January 26, 2012

The Monster : Primo Carnera

Always formidable looking to an opponent, former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, 6 feet, 1 inch and 280 pounds, will scare the cold cream and curlers off the average housewife with his portrayal of Frankenstein.

Thus read the caption to this United Press Telephoto sent out to newspapers on February 2nd, 1957, promoting the February 5 broadcast of the NBC Matinee Theatre adaptation of Frankenstein. The presentation, the network insisted, “will not follow the movie as done by Boris Karloff but does follow the novel”.

The stunning image of Primo Carnera in full makeup was accompanied by a comparison photo of the smiling actor and suggested for use in tandem with a short news item by UP’s Aline Mosby. As an interesting side note, Mosby was the Los Angeles-based United Press reporter who famously revealed that Marilyn Monroe had posed for a nude calendar. She would become the first American female correspondent in Moscow where, in 1959, writing about American defectors, she interviewed one Lee Harvey Oswald. After the JFK assassination, Mosby’s recollections became part of the Warren Report. In Moscow, Mosby also interviewed the notorious Doctor Demikhov, the “real life Frankenstein” whose grafting experiments led to the creation of a two-headed dog. Mosby’s would go on to serve in Paris, London, Vienna and New York. In 1979, she opened the UPI’s first bureau in Beijing, China.

Primo Carnera’s acting career would remain a sideline to his athletic endeavors. A mere ten days after the Frankenstein broadcast, Carnera was in Sydney, Australia, where he drew a record crowd of 20,000 at the White City tennis stadium for a bout against Emile Czaja, nicknamed King Kong. The Vancouver Sun reported, “The match was declared no contest when both wrestlers fell out of the ring and Carnera began punching King Kong.

Carnera’s crazily stitched Frankenstein Monster stares dead-eyed back at us across 55 years, long gone but no longer forgotten, thanks to film archeologist George Chastain.

Exclusive! 1957 Frankenstein Makeup Session
Revealed! TV’s Lost Frankenstein of 1957


egorschamber said...

The photos look GREAT and the research adds immeasurably, Pierre! I wonder if the "King Kong" Primo wrestled in Sydney was TOR JOHNSON or just one of the many other wrestlers who used that monicker (though usually WITH a last name, I think, e.g., King Kong Bundy). Details on Tor's pro wrestling career are spotty, and I don't know when he used his own name and when he called himself the "Super Swedish Angel" -- and perhaps he switched back and forth. I have a 1947 wirephoto where he's identified as King Kong (real name never mentioned), and a 50's wrestling guide also calls him that -- but he was credited as the Super Swedish Angel in films (and called himself that on Groucho's YOU BET YOUR LIFE on TV) several years before that Sydney match. Apparently he DID wrestle Primo at some point or points during his career -- I'd love to find a photo of one of those matches!

Pierre Fournier said...

George, you sent me scrambling for answers. Turns out THIS King Kong was supersized wrestler Emile Czaja, who was based in Sydney. He and Primo toured Australia, apparently drawing to a tie every time out.

I've added the info to the post.

Rick said...

Wow. It's great to finally get a good look at the Primo monster. Heavy on the stitches, hmm? Thanks so much.

I know you're just repeating the info on the photo caption, but Carnera was a lot taller than 6'1. I thought it was more like 6'7, but I just did a little online poking around and, evidently, Primo was 6'5 or a little taller.

Great stuff, Pierre.

Pierre Fournier said...

Thanks Rick. Yes, I was quoting the snipe. My original post about Carnera places him at 6'6".

Aaron Hazouri said...

Wow -- I'm getting a serious DeNiro Frankenstein monster vibe from this! I mean, down to the placement of the stitches! Is it possible they looked at the Carnera makeup for inspiration?

Anonymous said...

The DeNiro makeup could have also been inspired by Lon Chaney Jr. in the 1952 TALES OF TOMORROW episode (or FRANKENSTEIN'S DAUGHTER).

And remember Willis O'Brien wanted to create a KING KONG VS. FRANKENSTEIN film!

wich2 said...

Y'know, the whole "wild stitches all over the face" thing is effective, in a Halloween way.

But really:

There's an excuse for stitches where a brain was plopped in, or a head/arm/leg was attached; we know Vic worked from pieces...

...but did he also sneeze whenever he held a scalpel, or what?

I mean, what's with the crazy-quilt slices?

egorschamber said...

Whoops, my mistake! That's not a newspaper entertainment section photo of Primo in makeup as the Monster... it's a sports page photo of Primo the day after his match with Joe Louis!
George "E-gor" Chastain

Pierre Fournier said...

Wich: The ultimate case of stitching madness has to be the poster for FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND showing a stitched eyeball made from 3 differently colored eyes. Very strong image, but wouldn't it be simpler to pop in one healthy and whole eyeball?

E-gor: You're on to something. Career-wise, Carnera probably took more real stitches to his face than he wore as The Monster.

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