Friday, December 4, 2015

Roger Corman: You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet!

A century ago, movies were seen but not heard. When Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond remembers back to her screen triumphs in the silent era, she declares, “We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!” Yes, they had faces then—but no voices, until the start of the sound era, when (in 1927’s The Jazz Singer) Al Jolson told the world, “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!”  

When my mother was growing up, movies had learned to talk. In fact, actors were imported from the New York stage to give their on-screen speech the proper level of decorum. But in homes across America, the essential form of entertainment featured all talking, all the time. I’m thinking, of course, of the medium of radio. In the Thirties and Forties, families gathered in their living rooms in front of oversized radio consoles to listen to Jack Benny, Fred Allen, Amos ‘n’ Andy, and Uncle Miltie. Walking down a city street on a hot summer night, you could follow a popular show like Burns and Allen without missing a moment as it wafted out of everyone’s windows.      

Along with the star-driven variety programs, radio also featured soap operas. I remember a few that lingered into my own era: The Romance of Helen Trent and Our Gal Sunday ( “The story that asks the question -- Can this girl from the little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?”) I was also fascinated by the deadpan private eyes who peopled Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. My grandmother’s very favorite was apparently Myrt and Marge, which dealt with the exploits of two actresses, Myrtle Spear and Marjorie Minter. (The sponsor—think about it!—was Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum.) The two actresses who created the serial were, as I later discovered, the grandmother and the mother of Roger Corman’s most inventive screenwriter, Charles B. Griffith. In fact, Myrtle Vail was to play a feature role in what may have been her grandson Chuck’s greatest triumph, The Little Shop of Horrors.

But I digress. When television entered American households in the 1950s, radio seemed to be pretty much finished. All the great comic and dramatic voices of the past gravitated to the new medium, while radio seemed limited to news broadcasts, baseball games, and top-forty playlists. I wouldn’t have imagined then the radio renaissance to come. Today, however, I rarely watch television, but constantly seem to be flipping on the radio for NPR news analysis, Terry Gross interviews, the humor of Garrison Keillor and Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, the folksy cooking advice of Lynne Rossetto Kasper, and such storytelling programs as This American Life. Though I don’t know what most of these radio personalities look like, their familiar voices make me consider them my friends.

Which brings me to the debut of my first audiobook. I’ve been asked in the past for an audio version of my biography of my former boss, namely Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. Happily, it is now available on (and can also be purchased through Amazon and iTunes). When I went looking for someone to record my book, I had very specific demands. Because I tell the Corman story in the first-person, the voice needed to be female, representing me as a Corman underling. The narrator also had to reproduce Roger Corman’s own very distinctive voice and speech patterns. And—most important—the speaker needed to convey the humor implicit in so many Corman-related situations. Collene Curran filled the bill admirably. So I’d say your holiday gift-giving problems are solved!       

Here comes the commercial: for a limited time only, I have available some promotional codes for absolutely free downloads of Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers. No obligation, of course. If you’re interested in claiming one of them, contact me right away at You’ll be glad you did!    

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