Dear Kids, Families, Teachers, Librarians, and Other Readers,
This has been an eventful week for Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets and for me.
On Friday, November 1, the Cover Reveal for my book took place. In case you missed it, please check out the image to the right. I hope you like it. I am very pleased with the end result, especially since it took three months of compromising among the publishers, designers, and me. I was reminded at how important–and often, frustrating–teamwork can be.
On Monday, November 4, the Book Blitz got underway. This is where my book cover and information were plastered all over social media via the tour director (thank you, Shannon, at Reads and Reels Book Tours), book bloggers, and me to acquaint people with my book and when it will finally be available for purchase (on Amazon on February 1, 2020–please mark your calendars NOW!). Accompanying the blitz was a Rafflecopter giveaway for two winners, one inside and one outside the U.S., for a free, autographed book, some book swag, and an Amazon gift card.
There is still a daunting amount of work (i.e., labor of love) for me to do behind the scenes between now and February 1 to make this book dream a reality.
So get a clue, Readers. Watch this space for more adventures in the publication of Nutmeg Street: Egyptian Secrets. These activities continue to be challenging and humbling for me, which will make the finished product all the more endearing for this author and, hopefully, a fabulous read for you.Details
Dear Readers and Fans of Lycanthropy,
Last time, I asked the question, “To which character from classic horror films did Maleva, the old ‘Gypsy’ fortuneteller, speak these words: ‘Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a ??? when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright’?” If you guessed “The Wolf Man,” you are correct, so get ready to howl!
But first things first. You might be wondering what lycanthropy is. It is defined on Google as, “the supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf as recounted in folk tales. It is also a form of madness involving the delusion of being an animal, usually a wolf, with correspondingly altered behavior.” Clinical lycanthropy does exist! It is a rare psychiatric syndrome where some believe they are changing into a wolf. It has been associated with altered states of mind that accompany psychosis where transforming into a wolf seems to happen only in the affected person’s mind and behavior. It is thought that clinical lycanthropy is caused by an imbalance in the brain. Turning to literature, some literary scholars mark The Epic of Gilgamesh as the debut of the werewolf, as it was called, in Western prose when a person was turned into a wolf. Werewolves can also be found in ancient Greek mythology in the Legend of Lycaon.
Of Universal Pictures’ most successful monster triumvirate from the 1930s and ’40s–Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Wolf Man–only The Wolf Man did not originate from a novel. It came from a screenplay written by Curt Siodmak (1902-2000), a German-American novelist (Donovan’s Brain, Black Friday, et.al.), who was also a screenwriter (Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, I Walked with a Zombie, et.al.) His first name was sometimes spelled “Kurt” in movie credits, a holdover from his days in Germany. He was the younger brother of Hollywood film noir director Robert Siodmak. For his plots, Curt Siodmak drew from the latest scientific findings coupled with pseudo-scientific ideas, like the Jekyll and Hyde complex.
Siodmak emigrated first to England after hearing anti-Semitic Nazi propaganda in his native Germany. He next moved to the United States in 1937, continuing to make his living as a screenwriter. His big break came in 1941 when his screenplay became the Universal Pictures horror film, The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. For that movie, Siodmak created many legends–pieced together from lycanthropic and superstitious folklore, witchcraft, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. These include the pentagram, which is a five-pointed star and the sign of the werewolf. A werewolf supposedly sees it in the palm of his next victim’s hand; that a werewolf can only be killed by a silver bullet or some large silver implement; and, the famous verse mentioned above about becoming “a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.” We continue to associate such legends and images with werewolf films. It is interesting to note that in the 1941 Wolf Man movie, the full moon neither appears nor is mentioned. That’s because the full moon motif hadn’t occurred to Siodmak yet; he changed that last line for his sequels. It became, “and the moon is full and bright.” The full moon and any season, not just autumn, became the catalysts for the man-to-wolfman metamorphoses in subsequent werewolf pictures.
Universal Pictures Hollywood made four more movies in which the Wolf Man appeared due to the popularity of the 1941 film: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945), and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). Again, Lon Chaney, Jr. proudly played the Wolf Man in all of them. His incredible werewolf makeup was created by Hollywood makeup artist and perfectionist Jack Pierce, a Greek immigrant who was famous for transforming actors into apes and fantastical creatures. He incorporated his research into anatomy, ancient burial customs, and electrodynamics into his designs. As much as Chaney loved his monstrous character, he was quite vocal about not enjoying sitting for long hours daily while Pierce transformed him into the Wolf Man. In fact, the two men developed a hatred for one another with Pierce purposely taking extra time to remove Chaney’s makeup after a long day of shooting!
