January 1, 2018


Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus was first published on January 1, 1818.

200 years ago today.

On, now, to Frankenstein’s third century!

October 31, 2017

Basil Gogos, 1929-2017

Halloween is here. This year, I celebrate the life and and career of artist Basil Gogos who passed away on September 13.  

“Basil single-handedly invented the painted monster magazine cover, turning images coined for exploitation into the finest of fine art - feral poses and bestial, skeletal faces splashed with all the colors of fright and passion.”
   Tim Lucas, VideoWatchBlog.

My first Famous Monsters of Filmland was #12, June ’61, the CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF cover. That issue ignited my passion for classic horror and it was Gogos’ painting, howling at me from a magazine stand, that alerted me and invited me in. Growing up, I would spend hours studying his kinetic covers. Focus up close on details and it was abstract art: A fearless splash of vibrant colors and bold, energetic strokes. Only when you pulled back and looked at the whole thing did all the pieces somehow fit together as a recognizable portrait. But Gogo’s supercharged paintings weren’t mere portraits, they were interpretations. His work captured the subjects more vividly than any photograph could, and made them come alive.

“Make no mistake: From Basil Gogos emerged the Aurora models. From Basil Gogos came a new generation of artists and filmmakers. And from Basil Gogos crackled a vision that would forever define the icons that the Universal monsters are today.”
— David Colton, webmaster at The Classic Horror Filmboard.

Gogos painted Frankenstein Monsters — and Bride — to grace a number of covers. Here, at top, is a sombre portrait for FM’s special issue commemorating Boris Karloff’s death in 1969. Below is a 1971 polychromatic rendition of Christopher Lee’s patchwork Monster from Curse of Frankenstein.

I met Basil Gogos two years ago at Monsterpalooza in Burbank. Late one evening, he joined a group of us sitting with Sara Karloff in a hotel restaurant. He sat right next to me and we shook hands. I told him I was a fan of his. I refrained from telling him how very much he meant to me, I could have gone on and on, but I figured it’s something he’d heard over and over again. It was late, he looked tired, and I just said “I’m a fan”, he smiled, and that’s all. And it was fine just like that.

March 19, 2017

Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017

Bernie Wrightson passed away on Saturday, March 18, 2017. He was 68 years old. Wrightson had been ill for some time and had only recently announced that he was effectively retired, not to produce new art or attend conventions. You can read his obituary on his website: http://berniewrightson.com.

Bernie Wrightson’s work in comics is legendary. As an illustrator, he was truly a giant of his field, one of the best ever. Witness his contribution to the history of Frankenstein as perhaps — and for many of us, undoubtedly — the finest illustrator yet to grace Mary Shelley’s novel.

Working on and off for almost seven years, Wrightson produced forty-seven incredibly detailed illustrations. The 1831 version of the novel, illuminated with Wrightson’s art, was first published in 1983.

Bernie Wrightson was a master of his art and his interpretation of Frankenstein will endure as his masterpiece.

Photo by Tim Bradstreet.

December 18, 2016

Frankie's Holiday

The Monster is a reliable TV pitchman, a Halloween favorite, here making a rare Christmastime appearance. Beautifully done, genuinely touching, this one just might be an instant classic.

Frankie’s Holiday was created by TBWA for Apple, with a judiciously cast Brad Garrett — all of 6’8” and deep-voiced — as The Monster. Garrett is perhaps best remembered for his supporting role in the sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.

The Christmas electrodes are a nice touch.

Happy Holidays!

November 1, 2016

"Good Night, Whatever You Are"

John Zacherle died, having just turned 98, on Thursday, October 27, a few days short of Halloween, a holiday he essentially personified.

First as Roland out of Philadelphia, and more famously as Zacherley, the Cool Ghoul, in New York, he was a pioneering TV Horror Host. He was among those who introduced the Universal Classics to the first generation of Monster Kids. He was a revelator and, through the years, he remained a touchstone, a direct link back to one’s own adolescence and our love of monsters. For those of us who never had the privilege of seeing him as a TV Host, we learned about him from Famous Monsters magazine and his horror-themed novelty records. Right to the end, he was proud of his accomplishments and still wore his long undertaker’s coat to convention appearances.

Zacherle had not seen the 1931 FRANKENSTEIN until he introduced the film on his show. He would go on to present most of the Universal Frankensteins over the years, and he would go on to a cameo as a TV weatherman in a Frankenstein film, Frank Henenlotter’ FRANKENHOOKER (1990).

