There is a moment in the Hammer film The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) when someone describes Baron Frankenstein thus: ‘One moment you can be kind and charming, the next you can be as cold as the grave.’ For an audience who by the early 1970s would have been well versed in the nature of Frankenstein as a character, this is a somewhat thickheaded statement. Nevertheless, the association it makes between charismatic charm and outright villainy could also be used to characterise the short but lively horror career of Ralph Bates, the actor playing Frankenstein here, who would offer entertaining performances in half a dozen other British horror films and, despite some of the terrible things his characters got up to, emerged as an amiable genre presence. Despite this, Bates has never attracted the cult following associated with some other horror stars, possibly because his subsequent popularity on television has obscured his early association with horror, possibly because some of the horror films in which he featured were not very distinguished. This is a shame because his contribution to the British horror cycle is noteworthy, not just for its intrinsic value but also because of what it suggests about the nature of British horror production during the first half of the 1970s.
Bates was one of a number of young actors who came to brief prominence in British horror from the late 1960s onwards. Others included Ian Ogilvy (The Sorcerers in 1967, Witchfinder General in 1968), Shane Briant (Demons of the Mind in 1972, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell in 1974) and Ingrid Pitt (The Vampire Lovers in 1970, Countess Dracula in 1971, The House that Dripped Blood in 1971). Together they – along with a wave of young directors that included Michael Reeves, Peter Sasdy and Peter Sykes – contributed to a re-energising of the genre at a time when the horror conventions established principally by Hammer in the late 1950s were looking decidedly tired.
In the case of Bates, it was probably his eye-catching turn as evil Roman emperor Caligula in the television series The Caesars (1968) that earned him his big break in horror cinema. Bates’s screen debut, Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970), was one of Hammer’s first attempts to refocus its horror formula in the light of an increasing emphasis on youth evident in the wider culture, and Bates was key to this thematic change. Indeed, his impressive first appearance crystallised the film’s impatience with the middle-aged authority figures that had been so important in earlier Hammer horrors. Three ostensibly respectable ‘gentlemen’ are paying their monthly visit to a brothel. As played by Geoffrey Keen, John Carson and Peter Sallis, they are an unprepossessing bunch, whose hypocrisy has by this stage thoroughly alienated us from them. Enter Lord Courtley who, in the form of Ralph Bates, is not just darkly handsome and self-assured but also possesses a perverse integrity – he knows he is bad and does not try to disguise it – entirely lacking in the wretched men whose orgy he interrupts.
present in this revisionary film, Courtley’s body is before our eyes transformed into Christopher Lee’s vampiric body, and Dracula lives again. In essence, this is a degeneration rather than a regeneration inasmuch as it shows the old replacing the new, and while Lee provides a gravitas lacking in the then relatively unknown Bates, his stately performance itself lacks the nuance and energy associated with Bates (with this no doubt reflecting Lee’s increasing disinterest in the role of Dracula). While the remainder of Taste the Blood of Dracula is an intelligent treatment of its subject – it is easily the best of Hammer’s later Dracula films – Bates’s engaging presence is sorely missed.
Underlining the way in which Hammer seemed to be positioning Bates as a young replacement for Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, his next role for the company was as Frankenstein in the afore-
enthusiasm, arrogance, ruthlessness and vulnerability; he was also much more sexualised than Cushing had been in the role. By contrast, Bates was made to look older than his actual age in the lesbian vampire film Lust for a Vampire, a lacklustre sequel to The Vampire Lovers. In a role that was originally intended for Cushing, Bates turned out to be one of the film’s few highlights, capturing perfectly the grotesquery of his schoolteacher character as he shifted from pompous pedantry to a willing masochistic surrender to the vampire. Fear in the Night, in which Bates finally appeared alongside Cushing rather than just replacing him, was the last in Hammer’s series of psychological thrillers and offered less opportunities for the sort of melodramatic transformations found in the gothic horrors and at which Bates had proved so adept. Instead he was cast as an apparently dutiful husband who was eventually revealed to be a villain. Although the most restrained of all his Hammer roles, his portrayal of an ostensibly ordinary, domesticated male did, in retrospect at least, point the way to his later successful television career, which was founded in part on such domestic, if more benign, roles.
Much better as a film was Hammer’s Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1972), a transsexual-themed treatment of the Jekyll and Hyde story in which the doctor was transformed into a woman (with Sister Hyde played by Martine Beswick) that also threw Burke and Hare and Jack the Ripper into the mix for good measure. The excitability of such a narrative could have lead to a farcical tone, particularly in the scenes in which Bates
psychological thriller in which Bates, back in mundane domestic mode, was the downtrodden son of the domineering Lana Turner who eventually turns on her and, in an unforgettably embarrassing scene, drowns her in a bowl of milk. I Don’t Want To Be Born (1975) reunited Bates with Peter Sasdy, who had earlier directed the impressive Taste the Blood of Dracula. Sadly this possession thriller was a laboured attempt to cash in on the success of The Exorcist (1973) and for once Bates seemed ill at ease. That was the end of Bates as horror star, although he went on to find television fame as another villain, George Warleggan, in the popular historical melodrama series Poldark (1975-1977) and subsequently in the very different role of the cuckolded hero in the sitcom Dear John (1986-1987). In both cases, as he had done with his horror roles, he managed to make ostensibly unsympathetic or pathetic figures unexpectedly likeable.
Perhaps unavoidably, Bates’s death at the age of 50 from pancreatic cancer has bestowed a retrospective poignancy on these early performances in his career. When watching them now, one can’t help thinking that he would have been affable company among the dwindling band of Hammer artists as they reminisce in interviews or on DVD commentaries about the making of these films. However, the value of Bates’s short-lived horror stardom is more tangible than this, for his horror performances offered a high level of unpretentious but thoroughly professional accomplishment, with a commitment and attention to detail often fashioned in unpromising circumstances. To a large extent, Bates’s virtues as an actor are also the virtues of Hammer horror at its best, eschewing the abstract and the extravagant in favour of something more considered and more solid.
After his death, Ralph Bates’s wife, the actor Virginia Wetherell (herself a regular in British horror, including Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, where she played one of her then future husband’s victims) set up the Ralph Bates Pancreatic Cancer Research Fund, details about which can be found at http://www.ralphbatespcr.org.uk/app/.
halcyon days of the early 30s, by the mid-40s and the end of Wartime hostilities, monster movies had lost much of their potential to shock or excite. Increasingly associated with juvenile delinquency and psycho-sexual problems, the monster would once again raise its ugly head in a slew of 1950s teenage drive- in horror movies. At the same time, more mature audiences were invited to consider the threat their beautiful homes and good jobs faced from a surprise attack of atomically mutated giant ants or brainy invaders from Mars.
With the demise of the more traditional monster Ankers' career in Hollywood was soon over. In 1942 she married B-movie hunk, Richard Denning (Creature from the Black Lagoon (1955), Creature with the Atom Brain (1954)). By 1945 her time with Universal Studios had ended, and after freelancing in the odd mystery and adventure movie (most notably, Tarzan's Magic Fountain (1949), the first Tarzan film to feature Lex Barker in the title role) she went into semi-retirement in 1950 to raise her daughter, with occasional appearances on TV. Ankers and Denning moved to Hawaii in the 1960s. There, Denning was offered the role of Governor Paul Jameson on the television series Hawaii Five-O, remaining with the series for its entire 12 year run. Sadly, Ankers died of ovarian cancer in 1985 at the age of 67. As one of the last, and certainly one of the most talented heroines of the Classic horror movie era, Evelyn Ankers truly deserves to be remembered. May her blood-curdling scream ring on in the ears of horror fans for many years to come.
So wrote H. P. Lovecraft to his young correspondent Fritz Leiber on 19 December 1936, somewhat less than three months before his own death. Lovecraft had sought to educate his new friend in the classics of the various imaginative genres, from M. R. James through Lord Dunsany all the way to Olaf Stapledon. Like Lovecraft, Leiber (1910-1992) would base his writing on this study and use the knowledge to unite British and American methods in developing – what exactly? Quite a few of his tales seem to occupy a territory that is purely his, not least in its combination of the macabre and the erotic.
