Friday, April 16, 2010

Houdini and the first Frankenstein

While reading the book, Edison’s Frankenstein by Frederick Wiebel, I stumbled on a few interesting connections between Houdini and the very first Frankenstein film.

Edison’s Frankenstein, which was considered a lost film until a print showed up in Wisconsin in the 1970s, opened March 18, 1910. It recently celebrated its centennial.

Does that date sound familiar? It should. March 18, 1910 is one of the most significant days in the life of Harry Houdini, as it is the day he made the first successful airplane flight in Australia. Houdini’s first flight also recently saw centennial celebrations this year.

But a more direct connection has to do with actor Augustus Phillips, who played the first Dr. Frankenstein on film. Phillips had a long career on stage and in early Edison silent film. In 1919 he came to Los Angeles and starred in his first west coast silent feature, The Grim Game.

The Grim Game was, of course, Houdini’s first west coast production as well. Phillips played Clifton Allison in the film. (The Phillips-Houdini connection is discussed in Edison’s Frankenstein, which actually features a Grim Game poster image on page 98.)


Another contract actor at Famous Players Lasky at the time was Charles Ogle. Ogle, who played the Monster in Edison’s Frankenstein, appeared in over 85 Laskey productions and was one of their top players in the ‘20s when Houdini was making his films. While Ogle did not appear in Houdini’s films (at least he’s not billed), it’s not unreasonable to believe that at some point Harry Houdini did indeed meet the very first Frankenstein.

For all things Frankenstein visit that fantastic blog, Frankensteinia, where not long ago I wrote a "guest blogger" article about my search for infamous Monster Meets Little Maria location: Return to Malibou Lake.

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