Charles Byron Griffith (September 23, 1930 â" September 28, 2007) was a Chicago-born screenwriter, actor and film director, son of Donna Dameral, radio star of Myrt and Marge. along with Charles' grandmother, Myrtle Vail, and was best known for writing Roger Corman productions such as A Bucket of Blood (1959), The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), and Death Race 2000 (1975).
He was credited with 29 movies, but is known to have written many more. He had also directed at least six films, acted in six films, was second unit director in six films, produced three films and was production manager of two films.
With a career spanning decades, he is often cited as the father of American black comedy.
During the late fifties and early sixties, Griffith created both redneck classics such as Eat My Dust and black comedies such as A Bucket of Blood and The Little Shop of Horrors. He had a small role in It Conquered the World, which he also wrote, as Dr. Pete Shelton.
Griffith died on September 28, 2007 in San Diego, aged 77, from undisclosed causes.
Quentin Tarantino dedicated his film Deathproof to Griffith, whom he referred to as one of his main influences and called "the father of redneck cinema".
Griffith was born into a family of actors and performers: his mother and grandmother were actors, his father was in vaudeville and his grandfather was a circus performer. His mother died in childbirth in 1941, and Griffith was raised by his grandmother and attended military school.
He broke into the industry writing scripts for the radio serial, Myrt and Marge, in which his mother and grandmother had appeared as actors. He then worked on the TV adaptation on the serial which ended up not being filmed.
Meeting Roger Corman
Griffith began writing film scripts, which an actor friend of his, Jonathan Haze showed to Roger Corman, who hired Griffith as a writer. He wrote two Westerns for Corman that were not made (Three Bright Banners and Hangtown) before being hired to do an uncredited rewrite on It Conquered the World (Griffith says he asked to take his name off). He received his debut credit with Gunslinger (1955).
"I got into the habit of writing very quickly without realising it and, because I was raised in a radio family, I didn't know that you were supposed to take a long time to write a film script," said Griffith.
For the next six years Griffith was Corman's most regular screenwriter. He wrote several of his early scripts with a partner, Mark Hanna, although Griffith later claimed that he did most of the writing while Hanna did the selling.
Following his success with Corman, Columbia Pictures signed Griffith to a five-picture contract as producer and director. Griffith:
They told me to make a list of 100 titles to see if I could do it. Once I did that, they picked out two that would send me on a distant location in Hawaii because they knew I couldnât make a picture out of the promised budgets: $85,000/black and white and $90,000/color. I really donât want to get into the Columbia pictures because they thought I was putting them on. Roger thought I told them that I taught him everything he knew, whereas it was actually the other way around.
Griffith made two films for Columbia, directing one, but did not enjoy the experience:
They were really terrible. It stopped me for twenty years from ever directing again. They were really rank. You see, I got chicken and started to write very safely within a formula to please the major studios, and of course, you can't do that.
Reuniting with Corman
Griffith soon returned to Corman and wrote two script for him made in North Dakota, Beast from Haunted Cave (1958), Ski Troop Attack (1959). He says for Beast from Haunted Cave he reused the structure he developed for Naked Paradise (1957). (He would subsequently use this structure on Creature from the Haunted Sea (1961) and Atlas (1962).}
After the North Dakota movies he persuade Corman to make a black comedy and wrote A Bucket of Blood. He later re-used the structure for his most famous script, The Little Shop of Horrors (1960). "Thatâs the most precious thing you can find is a new structure," he said later. Griffith was paid just $800 for his work.
Griffith says he was hurt that Roger Corman elected Richard Matheson to write House of Usher (1960), which was made in colour and for a considerably larger budget than Corman and Griffith were used to:
He [Corman] said that Matheson had a reputation. They were going to go with color and CinemaScope. It was irritating because I saw that he was making a value judgement based on how much people were making and he was the one making policy. He said that no screenwriter who gets lets than fifty thousand a script was any good.
In 1960 Griffith produced an Arab-Israeli war film with regular collaborator Mel Welles but they were picketed by unions and had to shut down. Griffith and Melles sued the union and settled out of court. Griffith moved to Israel to finish the movie but was unable to. He wound up living there for two years, writing a couple of films before Corman rehired him to work on the crew of The Young Racers (1963).
Griffith spent the next few years in Europe, working for Roger Corman and also with Michael Reeves before moving back to Hollywood. He worked for Corman sporadically until the late 1980s, as a writer, director and second unit director.
"I was lazy," he admitted later. "Instead of trying to write an A-picture and sell it on the market, I'd just go back and get another assignment from Roger."
His best known credit from this time as Death Race 2000 which Griffith was called in to rewrite for producer Corman and director Paul Bartel. Griffith:
Corman tried to make it serious. He was enraged with me for trying to make it funny, but he took me to see the cars and they were all goofy looking with decal eyes and rubber teeth. I said, 'You can't be serious,' and he tells me, 'Chuck, this is a hard-hitting serious picture!' Obviously, Bartel didn't think so either.
