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Herman Cohen

  • Highest Rated: 43% Konga (1961)
  • Lowest Rated: 14% Trog (1970)
  • Birthday: Aug 27, 1925
  • Birthplace: Not Available
  • When one talks of schlock cinema, Herman Cohen should be among the first names that come to mind -- and that is not to insult the man. In producing those pictures, he also insinuated himself in popular culture of the late '50s about as securely as any B-movie producer in history.Cohen was born in Detroit, MI, and entered the business at age 12 as a janitor's assistant at a local theater, later becoming an usher and an assistant manager at the city's largest theater. After finishing a hitch in the Marine Corps in 1949, he joined Columbia Pictures' sales department, working out of Detroit, and later took a job in publicity at the studio's California headquarters. In 1951, he moved up to the production end of the business when he went to work for Realart Films. Cohen was lucky enough to join the company, which had previously specialized in re-releasing old releases of the big studios, just as it began making movies of its own. In addition to working in publicity, he served as assistant to the producer on Curt Siodmak's Bride of the Gorilla, Harold Schuster's Kid Monk Baroni, Edward L. Cahn's Two Dollar Bettor, and Felix Feist's The Basketball Fix. By 1952, Cohen had moved up to better Realart releases, including The Bushwackers (a sort of very good cross between Shane and Angel and the Badman), and also worked on the notorious Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla. In 1953, he chanced upon a science fiction short story, called "Deadly City," which became the basis for the first movie he produced, Target Earth (1954). The film (which Cohen also partly directed) cost 85,000 dollars and earned back many times that figure for him and distributor Allied Artists, and it has since proved one of the most enduringly popular science fiction thrillers of the early '50s, with its mix of mystery and suspense in a story centered on an alien invasion of Earth. Cohen subsequently signed a contract to produce films at United Artists, and his first two UA releases, Dance With Me, Henry, the final movie to star Bud Abbott and Lou Costello, and The Brass Legend, a psychological Western starring Hugh O'Brien, were successful. In 1956, however, he put a lot of money and effort into a high-profile drama called Crime of Passion, starring Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, and Raymond Burr, which failed at the box office. Having seen his first mainstream, non-genre movie sink like a stone, the producer tried to figure out where he went wrong by taking a long look at who was going to movies on a regular basis in 1956. He saw that it was mostly teenagers, and he also noticed that science fiction and horror movies were doing good business. At that point, he approached American International Pictures, a company co-founded by James H. Nicholson (Cohen's former assistant at Realart) and Samuel Z. Arkoff, about producing a movie for them. Cohen presented the company with an idea that combined the horror genre with a direct appeal to younger audiences: "Teenage Werewolf," later rechristened I Was a Teenage Werewolf with help from Nicholson. Strangely enough, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, whether thanks to the script by Cohen and co-author Aben Kandel, the sensitive direction by Gene Fowler, Jr., or the superb lead performance by Michael Landon, turned out to be surprisingly good, and very serious at its core. I Was a Teenage Werewolf was made for 150,000 dollars and earned back seven times that amount after two months in theaters. Its success generated a follow-up film, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, which was decidedly more tongue-in-cheek at times, mostly courtesy of Cohen, who added some outrageously funny lines to the script, pushing the humor in ways that the earlier movie hadn't. In doing so, Cohen -- who has always described himself as a hands-on producer, on the set as much as possible -- had to overrule his director, Herbert L. Strock, who was trying to treat the horror material seriously. It was while the Frankenstein title was being prepared for shooting, t

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