Roger Corman

December 3, 1980

December 3, 1980

 These were heady, exciting days.  The chance to adapt S.E. Hinton’s novel for the screen was the break of a lifetime and I didn’t want to blow it. At my pitch meeting, I impulsively volunteered to return to high school – posing as a student – to determine if contemporary high school cliques resembled those depicted in Hinton’s 1967 novel.

As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!
As part of my disguise, I permed my hair to hide my face. Yikes!

I was a novice at writing as well as posing as somebody I wasn’t. I’d written two spec scripts and an unproduced MOW. Technically, I knew what I was doing; I could perform at a high level in academia but what about the real world, for real stakes?  The story meetings were intimidating. Facing blank pages felt terrifying. Add to that, the pressure to pass for a 17-year-old high school student when I was a 29-year-old married mother.

My high school student disguise
My high school student disguise

Because I was a nobody in a sea of somebodies, there’s no reason Jon Davidson should have recognized me – particularly since I worked all of three months at New World, ostensibly as Roger Corman’s assistant (my title) but actually as the receptionist (harsh reality). Jon was sweet to pretend; it gave my ego a tiny but desperately needed boost.

Real life - if Ren Faire can be considered real life.
Real life – if Ren Faire can be considered real life.

 

April 22, 1974

April 22, 1974

Looking back, it’s clear I over-reacted. At 23, I had yet to master the art of accepting rebuke – or any kind of criticism, really– without bursting into tears. Sometimes all it took to trigger the waterworks was a personal remark from an authority figure. Now that I’m old enough to be an authority figure myself, it happens less but I haven’t conquered it entirely.

Near tears face - and yes, I know this dress is ridiculously short, but that's what we wore in those days.
Near tears face – and yes, I know this dress is ridiculously short, but that’s what we wore in those days.

I never could have worked for one of the notorious screaming Boss/Producer from Hell types in Hollywood.  My tendency toward tears is one reason – but not the primary reason – why. I do not – and never will – respect an adult who behaves like that, regardless of their “talent” or “power.” Anybody who loses control of their emotions and inflicts damage on underlings is somebody I do not want to be around. (Just to be clear, this isn’t what happened in the above diary entry. Roger Corman wasn’t a screamer. Even when annoyed, he exhibited the self-control and class of a gentleman. I reacted inappropriately.)

Roger Corman - Tears

These standards were ingrained in me by my father and mother, who always behaved like mature adult parents, never regressed to childish bullies having a tantrum. I don’t recall either of them ever screaming at us, let alone heaping on invective. They didn’t need to, which might at least partially explain my over-reaction to Roger. Growing up, I could sense parental censure in the subtext of “Please pass the salt.” I craved their approval so much that no screaming was necessary, the mere threat of their disapproval did the trick.

"She cries easily" face again
“She cries easily” face again

Given my lack of experience with open anger let alone rage, maybe it’s not surprising that an authority figure who “spoke sharply” might upset me enough to quit.

February 27, 1974

February 27, 1974_edited-1

Me around 1974
Me around 1974

My tenure as Roger Corman’s “Assistant” at New World Pictures was one of my better jobs. I also served as his receptionist which consumed the bulk of my time. Aside from answering the phone, everything else I did was interesting. I might be deployed to Max Factor’s to pick up gallons of fake blood for an afternoon shoot. Frequently Roger sent me home with a script for overnight coverage. I didn’t consider it working overtime because it was thrilling. Whether or not Roger agreed with my notes, I felt validated because he paid attention. He was an extraordinarily good listener.

Roger Corman

It was Roger’s wife, Julie Corman, who liked my resume and hired me to work for Roger. Since New World was known for its violent exploitation films, I expected Roger to be a bombastic vulgar bully like other studio heads I heard rumors about. I couldn’t have been more wrong. He wielded his considerable power quietly, with dignity. Corman had class and brains (he graduated from Stanford, for starters.)  While I was there New World made “Candy Stripe Nurses” and “Caged Heat” but they also released Ingmar Bergman’s Oscar-nominated “Cries and Whispers.”

Caged Heat

Cries and Whispers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t claim I knew Roger well. In my opinion, he wasn’t an easy guy to know but he was worth the effort. It wouldn’t surprise me if people who worked for him in different capacities saw sides of him I didn’t.  To me, he seemed like a classic introvert, an enigmatic sensitive artist as opposed to a tyrannical boss from hell. He built a reputation as a hard-nosed businessman but I remember unexpected generosity and kindness. When I quit – that’s another story for later – I wasn’t entitled to health insurance but I was sick and he extended my coverage. Not forever – he wasn’t stupid – just long enough to make a difference.

Roger's autobiography
Roger’s autobiography

When I left, we promised to stay in touch and we did for a while. New World’s offices were on Sunset, not far from the Tower Records, so it was easy to drop in and say hi.  Inevitably, contact tapered off, then ceased. Still, although my time at New World was brief, Roger’s quiet integrity and decency remain vivid after all these years. I’m hoping he’ll read this and know I said hello – and thank you.

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