November 21, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
The Bride is Released!

Back in 2011, here on this blog, we determined that Universal’s original FRANKENSTEIN (1931) had actually been released on November 20, a day earlier than most sources claim. Dial up Google, check the IMDB, they still say November 21, but we have proven otherwise. Now, supported by the ads posted here, we can demonstrate that BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935) actually started playing three days earlier than the “official” release date generally quoted in books and online.

The actual “release” date is, by definition, the day when a film begins playing on a regular schedule. There may be prior screenings, as “Premieres” or “Preview Showings”, but these do not count towards the actual release date. The classic, Hollywood-style Premiere is a stand-alone promotional event with fanfare, klieg lights and attending movie stars. The “Preview Showing” describes when a new film is sneaked into a movie house for the purpose of gauging the moviegoers’ reactions. For instance, the original FRANKENSTEIN (1931) was shown in a Santa Barbara theatre about three weeks prior to its actual release. This particular screening, by the way, created the stubborn myth that Boris Karloff was not invited to the film’s premiere. Nice story, but false. Point is, there was no official premiere for FRANKENSTEIN.

If you Google “Bride Frankenstein Release”, your first hit, in large characters, claims “April 22, 1935”. Go to the IMDB, and the USA release date is stated, again, as April 22. A possible explanation is that the date was quoted by Universal as the planned release date, even though films rarely if ever launched on Mondays.

Did some digging and, to settle the issue, here are two contemporary ads from the pages of the Chicago Tribune. At top, dated April 18, 1935, an ad for the RKO Palace announces, “Tomorrow.. The World Premiere!” And what a show it was, with The Bride supported by a “Huge Stage Review”. The next day ad, also shown here, from Good Friday, April 19, proclaims, “The World Premiere… Today — 10:45 A.M.” featuring “Twice the Terrific Thrills of Frankenstein”.

And there you have it. BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was actually released on April 19, 1935. Not April 22.

It must be noted that Stephen Jacobs, in his superb biography Boris Karloff, More Than a Monster, points to San Francisco as the premiere city, also on April 19. Who knows, maybe Chicago’s RKO Palace scored the “World’s Premiere” claim by virtue of its early first show, 10:45 AM, while it was still 7:45 on the West Coast!

And so we wrap up our BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN 80th Anniversary series. No worries, as we return to our regular posting, I’ve lots of BRIDE material on hand and ongoing research to be posted in the weeks and months to come.

I hope you enjoyed our visit with the Bride of Frankenstein! 

November 11, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
No Greater Thrill!

We are used to seeing the iconic Frankenstein Monster on TV— with inevitable flattop, bolts and green face — flogging everything from soft drinks and beer to pain meds and cellphone services. Here’s an ad from way back in 1935 — the earliest I’ve seen — of The Monster as pitchman… for refrigerators!

No Greater Thrill…” the ad goes, “Than the Bride of Frankenstein… and our 1935 Kelvinator!” 

Printed large, across three columns in New Orleans newspapers, the ad is a curious example of cross-promotion stunts often suggested to exhibitors by Universal. For the original FRANKENSTEIN of 1931, theatre owners were urged to trade ads with a local bookstore stockpiling the new Photoplay edition of Mary Shelley’s novel. Here, for BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the New Orleans’ Orpheum plunked a “thrilling” new Kelvinator fridge in its lobby in exchange for the movie’s poster being displayed at the legendary Godchaux’s Department Store on Canal Street. The offbeat idea was credited to the Orpheum’s manager Victor Meyer and adman Gar Moore.

The Orpheum also fielded The Monster live and in person, working the crowds, and the ambulance-out-front routine complete with nurses on duty. A bandage-wrapped dummy Bride strapped to a gurney was trundled around town, and local newspapers participated in a search for a New Orleans’ own “bride” for The Monster.

November 6, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
The Monster Goes Dancing

The Monster crashes the annual May dance sponsored by the Fire Department, one of several “personal appearances” promoting BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, coming to the Astor Theatre in Reading, Pennsylvania.

According to the Motion Picture Herald of June 29, 1935, the “makeup stunt” was cooked up by house manager Dwight Van Meter using the Astor’s doorman as stand-in for The Monster. The transformation — said to have cost all of $2.15 — proved popular. High school seniors arranged a mock wedding — The Monster Demands a Mate! — and the very odd couple was seen driving around town in a bannered car and popping up at local nightclubs. One stop was at the swanky Riverside Club on Friday, May 17, same day the film opened. 

The Monster gag had kicked off a week earlier when the Astor ran the film’s trailer. The live Monster appeared in a green spotlight, chained to a large chair — as Karloff was in the film’s dungeon scene — rising out of the stage floor on the organ’s elevator loft, to weird sound effects. As the trailer played out, the snarling Monster broke his chains and escaped into the wings.  
Dubbed “unique bally”, The Monster’s manifestations in and around Reading helped drum up some excellent business at the Astor. By Sunday, the theatre was boasting 18,904 in attendance over two days and the film would be held over for a second week. 

Sources: Motion Picture Herald via the Media History Digital Library, and The Reading Eagle.

November 3, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
Jazz Age Monster

Here’s a splendid streamlined cartoon likeness of Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster from the pages of Universal Weekly, the studio’s trade magazine, May 4, 1935. The art deco-style illustration — signed ‘Marshal’ ? — decorated a page boasting the film’s great box office returns and enthusiastic reviews in Variety and Motion Picture Daily.

