Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Portrait of the Artist as The King of Pop Cinema!

Welcome back to the library lair of that most literary of Batman villains for a little book review business...

Bookworm's Book Club

I first read this book back in 2001 or 2002 – when it came out in paperback. I was then working in a bookstore, and I made a habit of grabbing lunch from the food court and dashing back to the store to read a book in the back of the store. I read Ms. Gray’s book across a few of those lunches and thoroughly enjoyed it – but I didn’t end up purchasing it as money was very tight in those days. (Booksellers do not make crazy crazy money, believe it or not.)

Beverly Gray

In the last few months I became an online acquaintance of Beverly Gray after discovering her ultra cool blog Beverly in Movieland while doing research on something Corman related for my blog. She is wonderful to know, teeming with film lore and personal experiences in the trenches working for Roger Corman’s various companies across periods from the 70’s to the 90’s.

In the late 90’s, having been out of his employ for four or five years, Ms. Gray went to work on a biography of Roger Corman. Catching wind of it, he summoned her to a meeting. In that meeting he advised he would only participate in the book’s writing if the end result would cast him in a mostly favorable light. Ms. Gray advised she was going to follow advice he’d once given her and rely on her own judgment. This she did, and  then proceeded with the book – ending up with a fair and balanced look at Roger Corman – his strengths, his idiosyncracies; his foibles, and even his feet of clay.

Roger Corman demonstrates the proper method of machine gun manhandling on the set of Bloody Mama (1970).

Meticulous research and interviews with dozens of people who worked for Corman across his decades in the film business make up the bulk of the book – and it’s a pretty fascinating story for anyone remotely interested in independent filmmaking or the production of what are now thought of as “B movies” – an appellation that Roger Corman would be quick to scoff at in most cases – as he still believes pretty much the only true B films are those that played as the second feature to a larger budgeted A picture in movie theaters of the 30’s and 40’s. I think he’s softened on this a bit in more recent years as the meaning of the phrase has shifted through use (or misuse). The resulting biography came out in 2000, and sold well, landing high on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list the first week of release. The paperback edition sold well too.

Now, a dozen years later, Ms. Gray has gone back and reworked the original book into an expanded ebook – with new information and interviews conducted as recently as October 2012 figuring into the expanded edition.

Roger Corman on the set of his most recent directorial effort - Frankenstein Unbound - in 1990.

Ms. Gray’s writing is terrific – taking us from Corman’s birth through his reception of an honorary Oscar in 2009 and the recent Syuh-Fyuh channel movies he’s been cranking out the last couple of years. There was obviously a boatload of work that went into the research and interviews – and what’s really cool is that nearly every quotation is on the record and attributed – with only a half dozen or dozen quotes (out of hundreds) that are assigned to “a New Concorde staffer” or “a veteran of the New World days.” This alone presents a solid picture of the book’s balance in its representation of Mr. Corman’s life and career. If the book was a hatchet job – there would be far fewer names quoted in the book and much more anonymous attribution.

Unfortunately, Mr. Corman did not agree with this assessment – and after Ms. Gray’s refusal to let him edit the manuscript of anything he felt to be negative or derogatory – he apparently spread the word that the book was to be a hatchet job, though it seems to have prevented few of his former employees from sitting down with Ms. Gray. He also wrote off whatever friendship they had at that point – though Ms. Gray still expresses warmth and respect for her former boss – he does not share that warmth. She indicates that their few happenstance meetings since the book’s publication have been cordial – but it’s also true that two different interviews with Ms. Gray about her former boss - one for a Corman documentary and one for a DVD special feature - have been cut from the finished projects at Mr. Corman’s – or his office’s - insistence.

Roger Corman - the Elder Statesman of Exploitation Cinema.

If anyone were to ask me what to read to know more about Roger Corman – I would absolutely recommend this book – and I’d offer the suggestion (as does Ms. Gray) to pair it up with Roger Corman’s own memoir – How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime – as the two books together do offer the most indepth portrait of an intensely private man that you’re ever likely to get. (I would also offer Ms. Gray’s advice to enjoy Mr. Corman’s book with a grain of salt, as his own recollections of his past actions might be skewed a bit by his ego and memory – which can get a bit fuzzy at times according to others present at the time.)

Currently the book is only offered in Kindle format – Ms. Gray has indicated she is working on a version for the Nook but it’s a ways off. If you don’t have a Kindle – there are computer and smartphone app versions that would still allow you to purchase and read this terrific biography – so what are you waiting for?

And if you'd like to check out my interview with Beverly Gray - where she tells some fascinating stories about her life and work - you can check it out here.

Oh, how about a link to the book on Amazon? (Duh!)

My highest recommendation for this one, kids - check this one out!

Until next post, you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. Roger is just like any other Hollywood director. They always has to have a hand in the pies around them. Nobody tells their story, but them, even though they have no qualms about twisting other people's stories to their own visions. Sounds like a fantastic read.

    1. It's a hell of a book - I think I might find Corman the most fascinating filmmaker in history - just the sheer volume; and the reinvention time after time; and the drive that keeps him working into his 80's...I am boggled by him.