About Herman » Interviews » Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Part 2 of 6

Attack of the Monster Movie Makers: Herman Cohen, AIP Meets a Teenage Werewolf

By Tom Weaver

This is part 2 of an interview that was published at HermanCohen.com in 6 parts. This interview originally appeared as a chapter in film historian Tom Weaver's excellent book Attack of the Monster Movie Makers (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co. 1994) and has been reprinted with the kind permission of the author (thank you, Tom!). For a list of the author's books currently in print, visit the McFarland & Co. web site.

In this part of the interview, Herman talks about his relationship with James Nicholson and Sam Arkoff of American International Pictures and making his first big hit, a movie that would define the drive-in generation: I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

Click to EnlargeShortly after TARGET EARTH, you produced a number of pictures for United Artists.
[Producer] Leonard Goldstein and his twin brother Bob had made a deal with United Artists to produce some pictures; Bob Jacks was also involved because at that time he was Darryl Zanuck's son-in-law. Anyway, Leonard died and Max Youngstein, who was head of production at the time, needed a producer very badly. He had seen TARGET EARTH and another picture of mine, MAGNIFICENT ROUGHNECKS [1956], and he'd seen the budgets. Robert Blumofe, who was an executive at UA, said, "Max, you ought to talk to this kid Herman Cohen." So Youngstein interviewed me, and to make a long story short, he signed a deal with me to produce four pictures for UA that Leonard Goldstein was supposed to produce. They were THE BRASS LEGEND [1956] with Hugh O'Brian, which was a Western; DANCE WITH ME, HENRY [1956], Abbott and Costello's last picture; FURY AT SHOWDOWN [1957] with John Derek; and CRIME OF PASSION [1957] with Barbara Stanwyck, Sterling Hayden, Raymond Burr and Virginia Grey. CRIME OF PASSION got great reviews—some people said it was the best Stanwyck picture since DOUBLE INDEMNITY [1944] and all that. And it died—didn't do any business! I hadn't picked the stories, I was just under contract to produce 'em, but I felt terrible. So at the end of those four pictures, I wanted to go back to my own company.

It was during this time that Jim Nicholson left Jack Broder to form his own company. Roger Corman had produced a film called THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS [1954] with Dorothy Malone and John Ireland, and gave it to Jim to release if he could get the franchise holders throughout the country. And Jim formed a company at that time called American Releasing Corporation.

Which later became AIP.
Right. Jim wanted me to be his partner—Sam Arkoff would have never been around if I had been Jim's partner! 'Cause Jim and I were close personal friends, even after I left Broder. Jim told me his ideas and this and that, and I said, "Jim, I can't come with you"—this was while I was in the midst of making those four pictures for UA. "But anything you need," I told him, "my secretary, my staff and I will help you." In fact, we did all his mimeographing and everything else at my offices!

Jim got an office at Six-two-two-three Selma in Hollywood, a one-room little office, and in another one-room little office was this attorney with a big fat cigar, Sam Arkoff. That's where Jim met Sam, in this building on Selma—Sam had a law office there. Jim told me that this attorney Arkoff said that if he got a piece of the company, he would do the contracts for 'em. That's how Jim and Sam got together.

And you were in a position to work with them once CRIME OF PASSION went bust.
When CRIME OF PASSION did not do business, I said, "Shir, I gorra do something quick to make some money." And Jim was asking me, "Herm, can you do a picture for us?" That's when I thought of doing a teenage werewolf picture; I felt that for a fledgling company which was trying to get the teenage market, it could be ideal. I came up with the title TEENAGE WEREWOLF and Jim Nicholson added I WAS A. And that's how I got involved with I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

Was Nicholson one to help creatively once a picture was underway?
The only thing Jim had anything to do with was the advertising campaign. He had nothing to do with the script whatsoever, or with the making of the picture—I wrote it with Aben Kandel. Aben was one of my dearest friends, and we worked very well together. To play the TEENAGE WEREWOLF, I signed Michael Landon to Herman Cohen Productions—and not just for one picture, I had him under personal contract for a multiple deal. But I released him to do "Bonanza". I could have sold the contract, but I just ripped it up.

Click to EnlargeTwo other actors who supposedly were up for the Werewolf role were Scott Marlowe and John Ashley.
Scott Marlowe was, but in the auditions and what have you, I felt that Michael Landon was the best. Landon was a hell of an actor, and he did a damn good audition. John Ashley was never up for TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

He says he was, and that you gave him a part in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER as a sort of consolation prize.
That's a lot of crap, I never even heard of him at that time. John was a kid who came out here from Oklahoma with a lot of money—his [foster] father was a very wealthy doctor. Jim Nicholson was going to use John in one of the AIP pictures, but it didn't work out. So when I was doing HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and it had a musical number scene, Jim said, "Herm, maybe you can use this John Ashley"—because AIP had committed themselves to use him in something. Jim sent John over to my office; I liked him and we rehearsed him, and that's how he was in HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER. John was a nice guy, but he was never up for TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

Do you think Landon did a good job?
Oh, he was marvelous. At that time, he was living in one room with this gal Dodie, who he later married, and with her kid from a previous marriage. And they had about five or six cats in this one room! When I signed him, I took him to the Ranch Market, which was open twenty-four hours a day in those days, we went through there and I bought him whatever he thought he could use to eat. I got a big hug and a kiss in the parking lot when I drove him home, because he had no money at that time—he was broke, he was in tough shape.

And you got along with him well throughout the picture?
We got along great; long after the picture was finished, he used to come across to visit me at Raleigh Studios when they shot "Bonanza" at Paramount. We were very close friends until I went to London to do HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM. I was spending a great deal of time in London and he was busy at "Bonanza", and we sort of drifted apart. These things happen.

Did he do all of his own stunts in the film?
He sure did. In fact, we thought he had almost killed himself in that gym scene, when he ran after Dawn Richards and jumped right into the bunch of iron chairs. That was Michael. It's funny, but when he had that makeup on, he said he felt like he was a werewolf. He was excellent. There was nothing he didn't do that we wanted him to do; in fact, he always wanted to do more.

Click to EnlargeWas he wearing a mask or makeup?
It was actually makeup, but there were a couple of appliances on the side. Philip Scheer was a makeup guy who used to work at Universal—that's why I hired him, because he knew about the old Wolf Man and Frankenstein makeups and what have you. He was like an assistant in those days there at Universal.

Gene Fowler, Jr., directed TEENAGE WEREWOLF.
When I was going to do TEENAGE WEREWOLF I thought of Sherman Rose. But throughout those years, he was going through a problem within himself, and he was having a problem with his marriage to Kate; I had to do a lot of directing on TARGET EARTH myself. I gave him MAGNIFICENT ROUGHNECKS reluctantly, and I did a lot of directing on that, too. He was a very shy guy, and his wife was pushing him, pushing him all the time to direct instead of cut. (He was a hell of a film editor.) Gene Fowler, Jr., and his wife Marge were very close friends of mine, and Gene Fowler wanted to direct—he hadn't—directed any features before, he was a film editor. And I didn't know whether I should trust Sherman with TEENAGE WEREWOLF or not. So I looked at some of the stuff that Gene Fowler had cut, we sat and we talked, and to make a long story short, I hired him as the director.

Gene Fowler's wife Marge is an Academy Award film editor, by the way. I was the first producer in Hollywood to start hiring so many women for the cutting room. You've heard of Verna Fields? She was vice-president at Universal, in charge of post-production for years. I gave her her first jobs, as the assistant sound effects editor on my four pictures for UA. These people, Kate and Sherman Rose and Marge and Gene Fowler and Verna Fields and I—we were all close personal friends in those days.

