The View-Master 3D viewer and its disc-shaped reels, patented 65 years ago, was the twentieth-century upgrade of the venerable stereo viewer, a stubbornly long-lived form of Victorian “parlour entertainment”. Fisher-Price — latest in a long list of companies to own the View-Master brand — is still making these things, though today’s viewers come in a variety of shapes and feature sound effects, character voices and music.
In the 50’s and 60’s, the classic, clunky, inexpensive bakelite viewers were ubiquitous and every drugstore had racksfull of reels on offer, but in the new age of television, the routine diet of Taj Mahal travelogues and Grand Canyon scenics was getting old. The company survived by rebranding the device as a toy. Licensed characters from cartoons, TV and the movies came to dominate the View-Master collection, but there were also original story reels, mostly fairy tales, done in a puppet theater style.
One of the most intriguing of the tabletop puppet sets was a Frankenstein story told in three reels (21 scenes). Released in 1976, it was offered again in '77 as a “Talking View-Master” set.
The simple storyline, author unknown, touches ever so lightly on elements found in the Mary Shelley original: The lightning-struck tree, the Monster as peeping tom at the old man’s cottage, confronting the child William (saved here in extremis) and asking his creator for a mate (“Make a friend for me or you’ll be sorry!”). Beyond the tenuous literary connection, the visuals are movie influenced, with a castle laboratory and The Monster depicted as a straight up (yet unlicensed) Universal-style Frankenstein, complete with dark suit, flat head and forehead gash.
Erick, of the aptly named Wonderful Wonderblog, has posted scans from the Frankenstein View-Master Read-Along illustrated booklet, as well as actual images from the reels. Go look, it’s a real treat! You can also view the images, as originally uploaded by Neal Snow here, and the booklet pages are also posted on this collector’s site.