Showing posts with label • Frankenstein (Matinee Theater) 1957. Show all posts
Showing posts with label • Frankenstein (Matinee Theater) 1957. Show all posts

January 31, 2012

Frankenstein in Stitches

Several comments posted here, on Facebook and points between have noted how Primo Carnera’s Frankenstein makeup from 1957, revealed here last week, was very similar to that worn by Robert De Niro in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein of 1994.

True enough. Bald and stitched cranium, sutured cheeks, upper lip and chin, and a damaged left eye. Very similar indeed, but Primo and Bobby were neither the first nor last of their monstrous kind.

Lon Chaney’s Monster for TV’s Tales of Tomorrow in 1952 heralded Carnera’s version with a baldhead and face-splitting stitch work. Springing 60 years ahead, the effect was revisited and worn by Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, sharing the part, in the celebrated British National Theater version of 2011. Call it same-school monster makeup.

Somewhat related, without facial distress, chrome-dome Monsters are known to sport ‘round the head, dotted line stitching indicating radical brain surgery. The two finest examples are — going from the ridiculous to the sublime — Cal Bolder in Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter (1966) and Freddie Jones’s heart wrenching Creature in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969).

These Frankenstein Monsters are of a family. When opting for a baldhead look, similarities are perhaps inevitable. There are only so many ways to stitch a baseball.

Exclusive! The Monster: Primo Carnera
Exclusive! 1957 Frankenstein Makeup SessionRevealed!
TV’s Lost Frankenstein of 1957

Tales of Tomorrow: Frankenstein’s Notorious TV Adventure.

January 26, 2012

The Monster : Primo Carnera

Always formidable looking to an opponent, former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, 6 feet, 1 inch and 280 pounds, will scare the cold cream and curlers off the average housewife with his portrayal of Frankenstein.

Thus read the caption to this United Press Telephoto sent out to newspapers on February 2nd, 1957, promoting the February 5 broadcast of the NBC Matinee Theatre adaptation of Frankenstein. The presentation, the network insisted, “will not follow the movie as done by Boris Karloff but does follow the novel”.

The stunning image of Primo Carnera in full makeup was accompanied by a comparison photo of the smiling actor and suggested for use in tandem with a short news item by UP’s Aline Mosby. As an interesting side note, Mosby was the Los Angeles-based United Press reporter who famously revealed that Marilyn Monroe had posed for a nude calendar. She would become the first American female correspondent in Moscow where, in 1959, writing about American defectors, she interviewed one Lee Harvey Oswald. After the JFK assassination, Mosby’s recollections became part of the Warren Report. In Moscow, Mosby also interviewed the notorious Doctor Demikhov, the “real life Frankenstein” whose grafting experiments led to the creation of a two-headed dog. Mosby’s would go on to serve in Paris, London, Vienna and New York. In 1979, she opened the UPI’s first bureau in Beijing, China.

Primo Carnera’s acting career would remain a sideline to his athletic endeavors. A mere ten days after the Frankenstein broadcast, Carnera was in Sydney, Australia, where he drew a record crowd of 20,000 at the White City tennis stadium for a bout against Emile Czaja, nicknamed King Kong. The Vancouver Sun reported, “The match was declared no contest when both wrestlers fell out of the ring and Carnera began punching King Kong.

Carnera’s crazily stitched Frankenstein Monster stares dead-eyed back at us across 55 years, long gone but no longer forgotten, thanks to film archeologist George Chastain.

Exclusive! 1957 Frankenstein Makeup Session
Revealed! TV’s Lost Frankenstein of 1957

January 25, 2012

1957 Frankenstein Makeup Session

Collector George Chastain does it again! Back in November, we posted a fabulous photo he’d uncovered of Primo Carnera’s wardrobe and makeup test for the February 1957 Frankenstein episode of NBC’s Matinee Theater. Now, new photos have surfaced and, again, Mr. Chastain is generously sharing them here with Frankensteinia readers.

The two AP wirepotos show boxer/wrestler turned actor Carnera submitting to makeup men for a January 30th dress rehearsal. The broadcast went out live from Burbank, California on February 5.

The photos show two stages of the application. First, Carnera is fitted with a skullcap and, later on, the full-face makeup is completed with textured skin and a network of crude stitches. Five artists were required to transform Carnera into The Monster, three of them seen in the photos. Walter Schenck and Edwin Butterworth would work together again, twenty years later, on the 1977 film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau. William “Bill” Morley was makeup man on the AIP TV special, The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot in 1965.

Matinee Theatre’s Frankenstein of 1957 is one of many lost programs from the early days of TV. These images, unseen for 55 years, are possibly the only remaining record of this historical broadcast.

But wait… There’s one more! Check this post for the most stunning portrait you are ever likely to see of Primo Carnera as Frankenstein’s Monster!

With thanks to George Chastain.

Revealed! TV’s Lost Frankenstein of 1957

November 18, 2011

Revealed! TV's Lost Frankenstein of 1957

Here’s a great find, courtesy of horror film expert and collector extraordinaire George Chastain. Previously circulating as a blurry thumbnail, here, at last, is a large, sharp image of Primo Carnera as TV’s Frankenstein Monster of 1957.

The show was NBC’s anthology series, Matinee Theater, beamed live and in color at noon — 3PM on the East Coast — out of Burbank’s Color City Studios.

