F is for Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus

“The first sound adaptation of the story, Frankenstein (1931), was produced by Universal Pictures, directed by James Whale, and starred Boris Karloff as the monster.”

FrankensteinThe novel Frankenstein was written by English author Mary Shelley when she was but 20 years old. It was published with no author credit on 1 January 1818. Her name first appeared on the second edition, published in 1823.

It is a classic tale. Victor Frankenstein animates a creature. By the end, we’re left to wrestle with the question of whether it’s the man or the creature who is is truly the monster.

The recent bicentennial of Frankenstein might be reason enough to note the book. But it is the many appearances in popular culture that have sustained the story’s popularity.

The first film adaptation of the tale, Frankenstein, was made by Edison Studios in 1910. That short piece has been restored, and you can watch it right here.

“The first sound adaptation of the story, Frankenstein (1931), was produced by Universal Pictures, directed by James Whale, and starred Boris Karloff as the monster. The film has been selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry…

“In Great Britain, a long-running series by Hammer Films focused on the character of Dr. Frankenstein (usually played by Peter Cushing) rather than his monster.”

It is these portrayals that have kept Frankenstein in the popular culture. When I was growing up, two sitcoms had characters who had the “look.” Lurch (Ted Cassidy) on The Addams Family (1964-1966) was a standard creature in the Karloff tradition; “You rang?”

Whereas in The Munsters (also 1964-1966), Herman Munster (Fred Gwynne) was “the patriarch of a family of kindly monsters. The rest of the family included a grandfather resembling the Universal Dracula…, a wife that resembles ‘The Bride of Frankenstein’, and a werewolf son.”

In 1971, General Mills put out the monster cereals, chocolate-flavored Count Chocula and the strawberry-flavored Franken Berry. “Since 2010, Franken Berry, Boo Berry [first released in 1973], and Count Chocula cereals have been manufactured and sold only for a few months during the autumn/Halloween season in September and October.”

My favorite iteration has to be the movie comedy Young Frankenstein (1974) by Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder. Borrowing “heavily from the first three Universal Frankenstein films… Wilder portrays Dr. Frankenstein’s American grandson, Frederick, while Peter Boyle plays the monster.” I literally fell out of my seat with laughter – it WAS an aisle seat – when I first saw this in the cinema.

Dustbury posted this recently: “Disabled Valery Spiridonov, 33, was ready to have his neck severed by Professor Sergio Canavero — dubbed ‘Dr. Frankenstein’ — and his head reattached to a new, healthy body.”

Finally, listen to Frankenstein by the Edgar Winters Group here or here or a long version here. It went to #1 in 1973 on the Billboard charts in the US.

For ABC Wednesday