Charles Byron Griffith (September 23, 1930 – 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.
Jonathan Haze later praised Griffith:
He was very creative. He wrote really funny dialogue, and he was fast—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 ideas—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 “cult classic” 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.
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