Reviews, articles, rants & ramblings on the darker side of the media fringe

Biography: UNIVERSAL HORROR

Claude Rains

William Claude Rains (10 November 1889 – 30 May 1967) was an English stage and film actor whose career spanned 46 years. He was known for many roles in Hollywood films, among them the title role in The Invisible Man (1933), The Wolf Man (1941), a corrupt senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Mr. Dryden in Lawrence of Arabia (1962), and, perhaps his most notable performance, as Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942).

Rains was born in Camberwell, London. He grew up, according to his daughter, with “a very serious cockney accent and a speech impediment”. His parents were Emily Eliza (Cox) and English stage and film actor Frederick William Rains. The young Rains made his stage debut at 11 in Nell of Old Drury.

His acting talents were recognised by Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, founder of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Tree paid for the elocution lessons Rains needed in order to succeed as an actor. Later, Rains taught at the institution, teaching John Gielgud and Laurence Olivier, among others. Many years later, after he had gone to Hollywood and become a film star, Gielgud was to quip: “He was a great influence on me. I don`t know what happened to him. I think he failed and went to America.”

Rains served in the First World War in the London Scottish Regiment, with fellow actors Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman and Herbert Marshall. Rains was involved in a gas attack that left him nearly blind in one eye for the rest of his life, by the war’s end he had risen from the rank of Private to Captain.

Rains began his career in the London theatre, having a success in the title role of John Drinkwater’s play Ulysses S. Grant, the follow-up to the playwright’s major hit Abraham Lincoln, and travelled to Broadway in the late 1920s to act in leading roles in such plays as Shaw’s The Apple Cart and in the dramatisations of The Constant Nymph, and Pearl S. Buck’s novel The Good Earth, as a Chinese farmer.

Rains came relatively late to film acting and his first screen test was a failure, but his distinctive voice won him the title role in James Whale’s The Invisible Man (1933) when someone accidentally overheard his screen test being played in the next room. The Invisible Man is based on H. G. Wells’ science fiction novel The Invisible Man, published in 1897, as adapted by R. C. Sherriff, Philip Wylie and Preston Sturges. The film was directed by James Whale and starred Claude Rains, in his first American screen appearance, and Gloria Stuart.

Rains portrayed the Invisible Man (Dr. Jack Griffin) mostly only as a disembodied voice. Rains is only shown clearly for a brief time at the end of the film, spending most of his on-screen time covered by bandages. In 2008 The Invisible Man was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Rains’ portrayal of The Invisible Man is considered to be one of the main Universal Monsters and is often listed with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolfman, The Mummy and Gill-man.

Following The Invisible Man, Universal Studios tried to typecast him in horror films, but he broke free, starting with the gleefully evil role of Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), then with his Academy Award-nominated performance as the conflicted corrupt US senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and followed with probably his most famous role, the flexible French police Captain Renault in Casablanca (1942).

The Wolf Man (1941) written by Curt Siodmak and produced and directed by George Waggner; starred Lon Chaney, Jr. as The Wolf Man, with Claude Rains, Béla Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya. The title character has had a great deal of influence on Hollywood’s depictions of the legend of the werewolf. The film is the second Universal Pictures werewolf movie, preceded six years earlier by the less commercially successful Werewolf of London.

In 1943, Rains played the title character in Universal’s full-colour remake of Phantom of the Opera. Bette Davis named him her favourite co-star, and they made four films together, including Mr. Skeffington and Now, Voyager. Rains became the first actor to receive a million dollar salary, playing Julius Caesar in Gabriel Pascal’s lavish and unsuccessful version of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1945). In 1946, he played a refugee Nazi agent opposite Cary Grant and Casablanca co-star Ingrid Bergman in Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious.

Rains remained a popular character actor in the 1950s and 1960s, appearing in many films. Two of his well-known later screen roles were as Dryden, a cynical British diplomat in Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). The latter was his final film role.

Rains died from an abdominal haemorrhage in Laconia, New Hampshire, on 30 May 1967 at the age of 77. He is interred in the Red Hill Cemetery, Moultonborough, New Hampshire.


Carla Laemmle

Rebecca Isabelle “Carla” Laemmle (born October 20, 1909) is an American actress and the niece of Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle. She was a movie actress in the 1920s and 1930s, and is one of the very few surviving actors of the silent era, of which she is also the oldest. She reached adulthood (then, age 21) after the silent film era ended, meaning that all adult silent film actors from that era are deceased.

