December 19, 2014

Loose Again in Brisbane

Bolt your windows, lock your doors! This dire warning appeared in Brisbane’s Courier-Mail on Monday, April 3rd, 1939. The Monster was “loose again” and heading straight for the city’s storied Tivoli Theater.

We couldn’t let the 2014 run out without celebrating this year’s 75th Anniversary of SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, and these great newspaper ads from Australia make for very original Ballyhoo.

On April 5, this next ad ran, proclaiming The Monster as “the screen’s most sensational character” and SON as “easily the best of the ‘Frankenstein’ films”.

Back in 1932, when the first Universal FRANKENSTEIN came to Brisbane and the same Tivoli Theater, the PR went into overdrive with handsomely illustrated ads, “we dare you” hype, nurses in attendance, and a Lloyds of London insurance policy covering the first person who might croak during a showing. The festivities included a live event — a “Frankenstein Night” — at the Carlton Cabaret, with The Monster putting in a personal appearance!

In 1939, the PR was toned down but, still, the ad copy was wildly enthusiastic, patrons were urged to book seats in advance against the expected crowds, and another live event was scheduled. Note, at bottom left of the ad, on that Wednesday, a “Frankenstein Thrill Night Dance” was to be held at the vast Trocadero dance hall. The venue was known to roll out elaborate displays on theme nights — various charity events or the annual Police Ball — and one wonders how the hall was decorated in celebration of a Frankenstein Thrill Night. There is no record of a Monster stalking the dance floor this time. 

Coming up: Another beautifully illustrated SON OF FRANKENSTEIN ad from the Brisbane papers of April 1939.

December 12, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 10)

It's hard, today, to fully appreciate just how popular Feg Murray’s Seein’ Stars cartoon feature really was. In the Thirties and Forties, a golden age for newspapers as America’s primary source of information, a generous offering of comic strips and illustrated features provided entertainment. Murray’s celebrity-centric panel was neither first nor the only one of its kind, but an 18-year run attests to its enduring popularity. Seein’ Stars ran daily from 1933 to 1941, then as a weekly until 1951.

Along the way, Murray would bring Seein’ Stars to radio. We’ve seen Murray putting in a cameo in a Hollywood picture, and Seein’ Stars was name-checked among other important national sources — including Life magazine, Popular Science, New York Times and New York Daily News — in a trailer for DESTINATION MOON (1950).

Over the past month, we’ve looked at some of Feg Murray’s genre illustrations, mostly his Frankenstein images. Wrapping up the series, we have yet another Karloff Frankenstein, and a superb rendering of Raymond Massey channeling Karloff’s Monster in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944). Be sure to click the thumbnails below and see the whole feature as it originally appeared. Note that Massey shares space with the curious Sea Monster from Republic’s HAUNTED HARBOR (1944).

Non-Frankenstein monster movie illustrations included Fredric March’s Oscar-winning Mr. Hyde, beautifully drawn and colored, appearing in the Murray panel (thumbnail below) with his John Barrymore and Spencer Tracy counterparts. Under the bandages is a young Vincent Price, from THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940), portending a career to come as a horror film icon. Buster Crabbe aims a super-sized raygun in FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO MARS (1938), a feature film version of a Universal serial.

Over a month’s worth of posts, we’ve still only scratched the surface. Evidence of Feg Murray’s love for horror, fantasy and science fiction keeps popping up on the ‘net. Check the thumbnails below for a (low quality) glimpse of THE CRIMSON GHOST (1946) and Acquanetta as CAPTIVE WILD WOMAN (1943). Murray would also cover KING KONG (1933), WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935), as well as Charles Gemora and fellow gorilla-suited performers.

The low quality strips posted here are from eBay. The high quality scans we’ve seen all month are from the collection of the ever-generous George Chastain, without whom this Feg Murray series would have been simply impossible. Thanks very much, George!

More of Feg Murray’s art:

The Feg Murray Papers at the Online Archive of California.
A 1930 painted calendar, some black and white Seein’ Stars panels and a Christmas card by Murray on Michael Sporn Animation.
A great collection of Seein’ Stars panels on The Fabulous Fifties here and here.
Feg Murray on Booksteve’s Library.
Art and information on Feg Murray at Comics Kingdom.
Terrific super-sized Feg Murray panels from the collection of comic strip artist Terry Beatty.

November 28, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 9)

Cartoonist Feg Murray captured all of the Universal Frankenstein Monsters over the run of his Seein’ Stars newspaper feature. After Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi, the part fell to character actor Glenn Strange whose craggy Mount Rushmore face and six-foot-five frame made him a Monster to reckon with. In short but memorable appearances in HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) and HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945), the underused Monster would roll off the slab for a quick, last reel walkabout before meeting his inevitable doom. Murray notes how the apparently destroyed Monster would always “show up for the next horror film”.

Unexpectedly, Strange would get a chance to show his Monster chops front and center in the final film of the original series, the wildly funny and surprisingly influential ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948). Both illustrations here are contemporary to the Abbott and Costello comedy.

The full face-on image announcing the film is a direct precursor, and a worthy companion piece to the famous James Bama painting of the Sixties that used the same photo reference. 

