April 13, 2014

Robby Hecht's Melancholy Frankenstein

The Monster and his Bride have enjoyed a busy music video career as stand-ins for star-crossed lovers, often to comedic effect. Here, set to Robby Hecht’s plaintive, country-styled “Soon I Was Sleeping”, the tone is downright mournful as our jigsaw couple’s perennially problematic love affair is irrevocably wrecked by alcohol. Brian T. O’Neil plays the beat-up Monster and Kayla McKenzie Moore is the ethereal Bride. Ryan Newman directed in appropriately moody black and white.

Robby Hecht is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter whose insightful compositions have made him an important new voice in contemporary folk. With a talent for surrounding himself with blue-chip talent, he is accompanied on the song at hand by Canadian vocalist Rose Cousins. “Soon I Was Sleeping” appears on Hecht’s new album, released in March.

Reviews on the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy, UK’s The Telegraph, and USA Today.


April 10, 2014

Frankenstein in New York
Frankenstein on Broadway

A deadpan Monster floats over Broadway, photographed during a revival run that opened on July 21, 1934. On its original release, late 1931, posters for FRANKENSTEIN carried a line under the title — as close to a subtitle the film ever had — reading, The Man Who Made a Monster. Here, surprisingly, the film’s title clearly reads FRANKENSTEIN THE KILLER, the only such known occurrence.

The Globe, its name evoking Shakespeare, was built as a high-hat, legit theater in 1910, with its vast entrance on 46th Street sporting soaring arches and a second-floor balcony where you could step outside and watch carriages unloading patrons. Inside, the latest innovations included a pipe and vent system bringing steam heat or ice cooling, season depending, to individual seats. The roof was built to slide open on a track system, though there is no record of it ever being used, with street noise, chimney soot and weather conditions likely providing reasons to keep the lid on. For twenty years, the Globe sparkled as one of New York’s leading theaters, home of such celebrated shows as the Ziegfield Follies and George White’s Scandals, Irving Berlin musicals and performances by Sarah Bernhardt and Fanny Brice. In 1929, owner Charles Dillingham was wiped out in the Stock Market Crash and the Globe went into receivership, soon to be one of several New York playhouses bought up by the Brandt chain and turned into movie houses.

The four Brandt brothers had kicked off their exhibitor career operating a hand-cranked projector stand at Coney Island, graduating to Nickelodeons and building up a theater circuit. Even as the Great Depression was hitting, the Brandts sold their holdings to Fox Pictures and used the proceedings to start another chain, snapping up failing theaters at downscale prices, kicking out the live burlesque and vaudeville acts and converting the premises to talkies. By the late Thirties, the Brandts owned 7 of the 11 movie houses on 42nd Street. They would go on to own 150 cinemas in New York and the upper East Coast.

When the Globe switched to movies in 1932, its opulent 46th Street façade was closed and the box-office moved to a small secondary entrance on Broadway. The Brandts hardly ever advertised, using instead the prime, high-visibility frontage on Times Square to announce their picture shows and pull patrons in from right off the street, or from among the thousands who stopped in next door for lunch at the Automat — the legendary diner which appears to have been the focus of our photograph.

The Globe splashed its loud displays clear across its narrow front and all the way up to full building height, like a vertical billboard, framing titles and movie star portraits in neon and dancing lights. FRANKENSTEIN rated a giant headshot of Karloff’s Monster with “The Killer” and “It’s a Sensation” in lightbulbs atop the marquee.

The Globe would run movies until 1957 when the theater changed hands and returned to its theatrical roots. The interior was gutted, its old configuration sacrificed to fine acoustics and modern styling. The narrow Broadway access was shut forever and the lavish 46th Street entrance restored. The Globe reopened in May of 1958 as the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, honoring the famous husband and wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. In the years since, top shows have included The Sound of Music and Hello Dolly!, Richard Burton as Hamlet, and the work of Bob Fosse and Marlene Dietrich. Disney’s live Beauty and the Beast premiered here in 1999.

For a century now, legends of stage and film have graced this storied house. For a fast few days in 1934, FRANKENSTEIN THE KILLER — Guaranteed for Gasps — stalked onscreen and stared down New Yorkers from his perch in the heart of Broadway.


April 3, 2014

Frankenstein in New York
The Frankenstein of 14th Street

By the time James Whale’s FRANKENSTEIN made it to New York, the film had hopscotched across America for two weeks, toppling box-office records along the way. On December 4, 1931, New Yorkers queued outside the Mayfair Theater in freezing rain for a look at the season’s Monster sensation. Extra showings were added to accommodate the endless crowds and by week’s end, over 76,000 patrons had set a new attendance record for the Times Square venue. The film would deploy to other area movie houses as a reliable attraction well into 1932.