Laemmle entered films in 1925 playing an uncredited role as a ballet dancer in the original silent film version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) and a small role in the Tod Browning, Bela Lugosi version of Dracula (1931), and is the last surviving cast member of both classic films. Laemmle continued to appear in small roles until the late 1930s, when she disappeared from the movie screen. She briefly came out of retirement to play a vampire in The Vampire Hunters Club (2001).

She shared her reminiscences of appearing in a bit part in Dracula (1931) by hosting the original documentary The Road to Dracula (1999), a supplemental piece included on the 2004 DVD release, Dracula: The Legacy Collection. In that classic film, she portrayed a bespectacled passenger riding in a bumpy horse-drawn carriage with Renfield as he is traveling to Dracula’s castle. In this documentary, Laemmle proudly states: “I had the privilege of speaking the first lines of dialogue in the first talking supernatural thriller”. 

In 2009 the book Growing Up With Monsters: My Times at Universal Studios in Rhymes, co-authored by Carla Laemmle and Daniel Kinske, was released. The book details her life at Universal Studios from 1921 to 1937. On October 20, 2009, she celebrated her 100th birthday with a guest list which included Ray Bradbury, Bela Lugosi Jr., Sara Karloff and Ron Chaney. 

On October 3, 2010 she appeared in the excellent BBC Four documentary A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss, sharing more memories of her early film work with the legendary Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi. As she has done so many times before on the convention circuit, and various documentaries,she recited her opening lines from Dracula. In November 2010 she made an appearance in the documentary Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood for Turner Classic Movies and in May 2011 she appeared in Paul Merton’s Birth of Hollywood on the BBC. In March 2012, Turner Classic Movies announced that Laemmle would appear at a screening of Dracula in connection with its Classic Movie Festival the following month.


Dwight Frye

Dwight Iliff Frye (February 22, 1899 – November 7, 1943) was an American stage and screen actor, noted for his appearances in the classic horror films ‘Dracula’ (1931), ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933), and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935).

Frye was born in Salina, Kansas. Nicknamed “The Man with the Thousand-Watt Stare” and “The Man of a Thousand Deaths”, he specialized in the portrayal of mentally unbalanced characters, including his signature role, the madman Renfield in Tod Browning’s 1931 version of Dracula. Later that same year he also played the hunchbacked assistant in the film Frankenstein. (This character, named Fritz, is often mistakenly referred to as Ygor, a character originated by Bela Lugosi in the later film Son of Frankenstein.)

Frye also portrayed Wilmer Cook (the “gunsel”) in the original movie version of Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon in 1931, the role later played by Elisha Cook, Jr. in the remake a decade later.

Frye had a prominent role in the horror film ‘The Vampire Bat’ (1933), starring Lionel Atwill, Melvyn Douglas, and Fay Wray, in which he played Herman, a half-wit suspected of being a killer.

He also had memorable roles in The Invisible Man (1933) as a reporter, The Crime of Dr. Crespi (1935), and in the classic Bride of Frankenstein (1935), in which he played Karl. The part of Karl was originally much longer and many extra scenes of Frye were shot as a sub plot but were edited out of the final version to shorten the running time as well as to appease the censor boards. The most memorable of these “cut scenes” was that of Karl killing the Burgomaster portrayed by E. E. Clive. No known prints of these scenes survive today, but photographs of the scene were used to illustrate the scene’s synopsis and are included in the recent Universal Studios DVD release of the film.

During the early 1940s, Frye alternated between film roles and appearing on stage in a variety of productions ranging from comedies to musicals, as well as appearing in a stage version of Dracula. In 1924 he played the Son in a translation of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. There was a Dwight Frye Fan Club at one time, but it is currently dormant. He also made a contribution to the war effort by working nights as a tool designer for Lockheed Aircraft.

Frye’s strong resemblance to former Secretary of War Newton D. Baker helped land him what would have been a substantial role in the biopic Wilson (1944), based on the life of U. S. President Woodrow Wilson, but he died of a heart attack while riding on a bus in Hollywood a few days before filming was to have begun. Frye was interred in Glendale’s Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery.


Colin Clive

Colin Clive (20 January 1900, Saint-Malo, Ille-et-Vilaine, France – 25 June 1937) was an English stage and screen actor best remembered for his portrayal of Dr. Frankenstein in James Whale’s two Universal Frankenstein films ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Bride of Frankenstein’.