Running from 1955 to 1958, Matinee Theater would tally an astounding 650 episodes, offering a mix of original teleplays and adaptations of classic novels. A generous selection of horror, science fiction and fantasy titles included Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Fall of the House of Usher, The Cask of Amontillado, Death Takes a Holiday, and The Bottle Imp. John Carradine played Dracula with a mustache and a Grampa Munster haircut.

A version of The Invisible Man was hailed by TV Guide as a television milestone for its pioneering special effects. In fact, the whole series was a bold experiment, with a rotating crew of directors producing five hour-long plays every week, testing the RCA color equipment along the way.

The Frankenstein episode’s Monster was played by Primo Carnera, one of the most storied and tragic sports figure of the Twentieth Century. Born in Northern Italy, stricken with acromegaly, he stood 6 feet 6 inches when he began his career as a circus wrestler, barnstorming through Europe, taking on all comers, sometimes fighting as many as 12 men in one day. Introduced to boxing, he was brought to America in the late Twenties by a shady promoter with mob ties. Soft-spoken, affable and utterly guileless, Carnera would be mercilessly exploited, embarking unawares or, at least, gullibly, in a world-spanning series of fixed fights, his opponents — fueled by cash or literally threatened at gunpoint — gamely walking into Carnera’s weak uppercuts and diving operatically for the count. The giant was a sensation, landing on the cover of Time Magazine in October of 1931 even as a newspaperman in England joked about his fights being “as rehearsed as a Shakespeare play”.

In February 1933, when one of his opponents died after being knocked out — the man had been ill and desperate for fight money — Carnera’s reputation peaked. In June, he became World Heavyweight Champion in a bout one reporter said was won “with an invisible punch”. Soon thereafter, feeling the heat and having squeezed everything they could out of the Amblin’ Alp, Carnera’s mobster handlers abandoned him, walking away with the millions he had earned. Now booked into real, up-and-up fights, Carnera was led to the slaughter. The sight of the once proud giant helpless, bloodied and battered, shocked America.

Humiliated, his career in shambles, Carnera returned to Italy where he was promptly hailed and exploited again, this time as a national hero by fascist leader Benito Mussolini. And yet again, Carnera would be abandoned to his own fate after losing badly in an ill-conceived showdown against Joe Louis, a fight that amounted to a veritable massacre.

On his own, surviving as best he could, even scavenging for food through the war years, Carnera made it back to the States after the war for an unlikely but spectacular comeback, becoming one of the most popular and beloved pro wrestler of the Fifties. Meanwhile, his boxing days proved rich fodder for drama, serving as inspiration for a novel turned into a 1956 Humphrey Bogart movie, The Harder They Fall, with Mike Lane as “Toro Moreno”. Lane, like Carnera, would go on to play Frankenstein’s Monster, opposite Boris Karloff in Frankenstein 1970 (1958). Another Carnera-inspired piece was Rod Serling’s Requiem for a Heavyweight, produced for television in 1956 with Jack Palance playing “Mountain McClintock”. A 1957 British TV version had Sean Connery in the role and a film adaptation from 1962 starred Anthony Quinn.

Carnera himself appeared in a handful of movies, notably turning up as one of the wrestlers in a tug of war with Mighty Joe Young (1949), even throwing a few punches at Joe, and he would go mano a mano with Steve Reeves in Hercules Unchained (1959).

Frankenstein director Walter Grauman hired Carnera for size, bulking him up further with torso padding and thick-soled monster boots. The New York Times reported that “Only television could round out the square head of Frankenstein”, with makeup men instructed to steer clear of Universal’s iconic design from the movies. NBC PR claimed that the Monster transformation required a tag team of five makeup artists working in shifts over a period of three hours. The Monster’s appearance, bald head crisscrossed with baseball stitches, is similar to that of Lon Chaney in the Tales of Tomorrow Frankenstein episode of 1952, and anticipates the makeup sported by Robert DeNiro in the 1994 film, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The photograph at hand is actually from a dress rehearsal. It was circulated to newspapers on January 31, five days ahead of the February 5 broadcast. Note how the futuristic costume — called “a snowsuit” by one reporter — and somewhat reminiscent of the outfit James Arness wore in The Thing (1951), is unfinished, with threads hanging and material wrapped loosely around the arms. The collar of the outer garment appears to have been cut away, with flap pockets removed and front opening sewn shut. This clearly being a work in progress, the final makeup and costume might have been a bit different by showtime. It’s impossible to know for sure, as the Frankenstein episode, like much of early live television fare, is considered lost.

One might entertain the hope it can still be found as it was one of the few episodes of Matinee Theater to ever be rerun — on October 7, 1957 — meaning that there was, at least, a kinescope — film shot off a television monitor — made of the broadcast, perhaps even a videotape copy, the still-new technology first introduced in 1956.

See a video of director Walter E. Grauman reminiscing about his experiences in early television. In part one, at roughly 35:45, he talks about the Primo Carnera Frankenstein and recalls an on-air incident.

The Dark of the Moon, a rare surviving episode of Matinee Theater, starring Tom Tryon as a Warlock, and Gloria Talbott. Both would reunite in 1958 for I Married a Monster from Outer Space.

A very short documentary clip gives us a glimpse of Color City Studios and a rehearsal for an episode of Matinee Theater.

A complete and detailed episode listing for Matinee Theater.

A harrowing 1948 account of Primo Carnera’s life and career, by Jack Sher.

Tales of Tomorrow: Frankenstein’s Notorious TV Adventure