The artist is almost as mysterious as his posters.
You can see immediately that this Universal Pictures teaser poster for 1933's The Invisible Man is special. You'll find out how special in a minute. It was painted by Hungarian born artist Karoly Grosz, whose work is highly sought after. With this dark portrait he captured the essence of the film's insane central character Dr. Jack Griffin, who accidentally discovers invisibility and decides, what the hell, he'll use it to take over the world. An original of this poster went up for auction a few years back and pulled in $275,000. That's about as special as vintage art gets.
Halloween is today, so we thought we'd share more horror posters. Since Grosz specialized in that genre, we were able to focus solely on him and his work for Universal. Though he's a collectible legend, his bio is a bit sketchy. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1901 as a child, was naturalized as a citizen, and grew up to live and work in New York City. His output came mainly between 1920 and 1938, and he died young sometime after that (nobody is sure when, but most sources say he was in his early forties). At least he left behind these beautiful gifts to cinematic art. You can see another piece from him in this post from a while back, the one with the green-eyed cat.
These are the warmest, slimiest raindrops I've ever felt.
Since we were on the subject of werewolves a couple of days ago, here's a fun promo shot of Claude Rains about to precipitate doggie drool onto Evelyn Ankers in their 1941 horror flick The Wolf Man. Ankers had trouble with other weird creatures too, including ghosts in Hold That Ghost, a vampire in Son of Dracula, an unseen troublemaker in The Invisible Man's Revenge, and a reanimated monster in The Ghost of Frankenstein. All that experience and she never learned to look up. Well, in her defense Rains is unusually sneaky, plus canines don't usually climb trees.
Rumors of her demise were greatly exaggerated.
We've featured the Canadian tabloid Midnight numerous times. This one appeared on newsstands today in 1968. On the cover readers get a headline referring to Robert F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the previous month. His name is accompanied by a prediction that his killer, Jordanian nationalist Sirhan Sirhan, would in turn be assassinated. It wasn't an outrageous prediction—during the late 1960s newsworthy figures were being dropped like three foot putts. Sirhan was never murdered, though, and he's still around today, languishing at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California.
Sirhan is an interesting character, but it's the story on Susan Denberg we're interested in today. Denberg, née Dietlinde Zechner, is a German born beauty who became a Playboy Playmate of the Year and screen actress, was a desired Hollywood party girl who, acording to sources, had relationships with Hugh Hefner and Jim Brown. She was generally regarded as one of the major sex symbols of her time, but she also became a drug addict. After making the 1968 film Frankenstein Created Woman Denberg returned to Europe and shunned the movie business. In fact, she kept such a low profile that for years sources incorrectly reported that she had died.
Midnight journo John Wilson claims to have visited Denberg in a Vienna mental hospital near the beginning of her self-imposed exile, and his article is basically a recounting of his chat with her. He describes her depressing surroundings and portrays her as a sort of broken bird, quoting her as saying, “I was a real party girl, going out every night, dating one man after another, running around doing wild things like getting drunk and dancing nude at parties. And then someone got me started on LSD and it made everything seem so clear. It was wonderful. Only I couldn't keep away from it, and after a while that was all I was doing, staying in my room and dropping LSD.”
In 1971 Denberg had a child, and by 1972 was making her living on the nudie bar circuit, working as a topless server at the adult cinema Rondell in Vienna, and later dancing fully nude at another Vienna nightspot called Renz. She also worked elsewhere in Europe, including Geneva, where in 1974 she tried to commit suicide by swallowing a reported 200 sleeping pills, an amount that surely would have been fatal had she not been quickly found and sped to a hospital. In 1976 she became a mother again and retired from nude dancing. Today she lives quietly in Vienna.
Denberg's story is filled with twists and turns, and yet it isn't unique in a place like Hollywood. As she makes clear, once enough power brokers, modeling agents, and studio types tell a woman she's special she's probably going to believe them, but once she believes them it's hard for her to keep her head on straight. She sums up her journey to Midnight, “They told me I was beautiful enough to go all the way to the top. They told me about all the fun up there, the kicks. They never told me about the booze and the drugs, the long slide down.”
