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(1899-1973). American actor.
Uncredited and virtually invisible in two Flash Gordon serials and The Mummy's Tomb, Strange was a bit more prominent, if not particularly memorable, in support of mad scientists George ZUCCO and J. Carrol NAISH in, respectively, The Mad Monster and The Monster Maker, two passable time-wasters to look for in the 99-cent bin of your local DVD store. Surely, on the basis of those films, no one would have thought of Strange as a candidate to portray the greatest film monster of them all. But the people responsible for keeping Universal's Frankenstein film cycle alive at all costs were pondering a radical new strategy: Boris KARLOFF had permanently abandoned the role of the monster, and two other horror stars—Lon CHANEY Jr. and Bela LUGOSI—had, to say the least, failed to impress anyone with their interpretations of the part. So, they thought, why not simply hire somebody who looked like Karloff, so they could honestly advertise the monster's presence in promoting their next all-star monsterfest, and give the poor fellow as little to do as possible while letting the other actors carry the film? So it was that makeup artist Jack P. PIERCE started to stare intently at a tall, gaunt actor named Glenn Strange, and eventually called him in to try on the world's most famous monster makeup.
In three appearances as the Frankenstein monster—in House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein—the mute and inexpressive Strange is pushed here and prodded there as part of various inane machinations, understandably garnering the reputation as the least capable Frankenstein monster in the Universal cycle. But it is important to note that this is more a consequence of scripting than of acting ability. Moreover, if someone manages to watch these films and somehow focus all of their attention on Strange, he perversely and unexpectedly emerges as the most poignant and tragic Frankenstein monster of them all. The other monsters, even if they died in the end, were at least able to express their emotions, take actions to achieve their goals, and have an impact on the lives of those around them; Strange is purely a victim, brought back to life solely to do the bidding of others, marching numbly and unprotestingly to his preordained fate. The people who brought this Frankenstein monster into existence, more so than Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or James WHALE's Colin CLIVE, bluntly illustrate the unspeakable cruelty of the human race.
In playing this part, of course, Strange was a victim in another sense, because he obviously would rather be doing something else—wearing a cowboy hat, riding a horse, and chasing after some varmint in a dusty Hollywood backlot. And so, delighted to learn that Abbott and Costello Meets Frankenstein would bring the Universal Frankenstein cycle to an inglorious end and thus rescue him from further appearances as the monster (though he would briefly reprise the role one more time in a Colgate Comedy Hour sketch), Strange happily returned to the Wild West, now mostly making guest appearances in television westerns, though he did participate in one episode of Thriller, the horror anthology series featuring his old friend Karloff. And in the final decade of his life, Glenn Strange finally and fittingly achieved a modicum of fame by regularly appearing as Sam the bartender in the series Gunsmoke, his escapades as a moonlighting monster thankfully forgotten.
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