A tuckered Boris Karloff rests backstage on the Son of Frankenstein (1939) set.
A number of readers have expressed interest whenever I’ve posted pictures of Boris and his “Frankenstein chair”, so let’s do a little prop archeology, so to speak.
There are numerous photos of the recliner used during the Bride shoot, in 1935 (see "related" links at the bottom of this post). It’s a very distinctive chair, with heavily padded armrests. A new and somewhat different chair was assembled by the time Karloff did Son, in ’39. It’s not entirely clear if Boris is using the recliner in the shot above, or if this is a regular chair and footstool combination. Comparison with the recliner seen here (also from Son) is inconclusive. It’s worth noting that, even with the recliner available, Boris often sat in a plain chair. Also of interest: It seems that no other Frankenstein actor used a slab recliner.
The special chair wasn’t created for the Frankenstein movies. Similar contraptions had been used before in the theater for performers wearing rigid or tight costumes, long dresses or delicate materials that couldn’t be folded or crushed. The device is still used by ballerinas and runway models in elaborate dresses. It can be seen on the set of Star Wars (1977), used by Anthony Daniels in his C3P0 robot suit.
Here’s a picture of Myrna Loy in a ball gown using a “rest chair”. No date given, but this one is obviously from the Thirties. One thing all these chairs have in common is that they appear to have been slapped together by the wood shop guys as needed. Arm and head padding varies, seat shelf is optional, and some of the chairs are plainly designed to be folded either for carrying around or stashing away when unused.
More Frankenstein Chair pictures if and when they are found.
Myrna Loy photo source.