From the 1980s onwards Griffith concentrated on writing books and travelling as opposed to writing screenplays.
In 1982 a stage adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors premiered and went on to enjoy great success, with many productions all over the world. The producers secured the rights from Roger Corman but Griffith was originally not part of the arrangement. Griffith, sued the makers of the musical, and wound up being granted "one-fourth of one percent" of the takings as a royalty. "It has kept me going since 1983" said Griffith in the late 1990s - although in 1999 he was claiming the deal had lapsed.
Jonathan Haze later praised Griffith:
He was very creative. He wrote really funny dialogue, and he was fastâ"really fast... He would write a screenplay in a couple of weeks. Chuck was very good and very good for that time in film history. He was an innovator. He thought up those really funny, really squirrelly ideasâ"like the plant that eats people.
Quentin Tarantino was once asked what writers he admired; he listed Robert Towne, Elmore Leonard and Griffith.
"Griffith's scripts were very imaginative and often quirky and kind of subversive, and when you look at any list of Roger Corman's early pictures, those were the ones that put Corman on the map," said Tom Weaver.
Tim Lucas later praised Griffith's writing as:
Irreverent, acerbic, edgy, well-read, flippant, disdainful of the hoi polloi yet also generous, transcendent. Griffith was an unpolished gem of a screenwriter, a beatnik/stoner/outsider who smuggled those crazed and (then) highly individual sensibilities into the mainstream via Corman's commercial cinema. He was the sort of writer who could answer cinema's cry of "Feed me!" by dashing off a non-conformist vampire script like NOT OF THIS EARTH and make room in it for Dick Miller to shine as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, or to introduce a character like Jack Nicholson's masochistic dental patient into the midst of the two-day mayhem of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS; who could write a whole movie like ROCK ALL NIGHT that more or less took place in a single room; who had the audacity to write the dialogue for THE UNDEAD and ATLAS and A BUCKET OF BLOOD that ran the gamut from mock-Shakespearean to quasi-Homeric to Beat poetic. Chuck Griffith, man! Who else would have dared? Sometimes his quirky cantos got rewritten, but it was impossible to subvert their essentially subversive character. His zany script for Corman's Puerto Rican lark CREATURE FROM THE HAUNTED SEA is the reason why it's the closest thing to a Thomas Pynchon novel ever to appear on the screen... and Griffith pulled it off years before the first edition of V. hit bookstore shelves.
Roger Corman later praised him as:
A good friend and the funniest, fastest and most inventive writer I ever worked with. His offbeat humor was undoubtedly a big part of the reason a few of my early films, such as A Bucket of Blood (1959) and The Little Shop of Horrors (1960), acquired âcult classicâ status. We had a lot of fun working together to come up with these stories.
Griffith died of a heart attack in 2007. He was survived by a wife Marmory James, a daughter, Jessica Griffith, and four grandchildren. His daughter emigrated to Australia and Griffith spent some time there in the late 1990s.
- Three Bright Banners - a Western about the Confederate incursion into Mexico at Brownsville, written for Roger Corman - Griffith's first screenplay
- Hang Town - a Western written for Roger Corman - Griffith's second screenplay
- Devil on Horseback (1955) - a Western written for Roger Corman about bandit Juan Cortina - meant to star Montgomery Clift and Pedro Armendariz
- The Nth Man (1957) - adaptation of a novel about a giant man; Griffith wrote the first draft then left the project which was written by Mark Hanna and Bert I. Gordon as The Amazing Colossal Man (1957)
- Flash, Son of Hitler
- Mind Out of Time
- Part Time Mother - script for Roger Corman's Filmgroup, based on a story by Mitchell Healy, about a working widowed mother
- The Gold Bug (1964) - from the novel by Edgar Allan Poe, written for Roger Corman to star Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone and Peter Lorre
- The Trip (1966) - the first two drafts of the script not used in the final film
- Hit the High Road (1970) - a comedy drama to be produced by Tamara Assayev and directed by Jimmy Murakami, about two teenage girls
- The Mouldering Mistress of Wier
- Who Stole Irving? - based on a play by Menahem Golan and meant to star Groucho Marx
- Roger the Rager - comedy about road rage
- Two on the Isle - a comedy
- Out of this World - described by Griffith as "a very large scale science fiction film"
- The Real McCoy
- Oy Vey, My Son Is Gay - described by Griffith as "the Jewish La Cage aux Folles, written for Cannon.
- Scary Monsters Magazine, April 2008, no.66 "Charles Griffith's Last Interview" Part 1. by Lawrence Fultz Jr.
- Scary Monsters Magazine, June 2008, no.67 "Charles Griffith's Last Interview" Part 2. by Lawrence Fultz Jr.
- Charles B. Griffith at the Internet Movie Database
- RIP Charles B. Griffith at AMCTV
- Charles B Griffith's Official Website
- Audio interview with Griffith shortly before his death
- Tim Lucas, "Remembering Charles Griffith", Tim Lucas Video Watchblog