He was one of the most honoured writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror – fields in which he was equally adept, not a common achievement. It has been argued that the solitariness and austerity of his later years, when he occupied a single room with so little space that he had to sit on his bed to write with a typewriter on his lap, simply demonstrated that he preferred to spend his income on travel. Nevertheless the feeling persists that he seldom received the appreciation he deserved, and I suggest that his contribution to horror fiction has yet to be fully celebrated.
elsewhere he revives the reticence of M. R. James in a contemporary fashion, while “Diary in the Snow” suggests Blackwood’s “The Willows” reimagined in more explicitly science-fictional terms. In Leiber’s fiction, as in Lovecraft’s, science and horror often overlap; indeed, his earliest (posthumously) published tale, The Dreams of Daniel Kesserich, achieves this synthesis.
Some of his tales invent modern archetypes: “The Man Who Made Friends with Electricity” lends sentience to that power, while “The Black Gondolier” floods a dream version of the American Venice with oil and creates a new Charon out of the medium. “Gonna Roll the Bones” goes further in a sense, sketching a future where space flight is mundane but is still manipulated by magic and haunted by the oldest personified fear. Leiber was never above reinventing the traditional, and frequently acknowledged the roots of his work. Eventually, having at Lovecraft’s suggestion excised references to that author’s mythos from his early tale “Adept’s Gambit”, he even wrote an explicitly Lovecraftian story, “The Terror from the Depths”, which revisits his theme of inspiration and the unwanted powers it may invoke.
own convey the indescribably alien – has its origin in “The Willows”. In terms it’s worthy of Blackwood at his finest. Like Lovecraft, Leiber learned from the best in the field, which he then developed and enriched. He is the father of the urban tale of supernatural terror, and one of the last century’s great masters of the weird.
No screen actress has been pestered and pawed by a more impressive cast of monsters and ghouls than 1940s Scream Queen extraordinaire, Evelyn Ankers. The Wolf Man, Frankenstein’s Monster, Dracula, The Invisible Man, The Mad Ghoul, The Ape Woman and The Creeper have all at some point made Ankers the object of their pitiable lusts and infantile aggressions. Fay Wray may have been mauled by the biggest of the silver screen’s brutes but Ankers was harassed by the most varied assortment. Born in Chile, to British parents in 1918, she moved to England in the 1920s and by the mid 1930s began appearing in small parts in British films. Like many actors of the time, Ankers relocated to the U.S. where she found a career in Hollywood. Her association with horror films began when she co-starred with Abbot and Costello in the comedy Hold That Ghost (1941), which also featured Joan Davis as a professional radio screamer, and a musical number by The Andrews Sisters!
The exact lineage of the Scream Queen is not that easy to trace. In many ways, the busty heroines of the 1960s cult horror movies were the first, at least the first to be given the title of Scream Queen. It seems that this term was then retrospectively applied to all those horror actresses of earlier times who greeted each crisis with an ear splitting shriek. Perhaps Gary J. Svehla of Midnight Marquee Press says it best in his introduction to Hollywood’s Classic Scream Queens 1930s (2000):
Undoubtedly, Fay Wray is the most famous of these, her lung power being tested to the full alongside her mute co-star Kong. She headed an illustrious line of high voltage horror heroines such as Mae Clarke (Frankenstein, 1931), Gloria Stuart (The Old Dark House, 1932), Valerie Hobson(The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935), and Frances Drake (Mad Love, 1935).
Even if the male icons were the legends in the making – Karloff, Lugosi, etc. – the women, less identifiable, less recognizable, became the impetus for the horror and its resolution; the actresses who helped make the male performances so classically memorable. For far too long the women remained in the shadows, posing in provocative shots with their more easily identifiable male counterparts.
By the 1940s however, there came a decided shift in the Scream Queen formula. Replacing the usually frail, passive and somewhat aristocratic horror heroines of the 1930s, the horror films of the 1940s presented a new leading lady, intelligent, quick witted and more often than not, working class. Enter Ms. Ankers. Of the twenty seven or so features she made with Universal eleven would have distinct horror elements. Along with her four co-starring roles with Lon Chaney Jr. cited above, these included Captive Wild Woman (1943), in which mad scientist, John Carradine, injects an orang-utan with a dying woman’s blood, turning it into a beautiful she-creature (Acquanetta)that turns back into her murderous
ape state when her jealously is aroused. The Mad Ghoul (1943), mad scientist George Zucco, exposes apes and then his assistant to an ancient nerve gas, resulting in the latter’s transformation into a ghoul who must have human hearts to live. Jungle Woman (1944), Ankers, once again, finds herself the object of a murderous ape woman’s jealousy. The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), where (you guessed it) mad scientist, John Carradine, tests his invisibility formula on an escaped convict with calamitous results, involving murderous revenge, an invisible parrot named Methuselah, and an invisible dog, who answers (presumably) to the name of Brutus!
Among the most notable of non-horror ventures Ankers starred in during her time at Universal were two films in the Sherlock Holmes series, staring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, The Voice of Terror (1942) and The Pearl of Death (1944). The latter is based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons and one of the best in the Rathbone/Bruce series. In it, Ankers plays Naomi Drake, a charming and brilliant criminal, adept at bravura disguises, who, working in cahoots with Giles Conover (Miles Mander), attempts to steal a priceless and ill-omened pearl. Yet, even in this film, Ankers’ monster magnetism is at work, as she finds herself the unwilling recipient of the adoration of Conover’s hulking henchman, The Creeper, played by none other than Rondo Hatton; who, when he’s not snapping people's spines at Conover’s command, can be found prowling around her room “making wistful little noises like a dog” and stroking her make-up compact. A prime candidate for a future piece in this section, Rondo Hatton subsisted on uncredited bit roles as a thug/monster assigned to him primarily, if not wholly, based on his disfigured appearance which was caused by acromegaly, a hormonal disorder resulting in an excessive growth of the brow, lower jaw and hands and feet. Hatton's role as The Creeper in The Pearl of Death would change
Later that year Ankers starred alongside Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man, a film that would define her as the 1940s' leading horror heroine. In this sadly underrated Universal monster movie, which also features Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya, Ankers’ intelligent and sensitive heroine is perfectly suited to Chaney’s somewhat bumbling yet gregarious character, Larry Talbot, and his pitiful alter ego, The Wolf Man. A nice everyday girl working in her father’s antique and bric-a-brac shop in a small Welsh village, Gwen Conliffe (Ankers) sells Larry an ornate walking stick. Correcting Larry’s mistaken identification of the figure on the stick’s sliver handle as a dog, she explains that it is actually a wolf’s head. Pointing out the sign
of the pentagram engraved on the stick, she then tells Larry about the folkloric tale of the werewolf. Thoroughly modern and level-headed, Gwen is surprisingly knowledgeable about such matters and can even recite an old proverb about the werewolf :
“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night may
become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright.”
The unfortunate Larry will experience all this firsthand when he is bitten by a wolf (gypsy fortune-teller, Bela Lugosi) which he clubs to death with the silver handle of his walking stick while trying to save a woman from its savage attack. But of course, like so many ill-fated heroes when first informed of such things as the werewolf myth Larry simply laughs, his only concern being to get a date with Gwen. “What big blue eyes you have…” is his reply. Ankers and Chaney would appear together again in numerous Universal horror movies, including The Ghost of Frankenstein (1943), Son of Dracula (1943), The Frozen Ghost (1945), and Weird Woman (1944), part of Universal’s Inner Sanctum film series.
this however, as Universal capitalized on his looks (no make-up department budget required) with a series of films in which he reprised his Creeper role, House of Horrors (1946) and The Brute Man (1946). Sadly, as a result of his acromegaly, Hatton died of a heart attack soon after making these films. Curiously, Hatton did feature in The Jungle Captive (1945) as Moloch the disfigured assistant of mad scientist, Otto Kurger. This was the third in Universal's Ape Woman series, the first two installments, as mentioned above, featuring Ankers. This third venture did not feature Ankers, however, and for once, she was spared the advances of a hulking admirer.
