close
close

Roger Corman, prolific producer and mentor to Hollywood stars, has died aged 98

Roger Corman, a prolific producer of low-budget B movies who also mentored future Hollywood greats including directors Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard and Martin Scorsese, has died. He was 98.

He died on May 9 at his home in Santa Monica, California, his family said on social media. A cause of death was not given.

“He was generous, open-minded and friendly to everyone who knew him. A devoted and selfless father, he was deeply loved by his daughters,” his family said in a statement. “His films were revolutionary and iconoclastic and captured the spirit of an era.”

Corman has long been referred to as the “King of B-Movies,” having made hundreds of B-movies in his nearly seven decades as an independent producer and director. In 2009 he was awarded an honorary Oscar.

His legacy extends far beyond his own films. Corman captivated a constellation of rising stars over the years, including future A-list directors like Coppola, Scorsese, Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme. And he launched the careers of Jack Nicholson, Dennis Hopper, William Shatner and Robert De Niro and other well-known names.

Corman was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1926. He studied engineering but shifted his attention to Hollywood in the mid-1950s. Corman made all kinds of genre films, including science fiction, westerns and pulpy crime thrillers. As a producer, he had early success with “Monster from the Ocean Floor,” which was followed a few years later by “Attack of the Crab Monsters.” He produced nine “Bloodfist” films, from the original in 1989 to “Bloodfist 2050” in 2005.

Many of his early films were produced on a shoestring budget, with shooting schedules that lasted days or weeks rather than months. His first films were shot in about 10 days for less than $60,000 apiece, Corman said at a 2016 Academy event.

He founded New World Pictures, a production company, and later Concorde-New Horizons, which focused on home video. He said in 2009 that he viewed film as a “compromised” art that had to exist between art and business.

He was known in the industry for preaching the value of pre-production and planning his film shoots down to the smallest detail, including camera placement long before the cast and crew arrived on set. He later passed these skills on to his senior students, including Scorsese.

“My theory was this: When you’re shooting on such a tight schedule, you don’t have time to make important decisions,” Corman said. “You just have time to shoot.”

He made shoot-’em-ups, monster movies and horror films with haunting titles, including “The Brain Eaters,” “Teenage Cave Man,” “The Wasp Woman” and “Attack of Giant Leeches.” He produced The Little Shop of Horrors, which came out in 1960 and starred actor Jack Nicholson in one of his first roles.

Two of Sylvester Stallone’s first film appearances were in Capone and Death Race 2000, both produced by Corman and released in 1975. Stallone told Entertainment Weekly in 2009 that it felt “like a big deal” when he was nominated to play “Capone.”

“We did ‘Death Race 2000’ in two and a half weeks. “This shows that it can be done,” he told the magazine. “It’s one thing to talk about a game. Roger let you play the game.”

Describing his production process in the 2023 book “Hollywood: The Oral History” by Jeanine Basinger and Sam Wasson, Corman said he would make an “equal compromise” with directors wanting to make their first film.

The director “gets a small amount of money and makes his film. I get the profit from the film and he gets the opportunity to start his career,” Corman said.

Coppola, for example, had been his assistant for months before Corman produced Coppola’s first feature film, Dementia 13, which was released in 1963.

Coppola helped with the sound recording and worked as a second assistant director on one of Corman’s features, Corman told Conan O’Brien on “Conan on TBS” in 2014.

“I knew he was good, but I had no idea he would reach the heights he did,” Corman said.

Ron Howard was a 23-year-old actor when he approached Corman to direct his first feature film, Grand Theft Auto, which was released in 1977.

“I said, ‘Ron, you always looked like a director to me,'” Corman recalled telling Howard at that moment.

Howard said Late Saturday he was “grateful to have known him.”

“He launched many careers and quietly advanced our industry in important ways,” Howard said on social media. “Even at 98, he remained sharp, interested and active.”

Some of these young directors later asked Corman to star in their big-budget Hollywood films. He appeared in Howard’s Apollo 13 and Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II. Demme cast him in small roles in The Silence of the Lambs, The Philadelphia Story and The Manchurian Candidate.

Even a chance encounter with Corman could change someone’s career in the industry. At a screening of “Baby Angels” in 1965, Corman happened to be sitting behind Peter Bogdanovich, who was then working as a journalist and film critic.

The pair were featured and Corman said in Bogdanovich’s retelling in a 2022 interview, “I read your stuff in Esquire. Would you ever want to write a film?”

Bogdanovich, who would become an Oscar-nominated director and writer, said Corman offered him the opportunity to get into the business but little pay and no recognition.

“(Corman) said, ‘I want you to rewrite it. There’s no money in it – $300 – you get $300 and no credit,'” Bogdanovich said. “I said, ‘Okay, great.'”

When director Quentin Tarantino was a child, he would stay up late watching Corman’s films on television, he said when he introduced the producer at an Oscar honors ceremony in 2009. He remembered seeing “Bucket of Blood,” “Machine Gun Kelly” and “Bucket of Blood.” Rock All Night” on the small screen.

Tarantino reintroduced Corman at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and said of Corman: “He has filled my eyes, my head, my heart and those of countless viewers with unadulterated cinematic pleasure for decades.”

Corman is survived by his wife, Julie, and daughters, Catherine and Mary, the family said in a statement on Sunday.

“When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, ‘I was a filmmaker, just that,'” the family said.