Julian offers an Idea of How Mary Shelley and an Anxiety-ridden Studio Producer Brought a Monster to the Screen and Revolutionized an Industry in the Process
Score 9/10 - Highly Recommend
Posted by Kevin Nickelson | July 12th, 2022
What went on behind the scenes as Universal Studios’ head of production Carl Laemmle Jr struggled to cash in on the success of Dracula and bring to fruition an epic presentation of Mary Shelley’s classic tale of horror and science fiction, Frankenstein? Plenty, if you subscribe to the combination of facts and fictitious extrapolation put together by author Julian David Stone in his newest book, It’s Alive!, an astute take on the events that potentially transpired for all of the players involved in the days leading up to first day’s shooting of Universal Studios’ rendition of Mary Shelley’s immortal novel Frankenstein.
It is, simply, a masterful mixture of facts culled from exhaustive research meshed with the theoretical actions, interactions and verbiage aligned with the characters with such seemingly sharp logic to suggest that Stone had the aid of a time machine and was able to go back to just prior to the beginning of shooting of the picture and literally be a fly on the wall of head producer Carl Laemmle Jr.’s office and overhear discussions with his father, studio founder Carl Laemmle. Perhaps Stone would be privvy to the phone calls and telegram communication between Junior and the stars, director and crew assembled. The novel manages to place the reader exactly in the period of mere days leading up to August 24, 1931 and the first morning filming.
You feel the electric anticipation, the uncertainty of whether the project will even be completed, the fear by actors jockeying for roles of where their career will go.
Stone allows us to smell the sawdust on sets, to hear the chaotic activity of a film studio workday. Yes, we also get a view of the façade of glitz and glamour of of the movie business presented by the privileged few for the benefit of the fantasizing masses. What impressed me most about the work is that Stone seems intent on it being an easy, free-flowing read.
Once begun, I was engaged with each turn of the page. Enough that I was done within a few hours. Stone’s insistence on use of fact is highly evident in each chapter. The technical information, shooting schedule dates, the backstory of some of the real-life main characters really lends a deep authenticity and substance to what could’ve been still the highest flight of fancy or supposition in the hands of lesser scribes. Stone even takes things a bit further to suggest that other people existing on the periphery of the orbits of both Junior and the project would be impacted by the movie’s success or failure (or even completion or not).
Starlet Sidney Fox is a notable example, for whom a leading role in the film could’ve been a major break. Another is director Robert Florey, who was replaced by James Whale and lost out on the success Whale garnered. Stone touches on Junior’s panic attacks, his often-frayed relationship with his father, and his determination to find his own way at Universal.
The author even examines in some depth the plights of both the picture’s eventual monster star Boris Karloff and his industry competitor Bela Lugosi. Both are presented as careers fated to be in opposite directions by their connection to the motion picture and it is fascinating to read all of the differing attitudes and egos at play. Boris was so eager to get job security the role would afford that he agreed to a screen test. Lugosi was more reluctant, with both the acclaim afforded by Dracula and his resume as a stage star, to do a role he felt was beneath him.
Fans of filmdom’s golden age, especially that era that cemented the enduring popularity of the creature feature chiller, will find Julian David Stone’s It’s Alive! a veritable treat for minds willing to be transported back to a time when movie magic, specifically of the bloodcurdling variety, was still in its infancy.
To learn more about Julian David Stone visit his homepage.