By TOM WEAVER
In this never-before-published interview conducted just weeks
before his June 2002 death, producer Herman Cohen, one of
the legendary figures of B-movie history, recalls his earliest
Hollywood productions and one of his first "regulars,"
Lon Chaney, Jr.
How did you get your job with Jack Broder's Realart Pictures?
HERMAN COHEN: After I got out of the Marine Corps
in 1949, I was working for Columbia, in their publicity
department. What was I making, 50 bucks a week? Anyway,
Jack Broder and his family owned theaters in Detroit. I'm
also from Detroit. But I had never met the man. And I talked
to a couple of people who said, "Oh, Jack Broder's
looking for an executive assistant." At that time,
Jack was president of Realart Films -- did you ever hear
were re-releasing Universal's old monster pictures at the
HERMAN: Not just the monster pictures. Jack Broder
had put up a tremendous amount of money, millions, for all
of Universal's old pictures. But what a mistake he made:
He bought 'em for theatrical only, not knowing at that time
about TV, video, DVD, you name it. Oh, God, the millions
more he would have made! Universal at that time was in trouble
financially, so they sold him the reissue rights to all
their Abbott and Costellos, ALL their pictures. And now
that Jack was making a lot of money with this, everybody
started asking him, "Why don't you make films?
Why don't you go into production and make second features?"
At that time, there were still double features in the drive-ins
and what have you. You could make money with second features
if the price was right. So Jack Broder decided to put together
a unit called Jack Broder Productions to make some second
that's when you came into the picture.
That's right. I was interviewed by him -- I think I
had a couple of interviews with him. I had to meet his wife
Beatrice and his kids, too, for them to say yes or
no. (They had six kids.) Anyway, he hired me. And that's
how I started working for Jack Broder.
hired you because he was about to start making pictures,
and he was looking for a ...
HERMAN: He needed a schlepper -- he needed
somebody to stick the broom up their ass and clean his office
prompted Broder to make a horror picture, Bride of the
Gorilla? Was it the fact that the Universals had done
well for him?
HERMAN: That's right. Siodmak ... which Siodmak
was it? Curt? Yes, Curt Siodmak had this story, Bride
of the Gorilla -- well, it wasn't called Bride of
the Gorilla at first. But anyway, he had a horror story
which needed a lot of work. So we ALL worked on it. And
we hired [as director] Curt Siodmak, who had been in this
country a long time but, if you talked to him, you'd think
he arrived yesterday! And that's when we did Bride of the
Gorilla. We had a pretty good cast, because I was able to
sign Lon Chaney ... Raymond Burr, who was tremendous. I
used him, even when I went in production myself.
hired Lon Chaney based on the fact that he was popular from
the Universal horror pictures.
idea was it to get Barbara Payton?
HERMAN: Jack Broder. He played cards with Jack Warner
at the Friars, at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset
Boulevard and what have you. They would play for money.
Jack Warner mentioned that he had this broad under contract,
doing nothing, sitting on her ass, and Jack Broder said,
"Gee, I need a young, sexy girl for this film I'm Genoa
do." And Jack Warner says, "Take her! You
can have her." They didn't like her [at Warner
Brothers] -- she was screwing everybody on the lot. I think
we paid hardly nothing to borrow her from Warrens; Jack
Warner said, "I goat get rid of that [bleep]."
So ... it was a very cheap deal for Jack Broder to borrow
her from Warners. This was after she did a big picture with
James Cagney, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye .
what was her attitude about being loaned out like that?
HERMAN: She was very unhappy about being loaned
to do Bride of the Gorilla. Here, she thought she
was gonna be another Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, and she
ends up doing Bride of the Gorilla! We rented space
at the Sam Goldwyn Studios, which was the old United Artists
Studios, and that's where we made Bride of the Gorilla.
The entire picture was shot on the set. The jungle, everything,
we built the whole thing on the set. I think we shot it
in 10 days.