Siodmak’s autobiography Wolf Man’s Maker (2001) was published posthumously. He died in his sleep at his home in Three Rivers, California, in 2002 at the age of 98.
In 1941’s The Wolf Man, good-guy Larry Talbot, played by the 6’2″, 220-pound Lon Chaney, Jr., returns from California to his ancestral home, Talbot Castle, in the foggy woods of Llanwelly, Wales. Older brother, John Talbot, the erstwhile heir apparent, had been killed in a hunting accident. Larry and his father, Sir John (Claude Raines), use the tragic occasion to reconcile after an eighteen-year separation over family issues. On the day of his arrival, Larry meets beautiful Gwen Conliffe (Evelyn Ankers, Hollywood’s “scream queen”), an antique shop worker in the village. He buys a silver-handled wolf’s head cane from her. That same night, Larry kills a wolf with it, only later learning it wasn’t a wolf but a man, Bela (Bela Lugosi). Bela’s mother, Maleva, the old “Gypsy” fortuneteller (Maria Ouspenskaya), tells Larry that her son was a werewolf and that now, he is one, too, since Bela bit him. This sets in motion Larry’s battling of the curse of the werewolf. He attends a “Gypsy” carnival and is given a spell-breaking charm to wear by Maleva (which he gives to Gwen to protect her from himself), falls in love with Gwen, and argues with his logical-minded father and the local constable (Ralph Bellamy), who refuse to believe Larry’s lycanthropic experiences–much to his father’s eventual woe.
American actor Lon Chaney, Jr. (1906-1973) was born Creighton Tull Chaney, the son of stage and silent movie star, the “Man of a Thousand Faces,” Lon Chaney, Sr. (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, et.al.). Young Chaney’s early life was troubled by his parents’ divorce, his mother’s suicide attempt, and the resulting scandal. His father remarried and continued his career while the boy worked hard to emerge from his famous father’s shadow. The senior Chaney adamantly discouraged his son from becoming an actor, so the young man became a plumber. When his father died in 1930, the junior Chaney experienced two turning points: that his mother hadn’t died when he was a boy; and, that he was now free to pursue his acting career. In 1931, he starred in his first film, The Galloping Ghost, using his own name, Creighton Chaney. In 1935, he began being billed by Universal as Lon Chaney, not “Jr.” In 1939, after many bit parts in numerous films, Chaney starred as Lennie Small in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, his first major role and a critical success for him. In 1941, Universal gave him the title role in The Wolf Man, which would somewhat typecast him as a horror film actor for the rest of his life. Unlike Karloff and Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Jr. played not only his “baby,” the Wolf Man, but also Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, and the Mummy. Later, he succeeded at breaking through his monster typecast, playing a variety of roles until 1971, when he retired due to illness. He always remained protective of his beloved Wolf Man character.
Chaney was befriended by some coworkers, but he was capable of intense dislikes. Despite the onscreen chemistry between him and Evelyn Ankers, they didn’t get along. It is reported that near the end of The Wolf Man, when the werewolf has Gwen (Ankers) by the neck, then throws her to the ground in the woods, that Chaney really did that. When we see Gwen “come to” in the scene, she wasn’t acting! Ankers said that she really did pass out and was lost in the set’s creeping chemical fog until found by some costars. Because Chaney could become belligerent on a set, there was frequent bloodshed.
Toward the end of his life, Chaney’s voice became raspy from throat cancer, contracted from lifelong smoking. He died in San Clemente, California, from heart failure at age 67 in 1973. In 1999, a Golden Palm Star was dedicated to him on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars. He had two sons, now deceased, but his grandson, Ron Chaney, frequently appears as a guest at horror movie conventions.
Sources: “Curt Siodmak,” “The Wolf Man,” “Lon Chaney, Jr.,” and “Jack Pierce” from Wikipedia; Google–lycanthropy; “When the Autumn Moon Was Bright” (2009) universalmonsterarmy.com; IMDb.com; behindthe thrills.com
So get a clue, Readers. I hope you enjoy some classic Universal monster movies to get you in the spirit of things for Halloween. Fortunately, there is no full moon this October 31st. Happy fun and safe Halloween!
Dear Readers and Vampire Fanatics,
“The mouth . . . was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. . . . The nails were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point . . .” This description from Bram Stoker’s book Dracula is of one of the most famous vampires of all time. The very name “Dracula” brings to mind bloodshot-eyed, nocturnal vampires, garlic flowers, flitting bats, coffins, broken mirrors, old, foggy graveyards, wooden stakes, and crucifixes.
