Mary Shelly, the author of Frankenstein was born on August 30, 1797, so I’m dedicating this whole week to the pop culture icon that she created – the monster himself.
I wonder what Mary would think of what her creature has become. I doubt she suspected that her book would become a classic, let alone the subject of hundreds of movies and TV shows. Heck, she didn’t even know what a movie was but I’ve heard that she got to see her book played out on the stage.
The image we all think of when we hear the name Frankenstein is only partially due to her magnificent story. Most of the credit goes to makeup artist Jack Pearce who created the now iconic look for Universal’s telling of the tale in 1931.
My fascination with the monster doesn’t go back quite that far, but it does go back to childhood. I don’t know why, but I fell hard for the whole Universal monster squad which led to my spending every cent of my allowance on Aurora monster models, movie posters, and issues of Famous Monsters magazine. Dracula was my favorite but I had room in my heart for the misunderstood, lumbering collection of parts we call Frankenstein (even though aficionados will tell you that Frankenstein is the doctor creator not the monster.)
When I was 14, I decided to build a life-sized Frankenstein monster in my basement. Don’t worry, I wasn’t planning on using body parts and a left-over brain. I was thinking more papier-mâché and soda cans. My inspiration was a DIY article in a teen magazine where a girl made all the furniture in her room out of colorful cans; Coke, Dr. Pepper, Orange Crush. Recycling was just becoming a thing people did so no one questioned me when I dug all the dirty cans out of the trash in front of the 7-11.
What the article didn’t tell me was that sticky soda cans attract bugs and you can never really wash them enough to make that stop.
The second item that inspired by massive undertaking were my father’s massive fireman boots. They must have been a spare pair because he didn’t stop me from using them as a papier-mâché form. Or maybe I didn’t ask. I made the boots, inserted soda can legs then tried to turn a cardboard box into Frankie’s chest. I think it was the problem of how to attach soda can arms that did me in. Frankenstein’s legs stood around our basement for years and that’s all that ever became of him. So much for my career as a mad scientist.
I also remember a Super 8mm, silent version of Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man that I played over and over and over. (Monster movies in my own living room!) And I was nearly overcome with awe when I visited Universal Studios and saw the actual cobble stones that Boris Karloff had stomped over in 1931.
On that same trip, I had my picture taken with Frankie. He was a life-like wax statue at the museum in San Francisco. I’m the one wearing the red bandanna. That’s my dad on the left and my little brother.
Many, many years later, I met and married my husband. Years after that, his mother gave us a photo of him and his brother taken at Universal Studios. Hmm. . . I guess he and I were always destined to live out our lives together.
Do you have a Frankenstein memory to share? I’d love to hear it.