This wonderful still of a Frankenstein Monster stand-in perched on an RKO promo truck has been circulating on the net, but without information as to date or location. It’s obviously an early promo stunt. The title of a Cagney film, BLONDE CRAZY —released, like FRANKENSTEIN, in mid-November ‘31 — appears behind the box-office booth. The theater is identified on the truck panel: It’s the RKO Jefferson, at 214 East 14th Street, near 3rd Avenue.

Universal’s Publicity Department suggested the “robot ballyhoo” stunt, having someone in Monster getup patrol the lobby and house front, or going for a spin around the block lugging ads on a sandwich board. Any tall man in a dark suit would do, usually decked-out in a fright wig and some greenish makeup to help the illusion. The player, here, is unidentified — perhaps a slumming vaudevillian or just someone off the street. A job was a job in Depression times. This facsimile Frankenstein wears a long-haired widow’s peak wig, knee-high boots and heavy gloves, like mechanical hands. FRANKENSTEIN posters sometimes gave Karloff what appears to be riveted steel arms.

Built in 1913 in the notorious Gashouse District as a top-notch Vaudeville theater, the Jefferson earned a reputation among show people as “the toughest house in New York”. The Marx Borthers, George Burns and Mae West were among those who braved the turbulent audiences.

Live acts still supported the featured movies when the theater was refurbished in 1947, but attendance had begun a downward trend, not the least because of wholesale evictions as the city enacted a plan to remodel the neighborhood. Competition from television would accelerate the Jefferson’s decline. KING KONG (1933) played the Jefferson on its highly publicized re-release in 1952, and horror host Zacherley brought his live spook show there in the Sixties. In the Seventies, on its last legs, the house switched to Spanish language programming for a while and then, in increasingly depressing disrepair, turned to porno. The once-proud Jefferson was eventually abandoned, an eyesore for twenty years until it was demolished in 1999.

An interesting sidenote: Right next door to the Jefferson is an Otto Altenburg piano store. Back in the day, the Altenburg company made a point of opening piano showrooms on the same block as theaters. The New Jersey-based company, founded in 1855, is still going strong today. The second-floor showroom at 212 East 14th Street closed in the late Thirties and was taken over by Irving Klaw’s legendary Movie Star News store, an exclusive outlet for celebrity photos and Klaw’s famous home-made cheescake and bondage stills. By the Fifties, it would become the go-to shop for Bettie Page fans. Movie Star News moved away in the mid-Eighties, when the area was at its seediest. The neighborhood today is completely transformed but the site of the storied Jefferson remains an empty lot.

Attended by men in hats and caps, including one gentleman in a neat bowler, the Frankenstein of 14th Street recalls a lost era when a couple could see live entertainment and a new movie in a palace settting for change on a dollar and the fun spilled onto the street outside, the house front festooned with eye-popping displays — note the Frankenstein title in dancing 3-D letters — and you might even bump into The Monster himself!


March 31, 2014

The Monster from Hell Ressurected

Consistently excellent, Rue Morgue magazine casts a wide net, exploring horror in culture, cutting across all forms of entertainment and perfectly comfortable with everything from classic to contemporary and cutting edge. The current issue, No. 142 for March 2014, has a 40th anniversary cover feature on Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL. The article is enhanced with remembrances by Shane Briant, Madeline Smith and David Prowse, the film’s young Dr. Helder, “Angel”, and the title’s hulking Monster. Hammer expert Denis Meikle provides historical perspective and a critical appreciation.

FRANKENSTEIN AND THE MONSTER FROM HELL was one of the last pictures from Hammer, it was the last of their Frankenstein series and the last film for director Terence Fisher who is remembered here, as well as actor Peter Cushing who draws tons of love from all concerned. Briant says, “Peter was the ultimate, consummate professional”. Madeleine Smith calls the film “A funereal poem. A glorious little coda at the end”. A sidebar covers the Blu-Ray release of FRANKENSTEIN CREATED WOMAN.

The issue also features an article on Victorian-era horror 3-D cards, and a 20th anniversary celebration of Mike Mignola’s fabulous Hellboy, complete with an interview and Mignola’s own picks for his five favorite Hellboy stories.

March 24, 2014

The Rockabilly Bride of Frankenstein

Though her total time on screen, way back in 1935, was limited to a brisk 12 minutes, the Bride of Frankenstein remains one of the most famous movie characters of all time and is still a reference 79 years on. The Bride, sporting her spectacular hairdo, has appeared in everything from commercials to musical reviews and pop videos.

Here, she is stunned back to life again to the tune of It’s Good to be Alive, the first single off an upcoming album by Imelda May, a roots and rockabilly artist by way of Ireland.

In this revisionist version, The Bride and her Monster fall head over big boots for each other and go on to the ups and downs of marital life. I don’t really think it’s a spoiler for me to say that in the end, love conquers all.

March 17, 2014

Rondo Awards : Frankensteinia scores 3 nominations!

