October 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Elsa Lanchester

The Bride of Frankenstein was a redhead.

Elsa Lanchester was born in London on this day, October 28, in 1902. As a child, she studied dance with Isadora Duncan and by the time she turned 20, she was active in cabaret and avant-garde theater. She appeared in a handful of silent films, notably a trio of shorts written for her by H.G.Wells. She married actor Charles Laughton in 1929, their parallel careers crossing now and then, notably in a 1936 stage production where Lanchester was Peter Pan to Laughton’s Captain Hook.

Relocated to Hollywood, Lanchester was celebrated as a character actress able to handle any type of part, and she was twice nominated for an Oscar. Some of her best-remembered performances include the Golden Globe-winning part of Miss Plimsoll in Witness for the Prosecution (1957), a comic witch in Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and a Nanny in Mary Poppins (1964). Lanchester appeared extensively on television in comedy, drama and variety programs, and she pursued a singing career, recording bawdy British music-halls songs and even performing a duet with Elvis Presley in Easy Come, Easy Go (1967). Her career extended well into her seventies. She passed away in 1986.

Elsa Lanchester’s most famous role, of course, was her brief but spectacular turn as the Bride of Frankenstein in 1935. Though she is on screen, all told, for barely 12 minutes, The Bride’s appearance is indelible. Late in life, Lanchester would joke, “Can you imagine an actress being overexposed by a picture she made 40 years ago?” She was a good sport about it, even revealing in a 1975 interview that she would have gladly returned to the part had there been a sequel.

Makeup man Jack Pierce constructed Lanchester’s Nefertiti hairdo by combing the actress’ own hair over a light wire cage. Witness Lanchester’s blazing hair color in a detail from a 1925 portrait by her friend Doris Clare Zinkiesen, a costume designer who, by the way, was engaged for some time to director James Whale. Lanchester’s flamboyant hair is also on display on one of her album covers.

There are no color photos from the Bride set to prove it, but it does seems like Karloff’s Monster fell for a redhead.

The Zinkeisen painting of Elsa Lanchester at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Short, Apocalyptic Life of The Bride of Frankenstein
The Bride Speaks
The Bride Foreseen
Posts tagged “Bride of Frankenstein”


Patty Benedict said...

The Bride of Frankenstein is my favorite movie!!!!
Thank you for posting this wonderful photo of Elsa.
Bugs & hisses

Sam said...

Great info! Thanks Pierre.

rob! said...

Another one of her great performances was in 1975's Murder by Death, one of my favorite movies.

Mary Shelley Overdrive said...

I always thought she looked more than a little like Sigourney Weaver. Especially around the eyes.

Craig Gustafson said...

The redheaded bride, from the original advertising:



CharlesandElsafan said...

Thanks for a very informative article-enjoyed reading it.
Check out my own tribute to Elsa: