A rare color photograph of Peter Boyle in makeup on the set of Young Frankenstein, the black and white horror comedy released 37 years ago this week, on December 15, 1974. The film was a pitch perfect parody of the classic Universal Frankenstein films, with an emphasis on Son of Frankenstein (1939).
Hailing from Pennsylvania, Boyle studied acting in New York, eventually landing with the Second City improv troupe in Chicago. His Hollywood breakthrough came with his harrowing portrayal of a violent bigot, in Joe (1970). Other early parts included memorable performances in The Candidate (1972) and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973), confirming Boyle as one of the best character actors of his era. He worked extensively in television, garnering ten Emmy nominations, beginning with his unflinching portrayal of Senator Joe McCarthy in Tail-Gunner Joe (1977) and culminating with an Emmy win for his role in the X-Files’ Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (1996). The episode also won for Outstanding Writing and was crowned by TV Guide as the tenth greatest episode in television history. Boyle was also a sitcom star as the cantankerous Frank in Everybody Loves Raymond.
Young Frankenstein (1974) was conceived by Gene Wilder and written by Wilder and director Mel Brooks at the peak of their talents. Besides Wilder and Boyle, the wonderful cast includes Marty Feldman, Terri Garr, Madeline Kahn, and Kenneth Mars. Boyle played the zipper-necked Monster as a big baby, his most memorable scenes including a traumatic encounter with Gene Hackman cameoing as The Blind Hermit and a deranged musical number singing “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. The film’s authentic look was driven by cinematographer Gerald Hirschfeld’s meticulous recreation of 30’s style lighting and camera movements, along with the use of Kenneth Strickfaden’s laboratory props first used in the 1931 Frankenstein.
Peter Boyle passed away in December 2006. The following year, Young Frankenstein was turned into an expensive and boisterous Broadway musical, with The Monster’s part given to Shuler Hensley. It has since gone on the road with a new cast.
There are some more shots from Young Frankenstein up on our companion blog, Frankenstein Forever.