Ankers' monster magnetism makes her a classic Scream Queen without the epistemological confusion which surrounds certain other horror actresses such as Gloria Holden (Dracula's Daughter, 1936) and Simone Simon (Cat People, 1942), who are called Scream Queens but are actually the baddies, and more likely to elicit a scream than emit one. Clearly a cover-all term for women in horror films, Scream Queens may be goodies or baddies but they are rarely both. An interesting exception is Elsa Lanchester, who, in The Bride of Frankenstein (1932), blurs these boundaries by playing both Mary Shelley and the female creature. Indeed, even as the creature Lanchester is both monster and damsel in distress, hissing like a snake but also emitting a terrified scream when she sees her intended mate.
This confusion between the monsters and the maidens of horror continues in present day incarnations of the Scream Queen and is particularly evident in the dubious development of a sort of goth-girl soft porn which adopts the term to describe its dark babes. With the advent of the slasher/stalker films of the 1980s Scream Queen lists have grown considerably, from Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau, to more recent entries such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Jessica Biel, Lindy Booth, and Katharine Isabelle. Using the term coined by Carol J. Clover, in her seminal work on gender and modern horror cinema, Men, Women and Chainsaws (1992), these actresses are also "final girls"; the last person (inevitably female) left alive to confront the slasher/killer. Usually, young, androgynous, good girls (ie. non-smoking/non-drug taking virgins), these final girls tend to avoid the grisly end meted out to their less clean-living friends, facing-off with the killer, and appropriating his methods and weaponry to finally defeat him (at least until the sequel that is). This confrontation usually involves the masculinzation of the already androgynous final girl through her appropriation of phallic weapons (knives, chainsaws etc). As Clover argues, this process involves an unstable and fluid gender identification between the female protagonist and horror audience (usually posited as male).
Like the final girl of modern horror, Scream Queens of the past also survive their attackers but their methods of survival are quite different. While some peripheral squared jawed hero, usually named Paul, may engage in fisticuffs with the monster, in truth, the heroine's survival is more often than not brought about by her relationship with said monster. Her empathy or simply lack of aggressive behaviour towards the creature is often enough to ensure that she, at least, will not be harmed. Rather than appropriating the violent methods of her male counterparts, horror heroines such as Ankers, older than final girls and infinitely wiser than their own male counterparts, are perhaps best described as "final women." Not only final women in their tendency to survive the attentions of a brutal monster, actresses like Ankers were final women of an era of horror films. Already fading considerably since the
Welcome to our Lost Souls page, which is dedicated to resurrecting the neglected & underrated personages of Horror. We present here an exciting group of short essays by some of today's Horror writers and critics, who offer a reappraisal of their favourite writers, actors, directors, publishers and artists.
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“Nor will science ever be able to kill the feelings of wonder in the human spirit. The mystery of the black outer gulfs, and of the deepest cognitive processes within us, must always remain unplumbed – and against these imagination must always frantically pound…”
His first full-length novel, Conjure Wife – expanded from its original appearance in Unknown Worlds – explores their opposition. A college professor and champion of rationalism discovers that his wife is practising witchcraft to help his career. He insists she stop, only to learn that her spells protected him from the powers of other campus wives. This can be read as fantastic satire of the kind that John W. Campbell encouraged contributors to Unknown Worlds to deliver, but Leiber reaches beyond it to genuine terror. His view of women as mysterious and magical informs stories throughout his career, from “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” – a highly contemporary late forties variant on vampirism, in which the psychically voracious title character is a celebrated fashion model who feeds on male desire – through “A Deskful of Girls” a decade later, where a crazed psychiatrist keeps spectral essences of his female patients filed in his office until they take revenge, all the way to the late “Horrible Imaginings”, which introduces a ghostly female harbinger of death.
“It is the American metropolis, jammed with iron and stone, that sets off my sense of the horrible and beautiful… Things like the buzz of a defective neon sign, the black framework of the elevated, muttering of machinery one cannot identify – there are terrors in the modern city, in comparison to which the darks of Gothic castles and haunted woods are light.” In writing this Fritz had his first collection, Night’s Black Agents, in mind. It’s a statement of his radical approach to the genre – decades later, in his introduction to Kirby McCauley’s Frights, he was to champion “something new, something utterly startling, something undreamed of” as the essence of the tale of terror – but equally important is its insistence on beauty as part of the horror. His Frights piece, paraphrasing Horatio, is entitled “Wonder and Terror”. Like all the greatest writers in the field, he strives for awe.
Radicalism combined with his knowledge of the field to produce one of his earliest and most important tales, “Smoke Ghost”. Instead of being invaded by the supernatural, the mundane setting – forties Chicago – is now its source, and the grubby half-glimpsed spectre its genius loci. Here and
The grand summary of his themes, though, is the intensely autobiographical novel Our Lady of Darkness (which at several points points makes clear its debt to M. R. James, however much that author would have disapproved of its perverse eroticism). Franz Westen, the protagonist, is – like the author – an ex-alcoholic widower who lives in the same San Francisco building as Leiber (but in a similar apartment immediately above his). Having acquired almost the only surviving copy of a book about the psychic essences of modern cities and their occult manipulation, he becomes haunted by a presence that may be composed of his yearning for his lost wife, his pulpish inspiration as a writer and the dark spirit of the city. It is finally overcome by the spell of his young female neighbour, who invokes the order of music, philosophy and science.
One last tale for this essential but by no means exhaustive list: “A Bit of the Dark World”, in which Leiber set himself the task of discovering whether cosmic terror could be achieved in a contemporary (seventies) setting. Once again his method – using a succession of images as a single metaphor to its
by Tom Weaver
Susan Cabot (1927-1986) began her screen career as an extra in the 1947 drama Kiss of Death, in which she's only seen from the back (as a diner at a restaurant) but is instantly recognizable by her then-waist-length hair. Her exotic look made her a good choice for the role of an island girl in the low-budget On the Isle of Samoa (1950); at Universal in the early 1950s, she specialized in these types of parts (Middle Eastern gals in Flame of Araby and Son of Ali Baba, American Indians in Tomahawk and The Battle of Apache Pass, etc.). But it was away from the major studios, working with producer-director Roger Corman, that she made the movies that elevated her to cult status: the rock'n'roller Carnival Rock, the crime drama Machine-Gun Kelly, the surreal Viking Women and the Sea Serpent, the sci-fi War of the Satellites and, most notoriously, the title role in The Wasp Woman.
thing to a "lead" that I had. So I was bowled over when, on that first California trip, Lori Revenge of the Creature Nelson mentioned casually that she'd seen Susan just the other day, at some sort of reunion of Universal Pictures veterans. She gave me the phone number of Jim Pratt, who ran the studio in the '50s (and had, I believe, arranged the reunion), and he was able to put me in touch with Susan.
To make a long story short, my brother Jon and I were soon very friendly with Susan, the fun of knowing her only slightly spoiled by her aggressively oddball son Tim. The kid was pleasant but...strange. He struck me as looking like about 12 years old (facially and height-wise) but he was obviously much older, because he had his own car. Too often he did "little things" that would drive his mom nuts, like wearing
Susan's house was...ALSO strange. A mini-mansion, walled and gated, including a kennel full of vicious-sounding dogs--a lot fancier than you'd think a single mom whose long-ago credits were mostly on the War of the Satellites level could afford. There were rumours that, Back in the Day, she and King Hussein were an item; when I'd bring that up, SHE was the one who did the clamming-up. Eventually I began to think that was where the money was apparently still coming from.
Inside, it got weirder. The place was a wreck and apparently always had been. There was junk piled everywhere, to the point that finding a place where three or four people could sit down was a major project involving lots of moving-of-stacks-of-junk. The dust was piled almost as high as the junk; I still remember
Cabot's murder. And I also found out what it was about her death that had made it unusual and newsworthy thousands of miles from Hollywood: It sounded like Timothy was a suspect.
It turns out he DID do it, in "self-defense," of course he'd had to "defend himself" against tiny Susan by bashing her to death with a weight-lifting bar. His earliest story involved a home invasion by Ninjas (have
The kid was whiter than a glass of milk!) Anyway, enough hot air was spewed that this characteristically Californian court slapped Tim on the wrist with a three-year suspended sentence. In other words, he got away with it.
