One of our favorite people at The Answers Journal is broadcaster and horror movie host “Wolfman Mac” Kelly. Mac’s Chiller Drive-In TV Show was another deep dive into the saddest of the Grade B Horror Flicks of the 1950’s and 60’s. While many a man (and a couple of women) has grown out their fir and fangs to howl at the moon, the ego of the first actor almost killed off the original idea in the first place.
In 1933, Henry Hull was a popular Broadway actor who was tabbed to play The Werewolf when Universal Studio’s original choice, Boris Karloff, was unavailable. Hull had a rich rolling voice and acting style which would remind contemporary audiences of the Jon Lovitz character “Master Thespian” from Saturday Night Live.
Production began in 1933. The original werewolf design for Hull’s make up was to be identical to the style that we would all know and appreciate, but this was vetoed in favor of a minimalist style. One source says that Hull felt that this would be less obscuring to his necessary dramatic facial expressions. Hull was also reluctant to spend the necessary time to have the wolf makeup applied. Hull played a botanist who was bit by a werewolf while on expedition. The only cure is to use a blossom from the elusive “mariphasa plant” to stop his transformation.
Werewolf of London was released in 1935. Audiences and critics at the time considered Werewolf of London as too similar to the classic film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which debuted just three years earlier. Reviews of the film said it wasn’t very scary. Werewolf of London was a flop at the box-office.
You can judge for yourself how good or bad it was by watching this brief trailer:
Fortunate to horror film fans, Universal Studios knew a good idea when they had one. Riding the crest of a horror film revival in 1940’s, the studio reintroduced the idea of a wolfman in film. This time, Lon Chaney Jr. was featured in the lead role. This second version of the film had all the classic elements we associate with The Wolfman movies today.
One unexpected bonus was the debut of the film on December 11, 1941. Studio officials thought the attack on Pearl Harbor four days earlier would have chilled enthusiasm for the film. But a night of escapist entertainment from World War II made this second version both well received by audiences and critics as well as a box office smash. The internal/external struggles which the hero faced seemed to mirror those of the United States at war.
Since Lon Chaney Jr’s version of the Wolfman debuted, there has been several reboots, sequels and inspired tales. The Wolfman also has taken his rightful place at the table with other horror movie legends including Dracula and Frankenstein. “The movie was a major inspiration,” recalls Wolfman Mac, “I have always used Lon Chaney Jr’s make-up and mannerisms as the guide for my own character.”
So, next time the night is foggy and the moon is full, think about the legend that might not have been.
— Various Sources