Pop Cinema Pioneer and Hollywood Mentor

Roger Corman, ’47

July 10, 2024

Reading time min

When rain ruined filmmaker Roger Corman’s weekend plans to play tennis, he took a swing at writing a script instead—and ended the day with one in hand. “We wrote the script that afternoon and shot that section in two days,” he told David Letterman in 1982, pointing to a production still of a young Jack Nicholson in the 1963 horror film The Terror.

Portrait of Roger CormanPhoto: Courtesy Corman Family

Corman routinely made movies in under two weeks—and sometimes, for around $30,000, he did it in two days. He produced more than 200 films rife with explosions, fake blood, and nudity. “I’m willing to do almost anything in a film except bore the audience,” Corman told Jeremy Isaacs in a 1990 interview on Face to Face. Those profit-driven pictures collectively launched the golden age of independent directors, including Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. 

Roger W. Corman, ’47, the so-called Pope of Pop Cinema and the founder of New World Pictures, died on May 9. He was 98.

Corman graduated from Stanford with an engineering degree and took a job at U.S. Electrical Motors. He quit after four days and found work as a messenger, then story analyst and screenwriter, at Twentieth Century–Fox.

After his notes were used in a film without attribution, Corman struck out on his own. So began a marathon of low-cost, full-tilt productions. “I actually think that he was the most effective and efficient multitasker perhaps in the history of the film business,” says Gale Anne Hurd, ’77, who began as an executive assistant for Corman and was producing within two years. “We called it the Roger Corman School of Filmmaking. You essentially learned everything—literally everything,” says Hurd, who later produced The Terminator and The Walking Dead.

Corman had an eye for talent and liked to give “first chances,” says Brad Krevoy, ’78, his friend and occasional filmmaking partner, and the founder of the Motion Picture Corporation of America. Filmmakers brought their projects to him because “he would allow them to make the movie they wanted to make,” says Krevoy. “But at the same time, Roger would develop his own material and then hire a first-time director like Ron Howard to direct.”

Beyond the buckets of blood and sexy nurse outfits, Corman “always wanted to put some sort of statement in,” says his daughter Mary, ’07. His 1962 film The Intruder, starring a young William Shatner, tackled the topic of racial integration in the American South. It was the first of his films to lose money, so he worked to ensure that his later films, such as cult classics The Masque of the Red Death and The Trip, prioritized entertainment value.

Even when pressures mounted on the set, “people [were] more important than the movie,” says Hurd. Once, when Hurd was growing frustrated with an unprepared sound effects editor, Corman pulled her aside. “Gale,” he said, “it’s only a movie.”

Corman is survived by his wife and children.

Kali Shiloh is a staff writer at Stanford. Email her at kshiloh@stanford.edu.

You May Also Like

© Stanford University. Stanford, California 94305.