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.

TOM WEAVER: 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 of Realart?

Q: They were re-releasing Universal's old monster pictures at the time.

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 features.

Q: And that's when you came into the picture.

HERMAN: 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.

Q: He 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 [laughs].

Q: What 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.

Q: You hired Lon Chaney based on the fact that he was popular from the Universal horror pictures.

HERMAN: Right.

Q: Whose 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 [1950].

Q: And 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.

Q: When 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 Gorilla.

Q: Did 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 Man.

Q: Lon 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?"

Q: Did 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 his name.

Q: And 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.

Q: You also had a very professional guy behind the camera, Charles Van Enger.

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.

Q: You made Bride of the Gorilla at the time when Barbara Payton was romantically linked with both Franchot Tone and Tom Neal.

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!

Q: Tone 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.

Q: So both visited the set individually?

HERMAN: Oh, yeah.

Q: Did 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 liked her.

Q: Despite 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 bright!

Q: These 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!"

Q: On Bride of the Gorilla, you were the "Assistant to the Producer" --

HERMAN: But I was actually running the show for Jack.

Q: Broder took the producer credit; and the associate producer is somebody I never heard of, Edward Leven.

HERMAN: 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!

Q: How 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.

Q: Seven 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 ... !

Q: Curt Siodmak told me that one guy that Chaney reeeally didn't get along with was Raymond Burr. Do you have any memory of that?

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.

Q: But 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.


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 & Co.

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