I interviewed Curt Siodmak, he said his title for the movie
was The Face in the Water. Does that ring a bell?
HERMAN: Now that you mention it, I think that WAS
his title. 'Cause at one point in the movie, when Raymond
Burr turns into a gorilla, he looks in the water and he
sees his reflection. But I changed the title. Jack wanted
an exploitation title, and I came up with Bride of the
anyone notice, or care, that Siodmak's screenplay was very
much like Lon Chaney's The Wolf Man, which he also
wrote? It's South America and a gorilla instead of Britain
and a werewolf.
HERMAN: Nobody [at Realart] ever saw The Wolf
Man, including me. Well, you look at the horror pictures,
they all stole from each other. But I never saw The Wolf
Chaney -- depending on the movie, and depending on who I'm
talking to, he could be either a wild man or a pussycat.
Which one did you have?
HERMAN: For some reason, maybe because I was so
young at that time, he got to like me. He was my responsibility
... and he was a pussycat. He didn't like the other actors,
though, and he didn't like Siodmak -- he couldn't understand
him! Lon would come to me and say, "What the hell's
this man talking about?" [Laughs] So I would
have to interpret! I was the only one who could understand
Curt Siodmak's English, so they all came to me: "What
did he say? What did Curt say?"
Chaney like Barbara Payton at least?
HERMAN: Ummm ... not really. No. When he was through
shooting, he walked off and he went into his dressing room
and started drinking -- he was drinking in those days. He
just did his job. I don't think he was too happy doing
it because everyone would compare him to his father. But
... he needed the money, and he did the job. And we wanted
even with him taking his nips in the dressing room, he was
still always ready for the cameras when needed?
HERMAN: He never held us up. He was very professional
in front of the camera.
also had a very professional guy behind the camera, Charles
HERMAN: Oh, he was wonderful, that old-timer, he
was great. We used him on a lot of pictures at that time.
Charley Van Enger did a lot
of big pictures years before, and he taught me a great deal
also. See, I was learning -- that's why I took the
job with Jack Broder. 'Cause I'd be doing everything. And
instead of giving me money, Jack would give me titles --
he made me a vice president of Realart, a vice president
of Jack Broder Productions and what have you.
made Bride of the Gorilla at the time when Barbara
Payton was romantically linked with both Franchot Tone and
HERMAN: Franchot Tone was a very wealthy man and
he had been quite a star at one time. In fact, he had been
married to Joan Crawford -- did you remember that? So he
was dating Barbara. And Barbara was also swinging with this
ex-cop/half-assed actor from Republic Pictures named Tom
Neal. We told the captain at the Goldwyn gate that, if Tom
Neal was coming, call the stage immediately, and especially
if Franchot was there -- she had to get rid of him!
and Tom Neal didn't know about each other?
HERMAN: They could have known about each other,
that I don't know, but they never met at the studio.
They came close, but they didn't meet. The big fistfight
they had was after our picture was made.
both visited the set individually?
HERMAN: Oh, yeah.
you like Barbara Payton?
HERMAN: Yes, I liked her. Look, like all whores
that I've ever met, she had a heart of gold. She was just
a fun person. She liked to laugh ... and she was a little
crazy. I think she was doing drugs ... she certainly was
drinking. But not on the set. And as much as she was pissed
off at Warners, 'cause she knew they were gonna dump
her, and that therefore Bride of the Gorilla was
on her way to being dumped, she never let it interfere with
her work. I've got some pictures ... very intimate pictures
of her with me ... I was a young guy, she was a beautiful
girl at that time. Barbara Payton was a lovely person. She
was a whore who got lucky. And deep down, she was a lovely
person, she was very sweet. It was horrible how she died,
downtown, as a whore, selling herself for five, ten bucks.
That just made me ill when I heard about that. I actually
your youth, did Jack Broder have a lot of confidence in
you once a picture got rolling?
HERMAN: I doubt it [laughs]! But Jack Broder didn't
know anything about production. And I was learning.
