July 23, 2009
Glenn Strange is a contemplative Monster in this striking portrait, which recently appeared in a Heritage auction.
Glenn Strange (1899-1973) first came to Hollywood in 1930 as a singing cowboy with The Arizona Wranglers. With rugged good looks and the strapping six-five frame that earned him the nickname “Pee Wee”, Strange was immediately cast in horse operas, embarking on a career that would span 40 years and over 300 films, almost all of them westerns.
Sporting names like Slim, Bull, Bat, Bart, Blackie, Tex or Stu-Bum, Strange’s characters operated both sides of the law, equally reliable in lynch mobs or a sheriff’s posse. He was just as likely to appear as a dirty low-down rustler or some poker-faced gunman as he was a stalwart Marshal, a steadfast stagecoach driver, or an easygoing harmonica-playing cowhand. A standout part was that of the murderous Butch Cavendish, The Lone Ranger’s nemesis, which he repeated in movies and on TV between 1949 and 1955.
In the Fifties, when westerns were a television staple, Strange worked all the classic series from Hopalong Cassidy and Gene Autry to The Rifleman, Cheyenne, and Rawhide, eventually earning a regular spot, starting in 1961, on Gunsmoke, quietly polishing shot glasses through 210 episodes as the rock steady, mustachioed bartender, Sam.
For all the interchangeable cowpokes he portrayed, Strange fairly shined in his rare appearances outside the western genre. He showed great flair for comedy as a memorable Hillbilly character, Devil Dan Winfield, in the otherwise minor Abbott and Costello vehicle Comin’ Round the Mountain (1951). In fantasy films, Strange first appeared, briefly and uncredited, as one of Ming’s minions in a 1936 Flash Gordon serial. In 1942’s The Mad Monster, a Poverty Row B-movie devised to cash in on the runaway success of Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941), Strange’s size served the part of Petro, a hulking, simple-minded handyman who turns into a hairy, fanged monster. In 1944, Strange played a hulking orderly in the bizarre acromegaly horror film The Monster Maker, and he was back in heavy makeup — created by Jack Pierce, freelancing after being dumped by Universal — as Atlas, a hairy giant whose brains get switched with Huntz Hall’s in Master Minds, a 1949 Bowery Boys comedy.
Without a lot of screen time and very little to do besides glowering at torch-bearing villagers, Strange’s contributions might have been a footnote to Frankenstein film history if not for an unlikely third film, the brilliant Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). With a stellar cast that included Chaney as The Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Strange’s Monster was a central character, interacting with the principals and chasing The Boys in a wild, genuinely funny romp that became one of the most influential movie comedies ever made.
Strange would go on to promote the film with a number of personal appearances wearing an over-the-head mask made for him by Don Post, eventually appearing again with Abbott and Costello, with The Creature from the Black Lagoon thrown in for good measure, in a 1954 episode of The Colgate Comedy Hour on TV. The affable actor even participated in one of fan-filmmaker Don Glut’s 16mm epics, the Frankenstein’s Fury episode of Adventures of The Spirit, in 1963.
The Frankenstein makeup worked very well with Strange’s craggy deadpan. With a boxy head, big shoulders and his trademark windup-toy thread, Glenn Strange gave the Frankenstein Monster its definitive pop culture profile. It was Glenn Strange’s features that would be sampled for a best-selling Frankenstein rubber mask, and his face that was repeatedly used on toy packaging. Significantly, perhaps inevitably, when Boris Karloff died in 1969, most newspaper obits were illustrated with a photo of Glenn Strange in Frankenstein makeup.
An excerpt from The Bowery Boys’ Master Minds
A look at Glenn Strange's career in westerns.
Related:Making Abbott and Costello Meet FrankensteinAbbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein gets knocked offFrank Dietz on the legacy of Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein