Saturday, December 15, 2012

THE EDISON FRANKENSTEN CONTROVERSY


“I don’t think it’s egotism or conceit when I say I can’t honestly conjure up a vision of many filmonster fans standing at a newsstand confronted by FM and a couple of other titles, with only enough money to purchase one, and buying a title other than FM.” – Forrest J Ackerman

In December, 2010 I published a post celebrating the 100th year of the Edison FRANKENSTEIN silent film. In it I mentioned the first two magazines that showed actual pictures from the EDISON KINETOGRAM cover depicting the monster.

I was wrong.

It turns out that, like many historical events, the truth is sometimes overshadowed by the pomp and circumstance surrounding their occurrence. As shown below in the editorial by Alan G. Barbour, recognition for the first “modern” magazine to carry the now-famous photo actually belongs to SCREEN FACTS (v1 n4, Fall 1963).

This claim is further bolstered by the discussion made by author Frederick C. Wiebel, Jr. in his book, EDISON’S FRANKENSTEIN (Bear Manor Media 2010). He mentions the discovery of the March 15, 1910 issue of the EDISON KINETOGRAM while researching an article about the FRANKENSTEIN films for SCREEN FACTS. Interestingly enough, while Mr. Wiebel comments on himself seeing the KINETOGRAM photo in both FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN, he fails to mention its earlier appearance in SCREEN FACTS, including listing it in as a source in the Periodicals section of the book.


Nevertheless, Editor Barbour asserts he was the first to run the photo according to his explanation:

“In the June 1963 issue of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, a magazine devoted primarily to printing pictures of monsters and its editor, a picture of the first Frankenstein Monster was presented. Since that time we have received many letters from our readers asking whether or not that was the FIRST publication of that picture in recent times. The answer is, of course, NO! The first publication of this picture was in SCREEN FACTS magazine number one (now out of print and a collector’s item). So that the record may be set straight on this rare SCREEN FACTS scoop, here are the facts (all backed up by undisputable evidence).

November 1962: On a tip from Kirk Bond, Edward Connor uncovers the picture in the archives of the New York Public Library.

January 1963: SCREEN FACTS magazine publishes the picture for the first time in recent history.

January 1963: SCREEN FACTS gives a copy of the picture for publication to CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN magazine.

February 1963: Forrest J. Ackerman orders ten copies of SCREEN FACTS number one which were shipped directly to his home by ENTERTAINMENT FILMS here in New York. (We still have his dated order form).

June 1963: FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND publishes the picture of the Frankenstein Monster using such eye-catching front cover headlines as "THIS ISSUE - MOST UNUSUAL FRANKKENSTEIN PICTURE EVER", and inside "50 Year Search Ends in FM Triumph!" The find was credited as follows: "Motion Picture historian Clark Wilkinson helped track the monster down & bring you this magic moment in FM history" (Ed. Mr. Wilkinson is also a SCREEN FACTS subscriber and received issue one in January 1963). Nowhere in the article does Mr. Ackerman credit the actual source (45 pages away in the front under the credits and acknowledgements listing SCREEN FACTS is listed, which we assume justifies the omission in the actual article). In fairness to the magazine, nowhere does it actually mention that it was the FIRST to print the picture. But then, did it actually have to?

July 1963: CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN publishes the picture, understandably believing they were the first major magazine to have it (and they credited SCREEN FACTS!).

We were content to let the matter ride, knowing full well that all our readers would, of course, know the truth. However, after reading the asinine and thoroughly unprofessional attack leveled by FAMOUS MONSTERS against a competitor in FM's current issue, we felt just a little TRUTH should sprout forth.

We know Mr. Ackerman would NEVER fail to give credit where credit is due. We even wish FM well on their latest contest (the one where the kids must spend FOUR DOLLARS to buy two original scenarios). We are sure it will be as successful as the last (in which the kids had to buy a 4.95 make-up kit in order to enter).”

FJA interview from FAMOUS MONSSTERS #24
March, 1963.



 The “attack” mentioned by Mr. Barbour was leveled against the short-lived WORLD FAMOUS CREATURES magazine. Admittedly, like a few other monster magazines of the day, WFC was a bit on the rough side, but to be singled out by Forry as a hack job was downright vicious -- and ultimately – unnecessary, especially when he explained earlier in the interview that he was dismissive of any rival publications.

Another curious point to ponder is that, in the two-part, multi-issue interview of the editor of FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND (issue #’s 24 and 25), Mr. Ackerman pontificates on many ‘a topic, including his acerbic comments on FM’s competition. The comments are rather imperious to the point of being arrogant – strange coming from a person whose own ‘zine was, although benefited by somewhat more appealing art direction, mainly targeted for a teenage-and-younger audience.

There is no question that FJA and his publisher, Jim Warren, were protective of their product. After all, it was these two that launched the industry of the monster magazine in the first place. Combined with their unabashed self-promotion (how many pictures have you seen of Forry without a copy of FM in his hands?) and aggressive marketing, they were, indeed, a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, I do not have an example of the issue of SCREEN FACTS where the Edison Frankenstein is pictured. For now, I will be taking film historian Alan Barbour’s word as printed in his editorial.

And that is, indeed, a screen fact!

3 comments:

Jack Seabrook said...

I was lucky enough to take my family to the Loew's Jersey City a number of years ago when Alois Detlaff brought his print of Frankenstein and showed it in the big old theatre. They also showed a couple of full-length Franky movies and the Edison version at least twice. Mr. Detlaff was an odd duck but I was excited to see the rare film, especially in light of what happened afterwards. Is the film aavailable to see now? I recall reading it was lost when Detlaff died.

Doug Brown said...

John, Didn't you post a link to the Edison Frankenstein movie last year? I seem to recall viewing the movie (or extended clips) on line from a link at MMW. I have never been able to see it at a theater. Doug

John said...

While numerous versions of this film are available from sources on the 'net, interested parties can order a free "authorized" copy on DVD-R from Frederick C. Weibel, Jr. by sending $6.00 for shipping costs to: EDISON'S FRANKENSTEIN, POB 585, HAGERSTOWNM MD 21741-0585.

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