Clive was born in France, to an English colonel, and he attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where an injured knee disqualified him from military service and contributed to his becoming a stage actor. Clive first worked with James Whale in the Savoy Theatre production of Journey’s End and subsequently joined the British community in Hollywood in the 1930s, repeating his stage role in the 1930 film version of ‘Journey’s End’, which was also directed by Whale.

Although Colin Clive made only three horror films, Whale’s two Frankenstein movies and Mad Love (1935), he is widely regarded as one of the essential stars of the genre by many film buffs. His portrayal of mad Dr. Frankenstein has proved inspiration and a launching pad for scores of other mad scientist performances in films over the years. In the film, the character is renamed Henry Frankenstein (a later film shows his tombstone bearing the name “Heinrich”) and he played opposite British actor Boris Karloff as the Creature. Clive reprised his role in the superior 1935 sequel, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, which reunited Clive, Whale and Karloff, as well as first giving Frankenstein the official title of Baron.

Clive was also an in-demand leading man for a number of major film actresses of the era, including Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, and Jean Arthur. He also starred as Edward Rochester in a 1934 adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ opposite Virginia Bruce. He was related to Clive of India and appeared in a featured role in a film biography of his relative in 1935.

From June 1929 until his death, Clive was married to actress Jeanne de Casalis. Although she worked in films and on stage, her greatest success was as a comedienne on radio sitcoms in England. De Casalis did not accompany her husband to Hollywood. There has been speculation that de Casalis was a lesbian and Clive either gay or bisexual, and their marriage was one of convenience. David Lewis, the longtime companion of Clive’s frequent director James Whale, flatly states that Clive was not gay.

Colin Clive suffered from severe chronic alcoholism and died from complications of tuberculosis in 1937 at age 37. Clive’s alcoholism was very much apparent to his co-stars, as he was often seen napping on set and sometimes was so intoxicated that he had to be held upright for over-the-shoulder shots. Not only did his ailment contribute to his ultimate demise, it also mentally took its toll. But Clive was also tormented by the medical threat of amputating his long-damaged leg. It was a final demon to taunt this brilliant, sad, young actor before his death.

Forrest J. Ackerman recalls visiting Clive’s body in the funeral parlour. “As I recall, he had a dressing gown on and he was calmly lying there. And he looked very much like that scene in Bride“. Over 300 mourners turned out for the lonely soul that died alone. One of the pallbearers was former co-star Peter Lorre.

His cenotaph is located at Chapel of Pines Crematory, but his ashes were scattered at sea in 1978 after they spent over 40 years unclaimed in the basement of the funeral parlor where his body was brought after his death.


Universal Monsters – the 40’s and 50’s.

During the forties, the most successful of the new series of Universal Horror movies was ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941), which also established Lon Chaney, Jr., as the new leading horror actor for the studio, following in his father’s foot steps.

In 1943, the studio created a remake of ‘Phantom of the Opera’, this time starring Nelson Eddy and Susanna Foster in a film that was as much musical as horror. Claude Rains played the Phantom.

The Frankenstein and Wolf Man series continued with ‘The Ghost of Frankenstein’ (1942) and ‘Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man’ (1943) while ‘Son of Dracula’ (1943) featured Lon Chaney, Jr. as the Count. The Mummy, too, continued to rise from the grave in ‘The Mummy’s Hand’ (1940) and ‘The Mummy’s Tomb’ (1942). Eventually, all of Universal’s monsters, except the Mummy and Invisible Man, would be brought together in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944) and ‘House of Dracula’ (1945), where Dracula was played by John Carradine. As the decade drew to a close the comedy ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein’ (1948) proved an instant hit for the studio, with Bela Lugosi starring alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. as Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man), and Glenn Strange as Frankenstein’s monster.

With the success of ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (directed by Jack Arnold in 1954) the revived “Universal Horror” franchise would gain a whole new generation of fans.

The original movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein were re-released as double features in many theatres, before eventually premiering on syndicated American television in 1957 (as part of the famous Shock Theater package of Universal Monster Movies).

Soon dedicated magazines such as Famous Monsters in Filmland would help propel these movies into lasting infamy.


Carl Laemmle

Carl Laemmle (January 17, 1867 – September 24, 1939), born in Laupheim, Wurttemberg, Germany, was a pioneer in American film making and a founder of one of the original major Hollywood movie studios – Universal. Laemmle produced or was otherwise involved in over four hundred films.

