April 10, 2010

The Frankenstein Chair, Continued...

A tuckered Boris Karloff rests backstage on the Son of Frankenstein (1939) set.

A number of readers have expressed interest whenever I’ve posted pictures of Boris and his “Frankenstein chair”, so let’s do a little prop archeology, so to speak.

There was no special chair built for the first film, Frankenstein, in 1931. Behind-the-scenes shots show Boris leaning against a table, perched on a fence, or stretched out in a lawn chair.

There are numerous photos of the recliner used during the Bride shoot, in 1935 (see "related" links at the bottom of this post). It’s a very distinctive chair, with heavily padded armrests. A new and somewhat different chair was assembled by the time Karloff did Son, in ’39. It’s not entirely clear if Boris is using the recliner in the shot above, or if this is a regular chair and footstool combination. Comparison with the recliner seen here (also from Son) is inconclusive. It’s worth noting that, even with the recliner available, Boris often sat in a plain chair. Also of interest: It seems that no other Frankenstein actor used a slab recliner.

The special chair wasn’t created for the Frankenstein movies. Similar contraptions had been used before in the theater for performers wearing rigid or tight costumes, long dresses or delicate materials that couldn’t be folded or crushed. The device is still used by ballerinas and runway models in elaborate dresses. It can be seen on the set of Star Wars (1977), used by Anthony Daniels in his C3P0 robot suit.

Here’s a picture of Myrna Loy in a ball gown using a “rest chair”. No date given, but this one is obviously from the Thirties. One thing all these chairs have in common is that they appear to have been slapped together by the wood shop guys as needed. Arm and head padding varies, seat shelf is optional, and some of the chairs are plainly designed to be folded either for carrying around or stashing away when unused.

More Frankenstein Chair pictures if and when they are found.

Myrna Loy photo source.


Peter Bernard said...

Nice research! Good work!

Isaac said...

In "Singing in the Rain"'s opening sequence, Lina Lamont is seen lounging in a standing chair like this on the set of a movie.

Martin Powell said...

Magnificent shot of Boris as the Monster. Amazingly, I've actually never seen photo before. Thanks!


Christopher said...

(gasp)not the..FRANKENSTEIN CHAIR!!

Pierre Fournier said...

Christopher: Look out! The Frankenstein Chair... It's RIGHT BEHIND YOU!!!

Isaac: Good call! You can see the chair in this YouTube clip at 0:19... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35GKHuL0iyU

wich2 said...

GREAT archeology, Prof. Pierre!

"It seems that no other Frankenstein actor used a slab recliner"

Possibly Boris was the only one to stay with the leg stiffening braces that originated in '31?

-Craig W.

Pierre Fournier said...

Craig: Interesting... Perhaps Karloff favored the slab-chair because of his bad legs. He was forced to wear braces late in life (see TARGETS). However, I suspect the device simply fell out of use. After all, though the costume was padded and bulky, Karloff could bend at the waist and knees, and is often seen sitting in regular every day chairs.

As for the costume's oft-mentioned "leg stiffeners", I don't think there were any. In the first film, Karloff wore knee-high boots, otherwise, I don't see how you can make the legs appear stiffer than they already are.