Just don't get on her bad side. She can be a real monster.
Yesterday we talked about the cute werewolves in The Howling, and today, speaking of monsters, we have a 1985 photo of Italian model and actress Dalila Di Lazzaro. What's monstrous about her? She appeared in Mario Mancini's 1972 horror film Frankenstein ’80 and 1973's Andy Warhol's Frankenstein, and in the latter she was the female monster. That's called casting against type.
If she ever gets her hands on the agent who talked her into that Frankenstein movie there’ll be hell to pay.
Above, French actress Yvonne Furneaux, née Elisabeth Yvonne Scarcherd, seen here in a set photo made when she was filming 1960's La dolce vita. After appearing in more than thirty films between 1952 and 1972, she made only one more movie—1984’s disastrously bad Frankenstein's Great Aunt Tillie—and has been retired ever since.
From Guanajay to Hollywood in a single bound.
Estelita Rodriguez was born in Guanajay, Cuba in 1928, signed with MGM at the tender age of fourteen, signed with Republic at seventeen, and appeared in such films as Tropical Heat Wave, Rio Bravo, and the unforgettable Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter. This promo shot dates from 1945 and was made when she was playing the character of Lupita in the musical Mexicana with Tito Guízar and Constance Moore.
Ever get the feeling you're being watched?
Above are three dust jackets for the classics of macabre literature Frankenstein, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Dracula, by Shelley, Poe, and Stoker respectively. These books are photoplay editions, i.e. novelizations of silent film source material. The editions usually had a handful of production photos inside, as well as film production credits. Basically, these were seen as forms of advertisement for the movies, and back then it was the books people were interested in, not the dust jackets. As a result, the jackets were not well treated by owners, and often were thrown away. That may seem strange, looking at the art above, but it’s true. Picture an old movie. Any old movie. And now imagine a scene set in a study or den. See all those books on the walls? No dust jackets. Back then books were thought of as classiest and most impressive sans jackets. That’s why the items above are extraordinarily rare, and are each worth a fortune today. The first two were painted by Nathan Machtey, and the third is signed G.B., who is a painter unknown to us so far. But all three look rather the same, don't they, with a looming, monstrous shape menacing an insensate woman? They are pure brilliance. We’ve seen some of these at auction for $5,000, and we hear they can go for much more. Much, much more. Of course, the most expensive ones are first editions, with book and dust jacket paired and in good condition, but if the book and jacket are separated, the jackets still go for mucho dinero. We’ll keep an eye out for more Machtey work, and try to identify that second artist. We'll also look for more photoplay editions, and share whatever we uncover.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1945—Hollywood Black Friday
A six month strike by Hollywood set decorators becomes a riot at the gates of Warner Brothers Studios when strikers and replacement workers clash. The event helps bring about the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act, which, among other things, prohibits unions from contributing to political campaigns and requires union leaders to affirm they are not supporters of the Communist Party.
1957—Sputnik Circles Earth
The Soviet Union launches the satellite Sputnik I, which becomes the first artificial object to orbit the Earth. It orbits for two months and provides valuable information about the density of the upper atmosphere. It also panics the United States into a space race that eventually culminates in the U.S. moon landing.
1970—Janis Joplin Overdoses
American blues singer Janis Joplin is found dead on the floor of her motel room in Los Angeles. The cause of death is determined to be an overdose of heroin, possibly combined with the effects of alcohol.
The newspaper Pravda is founded by Leon Trotsky, Adolph Joffe, Matvey Skobelev and other Russian exiles living in Vienna. The name means "truth" and the paper serves as an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1912 and 1991.
1957—Ferlinghetti Wins Obscenity Case
An obscenity trial brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, owner of the counterculture City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, reaches its conclusion when Judge Clayton Horn rules that Allen Ginsberg's poetry collection Howl is not obscene.
After a long trial watched by millions of people worldwide, former football star O.J. Simpson is acquitted of the murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Simpson subsequently loses a civil suit and is ordered to pay millions in damages.
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