‘King of B’s’ Roger Corman Remembers His Stint as an Agent

Few filmmakers have impacted American cinema as indelibly as Roger Corman, the self-proclaimed “King of the B’s” and the man who famously made low-budget, long-shelf-life moneymakers, ranging from “Little Shop of Horrors” to the pic that first conjured the billion-dollar title “The Fast and the Furious” 60 years ago. Variety first noted Corman during his short stint as a rep with the Dick Hyland Literary Agency.

You studied engineering at Stanford, but you found work as an agent in Hollywood?

Of all the graduates of the Stanford engineering program, I must have had the worst paying job of anyone. I was a $32.50-a-week messenger at Fox. When I heard there was an opening for an assistant to Dick Hyland, I took it.

Who was your top client?

I was trying to become a writer, and I wrote a script called “The House in the Sea.” I sold my own script to William Broidy at Allied Artists. Dick thought it was funny, and let me pay myself a commission!

So your agency career was brief?

I wanted to learn the business, so I worked for nothing as an associate producer on the film, which was retitled “Highway Dragnet.” Now that I was a writer-producer, I took the money I made, and borrowed some more, and made “It Stalked the Ocean Floor.” I sold it to Lippert Pictures, which thought “Stalked” was too arty, and changed the title to “Monster From the Ocean Floor.”

Speaking of titles, the common assumption is that they aren’t protected. But you sold “The Fast and the Furious” title to Universal?

(“Furious” producer) Neal Moritz’s father Milt was the publicity chief of AIP, which started as ARC, the company that released my film. When Neal told him he was unhappy with the title of their film, which was called “Red Line,” Milt remembered my film, and Neal flipped for the title. I made a deal with Universal that in exchange for using my title, I would get rights to stock footage from Universal projects. We used footage from their “Spartacus” film to make “Cyclops” for the Syfy network.

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