June 18, 2013

A Date with Frankenstein

Back in the Thirties and Forties, when promoting a new Frankenstein film, exhibitors used every trick in the ballyhoo book. Park an ambulance out front, have nurses patrol the lobby, send a man in a mask around the block. Then there was the Date With Frankenstein, a Dare You trick where, for a cash prize, a woman was challenged to sit alone through a midnight showing of the latest scary picture. The gag was promoted in newspapers or radio, a drawing was held and, with a little luck, the event would make the papers, good for free publicity for the movie and the local theater.

Creepy business,” reported the Pittsburgh Press on January 1939, running a photo of Miss Martha Schwall of 3303 Christy Street, a good sport picked among 350 volunteers, seen reacting to “Son of Frankenstein which stars those two proponents of horror, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi”. Miss Schwall claimed she had no fear of Frankenstein “or any other monster — as long as it was on the screen”. The reporter suggested that “maybe her slight evidence of fear is traceable to the photographer’s flash.”

Under the title Brave Woman, an April 1943 issue of Life magazine showed Margaret McHale sitting alone, dead center in the cavernous Fox Theater of St. Louis, waiting for Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man to unspool. “If Frankenstein and the Wolfman were here in person it wouldn’t make a difference to me,” she declared. “You could get Dracula and the Werewolf of London, too, and I’d sit down with them and we’d have a good poker game. I’m not squeamish and I like to play poker.”

Ms McHale earned a $25 War Bond and Universal scored priceless exposure in a national magazine. 

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