April 6, 2008

View-Master Frankenstein

The View-Master 3D viewer and its disc-shaped reels, patented 65 years ago, was the twentieth-century upgrade of the venerable stereo viewer, a stubbornly long-lived form of Victorian “parlour entertainment”. Fisher-Price — latest in a long list of companies to own the View-Master brand — is still making these things, though today’s viewers come in a variety of shapes and feature sound effects, character voices and music.

In the 50’s and 60’s, the classic, clunky, inexpensive bakelite viewers were ubiquitous and every drugstore had racksfull of reels on offer, but in the new age of television, the routine diet of Taj Mahal travelogues and Grand Canyon scenics was getting old. The company survived by rebranding the device as a toy. Licensed characters from cartoons, TV and the movies came to dominate the View-Master collection, but there were also original story reels, mostly fairy tales, done in a puppet theater style.

One of the most intriguing of the tabletop puppet sets was a Frankenstein story told in three reels (21 scenes). Released in 1976, it was offered again in '77 as a “Talking View-Master” set.

The simple storyline, author unknown, touches ever so lightly on elements found in the Mary Shelley original: The lightning-struck tree, the Monster as peeping tom at the old man’s cottage, confronting the child William (saved here in extremis) and asking his creator for a mate (“Make a friend for me or you’ll be sorry!”). Beyond the tenuous literary connection, the visuals are movie influenced, with a castle laboratory and The Monster depicted as a straight up (yet unlicensed) Universal-style Frankenstein, complete with dark suit, flat head and forehead gash.

Erick, of the aptly named Wonderful Wonderblog, has posted scans from the Frankenstein View-Master Read-Along illustrated booklet, as well as actual images from the reels. Go look, it’s a real treat! You can also view the images, as originally uploaded by Neal Snow here, and the booklet pages are also posted on this collector’s site.

Thanks to Max for the color-corrected pic.


Karswell said...

I still have my reels for this great set. I sold a bunch of my View Master stuff years ago but hung onto anything with puppets... this and the dinosaur reels were always my two favorites.

Wich2 said...


They also did - sanitized - Dracula & Wolfman packets.


The current reels, done through computer means, don't have the depth of the all-photographic ones, of which these were some of the last.

-Craig W.

rob! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rob! said...

oh, that's just so cool. it looks like "Rankin and Bass' Frankenstein."

Neal Snow said...

Hopefully no one else will bid on those viewmaster reels. If I can get them, I'll definitely scan the Frankenstein, Wolfman and Dracula sets and make them available for anyone to grab the images.

cinebeats said...

Wonderful stuff! You brought back super fond memories for me that I had totally forgotten. I thought I had dreamed seeing this View Master version of Frankenstein that a neighbor kid had owned but it was real. I loved the whole Rankin/Bass feel that it had. There were lots of terrific puppet books and View Master films made in this style during the 70s (often by Japanese animators). I really wish i could see this again.

Francesca Slone said...

Very awesome. I guess viewmasters now have this level of integrity to them, to be such vehicles for vintage material, since they are fast becoming vintage themselves. Even more amazing is how they had zero mental filters back in the '70s, that they're applying this tech to everything, in perhaps the same way you've got Wasabi Kitkat in Japan. I was reminded of the original Frankenstein movie by this, stills of which you can put in viewmasters yourself :)


Anonymous said...

I got this set for Christmas...must have been almost 40 years ago! Seeing the posted images has brought back a wave of childhood nostalgia! I loved that Viewmaster. Wonder whatever became of it...