It's been so many years since I met and got to know Susan Cabot, almost half-my-lifetime ago, and there was so much that was unusual (to say the least) about the experience, that it all sorta feels a bit like a dream now.
It was on my first-ever trip to California, around 1984, that I first met Susan, who had been at or near the top of my find-and-interview list almost since Day One of my pursuing that hobby. I not only thought she was a knockout looks-wise in movies like The Wasp Woman, Machine-Gun Kelly and others, but acting-wise too, and it frustrated me that no one knew where she'd ended up. Roger Corman told me, wrongly, that she was living happily in Washington D.C.; that bum steer was the closest
sunglasses when we'd go out at night (and clamming-up and ignoring her requests to take them off), refusing to watch some of her movies with us even though she was practically begging him to, etc. Things that seemed to me to be designed to get her worked up. A Swift Kick In The Ass (a SKITA, as I call them) would have solved a lot of her problems with Tim, I always thought, but being a starstruck twentysomething kid from upstate New York, getting to visit (on various trips) with one of my favourite B-movie stars, it certainly wasn’t my place to say so. (Today, in a similar situation, there'd be no stopping me!)
Despite all the weirdness (Susan was Norma Desmond and the Collier Brothers rolled into one and then there was Tim), she was almost always fun and funny and laughing. Yes, it was a "Somebody ELSE told the joke and took the spotlight off of me, so now I'll laugh TOO loud to get it back" kind of laugh but...hey, I was hangin' with Susan Cabot. Now and then we'd be out in public and somebody would tick her off, and I'd get a glimpse of the Cabot temper also.
Things went from strange to shocking one afternoon in 1986, after I'd known Susan for a couple years and been visiting/phoning her fairly often. I got a phone call from a friend in the Bronx who'd been half-listening to an all-news radio station and told me he could swear he'd just heard a news report that Susan Cabot had been murdered. I didn’t think it could be true; even if she HAD been, her heyday was too long ago that a New York City radio station would make a big deal about her passing, even if it WAS murder. I turned on the radio and waited for that tidbit to come around again, and for an hour or so it did not. Finally I phoned the radio station and found myself talking to some very friendly worker there, who didn't mind digging through some papers and discovering that, yes, the station WAS reporting Susan
I mentioned that my whole Cabot experience now seems dreamlike?) but once that myth was easily exploded and the kid was charged, the trial typically made the victim the accused, with Tim's lawyers charging that the "massive filth and decay" in the house constituted child abuse. ("Child" Tim was in his 20s.) There was also talk of experimental hormones that Susan had once given Tim to prevent him from becoming a dwarf(!), and reports of King Hussein or actor Christopher Jones being his out-of-wedlock dad. (King Hussein??
The house became his; I later heard that it was sometimes used for filming, and that one group of moviemakers, without even knowing about the house's history of murder, became so creeped-out by the atmosphere of the place that at least one of them, a woman, wanted to flee (or DID flee). A few years ago I started getting occasional e-mails from a complete stranger, a Cabot family friend who said that Tim was hospitalized and suffering from some weird irreversible disease that was slowly making his brain disappear within his skull (!) After NOT getting an update from this Mysterious Stranger for a while, I tried to contact HER, but my e-mails bounced back. I telephoned the California company where her e-mails had originated, and the receptionist made it sound like she'd never heard of her. Another character come and gone from this weird scenario, again in a dreamlike fashion.
I don't know if Tim is still with us but of course Susan isn't, which is tragic for all the "big," obvious reasons, and also (as a trivial footnote) because she would have been a smash at the various horror and Western conventions with her fabulous personality and exuberance and she'd have had a blast herself. Now her movies, once favourites of mine, aren’t as much fun to watch, because she can't be on-screen without my wandering mind reliving the strange-but-fun (but strange!) get-togethers I had with her, and the awful ending to her life, and all the other weirdness associated with the Susan Cabot Story. It might make an interesting TV movie someday, if it doesn’t "play" too much like a bad dream.
by David Punter
Francis Lathom (1774-1832) wrote a succession of Gothic novels in the years between 1795 and 1830, including The Castle of Ollada (1795), The Midnight Bell (1798), Mystery (1800), The Mysterious Freebooter (1806), Italian Mysteries (1820) and Mystic Events (1830). Until recently, the only one of these which had remained in the public consciousness was The Midnight Bell, which is one of the ‘horrid novels’ named for their corrupting power by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey; in the past few years, however, a number of the others have been reprinted in new editions, and considerable effort has been made to uncover the facts of a strange life.
Before briefly looking at that life, however, it is worth noting that Lathom’s literary career is typical of an often neglected fact about the work of many of the minor Gothicists of the period: namely, that they were not only, or even necessarily first and foremost, writers of Gothic. Lathom, for example, first made his name as a formidably precocious writer for the theatre, with plays like All in a Bustle (1795) and Orlando and Seraphina (1800); he also interspersed his Gothic fiction with novels which we might now call ‘comedies of manners’, like Men and Manners (1799) and Human Beings (1807). We might now think of Lathom as something of a hack; he picked up on what were then fashionable genres and tried his hand at them, with predictably varying results.
been referred to as the first gay novel written in English, concerning as it does an explicitly described friendship between two ‘beautiful youths’. In fact, a number of myths have been woven around Lathom; while it seems probable that he was gay, and that this was the reason why, for example, he was viciously cut out of his father’s will, it was also asserted for many years that he was in fact the illegitimate child of an English nobleman, a claim which now seems without foundation.
Although, of course, such a foundation could well be in the way in which writings, Lathom’s included, are so frequently ‘read back’ into biography. In his Gothic vein, Lathom’s writings, as we might expect, are all about the ‘mysteries’ of paternity; about illegitimacy and uncertainties of birth, including such fantastically complicated unravellings as we find in The Castle of Ollada; and about the multiple sins and crimes of an unhinged aristocracy. Whether Lathom, like Matthew Lewis, wove Gothic fantasies around his own life, or whether these fantasies were imposed by his contemporary and later readership, remains undecidable.
For there is no evidence whatever in the texts that Lathom believed in, or was at all interested in, the supernatural; everything is explained – but not necessarily by stark reason, more by the excesses of passion which may cloud the intellect. The stock characters of Gothic fiction are all here – the frenzied nobleman, the equivocal priest, the deluded heroine – but occasionally, as in The Midnight Bell, there are hints at the structures of social prejudice which may engender such stereotypes.
One is thus returned to the notion of Lathom as a kind of ‘outlaw’; not, of course, as a member of a romantic banditti, but as a writer who has a certain sense of what the price might be for one who has defeated, or evaded, expectation and has had to come to terms with what exile – even what was apparently a well-funded and prosperous exile – might entail. To conclude with his own words, which are addressed in The Midnight Bell by the young gaoler Jacques to his prisoner Byroff, but which might as well be addressed, and in similarly ambiguous and seductive terms, by Lathom to his reader:
Suggestive, of course; boyish, perhaps; but with a certain irony about what a reader might fairly find in texts, and about the subterranean designs an author might have, and which, indeed, the Gothic in general might have as it plays with notions of innocence and forbidden knowledge and interrogates the willingness with which we are able to engage with the exiled and the secret.
Some how, monsieur, I had taken a liking to you above any of the prisoners I had attended; and all I kept wishing for, was some means of setting you at liberty, that we might run away together; I knew, if I could contrive it, you would not dislike it, and there was something in your countenance that told me you would be kind to me afterwards.
It has recently been established that he was born in Rotterdam, the son of a highly successful merchant in the East India trade (which probably accounts for the independent means which he appeared to enjoy throughout his life), but his family returned to their native city of Norwich when he was still a child. It was in Norwich, at the Theatre Royal, that he had his first dramatic successes, and, according to James D. Jenkins, ‘by the age of twenty-one, [he] had become something of a minor local celebrity … the author of a Gothic romance and at least one popular comedy, Lathom was off to a brilliant start in his life and career’. Quite what happened to this early promise remains uncertain; what we do know is that despite marriage and having four children, at some point in 1802 or 1803 he left Norwich to spend the remainder of his life peripatetically, mainly in the Highlands of Scotland, but with at least one attested visit to America.
