|by Thom Fowler
Herman Cohen launched the career of Eugene Orowitz after changing his name to Michael Landon and casting the young actor in I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF in 1957. Cohen created a whole genre by defying the critics and making a series of low budget Horror films. He turned B-Grade camp into a tradition that appeals to audiences today.
He died June 2nd at Cedars-Sinai of throat cancer at the age of 76.
Cohen's films were more about being a teenager than the blood and gore that later characterized the genre. I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and SCREAM, while lampooning the genre, are still turning around Cohen's original inspiration.
"I have always felt that most teenagers think that adults - their parents, or their teachers, anyone who was older and who had authority - were culprits in their lives," he once said.
"It was pretty wild in the old days", said his nephew Ken Droz of Los Angeles. "Years ago we'd watch his movies in the basement screening room of Detroit's Fox Theatre, when we were all little tykes." While producing THE BLACK ZOO in 1963, Cohen "brought the lion and tiger to our house in suburban Detroit, in a special wagon, which ended up on the front page of the local
"In the '50s, he was one of the kings of the drive-in horror movies," said film historian Tom Weaver.
Cohen was partly responsible for Joan Crawford's desperate and embarrassing attempts to stay in film after her fall from the top, casting her in BERSERK and her last film, the box office bomb, TROG.
During the filming of TROG, Cohen took his three sisters (including lone suriving sister, Dorothy Droz Mills) to England to meet Crawford and they forged a friendship that lasted until Crawford's death.
"Whenever Joan Crawford came to Detroit, she always had her secretary call me and let me know she'd love to see us and we always made arrangements to get together with her." said Mrs. Droz Mills. "If you read MOMMIE DEAREST, you wouldn't know there was a nicer side to her. She sent me a condolence note when my husband died. She was a very good friend to my brother."
"Herman and Joan Crawford were very close after Berserk", says nephew Droz. "We thought it might evolve into something romantic. But alas, no."
Crawford was sometimes too good a friend.
When Crawford was the widow of the President of PepsiCo., She had a case of Pepsi shipped to his house each week. Cohen started drinking Pepsi with every meal and "gained a lot of weight", Mrs. Droz Mills tells me.
Cohen's sister is still in grief over her loss and had to
take several pauses but was happy to tell me about his amazing life. "We were all very proud of him," she says.
Cohen started in film as a gofer at the Dexter theatre in Detroit. One day, the manager was short an usher, so he gave Herman an instant promotion and draped an oversized jacket on the young Cohen. He went on to manage the Dexter and the giant Fox theatre. Years later, Cohen bought the Fox and then sold it before Little Caesars Pizza and Red Wings Owner Mike Ilitch
purchased it in the late '80s. When the Detroit city council once considered tearing down the Fox for downtown redevelopment in the 1960s, Cohen fought to preserve it.
Cohen's other credits include TARGET EARTH, THE MAGINIFICENT ROUGHNECKS, THE BRASS LEGEND, CRIME OF PASSION, BLOOD OF DRACULA, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, THE HEADLESS GHOST, KONGA, THE STRANGER'S GUNDOWN, CROOKS AND CORONETS, and CROCODILE. In addition to Herman Cohen
Productions, located on what is now the Raleigh Studios lot across Melrose from Paramount, since 1958 he had operated Cobra Media with his business partner Didier Chatelain, distributing various foreign and domestic fare. He had been in semi-retirement over the last several years.
Cohen's last film, CRAZE, was made in 1973.
Thanks to Ken Droz and Gail Cohen for permission to run the photos of their uncle.
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originally posted: 06/13/02 15:01:37
last updated: 07/01/02 19:30:10