Why did Aben Kandel use pseudonyms in writing these early pictures for you?
Aben and I wrote the scripts together and used a joint pseudonym. The reason for that is, Aben at that time was doing a couple of big things at MGM and Warners, so therefore he couldn't use his own name. But I didn't feel happy taking solo screenplay credit. So we decided not to use our real names. In fact, I almost did not use my real name as the producer of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF because after doing CRIME OF PASSION and DANCE WITH ME, HENRY and the other pictures at UA, it seemed like a big step down. Friends of mine, like Harry Cohn's nephew Bobby Cohn, were saying, "Jesus, you're not gonna use your own name on I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF are you? Herm, you'll be ruined!" So I started thinking, "Gee, maybe I better not!"; I was thinking of using [the pseudonym] "Ralph Thornton" as the writer and the producer. Then all of a sudden, Jack Benny, Bob Hope and various other comedians got ahold of the title and they starred making fun of it. We started getting calls from Time magazine and Look magazine, and they wanted to talk to the producer of I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. My secretary Donna Heydt (who was the wife of Louis Jean Heydt, the actor) said, "Herman, what do I tell 'em?" Click to EnlargeWell, when Time and Look and Life started calling for the producer, I decided that the producer was going to be Herman Cohen.

Did you get along well with Whit Bissell?
He was terrific in TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, too. I just recently saw him at the Motion Picture Home; he and Aben Kandel are both our there and I had lunch with 'em a couple weeks ago. [Kandel died 1/28/93.] Whit Bissell is in great shape still. Whit was terrific to work with, a great gentleman. And even now, at the Motion Picture Home, what a nice guy! He's a class man: you ought to see how he is with the other older people at the Home. He even does their shopping across the street at the drug store for 'em.

[Emphatically.] Never. In reference books, I've seen that and a couple other names for it, too. It was titled TEENAGE WEREWOLF from the beginning—I still have the original script. Jim Nicholson worked on the advertising campaign himself, came up and showed me a great ad on I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF and I said, "Jim, that's genius." We made the picture for under one hundred fifty thousand dollars and it grossed over two million dollars in the firsr two weeks.

Where was TEENAGE WEREWOLF shot?
We did a lot of it at Ziv in West Hollywood, where I had offices at the time. The high school was just a block away. The woods and all that were Bronson Canyon.

Were you on the set much?
All the time. I'm on the sets of all my pictures, all the time. If I'm not on the set, then my associate or my assistant or somebody is there, so if anything happens where they need me, they can call me and get me on there right away.

And that's why you're in a lot of these pictures, in bit parts?
[Laughs.] No, that was just for fun—a lot of the producers and directors do that. Sometimes I forget which pictures I'm in.

Click to EnlargeTEENAGE WEREWOLF has an excellent music score by Paul Dunlap.
Paul was a very underrated composer. I used Paul in a lot of pictures; in fact, prior to WEREWOLF, Paul did TARGET EARTH, CRIME OF PASSION and lots more for me. I got along with him very well because I'm very involved in music and with all my music composers. Paul would have been a hell of a top composer, but he was always involved with ex-wives and alimony, and he always had to work. So he would take anything that came his way. In my opinion, that really hurt him. He was also Sam Fuller's favorite composer.

Speaking of composers, I gave Elmer Bernstein one of his first pictures: He did BATTLES OF CHIEF PONTIAC when I was with Jack Broder. I met Elmer Bernstein at Schwab's Drug Store. I was having breakfast there and a friend came over and said, "Herm, I want you to meet this new young composer from New York," blah, blah, blah. We met, we talked and he wanted to know if I could someday come up to his place in Laurel Canyon and listen to some of his music. Which I did, and I was very impressed. So I introduced him to Jack Broder. Elmer's a very short guy—five feet five inches, five feet six inches or something. Jack was a very small man, too, but Elmer was even shorter than Jack! And I'll never forget Jack, with his hand in his pants (he always put his right hand in his pants as he was talking), saying to me with his little Yiddish accent, "Herman where did you find this kid? He's a kid!" I told him, "Jack, we can get him very cheap," and he got all excited: "Cheap?! How much for the score?" Elmer did a hell of a score for us for BATTLES OF CHIEF PONTIAC.

Did you see the Highway to Heaven TV episode where Michael Landon did his takeoff on TEENAGE WEREWOLF?
Yes, I did, because we okayed it and sold them the piece of film that they used. I thought it was fun. I don't know what the ratings were like on that particular episode, but I think they were very high because I believe it was repeated several times.

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