The principal reason which has been advanced for this peculiar development is that Lathom was homosexual, and there appears to be plenty of evidence for this in his novel Live and Learn, which has
What is certain is that Lathom’s Gothic novels are characterised by a certain vivacity, and a sense of rush and urgency which places them firmly in the school of Lewis rather than Ann Radcliffe. The words, for the most part, tumble over each other; even in the later work, there is the sense of a youthful (some might say ‘immature’) imagination at work, with the advantages and faults thus suggested. There is also a certain salaciousness typical of the minor Gothic: not as overt as in Lewis, but nonetheless showing pleasure in temporary torment and adversity.
Yet – and perhaps this is the bridge between Lathom’s Gothic mode and his other writings – he clearly sees himself as ameliorating this darker imagination through his engagement with the comedic aspects of life, and especially of the lives of servants and underlings. Like Radcliffe and many others, his chapter epigraphs often hint at the presumption that he is following Shakespeare in this regard; without, it goes without saying, Shakespeare’s skill, but with something of the master’s regard for the absurdities of pomposity and how this can be deflated by providing different perspectives on the same apparently supernatural phenomena.
by Bill Warren
Morris Ankrum was instantly recognizable, with or without his characteristic moustache. His head was large and blocky with a square chin, a broad and furrowed forehead, and piercing pale eyes staring out from under heavy brows. He was a man who looked and sounded like he knew what he was doing, a figure of authority—a judge, a doctor, a military officer, a district attorney, an Indian chief—and over his long career, Ankrum played all of those head honchos and more. He had a deep, commanding voice and a strong physical presence. He was born to play The Man in Charge.
Morris Ankrum may be best known today to those familiar with 1950s science fiction movies, as he was a figure of authority in several of them. He appeared as Colonel Fielding in the original Invaders from Mars (1953), one of the most emblematic science fiction movies of the era, as well as Rocketship XM, arguably the first 1950s SF movie of all.
garments) in Flight to Mars; he didn’t seem to fit his scientist roles in Kronos and Giant from the Unknown. It was peculiarly disturbing to see a helpless, remotely-controlled Ankrum with his brain visible in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. But even when defeated, he was usually a stalwart presence in 1950s science fiction movies.
However, over his thirty-year movie career, his roles in Westerns, theatrical and for television, far outnumbered his science fiction movies; he played sheriffs, bad guys, townsmen, ranchers and a lot of Indians, mostly chiefs. His origins, however, were anything but flavored with the frontier: he was born Stephen Morris Nussbaum, August 28, 1896. (Note: the IMDb cites his birthdate as the 27th, but Ankrum’s own notes, prepared for MGM, give the 28th.)
He was active in television during the 1950s, primarily in Westerns. Sooner or later, he turned up in most Western series: Maverick, Sugarfoot, Lawman, Bat Masterson, Rawhide, Gunsmoke and many others. In 1959, he began appearing occasionally as a judge on Raymond Burr’s much-loved Perry Mason; his judge was never given a surname, but Ankrum appeared in more than 15 episodes of the long-running series. He ended when it did: Perry Mason was cancelled in 1964, and on September 2 of that year, Ankrum died of trichinosis. His son David is also an actor—and multi-Oscar winning effects maestro Dennis Muren grew up across the street, appearing with the Ankrum kids in home movies.
In those biographical notes prepared for MGM, Ankrum claimed to have wanted to be an actor since childhood, but he got a law degree from USC, later becoming an associate professor of economics at UC Berkeley. But he always acted; he was on stage in New York as early as 1924—with Lillian Gish—having walked there from California, was the “Jew lead” in a revival of Sweet Nell of Old Drury with Laurette Taylor in 1925, and among other theatrical ventures, appeared as King Henry IV in The Five Kings with Orson Welles in New York in 1938.
On that MGM questionnaire, he listed his residences as Berkeley (1924-27), New York (1928-1936) and Pasadena, from 1938 onward. He also lived in Tacoma, Washington, for one unidentified year. He was active in baseball and swimming while at college, and studied economics, history, English and sociology; he was involved in college theater at UC Berkeley.
Westerns. He made more than a dozen of them, including appearing with Jack Benny in Buck Benny Rides Again (1940). From 1936 through 1937, he used the screen name “Stephen Morris,” perhaps to separate his somewhat disreputable movies from his work at the Pasadena Playhouse. He appeared in no movies released in 1938 and 1939; he was in New York directing plays. He’d previously written The Mystery Man which had a short run in January, 1929, but now was back on Broadway, after his Pasadena Playhouse experience, as a director. Prologue to Glory ran from March 17 to November 5, 1938; The Big Blow blew from October 1, 1938 to February, 1939. After that, he returned to movies; in The Light of Western Stars (1940), he was Morris Ankrum.
But in 1950, he played a central role, “Dr. Ralph Fleming,” in the popular and influential Rocketship X-M. Even though Ankrum also appeared in several major movies that year, including Humphrey Bogart’s In a Lonely Place, as well as The Damned Don’t Cry and Chain Lightning (also with Bogart), it seems to have been Rocketship X-M that struck a chord with at least casting directors. In that film, he was the scientist in charge of launching the rocketship, which was intended for the Moon but accidentally landed on Mars instead. Ankrum stayed on Earth.
But in Flight to Mars in 1951, he was one of the scheming Martians who, briefly clad in Destination Moon spacesuits, hoped to force the arriving Earthmen to build a rocket allowing the Martians to invade the
In 1955 and 1956, he appeared in four episodes of the TV series Science Fiction Theatre, then made what’s probably his second best-known science fiction movie, Earth Vs. the Flying Saucers (1956). He’s Brigadier General John Hanley, father of the heroine, who’s kidnapped by aliens. The Ray Harryhausen-activated flying saucers have a gadget inside that reads victim’s minds by candling their skulls so their brains are visible—and it’s Morris Ankrum’s brain we see.
After that, science fiction movies became increasingly routine, though Kronos (1957) had its moments, including when Ankrum, as Dr. Stern, is electrocuted by alien-possessed John Emery. Ankrum has lesser roles in The Giant Claw (1957) and How to Make a Monster (1958), but had a bit more to do, and scenic Big Bear Lake locations on which to do it, in Giant from the Unknown (1958). In this same period, he also appeared in one of the rare fantasy-horror movies of the time, Zombies of Mora Tau (1957).
More than most supporting players of the 1950s science fiction thrillers, Morris Ankrum is memorable; he had strong features, an intense screen presence, and could deliver even ludicrous dialogue with conviction and sincerity. He’s well-liked by fans of those films, including prominent ones; Fred Holliday played “Colonel Ankrum” in Lobster Man from Mars (1989), written by the late Bob Greenberg, an Ankrum fan’ in the “Mant” scenes in Joe Dante’s Matinee (1993), Dante regular Kevin McCarthy played “General Ankrum.” A doff of the military hat to 1950s SF movie icon Morris Ankrum.
He had what amounted to a showy cameo as President Ulysses S. Grant in the tepid From the Earth to the Moon (1958); that film was shot largely in Mexico, perhaps explaining why Ankrum turned up in another Mexican-shot science fiction thriller, Most Dangerous Man Alive (1961). Around this time, he did relatively little in two Roger Corman-directed outings, Tower of London (1962) and X (1963).
But the end was drawing near for Morris Ankrum. He appeared in only one theatrical film after X, the little-seen Eagle Rock (1964); the rest of his time was spent on television, winding up with the Perry Mason episode, “The Case of the Sleepy Slayer.”
Earth. He wasn’t done with Mars; in Red Planet Mars (1952), the almost hysterically anti-Communist Earthbound tale kept Ankrum, and everyone else, firmly on planet Earth. And of course, there’s Invaders from Mars in 1953, with Ankrum stalwart and heroic as Colonel Fielding taking on the title intruders.