Among the articles grouped under the heading “BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN: A TREMENDOUS SMASH” were reports from the Tower Theatre in Kansas City of a Sunday’s sellout business with crowds lining up despite a downpour, and the film drawing “unusually heavy child attendance” despite ads warning “not suitable for children”. The Tower’s manager, Barney Joffee, said he did not refuse admission to families on the principle that “parents cannot be prevented from bringing their children”.

Also featured is a column’s worth of praise for eighteen-year-old female lead, Valerie Hobson, essentially billed as a scream queen, before the term existed. Hobson, we are told, “screamed her way to success” and “plays the part of the beauty-in-peril with ear-splitting realism”. True, Hobson had to deal in quick succession with the Frankenstein Monster and WEREWOLF OF LONDON, leading Universal’s promotional department to declare that … no actress has ever seemed more certain for stardom than this lovely lady of the vociferous tonsils”.

October 28, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
The Birthday Bride

All this month — and onwards as we’ll be spilling into November — we have been celebrating the 80th Anniversary of an extraordinary film. Today, we note and celebrate another, related Anniversary: Elsa Lanchester was born October 28, 1902.

The image here was found in the movie fan magazine Picture Play, published out of New York by Street & Smith, for June 25, 1935. I’ve never seen this one before — please tell me if you have. The Bride appears in quiet profile, reflective, looking down, the trademark Nefertiti hair gone vertical. A caption read, “Elsa Lanchester’s amazing make-up for ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’ won even the enthusiastic approval of Boris Karloff, who knows the possibilities of grease paint as few stars do.  

Elsa Lanchester was 33 when she bookended the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN in two different roles, that of Mary Shelley in the film’s opening and, of course, the unforgettable Bride of its climax.

She thrills and charms us to this very day.

October 23, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
A Frankenstein "Laff"

Here’s a rarity, a panel cartoon take on BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, from the pages of the industry trade paper Motion Picture Herald of 29 June 1935. 

House cartoonist Milt Rosenfeld shows a couple of Legion of Decency types investigating the new Frankenstein film to see if it’s “another sex picture”. The ladies are then seen to exit in a hurry, having had a shock of another kind.

The Motion Picture Herald first appeared in 1915 out of Chicago as the Exhibitors Herald and evolved under various titles over the silent era through mergers and acquisitions, eventually consolidating under the highly influential publisher/editor-in-chief Martin Quigley in 1930. Published on Fridays, the exhibitor’s publication would run until 1972. Many celebrated writers, film historians and industry pundits would grace the Herald’s pages through the years. The legendary New York Times film critic Vincent Canby got his start there in the 1950’s.  

Milt Rosenfeld produced his innocuous cartoons, never editorializing, under the “Showmen’s Lobby Laffs” banner. Here, from May 1940, is another genre-related cartoon, this one about the “Invisable” Man sequel that starred an unseen Vincent Price. The caption says, “Usher: He wants half his admission back… Says he couldn’t see half the picture”.

Source: Motion Picture Herald is digitized online at and the Media History Digital Library.  

October 19, 2015

80th Anniversary BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN series
The Ballyhooed Bride

Standing 30 (?) feet tall, eyes fitted with flashing lights, The Monster straddles a busy sidewalk on St Clare Street in Toledo. “Legs formed arch plenty tall enough not to hinder pedestrian traffic…” reported the Motion Picture Herald of August 31, 1935. 

A second photo, different angle, shows the giant figure positioned half a block down from The Tivoli, next door at The Palace. The placement suggests either common ownership or a very friendly arrangement between the two theaters.

With the phenomenal box office of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) in recent memory, and a terrific subject to promote — The Monster Talks!... Who Will Be The Monster’s Mate? — BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was ripe for hype and flashy ballyhoo. In San Francisco, the Ritz lobby had a mummy-wrapped dummy on a gurney and a mad-lab electric coil shooting foot-long sparks over the box office. Outside, a giant cut-out Frankenstein Monster head glared down at passers-by from atop the marquee. In the days running up to release, THE BRIDE’s trailer was accompanied by an elaborate stunt described in the Universal Weekly showman’s magazine of July 27…

All house and stage lights out; rattle and drag chains about back stage; girls in wings give several blood-curdling screams; loads of scrap iron dropped from flies onto steel boiler plates back stage; set off charge of flashlight powder and at the same time plug in green spot on 24-Sheet cut-out head of monster on stage. Hold while smoke from flash rises through green light on head then go into trailer leaving green face visible. Also worked as a swell gag before picture itself.

Likewise, the State Theatre of Harrisonburg, Virginia. Their trailer presentation kicked off with flashing house lights, live screams and clashing cymbals. Then all the lights went out and a giant Monster head with glowing red eyes was pulled across the stage in a deep blue spot. House manager Sam Roth ran a newspaper want ad reading, “BRIDE WANTED — to act as mate for man-made monster. Apply Frankenstein, State Theatre.” The theatre front was papered with a stunning assortment of gorgeous posters and the parked ambulance gag was revived, with banners shouting “Emergency Ambulance — for those who can’t take it while seeing the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN.” According to Universal Weekly, Roth’s State campaign “aroused beaucoup excitement in town.

More great gags, stunts and showmanship coming up as we count down to Halloween and celebrate the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN 80th Anniversary!  

Sources: Cinema Treasures. Motion Picture Herald and Universal Weekly via Lantern/Media History Digital Library.