If you guessed “Count Dracula” as the answer to my last blog question–Who said, “‘Listen to them–the children of the night. What music they make!'”?–you are correct. The count spoke those words to the solicitor Jonathan Harker from England, his newly arrived guest at his castle in Transylvania. The young man would become the count’s prisoner and victim. The words from the quote refer to the wolves howling in the valley far below–wolves, we learn, that did the count’s bidding!
Irish author Abraham “Bram” Stoker (1847-1912) wrote Dracula in 1897, having been influenced by John Polidori’s book The Vampyre, written in 1816. Stoker’s book introduced the character of Count Dracula to the world. Considered a classic Gothic Horror Invasion story, it spawned many movies, particularly in the 1930s and ’40s made by Universal Pictures Hollywood. Vampires remain popular to this day in books, films, plays, and musicals. Master author of horror Stephen King said of Count Dracula, “Of all the monsters in my closet, this is the one that scares me most, and probably always will.”
Stoker’s work tells the story of Count Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England where he hopes to find new blood, spread his curse of “the undead” to form an army, and avoid defeat at the hands of a small group of men and a woman led by the Dutch professor Dr. Van Helsing. Part of the story is set in Whitby, England, where Stoker spent summer holidays. Dracula is seen as an evil, unsympathetic character throughout.
Bram Stoker was an invalid as a child. His mother used to tell him horror stories at bedtime! Thus began Stoker’s obsession with the undead and tales of horror. He made a remarkable recovery from his childhood illnesses, going on to become an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with honors in mathematics but was employed as a civil servant and theatre reviewer before turning to fiction writing. He published his first story in 1872. Stoker was lifelong friends with horror fiction writer, J. Sheridan Le Fanu (In a Glass Darkly; Uncle Silas; and, his vampire tale Camilla); and, with English Shakespearean actor Sir Henry Irving, whose looks and mannerisms are believed to have been the real-life inspiration for the character of Dracula. Irving never played the role of Dracula on stage, much to Stoker’s disappointment.
In 1878, Stoker married the beautiful Florence Balcombe, but their marriage wasn’t a happy one. Supposedly, Stoker came to revile women. Some say that he wrote Dracula so that women could literally have the life sucked out of them!
Stoker was well traveled and spent seven years researching the history and lore of Eastern Europe, including vampire myths, Transylvania, and the Carpathian Mountains. Some literary historians believe that an actual historic figure from fifteenth-century Transylvania, Vlad Tepes III Dracul, was the model for Stoker’s count. Vlad was known as Vlad the Impaler. The bloodthirsty tyrant of Wallachia earned his name by killing anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000 Turks and European civilians by impaling them on tall stakes. Then, he would prop them up mile after mile at the border to dissuade future invasions. Stoker originally named his vampire Count Wampyr but was intrigued by the name “Dracula” after researching about Wallachia. Dracula in Romanian meant “son of the dragon.” In Ireland, the term Droch Ola translates to “bad blood.” In North America, Dracula means “devil.” (Notice that Vlad’s wooden stake image carried into Dracula as the way to kill a vampire.)
Stoker wrote twelve novels, including his most famous Dracula, and numerous short stories. To date, over 1,000 novels and 200 films have been made about Stoker’s vampire. There is an annual Bram Stoker Festival in Dublin, Ireland, from October 28-31.
Stoker was a frequent visitor to the United States, meeting Presidents McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt as well as one of his literary idols Walt Whitman. In London, he was friends with poet William Butler Yeats and the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The castle of Count Dracula might have been inspired by Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, at which Bram Stoker was a guest of the 19th Earl of Erroll; or, possibly by Castle Bran in Transylvania, of which Stoker saw an illustration.
Dracula was not an immediate best seller in 1897 despite reviewers’ praise. Sadly, Stoker didn’t make much money from it and died a poor man, never living to see the worldwide popularity of his most famous character. Dracula finally reached its iconic status in the twentieth century when its movie versions started to appear, in particular, the unauthorized Nosferatu, in 1922. This sparked legal battles between the movie’s maker, F.W. Murnau, and Stoker’s widow. Interestingly, litigation caused the novel and film to grow in popularity!
In 2009, an authorized sequel was published entitled Dracula the Un-dead by Stoker’s great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt.
In 1931, Universal Pictures Hollywood released its movie version, starring the 6’1″, Hungarian-born actor Bela Lugosi (1882-1956) as the count. Spin-offs followed for Lugosi and other actors of the time. Since 1931, the book has never been out of print. Other actors to play the count include Max Schreck, Lon Chaney, Jr., Christopher Lee for Britain’s Hammer Film Productions, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, Luke Evans, and Richard Roxburgh.