For the next couple of years, Ankrum was involved in other kinds of movies, playing Indian Grey Eagle in the 3-D Taza, Son of Cochise (1954), “Chief Tall Horse” in a couple of episodes of the Hopalong Cassidy TV series, and Red Cloud in the Victor Mature vehicle Chief Crazy Horse (1955).
There was something reassuring about Ankrum’s presence, especially when clad as a military officer, battle ribbons bedecking his chest. He was broad-shouldered with a wide chest, one seemingly made for mounting those medals. He seemed to be a large man, an immovable man, the man who would set things straight. Latter-day SF movie fans most likely come upon Ankrum’s movies out of chronological order, and there’s a good chance they’d see his most emblematic roles, in Invaders from Mars and Earth vs. the Flying Saucers before the rest. So it was unusual to see him as a bad-guy Martian (in colorful, flowing is
However, his most significant endeavor was at the prestigious Pasadena Playhouse; he was involved in that influential organization from 1934 until his death in 1964; among his students were Robert Preston and Raymond Burr, and his son David is still associated with the Pasadena institution. He worked hard to support his family; the Playhouse was not rich enough to pay him an adequate salary, so in 1934, he began appearing in movies, although there is a citation for his appearing in Reunion in Vienna in 1933. By 1946, he was a regularly featured (in different roles) in many low budget
gradually changing into a woman, tries to get rid of guests before the embarrassing truth is revealed. However, Bates managed to ground the film with a nuanced performance that captured yet again transitions from charm to ruthless acts of murder with precision and considerable conviction and which treated the whole business with a seriousness that perhaps it did not fully merit.
Bates’s horror career came to a rapid conclusion as British horror production wound down in the mid-1970s. There were two further horror credits, neither for Hammer and neither especially impressive. Persecution (1974) was an odd
Courtley could so easily have become just another of Hammer’s evil aristocrats, and yet, for all his depravity, Bates invests him with a liveliness that renders him a winning figure. The actor certainly has the aristocratic demeanour required for the part but he also finds an unexpected boyishness in Courtley – for example, in the character’s obvious excitement at the possibility that he might finally have found financial backers for his Satanic experiments. As Courtley leaves the brothel with the ‘gents’ he has met there, he announces that they should all go to the Café Royal. ‘It’s the only place,’ he exclaims, and just for a moment we are given a glimpse of an attractive joie de vivre. .
Unfortunately, Courtley’s attempt to resurrect Dracula does not go as planned, and he ends up beaten to death. In what is for Hammer a very self-conscious transition that assures the audience that the old horror is still
picking up a chessman from a dust-covered chessboard practically in the middle of the room, uncovering a round, perfectly clean spot in the deep dust that indicated that the board had been set up many years before, there in the middle of the room, and then never once touched. I couldn't help but think of, say, THRILLER episodes where unsuspecting folks ventured into creepy old mansions unoccupied for decades. I was once with Susan when she needed something out of the trunk of her car; she unlocked and lifted the trunk hatch but, looking at the car, it was as if nothing had been opened. Clothes were crammed so tightly into the trunk that they held the shape of the underside of the trunk hatch; the back of the car retained the trunk-closed look even when the trunk was open!
mentioned The Horror of Frankenstein, a part played by Cushing in Hammer’s six other Frankenstein films. This was the first of three films that Bates made with writer-director Jimmy Sangster, who had written most of the classic Hammer horrors from the late 1950s and early 1960s. Film direction was not Sangster’s forte, however, and The Horror of Frankenstein, along with the two other Sangster-Bates efforts, Lust for a Vampire (1971) and Fear in the Night (1972), were, to put it mildly, lesser Hammer productions. However, Bates gave spirited performances in all of them. Unlike the sardonic dandyesque figure essayed by Cushing, Bates’s version of Frankenstein was a mixture of infectious
He began working in more and more movies, often now in A-level features, such as I Wake Up Screaming (1941), in which he played an assistant district attorney, an early example of his propensity to be cast as stern figures of authority. In 1942, he played Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Tennessee Johnson (1942), the role which he cited in his MGM questionnaire as his favorite to date (1943). He remained busy on through the 1940s, now occasionally being cast as high-ranking military officers; he was a colonel in The Cross of Lorraine and again in See Here, Private Hargrove (1944), a captain in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo in 1944. And he began playing steely-eyed professionals in other areas as well: he was a doctor in the “Crime Does Not Pay” short Purity Squad (1945) and again in The Cockeyed Miracle (1946).
by Mark Cofell
From the untamed wilds of Hollywood cinema, a unique breed of man emerged to portray the mightiest of simians, the Gorilla, in the evolving medium of film. Menacing maidens, tromping through verdant jungle and lurking in the shadows of dark houses became the domain of a handful of performers who labored in uncomfortable conditions and often unaccredited. A tiny, impish Filipino would establish himself as the King of the Gorilla Men through his finely crafted suits and his ability to elicit both frightful cries and easy laughter.
Born in 1903 into the turbulent period of American occupation of the Philippines, Carlos Cruz Gemora was the last of 18 children. Charles lost his father at a young age, and his eldest brother proved to be a selfish and cruel steward. A substantial parcel of land had been left in equal lots to the surviving children but the greedy firstborn campaigned to have all of the land signed over to him. Charles fled from his brother to Manila but was soon discovered and detained at a monastery, where he would remain until he was of legal age to sign the necessary documentation to hand over his birthright. At the young age of fifteen, Charles once again ran off to the capitol, this time determined to travel beyond his siblings grasp and make his way to the United States of America.
waited for an opportunity to become a face in the silver screen crowds. It was not long before his innate talent was recognized by a studio passerby and Charles Gemora found himself in the employ of Hollywood’s dream factory.
Landing a position of sculptor, Charles worked on set pieces for grand Universal epics, eventually playing a major role in the creation of gargoyles prominent on the grand cathedral of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. His craftsmanship on that film lead to his position as set designer for Lon Chaney’s other opus, The Phantom of the Opera. The Opera House set remains intact to this day and is apparently haunted by the Spirit of a Thousand Faces; high flattery from one industry marvel to another. Gemora’s hand can also be found in numerous Douglas Fairbank Senior films.
In 1927 Charles Gemora set upon the task of sculpting and creating a gorilla suit for a film adaptation of the popular play The Gorilla. Apparently fascinated by the problem of making a man a jungle monster, Charles built himself a suit and appeared in The Leopard Lady (1928), setting down a curious career path few men have trod, and fewer still have excelled in. Gorillas were a common feature in pictures of the period and were typically portrayed by extras or stuntmen in an ill fitting suit cobbled together for the individual production. Charles frequented the San Diego Zoo scrutinizing ape movement and form, dedicating many hours and dollars towards perfecting his gorilla alter-ego. One attribute that aided in his believable portrayal of our evolutionary cousins was his size. At only 5’4” and 130 lbs Charles’ gorilla appeared entirely realistic beside larger human actors.
The ability to craft and alter his gorilla suit enabled Gemora to outclass his contemporaries. While Charles was the head of the make-up department at Paramount in his later years, a youthful Bob Burns sat down with his idol and had the rare opportunity to hear the gorilla man’s trade secrets first hand. Bob himself portrayed gorillas throughout the 60’s and 70’s and also assembled a collection of genre memorabilia rescued
use of eye black, resulted in a visually seamless mask that would solidify the illusion of a real ape menacing the screen and allowed for lingering tight camera shots. Charles was a slim fellow and required a great deal of padding to flesh out his gorilla suits. Unfortunately, kapok was employed; a material that was often used in mattresses and sleeping bags and had substantial insulating properties. Suits would eventually utilize water filled pouches that gave the belly a realistic sway. The thick and lustrous coat gracing his suits consisted of yak hair, and in later years, his daughter and assistant, Diana, was responsible for crocheting them onto the suit and keeping the hair maintained. All of these separate elements contributed to gorilla suits that were unparalleled in excellence for many decades. Yet a suit alone is not enough to make an audience laugh or scream. Where Charles truly excelled was in his ability take an awkward and uncomfortable costume and communicate with simple body language and his eyes. Although all gorilla men have taken that journey to the local monkey house to seek the essence of ape-ness, Charles identified the subtle commonalities in emotion and gestures between man and simian that make our evolutionary cousins so fascinating.