2013 was a great year for Frankensteinia

Almost exactly a year ago, I traveled to Paris and London where I did some serious research for this blog and I was treated, thanks to my friend David Saunderson of The Spooky Isles, to an unforgettable “Frankensteinia Night” at a London pub with invited genre writers, film historians, editors and publishers and other instant friends, a dozen in all. It was a memorable kick off to the year and, now, to bookend the backend, the 12th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards have been announced and I am delighted and frankly excited that Frankensteinia has generated three nominations!

Here they are, for your kind consideration…

1) Frankensteinia has been nominated as Best Blog!

Here’s hoping we can get over the hump after coming in First Runner-Up the last two times out! I am very proud of our offerings this past year. Some highlights:

We found some rare Frankenstein appearances, notably Billy De Wolfe’s comic turn in BLUE SKIES (1946) here and here, and a couple of British entries in THURSDAY’S CHILD (1943) here and here, and DANCE HALL (1950) here.

Doing some Frankenstein archeology, we found the site of the bakery that inspired the Windmill scene in the original FRANKENSTEIN of 1931. A great photo of Ed Payson in the makeup chair turned up, halfway through his transformation into the Frankenstein Monster for the 3-D short THIRD DIMENSIONAL MURDER (1941). In a perfect case of Monster Kid prehistory, we discovered what is one of the earliest, if not very first incident of Frankenstein cosplay, so to speak, in a press review entitled Gandhi Hob-Knobs with Frankenstein from February 1932. Also (with thanks to our friend George Chastain), we dug up a pre-Famous Monsters Forry Ackerman article entitled Frankenstein’s Bébé — Brigitte Bardot!

A personal favorite from 2013 was my Shock Theater Frankenstein series of articles revealing the early promotional efforts and rubber-mask Frankenstein appearances that helped launch the Monster Boom back in the Fifties.

2) The Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon is up for Best Fan Event!

Saint Peter’s anniversary was celebrated with the help of 30 bloggers, contributing some 80 fabulous articles, reviews, opinions, revelations and loving appreciations.

3) Richard Harland Smith’s contribution to the Peter Cushing Blogathon, The Peter Cushing Nobody Knows, is up for Best Article!

RHS has been a friend of Frankensteinia from day one and I was knocked out by his brilliant essay on Cushing’s early, non-horror roles, posted over at TCM’s Movie Morlocks. Smith is also nominated for Best Commentary for THE DEVIL BAT.

There you have it. Now it’s your turn: You have until May 5 to vote, but don’t wait: You can vote right now, in as many or as few categories as you are comfortable with, and it’s all done painlessly through email.

Should you wish to support our nominations, vote Frankensteinia in Category 19, Best Blog; Peter Cushing Centennial Blogathon in Category 21, Best Fan Event, and The Peter Cushing Nobody Knows by Richard Harland Smith in Category 13, Best Article.

If you enjoy this blog, you are also welcome to include yours truly, Pierre Fournier, in the write-in Category 28, Best Writer.

Here’s the Rondo Ballot, with tons of great stuff to discover. Congratulations to ALL the nominees!

March 10, 2014

Boris Karloff in Aunt of Frankenstein

Here’s an overlooked curio: Boris Karloff and Frankenstein are name-checked and cartooned in a British wartime short from 1943.

Running a brisk one and a half minutes, THE SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD SAVE combines simple animation and live action footage. The story has a lonesome ghost — a caped skeleton — called George who, the narrator tells us, has “no one around to frighten”. He’d like to “do his bit” for the war effort but, with no demand for his services, George goes to the movies “to cheer himself up”.

At the show, George sees a Government film about saving bones to be used, we learn, to make explosives, glue and fertilizer. Our patriotic skeleton donates himself to the war effort and is transformed into a shell that chases Hitler himself back to Berlin.

The Karloff/Frankenstein reference comes roughly halfway through the proceedings, and again at the end, outside the theater, where posters advertise “Boris Karloff in Aunt of Frankenstein”. Illustrations depict a lugubrious character in drag. Karloff as Frankenstein, of course, was often depicted in cartoons as a menace. Here’s it’s just a fun, throwaway gag. Frankenstein family jokes were not uncommon, given the titles of the early Universal Frankensteins: Bride of, and Son of. In 1935, a reviewer of BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN suggested that the next film be called “Frankenstein’s Baby”.

For the record, Karloff did play a little old lady in full little old lady getup as the nefarious Mother Muffin in TV’s THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. in 1966, and there really was a FRANKENSTEIN’S AUNT movie in 1987, compiled from a multi-national, European TV series, itself based on two books by Allan Rune Pettersson.

There are no credits for THE SKELETON IN THE CUPBOARD SAVE, its artisans anonymously devoted to the British war effort. The short can be viewed online on the British Pathé archives website.