Lawrence G. (Larry) Cohen '63
Class of 1963
An independent maverick who got his start in studio-based television, Larry Cohen has been called New York’s greatest B-movie legend. Cohen is best known for inventive low-budget horror films that combine scathing social commentary with the requisite scares and occasional laughs. He was also a major player in the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s and later in his career, he became a sought-after screenplay writer.
Born July 15, 1941, in Kingston, New York, his family moved to the Riverdale section of the Bronx where growing up he drew comics and made 8mm movies with his friends. He eventually majored in film at CCNY, graduating in 1963.
Cohen landed a job as a page at NBC and was soon pitching teleplays and scripts for TV episodes. He sold two scripts to Kraft Mystery Theater when he was only 22 years old. He met Alfred Hitchcock in the mid-1960s and wrote several treatments for him.
In the 1960s and 1970s Cohen created the TV series The Invaders, Branded, Coronet Blue and Blue Light (co-creator), and wrote for such The Defenders, The Fugitive, Columbo, and Espionage. He turned his hand to directing with the comedy Bone starring Yaphet Koto.
His 1974 horror film It’s Alive earned more than $7 million and spawned two sequels. He followed that with the science fiction serial killer film God Told Me.
Though he long ago relocated to Hollywood, Cohen often returned to New York for the settings of his films, among them his 1970s films with African-American protagonists, writing, producing and directing Hell Up in Harlem and others.
“It was my favorite place to shoot,” Cohen said. “New York is the world’s greatest backlot.”
His later screenwriting credits include the vastly popular Phone Booth (starring Colin Farrell), Cellular (with Kim Bassinger), and Captivity. In 1977 he directed his most ambitious project, a biopic on the life and work of FBI founder J. Edgar Hoover.
In 2017, a retrospective of his work, under the title, was presented at the Quad Cinema on Greenwich Village. The films included Black Caesar (1973), God Told Me To (1976), never shown in New York before, Q (1982), part of which was shot at the top of the Chrysler Building, Perfect Strangers (1984), Special Effects (1985), The Stuff (1985) and The Ambulance (1990).