August 3, 2008

Frankenstein on Route 66

Boris Karloff was 75 years old when he consented to appear as the Frankenstein Monster one last time. The year was 1966 and the occasion was an atypically lighthearted Halloween episode of the now legendary Route 66 TV series, providing an unexpected respite from the show’s usually somber, downbeat, social realist mood.

The series’ central characters, Tod (Martin Milner) and Buz (George Maharis), were young men Looking for America. Their Beat Generation vibe was alleviated for network TV consumption: Tod and Buz were hip but clean-cut, rootless but centered, rebels without a real cause for concern. They were On The Road, but riding a scene-stealing Corvette that ran on Nelson Riddle jazz.

The drive-thru anthology format provided a clean slate every week, its drama fueled by new characters and new locations. Route 66 was, as a rule, literate, sometimes gritty, often engrossing, but the celebrated Halloween episode, Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing, was content to simply amuse, with no small thanks to the good-humored, all star monster guest cast of Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Peter Lorre, playing themselves. The only angst found in this episode was the horror stars’ fear that their brand of old school spookery had lost its power to chill a Cool Generation.

Chaney Jr. bore the brunt of the makeup chores, masquerading as his father’s Quasimodo and his own Mummy and Wolfman characters. Lorre got away with just a top hat and wisecracks. Boris Karloff piled on The Monster’s makeup, complete with dark suit and big boots. Backstage photos show a makeup man working on Karloff and referencing a still of The Monster from The Son of Frankenstein.

In the end, with the complicity of Tod and Buz, and a hotel full of conventioning secretaries, the horror heroes find out that they still ‘have it’. The only hitch with the episode, by today’s standards, is how the young women portrayed are given to extreme ditzyness and dead faints at the sight of movie monsters.

Karloff’s makeup was a little rough, and The Monster’s appearance all too brief, but it was a memorable, gladdening event for legions of Boomers weaned on Shock Theater and Famous Monsters.

Route 66 was shot in black and white but, now, new color photographs of Karloff and Chaney in makeup have surfaced and they are being published for the first time ever in the August 2008 issue of Tim and Donna Lucas’ Video Watchdog magazine.

The candid shots were captured by Bob Burns, Monster Maker and collector extraordinaire, who had access to the Chicago set. All the details are given in Tim Lucas’ article, which he has generously posted online, but you’ll have to pick up the new issue of Video WatchDog to see the newly released pictures. The issue also carries a review of the 1973 Frankenstein with Robert Foxworth and Bo Swenson as The Monster.

Video WatchDog #142 preview. Click through to see the article by Tim Lucas.

An excellent article on Route 66 by Mark Alvey on the Museum of Broadcasting Communications website.


rob! said...

considering how famous this episode is to monster fans, its too bad Universal couldn't/didn't include it on their various Frankenstein dvds.

i'd rather have that than that stupid "Boo!" short.



wich2 said...

Fun, Pierre!

It's not a great episode; lots of potential in the premise, but...

Interesting, though (see: "What Color Was The Monster?", at the CHFB): Karloff is much more grey than green - and we assume he was able to guide the makeup man?

-Craig W.

Anonymous said...

Considering television was still years from broadcasting in color back in '62, deciding between green and grey make-up for Karloff was probably not an issue in what was still the days of B&W tv.

Lance Uppercut said...

Karloff's makeup in this episode was actually more silver than grey or green . . . this change was needed due to the film stock they used in that episode.

Back in the 30's and 40's, Boris's monster makeup needed to be greenish to cancel out the reds in his skin tones . . . this registered as grey on that old style film stock.

C.S. MacGuffin said...

Am watching this now on RTV and LOVING IT!

Greg said...

Just one correction, this was a 1962 episode, not 1966 as stated. It was televised on Oct. 26th of that year. If it had been 1966, we would probably have a color episode, not B&W. Thank you for posting it.