Over his years portraying apes, there were several distinct incarnations (Bob Burns tallies at least six, perhaps more) – as Gemora’s artistic skills improved and evolved, so did his simian counterpart. Suits that appeared in his early films were a reflection of the common man’s subconscious impressions of this mysterious brute from the jungle. There was a harsh crudeness in their visage that oozed a weird terror that was as at home in the pages of pulp fiction as it was on film.
In 1930 Charles appeared in the now-forgotten exploitation blockbuster, Ingagi. The despicable essence of the film is simple; although it purported to be a documentary picture depicting an expedition into Africa, Congo
Pictures manufactured a degrading tale about a tribe that worshipped gorillas and who offered up their
Murders in the Rue Morgue saw Gemora paired with Bela Lugosi in what should have been a perfect vehicle to showcase the grotesque gorilla suit of his early career. Unfortunately for Charles, although he had proven that his suits and performing skills were more than adequate in previous films, jarring shots of an
and affecting performance that would outshine all others. This odd entry into the 40’s Universal horror revival provided the gorilla impresario with the added challenge of portraying a creature who possessed the transplanted brain of an executed prisoner bent on vengeance. The brain donor has a sister who had fallen into the clutches of a white slavery ring and his attempts to aid her result in a frame up for murder. This bizarre role taxed all of Gemora’s emoting abilities as he struggled to relate the inner workings of a man agonized by his siblings fall from grace and his desire to utterly destroy those that precipitated it. The Monster and the Girl remains one of the great gorilla suit performances and is acknowledged by modern effects master and former gorilla man Rick Baker as Gemora’s finest hour.
Throughout his years of aping about on film, Gemora continued to work in the Paramount make up department which led to his most widely recognized contribution to cinema history. As recounted to author Tom Weaver by Gemora’s daughter Diana, Charles collected his 12 year old protégé about suppertime one night in 1952 and hustled her off to his studio lab for an emergency work session. The producer of War of the Worlds had just informed Gemora that the Martian created for the film would not work in the cramped farmhouse set and he had one evening to create a replacement. Father and child labored into the dawn hours and ferried a still soggy creature to the stage for shooting. The Martian upper torso was placed on a dolly with Charles half inside on his knees as he manipulated the arms. Prop men would pull the dolly through the scene as Diana worked the air pumps to create the realistic ’throb’ of veins. According to Diana, the fragile alien came very close to teetering over and blowing apart. Luckily, Charles Gemora’s talent and ingenuity carried off one of Sci-Fi’s iconic moments (with no small assist from his girl Friday).
the War of the Worlds Martian suit…but nobody had ever talked to him about doing the gorillas.” Charles Gemora was a humble yet brilliantly creative mind whose talents were by no means limited to his gorilla suit mastery. He had an inventive streak that lead to numerous makeup and effects innovations that according to Diana, were never properly accredited. Reflecting upon her father, Diana had this to say, “He lit the world for a brief starry period. He was blessed to be part of the Industry when raw talent was your only resume.” .
At first glance it may seem out of place to include Gregory of Tours, the sixth century Bishop of Tours, France, and one of our principal historians of the Merovingian era, in a section devoted to luminaries of Gothic and Horror fiction. The concept of “fiction” in any modern sense formed no part of the early medieval literary aesthetic, and what we now think of as Gothic and Horror would not see their earliest self-conscious inklings for well over a millennium. Gregory himself would no doubt be horrified to learn that in future ages his pious works might be read in a secular age, by an audience fascinated with the macabre, the grotesque, the sublime, and the supernatural, almost by way of entertainment. And yet, this is no less violence to Gregory’s intentions, than that with which he himself read Virgil or the Old Testament: the evolution of readership and narrative expectations is an inescapable by-product of literary immortality. Furthermore, even contextualized within his own period, I think a case can be made that Gregory was well aware of the artistic potential of what we now think of as “Gothic” and “Horror” elements in crafting a story to produce emotional impact and to invoke primordial questions of the human condition. H.P. Lovecraft argued something similar with reference to ancient texts such as the Book of Enoch: “the horror-tale is as old as human thought and speech themselves” (Supernatural Horror in Literature, 1939).
At the opening of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, a giant helmet has fallen out of nowhere and crushed the prince; at its conclusion, the colossus himself smashes into the castle to ensure a just and righteous conclusion to events. Not all contemporaries found these subtleties to their taste, but such injections of awesome power for the sake of supernatural retribution and public spectacle had long roots in medieval narratives of history and hagiography (“saints’ lives”). To be sure, Gregory of Tours’ mindset and literary strategies were not different in kind from other writers of his era. Athanasius’ Life of Anthony, Jerome’s Life of Hilarion, and John Cassian’s Conferences all deliver quirky, fantastic, cabalistic, and demonic passages that suggest a world of wonder and violence, a broken world swirling with dark forces and yet punctuated by the miraculous. Too many modern readers, however, have mistaken their carefully contrived narratives for descriptions of reality when visualizing life in Late Antiquity, or the early “Dark Ages.”
The tableau that Gregory of Tours paints for his narrative backdrop is one of merciless treachery and misfortune. Swarms of locusts ravage crops, and the plague (or “plague of the groin,” as Gregory usually refers to it) is a constant guest: “The blisters were white and firm without any softness, although they did
serf’s legs were completely scorched.” When one candle burned out, a new one would be lit. Gregory explains that Rauching “would be convulsed with merriment to watch the man weep” (HF 256). The embittered widow of Bishop Badegisil of Le Mans is given to having men’s penises cut off (Gregory does not cite any particular reason, but simply says “on more than one occasion”), and “she burned the more secret parts of women’s bodies with metal plates which she had made white-hot” (HF 471). Such Suetonian scenes of perverted aristocrats in their common recreations are, in the end, hard to distinguish from scenes of actual torture: one man is placed on his back on the ground, “a block of wood was wedged behind his neck and then they beat him on the throat with another piece of wood until he died” (HF 363); on another occasion, an early Christian martyr Gregory describes is forced to suffer re-baptism under the heretical Arian sect: as she is immersed in the font against her will, the water turns blood red because her menstrual flow begins, and then she is made to suffer “the rack, the flames, and the pincers” (HF 107-8). The use of blood as a symbol, combined with its disarmingly intimate and physiological context as menstrual blood, is characteristic of Gregory’s raw and compelling style.
Indeed, the human body in early medieval hagiography is often a wounded, diseased, or deformed locus of activity and attention. It is visceral and grossly biological. Demons and illness are essentially one, and the body is the site of cosmic battles between the divine and the demonic: one man bleeds a fever out through his nose (LF 14), a boy bleeds out his blindness itself through his eyes (LF 97), and another vomits forth his indwelling demon in a bloody soup (VJ 191). A deaf and mute man named Theodomund, who prays daily to St. Martin, finds himself cured one day most suddenly and most messily: “a stream of blood and filth flowed from his mouth. He spit it on the ground and then began to moan loudly and to cough up some unfamiliar bloody globs; as a result it was thought that someone was cutting his throat with a sword. The putrefaction hung from his mouth like bloody strings” (VM 209). Miraculous cures are not necessarily any more glamorous or sublime than the illness itself.
Compared with modern sentiments concerning religion and spirituality, early medieval Christianity may seem strikingly cold and comfortless, and—even within that context—Gregory’s particular brand of Christian comfort is especially grim. This is a Christianity in which the saints can be as violent as the oppressive nobles, and both of them come across as capricious as the gods of Greece and Rome. Employing a fairly circuitous means of communication, Saint Nicetius appears in a dream to a certain man, telling him to warn the bishop Priscus that the bishop must mend his erring ways. The man passes the message on to a deacon, asking him to deliver the message instead. When that careless deacon neglects to fulfill this promise, Nicetius appears to him directly that night in a dream, and “began to hit him in the throat with clenched fists” (HF 232). Note that we are not yet in a time when dreams are considered expressions of the subconscious mind: Gregory, and all of his readers, would have taken this dream appearance as an actual visit by the saint. On another occasion, an apparition of Christ Himself comes to a priest in Narbonne Cathedral, complaining that the painting—or perhaps mosaic—of Christ on the cross depicts Him in too revealing a fashion. After the priest (as in the preceding case) fails to carry out the instructions quickly enough, Christ appears again to him and pummels him “with heavy blows” (GM 41).
