man, worked hard on his voice and articulation. He did, after participate in radio drama activities in high school and college. Maybe Takei did the same.