Frankenstein at 200

Portrait of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, 1840

The definitive exhibition on the Byron-Shelley circle was hosted by the New York Public Library in 2012. Shelley’s Ghost brought together materials from the Bodleian and the NYPL’s own Pforzheimer Collection, including the manuscript of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Byron’s love letters, a necklace made from Percy Shelley’s hair, the water-damaged copy of Sophocles’s Tragedies that had been on his person when he drowned, as well as fragments of his skull taken from the funeral pyre, among other artifacts.

A new exhibition at the Morgan Library celebrates the bicentennial of FrankensteinIt’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 collects many of the same items as Shelley’s Ghost. It is a much bigger exhibition with a narrower scope, focusing on the inspiration, creation, and legacy of the classic novel, which was published in 1818. In it’s own way Frankenstein at 200 is the equal of Shelley’s Ghost.

Pages from the manuscript are on display, loaned by the Bodleian. The curators provide a cultural context with eighteenth century galvanic equipment and surgical tools, a number of important Gothic paintings, including Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare (1781) and Philip James de Loutherbourg’s Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard (1790). The lives of the Shelleys are presented through letters and portraits, including the well-known Richard Rothwell painting of Mary, on loan from the National Portrait Gallery in London. The aforementioned fragments of Percy’s skull (calvariae disjecta?) are present, as is the manuscript of a love poem he was carrying when he drown, the ink washed to a blur. (I have written about the extraordinary circumstances surrounding Shelley’s death in an earlier post.)

All of these items are on display in a single gallery, which is worth the price of admission alone. A light but cheerful second gallery contains a collection of advertising posters from the various film adaptations of the novel, and modern illustrations, including those by Lynd Ward and Bernie Wrightson. The highlight of this gallery is an original six-sheet poster for the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.

A page from the manuscript of Frankenstein
The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli, 1781
Visitor to a Moonlit Churchyard, Philip James de Loutherbourg, 1790
Fragments of the skull of Percy Bysshe Shelley
Manuscript of a poem retrieved from the body of Percy Bysshe Shelley

It’s Alive! Frankenstein at 200 runs through January 27, 2019 at the Morgan Library in New York.

Boris Karloff’s Guacamole Recipe

This newspaper clipping has been floating around for a while. I am unable to find the original source, but the recipe seems to have appeared elsewhere in June of 1966. A version was published in the Alton Evening Telegraph.

Karloff was an immensely likable actor. He was initially cast to frightening effect in those famous mute rolls: Frankenstein’s monster, the servant Morgan in The Old Dark House. But when he spoke he could not help but exude charm. He had a gentle voice and a rather endearing lisp. I have always liked his detective characters (Mr Wong and Colonel March of Scotland Yard) as much as his monsters.

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Halcyon Days of the Hollywood Cricket Club

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Hollywood Cricket Club members Cary Grant and Boris Karloff in their whites

From The Rake, a history of the Hollywood Cricket Club:

On the morning that Laurence Olivier first arrived in Hollywood, he checked into the Chateau Marmont hotel to discover a handwritten note already waiting for him with the concierge. It read: “There will be nets tomorrow at 9am. I trust I shall see you there.” This seems about right for the calling card of the Hollywood Cricket Club: terse, cordial, presumptuous, and with just the right amount of suspense.

The young Olivier had no cricket flannels, and certainly nothing resembling a bat. But, bound by a sort of schoolboy duty to the national folly, he appeared at the grounds of the Hollywood Cricket Club the next morning in a pair of boots that he’d borrowed from Boris Karloff (a boat-like size 13 – Olivier stuffed the toes with newspaper before remarking that Karloff must have pinched them off the set of The Bride of Frankenstein). The welcoming arm twist had come courtesy of C. Aubrey Smith, a white-whiskered former test cricketer who’d found favour in his autumn years as officer-and-gentleman fodder for the British invasion. On his first session with the club in May 1933, Olivier soon discovered that the old boy conformed to type, receiving a two hour tirade against the deficiencies in his technique, a stiff drink, and an invitation to dinner in the order named.

This was a club that had its priorities firmly in order. At the top, an obsession with the sport that would make even the old birds in the M.C.C. lounge groan, followed closely by an appreciation of the game’s liquid assets, and finally an utter disinterest in who you happened to be off the field. Let the opposition be distracted by the slip cordon of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) Sinbad the Sailor (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) and Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) – if you’re putting down catches, you can make the sandwiches (or at least prepare the Lobster Thermidor and make sure the Veuve is on ice.)

Smith had long dreamed of annexing a corner of the Home Counties to Southern California, but it wasn’t until 1932 that he’d pulled enough errant Englishers into his orbit to populate a side (“Aubrey found us playing on rough fields under dangerous conditions” wrote Boris Karloff with just a splash of ham horror.) When the time came to pick a spot, the founding father took the brief as literally as possible, transplanting five cartloads of English grass seed onto a field in the Hollywood hills to make a wicket, and erecting a nostalgic Victorian pavilion at the cost of $30,000. The spiritual clubhouse for the team remained, however, Aubrey Smith’s home at 2881 Coldwater Canyon Drive –  a wide and low Californian villa that, underneath it’s raised Union Jack (not to mention a weathervane constructed from a set of old stumps), seemed an unofficial embassy for Britannia’s lost sons.

Read the whole article here. Also, Sherlock Holmes-star Basil Rathbone discusses the HCC in an interview from 1959; watch below.