The Earth, for Gregory, is alive with portents and spiritual forces. Some are simple parables: a merchant who refuses to give alms to a poor man finds his entire cargo of food turned to stone (Gregory himselfclaims to have seen the stone dates and olives from the miser’s inventory). Another man—a sinner of some sort, Gregory is certain, though no particular crimes are mentioned—prays with feigned piety at a saint’s shrine, and there takes such a fever that smoke eventually pours from his body, his limbs turn black, and he dies with an intolerable stench (VJ 175). A treacherous priest goes to the lavatory, and “while he was occupied in emptying his bowels he lost his soul instead” (HF 135). A lamp, having broken off from the cord suspending it in front of the tomb of innocent and wrongly slain Queen Galswinth, penetrates into the stone floor, and remains there, embedded to its midpoint (HF 222).
Students of the early Middle Ages will not find these anecdotes and narrative strategies unfamiliar. They are the stock in trade of an entire era of Western literary history, centuries before the playful romances of the High Middle Ages or other (ostensibly) more readerly genres. Romantic writers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries loved to hearken back to the Middle Ages as a brooding, gloomy time, and we are perhaps still too inclined to take Gregory and other early medieval writers’ portrayal of a hostile and chaotic world at face value. Of course, sixth century France did witness violence, oppression, war, injustice, disease, and famine, to varying degrees in different regions—though it is hard to argue with any quantitative support that the early Middle Ages were more trying or violent than the twentieth or twenty-first centuries have been. We are, in any event, clearly in the presence of a writer deliberately selecting facts, and describing them with calculated craftsmanship, for inclusion in his monumental History of the Franks and in his hagiography. His portrayal creates an energized emotional atmosphere pitched such that the humble miracles of local saints shine forth most brilliantly, and such that the misery of the human condition makes individual sufferers most obligingly beholden to their divine intercessors for the occasional cure or release from prison. Gregory surely believed much of what he put down was true, just as modern urban legends proliferate in a dynamic and cohesive society in which the incidents always happened to a friend, or a friend of a friend, and in which the social bonding itself is probably more important to most people than the historical accuracy of the original events. The fact that so much of what Gregory weaves into his sober and ascetic landscape—almost Beckett-like in its minimalism—draws from elements we readily recognize as the building blocks of Gothic and Horror fiction, I believe, warrants his inclusion in this august rogues’ gallery of Lost Souls.
[Note on the sources: Gregory’s History of the Franks (HF) here refers to the translation of Lewis Thorpe (Penguin Books, 1974). References to the Miracles of Julian (VJ) and to the Miracles of Martin (VM) both cite translations in Raymond Van Dam, Saints and Their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul (Princeton University Press, 1993). GM refers to Raymond Van Dam’s translation of the Glory of the Martyrs (Liverpool University Press, 1988), and LF refers to Edward James’ translation of Life of the Fathers (Liverpool, 1985).]
Manila was the center of American activity in 1920's Philippines and ships hustled personnel and goods from Californian ports. A teenage Charles managed to convince a few Yankee sailors to sneak him aboard their vessel and smuggle him into their home country. During the voyage, Charles was called upon to assist in some repairs that required a diminutive fellow, thus he entered the Port of Long Beach on the deck of the ship rather than huddled in the hold.
The future gorilla man and effects wizard began his stay in America washing bottles for a dairy and frequenting the gates of Universal Studios, hoping to earn some money as an extra in the burgeoning film industry. As he had once impressed American nationals and earned a few pennies back in his homeland, Charles would often sketch people as he
from studio dumpsters, preserving artifacts of beloved sci-fi and horror films. Charles explained his suits were constructed from scratch, including the head, torso and limbs (the articulated metal armature that served as the framework for the mask, was created by parties unknown). Two types of arms were used, an ordinary pair used for close ups and a set of ‘walking arms’ that were critical to simulating ape-like locomotion. The performer reached down a sleeve to the ‘elbow’ of the suit where he could grip the stilt-like solid forearm which ended in a closed fist. This enabled Charles to lope about in a truly animal fashion. The simple notion of creating the beasts head from a cast of the inhabitants’ face and the
women to mate with them. The very name of the film Ingagiwas claimed to be a native term for gorilla, but this was also a fallacy. It was not long before the exotic tale of Dark Continent bestiality was exposed as a fake. African-American girls in the picture were recognized by members of Californian audiences. One of the white explorers was also identified as a LA theatre actor. With the whiff of doubt in the air, savvy viewers also began to raise the possibility that the amorous ape of the picture was none other than Hollywood’s new simian thespian, Charles Gemora. According to an article in Motion Picture, Charles denied any involvement until called in for questioning by the Hays Office. Whether or not the film was authentic was the last thing on the minds of enthusiastic movie goers. Ticket sales reached record heights despite the eventual withdrawal of the picture from theatre chains (the unofficial 2nd highest grossing film of 1931 at 2 million). Roadshow viewings swelled and the gorilla-gets-girl premise that pre-dated King Kong, drew crowds for years and inspired other similar exotic exploitation films like Angkor and Love Life of A Gorilla.
actual chimpanzee were substituted in for all of his close-ups. Gemora related to Bob Burns that he had no idea there was any problem with his performance until he viewed the finished project.
Besides the obligatory adventure and horror films, Charles Gemora would make several pictures over his career with a host of comedic greats like the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello and many others. In The Chimp (1931) Charles ably demonstrated his crack comic timing and mischievous wit in the company of comedy giants, Laurel and Hardy. The short features the duo trying to discreetly enter their boarding house with a circus ape in tow and attempting to keep the creatures presence a secret from their landlord. Bob Burns recalled that both Charles and Stan had adoring praise for one another’s talent and character. Gemora would appear again in their feature Swiss Miss (1938).
In 1943, The Monster and the Girl featured Charles as the titular monster in one of his finest gorilla suits and delivering a nuanced
All gorilla men agree on one fine point of suit work; it’s an uncomfortable and often brutal task. Enacting laborious scenes in hot, cramped suits that could weigh 60 pounds or more, took a heavy toll on even the fittest of men. Charles Gemora had a distinct reminder of the physical cost of gorilla suit work in 1943 when he suffered his first heart attack. Despite the obvious impact of his profession, Charles continued to appear onscreen in other ape roles, though less and less frequent.
Poor health finally got the better of cinema’s greatest gorilla man in 1961 when he passed away after another heart attack. One of his final gorilla appearances in Phantom of the Rue Morgue (1954) had found Charles weak and unable to do anything other than close ups. All strenuous actions were performed by a stunt double.
When Bob Burns visited Charles around 1958 it was apparent that Gemora was excited about Bob’s interest in him. “He said a few people had talked to him about making
produce a sharp pain. Once these blisters became ripe, if they popped and began to discharge, then [people’s] clothes stuck to their bodies and the pain increased more severely,” VM 272—for citations, see note on sources, below). The town of Vienne, according to Gregory, is shaken by earthquakes, and savage wolves overrun the city in packs, roaming through the streets (HF 149-50). Life is harsh and austere, and the cruelty of nature and of nobles are alike primal forces to be endured. A certain nobleman named Rauching, while taking his meals, regularly forces the serf attending him to hold a lighted candle pressed between his bare shins, “until the
Other wonders are harder to interpret morally. Two islands are consumed entirely by fire falling from the sky, and a large pond full of fish on another island, off the coast of Brittany, is turned to blood and lapped at by dogs and birds (HF 455). Blood pours forth from a loaf of bread broken in two (HF 296). Sometimes, in Gregory’s cosmos, these portents signify divine pleasure (or displeasure), injustice, or ominous things to come; much of the time they do not seem to signify anything in particular at all. In 587, Gregory records, a number of people discover in their homes vessels “inscribed with unknown characters which could not be erased or scraped off however hard they tried,” though nothing further is ever really made of this (HF 483). It is a touch not unworthy of Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith.