- Jul 15, 1938
Although he was seldom a favorite of mainstream critics, and veered widely between seriousness and satire, Larry Cohen staked his claim as one of the more successful screenwriters, directors, and producers to emerge from television in the 1950s. Born and raised in New York City, he attended City College (CUNY) and New York University, and broke into the… More Bio:
Although he was seldom a favorite of mainstream critics, and veered widely between seriousness and satire, Larry Cohen staked his claim as one of the more successful screenwriters, directors, and producers to emerge from television in the 1950s. Born and raised in New York City, he attended City College (CUNY) and New York University, and broke into the entertainment business as a page at the NBC Building in Rockefeller Center. He wrote scripts for some of the television anthology shows of the late '50s, including Kraft Television Theatre, Zane Grey Theater, the U.S. Steel Hour, and Roald Dahl's Way Out, plus the suspense program Checkmate.
Cohen was treading water professionally, however, mostly because he was living on the wrong coast. Live television was disappearing rapidly at the end of the 1950s. Most of the best television had shifted to film, and was coming out of Los Angeles by the time Cohen was ready to move up from the anthology series. He was lucky enough, however, to get a shot writing for one of the last of the truly good, successful dramas out of New York, The Defenders. The weekly series, starring E.G. Marshall and Robert Reed as a father-and-son team of defense attorneys, was easily the most critically acclaimed dramatic program on television during the early '60s, and Cohen got to write several scripts for the series. With that under his belt, he was able to move on to other top-quality programs on both coasts, including The Nurses, Sam Benedict, Arrest & Trial, and The Fugitive.
In 1964, using the movie The Four Feathers (1939) as his initial inspiration, he conceived the series Branded. The program, a serious and often surprising psychologically oriented Western starring Chuck Connors as a cavalry officer unjustly convicted of cowardice in battle, gave the familiar genre several new twists. It also ran for two seasons on NBC and established Cohen as one of the better creative minds in television of the era. He devised other series over the next few years, including such unusual entries as Coronet Blue and The Invaders. Meanwhile, Cohen also became involved with motion pictures by way of the Mirisch brothers, for whom he conceived and wrote the movie Return of the Magnificent Seven (1966)).
On many of these shows, Cohen showed a knack, as a writer and creator, for tapping into odd, unconventional storylines. Coronet Blue quickly developed a cult following and, in fact, anticipated The Bourne Identity in its story of an amnesiac (Frank Converse) fished out of the river and caught in a web of espionage and terror. Even more unsettling was The Invaders, starring Roy Thinnes as a man who spots a flying saucer landing and is forced to spend his life convincing others of the dangers of invasion.
Cohen's writing took him into the areas of suspense (Daddy's Gone A-Hunting) and satire (Call Holme) in film and television, and he made his directorial debut in 1972 with Bone, an extraordinary satirical thriller with a strong racial edge, from his own screenplay. A year later, he made the more obvious blaxploitation title Black Caesar, and followed this up with Hell up in Harlem, both of which were very successful -- meanwhile, he continued to develop new series, including Cool Million.
Cohen was still writing for television, including episodes of Columbo (including the classic "Candidate for Crime," starring Jackie Cooper), when he went into production on the movie that would establish him as a serious horror director. It's Alive! (1974), from Cohen's own script, touched on numerous sensitive psychological points in its tale of a mutant killer-newborn, becoming not only a huge box-office success but a major cult favorite, eclipsed only by John Carpenter's Halloween a little later in the decade. Cohen followed this with God Told Me To (aka Demon, 1976) and The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977). The latter, although considered the height of ca
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