Click the thumbnails below to see the full cartoon panels. I have included a third Glenn Strange image, found on eBay, although the quality is poor.

Next up: We wrap up the Feg Murray series!

With thanks to George Chastain!

The Monster: Glenn Strange

November 23, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 8)

Cartoonist Feg Murray kept track and featured all the actors who played the Frankenstein Monster as they came aboard. We’ve seen Karloff, Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi pictured, and here’s a teaser, published on 2 July 1944, announcing Boris’ return to the Frankenstein franchise, with a caveat: The role of The Monster went to “someone else”. That would be Glenn Strange, of course — Coming up in our next post!

THE DEVIL’S BROOD was a working title for the first “Monster Rally”, released as HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), a gathering spot for The Monster, Dracula, The Wolf Man, a Hunchback and a Mad Scientist. Karloff was the Mad Doc, though not “Dr. Frankenstein” as stated by Murray. Karloff played Gustav Neiman, a lunatic asylum escapee and Frankenstein wannabe.

We are celebrating Boris Karloff this weekend, on the occasion of a birth date — November 23 — he shares with his daughter Sara. We send fond best wishes to Sara Karloff who generously keeps her father’s memory alive for his countless fans. 

Happy Birthday, Boris and Sara!        

With thanks to George Chastain.

November 21, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 7)

Boris Karloff made a number of appearances, in and out of Frankenstein Monster makeup, in cartoonist Feg Murray’s celebrated Seein’ Stars strip. This late entry, on 16 April 1944, for 1939’s SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, was nothing more than an excuse for a fun anecdote — that is also pure hype, no doubt.

On 25 May 1947, Karloff put in a non-horror appearance decked in feathers and longhair wig as Guyasuta of the Senecas from Cecil B. DeMille’s UNCONQUERED. Boris also shared space in November 1940 with Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre as the triple-threat menaces in the horror-comedy-musical YOU’LL FIND OUT, a Kay Kyser vehicle.

Click the thumbnails below to see the complete features.  

Color features from the collection of George Chastain. Black and White feature from The Fabulous Fifties.

November 14, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 6)

On February 7, 1943 — a full month before FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN hit screens across America — cartoonist Feg Murray introduced his readers to the first Movie Monster Meet-Up with a splendid rendering of Bela Lugosi’s Frankenstein Monster and Junior Chaney’s Wolf Man locked in combat.

I’ve isolated the art (at the top) to better focus on Murray’s wonderful drawing and the outstanding coloring job. Click the thumbnail to see the whole strip and note, also, the always excellent layout, here with Bela and Lon’s pose echoed by dancer Dona Drake’s position.

Lon Chaney Jr.’s signature part as Larry Talbot, cursed with lycanthropy, was first featured by Murray in February 1942, and again in 1948, when Chaney was shooting ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN. In all cases, the Wolf Man was beautifully rendered. See the thumbnails, below.

Chaney’s turn as Kharis, the slo-mo mummy, lugging Virginia Christine in THE MUMMY’S CURSE appeared in a December 1944 Sunday page. Note, yet again, the layout, perfectly bookended by Van Johnson and Betty Grable, with Fred Astaire as the central figure whose leaping pose is echoed by the flying child, and his wide, legs-apart stance mirrored by Chaney’s Mummy.

With thanks to George Chastain.

November 9, 2014

Meet Feg Murray (Part 5)

Cartoonist, Olympic athlete, radio host, our featured artist enjoyed a charmed life and an eclectic career. I also nominate Feg Murray as a Monster Kid.

As admittedly circumstantial evidence, I submit the frequent, lovingly illustrated monster movie references in his Seein’ Stars newspaper feature of the Thirties and Forties, especially considering how little coverage the movie magazines and the celebrity gossips ever gave the classic era horror stars and their films, unless for cracking wise and looking down at them.

As another piece of evidence, it is worth noting that Murray’s very first Seein’ Stars cartoon spread in 1933 featured Boris’ Monster sharing equal space with Greta Garbo!
When Murray parlayed his newspaper fame into a radio host gig, he presided over the extraordinary on-air appearance of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi performing a now legendary duet, signing, “We’re Horrible, Horrible Men”! Listen to the clip here. And as another small hint, we note that the inventory listing of the Feg Murray Papers, archived at Stanford University in California, includes a photograph of Feg posing with makeup man Jack Pierce. That’s one still I’d love to see!

Digging up info on Murray, trying to find pictures of the artist and more samples of his work, I came upon film footage of Feg. This is from THAT'S RIGHT, YOU'RE WRONG, a 1939 RKO musical that introduced radio bandleader Kay Kyser to the movies. As a novelty — and a guarantee of lots of free publicity — the film features cameos by all the big-name movie reporters and Hollywood gossip columnists of the time. These included Sheila Graham, Jimmy Starr, Harrison Carroll, Erskine Johnson and, sharing the screen with the formidable Hedda Hopper, our friend Feg!

Here’s the brief clip where Adolphe Menjou is introducing starlet “Sandra Sand” to celebrities at a poolside party. Sand is played by a very young Lucille Ball… Enjoy!

Art source: Comics Kingdom.

More full-color Sunday strips coming up!