To understand Zacherley’s impact and enduring importance, I urge you to read David Colton’s touching tribute on the Classic Horror Film Board.

See Zacherley in action on YouTube

Here is an obituary from The New York Times.

October 2, 2016

The Art of Frankenstein : Nat Jones

A splendid illustration by Nat Jones adorns the cover of Rue Morgue magazine, out this week, celebrating Halloween and the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Jones is a renowned for his work in comic books, video games and film.

Note: Posting here on Frankensteinia will resume shortly after an unexpected hiatus, due to a very busy year of professional obligations. Research has been ongoing and I have lots of fun things to share. 

Nat Jones website. 

June 16, 2016

The Villa Diodati

In 1816, Lord Byron rented the manor known as the Villa Diodati, near Cologny, on Lake Geneva. The house already had solid literary credentials. Its original owner, Giovanni Diodati, had translated the Bible into Italian and French, and the poet John Milton (whom Mary would quote in Frankenstein) is said to have vacationed there in 1639.

Byron was joined that fateful summer by his personal physician, John Polidori, and his guests: Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Godwin (soon to be Shelley), and Claire Claremont. It was here that ghosts stories were read aloud, and at the nearby guesthouse where she resided that Mary conceived of Frankenstein and first wrote these words that, slightly edited, would open chapter five of the book: “It was on a dreary night of November that I beheld my man completed…

The villa still stands. It is the square building, right of center, in the GoogleEarth image below.



Mary Shelley, a Tell-Tale Moon, and the creation of Frankenstein

An article in the November 2011 issue of Sky & Telescope reveals the precise moment, down to date and hour, when Mary Shelley conceived of Frankenstein.

In her introduction to the 1831 edition of the novel, Mary described a dream in which she saw “the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together”, and how “the hideous phantasm of a man” came alive “on the working of some powerful engine”. Brought awake by the startling vision, Mary wrote, “I see them still; the very room, the dark parquet, the closed shutters, with the moonlight struggling through, and the sense I had that the glassy lake and white high Alps were beyond.

Now, the moment of revelation has been pinpointed.

Dr. Don Olson, an astrophysicist at Texas State University-San Marcos, practices the unconventional science of “forensic astronomy”. Working with fellow scientists and students, matching the tantalizing clues found in text, archives and maps with the irrefutable logic of star charts, tide schedules and field expeditions, Dr. Olson has solved historical puzzles, revealing new information, new layers of meaning and a new appreciation for famous moments in history and art.

Among other discoveries, Olson and his team have re-dated Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55 BC; explained how a rare low tide doomed the Marines at Tarawa Beach in 1943, and how a rising moon led to the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. In significant contributions to art history, Olson has pinpointed the exact locations and the precise moments captured in paintings by such artists as William Blake, Vincent Van Gogh and Edvard Munch, notably identifying the tortured sky in Munch’s The Scream as the planet-spanning effect of the Krakatoa eruption. Olson can even tell the exact instant when Ansel Adams clicked the shutter on his most famous photograph.

In literature, Olson has studied Chaucer, Whitman and identified Hamlet’s star as a supernova. Now, turning to Mary Shelley, Olsen and his collaborators have settled the issue of when, exactly, Frankenstein was conceived.

The clue lay in Mary’s description of moonlight “struggling” through closed shutters at Maison Chapuis, the small house she and her lover Percy occupied near Byron's Villa Diodati. Based on lunar cycles and confirming results on a field trip to Cologny, Switzerland, Olson was able to determine which of two recorded dates for Mary’s inspiration was the correct one. On June 22, 1816, a waning moon rode too low to illuminate Mary’s second-story bedroom, but the other documented date, June 16, proved just right as a gibbous moon rose high and bright enough to be noticed by the awakened Mary. Working out the angles, Olson is also able to attest that the moon shone into Mary’s bedroom at 2 AM.

As morning came, Mary writes, “I announced that I had thought of a story. I began that day with the words, ‘It was on a dreary night of November,’ making only a transcript of the grim terrors of my waking dream.”

Thus confirmed, Mary Shelley began Frankenstein on June 16, 1816. The moon tells us so.

Sky & Telescope magazine, and a digital preview of the November 2011 issue.

Don Olson’s website at Texas State University.