Regarded as one of the most important of the early film pioneers, Laemmle was born on the Radstrasse just outside the former Jewish quarter of Laupheim. He emigrated to the US in 1884, working in Chicago as a bookkeeper or office manager for 20 years. He began buying nickelodeons, eventually expanding into a film distribution service, the Laemmle Film Service.

On June 8, 1912, in New York, Carl Laemmle of IMP, Pat Powers of Powers Picture Company, Mark Dintenfass of Champion Films, and Bill Swanson of American Eclair all signed a contract to merge their studios. The four founded the Universal Motion Picture Manufacturing Company in 1914, and established the studio on 235 acres (0.95 km2) of land in the San Fernando Valley, California.

Universal became known as the most paternalistic of all the Hollywood studios. Virtually all of “Uncle” Carl’s relatives (including his son, Carl Jr., and his vastly more talented nephew, William Wyler were employed there). The studio enjoyed enormous hits during the 1920’s, especially Lon Chaney’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ (1923/I) and ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ (1925) before the actor was lured away to MGM.

Lacking a theater network, Universal concentrated on independent rural theatrical houses, offering affordable exhibitor’s packages which allowed them to change bills numerous times per week. This marketing strategy largely concentrated on product that would appeal to rural theaters through 1930. During the 1920’s Europe also became a major source of revenue, with Universal actively involved in co-productions overseas. Sound productions became the norm by 1929 and Universal responded by increasing the number of quality productions, scoring it’s first Academy Award for Best Picture with ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ (1930) the following year.

However, for me, it will always be synonymous with horror. Universal Monsters or Universal Horror is the name given to a series of distinctive horror, suspense and science fiction films made by Universal Studios from 1923 to 1960. The series began with the aforementioned 1923 version of ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’, and continued with such movies as ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, ‘Dracula’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘The Mummy’, ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’, ‘Werewolf of London’, ‘Son of Frankenstein’, ‘The Wolfman’, and ‘Creature from the Black Lagoon’. The iconic gallery of monsters created by Universal has created a lasting impression on generations of avid moviegoers around the world.

In spite of the Great Depression, executive Carl Laemmle Jr produced massive successes for the studio in 1931 with the legendary Dracula (directed by Tod Browning) and Frankenstein (directed by James Whale). The success of these two movies launched the careers of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, and ushered in a whole new genre of American cinema. With Universal at the forefront, film makers would continue to build on their success with an entire series of monster movies. These films also provided steady work for a number of genre actors including Lionel Atwill, Dwight Frye, Edward Van Sloan, and John Carradine. Other regular talents involved were make-up artists Jack Pierce and Bud Westmore, and composers Hans J. Salter and Frank Skinner. Many of the horror genre’s most well-known conventions—the creaking staircase, the cobwebs, the swirling mist and the mobs of peasants pursuing monsters with torches—originated from these films and those that followed.

The Mummy was produced in 1932, followed by a trilogy of films based on the tales of Edgar Allan Poe: ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ (1932), The Black Cat’ (1934) and ‘The Raven’ (1935), the latter two of which teamed up Lugosi with Karloff. ‘The Invisible Man’, released in 1933, was a phenomenal hit and would spawn several sequels. Of all the Universal monsters, the most successful and sequelized was undoubtedly the Frankenstein series, which continued with ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935). Althugh Dracula too had its share of sequels, beginning with ‘Dracula’s Daughter’ in 1936.

1936 also marked the end of Universal’s first run of horror films as the Laemmles were forced out of the studio after financial difficulties and a series of box office flops. The monster movies were dropped from the production schedule altogether and wouldn’t re-emerge for another three years. In the meantime the original movies were re-released to surprising success, forcing the new executives to give the go-ahead to ‘Son of Frankenstein’ (1939) starring Basil Rathbone.

Following his death from cardiovascular disease on September 24, 1939, in Beverly Hills, California, at the age of 72, Laemmle was entombed in the Chapel Mausoleum at Home of Peace Cemetary.


Boris Karloff

William Henry Pratt (23 November 1887 – 2 February 1969), better known by his stage name Boris Karloff, was an English actor; born at 36 Forest Hill Road, East Dulwich, London, England.

Karloff is best remembered for his roles in classic horror films and his portrayal of Frankensteins monster; his popularity following Frankenstein was such that for a brief time he was billed simply as “Karloff” or “Karloff the Uncanny.” His best-known non-horror role is as the Grinch, as well as the narrator, in the animated television special of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966).

