Friday, August 12, 2022

Roger Corman: The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes Strikes Again

Early in the 21st century a writer and editor named Tim Lucas—a fan of my Roger Corman: Blood-Sucking Vampires, Flesh-Eating Cockroaches, and Driller Killers--slipped me a copy of a script he had written, along with his pal, Charlie Largent. It was a clever dramatization of an incident known to all Corman enthusiasts: the 1966 jaunt that Roger took to Big Sur, California, in preparation for shooting the movie that became The Trip. The straight-arrow Corman, getting ready to film Hollywood’s first flick exploring the allure of LSD, had been persuaded by both screenwriter Jack Nicholson (yes, that Jack Nicholson) and star Peter Fonda that he couldn’t film an acid-trip story without having first dropped acid himself. And so he did.

 The Lucas/Largent script found its way into the hands of Corman protégé Joe Dante, who signed on to direct and produce. Eventually two more screenwriters got involved—Michael Almereyda and  James Robinson—and the title evolved from Sunshine Boulevard  into The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes. At one point Oscar-winner Colin Firth committed to playing Roger. But, like so many Hollywood projects, this one never got funded. Its biggest hurrah was a live script reading at a local L.A. theatre, with Roger himself participating, and Bill Hader in the Corman role.

 Nothing daunted, Tim Lucas has now turned The Man with Kaleidoscope Eyes into a novel that pop culture fans will cherish. Having done his research, Lucas revels in the minutiae of Roger Corman’s lifestyle (the fancy cars and austere Metrecal lunches; the obsessive punctuality and zeal for problem-solving). He also paints vivid portraits of such Corman cronies as Fonda, Nicholson, resident hippie Chuck Griffith, and director-in-the-making Peter Bogdanovich, who liked to present himself as something of a dandy (“His ascot was the color of the velvet curtains in a roadshow cinema”).  Then there’s Roger’s plucky Oxford-schooled assistant, Frances Doel, who seems prescient in her ability to anticipate her boss’s every need. (Frances, a close friend of mine, finds her own portrayal hugely annoying, but I chalk that up to her intrinsic modesty.)

 Lucas has a ball depicting the commercial stretch of Sunset Blvd. in its flashy, trashy heyday. As he wittily puts it, “Contrary to its name, Sunset was actually where the sun rose—on the American dream.”  He revels in the oversized billboards that dotted the street, promoting such cinematic fare as Born Free, The Endless Summer, and Corman’s own unlikely 1966 hit, The Wild Angels. It’s all part of what he calls “the phantasmagorical bazaar that was the Sunset Strip on a Friday night in the summer of 1966—the Summer of Foreplay before the Summer of Love.”

 He also finds ways to work into his narrative tidbits of Corman’s personal and professional life, finding a place for Roger’s first creative breakthrough (The Day the World Ended) and his all-time gutsiest stab at social commentary (The Intruder). There’s playful quoting from The Little Shop of Horrors (“Novocaine . . . it dulls the senses”) and, in an eerier vein, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (“I can still see!”) As a tribute to Nicholson’s eventual star role in The Shining, he slips in a reference to how “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”  My favorite insider gag: a highly fictitious account of how the scruffy LSD supplier is promised, in return for a serious discount, an associate producer credit.

 Lucas’s determination to add a romantic thread involving the future Mrs. Corman may be a stretch, but it gives the ending of this book a surprising sweetness. Well done, sir!     

Corman (and Lucas) fans might like to know that Tim is offering signed and personalized copy of this book at his site, Tim would also like me to thank his publishing house, Electric Dreamhouse/PS Publishing, and I'm happy to do that here.


  1. Having read Lucas' other novels, the will-they-won't-they dynamic between Roger and Julie is very much a continuation of the thematic concerns of his earlier books.

    1. Bob, is that you? Welcome back! (I've never read any other Lucas novel, so your comment is really interesting.

    2. Hi Beverly! No, I'm not Bob, my name is Patrick - I became a fan of Lucas' work based on his Mario Bava commentaries. After he announced "Kaleidoscope Eyes", I decided to seek out his other three novels ("Throat Sprockets", "The Book of Renfield" and "The Secret Life of Love Songs") in anticipation of it - a common theme that connects all of them is the difficulties his protagonists face in connecting with women. I'm actually working on my own in-depth review of the book that looks at it in the context of the themes of both "The Trip" and his other works.

    3. Very nice to meet you, Patrick. I thought perhaps you were a longtime reader of mine who seems to have disappeared lately. Very interesting to read about this book in the context of earlier Lucas work. As I know from my years of working for Corman, the Roger/Julie relationship has always been a complicated one. You might enjoy my independent biography (first published in 2000, but expanded -- with a sexier title -- in several new editions). And do visit Beverly in Movieland again!