April 21, 2010

'Hold your breath! The Bride of Frankenstein is coming!'

Out of the ruins of shattered box-office records rises the Frankenstein Monster — to claim himself a bride, and to work further havoc with record theatre grosses!

Even as director James Whale, his cast and crew assembled to begin their work on Universal’s sound stages in the early days of 1935, Universal’s publicity department went into high gear promoting the upcoming film to exhibitors.

Can you imagine the advertising you can do on this one? The mere thought of the monster seeking a bride makes a showman’s fingers fairly itch to write the flaming lines that will pack any theatre in the world.

Purple hyperbole was the language of ballyhoo, and Universal’s publicists, bolstered by the success of the original and attuned to the enormous potential of the new Frankenstein film, pulled out all the stops.

Add the bride idea to all you’ve had before, and you’ve got a ‘tremendousity’ of appeal — and in plain English, THAT’S PLENTY!

Early promotional illustrations showed The Monster and a generic, waiflike bride in her wedding gown. In the illustration at left, a bride with flowers in her hair submits to Karloff’s Monster, sporting fanciful forehead scars and extra clamps. The film’s Bride, Elsa Lanchester, was revealed, resplendent in towering beehive and full-length shroud, on the cover of the March 2 issue of the studio’s trade herald, Universal Weekly. Boris Karloff would front the April 6 issue (here at top). Note that this photo is reversed, as the burn marks and dark dimple were on The Monster’s right cheek.

By the time the film premiered on April 22nd, exhibitors had been deluged with promotional copy, displays, handouts, and dozens of poster designs to choose from.

Here’s a typical page on “showmanship” from Universal Weekly illustrated with whatever materials were available early, even as the film was shooting. There’s The Monster, the skeleton from Dr. Pretorius’ apartment-lab, Una O’Connor as the Frankensteins’ maid, Minnie, and Dwight Frye in a creepy, unused makeup as Karl, the grave robber. At the bottom, the bandaged Bride is lifted from a backstage shot of Elsa Lanchester resting in a long chair, drinking tea.

Read the pure adrenaline copy — Shivers and shakes! Gurgles and shrieks! — signed by Joe Weil, Universal’s Head of Exploitation, as they then brazenly called their Publicity Department. It was Weil who, back in ’31, famously plastered the city of New York with cryptic signs warning of the impending arrival of Dracula. Weil’s favorite ‘angle’ was what he called “tie-ups”, where cross-promotion was arranged between exhibitors and local businesses, promoting a film with the complicity of department stores, book sellers, church groups, pharmacies and whoever else you could think of.

And so, the selling of The Bride was underway.

A new Frankenstein wave of hysteria will engulf the land!

The Bride on the cover of Universal Weekly, March 2, 1935
Bride Ballyhoo: Selling The Bride of Frankenstein


Martin Powell said...

Even movie promos were so much more fun--back in the day.

Thanks for this. Fantastic stuff!

Pierre Fournier said...

Stick around, Martin. More of this coming over the next two days!

Rick said...

Great stuff on a great movie, Pierre. Never seen that version of The Monster with all the clamps evidently holding 3/4 of his forehead in place. Not sure that would have flown free in '35. Thanks.

Caftan Woman said...

It's been non-stop celebrating all week thanks to your entertaining blog.

My own birthday is April 22. Time to press the Frankenstein t-shirt and bake another cake!