In 1909, Pratt travelled to Canada and began appearing in stage shows throughout the country; and some time later changed his professional name to “Boris Karloff”. Karloff always claimed he chose the first name “Boris” because it sounded foreign and exotic, and that “Karloff” was a family name. However, his daughter Sara Karloff publicly denied any knowledge of Slavic forebears, “Karloff” or otherwise.

Once Karloff arrived in Hollywood, he made dozens of silent films, but work was sporadic, and he often had to take up manual labor such as digging ditches and driving a cement truck to earn a living. A number of his early major roles were in movie serials, such as ‘The Masked Rider’ (1919), in Chapter 2 of which he can be glimpsed onscreen for the first time, ‘The Hope Diamond Mystery’ (1920) and ‘King of the Wild’ (1930). In these early roles he was often cast as an exotic Arabian or Indian villain. A key film which brought Karloff recognition was ‘Five Star Final’, a harshly critical film about tabloid journalism which was nominated for an Oscar as Best Picture of 1931-32.

But it was in James Whale’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1931), in his role as Frankenstein’s monster which made him a star. The bulky costume with four inch platform boots made it an arduous role but the costume and torturously administered make-up produced the classic image. Boris was lucky to get the part, not least as it had supposedly been offered to Bela Lugosi, who declined it. A year later, Karloff played another iconic character, Imhotep in ‘The Mummy’. Also quickly followed by ‘The Old Dark House’ with Charles Laughton and the star role in ‘The Mask of Fu Manchu’. These films all very much confirmed his newfound stardom.

Karloff played Frankenstein’s monster in two other films, the superior sequel, ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ (1935) and ‘Son of Frankenstein’ (1939), with the latter also featuring Lugosi. Karloff would revisit the Frankenstein mythos in film several times afterward. The first would be as the villainous Dr. Niemann in ‘House of Frankenstein’ (1944), where Karloff would be contrasted with Glenn Strange’s portrayal of The Monster.

Karloff returned to the role of the “mad scientist” in 1958’s ‘Frankenstein 1970’, as Baron Victor von Frankenstein II, the grandson of the original inventor. The finale reveals that the crippled Baron has given his own face (i.e. Karloff’s) to The Monster. The actor appeared at a celebrity baseball game as The Monster in 1940, hitting a gag home run and making catcher Buster Keaton fall into an acrobatic dead faint as The Monster stomped into home plate.

While the long, creative partnership between Karloff and Lugosi never led to a close mutual friendship, it produced some of the actors’ most revered and enduring productions, beginning with ‘The Black Cat’. Follow-ups included ‘Gift of the Gab’ (1934), ‘The Raven’ (1935), ‘The Invisible Ray’ (1936), ‘Black Friday (1940), ‘You’ll Find Out’ (also 1940), and ‘The Body Snatcher’ (1945). During this period, he also starred with Basil Rathbone in ‘Tower of London’ (1939).

An enthusiastic performer, he returned to the Broadway stage in the original production of ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ in 1941, in which he played a homicidal gangster enraged to be frequently mistaken for Karloff. He also appeared as Captain Hook in the play ‘Peter Pan’. He was nominated for a Tony Award for his work in ‘The Lark’, by the French playwright Jean Anouilh about Joan of Arc.

In later years, Karloff hosted and acted in a number of television series, most notably ‘Thriller’, ‘Out of this World’, and ‘The Veil’, the last of which was never broadcast and only came to light in the 1990s. In the 1960s, Karloff appeared in several films for American International Pictures, including ‘The Comedy of Terrors’, ‘The Raven’ and ‘The Terror’, the latter two directed by B-movie legend Roger Corman, and ‘Die, Monster, Die’.

Karloff ended his career by appearing in four low-budget Mexican horror films: ‘The Snake People’, ‘The Incredible Invasion’, ‘The Fear Chamber’ and ‘House of Evil’. This was a package deal with Mexican producer Luis Vergara. Karloff’s scenes were directed by Jack Hill and shot back to back in Los Angeles in the spring of 1968. The films were then completed in Mexico. All four were released posthumously, with the last, The Incredible Invasion, not released until 1971, two years after Karloff’s death.

Boris Karloff lived out his final years at his cottage, ‘Roundabout,’ in the Hampshire village of Bramshott. After a long battle with arthritis and emphysema, he contracted pneumonia, succumbing to it on 2 February 1969. He was cremated, following a requested low-key service, at Guildford Crematorium, Godalming, Surrey, where he is commemorated by a plaque in the Garden of Remembrance. A memorial service was held at St Paul’s, Covent Garden (The Actors’ Church), London, where there is also a plaque.