Untold Tales of Hollywood #7

FILM #7: Conan the Barbarian (1979-1980)
Written and Directed by John Milius
Production designed by Ron Cobb

One of the first teaser ads for Conan the Barbarian, an image painted by the great Frank Frazetta and licensed by Dino DeLaurentiis to advertise the film. If you’d like a print of this historic illustration, then visit the Frazetta Girls website: https://www.frazettagirls.com/products/conan-the-barbarian-print

I was on Conan the Barbarian for two years, so I’ve got lots of Conan stories. This is going to be a multi-part entry.

How I Got The Gig:

It was 1979 (or maybe the end of ’78), I believe. I was a huge Robert E. Howard fan. I had read all of his Conan stories. I was an even bigger fan of the Frazetta Conan book covers. More than even his Edgar Rice Burroughs illustrations, these Conan pictures by Frank rocketed him to art stardom.

Bob Greenberg, a writer-film maker friend of mine was working as a P. A. (production assistant; the lowest rung of the movie biz ladder. A go-fer, essentially) for Ed Pressman, one of the Conan the Barbarian producers. I found out through Bob that they had hired the terrific film maker-comic book artist Richard Corben to create the storyboards for the Conan film.

Bob called me up one day. He had been assigned the task of taking care of and entertaining Richard while Corben was in town. Bob asked if he could bring Richard by my art studio. I enthusiastically agreed, delighted to finally have a chance to meet Richard Corben.

They arrived not long after our phone conversation.

Richard was a big guy. I’m 6’3″ and he towered over me. He was also a man of very few words. I tried to engage him on several different levels. His responses to my efforts usually resulted in a one syllable answer as he rocked back and forth on his heels, hands in his pockets, a big grin on his face.

I pulled out all the stops, showing Corben everything I thought might be of interest to him: dinosaur sculptures, my Peruvian human mummy head, my Egyptian mummy hand, gigantic Frazetta six-sheet movie posters — all kinds of stuff I considered to be cool or interesting.

I was striking out. He didn’t seem to be thrilled or interested in anything I was showing him. He kept smiling and rocking and giving me minimal answers to my questions. I asked him if he used his wife as a model.

“Nope. Tits’re too small.”

I eventually figured that Corben was a hard nut to crack and this was just one of those days when I was not going to connect, no matter how hard I tried.

After about two hours they bid me farewell.

The next day, Richard Corben quit the film (despite Richard’s brief time on the film — a day or two at most — he drew up a series of phenomenal storyboards for Conan). He got Dino’s contract, read it, and was deeply insulted. Richard didn’t realize that the first contract you get on a film is typically the studio’s first offer and the beginning of a negotiation. It’s not written in stone. You’re supposed to make a counter offer.

But Richard was used to dealing with ethical business entities. He expected an honest contract and Dino’s best offer. Because he didn’t get that, Corben was on the next plane back to Kansas.

Months later, I picked up the latest issue of Creepy, the Jim Warren horror comics magazine. Included in that issue was a Richard Corben mummy story. Richard wrote an introduction, explaining what inspired the tale. He talked about being hired on Conan and being flown out to Los Angeles, where he had a really bad time. The one highlight of his trip, though, was the great and exciting experience he had at William Stout’s studio where he got to see the coolest real life mummies. It was what inspired this particular mummy story in Creepy.

You could have knocked me over with a feather. It just goes to show, ya never know….

3 Responses to “Untold Tales of Hollywood #7”

  1. aaron says:

    Tales of the Conan films. Terrific! And I would love to get a gander at the Corben story boards. I can’t wait to hear more of your involvement on this one. Any chance that you ever suggested your good friend, Ray Harryhausen, should be involved in this movie? I look forward to your future installments.

  2. James J Bertrand says:

    It’s true, especially with artists, you never know.

  3. Richard Tucker says:

    The end has me grinning like an ape with a warehouse full of bananas. So, Richard was impressed after all. That’s pretty cool.

    Tucker

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