April 10, 2014

Frankenstein in New York
Frankenstein on Broadway

A deadpan Monster floats over Broadway, photographed during a revival run that opened on July 21, 1934. On its original release, late 1931, posters for FRANKENSTEIN carried a line under the title — as close to a subtitle the film ever had — reading, The Man Who Made a Monster. Here, surprisingly, the film’s title clearly reads FRANKENSTEIN THE KILLER, the only such known occurrence.

The Globe, its name evoking Shakespeare, was built as a high-hat, legit theater in 1910, with its vast entrance on 46th Street sporting soaring arches and a second-floor balcony where you could step outside and watch carriages unloading patrons. Inside, the latest innovations included a pipe and vent system bringing steam heat or ice cooling, season depending, to individual seats. The roof was built to slide open on a track system, though there is no record of it ever being used, with street noise, chimney soot and weather conditions likely providing reasons to keep the lid on. For twenty years, the Globe sparkled as one of New York’s leading theaters, home of such celebrated shows as the Ziegfield Follies and George White’s Scandals, Irving Berlin musicals and performances by Sarah Bernhardt and Fanny Brice. In 1929, owner Charles Dillingham was wiped out in the Stock Market Crash and the Globe went into receivership, soon to be one of several New York playhouses bought up by the Brandt chain and turned into movie houses.

The four Brandt brothers had kicked off their exhibitor career operating a hand-cranked projector stand at Coney Island, graduating to Nickelodeons and building up a theater circuit. Even as the Great Depression was hitting, the Brandts sold their holdings to Fox Pictures and used the proceedings to start another chain, snapping up failing theaters at downscale prices, kicking out the live burlesque and vaudeville acts and converting the premises to talkies. By the late Thirties, the Brandts owned 7 of the 11 movie houses on 42nd Street. They would go on to own 150 cinemas in New York and the upper East Coast.

When the Globe switched to movies in 1932, its opulent 46th Street fa├žade was closed and the box-office moved to a small secondary entrance on Broadway. The Brandts hardly ever advertised, using instead the prime, high-visibility frontage on Times Square to announce their picture shows and pull patrons in from right off the street, or from among the thousands who stopped in next door for lunch at the Automat — the legendary diner which appears to have been the focus of our photograph.

The Globe splashed its loud displays clear across its narrow front and all the way up to full building height, like a vertical billboard, framing titles and movie star portraits in neon and dancing lights. FRANKENSTEIN rated a giant headshot of Karloff’s Monster with “The Killer” and “It’s a Sensation” in lightbulbs atop the marquee.

The Globe would run movies until 1957 when the theater changed hands and returned to its theatrical roots. The interior was gutted, its old configuration sacrificed to fine acoustics and modern styling. The narrow Broadway access was shut forever and the lavish 46th Street entrance restored. The Globe reopened in May of 1958 as the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, honoring the famous husband and wife actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne. In the years since, top shows have included The Sound of Music and Hello Dolly!, Richard Burton as Hamlet, and the work of Bob Fosse and Marlene Dietrich. Disney’s live Beauty and the Beast premiered here in 1999.

For a century now, legends of stage and film have graced this storied house. For a fast few days in 1934, FRANKENSTEIN THE KILLER — Guaranteed for Gasps — stalked onscreen and stared down New Yorkers from his perch in the heart of Broadway.



Rick said...

Neat stuff there from my adopted hometown. Thanks, Pierre.

I'm wondering if maybe FRANKENSTEIN THE KILLER wasn't the theater's casual attempt to fool some folks into thinking they were seeing something new. A surprise sequel.

Also, I'm sure it's a slip of the typing fingers, but I assume you mean SARAH Bernhardt and not SANDRA.

Great stuff.

Pierre Fournier said...

Typo fixed. Thanks, Rick!

Max the drunken severed head said...

The usual excellent reporting in this entry. Thanks, Pierre!