I always hired the top production supervisors and assistant
directors, people who really knew their stuff. And when
things would come up in a meeting and they'd ask me to make
a decision (I was making the decisions on the film), I'd
say, "We'll discuss it tomorrow morning." And that night,
I would dash to UCLA, to the Cinema Library, to read up
on what the f**k they were talking about [laughs]!
That's a true story! I'd read up, or I'd call up a couple
friends, a couple film editors I knew from Columbia, and
ask them. The next morning, suddenly I became very
early Realart pictures -- was Broder on the set a lot, or
did he leave everything to you guys?
HERMAN: He would only go there to take pictures
with his kids. And watch a few important scenes. He was
more interested in the schedule, if we were behind. He was
always threatening, "Herman! If you're late, I pool the
svitch! I pool the svitch!"
Bride of the Gorilla, you were the "Assistant to
the Producer" --
HERMAN: But I was actually running the show for
took the producer credit; and the associate producer is
somebody I never heard of, Edward Leven.
Oh [laughs] -- oh, God. What a thief! He wasn't the
associate producer, he was nothing on it. He talked
his way into it -- he was a great talker! Edward Leven is
somebody that Jack met at the Friars Club, he was the son
of a very wealthy friend of Jack's. All of a sudden one
day, Jack brings in this guy to the studio and he says,
"Herman, Edward Leven needs credits. He has to get
into the business." So he made him associate producer
of Bride of the Gorilla. Jack instructed me, "I
want you to tell him what he has to know" -- and here
I am, learning myself! And, Jack added, "Don't
let him make any decisions!" [Laughs] That's how Edward
Leven got involved. Then one day our prop man told Jack
that all the furniture that we rented at the prop
house, Leven had had delivered to his home -- he stole it
all [laughs]. Leven had the prop man ship all the furniture
that he picked out at the prop house to his home -- just
as we were building the sets and what have you. He was furnishing
his house on Jack Broder!
in the world did he think he was going to get away with
that? Didn't he think that people would eventually notice
that there was no furniture on the sets?
HERMAN: No, no, no, no, no! We had our furniture
too -- it was a double order! He picked out what he wanted
for his home. Our prop man told Jack Broder, who threw Leven
off the Sam Goldwyn lot. I wonder if he's still alive ...
I've never seen him since he was fired.
months after Bride of the Gorilla was shot, Leven
filed a breach of contract suit against Broder claiming,
for one thing, that he'd never been paid. He had the nerve
to steal from Broder and then sue him?
HERMAN: Yeah, because he didn't know that we knew
everything. He wasn't paid and he was thrown off the Goldwyn
lot. He thought he was Sam Goldwyn [laughs ]! But he was
kind of a likable guy. I mean, I got along with him
-- he didn't want to get ME pissed off at him, because he
didn't even know where to park his car when he came
on the lot. So that's Edward Leven ... !
Siodmak told me that one guy that Chaney reeeally didn't
get along with was Raymond Burr. Do you have any memory
HERMAN: [Scoffing] We didn't have the time for them
not to get along with each other. We made the whole picture
in 10 days, and we came in under budget. So there was no
time to fight, not at all. But, on this picture, there were
no friends among the actors.
you got along with everybody.
HERMAN: I learned very young that you have to be
a diplomat. Therefore, I was kissing everybody's ass. 'Cause
I knew that if I kiss their butts, they're gonna be on the
stage, they'll know their lines. I was even reading lines
with Barbara and reading lines with Lon. With Raymond I
didn't have to, 'cause Raymond knew all his lines.
Oh, he was so professional. And a wonderful guy. He was
terrific in Bride of the Gorilla. It wasn't a bad
picture if I remember, Bride of the Gorilla, considering
we did it in 10 days.
WITH HERMAN COHEN
Tom Weaver is the author of I Was a Monster Movie Maker:
Conversations with 22 SF and Horror Filmmakers, Science
Fiction Confidential: Interviews with 23 Monster Stars and
Filmmakers and many others available from McFarland