October 31, 2014

The Art of Frankenstein : Feg Murray (Part 1)

Here’s a repost, tweaked and updated, of my original introduction to cartoonist Feg Murray, whose work I’ll be showcasing here over the next ten days or so. Lots of beautiful illustration art coming up, and we’ll meet Feg in person later this week! 

Helping kick off the series are Boris And Bela, no less, singing together! Read on…

These yellowed clippings are not just from any old scrapbook. This is a page from makeup master Jack Pierce’s personal scrapbook, circa 1939.

The short article pasted at left documents the first haircut, courtesy Pierce, given one-year old Baby Sandy, Universal’s answer to Shirley Temple. “Sandy”, born Alexandra Lee Henville, generated tons of press and merchandising, but she only made eight films and was out of showbiz by the time she turned five.

The large drawing of Boris Karloff in Son of Frankenstein was clipped from Feg Murray’s Seein’ Stars newspaper feature. 

Frederic “Feg” Murray (1894-1973) was a popular cartoonist and radio personality of the Thirties and Forties. As a young man, he had served in the First World War, then shined as an Olympic athlete, winning a bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdle race at Antwerp, Belgium.

As an illustrator, Murray did a stint as a sports cartoonist with The Los Angeles Times before launching his long-running Seein’ Stars cartoon series, syndicated nationwide by King Features. Modeled on the Believe It or Not format of a large portrait done in pen and ink (in color on Sundays), surrounded by smaller filler pieces, Seein’ Stars was pure movie star trivia: 

Fay Wray spends her spare time making sketches in charcoal and weaving Tapestries. She also collects rare perfumes… Ralph Bellamy was once driven by a dead man!! His car swerved erratically into a field and finally ended up against a tree, several minutes after the driver had died of heart failure!... Jean Harlow has a 15-minute workout on a rowing machine before her dip in the pool every morning.

Studio publicity departments routinely fed stories to newspapers and Murray’s weekly feature was an ideal outlet for PR. Case in point, the Son of Frankenstein piece ran on January 1st, just as Universal was rolling out the ballyhoo for a January 13 release. Interestingly, Murray displayed a soft spot for monster movies, with frequent coverage of Universal’s output and that of other studios as well including appearances by various Jekylls and Hydes, gorilla-suit actors and Republic’s Crimson Ghost.

Feg Murray parlayed his success as a famous “stargazer” into a radio career as the host of an interview and variety show called Seein’ Stars in Hollywood, also known as Baker’s Broadcast. In a celebrated episode, on March 13, 1938, Murray’s guests were Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

Karloff performed a dramatic reading of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Supplication of the Black Aberdeen” and then joined Lugosi in a memorable if awkward duet, the two horror icons warbling, “We’re Horrible, Horrible Men”. Karloff’s lines went, “Though the movies would make me a terrible brute, when my makeup is off I am really quite cute.

Boris, Bela and the Nelsons posed for a gag shot, and here's a YouTube sound clip of that momentous occasion…


Craig said...

Great stuff, Pierre. Always loved finding reprints of Feg's stuff; and several folks who followed in the same vein did fun work too.

MaximaFobia (Giuseppe Balestra) said...

Hey, take a look! I did an "experiment" for halloween! I think you may like it XD

Ewen Kirk said...

Hehe....Bela & Boris singing! Didn't expect to hear that today! ;)