Thursday, April 4, 2013

D is for Jon Davison, Marketing Maven

Seems as though the initials JD have been auspicious for Roger Corman. I’m not only talking, of course, about the juvenile delinquent types who peopled some of his early works, like 1957’s Teenage Doll. During my New World Pictures years, I can count three JDs around the office, all of whom would go on to have an impact on the film industry. Jonathan Demme was not on staff, but he’d wander through our hallways in his trademark brown and white saddle shoes. He’d just directed his very first film, a women-in-prison flick called Caged Heat (1974), and big things were expected of him. Joe Dante, editor and trailer cutter, hung out in the editing room with his pal Allan Arkush. No one would have guessed that the quiet and unassuming Joe would one day be the director of big studio features like Gremlins and Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Jon Davison (not to be confused with the wholesome, be-dimpled singer John Davidson) was never, as far as I know, an aspiring director. When I worked at New World, Jon was the head of marketing, responsible for dreaming up lurid pressbooks and outrageous publicity campaigns. A New Jersey boy and a former film student of Martin Scorsese at NYU, Jon had headed west for the simple reason that Roger Corman was his idol. As he put it to me years later, Roger “made better cheap movies than anybody else did.”

A pal of Allan Arkush and Joe Dante (whom he lured to join him at New World by putting Dante’s name in the credits of a movie he’d never worked on), Jon was instrumental in the project that helped get Allan and Joe their first directing credits. In 1976, the trio approached Corman with the idea of making their own first film, which they promised would be New World’s cheapest picture ever. The idea was to borrow footage from past New World releases, shoot some new material, and assemble it all into a wacky story about a bottom-of-the-barrel movie company named Miracle Pictures (“If it’s a good picture, it’s a Miracle!”). Jon produced, and Joe and Allan were allowed out of the editing room long enough to take turns directing the satiric feature, which was dubbed Hollywood Boulevard. When the $70,000 film debuted on the real Hollywood Boulevard, they took turns photographing one another beneath the marquee. At the time, this seemed all the reward they needed.

Two years later, Jon was the producer of Joe’s solo directing debut, Piranha. I’m sure it was he who came up with the official Piranha presskit, which solemnly advised exhibitors to create “exciting pre-publicity” by leaving dead piranhas on the banks of local lakes and streams: “Promote community interest and fear by organizing groups (Boy Scouts, citizen volunteers, etc.) to guard against the ‘coming onslaught.’ Give enterprising kids in your area a few bucks to make themselves scarce for a few days. Watch your grosses soar!!”

Inevitably, talented young people move beyond Roger Corman. For Jon, this has meant producing such mainstream hits as Airplane!, RoboCop, and Starship Troopers. And, of course, providing the tinny metallic voice of RoboCop’s murderous malfunctioning robot. Corman folks are always good at wearing more than one hat.


  1. I just met Jeffrey Kramer at an autograph show where he was appearing as a part of a Jaws reunion. I said hello, and went digging in my bag for the item I wanted him to sign. I told him I hoped to surprise him with this one - and his eyes actually lit up when he saw the DVD for Hollywood Blvd - Kramer played the romantic lead in the movie - and got to schmooze romantically with the late great Candice Rialson. Mr. Kramer signed the DVD cover happily - and we spent a moment lamenting the passing of Ms. Rialson. Then, as he got up to take a picture with me - he said "You just made my weekend bringing this one in, kid!" Hearing that was a high point of MY weekend. I love all the movies JD and JD made together, with or without AA. I'm pleased Mr. Davison has gone on to more mainstream success - and you surprised me - I did NOT know he was the voice of ED-209!

    1. Thanks, Mr. Craig. I admit I'm not absolutely certain about Jon providing that voice -- I read it on the Web, and we all know what THAT means. (I'll ask around and see if I can confirm.) At any rate, Jon's voice IS very distinctive. I think he has serious allergies, and they certain have affected his vocal cords.

  2. Bedimpled??? GREAT word!! Beverly, you have such a style! I love how you write. I am unfamiliar with your theme, but when you say words like Airplane! my little 1970s ears perk up. :) I am enjoying learning about what is important to you. Being a great writer makes it easy to read you.

    See you tomorrow!

    Waiter, drink please!

    1. Dana, you're rapidly becoming one of my favorite people! If you continue to read me (beyond April), you'll find out that my interests are VERY broad. Among movies, for instance, I love film noir, old musicals, Disney cartoons, quirky indies, Kurosawa, Truffaut, Fellini, and Bollywood.

    2. I intend to keep reading you. :)) You're a fascinating writer.

      Going to read "E" right now.


  3. News flash for Mr. Craig Edwards: Jon Davison just wrote to tell me that his voice was definitely in RoboCop. So now you have a new trivia tidbit, courtesy of Beverly in Movieland.