Bela Lugosi’s movie roles were sparse due to his heavy accent and limited English. In addition, he didn’t want to be typecast as a horror villain. Playing Count Dracula, which he did only two times (in 1931 and 1948), was his greatest role. He was often paired in other horror pictures with Boris Karloff, who usually got top billing. The two worked well together but were never close friends. Lugosi’s career and finances declined. He became addicted to doctor-prescribed opioids for severe, chronic sciatica from war injuries he sustained in military service. Near the end of his life, he sought medical intervention and used money earned from starring in low-budget Ed Wood movies to pay his hospital expenses.
Bela Lugosi, a Roman Catholic, died in 1956 and is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. His ex-wife Lillian and their son, Bela George Lugosi, made the decision to have him buried in one of his Dracula cape costumes.They believed that it would have been what he wanted since he was a fan of the occult. Contrary to popular belief, Lugosi never left such burial instructions himself. The cape he wore in the 1931 film survives today in the ownership of Universal Studios.
Sources: Dracula, by Bram Stoker; “Dracula,” “Bram Stoker,” and “Bela Lugosi” from Wikipedia; IMDb.com; biography.com; dublintown.ie: telegraph.co.uk; and, foliosociety.com.
So get a clue, Readers. To which character from classic horror films did Maleva, the old “Gypsy” fortuneteller, speak these words: “Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a ( ) when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright”? Come back next time for the hair-raising answer!
Dear Readers and Gothic Horror Fiction/Film Lovers,
Many writers, especially in their earliest works, will create one or more characters like themselves. Admittedly, all four of my detectives have at least one of my traits. Here are some my head detective, Lanyon “Lanny” Wyatt, and I share; and, yes, there is a Gothic horror tie in.
Lanny and I love classic movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. He and I are also enthralled with nineteenth century British fiction. His hero is Sherlock Holmes. Mine are many from that era–in particular, the authors who wrote Gothic Horror fiction and Gothic Romantic literature. One such novelist was Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley, author of Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.
I find it interesting that for her novel–and for all film and play spin-offs–Mary Shelley created her characters with mere pen and paper. But her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, created his “character,” a monster, by stitching together parts of cadavers from questionable sources, infusing it with the creator’s own evil tendencies!
The novel is a masterpiece of bleak themes, namely, dangerous knowledge, creator/creation relationship, abuse, prejudice, rejection, lack of family identity, abandonment, loneliness, isolation, futility, and revenge. (Don’t read it while depressed!) It spotlights how the monster–or anyone!–possessing humanity, goodness, intellect, and sensitivity, can become violent when refused sympathy and companionship. As a result, even the monster’s vilest actions have evoked pity and sadness in many readers and moviegoers. (Kids, this is what literary people call “pathos.”) The scintillating story plot and memorable characters became grist for the Hollywood film-making mill in the 1930s and ’40s.
In honor of Mary Shelley, the Frankenstein novel, Universal Pictures’ films of the work, and the month of October–all of which for some conjure up images of deepening twilight, jack-o’-lanterns, and graveyards–here is some interesting trivia related to Frankenstein:
Mary Shelley (1797-1851) wrote Frankenstein in 1816 when she was eighteen years old. It was published anonymously in 1818 when she was twenty, not least out of concern that she might lose custody of her children. No one could have imagined that a woman had written such a work. Indeed, many thought that Percy Shelley had written the book, especially since he had written the preface. Today, scholars believe Mary Shelley wrote it.
Critics bashed the book when it first came out in 1818, calling it “a tissue of horrible and disgusting absurdity” (John Croker, conservative member of Parliament). But Gothic fiction was popular, so the novel quickly gained a wide readership. A revised version was published in 1831 with Mary Shelley’s name on it. In the introduction, she downplayed her role, saying she had merely written a transcript of her dream, perhaps “to avoid the scandal of her own brain” (Lepore).
In 2018, M.I.T. Press, with leaders from the Frankenstein Bicentennial Project at Arizona State University, published an edition of the original text, annotating it for “scientists, engineers, and creators of all kind.” It was funded by the National Science Foundation as a cautionary guideline for designers of robots and artificial intelligence: “Scientists’ responsibility must be engaged before their creations are unleashed” (Lepore).
But Frankenstein was original and revolutionary, considered the first major science fiction novel. The author is also credited with inventing the concept of the “mad scientist” and what would become horror fiction.
