January 17, 2013

The Monster's Muse, a Guest Post by Bradford Tatum

In The Monster’s Muse, Bradford Tatum rewrites the history of art and early cinema with the introduction of a startling, previously unknown character whose eccentric trajectory, unstuck in time, profoundly influences the classic horror films, their creators and their famous stars. I asked Mr. Tatum to introduce the mysterious Maddy Ulm and tell us how he came to tell her story.
The Monster’s Muse is a unique novel, meticulously researched, that deftly intertwines reality and fiction. Unless, of course, it’s all true…

Hollywood in the golden age of horror. The Phantom of the Opera. Dracula. Frankenstein, defining gems of the gothic genre. But do you know who was the real muse behind these paragons of terror? Would you believe it was a ten year-old girl from war-defeated Germany?

The Monster’s Muse tells the incredible story of Maddy Ulm and her rise from the complicated shadows of Berlin’s first experiments with Expressionist cinema to the glamorous deserts of Hollywood. For Maddy has a secret. A secret that has given her unparalleled insight into the soul of horror. A secret that has an unimaginably terrible price as well.

After serving as a model for the great Austrian Artist Egon Schiele, both Maddy and her mother expire from the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918. But in a uncharacteristically maternal moment, Maddy’s mother performs die freundlichste Fluch, the kindest curse, a common charm from her village where the dead can lead relatively fulfilling lives with the caveat that they never physically mature past their age at death. So while Maddy’s condition equips her for prominence in the then blossoming horror genre, she must wrestle with the fact that she is forever buried in her own adolescence, cursed with the burden that her appearance will never keep pace with the artistic and emotional maturity growing inside her.

With characteristic candor, Maddy sets many misconceptions about the genre straight, giving us both a privileged glimpse into the making of some of Hollywood’s most defining films as well a hellish and often humorous vision of her personal journey.

And every word of it is true.

But as the narrator of this memoir reminded me “one would be foolish to look for truth in Hollywood. Only the ashes of intent.” 

The inspiration for the book was two fold. The first wave engendering little more than curiosity while the second was too compelling to ignore. 

In the mid-nineties I guest starred on the Spielberg sci-fi drama Seaquest. I played an “environmental terrorist” and had little to do but stand around looking angry about the thinning ozone layer and wander the set between set-ups. (I did hold a rubber gun to one of the series regulars, which did result in my current marriage, seventeen years and counting. But that’s another story.) The show shot on the Universal lot, on Stage 28, or what I would later learn to be “The Phantom Stage.” Sure enough, the ultra sleek, squid-like ship was built right in the middle of what looked like the Paris opera house. Bored and bloated on craft service, I wandered the flaking theatre seats, talking to a few old timer gaffers and quickly learned that Stage 28 was indeed where Lon Chaney had shot the original silent Phantom of the Opera. A fan of the early Universal horror cycle, I was captivated.

Cut to a few years later, my then wife is signing autographs at the San Diego Comic-Con while I wander the movie memorabilia stalls. I spot an interesting letterhead which features a green and orange color way of a variation of the art from The Bride Of Frankenstein posters. On what looks like a work order for more prints of the film, is a hand written note that mentions some one named “Maddy”. I have no idea who this Maddy is or that this piece of inter-office ephemera is going to lead me down the rabbit hole of four years of research into one of the darkest and most fascinating stories about early Hollywood I ever encountered. I only know I have to write it. I have to tell Maddy’s story. And when I doubted her, and not just her story but the actual creature telling it, how would she admonish me? Why, like any devotee of the early fright films. She would invariably remind me that creatures such as she continued to persist precisely because so few were willing to believe in them. After all, she would say with a sad smile, such things do exist. 

Bradford Tatum began his career as an actor appearing in such films as DOWN PERISCOPE and POWDER. He now devotes more time to his writing. He was a staff writer for Dick Wolf on NBC’s DEADLINE starring Oliver Platt and has written and directed two award winning indy features, STANDING ON FISHES and SALT, both of which are currently available on DVD. His latest project THE BOOK OF WATER just received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. His first novel I CAN ONLY GIVE YOU EVERYTHING won both the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award and the 2011 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The Monster's Muse is available in ebook and paperback formats.
Click through the many pages of the fascinating Monster’s Muse website for more info and images from the life of Maddy Ulm.

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