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 Fabuleous 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!

More full-color Sunday strips coming up!

November 6, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 4)

It’s “Not Karloff This Time!” as Lon Chaney, Jr. takes over The Monster’s part in THE GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, in general release when Feg Murray illustrated this full four-color Sunday feature, published April 19, 1942.

Chaney Jr. would rate several appearances in Murray’s Seein’ Stars, usually documenting his appearances as The Wolf Man, but an earlier feature, dated November 1941, showed Lon Jr. in costume as the electrically charged MAN MADE MONSTER — a Frankensteinian concept — along with his legendary father in makeup as THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1923). “Like Father — Like Son”!

Click the thumbnails to fully appreciate the dynamic layout — and the corny but fun “facts” — of these pieces.

From the collection of George Chastain.

November 4, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 3)

Continuing our series on newspaper cartoonist Feg Murray, here’s an updated repost featuring a fabulous piece of original art!   

Here’s a stunning portrait of The Monster and his Bride by celebrity cartoonist and broadcaster Feg Murray, created for his Seein’ Stars feature syndicated to newspapers in 1936. This, the original art, was found in makeup man Jack Pierce’s personal scrapbook and sold through Heritage Auctions for $2,151 in 2007.

The perfect likenesses suggest that Murray’s art was traced from photos, likely projected onto an art board, a common technique and a necessary expedient for someone drawing realistic portraits on a tight schedule.

Murray used a “screentone” type of art board saturated with small dots that would be made visible by applying a solvent. When photographed and reduced to publishing size, the dots would function as stippling, creating gray tones. Before the advent of computer graphics, pre-textured paper, which came in a variety of dot or crosshatch patterns, was widely used by artists in newspapers and comic books.

Murray’s elegant brushwork and judicious use of screentone shading combine to make a truly outstanding piece. Note, also, Murray's signature and his strip's little teddy bear-like mascot.

Coming up: Feg Murray's Sunday features in full color!

November 2, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 2)

The formula for Feg Murray’s Seein’ Stars was typical of newspaper cartoon features: Large drawings accompanied by a short caption, usually some trivial or curious factoid. Here, in two examples from 1938 recycled as comic book filler, Feg Murray captures Karloff’s Monster in excellent likenesses, with copy addressing the endlessly repeated tidbit about “Frankenstein” being the creator’s name, not The Monster’s, and some rather creative math adding up Karloff’s time in the makeup chair.

It was not uncommon for newspaper strips and features to be re-used in comic books. In fact, comic books began as collections of newspaper strips, soon to be augmented with and eventually replaced by original material. Beginning in 1937, Murray’s Seein’ Stars was recycled along with other King Features syndicated material in Ace Comics and Magic Comics, published by the David McKay Publications out of Philadelphia.

Click the thumbnails to see the whole feature.