Tuesday, October 13, 2020

A Farewell to Gene Corman, Roger’s Kid Brother

 I’ve just learned the sad news that Gene Corman has left us at the age of 93. Both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter published respectful stories detailing Gene’s years as a talent agent and as the producer of such ambitious World War II films as Arthur Hiller’s Tobruk and Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One, In 1982 he won an Emmy for producing a TV movie, A Woman Named Golda, starring Ingrid Bergman as Israeli prime minister Golda Meir. But most of Hollywood, I suspect remembers Gene as Roger Corman’s younger brother. And so, of course, do I.

 I first met Gene circa 1973 at Roger’s New World Pictures: he was sharing a corner of Roger’s rather shabby Sunset Strip penthouse suite on behalf of his own small company, Penelope Productions. Here’s what I remember best: Gene’s unforced friendliness to one and all, his thick glasses, and the vivacious blonde wife (Nan) to whom he was married for 65 years.  On an ultra-hot day, when our office quarters felt like a steambath, Nan blithely invited Gene’s secretary and assistant to forget about business and come over to their Beverly Hills digs for a swim. (We employees of Roger hardly received a similar invitation from our hard-driving boss)

 I once wrote that “what’s most interesting about Gene is the way he diverges from the family code of personal austerity. Everyone who’s known the two Cormans remarks on the contrast in their lifestyles. Roger’s tastes run to contemporary minimalism, and his homes have always reflected this; Gene has lived for years in an venerable Beverly Hills Tudor-style house replete with antiques. Roger prides himself on wearing the same nondescript clothing for decades; Gene owns an array of handsome pullover sweaters. Gene was the family’s first art collector, bucking [their father] William Corman’s fears that paintings and sculpture were an extravagance, and much too risky to be considered a worthwhile investment.”

Frank Moreno, longtime New World head of sales, explained to me in late 1998 the essential distinction between the brothers: “Gene is going to enjoy every minute of life, and Gene’ll spend whatever it takes to do it.” Paul Almond, a later New World business executive, put it this way: “Gene was a total sport. Gene would pick up a tab. Roger never picks up tabs.” There may well be a significant link between Gene’s personal warmth and his liberal attitude toward money, which stand a world apart from Roger’s emotional reticence and tight-fisted approach.

 Former Corman folk differ on how well the brothers got along. When they were working together on low-budget drive-in flicks like Beast from Haunted Cave, tempers occasionally flared. But Gene proved his mettle when Roger and company traveled to Southern Missouri, just over the Arkansas border, to shoot The Intruder, a raw account of a mysterious rabble-rouser (a pre-Star Trek William Shatner) who shows up in a Southern town that’s grudgingly complying with a school desegregation order. The subject was a bold one in 1961. Threats of violence abounded, and law enforcement officers were frequently seen snooping around the set, where a number of the minor roles were being filled by locals. Roger, directing a movie about which he cared deeply, was wary of distractions. So Gene, in his role as executive producer, was charged with fast-talking the film company out of possible legal jams. Somehow they survived unscathed.

 When I was at New World Pictures, Gene was going through his blaxploitation period. I never had a hankering to see films like Darktown Strutters or The Slams.  But I always wished him well.


  1. A great write-up. Love these behind-the-scenes tales. I will have to do a Gene Corman marathon soon in his memory.

  2. Thanks so much, Eric. Yes, Gene Corman accomplished a lot, with very little recognition -- though there was that nice shiny Emmy! I should add one more detail: Gene considered himself "a dyed-in-the-wool Republican," while Roger -- who has prided himself on his liberal politics -- once informed his young children that Democrats are naturally superior in terms of both “IQ and compassion.”