The King of the Bs is Gone

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Roger Corman on 8 May, at the age of 98. Nicknamed the King of the Bs, Corman presided over the jury at second edition of the Festival, in 2009, where he also presented the films in a retrospective held in his honour.

Our thoughts reach out to his wife Julie Corman, who accompanied him to Strasbourg, and his children. The memory of the many conversations we had with them are as vivid today as they were 16 years ago. And many thank to Julie who sent us the above photo of the Aero cinema in Santa Monica and which is part of the American Cinemateque.

Roger Corman was born in Detroit in 1926 and studied at Stanford University where he graduated in engineering. After a stint in the Navy, he took a job at 20th Century Fox where he eventually became a script analyst. Disenchanted with studio protocol, he left Fox to study modern English literature at Oxford. Once back in Hollywood, Corman worked briefly as a literary agent.

In 1953 he sold his first screenplay, Highway Dragnet, to Allied Artists and served as associated producer of the film. With the proceeds, he produced his first film as an independent producer on a remarkable budget of $18 000.

The triumph of this endeavour proved that high quality films could be made quickly and with very little money. This way of filmmaking was to become the Corman trademark, in particular at American International Pictures, where he made a variety of genres, from westerns to gangster films, from science fiction to teenage rock and roll movies.

Corman’s 1960s Edgar Allan Poe cycle made him famous the world over. His Wild Angels, with Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra, opened the 1966 Venice Film Festival, and launched a trend in biker films, such as Easy Rider.

In 1970 he founded New World Pictures, which soon became the leading independent distribution company in the United States, presenting the works of Ingmar Bergman, François Truffaut, Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa and Werner Herzog.

In 1983, Corman gave up distribution and sold New World Pictures to found the production company Concorde-New Horizons. He produced over 550 films and directed around 50 others, making his career as a director and independent producer one of the most impressive in the history of American cinema.

He was almost just as famous for discerning new talent. Amongst the world famous producers, actors and screenplay writers who owe their start to Roger Corman are none other than Jack Nicholson, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Peter Bogdanovitch, Robert De Niro, Ron Howard, Charles Bronson, Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme and James Cameron.