Mary Shelley wrote the novel on a dare from her fiance, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, their mutual friend, another poet, Lord Byron, and the physician John Polidori. In June 1816, the group was housebound for three days in Cologny, Switzerland, near Lake Geneva at the Villa Diodati due to stormy weather. To stave off boredom, they sat before the fire reading ghost stories from the book Fantasmagoriana. Byron suggested they have a competition to see who could come up with the best ghost story. Try as she might, Mary Shelley experienced writer’s block. Then . . . an idea came to her in “a waking dream” in which she saw a “pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together.” Needless to say, she won. (For his story, Polidori wrote The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story, which later influenced Bram Stoker to write Dracula.)
The book’s settings are Switzerland, England, Scotland, an island in the Orkneys, and the North Pole.
Mary Shelley’s literary ambitions and free lifestyle were ignited by the work and reputation of her unconventional mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin), who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792. She died when Mary was only eleven days old. Another tragedy could have influenced the author. Before starting Frankenstein, her baby daughter Clara had died at the age of six weeks. She often dreamed that she and Percy brought the infant back to life by rubbing warmth into its body in front of the fire.
Another influence on Mary Shelley might have been from the experiments of Luigi Galvani, which were “concerned with the destructive nature of power when allied with wealth.” In addition, the Shelleys had visited the real Castle Frankenstein on a trip to Germany. An alchemist named Konrad Dippel used to live there. He had tried to create an elixir to make people live for over a hundred years.
The author often echoes John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, of which the monster was well read. The creature identifies strongly with the poem’s Satan, who felt abandoned and desirous of revenge. The book’s monster is also well-spoken: “Satan had his companions, fellow-devils, to admire and encourage him; but I am solitary and abhorred.” And “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel . . . ” The monster remained unnamed in the novel, often referred to as “monster,” “creature,” “demon,” and “it.” Over time, the name “Frankenstein” came to apply not only to its creator but to the monster itself. (See the movie from 1948, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.) Even Mary Shelley had no other name for her creation.
On March 18, 1910, Thomas Edison released his fifteen-minute film of Frankenstein, one of the first horror movies ever made. Thought lost, the film was rediscovered in the 1950s. (Catch it on YouTube!)
Between 1931 and 1943, Universal Pictures Hollywood made five Frankenstein movies. English actor Boris Karloff (1887-1969) starred as the monster in the first three Frankenstein movies (1931, 1935, and 1939) after making eighty other films. He is still recognized as one of the true icons of horror films.
Boris Karloff’s real name was Sir William Henry Pratt, the youngest of nine children. He and his family were members of British aristocracy, but he left all of that behind to become an actor in America. He took many jobs in Canada and California to make a living before becoming a famous actor, namely, farm laborer and plaster bag carrier. He overcame his childhood stuttering but not his lisp or bow-legs, the latter two evident in many of his films, including the Frankenstein movies.
His mother, Eliza Sarah Millard Pratt, had some East Indian ancestry, which gave Karloff his relatively dark complexion. That made him stand out in British society at the time. Karloff’s maternal grandaunt was Anna Leonowens, who wrote about her life as a governess in the royal court of Siam (Thailand). Her tales became the basis for the musical The King and I and the novel Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon.
On the day his only child, a daughter named Sara, was born, Karloff was filming Son of Frankenstein. He reportedly rushed from the Universal Pictures’ set to the hospital wearing his bulky Frankenstein’s monster costume and full makeup. Sara was born on November 23, 1938–her father’s 51st birthday! He said at the time of her birth that Sara was the best and most expensive birthday present he ever received. His monster shoes weighed eleven pounds each and were four-inch platform boots, making his 5’11” height look even more formidable.
Despite playing such a fearsome character as the monster (he also played Imhotep in The Mummy in 1932), Karloff was really a kind, charming gentleman whose favorite pastime was growing roses in his backyard. The actor was often listed in his Universal movie credits only as “Karloff” because he was so famous and inimitable.
Karloff narrated and was the voice of the Grinch in the cartoon television special of Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966). He has two stars on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame”–one for movies and one for television.
When asked about being typecast as a monster, Karloff is quoted as saying, “My dear old monster. I owe everything to him. He’s my best friend.” He died in 1969 at the age of 81 from complications of emphysema after years of smoking. His net worth was estimated at $20 million (by 2019 standards).
Sources: Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley; mentalfloss.com; “Mary Shelley,” “Boris Karloff,” and “Frankenstein,” from Wikipedia; Biography.com; IMDb.com; and, The New Yorker, “The Strange and Twisted Life of ‘Frankenstein,'” by Jill Lepore, February 5, 2018 .
So get a clue, Readers. Which famous character of horror literature and movies said, “Listen to them–the children of the night. What music they make!”? Come back next time for the chilling answer.