Friday, August 22, 2014


"You cannot feel horror without imagination." - Lionel Atwill 
Early movie fan magazines were notorious for their writer's "embellishing" when it came to describing people and events. For example, it was said in one magazine that when Boris Karloff's daughter, Sara, was born, he rushed directly from the Son of Frankenstein movie set to the hospital, still wearing Jack Pierce's  Frankenstein Monster makeup! Although he did rush to see her as quick as he could, according to Sara herself, he did so sans makeup.

Boris Karloff and his new-born daughter, Sara.
 In the January, 1940 issue of Modern Screen, Martha Kerr's article, "Horror Men Talk About Horror", asks four actors who played in horror films of the day, what horror meant to them. Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwill all gave somewhat surprising answers, but considering the context of "monster movies" during the period, they're not entirely outside the realm of reason.

Basil Rathbone, for instance, replied to the question with a single word: "War!" Most likely chosen because of his country's recent entry into the Second World War, he went on to explain that war, to him, was a "monstrous, gigantic, inconceivably barbarous trap. And there you have it. A trap is the most horrible thing in the world."

Karloff again eschews the term horror when talking about the roles that he plays. He tells the author: "Living with the macabre, as I do -- I prefer to call it the macabre, not 'horror' -- does not induce me into the morbidities (sic) you may suppose." He credits his makeup men as the "unsung heroes" of creating horror -- or, rather -- the macabre on the screen.

Lugosi waxes the most introspective, and in his short narrative, only reinforces what draws fans to his tragic but noble nature. "Horror, to me," he says, "comes not from the other world but from this one." He tells the author that he had not worked for two years, and in that time had a son. His fear was of not having the things necessary to raise his own child. "Fear is horror," he concludes. "Not fear for one's self -- fear for those you love better than yourself."

And finally, Lionel (The Maddest Doctor) Atwill admits that "paralysis, would be the real horror to me." Perhaps alluding to his role as Inspector Krogh in the recently released Son of Frankenstein, he goes on to say: "It would be pretty horrible to have an arm or leg torn off. But you cannot feel horror without imagination and at the time of such a fatality, the imagination is paralyzed, ceases to function."

Upon scrutiny of this article, it's hard to say if everything related by each of the actors is what they actually said at the time. But one cannot suppose that there are embellishments here just because some statements in other articles were later dis-proven.

However, there are inaccuracies in the text itself. Karloff is said to have been on the set of the film, Enemy Agent, at the time of his interview. Unless his part ended up on the cutting room floor, he was not in Enemy Agent, but either working on or finishing up a film titled British Intelligence. Also, in his always gracious words about his makeup men, he names a "Gordon Barr" (and surprisingly not his friend, Jack Pierce).  Perc Westmore was his makeup man in British Intelligence. Perhaps either Karloff misspoke or the author was incorrect. However, there was a Gordon Bau who did the (uncredited) makeup for Karloff's latest Mr. Wong mystery, The Fatal Hour. Coincidentally, it was released in January, 1940 as well.

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