CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 27: Roger Corman present The Grand Prix Award during the closing ceremony during the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 27, 2023 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE – MAY 27: Roger Corman present The Grand Prix Award during the closing ceremony during the 76th annual Cannes film festival at Palais des Festivals on May 27, 2023 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images).

Long-time director and producer Roger Corman died on Saturday, May 11 at the age of 98. The director of films such as “The Little Shop of Horrors” and “The House of Usher,” who was seen as one of the greatest B-movie makers in all of Hollywood, was also a Navy veteran.

Corman died in May 9 at his home in Santa Monica, Calif. Born on April 25, 1926 in Detroit, he moved to California in his youth and was in school when World War II broke out. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1944, while the United States was still in the fierce fighting of World War II. 

For the most part, Corman’s stint in the armed forces was brief. He only briefly talked about it, saying that “I was in the Navy for two years. They were the worst two years of my life. Any rule they set out, I felt it is my duty to break that rule.”

In 2019 he would discuss his service more in depth, during an event at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, saying:

“The only time I ever had real fear was in the Second World War. We were being trained for the invasion of Japan and personnel had estimated on both sides ten million casualties, deaths and wounded. We knew what awaited us. I have a somewhat different opinion of the atomic bomb that someone else might have, because essentially I can consider that saved my life.”

After the war, Corman finished a degree in industrial engineering at Stanford University. He briefly worked for 20th Century Fox, looking to break into the movie business. He got sick of that, moved to the United Kingdom and used the G.I. Bill to study at Oxford University. Eventually, Corman returned to Los Angeles, selling a script for what became 1954’s “Highway Dragnet,” which he also produced. That was the start of Corman’s career. He became known for producing thrillers and monster movies, as well as the original “The Fast and the Furious” (unrelated to the family and cars-driven series, which licensed the name). Eventually he started directing, initially making Westerns before becoming a horror filmmaker. 

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Among his large filmography were several classic films. Aside from Little Shop of Horrors, Corman directed a series of films starring Vincent Price inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, including “The Raven” and “Masque of the Red Death.” He also dabbled in war films, such as the World War II-set actioner “The Secret Invasion.”

He became known for two things: he definitely made B-movies with heavy lurid elements and he made them efficiently, quickly and utilizing limited budgets. Corman could film a movie in under two weeks, and he often did. As a result, he gained respect for the level of planning that went into each of his movies before Corman ever shot a frame. 

Although Corman had a reputation as a B-movie director, his influence on modern cinema was massive. He produced Martin Scorsese’s “Boxcar Bertha,” as well as Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dementia 13.” He also worked on the films of Peter Bogdanovich and Jonathan Demme. Jack Nicholson’s first feature film role was in Corman’s “Cry Baby Killer.”

These film luminaries in turn paid tribute to him, often bringing Corman and his production posse into cameo or minor roles in their movies. As an actor, Roger Corman had an impressive resume as a bit actor in iconic films. His acting CV included roles in “The Godfather Part 2,” “The Howling,” “Philadelphia” and “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Roger Corman eventually received an honorary Oscar in 2009. He remained active in film, even presenting the Grand Prix award at Cannes in 2023 alongside Quentin Tarantino, a noted Corman fan. 

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