Saturday, January 5, 2013


Nineteen sixty-four was a good year in monster fandom.  FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine was in its “golden age” and its sister publication, MONSTER WORLD debuted.  CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN was on the newsstands with is fourth, irregularly-published issue.  Aurora Plastics released several new monster models that year, including King Kong, Godzilla, and Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde.  While we mourned the deaths of Peter Lorre and Cedric Hardwicke, we celebrated the release of several notable horror films.  Four great Vincent Price movies debuted: THE LAST MAN ON EARTH, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, THE COMEDY OF TERRORS, and MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH.  Hammer released EVIL OF FRANKENSTEIN.  THE GORGON hit the screen, while Mothra and Godzilla hit each other.

The monster fad was in full swing and sweeping the nation, a trend not unnoticed by the prestigious weekly news magazine, LOOK, which chronicled the craze in their September 8, 1964 issue. The cover featured the most famous horror actor of the century, Boris Karloff, with a banner reading “MONSTERS, Why Our Children Are Wild About Horror in Movies, TV, Toys, and Games”.  I happened upon a copy of this magazine in a used book store recently.

 At the time, LOOK was the second-most popular general interest, photo-journalism magazine in the United States.  Its circulation of over seven million copies per issue was exceeded only by that of LIFE magazine.  These two publications were extremely influential in their day, providing news of government, entertainment, current events, science, and the world to American readers.  They were large-sized, measuring 13 x 10 inches, and stood out at the newsstands with their simple but eye-catching titles.  In those days, to be featured on the cover or in the pages of either of these magazines indicated a person had hit the big time!  As a result, having an article about monsters appearing in LOOK gave legitimacy and respectability to both the monsters and their fans.

The LOOK monsters feature consists of a short, introductory section followed by a longer article.  The first part, bearing no writing credit, opens with the passage from Mary Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN in which the Monster first stirs with life.  The writer says monsters have come to life again, in movies, toys, games, models, and magazines.  There is a heavy emphasis on the merchandising of monsters, especially to youngsters.  Forecasters predicted a $20 million market for monster products!  Karloff, Price, and Chaney are pictured as “The Old Master-Monsters” next to creatures from THE OUTER LIMITS, representing the “new breed.”  Hazel Court (CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH), “the best screamer in the business,” is included in the photo.  There is a color shot of Aurora’s Big Frankie model, along with Drag Hag and Surfink, although the second two models are out of focus and difficult to recognize.

The main article, “Those Clean-Living All American Monsters,” gives an interesting summary of the birth of the monster craze, beginning in 1957.  It discusses James Warren and Forrest Ackerman creating FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND magazine and the rise of Hammer Films.  “By late 1961,” the author reports, “monsters were rising up everywhere.”  After detailing some of the new monster-themed TV shows, such as THE MUNSTERS, THE ADDAMS FAMILY, THE OUTER LIMITS, and MY LIVING DOLL (OK, how many of you remember that particular show?), new toys and kiddie products are reviewed, such as Soaky bubble bath in the Frankenstein and Wolf Man bottles!
The article then goes on to discuss the psychological impact of horror films and stories on children.  The author, LOOK Senior Editor Ira Mothner, presents the debate between concerned parents, educators, and child psychologists on one side and the film and literary creators on the other.  The author quotes horror heavyweights Forrest Ackerman, Fritz Leiber, and Robert Bloch who are supportive of the monster/fantasy industry.  Of course, Forry often argued in defense of the genre, dating as far back to the Warren men’s magazine experiment, AFTER HOURS #4.  Bloch and Leiber both make the point that monsters are escapist fiction which can help children cope with the real world, a view supported by Dr. Martin Grotjahn, a psychiatry professor from the University of Southern California.  To discuss the argument against exposing kids to horror stories, Mothner interviewed one of the most famous and infamous child psychologists of the mid-twentieth century, Dr. Frederic Wertham.  Many MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD readers will recognize Dr. Wertham as the author of numerous anti-comic book articles appearing in popular magazines of the time, such as READERS DIGEST and LADIES HOME JOURNAL.  His most famous (or infamous to comic book, crime and horror fans) work is the book SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT, which helped incite the Kefauver Senate hearings into juvenile delinquency and comic books.  Not surprisingly, Wertham was convinced that monster movies were harmful to children.  His views are supported in the article by Dr. Ralph Banay from Manhattan College, who worried that “…we are even abandoning the realistic for the ugly.”

Mothner uses some of Grotjahn’s comments to move the discussion toward the changes in the nature of the monsters of the time.  The characters in movies and especially television are less scary than the “classics” of the 1930s.  Monsters have become “more humanized” and are less to be feared than pitied.  For example, werewolves have no control over their transformations and conditions.  Herman Munster makes the Frankenstein monster lovable.  Mothner concludes that monsters may have been revived too often:  “Gutted by success, robbed of their misbegotten right to spread dread, they will eventually be loved or laughed to a death from which they may never return.”  Nearly fifty years later, it is safe to say that his conclusion is wrong!

The cover photo of Karloff has always been one of my least favorite pictures of the great actor, despite having been taken by the well-known John Vachon.  At the time, Vachon was a staff photographer for LOOK, and he is remembered today for his many photos of Marilyn Monroe, as well as his images of mid-century rural America.  Vachon’s photo of Karloff seems somewhat out of focus, as if the shutter were left open too long and it picked up camera motion or subject motion.  Karloff’s face is dark, contrasted by the bright white of his hair.  Had the actor not been so well known, he might not have been recognizable.  I am not a photography expert, but I think this photo technique was gaining popularity in the early ‘60s.  Not quite psychedelic, but a move away from photo-realism.  I contrast this cover to the more satisfying LIFE cover photo of Karloff a few years later.  The 1968 picture is Karloff against a black background, his face illuminated by candles.  It is a far more striking, memorable image.  But LOOK was sometimes more innovative or daring in its style and photography than the more staid LIFE.  In the words of a 1960s advertising slogan, they were only #2 and had to try harder.

This is definitely a fun magazine to read and makes me wonder if history is not circular.  In addition to the monsters story, this issue of LOOK also has a feature on Sean Connery, “The Reluctant 007.”  GOLDFINGER, James Bond’s fourth—and possibly best—film appearance premiered in 1964.  And a new James Bond movie is in theaters now.  A cover story looks at Catholics and the birth control pill.  The Pill played a role in this year’s presidential debates.  There is also a piece on prejudice in a particular state.  Similar stories still appear in newspapers today.

And today, we still love our monsters and monster magazines!  Some great things are timeless!

Guest post by: DOUG BROWN


No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...